This update of the classic 1974 anime series of the same name (minus the ‘2199’) retains much of its progenitor, while including just enough modernization to make it cool again.
Space Battleship Yamato was created by the god of space opera anime, Leiji Matsumoto (Galaxy Express 999) (well, sort of. The show was already being developed when he came on board, but he threw out most of what had been done and really made it his own).
I’ve talked about it in previous reviews of his work, but Matsumoto has an incredible ability to mix science fiction and fantasy in a way that doesn’t diminish both. It’s not like Star Wars, where there’s a science fiction universe in which magic (the force) exists. In the Matsumoto-verse, you get the impression that the seemingly supernatural things you see are not magic, but simply so far advanced and alien to us that they appear to be (like the famous quote from Arthur C. Clarke, ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’). His work gives space exploration the sense of wonder that we haven’t seen since science-fiction of the 19th century.
In the year 2199, humanity has come under attack from an alien force called the Gamilas. There’s a beautifully paced opening scene in which the Earth and Gamilas armadas are facing off. As the Gamilas begin their attack, the Earth commander tells his people to hold until the enemy is in range. It’s a scenario we’ve seen played out in countless war movies, and is usually concluded with Earth making some brilliant strategic move that wins the battle. But in this case, when the Earth commander finally orders his ships to attack, their energy weapons simply bounce off the Gamilas ships, and Earth’s forces are decimated.
There is an oppressive sense of hopelessness to the series. The Gamilas have been flinging asteroid bombs at the Earth that have poisoned the planet and forced humanity underground. Scientists have estimated that the human race has only one year left before they become extinct.
It kind of has the same feel as the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, a small military force carrying the fate of their species on their shoulders, with little to no hope of actually succeeding. It’s the twilight of humanity, but humanity carries on, either bravely, or because it doesn’t know what else to do.
Earth’s only hope is a mysterious message from a woman (no one questions the fact that all the aliens look human) on a planet 160 000 light-years away. She says she has the technology to clean the Earth, but is not able to bring it herself. Instead, she sends her sister on a suicide mission to our solar system, carrying with her the blue prints for a faster-than-light engine.
The first volume of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 only includes episodes one and two; which is just enough time to explain the premise and paint a picture of the world. But it’s a truly incredible picture that this series paints; one of such desolate darkness, punctuated by the tiny light of an ancient battleship.
This series is only available as an import from Japan, though the Blu Rays include English subtitles.