Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie -

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Mania Grade: B-

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  • Audio Rating: B
  • Video Rating: A-
  • Packaging Rating: A+
  • Menus Rating: B
  • Extras Rating: A
  • Age Rating: 13 & Up
  • Region: 1 - North America
  • Released By: Voyager
  • MSRP: 29.95
  • Running time: 135
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Starblazers / Yamato

Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie

    November 30, 2002
Release Date: September 24, 2002

Space Battleship Yamato: The Movie
© Voyager

What They Say
"Space Battleship Yamato" is the warp-speed version of television's first "Yamato" series, known in the U.S. as "Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar." This seamless motion picture features the episodic adventure's most spectacular battles, dramatic personal encounters, intimate moments, and the unparalleled suspense of an intergalactic race against time to save Earth from total destruction. To avoid nuclear fallout, survivors of a suprise attack from the Planet Gamilus are living in undergound cities--but the radiation is seeping ever downward, and humanity's days are numbered. The Yamato has only one year to make a 148,000 light year voyage from Earth to the planet Iscandar and return with a neutraliazer that will cleanse Earth's irradiated atmosphere.

The Review!
Sometimes I wonder if Voyager Entertainment is in this business to lose money, because this release really slipped under my radar. As of this writing, Right Stuf only recently is showing it in their catalog, but as "on order from manufacturer," Amazon doesn't show it at all, and Suncoast has it as "2-3 weeks availability." Had I not stumbled across it at a local anime shop, I probably wouldn't have known about it myself, and it's rare that Yamato news gets by me. Even seeing it in the store, I almost thought it was a bootleg, and only picked it up when I confirmed it was the real thing after seeing it on VEI's website.

For such an old movie, and a direct port from a VHS master, the video is surprisingly good. VEI had gotten laserdisc masters from Japan when they first released the movies on VHS years ago, and they counted among the best looking (ignoring the age of the source material) anime VHS tapes I owned. The DVD doesn't disappoint, the reds, greens, and browns of the Earth uniforms look great, as does the Yamato herself, along with the space backgrounds and colorful battles (with explosions that range from dull gray to bright blue). The transfer is soft, but not as bad as the Star Blazers release. There is a problem, however, that can be summed up in two words:

Hard Subs

The hard subs are up to the individual. Personally, they don’t bother me much beyond the laziness aspect - that VEI couldn't or wouldn't spring a bit more cash and commission a new master for DVD, complete with soft subs. But then again, I don’t speak Japanese, so I wouldn't be turning the subs off in the first place.

One more nit-pick. The layer switch was done pretty poorly, in the middle of some action, as a ship was attempting to cross the screen and paused for approximately 2 seconds. Layer switches really need to be done after the end of a scene, not in the middle of it.

The audio is a bit of an odd animal. There's two tracks, a 2.0 track and a 5.1 (DTS, I believe) track. What's strange about it is that the soundtrack is in mono in both cases. Not having a 5.1 setup, I can only imagine this was done to fill all speakers. Other than that, it's a fairly solid track. The 5.1 track is a bit more immersing on my setup, it sounds a bit wider. But there is a bit of hiss and distortion on both, most likely due to the age of the source material more than anything else.

Unfortunately, the 5.1 track on my copy goes dead at about 1:24:00, then picks up at the beginning of the movie. So unfortunately it is a useless waste of space. Thankfully, the 2.0 track is OK.

VEI did this one right. Unlike the VHS release, which featured a simple image of the Yamato on the cover, they went the extra mile and used the Mikimoto artwork from (I believe) the Japanese LD release. It's great seeing Matsumoto character designs with a Mikimoto polish to them. The back cover simply re-hashes the text from the VHS release (spoilers and all) with a full-cover shot of the Yamato making planetfall to Iscandar. I actually like this back cover better than standard animation shots, as it makes it a bit more artistic looking.

The menu starts with a sequence of the Yamato breaking free of the dried up seabed. I'm not a fan of overly-elaborate menus, so the animation was a bit annoying to me. But the main menu was quick and easy to navigate, featuring the same Mikimoto artwork as is on the cover.

Pretty neat extras, and I'm wondering how VEI managed to get them. They were able to secure the alternate Iscandar sequence (where Starsha was a ghost), and the theatrical trailer. Also is a 14-page essay on the Yamato phenomenon and where this movie fits in. Good reading for the fan.

