Space Battleship Yamato Archive

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Afternoon Anime: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – Episode 26

Here we are at the end of SBY 2199. As much as I’ve picked on the series from time to time, I can honestly say that I don’t want it to be over. The series is uneven and confounding at times, but overall, it’s the kind of space opera that has been missing from North American television for quite some time.

This, the final chapter, is rooted in humanity. There’s not a Gamilan or Iscandarian to be found in the entire episode; though the former is grounds for a little disappointment since the writers left the empire in such a fantastic state of disarray. Instead, good old fashioned human emotion brings this particular story to a close.

In another classic Yamato misdirect, Yuki isn’t dead. Rather she’s in a coma with a 0.1% chance to recover. Moreover, Captain Juzo Okita, the man who led the Yamato from Earth to Iscandar and back again, is on death’s doorstep. With Sanada’s attentions focused on researching the Cosmo Reverser, the burden of leadership falls squarely on Kodai’s shoulders. And in that shift, the episode’s emotional impact really starts to hit home.

So much of this epilogue is spent on illustrating how the final year of the Earth-Gamilas war has worn Kodai to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. When the eyes of junior officers are upon him, Kodai is the model of efficiency. The moment he’s alone, he slumps against bulkheads and struggles to keep his composure. We witness in equal measures how the war has brought out the leader in him, but also how unprepared he is for the burden of command. It’s about then that Yuki dies.

What? What? What!

SBY 2199 loves blowing red shirts out of hull breaches. When it comes to named characters, the series constantly stops short of killing off anybody we will miss. What a shame that this episode proved to be the rule, rather than the exception. Yuki’s death lasts just long enough to give us a full-on Kodai meltdown, and to serve as an emotional counter point to the out-of-nowhere wedding between a pilot and a nurse. Apparently, Kato and Harada had a romantic subplot.

Ultimately, it’s the McGuffin of the Cosmo Reverser that brings Yuki back to life. In order to function, the Cosmo Reverser needs to be inhabited by the memory of a person who remembers the Earth before the war. In this case it is the memory of Kodai’s older brother, Mamoru. The “ghost” of Mamoru Kodai witnesses his younger brother holding Yuki’s cold body asking, in what can only be described as a fit of juvenile selfishness, what’s the point of saving the Earth if Yuki won’t be there to see it.

What’s the point, Kodai? What about the few hundred million people living underground on the irradiated Earth? I’m sure they would gladly accept Yuki’s sacrifice with quiet dignity.

Despite having the weight of humanity on his ghost shoulders, Mamoru Kodai decides to help his brother out. He activates the Cosmo Reverser prematurely, thus bringing Yuki back to life.

Then, through the magic of Deus ex Machina, the Cosmo Reverser manages to capture Captain Okita’s…soul…I guess…in the instant of his death. Without any intervention from Iscandar, Okita becomes the core of the Cosmo Reverser and thus saves the Earth.

In addition to saving the Earth, Captain Okita also saves the episode from becoming a farce of a happy ending. Even a cynical bastard like yours truly couldn’t help but be moved by Captain Okita’s final moments. Alone and still in his uniform, Captain Okita sees his mission through to the end and dies gazing upon the Earth. Okita’s transformation into the memory of a blue and green Earth is his final act of contrition for failing to prevent the Earth-Gamilas war during the first contact between the two species.

Ultimately, the finale of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 it is a moment of catharsis. The series has constantly seen its characters rising to the occasion as the weight of the world sat on their shoulders. Previously, any such moments of reflection existed only as a prelude to disaster. The finale finally afforded the characters, and the audience, an emotional experience that spanned a broader spectrum. Still, the fake Yuki death seems a cheap way to frame Kodai as a burgeoning leader. A final talk between Okita and Kodai could have got the job done. Instead, the writers drove the point home in a clumsy sort of way. I think the kids are calling it an “all of the feels” ending.

Meh. I’ll take the somber reflection of Okita’s final moments as my take away for the series.

Stay tuned to the Page of Reviews for my overall review of Space Battleship Yamato 2199.


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Afternoon Anime – Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Episode 25

The second to last episode of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is, overall, a good episode. Albeit, if the episode was intent on surprising us with its plot developments, then the writers really need to get a better handle on how to effectively foreshadow. I don’t think this is the first time I have said that, either. Instead, it’s best to look at this chapter as an interesting window into some of the series’ broader subtexts.

We open with yet another of Crewman Misaki’s radio broadcasts/info dumps. Therein, we learn that the Yamato is two months out from Iscandar and on approach to the Milky Way warp gate at Balun. The ceasefire with the Gamilans has allowed the Yamato’s crew some time to reflect on their mission and grieve for their lost comrades. Of course, nobody should be surprised when the moment of somber reflection turns into an all out shit storm for the Yamato. Because – big surprise here – Dessler isn’t dead. I’m sure this news shocks absolutely nobody, assuming you’ve been watching the show or reading these reviews.

