The original Space Battleship Yamato isn’t just an anime classic, it’s one of the pillars of the medium. Co-creators Leiji Matsumoto and Yoshinobu Nishizaki defined the space opera in Japan when the show premiered in 1974, just as much as the giant robot genre was blazed by Mobile Suit Gundam‘s massive footprints. But Yamato has a second, arguably just as important legacy: it was the first serialized anime series ever adapted to air in America, under the name Star Blazers in 1979—making it one of the U.S.’s first serialized cartoon series, period.
As a remake of one of Japan’s most revered TV classics, the 2012 remake Star Blazers: Space Battleship Yamato 2199 has a lot to live up to—and succeeds in nearly every way. It keeps the original series’ core concept wholly intact, to the point even specific episodes of the original are recreated, Although the Yamato is now part of the United Nations Cosmo Navy instead of being purely Japanese, most if not all of the allusions and references to Japanese military history remain. The character designs have been updated but remain fundamentally true to their ’70s incarnations. The score is grander and more orchestral here, but still takes many of its cues from its source material, including a straight-up rescoring of its opening theme, set to an opening title sequence (by none other than Hideaki Anno)—which is itself an homage to the 1974 series’ opening. Fans of the original Space Battleship Yamato would find very little unrecognizable in 2199.
This includes the series’ unique aesthetic, which leans hard into the “battleship” part of its title. The Yamato is named for the real-life World War II battleship of the same name, which is why it looks almost exactly like a World War II battleship despite the fact it sails through space, not the sea. Every fight requires the ailing Captain Okita to bellow orders to his officers, which have to be repeated verbatim, military-style. The 2199 Yamato even fires honest-to-goodness torpedoes along with its laser armaments, and more crazily, it has an actual anchor, which could not be more useless when traveling through the void of space. (Anchors are also the motif of the crew’s uniform designs, by the way.)
The naval drama alone would give Space Battleship Yamato 2199 a classic, old-school feel even if it weren’t a devoted remake of a show almost 40 years old. But it is devoted to its source material, to an extent that is either a large asset or a minor detriment, depending on your love of classic anime. The storytelling—even the action, to a degree—has a simplicity and methodical pace reminiscent of the shows of the ’70s and ’80s. Despite there being one overarching plot, the episodes are still primarily self-contained. While it’s satisfying to have a story concluded in every episode, not all of these stories are important to the over-arcing plot, which means the show is occasionally drifting instead of sailing full steam ahead.
However, this feels like a deliberate choice to honor the original series and classic anime storytelling, and the show makes up for it in several ways. Slow or not, Yamato 2199‘s main arc has a much richer storyline than the original in every way. The characters have fleshed out histories, goals, and motivations, and are the show’s primary focus instead of the ship (a major upgrade from the 1974 Yamato). The mission to Iscandar has gotten far more interesting, as have the Iscandarians themselves. Best of all, the Gamilas are no longer one-dimensional villains; a lot of screentime is devoted to seeing the Empire, its leader, its military commanders, and its varied society, giving the show’s antagonists some badly needed complexity. There are other welcome updates, too: Many new characters have been added, giving a bit more heft to the “opera” side of the space opera equation, and drastically and happily increasing the female cast (although their uniforms have, perhaps unsurprisingly, remained skintight). Honestly, there’s so much getting explored now that not every story it introduces gets resolved, which can be frustrating.
The biggest update is, of course, the animation. Saying that Space Battleship Yamato 2199 looks better than a show made in 1974 is so obvious as to be absurd, but that doesn’t change the fact that even by modern standards the show is beautiful. Perhaps it stands out more because it is so utterly superior when compared to the original, but Yamato 2199‘s quality is evident in every frame. If you want to see an example of an anime TV series that has a big enough animation budget that it doesn’t need to cut a single corner, watch Space Battleship Yamato 2199.
That, if nothing else, should tell you how important this franchise is, not just to fans, but anime itself. There’s a reason why studios AIC and Xebec went all-out on this remake—why they were able to go all-out—and that’s because a series as fundamental and revered as this deserves it. Space Battleship Yamato 2199 isn’t an achievement on the level of its forbear—how could it be?—but it’s an impressive achievement nonetheless. And whether you’re watching it because you’re a fan of the original, or want to take a modern look at anime’s history, or just want a great new series to check out, it’s worth setting sail with the Yamato.