Space Battleship Yamato Review


It seems like everything coming out of theaters these days are just adaptations one after another. Much like Hollywood’s recent obsession of buying up rights and spitting out tons of comic book movies in recent years, Japan’s also been tapping into its extensive history of anime titles and adapting them to the big screen. As a long-time fan of anime it’s often disheartening to see how our childhood heroes transform into something like Dragonball Evolution. Thus we come to Leiji Matsumoto‘s cosmic epic of mankind’s last hope, Space Battleship Yamato, get its silver screen treatment. Does Yamato carry the hope of anime adapted films or will it sink into a crushing black hole?

Space Battleship Yamato takes place in the year 2199, Earth’s surface were seared by “meteor bombs” dropped from outer space by an unknown alien race known only as the Gamilas. Humanity was soon forced to retreat underground shelter and watch helplessly as the planet’s beauitful blue surface melt into a barren red radioactive wasteland. Susumu Kodai, a metal salvager, discovers a peculiar capsule sent from outer space. Inside were plans for an advanced propulsion engine and a set of coordinates that leads beyond the Milky Way to a planet known as Iscandar which promises them a device that will cleanse Earth’s surface of radiation. Gathering the best and brightest of Earth’s remaining hope,  the Yamato takes a desperate journey beyond man has ever gone to save Earth.


Crunching a twenty-six anime series into a little over 2 hours movie is a daunting task, one that requires a lot of sacrifice that made Yamato such a memorable series. Several key members were given rewritten backgrounds: Susumu Kodai (Takuya Kimura) leaves the military to become a metal salvager after a tragic accident, and Mori Yuki (Meisa Kuroki) as a former ace pilot of Kodai’s Fighter Squadron helps to speed up the inevitable romance subplot. Other key characters like Dr. Sado were given the genderswap treatment and the Gamilas villians were changed to an more insect-like alien race. Not to mention their complexity is reduced to something similar like the Geth in Mass Effect. The film’s pace moves so fast that the audience often barely gets enough time to settle down with all the new characters. From the get go, characters are dropped in with little to no introduction leaving audience unfamiliar with source material to scratch their heads. Despite these changes, the narrative of the Yamato stay mostly intact even though a large portion of its journey from Earth involves confronting enemy forces.


Thanks to the efforts of director and Visual Effects head Takashi YamazakiYamato retains much of the original anime’s flavors, including the set and costume designs. Based on the actual Yamato from World War II, the Yamato itself draws immense presences on the screen, always commanding in each shot its presented. The sweeping spectacles of the Yamato firing its entire artillery in desperation contributes to its anime roots.  The real draw of the VFX comes from the frantic dogfights of the Kodai squad. These skirmishes between the space fighters and the Gamilas forces are often fast, exciting and most of all convincing. Even many of the little touches, from the targeting reticle of the wave-motion cannon to the interior of the fighting cockpits sports a believable authenticity. Though it seems the budget of the VFX began to wane as the movie continues. A scene involving a Gamilias swarm invokes Starship Trooper where thousands of cut and paste enemy units surrounding the heroes felt very cheaply done and began to lack the vibrant colors. Those familiar with the soundtrack will love the orchestral versions of the famous opening theme, among other memorable tracks, played throughout the movie which is masterfully rearranged by Naoki Sato (whom composed one of my favorite soundtracks for the anime Eureka Seven).


The consequence of the length begin to take its toll on the characters themselves. The movie embodies many of heroic tropes where a majority of the cast’s self-sacrifice enables the crew to journey forward to their destination. The crew’s campy farewells does little to elate any kind of emotion when they barely had much screentime. A key moment in Susumu and Yuki’s relationship advances completely nonsensical following a significant event. Following that, Captain Okita’s character shows extreme promise near the beginning, however even he becomes relegated to the sidelines as a support character. Subtlety is quite frankly not a strong point of Japanese cinema and Yamato unbashingly displays it up until its final moments.

For the faithful die-hards, Yamato may not be the saving grace of anime adaptations and some may be outraged at some of the key differences between the this and the anime. Cheesy dialogue and over-the-top action definitely carries its long anime roots. Don’t take it as an live-action movie, but as an anime played by real actors. As a stand-alone sci-fi flick, Yamato is a grand spectacle of Japan’s visual prowness. Plot a course to the galaxies and don’t come back without some hope and cannons.

Grade: B

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