It was 1979 when I met my good friend Greg. We were both in the ninth grade, Greg had just transferred in that year. As I recall, we had a slightly rocky start. We were in phy-ed class (which I hated with a passion), learning how to run and kick pass a soccer ball. I was paired up with Greg and I wasn’t very good. I could tell Greg was a little frustrated, but he did his best to help me get better.
I guess it wasn’t that rocky.
We got to talking about our interests, as kids do. We learned we both really liked Star Wars, but in 1979 what kid didn’t? Well, there was my friend John, but he’s a story for another day. Maybe.
There was one interest Greg and I shared that once it was mentioned a fast friendship was formed. Sure, we both liked Star Wars, but when one of us (I forget which) brought up Star Blazers, we each thought to ourselves, “Henceforth, this man shall be my brother!”
The series first appeared on American television in 1979, having been adapted for an American audience from the Japanese series Space Battleship Yamato (1974). I remember seeing ads for the series, which must have made me curious enough to check it out.
This animated series was unlike any Saturday morning cartoon show I had ever seen before. It had a couple things in common with the original Jonny Quest series (my all-time favorite) in that it wasn’t made specifically for kids and characters could and did die. (I seem to have a weird appreciation for cartoon characters dying and yet I’ve never worked for Disney. Hmm.)
Star Blazers also had a look like no other Saturday morning cartoon show. It was my first exposure to anime and probably was for most American viewers, as well. The series was unique in that it had a continuing storyline filled with cliffhangers that flowed through the entire season. Jonny Quest didn’t even do that!
Earth ain’t lookin’ so good.
It was the year 2199, Earth had been under attack by the evil Gamilons, an alien species from beyond our solar system, since the mid 21st century. The Gamilons had been bombarding the Earth with radioactive bombs for a century and a half to destroy all life on the planet. In that time, humans had been forced to live underground. Immense cities had been constructed, but eventually the radiation was making its way underground threatening to destroy the remaining life once and for all.
It’s never explained why the Gamilons had decided to attack Earth. I guess just being evil is reason enough.
The radiation was reaching a critical point. In one year’s time, all life on Earth would be snuffed out. Earth’s meager space defense force was being decimated. When it was defeated in a great battle near Pluto, things were looking awfully bleak.
During the Battle of Pluto a strange spacecraft, not from Earth, not from Gamilon, passed through and crashed on Mars. Its sole passenger, a young and beautiful woman died shortly after the crash. She carried with her a device that held a message. A message, sent by Queen Starsha, from a far distant (148,000 light years distant) planet called Iscandar. Her message was to let the people of Earth know that Iscandar has Cosmo DNA, which could restore our planet to its proper state. But, the humans would have to travel the great expanse to Iscandar to get it.
To help the earthlings make the journey, Queen Starsha included plans for a Wave Motion engine that would make it possible to travel at warp speeds. With no other choice, the people of Earth decided to trust this alien savior and built a spacecraft with this new technology. They salvaged and refit the sunken World War II Battleship Yamato with the alien technology, which made for a very cool and unusual spaceship.
They renamed it the Argo.
The Argo would have to travel alone through hostile space, battling Gamilons at every turn along the way. They had starfighters, space torpedoes, and deck guns for defense, but they also had the Wave Motion gun. Based on the same technology as their space warping engine, the Wave Motion gun was capable of great destruction.
The series ran 26 episodes that first season, each episode ending with the narrator pleading to Star Force, that’s what the brave space soldiers were called (too bad it wasn’t Space Force, eh?), to hurry and he let the audience know how many days the Earth had left to live. Would the Argo survive the journey and make it back in time?
Each week I would tune in, excited to see what would happen next. My dad even took to making sure I was up in time on a Saturday morning, so I wouldn’t miss out. And I think he was enjoying the show, too.
Star Force is led by the very capable, yet often stern, Captain Avatar. He is an experienced military man who commands the Argo and knows how to get the most out of his crew. He never shies away from making hard decisions, because he never forgets how desperate the situation is for Earth. He is also suffering from radiation sickness, which he keeps secret from his crew. Will he even survive the journey?
Derek Wildstar is a hotshot pilot with a fiery temper. His older brother sacrificed his own life and the lives of his smaller crew in the Battle of Pluto, so that Captain Avatar and his larger crew could get back to Earth. (The needs of the many…) Young Wildstar, for the early part of the series, holds Captain Avatar responsible for his brother’s death.
Mark Venture is a navigator who was stationed with Wildstar on Mars. He is a steadier presence and, at times, a rival of the hotshot pilot for the affections of…
Nova is a
nurse member of the bridge crew and the lone woman on the Argo. I’m not sure how many crew members there are on the ship, but I’m sure she never wanted for male suitors. However, she falls for Derek. It must be his hair.
Dr. Sane and IQ9 throwing back some “spring water.”
Dr. Sane and IQ9 are mainly there for comic relief. Dr. Sane is the Argo’s chief medical officer and (I learned this from another blog while doing some research), in the Japanese version, a drunkard. However, in the American version, Dr. Sane is constantly drinking “spring water,” instead of sake as in the Japanese version. So, to American audiences, he’s just well hydrated. IQ9 is Dr Sane’s robotic assistant, who saves the day more than once through the series and he develops a crush on Nova. A robot with a crush on a human? That’s funny… to a kid.
Deslok is the tyrannical leader of the Gamilons. He really doesn’t like earthlings and Star Force, in particular, but he does have respect for his sworn enemy. Deslok has a Caligula-like evilness to him. He speaks in a sweet and gentle tone, which adds to his menacing nature. He’s a great villain.
There aren’t many problems with this series. There’s some awkwardness to the dialog, but I assume that’s mainly due to dubbing English from the original Japanese. There’s a mention of the distance of
the moon Mars from the Earth that is wildly off, Venture says the distance is “thousands of light years.” And there a hilarious visual of a hot-headed Wildstar stomping away in anger after an argument with Venture.
The biggest problem is Nova being the only woman on the crew. Not only does that seem unlikely, given it’s 2199, but there’s also a certain sexist behavior toward her at times. In the first episode, she is asked to leave the room when IQ9 has information to give the men. And, later in the season, I recall a scene in which IQ9 rudely lifts Nova’s mini skirt. As if!
There are two other seasons that follow this one and both also utilize the year long beat the clock gimmick, but I think, that though those series aren’t bad, that’s going to the well two times too many.
Overall, the first Star Blazers series is exciting and fun and far more sophisticated than any other Saturday morning cartoon series of the day. I dare you to try to listen to its theme song and not feel inspired. And to not have it as an earworm for the rest of your day. Good luck.
You can watch the series on YouTube. Here’s a link to the first episode. You’ll love it! Update 8/24/18: Unfortunately several of the episodes on YouTube are not viewable in the US. Sorry, America.
Writer’s note: I am re-watching the series, so you may notice some corrections.
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Images used under Fair Use.