Arrivederci Yamato Puzzles
Arrivederci Yamato (or Farewell Space Battleship Yamato, 1978) is a wonderful experience, a great film whatever you think of the ending. But it’s also very, very puzzling. There are so many things here that will make the viewer want to use several permutations on the sentence: what the — is going on?
I’ll cover three of these puzzles, with plenty of spoilers just so you know!!
Teresa, woman of mysteries
OK, I get that the Japanese are fond of using Western names any way they want. If the crew behind Yamato wants to name the super alien Teresa (or Telesa) that’s fine with me. However, there are several odd details about this character.
There’s the fact that she’s trapped in a planet called Telezart (or Terezart). Because Japanese doesn’t distinguish between “r” and “l” these two words Teresa/Telesa and Telezart/Terezart are more similar in that language than in Western ones. I think the English translators did the right thing by using “r” for her name and “l” for her planet, but this still doesn’t hide the perverse likeness between the two. If my name is Animo and I come from planet Animalis, that’s one thing, but if my name is Animo and I live on planet Beluga, but I eventually end up trapped in planet Animalis, that’s an eerie coincidence. It’s just like how Queen LaAndromeda Promethium, originally from the planet LaMetal in the Milky Way, ends up exiled in the Andromeda Galaxy. I guess these given names control destinies.
Then we have the fact that she is supposed to be made of anti-matter, and yet the Comet Empire managed to destroy her race and imprison her. The people over at starblazers.com have a great theory: Teresa was originally a material being like everyone else, and it was later (maybe even because of the Comet Empire?) that she changed into anti-matter for some reason or other. Mind you, I call this “a great theory” because I couldn’t think of any others myself…it’s just plain weird.
Finally, why does she show up totally naked over the surface of Telezart? And how? It’s cute and all but I don’t get it.
The Redemption of Dessler
I love Dessler in this film, and I’ve reads this character plays a great role in the second Yamato series, which was based on this movie.
Look at him, though. He gets treated sympathetically here. Actually, the treatment goes beyond sympathetic, it’s hagiographic…he becomes an icon of the tragic hero or something. Hello? Did we forget that Dessler was responsible for millions of deaths on Earth alone (I don’t have evidence exactly, but I’m sure that’s right) and billions more deaths throughout the universe?! These Gamilas were very awful aliens, and now we’re going to say: “Oh, Dessler, it’s OK. We’re cool.”??? And as Arthur Painter (dubbed Yamato superfan and totally deserving the title) notes on the website I linked to earlier, this is all in the context of Dessler shooting a Comet Empire attaché in the back, when all the attaché was doing was going back to report to his superiors, as was proper!!! Is shooting people in the back heroic??
The only possible explanation I can find is that the fandom loved Dessler and the writers were aware of this, so they decided to make him into a hero at the end. I think Dessler is a great character, but I don’t think making him into something he never was is a good way to have him meet his end. Perhaps the 26-episode series developed this heroic side better. I’ll just have to wait and see that.
* – Matsumoto will use the “corpse drifting in space” image again with a Mazone spy in Space Pirate Captain Harlock, barely months after Arrivederci Yamato in 1978.
Well, I myself loved it. I think most fans of things Japanese will love this. We’ll be watching it and going: “Ah, this is so Japanese. Yes, let’s just sprinkle some cherry blossoms over the cinema/TV/computer screen and it’ll be perfect.” The ending was certainly very aesthetically pleasing.
However, what’s strange about this ending is the way it divided the main brains behind the Yamato franchise. The argument really goes back to the very beginning of the Space Battleship Yamato series, when Matsumoto refused to allow a Japanese military song (gunka) to be used and Nishizaki eventually had to cede. There are many ways to look at this, but all in all we can say Nishizaki was always more inclined to use elements of Japanese warrior culture than Matsumoto was, and killing off all of the characters in a gallant suicide attack was more than Leiji could handle in anime (in manga he would repeatedly come up with similar scenarios all by himself!).
In this case Nishizaki got his way, though the series that followed would shifts events substantially toward Matsumoto’s vision, aided in part by the great number of people complaining about the death of their favorite characters and a certain discomfort with a perceived endorsal of Japan’s former military ideals.
The exchange between Okita and Kodai at the end is very remarkable, and Matsumoto apparently argued that the characters wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) act like this. And here comes my puzzlement.
Hold on. Leiji Matsumoto, the man who kills off a hero every chapter/episode gets a chance?! Leiji Matsumoto, the man who will have the populations of entire planets sacrifice themselves in a final act of sweet and beautiful vengeance?!
Ah, but there’s a difference. Leiji always kills the secondary characters, which he often creates just for this very purpose [Tochiro being the exception that proves the rule]. Nishizaki wanted to kill off the main characters. There are interesting psychological questions raised by all of this. You could argue that Nishizaki’s life since 1974 has been intimately related to his inability to kill off these characters (after he managed to achieve it in Arrivederci, they were brought back to life again, this time permanently) . It’s almost as if people, the world, will not let Nishizaki put the ghosts of his past to rest, and this is the source of endless trouble for him (and of lots of money, no doubt, but this is also a cause of troubles).
As to Matsumoto, I don’t know what’s going on with this compulsion to kill minor characters while being so touchy about his big ones…