While the Yamato was making its way back to Earth, Dessler was assembling a fleet of loyalists, seemingly under the command of General Goer.  Rather than plunge his empire into civil war (i.e. the thing you would expect from a deposed emperor), Dessler’s plan for his three thousand ships is little more than revenge against the Yamato and Captain Okita. Somehow, he thinks that defeating a lone Terran ship is going to help him score points with Starsha – who he admits to being his one true love – and thus bring order and stability to the universe. I suppose we’re meant to believe this lone act will undermine the fact that Admiral Ditz seems to have the empire, and the bulk of its military, under his control.

This poses an interesting question in terms of the series’ broad allegory. If Dessler=Hitler and Gamilas=Germany what are we to make of the mad king and his now penitent empire? The original series made it easy for us; Kodai blew up the lion’s share of Gamilas before landing on Iscandar; no symbolism there at all. Now, the waters are a bit more muddy.

Be that as it may, SBY 2199 has always been very careful in framing the Gamilan military as subordinate to and separate from the political machinations of the Imperial Guard (aka the S.S.) and Dessler’s himself. We see this in Admiral Ditz, supreme commander of the Gamilan fleet, liberating the Gamilans imprisoned under Dessler’s regime. Similarly, in the aftermath of the battle of Baleras, it was General Hiss who declared that Gamilas had no more feud with Earth. Perhaps what we are looking at here is a story that is not drawing a line between space nazis and space terrorists, as I originally suspected, but mobilizing the old anime trope of “the good soldier” as an attempt to look at Germany without the post-war revisionism that underwrote the original series.

We see the good soldier personified in the likes of Domel, Ditz, Okita, Kodai. They don’t revel in blood lust, but they won’t hesitate to do their duty when called upon. They’ve also done terrible things in the course of that duty. However, when we compare them to the likes of Goer and Gimleh, who revel in destruction – the latter of the two exterminating an entire planet that dared to rise up in rebellion against the empire – they become relatable figures, neither good nor evil, residing instead in the moral grey area reserved for soldiers who genuinely believe they are doing the right thing.

All of this leads to me say, once again, that the Gamilan side of this story is probably the best part of the series. Forget about Earth, if there’s a second season of SBY 2199, I want it to be told from the perspective of the Gamilans trying to find a new path in the absence Dessler’s toxic influence over the empire. Consider that we see Melda Ditz and Princess Yurisha standing shoulder to shoulder on Gamilas. Does this suggest that there might be room for a proper reunion between Iscandar and Gamilas? Admiral Ditz released both Gamilan and Gatlantian prisoners on his tour of the empire’s penal colonies, what impact will that have on shaping a peace between the White Comet Empire and Gamilas?

Even with Dessler’s apparent death (again…) at the end of this episode, everything on the Gamilan side of the story is left in such an open-ended state that the audience can’t help but want more. The only thing that could ruin it would be a throw away epilogue in the final episode. Something that in thirty seconds of exposition says, “Earth, Gamilas, and Iscandar learned to live in peace and formed the United Federation of Planets. Everybody go home.”

Notwithstanding such a cheap wrap-up, all that’s left for this series is the crying, literally. During Dessler’s last, desperate bid to capture the Yamato, Yuki is seemingly shot and killed. The episode ends with another, now famous, Kodai scream. Setting aside the fact that Dessler’s attack killed dozens of red-shirts, I’m still not sold on the idea of Yuki being dead. First, death doesn’t seem to be a problem with named characters, especially if your name is Dessler or Sanada. There’s also the fact that Starsha got really enigmatic about how the Cosmo Cleaner would restore the Earth. I suspect there will be some sort of relationship between the amnesiac Yuki and the Iscandarian McGuffin.

One episode to go, then this wacky experiment comes to an end.


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Afternoon Anime – Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Episode 24

Surprisingly enough, there’s not a lot to say about the third to last episode of Space Battleship Yamato 2199: The Faraway Promised Land. After a voyage of 160,000 light years, the Yamato arrives on Iscandar, and it turns out that Princess Starsha, Earth’s guardian angel, is a bit curmudgeon.

Despite surviving the depths of space and the brutality of Dessler’s armadas, Starsha doesn’t want to give the Cosmo Reverser, the key to Earth’s salvation, to the Yamato’s crew. Even with Yurisha begging her sister to save humanity, and Admiral Ditz – defacto leader of the Great Gamilas Empire in the wake of a supposedly dead Dessler – announcing the end of hostilities with Earth due to Captain Okita’s decision to save the Gamilan homeworld from Dessler’s madness, Starsha still needs to think about if humanity is worth saving.

Seriously, Starsha? What’s your damage? In a word: guilt.

The Iscandarians, as we know from the original series, are an almost extinct people. But instead of being an enigmatic, but generic, counterpoint to Gamilas’ brutality, this episode shows us that Iscandar’s pacifism is the result of a history of brutal imperialism. Starsha reveals that her people once weaponized wave motion energy and used it to forge an interstellar empire. So we have a bit of a nuclear allegory on our hands here; this is to be expected from Space Battleship Yamato, but it’s telling to see said nuclear guilt coming from Iscandar and not humanity.

