This week my regular obsession with the way we used to see the future takes me off to outer space on a desperate journey across the galaxy to save the human race with our Star Blazers . The Earth will survive with the latest installment in GFR’s ongoing series, Futures Past.
Set in a distant future where Earth has been utterly devastated by vicious attacks from an alien race named the Gamilons, Star Blazers follows the heroic efforts of a group of humans called the Star Force aboard Earth’s last space battleship. Created from the leftover hulk of an ancient sea-faring battleship named the Yamato, the ship is christened the Argo and launched into space with an array of super weapons. Her mission, in the first season at least, is to make an epic journey across the cosmos to a planet called Iscandar where, it’s hoped, a friendly alien power has the technology to restore devastated planet Earth.
Check out the first three episodes (enough to get you up through the Argo’s launch on her epic mission) of Star Blazers embedded below. We’ll talk more afterward. In the meantime, feel free to sing along with the theme song if you know it! We’re off to outer space…
Originally released in Japan as Space Battleship Yamato in 1976, this animated space opera was re-edited for an American television audiences and re-titled Star Blazers for its 1979 debut stateside. There are key differences between the shows but for the purposes of this article lets focus solely on the version released here in the United States with its epic opening sequence.
One of the genius conceits of the first season was the ticking clock applied to every episode. The few remaining remnants of humanity have been forced to burrow underground in an attempt to escape from all the Gamilon radiation. But even that tactic will soon fail. In less than a year the radiation will become so intense that even those underground hideaways will be contaminated by it, wiping out the last of humanity and everyone the crew of the Argo loves.
The desperation and the sense of time running out gives the entire show an epic and important feel, but one of the really interesting things about Star Blazers is the kind of civilization it predicts for humanity, a couple hundred years from now. It’s all at once an optimistic and wholly pessimistic view, a picture of a conflicted world where we might have created a paradise… if only.
Star Blazers was a wholly Japanese produce program and a lot of that shows in the bones of the overall story. It’s rooted in the mentality of a nation still recovering from the defeat of World War II and looking for a new identity. In particular it’s missing a lot of the more progressive American attitudes of the time. The Japanese still clearly see women as second class citizens, and Star Blazers reflects that. The only woman who actually makes it on the ship is Nova, and for the most part she’s little more than a nurse and potential love interest for one of the male crewmembers. Clearly the Japanese didn’t predict their views on women changing any time soon.
But for me the most interesting thing about the way Star Blazers views the future is in its portrayal of humanity’s eventual destruction. This story starts at the end of an epic disaster movie in which the Earth has been wholly obliterated by an outside force. This wasn’t an entirely new concept for the time, it’s prevalent in a lot of the era’s sci-fi, but it’s not something you see much anymore.
Modern disaster movies skew towards predicting a future where mankind is obliterated by his own doing. Whether as a result of global warming or some science run amok, most people who look to the future seem to agree that if humanity is wiped out, we’ll do it to ourselves. Star Blazers predicts a future where man could be destroyed through no fault of our own. A place where we’ve already survived our world wars, come together, and been cut down by aliens more powerful than ourselves. There’s something almost optimistic in that, there’s a fundamental belief in mankind’s ability to endure and survive behind everything in Star Blazers and it’s a big part of why the show’s so resonate, despite the limitations of its primitive animation.
It doesn’t matter that the show seems to have no understanding of basic astrophysics, I’m not even sure they know how many planets there are in the solar system. Star Blazers works because it believes in humanity and asks you to believe in the best parts of it, struggling alone out there in the cosmos aboard a ship called the Argo. The Earth will survive… with our Star Blazers.
Check out previous installments in our Futures Past series right here.