Mania Grade: B
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- Audio Rating: D
- Video Rating: D
- Packaging Rating: A
- Menus Rating: B
- Extras Rating: B+
- Age Rating: 3 & Up
- Region: 1 - North America
- Released By: Voyager
- MSRP: 29.99
- Running time: 141
- Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1/1.85:1
- Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
- Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
- Series: Starblazers / Yamato
Be Forever Yamato
November 10, 2003
Release Date: October 14, 2003
Be Forever Yamato
What They Say
Be Forever Yamato
Several months have passed since the New Voyage, in which Space Battleship Yamato's brave crew won their first victory against the Black Star Cluster Empire. Now, this aggressive enemy seeks retribution! In the year 2202, a sinister object appears at the edge of the solar system and hurtles directly toward Earth, striking the surface and swiftly achieving what no enemy has done before -- total subjugation of the planet and the human race! In the wake of this brutal surprise attack, Commander Kazan issues his demand: Earth must surrender Yamato, or all of humanity will be destroyed!
Gathering together in secret, Susumu Kodai and the rest of Yamato's crew make a desperate bid to escape and mount a counterattack ... but even if they reach Yamato, countless deadly obstacle still lie in their path, from the enemy's stranglehold on Earth to the immeasurable power of its intergalactic space fleet, and the most dangerous trap of all: the bottomless chasm of doubt and despair!
Originally released in 1980, Be Forever Yamato became the dramatic centerpiece of the entire Space Battleship Yamato saga, putting its beloved characters through the most difficult and suspenseful trials of their lives. Even today, Yamato fans the world over give this movie unanimous acclaim. Every Yamato feature film deserves to be called a classic, but Be Forever took the series to such spectacular heights that it can only be called an epic! The Review!
This movie is big. A big story, a big production, and some pretty big plot holes big enough to drive a big space battleship through. Despite all that, Be Forever Yamato is still a very enjoyable feature with lots of potential. But an unfortunately rushed ending who's plot-holes could have been plugged had about another 20 minutes been animated almost succeeds in sabotaging it. If any Yamato movie needed to be expanded into a TV series, this was it.
Like the previous three movies, VEI has used their existing hard-subbed VHS masters. As I have said in previous reviews, VEI had gotten laserdisc masters from Japan when they first released the movies on VHS years ago, and they counted among the best looking anime tapes I owned. The video quality of movie #1 was surprisingly good considering the masters. Unfortunately, the quality has steadily declined through each subsequent release. Be Forever has the worst video presentation yet (massive glitch in "New Voyage" aside) as it is very soft, almost dark in places. The vivid colors I have been used to look washed out and slightly out of focus, which is a shame for such a gorgeous looking movie. The fact that artwork is so beautiful is the reason why I grade the video as high as I do. Had the first movie looked like this, the grade there would've been a D or lower.
First-time viewers who wait to read the extras may be confused by the aspect ratio. About two-thirds into the movie, the picture suddenly goes from fullscreen to widescreen. This was done to preserve the "warp scope" of the original production. When shown in theatres, as the Yamato flew into the new, unknown area of space, the curtains on each side of the screen opened, revealing a wider field of view as the movie itself switched to Panavision.
Transfer-wise, there's little to complain about aside from some minor pixilization that occurs during one of the faster dogfight sequences. I have a feeling that there would probably be more noticeable instances on a high-def TV, however.
Given the age of the film, I wasn't expecting much beyond the expected monaural soundtrack. The hiss that was present in the previous movie is more prevalent here, as audio joins video into Voyager's steady decline in quality, which is a shame since the musical score is really something, and was one of the first anime CD's I actively tracked down and purchased. No drop-outs or distortion, and in fact the music track becomes stereo when we enter "warp scope" (however, the dialog and sound effects remain in mono). It would've been nice had Voyager gotten the four channel theatrical track mentioned in the making of the movie essays, but that would've been asking too much.
Going with the Japanese LD covers again, we get a shot of Sasha, Kodai, and Yuki with various Dark Nebula mecha in the background (ironically, the original cover for their shovelware version of the first Iscandar disk). The reverse side gives us a picture of the Yamato head-on against the backdrop of the galaxy. No animation shots, but sometimes that's a bit more artistic. Fortunately, the description is mostly devoid of spoilers this time out. The insert is the same "catalog" as the one found in "New Voyage."
Once again, Voyager goes the route of playing an animation sequence before getting us to the menu. This time we have about 30 seconds of the Yamato breaking out of the asteroid Icarus. Once the menu does come up, it's a close up version of the cover artwork. Navigation is fairly quick and easy, though the animation between submenus gets a bit annoying.