Starsha’s guilt turns the Cosmo Navy, and the Earth, into the ultimate good guy, excusing all previous actions on the part of the Yamato. Though it’s obvious that Starsha sees something of Iscandar’s violent past in humanity, recent actions from the Yamato prove that humans are, despite our flaws, far better than Iscandarians as a people. I mean, we don’t go around using wave motion energy to blow up planets unless we absolutely have to.

If that wasn’t enough guilt, this episode also reveals that Starsha is partly responsible for Dessler building the Great Gamilas Empire. During a flashback we see a young Dessler speaking on his desire to unite Iscandar and Gamilas. Starsha refuses on the grounds that their planets’ philosophies are too far apart to ever facilitate a unification. Post-empire Iscandar wants to bring salvation and enlightenment to all sentient races. Dessler then perverts that vision into a justification for building his empire. He will bring salvation and peace at the end of a gun. Therefore, all of the suffering the Gamilans inflected upon the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds are partly Starsha’s fault.

Between species guilt, personal guilt, and the acute pain of watching Mamoru Kodai die in her arms after the Gamilan prison ship carrying him crashed on Iscandar – so much for the love story between the elder Kodai and Starsha – Starsha’s decision to help humanity seems to have less to do with the Yamato’s actions, and more to do with her own guilty conscience.

And that’s really all there is to this part of the story. It is a lot of watching the Yamato’s crew wait while Starsha wrings her hands and backfills on the Iscandarian side of the story. It’s not a bad episode per-se, but it is another “pause” episode following an “all out action” episode. With two more episodes to go, I think it’s clear that the moral of this story is not “the guilt of the reluctant hero,” but simply that humans are better than aliens. Of course, the more interesting question emerging out of that motif is should we read a national allegory into this message?

Stray thoughts:

- SPACE BIKINI YAMATO 2199. Seriously, what’s the point?

- I would wager a thousand dollars that Dessler isn’t really dead.

- Is anybody going to explain how Admiral Ditz managed to insinuate himself as the defacto leader of the Gamilan Empire, or are we just going to have to roll with that one?

- Does anybody else think that Mamoru Kodai’s soul went into the Cosmo Reverser?


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Afternoon Anime – Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Episode 23

Episode 23, One Man’s War, comes a fair distance out of right field. In fact, the story goes so far off the rails from the previous chapter that it’s hard not to view this installment as the writers frantically trying to avoid painting themselves into a corner. Recall that Captain Okita told the crew that their destination was Iscandar. Yet a blast from Dessler’s wave motion gun manages to shatter that particular plot point as the Yamato sets a direct path for Gamilas without a word of explanation. Then things start to get really weird.

So weird that the episode evokes memories of the final plot arc of Gundam Wing. For reasons of pure plot convenience, Captain Okita’s grand strategy in attacking Gamilas is to ram the Yamato into Dessler’s palace. It’s a move that screams desperation at a point when the Yamato is generally space worthy and combat ready. Right about the same time Okita is blowing common sense out the airlock, Dessler launches his personal flagship to rendezvous with the orbiting fortress “Second Baleras,” which looks nothing at all like Gundam’s Battle Station Libra. Shortly after docking his ship with the orbiting platform, which he intends to use to bring a little bit of Gamilas to Iscandar, Dessler ejects a massive industrial block from the fortress, setting it for a collision course with the original Baleras.

Paging Heero Yuy. Heero Yuy to the recycled plot wing.

Is anybody else confused yet? Is something lost in the translation that explains why Dessler has morphed into Nero over the span of an episode? Rather than being the calculating tactician, Dessler has turned into a madman intent upon destroying his former capital city through any means necessary. When the Yamato turns the wave motion gun on the falling industrial block, stymieing Dessler’s massacre, Dessler targets his own wave motion gun on the unsuspecting city below. In this moment the writing is probably at the worst I’ve seen it in the series. There’s no motivation here. For Dessler, there’s nothing to be gained, and everything is to be lost. The Gamilan leader’s willingness to destroy his own people burns through all the character development we’ve seen out of him in this series. Dessler talks about merely destroying Baleras, but both the audience and Dessler know that a wave motion blast will destroy all of Gamilas. How does he think he would be allowed to rule after destroying the homeworld of his empire? It makes no sense.

Only slightly less disappointing is Okita’s decision to use the wave motion gun, the series’ ubiquitous weapon of mass destruction, to save the doomed Gamilans in Baleras. Though I wouldn’t expect him to do otherwise, the incident feels like a cop out. The original series had Kodai destroy much of Baleras in a surprise attack. The guilt that he felt afterward informed his narrative and served to underscore the series’ main theme: a justified war must be fought with equal parts regret and virtue.

Now there’s no other interpretation for the incursion to Gamilas than as a mission to win the hearts and minds of the Gamilan people while simultaneously demonstrating to Yurisha that humanity’s weaponization of wave motion energy had a purpose beyond abject destruction. “Actions not words,” Okita says to Yurisha as he announces his plan to save his enemy’s city. It’s a callback to their previous conversation wherein the Third Princess of Iscandar said that humanity was no better than Gamilas. Now with Baleras safe, Okita has likely proven that the Earth is worthy of salvation. Perhaps he even finds some level of redemption for the fact that he was party to the massacre that started the war between Earth and Gamilas. Though the colonizing nature of the Gamilan Empire likely meant that their recon probe into the Sol System would have led to an invasion regardless of how Humanity conducted itself during the first contact.

