Friday, December 16, 2011

The two Star Blazers: Iscandar at last!

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As a boy, Yoshibnobu Nishiyaki, the producer of the original series that gave us STAR BLAZERS, used to daydream about a ship flying through the air.

In a fascinating interview found at starblazers.com---which I could not more highly recommend!---Nishiyaki tells about the increasingly regimented phenomena of Japanese life, its constraints reaching more and more deeply into childhood. He envisioned this anime (a term coined in the wake of the boom kicked-off by SPACE CRUISER YAMATO) as a wild romance, “to help children realize they can become who they really are.” Outer space seemed the one setting capable of presenting the boundless scope of both human daring and imagination.


Keisuke Fujikawa, writer of about half of all first season episodes, turned in the mostly fully-realized plot before the involvement of manga creator Leiji Matsumoto (Sexdroid), who made the vital designs we’d come to know and love, also serving as director. Aritsune Toyota, a novelist and TV writer, created his draft for “Asteroid 6” after Nishiyaki had read Methuselah’s Children by SF Grandmaster Robert A. Heinlein and proposed a space saga. Their vision relied on several studios, including an early, tiny Sunrise Studios, not to mention iconic theme composer Hiroshi Miyagawa, who scored pieces for up to thirty instruments in his modern, popular music style, inspired somewhat by Stravinsky.

The plan book developed in 1973 by Nishiyaki went on to incorporate at least three more drafts; Toyota’s incorporated the Iscandar voyage into a trek of quarreling young people of international origin, and introduced many of the space-based perils that appear in Season One. Matsumoto’s take on the characters, however, bears the closest resemblance to the finished show, which debuted October 14th, 1974. After the original production supervisor, Eliiji Yamamoto, left to pursue another project, the reins were handed at last to Leiji Matsumoto, who wrote a new draft on May 21st, 1974.



STAR BLAZERS itself is a group story, with middle episodes devoted to fleshing out secondary characters such as gutsy science officer Sandor, nervous communications officer Homer, and the all-too-human IQ-9, with his massive crush on the one featured girl character, Nova. Sandor’s instrumental in tracking down the source of the Reflex Gun, and upon capture, has quite a surprise up his sleeve for the bio-organic Gamelon computers. (I won’t spoil it here, but he’s revealed to be a cyborg at a very critical moment in plans.) Homer keeps secret communications with Earth that cause his mind to deteriorate, as the Star Force is much too far from home to help anything that happens there. (Marc Kane thinks the scene where he puts on a suit and helmet and desperately swims for Earth too hilarious, but the actor plays it with sufficient pathos.) IQ-9’s antics harassing Nova are mostly toned down for the American audience, but their adventure on the Bee planet reflects his genuine, unrequited crush in a rather sympathetic light of his humane service programming.
Below: Captain Avatar's just the kind of guy to keep his skipper cap on through surgery.
I have no intention of duplicating the truly terrific, notes-rich episode summaries by Arthur Painter and Tim Eldred (part of the webcomic team, and formerly, a regular Star Blazers comic book!) which you can find on witty, informative starblazers.com. That’s where I learned of the production team giving their all for a weekly deadline, only to see single digit ratings while other Japanese animation flourished on a rival channel. Yet for something, it seemed, almost no one cared about, Yamato would three years later become the cultural flagship of Anime: Japanese animation that could strive for storylines challenging to young and old. Best yet, the movie-led revivals bring most of the original cast back for the sequel series.



The two versions, Japanese and American, each accent different nuances of storyline, the American version given overall to more chatter and the Japanese version, more violence. By comparison, Sandor’s thoughts as he prepares to sacrifice his cyborg limbs as bombs to destroy the Gamelon magnetic gun reveal different shades of meaning. The Japanese original depicts him as one who once loved art and painting, who lost his limbs to technology out of control (an amusement park accident that originally includes his sister Mio!). For him, science is a challenge, a game to master, a foe to defeat through understanding.

The Japanese audience doesn’t know the Gamelons are deliberately aiding Homer’s hidden, maddening communications with Earth until the satellite’s found, while the American audience knows it’s part of a plan to demoralize the Star Force, who are much too far from home to do anything of consequences besides see their mission through. Yamato series reveals Gamilon as a clearly-labeled twin planet awaiting the Star Force, beside Iscandar; Star Blazers keeps this dread secret hushed until the Argo flies straight into the confusing, untrustworthy scenario. Yamato carries IQ-9’s harassment of Nova to a supposedly funny, panty-flash fun place you may simply find creepy. After all, before the series began, IQ was meant to have a human half that combined with his droid self.







Nova teases Derek about the photograph they're taking together after Starsha's congratulation message; in Star Blazers she says "it will be something to remember our first date by" while in Yamato she says the photo's "something for the children so they can see how Mommy and Daddy were when they were young!" Nova cries at the end of the battle on Gamelon, to be fighting all the way to the end of a mission born entirely in peace; her counterpart Yuki actually cries about facing God with blood of so many foes on their hands, even in self-defense. In subtle ways, you have the advantages of two parallel developments, sometimes highlighting strengths and providing explanations, sometimes robbing little pieces of logic from the puzzling events.



Mr. Nishiyaki says he grew up watching ships fly through his private skies. He thought of that as an image that surely belonged to everyone, at some time. Now another generation can board the star-borne ship, and journey beyond new limits of imagination.



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1 comment:

  1. this was my all time favorite Japanese animation show. i still have a ton of the model ships i made back in the 80's. i just recently bought a 5"model of Andromeda on Ebay.

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