Review: Star Blazers (1980)

Directed by:

Distributed in Australia by:

Star Blazers for me will always be that equation: 365 earth days had to be divisible by 148,000 light years or the earth would be destroyed. Even as a kid I knew there was something profoundly tragic about the lone Space battleship Yamato taking on the vastly superior Gamilon forces. Outnumbered, they always seemed on the verge of being overwhelmed, one Wave Motion Gun misfire away from defeat. And all the while, the ‘Days Remaining’ counter at the end of each episode moved the earth inexorably closer to destruction.

Of course, there was something deeper going on. Star Blazer’s premise was based on a massive blow to the Japanese psyche. Toward the end of the Second World War, the Japanese battleship Yamato, pride of the Japanese fleet, had been sent on a one-way mission to combat the U.S. forces. It failed. Star Blazers offers up the Yamato’s ultimate redemption: saving the Earth’s unified population from the evil Gamilon hordes. Last chance – hopelessly outgunned – suicide mission – it’s no wonder the show felt like is carried a lot of emotional stowage.

One has to be careful with revisiting the past but with a little generational tolerance, Star Blazers certainly holds together. Big claps to Madman for delivering this awesome 5 disk package in a beautiful slipcase. The transfer is excellent for an artefact of this vintage. This is the American dub and although at times over-earnest, the dialog certainly conveys the gravity of the situation. Strangely, it is the weak laser weapon sound effects that I really noticed. In the age of Dolby Pro-Logic, if my ears don’t bleed like a Dinosaur Jr. concert then it’s not happening.

It is amazing for a show targeted at kids how many mature elements there are. The viewer is really thrown in at the deep end with little if any explanation. The earth’s surface is already a wasteland from the Gamilon Planet Bombs and a seemingly endless stream of state of the art Gamilon fighters are pulverizing Earth’s remaining forces. In the first episode Derek Wildstar’s brother sacrifices his life to hold off the Gamilons. Derek blames Captain Avatar for his brother’s death. The stoic Captain not only has to bear the burden of humanity’s salvation, has lost his own son at the hands of the Gamilons, but also has a defiant lieutenant to deal with. He-Man never had chain-of-command issues like this.

The show settles into a comfortable formula with the crew fending off the Gamilons and/or attempting to find replacement components for some damaged part of the ship. And then there is the comedy relief: Dr. Sane with his mysteriously inebriating ‘spring water’ and the super-intelligent robot IQ9. One really feels sorry for IQ9. Rather than utilise his genius, IQ9 is systematically humiliated in pitiful comic cameos, of which dancing with holographic hula girls must surely represent an all time low for human-AI relations.

Dead-set legend Leiji (Captain Harlock, Interstella 5555) Matsumoto’s designs are still gorgeous and time has not dimmed their iconic lustre. Nova’s yellow jumpsuit with black trim maybe, just maybe, is another of Tarantino’s odes to Asian cinema in Kill Bill Vol.1, recalling not just Bruce Lee in Game of Death but the Yamato’s Environmental Officer as well.

Star Blazer’s animation is from a simpler time with a heavy reliance on static shots but Matsumoto’s imagery is still powerful. On Disk 1 we have the re-birth of the Yamato. There is something primal about the way the earth boils as the Yamato breaks free and when Avatar, Wildstar and Venture stand dwarfed in the spiral rifles of the Wave Motion Gun barrel, you are left with a feeling of awe.

Back in Year 10, school holidays ended and I never found out if the crew made it back to earth in time. Watching this new edition, I found the answer- sometimes you can go back and a sense of wonder can be rediscovered.

9 paternal captain figures out of 10.
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