The episode ends with an peaceful stillness in the space surrounding Gamilas. A lone second-class Gamilan shoves a captured Yuki out of an airlock – later to be rescued by Kodai – before detonating the wave motion core of Second Baleras. The subsequent explosion destroys the battle station as well as the Imperial Guard fleet surrounding Gamilas. It’s probably safe to assume that Dessler’s ship jumped before being vaporized.

I always wondered if Yamato 2199 would stay clear of its predecessor’s third act genocide. While I’m generally okay with the end result of One Man’s War, I won’t give it any any style points for getting from point A to point B. Everything about this new end-game feels too artificial. Dessler’s convenient jaunt into madness runs counter to much of what we’ve seen from this character. Similarly, Okita’s generally poor choice of tactics worked out just a little too well for the Yamato and the city of Baleras. It got us where we needed to be, but it was an ugly ride.

Stray thoughts

- Okita passed out on the bridge, again. I wonder if he’s actually going to die this time.

- Some part of me is worried that the series is going to take a page from the terrible Space Battleship Yamato live action film and kill everybody in the final episode.

- It seems less and less likely that Sanada is going to turn into out to be a cyborg.


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Afternoon Anime: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – Episode 22

After multi-episode battles, race wars, and prison riots, the twenty-second episode of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 offers a much needed pause so that the audience might catch up on the nuances of the war. Though, once again, the episode’s primary focus is on Gamilas, it devotes just enough time to the Yamato to set up the final conflict between humanity and the Gamilans.

The use of the Captain’s Log trope to introduce the episode is something of a cheap expository device, but I dare say it is necessary to spell out a few things that the series previously glossed over. Specifically, Admiral Ditz is indeed in charge of an insurrection against Desler. I will admit that his mission to liberate Gamilan prison planets seems like an odd way to sow dissent. Ditz’s quest will certainly yield loyal soldiers, but without a fleet of ships behind him, his actions seem largely symbolic. Then again, Ditz was supreme commander of the Gamilan fleet; thus he was ideally placed to fill the fleet with supporters who could execute simultaneous Red October style coups on his order.

The episode also spends some time further defining the relationship between Gamilas and Iscandar. Through Ditz, the audience learns that Iscandar is not simply an item of political desire for Gamilas, but an object of worship. Blue and white skinned Gamilans, alike, scrape and bow before the very mention of Iscandar. Desler’s plan to exploit this reverence sees him passing off a captured Yuki as Yurisha – the Third Princess of Iscandar. With Yuki at his side, Desler announces to his people that Yurisha has agreed to a union between the two sister planets. The gambit is not entirely surprising given the way in which the series’ iconography has framed the Gamilas/Iscandar relationship as one of 1930s Germany and Austria. However, the writing does take the “we are one people” conceit a step farther; Desler announces to all of Gamilas that Iscandarians and Gamilans were once a single species, which at some point in the distant past was bifurcated into the current binary.

Despite this return to the simplistic framing of Gamilans as Space Nazis, with Desler on a personal mission to bring civilization to the barbarian species of the cosmos, I still find myself intrigued with the Gamilan side of the story. Desler, is far more ambiguous than the series first let on. He’s certainly a tyrant, but is he a tyrant with good reason? Are there worse things than the Gamilan Empire?

It’s also worthwhile to ask how complicit Desler is in the persecution of his own people? It often seems like the Imperial Guard is to blame for the crimes against Gamilan civilians. Despite the aural similarity, to Japanese ears at least, between Albet Desler and Adolf Hitler, could the character be a closer analogue to Emperor Hirohito? Are his actions beholden unto the Gamilan military junta, rendering him little more than a ideological figure head? Or is he complicit in the atrocities of the empire? Let’s not forget that we’ve seen the Gamilan fleet bombarding a rebel planet into extinction. Are Desler’s finger prints on those actions?

The episode ends with Desler ordering the firing of what appears to be a wave motion weapon at the Yamato after it warps into the Gamilas/Iscandar solar system. I suppose the final four episodes will offer up a verdict on Desler and his government.

Stray thoughts:

The prevalence of saluting in this episode makes me wonder what happened to the old cross chest Terran Space Navy salute? Perhaps the writers thought it necessary to balance the Gamilan “heil five” with something more definitively Terran.

A girl-talk session with Yurisha, Ens. Yamamoto, and Melda Ditz sort of passes the Bechtel Test. They aren’t explicitly talking about men, but the topic of conversation hovers around non-gendered relationships before shifting to ice cream and star fighters.

Kodai rejects a plan from Lt. Nambu to rescue Yuki from Gamilas and hates himself for the decision. Both he and Okita are resolute that the Yamato’s mission is to Iscandar, not Gamilas. Presumably Nambu’s plan involved using the wave motion gun.


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Afternoon Anime – Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Episode 20

Episode 20, Under a Rainbow Sun, resumes the story that began in episode 19. We open on the Yamato and Domel’s battle group poised for a dramatic showdown within the Rainbow Nebula. As the battle unfolds, the audience is treated to a pretty fantastic episode. Yet the story still falls short of greatness due to an ending which, once again, demonstrates Yamatos fatal flaw: an unwillingness to employ the narrative courage incumbent upon a war story.

