Classic Space Opera Anime
November 30, 2012
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know I LOVE science fiction, especially the subgenre of space opera. You may have also gathered from the last few blog posts that I am an enthusiastic participant in the blending of American and Japanese pop cultures. We left off with the first really popular anime, Speed Racer. Obviously, I was primed for the epic space opera anime that arrived on American shores in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I feel that these are forgotten gems, and anime fans should definitely seek them out.
The first was Star Blazers, the Americanized version of Space Battleship Yamato. This series featured one of the coolest starships of all time: the retrofitted hulk of the WWII battleship Yamato, equipped with the powerful Wave Motion Engine that could be converted into the devastating Wave Motion Gun. Like many anime, the original was edited to tone down the violence and mature themes in order to be acceptable as an American children's program. In particular, most of the material relating to World War II was removed, and the ship was renamed the Argo. But unlike many anime, the overall plot was left intact. Now that the original Japanese versions of the many incarnations of the Yamato are readily available, I recommend them over Star Blazers.
However, my favorite was Battle of the Planets, the Americanized version of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. This series was extensively reworked to appeal to young Americans fans of Star Wars, even including inserting scenes with a suspiciously R2D2-like character called 7-Zark-7 to replace the missing footage. Even the title was chosen to resonate with Star Wars. In fact, the original took place entirely on Earth, but in the American version, the battles were interplanetary. Of course, none of that mattered to me then. What’s not to like about a team of teenage superheroes with a spaceship that could transform into a flaming bird, battling against giant biomechanical monsters sent by the evil Zoltar to steal Earth’s natural resources? Again, the original was superior (but also much more violent and adult-oriented), and I recommend getting a subtitled version of the Japanese series.
By the late 1980s and the early 1990s, anime in America had become something of a cult phenomenon. The 1988 film adaptation of the landmark manga Akira was a massive hit in Japan but only played in limited release in America. This cyberpunk epic gained traction in the video market though, and demonstrated that anime was much more than just "kids’ cartoons." Anime was eclipsed briefly in the 1990s by the Americanized version of the live-action tokusatsu TV series Super Sentai, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers. However, in 1998, a new phenomenon would reach America. This one had its roots in video gaming, but evolved into a global media-cultural juggernaut. Join me in our next blog as we look at the Electric Chipmunk that Conquered the World.