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  Space Cruiser Yamato
 
1987 | AMT/Video Gems
Space Cruiser aka Yamato

Three years before it hit fame as Star Blazers, Space Battleship Yamato would receive its first, little known, English adaptation. While it went on to do big business in the U.S. this video cassette would be the only way for fans in the UK to sample Yamato until the mid nineties release of Star Blazers by Kiseki.

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The brainchild of Leiji Matsumoto (who has appeared else where in Bargain Bin for SF Saiyuki) and producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki Uchu Senkan Yamato (Space Battleship Yamato) tells the story of humanity's desperate struggle against the Gamilas empire who are determined to wipe out our race and claim Earth as their new home. The planet has become irradiated and barren from the alien armada's constant attacks and mankind now shelters below its surface. The only hope for victory is the secret project to convert the sunken Japanese WWII battleship Yamato into a space battleship. With the aid of alien technology provided by the mysterious Stasha of the planet Iscandar the project is completed and Admiral Okita and his crew of raw recruits, including the promising young Mamoru Kodai, set sail into outer space on the promise of the Cosmo Cleaner D, a technology capable of restoring the Earth to its previous glory.

Uchu Senkan Yamato premiered on the Japanese Yomiuri TV network on October 6th 1974 with the initial series lasting 26 episodes. It has since become one of Japan's most revered and beloved animated series with countless spin-offs and even statues honouring the characters erected in the town of Tsuruga.

But the success of Yamato didn't come over night. In fact the first series of the TV show went relatively unwatched and the low ratings led many to consider it a flop. It was only after the 26 episodes were condensed into one 130 minute movie, which was released theatrically on August 6th 1977 across Japan, that its popularity grew and grew, enough to warrant a second TV series to be put into production.

Around that time in the west the surprise success of the movie 'Star Wars' caused Space Operas to become big business. Anything space-based was being bought up and given its own theatrical release in hope of making even a fraction of what that movie had.

As a result on 16th November 1977 Uchu Senkan Yamato: The Movie found its way into cinemas across Europe and the UK care of an American company called Enterprise Pictures. Rewritten and directed by Gino Tanasescu and redubbed into English with a reduced running time of 101 minutes the newly titled Space Cruiser Yamato received a luke warm reception from the critics during its short run. Many believed it to be simply a rip-off of George Lucas' popular Sci-fi tale not realising that its source actually predated his blockbuster by more than three years.

While Yamato went on to receive large scale success in the United States following the arrival, in 1980, of the TV show Star Blazers, an edited and redubbed version of the original TV series. The UK wouldn't get to see Leiji Matsumoto's Sci-fi epic again until 1987 when the ten year old movie was given its third release, this time on video and at a further reduced length of an 80's kid pleasing 85 mins.

 
 
Space Battleship Yamato Soundtrack
 
 
 

Another difficult-to-view tape. Although I bought this over a decade ago from a second hand store I didn't think it would be any trouble... It took two video players linked together to get a watchable picture! And the inlay is encrusted with mildew.

The narrator sets the scene. The year 2199. Earth is in its final days having been virtually destroyed by constant bombardment of radioactive bombs from space. The evil Gorgon empire is responsible for this barrage and have demanded that mankind surrender to slavery or the assault will continue. Of course the people of Earth would never allow themselves to be enslaved and instead now shelter below the planet's barren, irradiated surface, hoping for some means to defeat these intergalactic tyrants. Unfortunately things are far worse than most realise. The radiation from above is seeping underground and, within a single year, it will reach what remains of Earth's inhabitants and they will be wiped out.

Now you've got the facts the action can commence. In outer space Captain Okita, a man who wears a sailor's uniform despite being in space, and his crew of nameless cannon fodder face off against incoming enemy ships. Taking heavy fire and large casualties the Captain orders that the critically damaged vessel retreat back to Earth rather than be destroyed and leave the Earth completely defenseless. Just as the crew begin their escape a new object is picked up by the radar. It's not an enemy ship however and it appears to be plummeting out of control, towards Mars.

The unknown ship crashes into the Red Planet's surface and two cadets-in-training, Shane O'Toole and Jason Kodai, who are positioned at an observation post near by are sent to investigate. Upon arrival they realise that the ship is neither from Gorgon or Earth. Close by the vessel's sole inhabitant, a mysterious woman, lays dead, holding a communications capsule. The pair fly out to join the retreating Earth ship and, upon landing at Earth Home Base, rush the capsule to the Commanding General who, alongside Captain Okita, play back the contained message via the "Globular Analysis Translator'. The message is from Starsha of the planet Iscandar who has entrusted her sister Sasha to relay this urgent information to the people of Earth. She knows of the humans' plight and has the solution to our problems- Cosmo DNX- a device which can remove the radiation which has devastated our world. Unfortunately she no longer has the means to send it to Earth, perhaps her local Post Office has been closed or maybe she simply lost the address, but encloses the recipe for an engine that allows faster-then-light travel. Such an engine would enable a ship to reach Iscandar in time. The plans are sent to the team working on the reconstruction of the Space Cruiser Yamato just as the alarm is raised by an enemy ship in the Yamato's vicinity.