Content (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Content and plot-wise, the first Space Battleship Yamato movie is nearly identical to the Star Blazers series I release. Very little was re-animated, in fact the movie is about 95%-99% compiled footage from the first Yamato TV series, and when you take into account the cuts made to Star Blazers, you have about 80% of the footage here if you own those disks. I'd guess that most people reading this already know the story, and for those who don't I will direct you to my reviews of the Star Blazers volumes. I will say two things, first this is currently the only place to see some key cuts made during the transition from Yamato to Star Blazers, the biggest being the history lesson of the WWII battleship (which is also available as an extra on Star Blazers volume 2), Kodai's (Wildstar's) emotional "victory tastes like ashes" speech, and the deaths of Dommel (Lysis), and Hiss (Krypt).

Now, onto what's missing. Fandom legend has it that this movie was one of the many big differences between Matsumoto and Nishizaki. Matsumoto wanted to reanimate the Iscandar story for the big screen (something he'd later do for Galaxy Express 999 and Queen Millennia), while Nishizaki felt the need to "strike while the iron was hot," that iron being the Star Wars craze of the late 70's. Whether or not this story is true is open to debate (and the history essay in the extras section does call much of this into question), but what we do know is that Nishizaki made the right call. The compilation movie was a phenomenal success, more than the TV series during its initial run, and paved the way not only for re-broadcasts of the original series, but all the subsequent sequels (and it was that success which gained the attention of a certain animation importer in the United States). Had they taken the time to produce a brand new feature, it is entirely possible that it wouldn't have been as popular as quickly, s

That's not to say the movie is without flaws. In fact, the only reason I rate the content as high as I did is because as of this writing it's the only place in Region 1 where you can see any footage the first Yamato series in its original language at all. If the Yamato TV series was available in Japanese, I'd rate this as "get it only if you're a completeist." I've seen quite a few anime compilation movies and this one is by far the weakest. The Gatchaman movie took a great approach - spend half of the movie working on the main character's story arc, spend the other half on the second main character. The Gundam movies did it even better - three movies covering each of the main story arcs. The Yamato team probably could have stretched this out to two movies - one covering the trip from Earth to Balan, the other covering Balan, the Rainbow Galaxy, Gamilon, and Iscandar - and have gotten much better results.

This "meat cleaver" approach to editing is no where more apparent than in many of the character arcs, all of which happen during the filler portion of the series. As a result of the entire filler arc being ejected, Shima's (Venture) rivalry with Kodai isn't anywhere to be found, Sanada's (Sandor) revelations about being a cyborg have been excised, and Aihara (Homer) doesn't have his nervous breakdown. Kodai and Yuki's (Nova) romance survives somewhat, but almost as an afterthought. Also, approximately 90% of Dommel's character motivation is missing as well, due to the removal of the entire Balan mini-arc. There is no rivalry between Dommel and Gale (Volgar), in fact Gale comes off as being Dommel's faithful second, instead of a rival for command. And Dommel's desperation to beat the Star Force and destroy the Yamato even at the cost of his own life is confusing without knowing that he'd been sentenced to death and was pardoned by Dessler (Desslok) in order to fight one final battle against the Yamato.

The bottom line - the movie plays out like what it is, a compilation of "greatest hits" from the TV series, nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps it was always in the back of Nishizaki's mind to revive the Yamato franchise with this movie, use the compilation to whet the new Japanese space opera audience's appetite with their own home-grown product, get them to see what they missed the first time around, and get them hooked enough to want to see the whole TV series. Planned or not, it worked.

VEI's release, however, is a bit of an odd case. I'd like to recommend it wholeheartedly as Japanese-language Yamato, but the hard subs and the fact that this is the weakest of the five Yamato movies make it difficult. On the other hand, the other four, should VEI decide to re-release them, are a different animal and very easy to recommend, even with hard subs. However, without some knowledge of the original series, the viewer will be lost as to the setting and the character interactions (and who that old guy in the picture is that Kodai keeps talking to!) in the other features, and in that case you will need this movie if you are not going to purchase the Star Blazers disks. Finally, the movie does improve on subsequent viewings. Once you're expecting the "warp speed" pace, it's easier to follow and enjoy.

Japanese Language,English Subtitles

Review Equipment
Sony 23" Trinitron TV, Sony DVP S360 player, "Jury-rigger special" audio set-up, KLH speakers.


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