Much like the previous disks, we get several text essays on the making of the movie and the Yamato phenomenon as a whole, Nishazaki's greeting and message to the fans from the 1980 program book, art galleries, deleted scenes, and the subtitled theatrical trailer. The artwork includes conceptual paintings of various locales used throughout the story, character concepts, and mecha designs.
The "Yamato Story" essays pick up where we left off on the "New Voyage" disk and is again in two parts. The first is the making of the film, where it outlines Nishazaki and Matsumoto's original concepts for both BFY and Yamato 3, the groundbreaking techniques that were being used in this film for the first time, music, and sound. Most interestingly was Nishazaki's surprise upon finding out at a production meeting that an American sci-fi magazine had recently named the Yamato one of the best starship designs, and his realization that Yamato was becoming a worldwide phenomena, and not just a Japanese one. Star Blazers was reaching its peak of popularity in the US at this time.
The second essay is just as fascinating, as it outlines the marketing juggernaut that Yamato had become in Japan by 1980. From mystery train rides with Matsumoto as the conductor to pleasure cruises aboard liners decorated to look as much like the Yamato as possible with "Captain Nishizaki" at the helm, through radio dramas and interviews, all the way to a special concert at Budakon, and all of this happening *before* the movie had even premiered. The extras are what has been keeping me going through these releases as more and more pieces of the puzzle that I didn't know get put together.
Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
It could've been the peak of the entire franchise. Epic in scope and vision, it is most certainly the biggest story of the Yamato saga, with a stylistic change from all that had come before it and would influence the features and series to come after. Everything from character designs to battle sequences to the design of the venerable ship herself would be more refined and detailed from here on out. And in this feature our characters would be put through the emotional wringer, as Earth finds itself under the heel of alien oppression.
So what went wrong?
Quite simply, Be Forever Yamato (or BFY for those of us who are typing-impaired) suffers under its own weight. It's too big of a movie for even its two and a half hour running time. Maybe during scripting and animation the follow-up TV series version was still the game plan, and the staff figured any plot holes could be filled when it came time to expand the storyline (truth be told, Arrivederci Yamato also has its share of plot holes, but you never hear about them because they were soundly cemented shut by the second TV series). Maybe by the time they hit the two hour mark they figured things were beginning to get overlong and expensive. Maybe they painted the plot into a corner. Maybe it was a combination of all three. But whatever the reasons, the results were that somewhere in the last half-hour the movie gets seriously derailed and the entire franchise never completely recovers. From here on out Yamato would never again pack the emotional wallop or epic feel of Arrivederci Yamato and Yamato 2, or the character-driven adventure of New Voyage, though to be honest Yamato 2 and New Journey (which is as much the epilog of Yamato 2 as it is the introduction to BFY) are a tough act for anyone to follow.
That's not to say that the movie isn't good. The first two thirds of the movie are excellent, and feature some of the finest animation and freshest plotting of the franchise. We begin with, literally, a bang as the Dark Nebula Empire (the blue meanies from New Voyage) invade the solar system and swiftly take out all the major defense installations without firing a shot. The Earth Defense Force, under the command of Mamoru Kodai (a.k.a. Alex Wildstar, Susumu Kodai's/Derek Wildstar's brother) and currently without a manned fleet since being decimated in the Comet Empire war, tries to send its automated fleet to meet them, but the control tower is destroyed and the fleet is routed. Paratroopers, fighters, and "tri-mobile tanks" which look like something out of "War of the Worlds," swiftly reduce much of Megaloplous City to rubble. The Dark Nebulans quickly take over EDF headquarters and capture Mamoru Kodai and Commanding General Todo. The occupational forces informs the remnants of the EDF and Earth's governing council that their mobile headquarters doubles as a hyperon bomb capable of destroying the brain tissue of all living beings, but leaving the buildings and infrastructure intact. They also demand to know the location of the Yamato. Todo taunts the occupiers, saying that they know as well as he does that the Yamato will save the Earth. Todo is sentenced to death, but Mamoru sacrifices himself to let the General escape.
