Wednesday, April 19, 2017

My Life in Fandom: Alternatives to Star Wars - Space Battleship Yamato

While we who are willing and able work on forking Star Wars, do note that Japan did that decades ago. One of the most well-known examples of Japan making their own Space Operas is Space Battleship Yamato, a series that first ran in the 1970s riding a wave of science fiction TV animation that still has major worldwide influence to this day. (Including a recent remake, Space Battleship Yamato 2199, shown here.)

Again, the Infogalactic links will give you all that you require in terms of factual information, so let me tell you why you should watch this (either the original or the remake) as an alternative to Star Wars, and how this series exerts its influence decades later in its own right.

The stakes are big. Mankind is on the bring of extinction, losing badly in a war against an interstellar empire, and if not for the intervention of a friendly alien civilization there would be no hope at all. This is an existential threat that demands heroes rise to the occasion, and our protagonist does just that- along with everyone else. If you're not seeing the parallel to Japan's position post-Midway in World War II, you're not paying attention.

The villains are evil, hands down. The remake narrows down the true villains to the ruling caste of the alien empire, but they remain villains; the tragedy comes from the increased presence of the villains exploiting their own heroes for evil ends. (If you read Anonymous Conservative, you'll recognize that for what it is: r-type elites getting their own K-types killed to eliminate the competition.) As such, they are routinely undone by their own flaws before the heroes finish the job.

The heroes are not driven by nihilistic pragmatism; especially in the remake, those who go that route always end badly. The heroes (on both sides) are Romantic at heart, driving by passions for hearth, home, and family. When they encounter their alien counterparts, and can actually talk to them, this common sensibility is what allows Earth to make allies in the alien empire. Good knows its own.

While proper fleet actions are few (due to the Yamato being a Hero Ship on its own much of the time), we do see (especially in the remake) some respect for space as a 3D environment, but the wet navy metaphor remains apparent. (Clearly so when the sub-space submarine shows up.) The space combat easily is better than all but a few scenes in any Star Wars media to date, and the dogfights are awesome.

Our hero, as is typical, is a young man out to prove himself. He's earnest, honest, brave, and honorable- and his love is dignified, graceful, attentive, loyal, and compassionate. The master villain is a conceited, arrogant prick who's also a genius at manipulation and charismatic to dangerous degrees; his subordinates vary in their vices, but some are more effective than others- and they stab each other in the back readily. Heroes you can love and care about. Villains you can hate and despise.

As, as is typical with Japanese Space Opera, we get a bittersweet ending- but a hopeful one. Everyone gets what they deserve. This is well worth the viewing; many Japanese series after the original's first airing clearly show its influence, especially in the Hero Ship being a trope to itself, but even in the West we've got reactions of sorts. (The titular ship in Battlestar Galactica is a Hero Ship, and many of its characters in the original version map to the original Yamato; we can already see an influence across the ocean within a decade.)

The catch is that official releases are not cheap or easy to find, and livestreams take you into the grey zone online, but they are out there and often of as good a quality as you can get. However, the soundtrack and some clips are easily available so let me show you one from early in the series- this is from the remake, when the Yamato attacks alien-held Pluto:

You won't go wrong with this ones, folks. Sure, you're lacking the lightsabers, but you won't miss them.

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