While it would be easy to dwell on the episode’s weak ending, the balance of the story finally sees the series raise the bar on telling an honest war story. Fighter pilots, both Terran and Gamilan, die in doves during a ranged battle which quickly devolves into a knife fight between capital ships. What’s remarkable is the way the writing establishes these disposable characters as empathetic figures before ruthlessly killing them off.

One such example sees a Yamato pilot unable to reconcile the fortunes of war, in that sometimes a soldier doesn’t see a lot of action, against an internal sense of cowardice. I recall seeing something similar in Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Sometimes soldiers don’t get a chance to fight, yet they still have to watch their friends prove their valour, often dying in the process. This feeling of inadequacy instantly resonates with a viewer, thus making the pilot’s suicidal solo attack against a Gamilan carrier all the more meaningful. We knew nothing about this character before the episode. We won’t learn anything more about him now that he’s dead. However, he’ll likely be one of the series’ most memorable figures simply for the fact that the writer’s masterfully followed the maxim of showing rather than telling his limited arc.

Chaos quickly becomes the episode’s watch word as Domel’s fighters warp ahead of the carrier group to strike at the Yamato. This second wave of Gamilan fighters destroys the Yamato’s radar, allowing the space submarine to deploy the Zaltzi infiltration team. Recall from last week that Desler thinks Yuki is Iscandarian royalty. He has taken it upon himself to liberate her before destroying the Yamato.

If the death of so many Terran fighter pilots didn’t signal a raising of the stakes for the episode, then the Zaltzi infiltrators shooting, and seemingly killing, security officer Hoshina, whose actions were key in stopping Lts Niimi and Ito from executing their coup against Captain Okita, certainly indicates that all former bets are off.

Witnessing Hoshina’s apparent death and XO Sanada taking charge of damage control teams from the infamous Third Bridge, I thought I knew the face of the shape of things to come. The Third Bridge is to Yamato as being an Ensign in a red shirt is to Star Trek: TOS. Despite the ill portent, Okita destroys Domel’s fleet. The Gamilan commander is left with no choice but to detach the command section of his dreadnaught and grapple it on to the Yamato’s third bridge. With plans to detonate the remainder of his command, Domel hails the Yamato and offers his praise to Captain Okita. Though Okita attempts to convince the Domel to stand down, he refuses out of respect for the memories of his fallen soldiers.

The poignancy of Domel’s sacrifice is almost enough to distract a viewer from the Gamilan bridge officers meeting death with a modified Nazi salute. Still, when Domel pushes the button, ushering in a silent explosion in space, I thought it was the end of Sanada and countless other redshirts. Dare I say, it would have made perfect sense for Sanada to die in this episode.

Instead the Yamato sailed out of the nebula, third bridge intact. It turns out that Sanada fixed the wave motion shield just in time to insulate the ship against Domel’s suicide.

How fucking convenient.

Seriously. Why? How many times is Sanada going to dodge the bullet? If the writers are going to go out of their way to make the deaths of no-name characters feel meaningful, why not pull the trigger on one of the senior officers?

Glaring as this shortcoming may be, the episode still gets the job done. It is a vast improvement on the series’ consistent reticence to make the good guys bleed. Imperfect as it may be, I’ll call this one a win.

Stray Thoughts

Hoshina getting shot propels Yurisha to abandon Misaki’s body and emerge from the automatic navigation room; therein even Kodai mistakes her for Yuki. I wonder if the series will offer a real explanation on why these characters have such a similar appearance.

Sanada springs Niimi from the brig to help him fix the Yamato when the Gamilans plug the barrel of the wave motion gun with an explosive drill. Are her past sins forgiven?


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Afternoon Anime – Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Episode 19

Full disclosure: at the time of this post, I have already watched episode 20 of SBY 2199. After some initial misgivings over the quality of episode 19, I intended to review the two episodes in a single post. A subsequent re-watch of both episodes led me to believe that nineteen, though somewhat slower paced that other episodes, is worthy of its own entry. Bearing this in mind, I shall do my best not to let foreknowledge of the series taint my review of the chapter under discussion.

In terms of moving the plot, They’re Coming, does very little. My initial conclusion on the episode was that nothing happened. The Yamato, now 90 days ahead of Gamilas’ main fleet, aims to keep its advantage by plotting a course through a dangerous nebula. Domel, restored to command with Desler secure in his leadership of the empire, anticipates Oktia’s maneuver and leads a small flotilla of carriers to intercept them. Both sides launch fighters, and the story ends on a cliff-hanger.

“Great, more wanking,” I thought. On the surface, this episode seems to revel in the sort of stalling that the audience had to endure as foreplay to the Battle of Balun. Yet on the second watch, I caught myself marvelling at just how engaged I was with the Gamilan side of the story. It’s clear now that there is more to the Gamilans than over-the-top Nazi caricatures. Make no mistake, those aspects of the Gamilan national ethos are still in play. But this episode presents a depth and originality to Desler and his people that has otherwise been absent within the series. One scene in particular digs deep on the idea of Gamilan identity.

