Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 – Episode Two – Toward a Sea of Stars
January 9, 2016 Leave a comment
Yamato 2199 has a delightful 1970s aesthetic, complete with flared uniforms, jump suits, big collars, and cravats. Compared to other space opera anime that go for a very modern, futuristic aesthetic, complete with curious fashion, hover vehicles, and all sorts of gadgetry, this is an almost old fashioned looking anime. In doing so the series has a distinctive look that sets it apart from other, similarly themes series. It is an old-fashioned series set in the future, and puts me in mind of Blake 7 (I’m not actually old enough to have watched it, but remember seeing reruns at some point on TV), or the much earlier Lost in Space. It is a curious mix of futuristic elements, and approach to fighters, but with an older aesthetic, that represents a direct link to Matsumoto Leiji’s original work.
The second episode starts where episode one left off, and introduces us to an apparently wrecked ancient battleship that is nonetheless capable of shooting its main guns. As with episode one, the second episode presents us with a airplane battle that could have been lifted from a classic war film. There is a distinct dynamism evident throughout this albeit brief, but energetic dog fight, with planes peeling off for bombing runs, avoiding fighter craft, and exploding in giant fireballs. Whereas episode one suggests a lost cause, this episode offers the audience hope, and demonstrates the fighting spirit of earth and those who are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect it.
Much of the episode is given over to travelling, and the counting of time – as we already know the Earth is doomed, with the Yamato plan its last chance at survival. So, there is a tangible sense of uncertainty, and tension, as the main crew of the Yamato counts down the time until they launch. The tension is further increased with the impending arrival of a Planet Bomb, a giant, slow moving missile that is clearly designed to destroy anything it hits. It is a small but important detail that serves to emphasise the power and technological advantage that Gamilas has over Earth. They can fire a large, slow moving bomb from Pluto in the knowledge that it will hit the intended target – the distance it travels, and Gamilas’ ability to devastate earth from the very edge of the solar system are immediately obvious, and yet also understated, almost like a universal law.
We also get our first look of the Gamilas troops, complete with alien language, and more futuristic or ‘alien’ looking space suits. Interestingly, they are not portrayed as destructive and evil, but are given a number of human touches that serves to situate them less as the emotionless conquers that we assume them to be in episode one, and more as an army of individuals, all from similar backgrounds to human soldiers. There is a clear chain of command, and the commander mentions an opportunistic superior, perhaps suggesting that he and his troops are of a different social group. It is very easy to portray an enemy as emotionless, and evil, Star Trek has done this with a number of alien races who look vicious, even evil, and who refuse to even engage in conversation, let alone negotiation. It would be easy to do the same with Gamilas, and yet, even if the moment is short, we are provided with a brief glimpse into a complex society that may well be trying to conquer/destroy earth, but isn’t necessarily evil.
Also, as a continuation of the difference between a modern, sleek Gamilas fleet with overwhelming firepower, and an old fashioned, and above all weak Earth fleet, the appearance of the Yamato serves to emphasise the importance of accepting the past and using it as a lesson for the future. The titular ship of the series is the Japanese Battleship Yamato – the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleship ever made – given a new lease of life as a space ship, and the last hope of humanity. Whereas every other ship we have seen so far has been relatively sleek, with futuristic cannons, and a design that puts you in mind of space battleships, the Yamato retains its distinctive raised prow, classic WWII era gun batteries, and the red and grey colour scheme of ships from that era. It is quite clearly a battleship given that has been pushed through a futuristic filter, but retains the originals shape and general appearance. In this respect it clearly stands out from the crowd, a throwback to a past age, and a deliberate design choice – the past must make up for its mistakes so that the future can move on and learn from past mistakes.
There are a lot of deliberate elements to this episode, with chains of command being kept, orders given and actions carried out. Rather than crewmembers doing what they want, they first wait for commands from Okita, and then carry them out in a deliberate and thorough manner. As such it reminds me of classic sci-fi like original Star Trek, where every order came from Kirk, usually through Spok, and then carried out by the rest of the crew. At the same time I am again put in mind of old war films, where those who disobey orders, or do their own thing generally put their squad, ship, or plane in great danger and may ultimately pay the price for their indiscretion. The deliberate, and carefully timed launch of the Yamato, complete with the destruction of the Planet Bomb emphasise the importance of this ship and its crew. As they fly through the explosion, and emerge trailing smoke, we are witnessing the hope of humanity as it sets out on an epic voyage of discovery, and potential pain. In many respects it also represents the past finally breaking free from it chains as it goes off into the great beyond to free the earth from its mistakes and create a bright future for humanity. And yet, very little has really happened in these first two episodes, they are deliberately paced, with character introductions, and various little relationships and narratives presented to use without ever quite overloading the viewer. An astonishing achievement, as so many other anime often shove so much at the viewer in the first couple of episodes much of it is forgotten about or lost later on.