Monday, February 23, 2009

We're Off to Outer Space..

Disclaimer: I don't know shit about anime. I can count my fingers the number of Japanese-created cartoons I've watched outside of brief youtube clips. So what I am about to say is not as an anime expert, because I'm not one. If you're an anime fan reading this, forgive me for never having seen a Wave Motion Gun before.

Uchuu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato) is really awesome. You should watch it. I say this from the point of view of somebody who, like you, grew up with Star Trek and Star Wars. It's just plain good Space Opera.

Do not, as I did, start by renting The Movie. This "movie" was made by editing the entire first season of the shown down into an hour and a half recap. It apparently was a blockbuster in Japan. But after watching that, I found this:

This Youtube channel has the first 13 episodes, in Japanese with subtitles:

And here the 14th through 26th, the rest of the first season:

And then there is this:

(Aside: this is pretty low-quality video even by Youtube standards, but if you want quality you can rent the whole series from Netflix)

This last one is the entire first season of Star Blazers, the Americanized version of Yamato that ran on Saturday mornings circa 1979 and sometime into the early 1980s. Even though they edited it to remove stuff like sexually-harassing robots, it still comes across as a remarkably uncensored cartoon for its era.

Remember, this was a time when the Wonder Twins and Gleek were considered acceptable as superheroes for American kids. This was just shortly before the advent of G.I. Joe, a cartoon in which neither "terrorists" nor the U.S. military were actually allowed to kill each other.

While trying to avoid spoilers, I will note that Star Blazers features:

  • Radioactive asteroids being thrown at the earth until the all the oceans dry up and the whole world becomes a deadly radioactive desert. (No roving bands of mutant biker punks that I've seen so far, though.)
  • Vehicles that are known to be occupied blow up regularly, with no sign of any escape pod or parachute.
  • There are a lot of frickin' lasers (up to an including the Wave Motion Gun), but there are also quite a few bombs and missles.. Weapons far too close to something that might actually be used in a real war for most cartoons to allow them.
  • The mooks are humanoid, sentient, individuals. They are not droids, clones, or anything else that it is apparently considered OK to kill in a kids' show.

Star Blazers is much more in line with live-action like Star Wars, or possibly "Buck Rogers" (the one with Erin Gray) than with contemporary or near-contemporary cartoons such as Superfriends or G.I. Joe. You probably think of all of these as harmless fun. Remember, though: Buck Rogers has global thermonuclear war - mutants and all - as the starting point of the series. As Star Wars has blowing up inhabited planets just to prove that you can do it. Did Cobra Commander ever get to do anything like that?

Oh shit, I forgot to mention the most important fact of the whole show. The Space Battleship Yamato is literally supposed to be the WWII Japanese battleship, converted for intergalactic travel and outfit with the Wave Motion Gun, the mother of all BFGs. This ship doesn't have a big energy-beam weapon, this ship is a big energy beam weapon.

For obvious reasons, they toned down a lot of the Japanese nationalism that was present in the original. Which for most non-Japanese, was probably needed. I do wish they actually let them drink sake, though.


And ... It's even cooler than that. With movies and other series, as well as a new movie coming out this year, it's practically a staple of Japanese life.

And check out too!