Remember a few episodes back when Celestra employed a psychic attack against the Yamato? In the aftermath of that botched mission, Desler learned that there is an Iscandarian aboard the Yamato. He, like seemingly everybody else on the Yamato, mistakenly assumed it to be Lt. Mori. In order to maintain the status quo with Iscandar, Desler orders Domel to recover Yuki before destroying the Terran ship. To do so, Domel employs a strike team of pale skinned second-class Gamilans from the planet Zaltz.

Where we’ve seen other second-class Gamilans acting a reticent agents for the empire, these particular soldiers are even more patriotic than some of their blue-skinned counterparts, despite racial scorn that the latter heaps upon the former. When one of Domel’s officers voices his doubts about the loyalty of Zaltzi-Gamilans, they respond by singing the Gamilan national anthem.

Lyrics:

Our noble home

Planet where the blue flowers blossom

Sing a song of joy

May god’s grace always be with us

Ghale Gamilon

Hail to the victory of our home

These Zaltzi see being Gamilan as an identity that transcends their original nationality. Granted, the distinctions are arbitrary given that we know even a blue skinned Gamilan is physiologically identical to a terrestrial human – thus reminding us of the series’ anti-war conceit in that we are all the same within the vastness of the cosmos. I’ll also concede that this probe into identity is probably nothing more than a shallow commentary on the fallacy of the master race i.e. there is no “master race” just delusional people who buy into the words of a demagogue. Still, this sequence is done with slightly more aplomb than we’ve seen from the series to date. Furthermore, SBY’s tendency to telegraph future events means that there is probably a reason we’re getting this insight into the social structure of the Gamilan empire. Perhaps a Gamilan civil war isn’t off the table for the third act.

They’re Coming might not be the most action heavy episode of the series, but is the first time that the series has convinced me to care about Gamilan identity as a diverse thing. I’ll go so far as to say that I wouldn’t mind watching a short run series set on Gamilas. Though the Gamilans may have began, both in the original series and in this one, as a send-up of Nazi Germany, they  now seems more genuine to an external sense of self.

Stay tuned for episode 20, where things blow up.

Stray thoughts:

-  Standing on the deck of the space submarine, Desler looks down on Gamilas and asks, “What point is there in clinging to this planet.” Desler might have begun as a thinly veiled Space Hitler, but I think it’s fair to say that the character is evolving away from that.

- Yurisha Iscandar, still in possession of Misaki’s body, marvels at the technological horror of the Wave Motion Gun. In a conversation with Captain Okita, she condemns humanity as no different than Gamilas in its love of destruction. Despite the strategically placed copy of War and Peace on Okita’s desk, she might not be far off the mark.


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Afternoon Anime: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – Episode 18

I am getting thoroughly bored of being right in my predictions about Space Battleship Yamato 2199. There’s a first; I’m sick of being right. Witness this particular episode as the second movement in the Yamato two-step of story-telling. In the first motion, the series telegraphs that something big is going to happen over the course of an episode or two. Then, lo and behold, something big happens in the exact way that any half-witted viewer would have seen coming. I ask you, where is the fun in a series that operates this way?

For anybody who didn’t read my last SBY 2199 post, I interpreted all of Field Marshall Zoellek’s hubris and bombast as a signal indicating that Dessler is actually alive. Guess what happened in this episode. Go on, I dare you. Did you guess that Dessler’s death was a hoax?

If Dessler wasn’t going to die and stay dead, what was the point in the last few episodes’ worth of world building on the Gamilan side of the equation? Misdirection is all well and good in a television series, but outright lying to the audience demands some greater purpose. I don’t see a purpose here. All I see is a long-con gimmick designed to make telling the third act a little easier on the writers. To illustrate this point, I’ll have to take you through the even poorer story telling of the episode’s first half.

Episode eighteen begins with a recon mission through the Balun gate. By rights, the pilot sent on this mission is a red shirt. In fact, I don’t think Ensign Shinohara was a named character prior to this episode. He was just a guy with a very non-military haircut. The writers further allude to Shinohara’s red shirt nature with a few other bits of dialogue. Captain Okita specifically comments on how dangerous his recon mission is going to be. Ensign Yamamoto gives Shinohara a lecture on how out of character it is for him to volunteer for the recon flight. Yamamoto also reminds Shinohara that his duty, as a recon pilot, is to return to the Yamato with the required data. In this case, that data is the location of the warp gate to the Greater Magellenic Cloud. Every drop of storytelling wisdom I’ve ever consumed in my years as a writer and critic says that Shinohara is about to give his life for the cause. Then it happens. The writers backfill on Shinohara. If we learned anything in episode seventeen, it’s that  once a named character gets a back story, they’re functionally bullet proof for the short-term future.

In the words of Homer Simpson, “Quit boring everyone.”

