By Chris Cummins
"We're off to outer space. We're leaving Mother Earth. To save the human race. Our Star Blazers!"
Star Blazers has rightfully been called a gateway drug into the world of anime. Adapted from Japan's Space Battleship Yamato series, the series marked the first time American audiences got a taste of how inventive sci-fi cartoons could truly be. It looked better than any other cartoon of the era because it featured 8,000 animation cels per episode as compared to the 3,000 used by most programs. It also had the benefit of perfect timing, appearing shortly after Star Wars reignited interest in all things science fiction. When the show made its American debut in 1979, kids raised on repetitive Filmation-style toons were captivated by the ways in which the adventures of the Star Force unfolded. Thus, a pop culture sensation was born. Every couple of years rumors of a live-action remake of The Quest for Iscandar storyline emerge, but none of these have yet to come to fruition. Even if a Thunderbirds-style disaster did it the big screen, Star Blazers' reputation would be untarnished. It's not merely a cartoon; it's unbelievably awesome beyond words. Here's why.
10) The Merchandise
Star Blazers is a merchandising juggernaut that has allowed fans to buy various spin-off films based on the Japanese series, along with models, key chains, video games, records and graphic novels. Unfortunately most of this wonderment (such as the above replica of the Argo) was never released outside of Japan, so you'll have to shell out an insane amount of cash to own any of it. Doesn't this recession know how much we need to fill our lives with plastic bits of nonsense?
9) The Argo
With all due respect to the Millennium Falcon and the Enterprise, the Argo is the greatest ship in science fiction history. It's also the only one with roots entrenched in reality. Rescued from the ruins, the famed Japanese battleship Yamato (originally sunk during World War II) is upgraded into a state-of-the-art space cruiser by Captain Avatar for its initial voyage to retrieve the Cosmo DNA needed to save Earth from radiation poisoning. Renamed the Argo when the Space Battleship Yamato series was adapted as Star Blazers for international audiences, the vessel's history and symbolic value to its homeland differentiates it from other sci-fi ships. The Argo: great thesis material or just a cool ship in a cartoon? Discuss.
When not helping dispose of the dead hookers Dr. Sane killed during his frequent benders, IQ-9 doles out information and wisecracks to his fellow shipmates. Less pissy than C-3PO, IQ-9 was the Argo's resident droid. Despite his shortcomings, his comedic asides brought a bit of levity to the crew's adventures. (Offering a welcome break from all the despair, death and dudes who looked way too much alike featured on the show). The above clip showcases a lifelike version of IQ-9 from Japan's Yamato Museum. Before you go booking a trip, you should know that the museum focuses on the Yamato battleship--with only a small section dedicated to the anime version.
7) Captain Avatar's Beard
Somewhere in the dark corners of the Intenet that Topless Robot delves into each Friday, there's probably fan fiction involving Captain Avatar, Ernest Hemingway and The Simpsons' Captain McAllister. In this story, the hirsute doppelgangers are discussing their shared love for adventure...or, seeing how it is fan fiction we're talking about here, anal sex. Regardless, these are three great men whose beards define them. Beards are bigger than ever these days. One visit to Brooklyn and you'll see demonstrations of various facial hair configurations that are best left to professionals/the mentally ill. But none of these Decemberists-listening hipsters can understand the true power of having a great beard. Like an intergalactic Kenny Rogers before the plastic surgery went wrong, Captain Avatar gets it. There's no time for shaving when you are trying to get halfway across the galaxy to track down a MacGuffin established by some chick who is the spitting image of Leelee Sobieski. Maybe if Wildstar poured some of the energy he spent cultivating his pussy haircut into growing a goatee he could have scored with Nova sooner. The above video mashes up Star Blazers with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It's the best thing ever.
6) The Complexity of Desslok
With a love of capes rivaling that of Lando Calrissian and the vocal mannerisms of Roddy McDowall, Desslok is hardly your typical villain. When we first meet him, he is a megalomaniacal despot intent on terraforming Earth's atmosphere into that of his homeworld. By the time The Bolar Wars saga (as depicted in the show's third season) concludes, he has gained an understanding of just how similar he is to his sworn enemies. In the first Star Blazers graphic novel, producer Yoshinobu Nishizaka discusses how he sees the series as a reflection of his hopes that humanity will evolve for the better. Desslok's ultimate journey towards redemption reinforces these goals. Who knows what the capes are about though.
5) Intergalactic Hotness>
Padme Amidala, don't you ever get tired of being wrong? There's nothing cold about space. It's blazing with the white hot intensity that comes from rampant sexual attraction. There's plenty of that to go around in Star Blazers. The series featured something that appealed to every sexual proclivity and preference. Into ethereal chicks? Starsha and Trelaina. Emo dudes? Derek Wildstar and Mark Venture. Bears? Captain Avatar and Orion. Girl next door types? Nova. Cape-loving, blue-skinned dudes who are misunderstood, sexually ambivalent and maybe actually good guys? Desslok. Raging alkies? Dr. Sane. And so on.
4) Serialized Storytelling
Post-Battlestar Galactica, it's easy to forget that sci-fi TV wasn't always packed with the character development and dense plotting that has become commonplace today. Throughout 78 episodes and three individual story arcs the series let events unfurl naturally, leaving plenty of time for characters to establish personalities, motives and flaws. This organic kind of storytelling was a revelation that instantly raised the bar for science fiction television. On the heels of Star Blazers came a variety of cartoons that all held a newfound appreciation for complexity and continuity--including the initial mini-series of G.I. Joe and The Transformers, as well as the similarly themed Robotech. You can also point to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the aforementioned Battlestar Galactica and Lost as further examples of series that have picked up the gauntlet originally thrown down by the show.
3) The Wave Motion Gun
Firing a stream of tachyon energy particles capable of destroying an enemy fleet with a single blast, the Wave Motion Gun is the Argo's most powerful weapon. In other words, it will fuck your shit up. The downside of such a device is that its usage seriously drains the Argo's resources. The Catch 22 of implementing an Achilles' heel into the Wave Motion Gun exemplifies how the series creators fused dramatic possibilities into every aspect of the show. The above clip showcases the first firing of the weapon. Pay close attention to the subtle Spider-Man reference featured at 3:59.
2) Dr. Sane is a Raging Drunk
When adapting Space Battleship Yamato for American audiences, producers were forced to edit violent content and character moments deemed extraneous to the main plot in order to meet broadcast standards. The most notorious of these changes involved the Dr. Sane character, whose love for sake was changed into a fondness for mineral water. That mineral water must be powerful stuff, because Sane's clearly drunk off his tits in every episode. Don't judge him. You'd be an alcoholic too if your eyes were located on your scalp.
1) The Theme Song
After the opening fanfare, a booming voice musically retells the story of the Star Force's mission. In less than a minute and a half, viewers are introduced to the otherworldly saga that awaits them. A perfect theme song should do two things: sum up the show's premise and be memorable. Star Blazers' theme is perfect indeed. It's a concentrated dose of aural nostalgia.