Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 – Episode One – Messenger from Iscander
January 2, 2016 2 Comments
I absolutely adore Yamato 2199, the remake of a Matsumoto Leiji classic from the 1970s, and with the New Year I have decided to produce commentaries for the show. It starts by immediately introducing us to the apparently unwinnable position of an Earth that is on the verge of collapse. Gamilas, the central antagonist of the series is at this point a faceless enemy, launching meteors or ‘planet bombs’ as they are known at an Earth that has no hope of stopping them. The Gamilas fleet is composed of sleek ships that are clearly alien in origin, whereas the Earths spaceships look old and clunky.
The first battle puts me in mind of classic WWII films featuring naval battles – opposing fleets line up and fire volley after volley, but the Earths fleet is so outmatched, so ‘old’ as it where that their shots simply bounce off the sleek hulls of their opponents. Conversely the Gamilas ships are sleek, powerful, and without mercy. They quickly obliterate all but Okita Juuzou’s flagship in a one sided battle that helps to set the tone for the series, because it is an anime about humanities search for survival in the depths of space against a powerful, and apparently unstoppable enemy.
This theme is further emphasised when Mamoru Kodai, older brother of the series main character Susumu Kodai sacrifices himself, and his ship to save Okita. It would be easy to draw parallels between Susumu’s actions and the kamikaze pilots of WWII, but in many respects I think his character has more in common with the honourable samurai. Like those retainers in a Kurosawa film who sacrifice themselves to protect their lord, Susumu and his crew freely, and happily sail into the heart of the enemy fleet, sowing discord and destruction despite their clear disadvantage. That they go to their deaths singing and smiling further emphasises the idea of an honourable soldier sacrificing themselves in the knowledge that their act will save their lord and master. It is a curiously old-fashioned act of heroism that reminds me of films like Ran and Kagemusha (both later Kurosawa films), along with elements of the classic western whereby honourable, but old fashioned gun slingers must confront the new, and destructive world that has finally encroached upon their happy little world.
We are then introduced to the saviour of earth, an alien of ethereal beauty who sadly dies while delivering a curious capsule that holds the hopes and dreams of Earth and everybody who lives there. In the process we get to know the young, and brash Mamoru Kodai, a character who thinks nothing of barging in on Okita during a medical examination, and stealing a brand new fighter plane simply to get what he wants, in this case revenge for the death of his brother. He is presented as the exact opposite of Okita, an old war veteran who has had to watch younger generations sacrifice themselves for Earth while he manages to live on. The weight of all those deaths clearly weigh heavily on Okita’s shoulders, and his general appearance is that of a world weary veteran who nonetheless understands the importance of his knowledge and survival. Even when Susumu and his crew sacrifice themselves, Okita does not look back, knowing that to try and save them would mean certain death and potentially doom humanity.
The episodes final scenes are in many respects a good summary of Earths plight – Kodai and his good friend Shima Daisuke look out over the wreck of an ancient battleship as the sleek, modern Gamilas spy plane flies off into the distance. It is the past trying to battle the future. As a side note, the characters of Kodai and Okita hold further meaning – Okita for example was based on Leiji Matsumoto’s father, who was a Major in the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force and fought in The Battle of Leyte Gulf, which may well be viewed as a parallel with the first battle of the series. Kodai Susumu’s name means ‘to go forward, to improve’ – perhaps positioning his character as the future, whereas Okita represents the past. This is a good introduction to an older series – those who are unfamiliar with Matsumoto Leiji’s work understand who the main characters are, and the central plot, while those who are familiar will immediately recognise important characters, ship designs, and other little details.