SCIENCE FICTION MOVIE REVIEWS:“Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage” (1979)

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“Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage” is essentially a “Reunion Movie” that was made after the “Space Battleship Yamato” series had ended. In the US, “Space Battleship Yamato” was (badly) dubbed in to English, and was known as “Star Blazers.” In this bowdlerized form, the show was a huge hit with kids of my generation, who tended to get beat up a lot and were too old for “Battle of the Planets,” and too young for girls. The series ran for two seasons in Japan in the ‘70s.

In the first season, Earth is being xenoformed by the evil alien Gamilons, who simply could not be more Teutonic. Queen Starsha of the planet Iscandar sends a message to earth saying she has the technology to save the planet, but no way to get it to us, so we need to send a ship to her in the lesser magelanic cloud, 186,000 light years away. Since Humans haven’t left our own solar system by the time the show takes place (2199 AD), that’s no mean feat, however she gives info on how to build an interstellar engine.

For no reason that’s ever explained, the Imperial Navy Battleship Yamato (Called “Argo” in the American version), is turned in to a starship, which then has to make it all the way to Iscandar and back (372,000 light years) in just one year, or else Earth can’t be saved. The series is essentially their journey, fighting the evil Gamilons all the way there and back.

The second season, set in 2201, involves a new foe, “The Comet Empire,” which attacks earth for reasons that are never fully made clear. The Yamato (Or Argo if you prefer) heads out to investigate the possibility of a new threat out in space, which no one wants to admit to. Once again they dash to a new world – Telezart, this time out – to get information about the threat. Meanwhile, Leader Deslok of Gamilon has miraculously survived his defeat from the previous season, and is working with the Comet Empire in order to get revenge. Lots of people die, lots of stuff blows up, and unexpectedly, at the last moment Deslok changes sides, giving the Yamato’s crew information they need to destroy the Comet Empire and then heading off in to space saying, “We’ll meet again.” In the next episode, the Comet Empire is defeated in a massive deus ex machine ending, and then, annoyingly, the whole series starts over again in 2199, again and again and again, for about five years in my childhood.

“Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage” picks up about a month after the defeat of the Comet Empire. We’re introduced to a few new characters, one of whom is the son of the Chief Engineer who died in the second season, and we’re on hand when several critically injured bridge crew are released from the hospital.

Meanwhile, out in Space, Leader Deslok has re-assembled the surviving Gamilonian forces, with the intent of finding a new homeworld and founding a new empire, “But first we must say a final goodbye to our motherworld.” The fleet heads to their now-uninhabitable world one last time. Meanwhile, the Yamato is on training exercises in the asteroid belt.

At Gamilon, Deslok spies aliens mining something from the surface of the abandoned planet. He orders his fleet in on a surprise attack which destroys the unidentified aliens, but unfortunately collateral damage utterly destroys the planet. Deslok is pretty upset over this, but he’s even more upset that the destruction of the planet has caused Gamilon’s twin world, Iscandar, to pull a Space:1999 and fly off in to space. Evidently volcanoes and geysers can act as rocket engines. Yes, they actually say this.

Deslok orders his fleet to pursue Iscandar, and also notifies earth of what’s happened. Meanwhile, the unidentified aliens give chase. Deslok contacts Starsha, who tells him just to let her and her planet go, but Deslok chases ‘em anyway. The Yamato, owing a debt of gratitude to Starsha, heads out to assist in the rescue operations.

The planet eventually stops in the orbit around a black hole, but they let us know that “Those geysers could erupt again at any time, sending us back off in to space!” Deslok begins landing operations for the whole fleet when the still-unidentified bad guy aliens attack again, and pommel most of Deslok’s forces. The gamilons are down for the count, and as he prepares to die, Deslok says “Have you heard anything back from the Yamato yet?” no. “They have to come. They have to come.”

At the most dramatic possible moment, Fighters from the Yamato show up and sneak attack the aliens, thus saving the day for Deslok, and he and Derek Wildstar of the Argo share that subdued little nod that seems to mean so much in Japanese cartoons.

The bad guys show up again and….eh. Who the hell cares. I’m tired of typing.

The bottom line is that this is a really good movie, and it’s pretty much everything you’d hope for in a film based on a tv series: it is an interesting story that simply could not have been done in the format of the series, it’s not just three episodes tied together. It ties up a lot of loose ends, introduces an interesting new foe, and has plenty of rollicking action (And though a lot of it is really cool looking, I do think some of the fight sequences go on a bit too long).

Most interesting, though, is that this was very much a Leader Deslok story. Although the Yamato crew do figure prominently, I’d say two thirds of the running time is all about former-bad-guy Deslok trying to do the right thing and getting his ass beat over it. We learn a lot about the him, his motivations, and such, which is great because although Deslok was the dominant heavy of Season 1 and a serious nutjob in Season 2, he has always remained aloof and calm in even condescending in the direst of circumstances. Seeing exactly what it takes to make him loose it was both rewarding, and kind of movingly sad, too. The kind of epic bittersweet quality you can only get from a larger-than-life character where the end of the world was something he could take as a mild annoyance, but the loss of something else literally brings him to his knees. Of course I might be a bit biased as I’ve waited 25 years to find out what happened next…

This is a great movie, and I strongly recommend it to any fan of the original series, though it’s subtitled, I don’t see that as a problem as the dubbing on the American version was always pretty painful to listen to.