Are you ready to journey across the sea of stars? Today we’re returning to Space Battleship Yamato 2199, a show that I am happy to report has absolutely ensnared me. I resisted its charms for an episode or two, but “Jupiter is hiding a secret floating continent full of mystical fauna, which our protagonists blow up with a giant space laser” was just too hard of a sell. Space operas aren’t generally my main thing, but high fantasy is one of my passions, and Yamato is wearing its fantasy influences with pride.
It also helps that Yamato is simply a polished and vividly executed production. Its successes embody one of my favorite art maxims: narrative is incidental, execution is everything. In another show, the first passage into warp drive might be conveyed through a quick color filter and some simulated shaky cam work. In Yamato, it’s an episode highlight, elevated through inspired flourishes like the focus on a dart suspended in mid-flight, and a vision of the Yamato sinking into a kaleidoscopic sea. With its mixture of whimsical fantasy invention and wonder-struck execution, Yamato already feels like a beloved bedtime story, a show that embodies the pleasures of a great fairy tale. Let’s get back to the bridge!
Over on Pluto, the Gamilan higher-ups are less than thrilled to hear that the humans have gained warp drive. In fact, Commander Goer refuses to believe it, and demands his subordinate Shultz provide a “proper report”
They’re doing an excellent job of naturally humanizing the Gamilan side of this conflict. While adding overtly sympathetic qualities to the enemy can accomplish this, that can also come across as a little obvious, like you’re telling the viewer what to feel. In contrast, simply showing the disorder and pettiness implicit in their chain of command emphasizes their individuality and diversity of perspective without beating us over the head with “both sides are wrong”
Goer seems so accustomed to unimpeded victory that his main concern is making sure he has a flattering report for his own higher-ups
“I’ll speak to command about promoting you all from second-class Gamilans to first-class.” So that explains the difference in their skin tones – presumably “first-class Gamilans” are mostly from the actual Gamilan homeworld, whereas second-class Gamilans come from their conquered vassal states. And hey, they included this information naturally in the dialogue, in a way that further humanizes these officers by illustrating part of their motivation, as well as their sense of inferiority within this military structure. WRITING!
Also, I like how Shultz’s subordinate lights up at this promise, but Shultz himself does not. He’s likely aware this is an empty gesture
The Yamato’s CG frame and this starry background allow for some ambitious swooping camerawork as we return to the ship. Space ships might actually be the best possible use of CG art, given how easy it is to naturally integrate them into starry backdrops, and how well those backdrops can handle ambitious camera movement
The crew are discussing “Operation M-2,” a potential sub-mission to disable the Gamilans’ Pluto base. Once again, Yamato is drawing a painful contrast between this team’s long-term objective and their immediate ability to aid the war effort. Seems like we might be building towards some reflections on the sacrifice inherent in duty, and what it truly means to work for a collective purpose. In certain contexts, rushing to help others can actually be the “selfish” choice, even if it feels morally correct
As the young, passionate soldier, Kodai unsurprisingly wants to mount the Pluto attack. But then, a distress signal!
The distress signal is from one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, the opposite direction of their plotted course
Interestingly, while Shima is against the Pluto mission, he’s actually for answering the distress signal. He doesn’t want to go beyond their mission’s parameters directly, but “answering a comrade in need is a sailor’s duty”
Thoroughly amused by this carefully animated cut of just Yuki Mori falling down. The animators certainly have their favorites
They now need “Cosmonite 90,” a rare material that can repair the engine. This may be science fiction, but we’ve clearly just been assigned an epic fantasy quest – we’re dealing with narratives of myth, not technology
Oh, well isn’t that convenient. Enceladus has an abandoned cosmonite mine. Our quest now possesses two objectives: investigate the mysterious distress call, and explore the ominous abandoned mine!
I know storytelling can seem like magic from the front end, but from the back end, it frequently does come down to “the protagonists are in trouble because their doohickey failed, and to fix it they need to go to a place with plentiful doohickeys.” It is not difficult to invent conflict, and if you’re offering a sell as intriguing as “let’s explore the abandoned space mine!”, the audience will be that much more willing to embrace your contrivance
“Our recon ships show them heading towards the sixth planet, Zedan.” I appreciate that the Gamilans have their own names for our planets
Sanada is only eating wafer bars, because “consuming excess calories is foolish.” Love this guy
Nice to see Shima and Kodai reconnecting after their earlier argument. Shima understands Kodai’s desire to challenge Pluto, given Kodai lost his brother there
“Sailors like your dad never abandon their companions, no matter what.” So both Shima and Kodai are driven by the men who inspired them to complete these various tasks
Ooh, I love this shot of the Yamato’s hanger bay
And thus we return to Akira Yamamoto’s story. For a narrative like this, it’s pretty standard to focus on the bridge crew And Also One Fighter Pilot, to get a more expansive view of conflict across the ship, and also to give us an individual face to root for in the battle scenes
With his trademark levity, Sanada remarks that they might run into epic, devastating geysers prompted by Saturn’s gravitational pull
Shima and Kodai’s roles reflect both their origins and self-image. Shima, the sailor’s son, steers the ship and considers himself a sailor. Kodai, the great warrior’s younger brother, fires the laser, and considers himself a soldier
God, the ruins of this mine look so creepily inviting. The background art is really elevating this classic adventure scenario
Kodai is assigned to assist Mori in investigating the distress beacon
Kodai and Mori already have their bicker-flirting down to a science. The medical officer accompanying them is rightfully enjoying the show
Kodai asks if Mori is related to any aliens. I’m still very curious as to humanity’s relationship with other spacefaring races in this narrative – it seems like the “Gamilan Empire” encompasses a great number of subordinate species, so I’m not sure if humanity has already been co-mingling with more peaceful aliens for some time
They discover a frozen earth ship. I like how both sides of this narrative are essentially telling ghost stories this episode
But suddenly, they’re attacked by the Gamilans! It’s delightful to watch a story that feels more influenced by classic adventure serials than modern narratives
With the Yamato also under fire, Yamamoto spots her chance for a career advancement to fighter pilot
With CG missiles and CG ships, Yamato is able to pull off some really energetic, Land of the Lustrous-style camera movement throughout this dogfight. The missiles frankly don’t look the best (particularly their CG explosions), but the energy of the cuts is well worth the bargain
Oh wow, I love how all the gunfire on this frozen moon creates little craters in the earth, which promptly freeze themselves into crystal formations. Fantastic flourish, that really hammers in the dangerous and alien nature of this environment
More great Mori cuts, this time as she frees herself from her captor. Mori has gotten every fluid character acting cut this episode, and they have not been subtle about it
Though she jumps out of his arms after the danger, she still immediately thanks Kodai for saving her. No tsundere nonsense here
And at the end, Kodai makes a difficult discovery: this was actually his brother’s ship. Our space hero saves his companion on the edge of a glacial precipice, only to discover his brother’s final remains as snow falls on their lonely moon. What wonderful, anthemic fantasy drama this is!
Goddamn, this show is so much fun. While there are certainly neat critical wrinkles to pick at, I’m mostly just delighted to be enjoying such a proud and accomplished work of classic space fantasy. The inventive episodic adventures, the iconic dramatic peaks, the charming and familiar cast – Yamato is simply good, operating with a full understanding of its genre’s appeal, and demonstrating the sensational allure of scifi drama built on an epic fantasy framework. I’m also plenty eager to discover where this show is heading with its thoughts on duty, legacy, and community, but for now, I’m happy just to enjoy this journey through the stars.