Things then move to the Star Force, who have managed to assemble at Hero's Hill where they plan on meeting up with Sanada, now at a small outpost in the Asteroid Belt. During the action-filled escape, Yuki is separated from the rest of the Star Force, and is severely injured. Many presume she will be captured and killed if she doesn't die from her injuries first. When they reach the Asteroid Belt, they find that the Yamato had been hidden inside one of the asteroids where it had been undergoing months of refitting and upgrades. They get their orders from Todo who is now busy organizing a resistance - the triggering device for the hyperon bomb is on the enemy homeworld. The Star Force is to find the enemy homeworld and disable the trigger. We are then introduced to three new characters, first two are Captain Yamanami (who looks like an older version of Hijikata/Gideon, doesn't do much, and comes off as just being along for the ride), and Shiro Kato (the nearly identical twin brother of the original Kato who was killed in Yamato 2, identical even down to the voice actor!). Kitano and Sakamoto, two of the new characters from New Voyage, are no where to be seen and not even explained away. The third new character is Mio Sanada, who is introduced as Sanada's teenaged niece and new crew member. She takes over Yuki's station.
Mio turns out to be Sasha, the daughter of Queen Starsha of Iscandar and Mamoru Kodai. Explaining that "the people of Iscandar grow very fast," Sasha, while physically a teenager, is emotionally still very much a child. She quickly and innocently develops a crush on Kodai, though knowing full well that he is her uncle. Kodai doesn't help matters any when he first informs her of her father's death and tells her he'll take his place, then later spends most of his free time with her.
Sasha fulfills two necessary roles that makes Yamato Yamato. The first is the "Willowy Space Goddess" role. As they navigate through the Dark Nebula visibility is poor and their instruments can't scan very far. However, she is able to sense the obstructions ahead and guides them through, much like both her mother and Teresa of Telezart did before her. But the twist on the Yamato cliché, that of having the "Willowy Space Goddess" aboard and an active part of the crew, works well here. As for the second role she fills, I'll discuss that towards the end of the review.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Yuki finds herself in the residence of an officer of the occupying forces, technical intelligence lieutenant Alphon. He treats her wounds, and aids in her recovery, but also informs her that the escape shuttle she had tried to board with her comrades had been found with no life signs. In the extras, we get to see the storyboard for a scene not animated which shows Dr. Sado injecting the others with a serum that simulates death. When the Dark Nebulans came across their shuttle they saw no life. Too busy hunting down other, more lively targets, they let it pass rather than destroy the presumed derelict. Convincing Yuki that Kodai is dead, Alphon attempts to redirect her feelings towards him. He knows that the only reason why she continues to stay with him is because he is an intelligence officer and thus knows how to disarm the hyperon bomb. He knows that the second she has that information she will go join the resistance army. Then he says he'll tell her the secret, on the condition that she return his feelings for her.
Back in deep space, the Yamato encounters four Gourba-type floating fortresses of the same design as the ones encountered in New Voyage. During a fierce battle, the Star Force tries out their latest development - Wave Motion cartridges. The shock cannons can be loaded with these cartridges that contain one percent of the Wave Motion Gun's destructive power. They fire them into the missile silos of one of the Gourba fortresses, then learn the truth, and the reason why the Dark Nebulans were so bent on capturing the Yamato - when the enemy's power source and Earth's Wave Motion energy come into contact, they fuse with explosive results. The chain reaction destroys all four fortresses and the way through the Dark Nebula is clear. As they enter this new region of space, we go into "warp-scope" and are treated to some breathtaking visuals.
Unfortunately, this is where all the problems begin. They find a light amongst this newly discovered galaxy and, with no explanation, assume it’s the enemy homeworld. So they warp over to it, and are surprised to see Earth at the other end of the journey, right down to the Pyramids, Status of Liberty, and Megalopolus City. Kodai forms a landing party and heads down, where they meet Scaldart, an apparent human, who explains that they traveled 400,000 light years in space, only to end up back at their starting point, but 200 years in the future. Somehow, the future decided to conquer the past and the hyperon bomb was a deception. However, Scaldart continues, the Yamato never returned to the present-day Earth and was destroyed in the attempt. Demoralized, the landing party heads back to their shuttle while Sasha, now feeling appropriately icky for her incestuous feelings towards her uncle, runs away and stays behind on "future Earth." As the Yamato blasts out of orbit, the spirit of her mother appears and tells her to wipe her tears and wave goodbye. She has an important task to fulfill!
Back on Earth, Yuki tells Alphon she accepts his offer, but Alphon sees through her deception. She will love him (something missing in the translation here? Maybe he meant "make love?" Or is it a cultural thing I'm missing?), take the information to the resistance, then kill herself. Rather than waste her life, he tells her to go to the resistance and attack him. If she can defeat him, he will give her the plans for disarming the bomb. Yuki leaves, joins up with the resistance, and soon after leads an attack into the hyperon bomb. Alphon confronts her, saying that she is unable to shoot him. Alphon is shot twice and falls (though it's unclear if both shots came from the wounded marine at Yuki's feet, Yuki herself, or both. I'd like to think that at least one of the shots came from Yuki). As Alphon falls and Yuki sees both blood and robotic circuitry, she finds out why the Dark Nebulans invaded in the first place.