Detailed scans from Shinohara’s mission reveal that there are nearly 10,000 Gamilan ships orbiting Balun – for some reason, Zoellek made a naval review his first order of business as Gamilan high commander. Despite this knowledge, Captain Okita orders the Yamato through the gate. Cue awesome battle music and pew-pew lasers. Only before the grace of Zoellek’s incompetence, which sees the Gamian fleet fighting in a gangly parade formation around Balun, does the Yamato survive an encounter with seemingly every ship in the Gamilan navy. Okita’s send-off to this massive fleet is nothing less than the destruction of Balun itself. Using the wave motion gun, Okita blasts the reactor at Balun’s core, disabling the all warp gates in the system. The shot also destroys – or so it seems – the Greater Magellenic Cloud warp gate just as the Yamato passes through it. Hooray for the good guys, right? No not so much.

The entire sequence feels like a tacky way of dealing with the fact that the Gamilans, by rights, should have leveled the Earth and Yamato ages ago. With a military of their size, they are no mere allegory for Nazi Germany. In a Second World War context, Gamilas’ strength seems more akin to the combined military might of America, the United Kingdom, Japan, Russia, and Nazi Germany. Rather than exploring that power in a meaningful way i.e. a full-on Gamilian civil war or even an invasion of the Gamilan Empire from the vanguard of the White Comet Empire – who if you will recall were introduced earlier in this series – the writers have stranded the majority of the Gamilan fleet at Balun. Certainly, they could use their ship-based jump drives to get back to Gamilas and Iscandar, but the Yamato now has a considerable head start on any counter attack.

When we cut to the core of the issue, this entire episode feels like an homage to cheap solutions for otherwise interesting problems. Shinohara should have died on his recon mission. Everybody knows that unless your name is Starbuck, fighter pilots are red shirts with more swagger. Keeping him alive only serves to further cheapen SBY 2199 as a war story. Zoellek’s review of the entire Gamilan navy is just stupid. Not even a half-baked military commander puts all their forces in one place at one time for the sake of a review. Therein, Dessler’s return was predictable and lacked the shock and awe that came with his apparent death all those episodes ago.

SBY 2199 needs to grow up, kill some characters who aren’t Gamilans, and do something, anything, more interesting than telegraphing to the audience.

Stray Thoughts

- Domel was sentenced to death. Did that happen yet?

- Yurisha Iscandar is now in full possession of Misaki’s body. All signs point to the need for an old priest and a young priest to get rid of her. All of the Yamato’s senior officers seem fine with this. Really? Nobody objects to this?

 

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Afternoon Anime: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – Episode 17

I think I’ve finally figured out what SBY 2199 is missing: moral courage. This series constantly flirts with greatness, but never quite seems to deliver it on a consistent basis. For every stand-out episode, there are three more that feel like place holders. Prior to Out of the Forest of Memory, I couldn’t find a way to explain this phenomenon. Now I think I’ve finally struck upon a suitable explanation. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 lacks the moral courage required of a war story, and this is the episode that proves it.

The episode’s almost exclusive focus is on activating a subspace gate that will transport the Yamato 30,000 light years closer to Iscandar. Therein, Kodai, Yuki, and Sanada board the derelict gate’s control satellite. Since a simple repair job would make for a boring episode, we’re treated to flashbacks of an almost love triangle between Sanada, Niimi, and Kodai’s older brother, Mamoru. The exposition strikes as little more than backfilling for Sanada.

Any intelligent viewer should then ask why the story is backfilling on Sanada. What’s the point of establishing a best bro’s relationship between Mamoru Kodai and Shiro Sanada if not to torture Susumu Kodai with the loss of another link to his family? So when the story reveals that the only way for Sanada to activate the subspace gate is at the cost of his own life – thereby demonstrating some cosmically shitty design on the part of the race who built the gate; wherein turning the damn thing on requires the death of the initial operator – it presents a poignant demonstration of the cost of war.

Sanada’s backstory is also apropos of the series’ running theme that a solider has to have the courage to know when to disobey orders. Both Captain Okita and Lt. Commander Sanada dwell upon this maxim in the episode. Okita does so when he reveals to the crew that the Yamato’s resident Iscandarian is not Yuki but the biological core of the ship’s automated navigation system. I do believe that I saw this appropriation of Homeworld coming a few posts back.

While Okita finds the courage to disregard orders, Sanada recalls for Kodai his inability to do the same. With death from radiation poisoning at hand, Sanada’s confesses that he knew the Battle of Pluto, which we witnessed in the series’ first episode, was nothing more than a decoy operation. Sanada let Mamoru Kodai go to his death thinking that he was making a valiant last stand, rather than being thrown under the bus by the UNCF. Kodai, however, doesn’t care about Sanada’s dedication to orders. Rather he appropriately sees Sanada’s looming death as the loss of a connection to a family completely killed off during the war.

Every rule of writing screams that Sanada should die in this episode. Kodai practically begs for last second knowledge of his brother in the face of Sanada’s inevitable demise. When subspace gate activates and Yuki’s scanner registers lethal levels of radiation in the control room, it should be another kick in the stomach for Kodai. Instead, Sanada climbs out of some conveniently placed water and points to handwavium as the reason for his survival.