Against the less than convincing cries of a bystander, Jason and Shane fly off in an air force jet to intercept this intruder but their engines overheat before they have a chance to fire off a single round. They crash land not far from the site of the Yamato and, although it is "camouflaged" by rock the cadets fear that the Gorgons may be onto there secret restoration plans.

With the repairs to Yamato reported to be 97% complete Captain Okita, his arm inexplicably in a sling which appears and vanishes with each cut, pledges to undertake the 148,000 light year journey himself. Our attention now moves to space: at the Gorgon base on Pluto the narrator informs us that the hostile aliens' are preparing to launch a "Giant Missile Bomb" at the Earth. At that exact time the people of Earth are gathered to cheer the newly formed crew of the Yamato as they prepare for its maiden voyage to Iscandar. As they settle into the newly renovated space craft the Missile Bomb appears on radar and reports suggest it's heading straight for them. The passage of time leaps between scenes as 55 minutes to impact is reduced to just 10 and the crew prepare to launch Yamato on its galactic voyage. Amid much trepidation the engines are started, the Space Battleship leaves the ground- shoots down the missile- and leaves Earth's orbit on a course for Iscandar- a journey that will take exactly one year to complete.

With the ship set to cruise control, Shane gives a detailed explanation of how the light speed warp will work, aided by a futuristic Power Point presentation and a large screen set into the floor. It's all very complicated but basically boils down to hitting the button at the right time or they'll end up stranded between time strands or something. A system test is begun just as a Gorgon ship appears. Use of the Yamato's guns is out of the question as all power must be preserved for the test so fighter jets are scrambled to hold them off until the warp is ready. Led by Jason the jets make short work of the Gorgon fighters and they return to the Yamato just as it enters the range of the Gorgon ship's missiles. The enemy are shocked and enraged to see their attack fall short of the target as the Space Cruiser successfully warps out of danger and into orbit with Mars.

The Commanding General of Earth calls the crew, probably via space-Skype, to give his best wishes for their safe passage. Yamato passes out of the service provider's coverage area leaving the Captain and his crew unable to contact Earth with any updates to their mission. Music and stock shots of the Space Cruiser and its crew members bulk out the running time somewhat before the next scene.

General Domeru of Gorgon publicly receives a medal from their leader Dessler. As his award is pinned to his shirt Domeru informs Dessler of his wish to defeat the Yamato and the leader is more than receptive. Together with his aide Diro the General creates a plot to draw the Yamato into a duel at the Rainbow Cluster- a colourful collection of planets of such electro-magnetic energy that all radar equipment will be rendered useless. With Earth's only hope for survival caught blind and in the open the final assault should be simple. The challenge is made to Earth's Captain and he accepts, apparently happy to digress from the urgent race to the planet Iscandar purely to enter a needless battle.

Domeru assembles the First, Second and Third Space Squadron along with Commander Zandor in the Attack Space Carrier. He himself tags along in the Space Fleet's Flagship to watch as the Yamato is annihilated. At first the battle goes just as he planned- Yamato advances into the radar black spot and launches jet fighters to take on the Gorgon jets. Jason and his fellow pilots are shocked as the oppositions planes disappear from battle- warping directly on top of the unprotected Space Cruiser. More and more enemy bombers are warped into attack as the heroic human pilots are prevented from returning by yet more Gorgon fighters. Just as the course of the battle seems to be changing Commander Zandor launches their finishing blow- a drill missile that enters the Yamato's Wave Motion Cannon and burrows deep into the ships core where it will detonate in 15 minutes!! The chief engineer and Tovor the robot enter the missile in a desperate attempt to discover its power source and send it into reverse.

Under heavy attack from the Attack Space Carrier the Yamato is unable to use the Wave Motion Cannon and is almost defenseless. In the nick of time the Missile is reversed and it burrows back out the Yamato detonating in space in an explosion that fortunately engulfs the entire attacking Gorgon fleet. Only Domeru is spared and, rather than face defeat, he attaches his ship to the Yamato and activates the self destruct. Yamato is not destroyed but is seriously damaged. With the battle over- the crew members killed in the attack are given a burial in space.

