Space Battleship Yamato 3: The New Voyage

Anime reviews don't happen in a vacuum. There are very few titles that I watch that I've never heard a thing about. Occasionally I'll find some forgotten OVA or little-known program that needs to be dusted off, or I'll watch a copy of something sent by an American distributor that they'd like to see get some press. But most of the programs I watch come recommended by somebody. I read reviews just like everybody else -- in fact, I probably read more.  I like to find out what my contemporaries are up to. Sadly, many of my best reviewing friends are now out of the arena -- it's hard to keep this up for very long with no pay and little feedback -- but others spring up.

So when I have a hard time finding any reviews from major outlets of classic shows, I'm left to wonder a little bit. Have they fallen asleep on the job? Or is it a concious choice? Having watched enough pointless mid-1980s OVAs in my time, I understand why some things are best left back in the past. When I got to Space Battleship Yamato 3: The New Voyage, I could find reviews of the first two films in the series without much effort, but this one has disappeared from the radar of all but the supremely faithful fans. Frankly, I imagine most people's eyes glaze over after the first film and never return; while I survived it without serious damage, I really didn't think much of the second film, so I wasn't looking forward to the third. Imagine my surprise, then, that while this film is not great, it's the best of the Yamato adventures so far.

As the film begins, the war with the Gamilons is over, and commander Desslar takes his men on a final voyage to their homeworld before they set out to find a new world to inhabit. But when he arrives, he finds out that the Dark Nebula Empire has taken over and has begun mining operations to strip the planet of minerals valuable for powering warships. While they defeat the first wave of invaders, the stress is too great on the planet, and it explodes.  Not only is Gamilas destroyed, but it sends neighboring Iscandar out of orbit, and it begins careening through space. Meanwhile, Kodai and the crew of the Yamato are on a shakedown cruise to get their young recruits up to snuff. Receiving Desslar's distress call, the untested crew faces a new foe as they help their one-time enemy and race to stop Iscandar's destruction...especially vital because Kodai's brother Mamoru and his wife Starsha reside there.  (It never hurts the space opera that Desslar is still in love with Starsha, either...)

The New Voyage was a made-for-television movie that bridged the gap between the first season of Yamato (and the first film which recounts the same events) and the second TV series. The second film (Farewell), while wildly popular in Japan, suddenly fell outside canon, which means that continuity freaks can simply skip the second movie and go right into this one. That's probably for the best, since the second film is now a relic in tatters. It also helps that The New Voyage is quite entertaining. Yes, it still looks 30 years old, with silly-looking explosions and animation that the cat dragged in. Yes, the soundtrack (while gorgeous at times and an impressive work in its own right) has bits that should have stayed in the disco era. And like the other Yamato films, most of the character development is left on the cutting room floor. But if you've gotten far enough into the whole Yamato universe to consider watching this film, you know all of this already.

The New Voyage still works, though, because it includes the best of what Yamato can be. The film clocks in at 96 minutes, nearly an hour shorter than the other two entries, which means that the fat has been trimmed away. The first forty minutes have some dull spots, and there's still too much emphasis on people flipping switches and running the ship. But the second half is really strong, with plenty of action and pathos the series is known for. If you've never felt a bit sorry for Desslar or found him a noble villain in the past, you will now. This isn't exactly his movie, but his story steals the spotlight. It's also a notable movie for the things it doesn't contain. Unlike the other entries, there's only one "noble death" sequence, and it has nothing to do with war being honorable or some other such hogwash. In fact, the speeches are kept to a minimum. And while the plot is ludicrous at certain points -- Iscandar warping through space, for instance -- it's all far more coherent than what's come before.

For what it's worth, this was the first time I really felt interested in a Yamato film. It's much smaller than the other two movies; we really have just the beginning of the epic storyline that the second season of the TV series fleshes out. But smaller works better, it turns out; when there's less going on, you can care more. For once, some of the emotion didn't feel forced. The ending may be a bit much for some, but I thought that the film earned it.

There are still things that bother me with this film series. I know I should care about the relationship between captain Kodai and his long-time girlfriend Yuki, but I don't. There's no meat to it. There are other good characters like the doctor who go massively under-utilized. But perhaps that's just part of missing out on major parts of the storyline. I'm guessing that to see all the relationships develop, I'd have to watch the television series, which frankly I don't see myself doing. I'm going to have to be satisfied that the films are enjoyable on their own, but they are simply lacking for those of us who haven't spent fifty-some-odd episodes with the crew of the Yamato.

But truth be told, if you're reading this, it's likely you're already a fan. I think the reason reviews of The New Voyage are hard to find is because by this point, you're either sold on the series or have already given up on it. Strangely enough, I'm still forging on. I may not ever really "get" the whole Yamato thing, but I'm to the point where I can say I like it, 1970s cheese and all.

Space Battleship Yamato 3: The New Voyage -- sci-fi violence -- B