With the Space Battleship Yamato (aka. Star Blazers) having been torn asunder from its creators Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Leiji Matsumoto due to rights issues/death, I’ve considered what a different remake might look like. Yamato 2199 is not a bad series by any stretch, but it feels very clearly like a “modern” remake and I feel the new story additions only clutter the story and draw attention away from the primary players. A good remake, in my mind, should not worry about fans of the source material getting tired of the reinterpretation. Rather, they should make a point to improve the foundations of certain iconic moments to make it an altogether more enriching experience.
To those unfamiliar with the original series, it centers around an interplanetary war in the 23rd Century between Earth and a far-off world named Gamilas. Gamilas’ neighboring plant, Iskandar, sends a message to Earth containing the secrets of a new weapons and propulsion system and promises a secret which could restore Earth to itself. With the threat of extinction looming over them, Earth outfits a ship (the titular Yamato) with the new technology and a crew of elite starpilots including the captain Juzo Okita and the main character Susumu Kodai. Over the course of the journey to Iskandar, they discover the devastating effects of the new technology, and the Gamilan leader (named Dessler) inadvertently uses it to cause his own planet’s downfall.
The series had many sequels between 1977 and 1983, with the cast of the first series returning in various capacities to encounter new threats. The creative staff clearly began to feel fatigue by the end, but at least part of this was the fault of creator/producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s strict code of rules. He only ever permitted there to be a handful of female characters, the main love interest Yuki Mori and the alien goddess of the particular story arc. He tried to keep the characters’ personalities as “classically Japanese” as possible, often at the expense of character development (and in a fashion which caused the departure of essential co-creator Leiji Matsumoto). He was notoriously wishy-washy on character deaths, often deciding at the last-minute to kill or spare a main character. The Yamato 2199 remake rectified some issues but exacerbated and created many of its own, including removing the element of the Iskandarian technology as a threatening element and a total overhaul of Gamilas’ motivations and chain of command. The remake of the second series, 2202, messed even more with the base story.
My own remake (which I started adapting as an audio drama) would try to incorporate elements proposed by Matsumoto and other writers during the development of the first two series, and try to turn the story into a cohesive trilogy; one focusing on the war with Gamilas and the voyage to Iskandar, the next being a hybridized reimagining of the second arc (the ‘Comet Empire’ storyline), and a third final series with a largely original plot based on elements of the 1980 film Be Forever Yamato.
Among other things, I would like to diversify the cast from the original series. Juzo Okita would remain the same, a hardened and strict Japanese man, but the rest of the cast would be heavily altered. The main character becomes Jason Kodai, a Japanese-American whose dual parentage resulted in him having a very hot-blooded view of the world behind a wall of insecurity. Daisuke Shima, his best friend, becomes Shane Davison, a character who acts as an anchor to his intense personality. Engineer Sanada would become Santiago, but remain the stoic and logical voice of reason of the crew. Two other characters from the bridge, Yoshikazu Aihara and Yasuo Nanbu, would become Yoshiko Aihara and Yahan Anbu; one a strict Japanese woman playing the role of communications officer, and the other a weapons expert who is very much in over his head as a member of the crew.
The story for each season would diverge from the original but keep the primary elements intact. The biggest changes would center around the role of Dessler. He becomes one of the most interesting villains in animation at a certain point, but in the first series he is by and large far less interesting. Matsumoto’s plans (and his comic adaptation) paint the entirety of Gamilan culture in a far more nuanced and intriguing manner, and early story ideas for the inner circle contain characters unfortunately not included in the eventual TV series. Not to mention, Dessler’s concubine Mela and daughter Jura, two telepaths who wage a psychic war on the Yamato and its crew and who segue into perhaps my biggest initial change…
Yuki Mori (Nova in my version) is a character who no writer seemed completely confident writing. She seemed a very confident and capable woman in the first series, and then slowly (due to the influence of Nishizaki) became a Japanese stereotype of the perfect woman. Moreover, Matsumoto and other authors seemed to always be hinting that she was more than she seemed, though no series ever followed through on that. In my version, she would be much more than she seemed; a telepath and empath who had been forced to conceal her talents until her tenure on Yamato, and whose abilities would play not only into a war with Mela during the Gamilas War, but into each further arc as she steadily became the confident woman Matsumoto envisioned her as.
I never fully planned out my changes to the third arc, though I did have the first and second lined out rather extensively. Given the time to edit them, I’d be happy to post them here.