Captain Okita's health is deteriorating and he is bed ridden. In his absence he makes Jason the ship's new Captain. The first notable event of his Captainship is the receiving of a new message from Starsha. She informs the new Captain and his crew that they are a mere 08 light years from Iscandar and sends them a directional beam to help navigate them to their goal. The celebrations are short lived however as the beam ceases functioning as two planet Iscandars appear on the map. As Captain Kodai tries to decide which of the two planets to head for the Gorgon Leader makes a public address to his people. He explains to them that their planet is rotting from the inside and how they can use this to their advantage. He unveils a plan to drag the Earth ship onto their planet using a 'Magnetic Vibrator'. The Yamato will be drawn into their underground corrosive acid ocean and if it tries to escape the sea levels will be artificially raised to ensure there will be nowhere for the humans to run.

The plan is immediately put into motion and soon the crew of the Yamato find themselves submerged in the seas of Gorgon (which turns out to be the other Iscandar- something which is never explained or even mentioned). On the bridge the Captain enjoys the feel of the ocean rocking their Space Boat until the Chief Engineer informs him that it is actually eating away at the ship! Events are thrown into disarray as acid rain begins to pelt down onto the Yamato and Gorgon armaments shell the Space Cruiser from the shore. Caught in a seemingly un-winnable situation Jason turns to the bed ridden Okita for advice. The seasoned Captain tells him to dive under the sea and search for a mineral deposit which can be used to make a chemical reaction that will render the corrosive acid null.

Jason follows his words and sets the Yamato on a desperate course with only minutes to find these necessary minerals before the ship is completely dissolved. The Gorgon Leader is overwhelmed with glee at the apparent disappearance of the Earth Vessel and is sent almost insane with happiness. Unfortunately for him his joy is short lived as the Yamato raises once more from the ocean- now calmed by the freed minerals. Dessler commands his forces to launch a final desperate attack against the Earth Ship. One of his aides pleads with him to reconsider his orders and make peace with the Earth people before the Gorgon empire is completely destroyed but he gets shot dead for his troubles.

Missiles and bombs rain down from the planet's cavernous crust onto the Yamato but it's not enough to stop the determined crew. The vessel's cannons blast the projectiles before they have a chance to be launched causing the cavern's structure to become unstable. Soon the subterranean walls are collapsing in on themselves burying the Gorgon population. Dessler stumbles to his feet and has barely enough time to survey the destruction and loss of life before he himself is buried beneath an avalanche of rocks. Yamato effortlessly escapes the crumbling core of the enemy home world and begins its final voyage towards Iscandar.

The mysteriously undamaged ship touches down in the clear blue ocean and the first stage of their difficult journey is complete. The narrator tells of how a representative crew meet with Princess Starsha in her palace and how she, true to her word, has the Yamato loaded with the Cosmo DNX. He goes on to explain that the crew build a radiation removal machine and test it with the DNX liquid. The test is a success and, after a short rifle salute, the ship sets sail for home.

The narrator once again butts in to inform the viewer that the return journey was "smooth sailing" and therefore needn't be shown. Instead we catch up with our heroes as they get their first glimpse of the Earth in nearly a year. The whole crew dash to the windows- the sight is overwhelming for them, in particularly the ailing Captain Okita who, after a last look at a photo of him and two unspecified characters, drops dead. Triumphant music plays as the Space Battleship Yamato sails for home. A ticker tape reveals the final statistics of the historic voyage (Survivors 67, Casualties 47) as the brown and barren Earth is returned to its former blue glory.

Although it was sold as a kid's video Space Cruiser is far more 'grown up' than parents at the time would've been expecting. While over an hour has been removed from the original movie there is still enough bleakness, death and general adult themes to easily set this apart from almost all the non-brand name kiddies' tapes on the shelves. The voice acting is fairly good, although the script sometimes lets this down and it's impressive to see so many of the original names kept, something that Star Blazers didn't do. It remains faithful to the original story plus it uses the original soundtrack. On the negative side the character designs are dated (not helped by the crew's flared uniforms) and the animation, which remember was made for TV, is a bit creaky. Also the heavily trimmed plot causes a less than smooth flow and more than a few continuity problems.

 
Missing videos
Missing videos

What?! Where's my video clip?!
Well... as you read the tape basically disintegrated after viewing

Not coming soon...
Although I do have another copy so it may happen at some time...

 
A faithful adaptation
 
Good voice acting
  Uses the original music
  Keeps the original names
 
Doesn't flow smoothly
 
Dated animation
  Slightly ropy script

Despite having more than an hour stripped from its already curtailed running time, Space Cruiser is a fairly faithful adaptation of the series.

The heavy cuts do make the flow of the story less than smooth, notably how the Yamato manages to magically repair itself between scenes, but if you can overlook these minor quibbles and the complete absence of character development then you'll have some fun.

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