Gamilon invaded because they needed a new homeworld. The Comet Empire invaded for the joy of conquest and the allure of power. The Dark Nebulans invaded for.. human bodies?!? Yep, you guessed it, the Dark Nebulans are cyborgs from the neck down who live in an over mechanized society, who’s bodies withered, and who had no choice but to have their heads transplanted onto robotic bodies (of course, according to Alphon, they're far superior to those darn barbaric Earthers!). Now they've decided they want to feel the ground under real feet again, so they will, of course, cut off everyone's heads and transplant their own heads onto human bodies. Yeesh! Alphon keeps his promise and lets Yuki have the plans for the hyperon bomb. Now with the plans, Yuki disables the local triggering device of the bomb. However, there is full redundancy built in, and the bomb can still go off should the Dark Nebulans wish it.
Back at "future Earth" Sanada has discovered that everything planetside was a clever fabrication. The people don't have any fingerprints, and "The Thinker" was leaning on the wrong arm (hey, the Dark Nebulans went from no contact with Earth to full-scale invasion and deception in the space of a few months. They were bound to muck it up somewhere!). They aren't our descendants, so blast away! Kodai lets loose with the Wave Motion gun, but everyone has conveniently forgotten what happens when the Dark Nebulan power source and Wave Motion energy collide (Sanada even wonders why they didn't think of it!). The Star Force looks on in horror as the explosion rips the outer skin of the planet to pieces, revealing a completely mechanized world beneath. Sasha contacts the Star Force, saying that she will let the Yamato in, and also open an exit so they can escape. Their job will be to blast the interior of the planet with the Wave Motion gun, effectively eliminating all threat of the bomb ever going off. The Yamato enters the mechanized world, and comes under heavy fire which kills the Captain. An angered Kodai prepares to fire the Wave Motion gun, but then realizes that he is about to kill his own flesh and blood. Sasha radios back, saying she is glad to die in the service of saving Earth (her second role - the requisite happy self-sacrificial act). Sanada tries convincing Kodai that it is necessary and to think of *his* feelings, after all he was her father for a year. Scaldart appears on the screen and shoots Sasha, and an emotional Kodai fires the gun.
The film ends with the now-dead Sasha giving her goodbyes to the Star Force, especially Sanada and Kodai, and rejoining her mother. The Yamato flies back to Earth, where Yuki waits at Hero's Hill for Kodai.
The last half hour or so of the movie aside, BFY is quite a ride both visually and emotionally. Our heroes are put to the ultimate test as they are now fighting to liberate a defeated Earth as opposed to defending against a would-be invader, and even at its most unbelievable and silly, the characters still ring true and the general plot is good enough to hold your interest. Sasha is arguably the best character of the non-main cast in all the movies, someone filled with tons of potential. Unfortunately, it's marred by hurried plotting, a ridiculously unbelievable enemy motivation (at least Yamato 3 did this better), and an unnecessary death (Sasha would've been better served if she could've stayed around into a later series or movie). And what's supposed to be Yamanimi's dramatic, emotionally charged death scene becomes an "Oh well, another dead Captain" moment (the emotional punch they wanted us to feel at the Captain's death would've had more impact if he was a character we already knew, like maybe Mamoru Kodai or General Todo, or at least a character who *did* something). All these factors make BFY stretch your suspension of disbelief almost to the breaking point. Lots of stuff happens in the last half hour that really doesn't make all that much sense, as if the writers, producers, animators, and director were so wrapped up in how the "warp scope" section looked that they forgot that it was only supposed to be the window dressing and still needed a good story to hang it on. Had BFY been later adapted into the originally proposed third series and the time was taken to explain some of the oddities, fully develop the new characters, and give some of the returning veterans more screen time, the BFY storyline could very well have turned out to be Yamato's crowning achievement. But the franchise never truly recovers from BFY's last half hour, as both Yamato 3 and Final Yamato continue in this steady decline. Voyager's poor presentation sabotages many of the good points, most notably the artwork and musical score, and that only makes the problems with the movie that much more evident.
Japanese Language,English Subtitles,Original Theatrical Program Book (translated), Art Galleries, The Making of the movie, Musical Postlude
Phillips Magnavox 32" TV, Sony DVP S360 player, "Jury-rigger special" audio set-up, KLH speakers