Weak sauce, SBY 2199. It is, in fact, the weakest of all sauces. Sanada’s an otherwise boring character who adds little to the show save for severity which is best described as Mr. Spock meets Mr. Potatohead. This episode was a perfect chance to kill him off at his most human. Instead of exploring how war demands sacrifices on the battlefield, we get saddled with Kodai feeling a new sense of little brotherly affection for the Yamato’s XO. Pair this with the fact that it seems increasingly likely that Dessler isn’t nearly as dead as everybody in the Gamilan high command thinks (I have no evidence other than a shocking amount of hubris from the acting Gamilan commander), and the stakes of this war story seem quite cheap.

I suppose there’s some small comfort to be found in the fact that the Yamato’s destination once it exits the warp gate is none other than Balun. Balun, a heavily fortified Gamilan transit hub. Balun, the planet where the chief usurping Gamilan just ordered his fleet.

Yet you’ll forgive me if I don’t get too excited. Remember that the last time the Yamato saw a firefight the inevitable consequences were undercut with a plot contrivance.

Find your spine, Space Batttleship Yamato 2199. Otherwise this is going to be one very unremarkable endgame.

Stray Thoughts:

- Domel is convicted of Dessler’s assassination. The scene feels lifted from General Zod’s trial in the Richard Donner’s first Superman movie.

- At the end of the episode Misaki announces herself as Yurisha Iscandar. I think we all saw that one coming.


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Afternoon Anime: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 – Episode 16

Once again, I find myself of two minds regarding an episode of Space Battleship Yamato 2199. Despite some initial silliness, I appreciate how much this series has grown up from the camp and historical revision that underwrote the original product. Moreover, it’s a great example of what military science fiction can do when it isn’t dependent upon the problematic tropes of military SF as exemplified in the works of David Weber and friends. Yet with each passing episode, SBY 2199 compares more easily to the weak parts of Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, and worse, Star Trek Voyager. Allow me to explain.

Episode 16, A Choice for the Future, sees Lieutenants Ito and Niimi springing their mutiny against Captain Oktia and Commander Sanada.  In doing so, the series demonstrates a considerable commitment to long form story telling. Prior to this point, almost every episode of the series has seen its plot individual plot peppered with exposition that served no immediate purpose. This episode ties each and every one of those loose threads together. It reveals Ito and Niimi as the agents of a faction within the UNCF who wanted to use the Yamato as a means of setting up a refugee colony for humanity. The discovery of Beemela-4 at a time when the Yamato is well behind schedule on its mission to Iscandar is all the pretext Niimi and Ito need to sieze the ship and return it to Earth.

As it stands, the intrigue is quite enjoyable, but it is wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste. The plot goes from mutiny to counter-mutiny in less than twenty minutes. For all the slow burn that the writers offered in terms of setting up this coup d’etat, I expected more to come of it. There wasn’t even any indication that Shima, who had been woo’d by Niimi in the last episode, ever entertained doing anything but supporting Okita and Sanada. By episode’s end everything is set up to return to the status quo. Though I suppose the writers could toss us a curve ball and have episode 17 begin with Ito and Niimi getting tossed out an airlock. If it goes down the path of a court marshal then we’ve officially entered the BSG danger zone. Recall how Ron Moore and David Eick were happy to spin their wheels on intrigue because there was no way to have a battle with Cylons in every episode.

Which brings us to the Yamato itself. The writers turned it into Voyager. That is to say all the damage the ship endured in episode 15, including the destruction of three main guns turrets, is repaired at the start of this episode. I seem to recall the Yamato looking like space garbage at the end of The Point of No Return? Now the biggest problem aboard ship is a lack of working showers. Seriously? Of all the places the writers could have went, they went there. What is the point of blowing the hell out of the ship when there’s a reset button lurking in the wings? Writing like that cheapens the whole experience; it reminds me of a certain British science fiction series that has grown a little too fond of Deus ex Machina.

Then, to make life even easier for the crew, Kodai returns from an away mission to Beemela-4 with a brand new wave motion core, which just so happens to have a map of the warp gate system that the Gamilans have been using. There goes the motivation for Niimi’s and Ito’s insurrection. Now the Yamato can use the gate network to show up on Iscandar’s front door with time to spare.

Even though the episode is far from perfect, it does embody the challenges of telling a decent space opera. If it’s all space battles and pew-pew-pew the narrative becomes vapid and pointless. If it’s all talking, then it’s The West Wing in space. Finding the balance between these two extremes can be a challenge, more so when each episode is only 20 minutes long. So as much as I think this particular chapter of SBY 2199 misses the mark in some areas, I respect it for what it is trying to do.

Stay Thoughts:

- Everything that happens in this episode happens on the Yamato. Hopefully the next episode focuses on the looming Gamilan civil war.

- Ito outs Yuki as an Iscandarian to the bridge crew, and nobody really seems to mind.

- Misaki is demonstrating some clear signs of possession/narcolepsy, and nobody really seems to care.

- Niimi gets a little too excited about the prospect of settling on Beemela-4, tipping her hand to Sanada. Confronted by her commanding officer, she confesses her treasonous plans. As in all things, Sanada responds with stoicism. Wouldn’t it be great if the next episode opened with Sanada smashing up his quarters because Niimi betrayed him?