The remade Space Battleship Yamato 2199 is a visually stunning anime anachronism.

I enjoyed it a lot, and blitzed through it, but a number of issues need to be acknowledged.

Smurfette No More

I haven’t seen the original Yamato [1], but as far as I know Yuki Mori was the only female member of the Yamato’s crew in that version. This made her a fairly classic (and early) example of The Smurfette.

This has been substantially improved in Yamato 2199 by gender flipping a number of characters [2]. This is much like the rebooted Battlestar Galactica, and in a further similarity even applies to one of the fighter pilots.

The Affirmative Action Girls [3] do add a sense of balance to Yamato 2199 but also highlight a number of leftover attitudes from the era of the original Yamato. Of course all of the newly female characters are classic Matsumoto designs: tall, slender, willowy.

It also seems that all of the female uniforms are the Latex Space Suits [4] worn by Yuki, and there are other fan service incidents scattered throughout the series [5].

Scenes in the early episodes gave me hope that Yuki wouldn’t become a Distressed Damsel, alas I was disappointed in the final third of the series. The primary reason for doing so seemed to be in order to motivate Kodai.

To be fair though it was never quite as bad as Asuna in Harem Art Online, or Deedlit during Wagnard’s all singing, all dancing, Dark Goddess Revival Show.

Idiot Ball, Idiot Ball, Wherefore Art Thou Idiot Ball

For a set of supposedly professional officers, the crew of the Yamato are certainly handed the Idiot Ball whenever the plot requires it.

For example the plot of A Clockwork Prisoner only works if the crew leave an enemy android unsupervised with access to network ports. The rest of the episode is fine, and actually quite effective, but that nearly shattered by suspension of disbelief

There were other examples, but that was the most egregious.

Never Trust Your Admirals, but Always Trust Your Opponent.

For Lejji Matsumoto space has always been an ocean [6] where the true sailors, regardless of who they fight for, trust and respect each other. The most treacherous things in space are your own admiralty, for they can be relied upon to betray you.

It is almost as if promotion to any admiralty comes with Laser Guided Amnesia to make the new admiral forget that he [7] was a sailor once too, and also to forget the true honour of sailors.

Which means that most Matsumoto heroes or heroines should expect to be betrayed by those that they serve, although they usually don’t.

The trope is intrinsic to the various origin stories [8] of Captain Harlock, the upper classes in Galaxy Express 999 are beyond redemption, and I have vague memories of something similar in the back stories of Queen Emeraldas.

Naturally the true sailors will either overcome their betrayals [9] or die an honourable, sympathetic, death [10].

Since I first became a fan of Matsumoto’s work I’ve read a lot of fiction from other sources where the honour of the admiral can usually be seen in the honour of the ensign, and this is a lot more believable.

Sure, if you have a dodgy ensign you’ll get a dodgy admiral. But a solid ensign will usually produce a solid admiral [11].

Still I knew it was coming, and it is an aspect of a Matsumoto-verse that I accepted going in. Just be aware that it may jar your suspension of disbelief the third or fourth time it happens.

It does produce some nice scenes that have a lot of emotional resonance, particularly when one side is showing proper respect to the other.

Space is an Ocean

Speaking of Space is an Ocean, this is one of the aspects I really enjoyed, and one thing that Yamato 2199 is completely unapologetic about.

If the story, or Rule of Cool, demands oceans on Pluto, then they’ll be there.

If the story demands space submarines that hide in warp space with periscopes and propellers, then they’ll be there.

Of course the submarine crew are honourable sailors, and possibly even proto-space pirates of the Captain Harlock model [12].

The flat, unquestioned, even unquestionable, assumption that Space is an Ocean simply works in almost anything that Matsumoto turns his hand to. In some ways it works better than the contrivances that David Weber pulls to make the Honorverse work the way he needs it to.

I may mock this aspect occasionally [13], but the truth it just adds to the fun.

Space is also a very PRETTY Ocean

Whatever else can be said for Yamato 2199, it is a visual treat to look at. The CGI for the space sequences, especially the battles, is superbly rendered and Yamato 2199 is always a great show to look at.

The character animation is generally solid, and fits neatly into the wider scope of the CGI.

The updated Yamato is just beautiful, and full of internal updates such as touch screens etc that felt right for a modern audience.

The visual design and world building is fabulous throughout, and part of the reason I kept watching.

The opening shows just how pretty this show is whilst still calling back to the original (another touch I really liked).

A Good Old Fashioned Serial

The story itself is pretty much as expected: get to Iskandar, get the Cosmo Reverser to save Earth, get home in time. Add in space battles, complications, tragic deaths, repair stops, a kidnapping or two, stir and serve it up.

The pacing did seem a little odd as I was watching. For example it takes 7 of 26 episodes to leave the Solar System when they have 168000 light years to travel, and only 2 episodes to cover the entire return journey.

Looking back on it though I think I was missing the point.

In essence Yamato 2199 is an old-fashioned serial rather than a modern anime with story arcs.

It’s true that there are larger arcs across the episodes, but this is a series that is designed to give you that desperate cliff hanger at the end of each episode, that feeling from seeing a serial at the cinemas or on weekly television.

This is probably the greatest leftover from Yamato, and the one that adds the most to Yamato 2199.

Yamato 2199 is supposed to be cheesy in this way, revels in it, and pulls it off perfectly.

It’s probably why I blitzed through it so fast.

The Verdict

Despite the (admittedly many) problematic elements, in the final analysis Yamato 2199 is simply a lot of fun to watch.

If you haven’t seen it, you really should. I’m hoping for a local release in the not too distant future, and it’s one I’ll be looking to acquire.

[1] For ease of reference I’ll refer to the 1974/5 series as Yamato and to the 2012 series as Yamato 2199.

[2] The gender flips extend to a substantial percentage of the unnamed redshirts seen running about below decks.

[3] Yes, there’s a trope for that. There’s a trope for most things.

[4] The main exception being Nurse Harada who gets a pink miniskirt. Sometimes in zero-G. One or two of the unnamed male characters get the same uniform as Yuki.

[5] A bath scene, Nurse Harada tricked into wearing a maid costume for a party, and a full on beach episode.

[7] The Affirmative Action Girls haven’t gotten far enough to produce any female admirals in Yamato 2199. Then again if you look at this in the context of “never trust your admiralty” it does imply that women are true sailors through and through.

[8] Remember that we’re dealing with Matsumoto here: continuity is an optional extra, and often very optional.

[9] Always for the Yamato, sometimes for the opponents.

[10] Most of the time for the large number of honourable Garmilans who happen to get caught between the Yamato and the Garmilan admiralty.

[11] I’ll point toward Elizabeth Moon’s Serrano Legacy for an example shaped by an author’s military experience as a junior officer.

[12] Which is, in and of itself, a naval historical in joke re the early submarine corps of the Royal Navy.

[13] Because, hey, this is one bit that really can’t be examined too closely. Or at all. Just go with it.