Space Battleship Yamato (1974)

I’ve finished watching this show.  What can I say?  I guess a lot of things.  But what can I say about this show that hasn’t been said before?  Very little, and even less if you want me to avoid trivial stuff like how the Gamilusian floating continent base in Jupiter looks eerily similar to the the LaMetalian floating continent of Miyu (in Leiji’s Millennial Queen).

So I think it’s best if I give up on saying stuff and just try to express what I actually felt in watching the show.  SPOILERS all around!!

LET’S GET THE DIGRESSION OUT OF THE WAY

This series came out in 1974.  The late Sixties were a turbulent time in Japanese society (as elsewhere in the world) and one culmination, one endpoint of this struggle was Yukio Mishima’s suicide after a failed coup attempt in 1970.

So four years after this right-wing icon disembowels himself, we have a story that tells us what?  That Battleship Yamato, sunk ingloriously on its way to the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, gets resurrected at the end of the 22nd century and goes on to save the world!  That’s quite the artistic statement and/or escapist fiction at its best.

If a man dies after victory has been achieved, does this make a difference? If a man dies before victory has been achieved, does this make a difference? If a man dies and his cause is lost, does this make a difference? If a man loses and yet he lives, does this make a difference?

I should explain my usage of the adverb “ingloriously” here.   I chose it thinking of “glory” in terms of benefit.  The more beneficial a thing or person is to a cause, the more glory it acquires.  The Yamato achieved absolutely nothing in World War Two.  That wasn’t the ship’s fault, however.  The fault was the Japanese establishment’s obsession with a final gunship battle that would decide the outcome of the war.  They kept the Yamato out of harm’s way expecting that decisive battle to come and it never came.  By the time that they decided to use the Yamato, “better late than never”, the Japanese carrier force had been wiped out, meaning the battleship would sail without air cover, and as was to be expected it did not even reach its destination but was annihilated on the way.

The contrast with Space Battleship Yamato and its successful mission is as sharp as it could be.

END OF THE DIGRESSION

Anyway, Space Battleship Yamato goes off into space against the enemy Gamilus, which has an enormous fleet.  This is one against all, and the excitement in most episodes comes from our curiosity to know just how Yamato will extricate herself from the ridiculous tough predicament it has run into.  Sometimes this is done very well (as with the minefield in episode 11) and sometimes it’s just plain silly, like Starsha’s divine intervention in episode 15.

The only way for Yamato to succeed is for its crew to learn quickly and its enemies to underestimate it long enough to allow this learning process to proceed to its necessary stage.  And the writers of Yamato do a great job with this basic situation.  We see the Gamilus Führer Dessler absolutely dismissing the Yamato threat, then handing it over to clueless subordinates, next to his star general Dommel, and only really getting serious about it once it’s too late.  Incidentally, I was hoping that we’d get to see some conflict between Dessler and Dommel [they are I think quite explicitly based on Hitler and Rommel after all] but the fact is the show was cut down from 51 episodes to 26 because of low ratings and so there probably wasn’t any time for this.

The great Dommel

In the first few episodes I thought Earth was just one of several planets being conquered by Gamilus, and thus Dessler’s attitude rang even truer to me than later when I discovered that Gamilus’ whole existence as a race depended on this conquest of Earth.  Having finished the show I now wonder: why didn’t Gamilus actually send a fleet and take over Earth physically rather than letting its population die over a year’s time??  Oh well…

One thing the show does well is human emotion.  In fact, this might be the strongest (and most surprising) aspect of the show.  The captain, Kodai and several members of the crew are often represented as psychologically overtaxed not only with the incredible burden that they bear on their mission, but also from their memories of tragic events past.  Characters show guilt, fear, treachery, the works.

Psychological issues are there from the very beginning.  Captain Okita’s argument with Mamoru Kodai over “heroism” and “what a man must do” really stand out (episode 1).  As wonderfully romantic as Mamoru’s worldview sounds, the progress of the show seems to prove Okita’s “live to fight another day” choice correct, and it is only through Okita’s continued mentoring that Mamoru’s little brother Susumu leads Yamato to victory in the end.

Susumu Kodai, sensitive man of the 22nd century

Space Battleship Yamato, the ship itself, is awesome.  The wave motion cannon is great, although I would have preferred it if its usage made the ship more vulnerable and for a longer period of time than it usually did (just to make things more exciting).  Also, I chuckled several times at just how many bombs the battleship could take and still go on…but I’m not chuckling anymore!  Why?  Well:

MINI DIGRESSION

Warships can take an incredible amount of damage and still carry on. I just finished reading a (non-fiction) account of the battleship Mogami in WWII, which in a single battle received over 100 shell and torpedo hits and three bombs (plus several of its own torpedoes exploded within).  At one point it literally looked to outside observers like a great big fireball on the water and yet it still fought on.  It did eventually sink…

END OF MINI DIGRESSION

The end of the show has much to do with three deaths: Mamoru’s, Yuki’s and Okita’s.  Now, Mamoru has been thought dead since episode 1 and yet we find that he’s alive and well at the end of the show.  So here death is denied.  I would argue Mamoru’s own heroism is denied too, as he opts to stay on Iscandar and make lots of babies over helping Yamato on its long (and still perilous) journey back home.  It’d have been far better to see him psychologically twisted after his ordeal somehow, and I think that’s where the original scenario having him take on the persona of Captain Harlock was headed but, alas, the show was cut short and they had to scrap that.

Yuki’s death is literally a five minute affair: she seems to die in the last episode and then we find out she just passed out.  While it gave Susumu Kodai a great excuse to grab her and carry her around, I don’t really think the scene was well done.  I just didn’t get the feeling that Susumu had just figured out his feelings for Yuki (which would have made her “apparent death” an epiphany for him and thus made the scene necessary to the show).  I mean, he had the hots for her from day one!

The third death, Captain Okita’s, was magnificently handled.  We expected this, and it happened.  It made sense.  The hero was laid to rest.  Captain Okita was my favorite character in the show, and the depth of his character is surely due to the fact that Leiji Matsumoto modeled him after his own father.

~ by Haloed Bane on May 23, 2010.

4 Responses to “Space Battleship Yamato (1974)”

  1. I knew when you left those comments on my blog, a post for you had to be on it’s way. and it was. But it’s still about leiji stuff that I will never watch. That said, I actually know stuff about Yamato, so I’ll read this post. But I won’t have anything to say about it >.>

    • Well, this might be my last post for a long, long time so treasure it and cherish the memories. Maybe by the time I write again you’ll be cured of your Kagami theories.

  2. That first digression was completely, utterly new information to me. I had no idea this show was so pregnant with political symbolism. And it’s the one that started otaku culture as we know it!

    • To the extent that otaku culture is rooted in stories like this…then this culture is only using manga/anime as a foil for other, darker needs.

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