Title: Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 / Space Battleship Yamato 2199
Length: 26 x 26 minute episodes
Genre: Sci-fi, action
Year of release: 2019
I can already tell you that this review is going to come across quite negatively, so I think it’s important to preface that Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 (henceforth, Yamato 2199) has the construction of classic space opera down to a fine art. The soundtrack is both gigantic and beautiful, relying on the strings and horns in unique ways that put it in class with Star Wars and Star Trek and the other major players of the ‘70s space opera revival trend. As an anime production, too, the work here is quite extraordinary – the movement of spaceships might be rendered too fast for comfort, perhaps, but the blend of CGI and 2d is really very excellent. It’s just a shame that, at its core, Yamato 2199 was too safe.
And that really originates from its protagonist and his lack of meaningful development, but the roots from that spiral outwards. While he wasn’t getting development, it’s not like anybody else or the vast expanse of space was receiving that focus. Across the journey from Earth to Iskander, the episodics faffed about with trite melodrama that couldn’t land or overly convenient battles with the Gamilas because its cast were too undefined for tension to happen. The series posits, near the start, that the crew of the Yamato are newbies, so the cast cannot fall back on their prior achievements or off-screen developments, but no on-screen developments fill that void. It’s almost impressive how much of the series coasted on this emptiness.
The only major focus was going into Sususmu Kodai, the space opera zero-to-hero you know all too well. I don’t want to be too harsh, because it’s something of a trope that the protagonist of these classic heroic space operas are quite bland. Kodai is not the worst of that pool, no, but he is given too many heroic moments. He steals the spotlight all too frequently. The Yamato leaves Earth with a gigantic crew, but they do not feel like a team as Jack-of-all-Trades Kodai sticks his fingers in every pie, being the action hero gunslinger alongside the faceless security guards, playing ace wingman over almost all of the other pilots (barring 1, but we’ll get there when we criticise the series’ attempts at romance) and dictating his tactics over the far more experienced captains. Because he steals the spotlight, he is putting the series on his back – his doing so is lame, as he has no real reason for his proficiency or any gall behind it.
And, as a classic singular hero’s space opera, he gets the sexy space babes clad in skintight spacesuits. Yuki Mori has a vague backstory that becomes relevant down the line, but it’s not like it really played into her becoming a stronger character for it. Near the end, as she almost got importance, she ended up becoming the classic damsel in distress for Kodai to save – credit is almost due as the action heroine mostly rescued herself, but it’s not like she got any of the catharsis or credit from that, either from the cast or the series. She carried on putting her butt in the camera for the fanservice quota, becoming the girlfriend our protagonist needs to make this fantasy work.
Because this is, indeed, a fantasy, Yuki Mori is not the only one turning into a dog on heat for our main boy. Akira Yamamoto is the only other newbie to receive development, though she’s the only real success – and that’s short lived. She transfers department to become a pilot and becomes the ace (as she’s the only one in the department with a goddamn name). A few of the action scenes are hers, and they’re some of the only times that Kodai doesn’t get the spotlight. It’s almost refreshing, until at some point, she starts craving Kodai and getting jealous, and it’s really quite pathetic. All that strength as a character? Gone in a snap.
It’s really important to go back a step and say that, yes, Yamato 2199 can do development. Just check out the older characters. Within the first 3 minutes of the show, Okita, the captain of the entire ship, receives more nuanced development than any of the protagonists, as his ballsy tactics are on full display and his hard-faced confidence is given a shadow as he plays with his crews lives. Some cheap melodrama means he’s often absent in big fights and Kodai has to pick up the pieces, but the few battles he orchestrates are tremendous spectacle where the triumphant horns and drums blend with his daring orders. Okita is mirrored by an enemy general, Domel, who equally has a sense of pizazz right off the bat. There’s a sequence where the Yamato, at the behest of Okita’s orders, scrapes past Domel’s ship, and the two captains grit teeth with big grins at the impressions they give each other – now that was impressive, building off of the developments to create startling battles. Even beyond these two, though, the lesser developed adults get good (rather than wasted!) screentime – the engine chief, Tokugawa, has the most sympathetic and relatable backstory of the cast; Wolf, the pilot of the Gamilas’ most deadly ship, is as cunning as he looks. Yamato 2199 can get development right, it just frustratingly chooses not to for its leads.
As a story, Yamato 2199 is essentially a series of battles with the Gamilas or slice-of-life sequences of the crew. The battles are poorly written, simply, as conveniences rescue the Yamato from safety each and every time – I lost count of how many times they were cornered, but the show had the enemy retreat just before finishing them for political reasons. Nonsense, really. The overarching story had some themes calling for pacifism, but the show’s reluctance to put the Yamato crew in danger, or treat them to deaths of anybody but redshirts, meant it fell flat. Its battles can sometimes have a sense of awe, but towards the end of the series when the tactics run out of shocks, that only comes down to the strong production.
As promised, this review really was very negative, but it’s important to get back to the start and reiterate: the blueprints were there for a great space opera, but Yamato 2199 was more interested in mediocrity. This self-insert superhero fantasy drivel went too far in the direction of making Kodai superhuman that it forgot how to make a journey impactful; the cornerstones of its grand story or episodic stories were knee-deep in contrivances. I yearn for a better space-opera using the techniques on display here.