Space Battleship Yamato 2199: A 70 Year Quest for Redemption

So.  I’ve been holding back my actual thesis work while seeking publication on it, but thus far my efforts have been stymied.  So, what the hell… here’s my chapter on Space Battle Ship Yamato (affectionately now dubbed “Space Nazis” for reasons you will discover below.)

Incidentely I gotta say, this is an EXCELLENT series (2199 that is… the original 1970s series, released in the US by the name of “Starblazers,” was flat out painful to watch).  And I’m speaking not just as anime nerd but as a huge sci-fi geek in general.  Beautiful animation, well-developed characters, deep adult themes, plus some of the best space-battle scenes I’ve seen anywhere, Star Wars included.


This post is technically still under construction, BTW

Text and pics are all up (finally, it took ages).  BUT in terms of the foot notes, they are currently a mess.  I cut and pasted everything over from my thesis paper and they all got sad-kitten-aww-30286115scrambled, which means I have to go sort them all out.  Which kinda makes me feel like this      ——————————>

So, don’t trust those right now.  They’re meaningless.  I’ll fix them once I have a glass of bourbon in my hands and can face the mess I’ve made.

In the meantime, read on about the Space Nazis!

Space Battleship Yamato: A 70 Year Quest for Redemption

Like Japan, the Yamato rises a phoenix from the ashes of the Second World War

Frank Robert Fuller states that anime, when taken as a whole, reflects the revolving ideals of a particular age group as they grow and mature.[1]  This is perhaps nowhere more clearly displayed than in the immortal Space Battleship Yamato franchise.  Spanning five decades, producing over a dozen installments, a live action film, and a video game, Yamato reflects not only the ideals and interests of its very first fans but also provides the savvy scholar with an insider’s view of the Japanese psyche as they continue to come to terms with their role in the Second World War.

The 1970’s brought to Japan a period of introspection in which conflicting historical narratives competed to become the dominant narrative.  The first of the textbook controversies cropped up in 1965.  Compounding this conflict was the new availability of survivor’s testimonials from the war.  Additionally, the 1960s had seen protests and demonstrations against the renewal of the US-Japan Security Treaty, which was hotly contested by some who wanted to regain martial independence.  In 1968, a memorial to the battleship Yamato and her crew was erected on Cape Inutabu in the Kagoshima Prefecture.  During this time, shows about the war were very popular, with premiers often scheduled for important anniversaries such as the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima or Nagasaki.[1]

It was against this social and political backdrop that Space Battleship Yamato[2] appeared on primetime television and was significant in a number of ways, both socially and genre-specifically.  Aside from being a direct result of a lively nationalistic spirit, Yamato both spearheaded and fed into the 1970s sci-fi craze that would result in the success of the 1977 Star Wars: A New Hope and the popularity of shows like the 1979 Battlestar Galactica.  Predating these, Space Battleship Yamato (1974) was revolutionary in a number of ways.  Shifting anime away from pure fantasy into a more realistic and believable universe, Yamato was one of the first sci-fi series to introduce an element of science into their science fiction, providing pseudo-scientific explanations to the technology of the show’s space ships and weapons; an entire episode is dedicated to explaining the function of the ship’s miraculous engine.[3]  It also revolutionized the genre of anime as a whole, presenting a complex story line that would create lasting appeal for a more mature audience and help transform it into a lucrative Japanese industry that would peak in profitability during the late 1990s and early 2000s by revealing the possibilities of new markets and the concept of merchandise. Hideki Anno summarized the significance of  Yamato: “If not for Yamato, Japan might not have anime now. Neither anime fans nor Otakus would have been born. Yamato started it all.”[4]

Yamato achieved this through giving rise to otaku culture.  In the 1970s, the post-war generation that had been weaned on Astroboy was coming of age, as was daytime television.  As the original viewers of anime matured so did the genre, pursing deeper and more complex plot lines that were made possible through the serial format of television.  Gaining great popularity, it’s teenage audience formed informal viewing clubs, involving an estimated 60,000 Japanese youths.[5]  Interest in the series was fed by the arrival of video, and a follow-up film arrived in 1977 – which, it should be noted, was released on August 6th, the anniversary of Hiroshima.  Realizing that the teen fans of the original show could be tapped into for marketing purposes, Academy Productions recruited the nascent otaku for a sort of “guerrilla” marketing strategy, impressing them to hang posters, call radio stations to request the theme song, and ask news stations for coverage.  Even a young Hideki Anno took part, drawing up his very own poster and posting it in his school to spread the word.[6]  The strategy was successful and the hype resulted in ticket lines that stretched around the block and began the night before.  Over two million tickets were sold.[7]  The second film, Farewell Yamato (1978) made 2.9 billion yen and remains in the all-time top twenty Japanese box office hits.

There is no consensus for a single tipping point for the recognition of an otaku culture… one clear candidate is… (the movie) Space Cruiser Yamato (1977)…Excitement over the Yamato movie was the first ‘social manifestation’ of anime fandom as a culture…(It also) demonstrated that anime fandom represented a discrete sector of new consumption that could be served or exploited through releasing more anime,  aimed not at children, but at teenagers…[8]

Not only did the more mature plot of Yamato, drawn out over twenty-six half-hour episodes, help anime “grow-up” with its audience, it also opened the market for merchandise which would appeal to its teen audience – an audience that now had money to spend.

Toys, models, and action figures like those pictured above have become a staple of anime fandom and otaku culture. Treated as collectors’ items, they are typically quite expensive and modern ones are so finely detailed as to verge upon being art forms themselves.

The success of the original Yamato series and its two follow-up films contributed to what Clements’ calls the “maintenance” of fan culture.  The result has been a total of fifteen instalments to the franchise, including one live action film (2010) and the exceptional 2012 remake Yamato 2199 which brought the fandom to a new generation.  While an in-depth study of all instalments is forthcoming, for the purposes of this thesis only the original 1974 series and Yamato 2199 will be considered.  Both series follow the same basic plot and have many of the same characters, but the variants between the two reveal much about the cultures they were created for and how they view Japanese actions during WWII.

At the very end of Yamato 2199, a dying Captain Okita speaks of the Yamato to the ship’s doctor:  “Don’t you think this is a good ship?… I’m proud of this ship… this ship will live on.  I want to pass this soul to the younger generation.”[1]  He is speaking of course of the resurrected WWII Imperial Japanese super-battleship Yamato, which has been converted into a space ship.  The original I.J.N. battleship Yamato was the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Navy during much of the Second World War.  Launched in 1940, she and her sister ship Musashi were the largest and heaviest battleships ever constructed at nearly 73,000 tons displacement – were the United States to build their equal, such a ship could not have passed through the Panama Canal.[2]   Yamato was heavily armed with nine 46 cm 45 calibre Type 94 guns, the largest guns ever installed on a battleship, each nearly seventy feet in length and mounted in three turrets that weighed more than the average destroyer.[3]  Her secondary battery consisted of twelve 155 millimetre guns mounted in four triple batteries, twelve 127 millimetre


guns in six twin mounts, and twenty-four 25 millimetre anti-aircraft guns.  As if she did not bristle enough, her guns were further increased towards the end of the war when she was refitted for engagements in the South Pacific, bringing her total AA guns to 162.[1]  Commanded by the bold Isoroku Yamomoto until his death in April 1943, the Yamato participated in many battles and campaigns, including the Battle of Philippine Sea and the disastrous Battle of Midway, yet she only fired her formidable main guns once, at Leyte Gulf in October 1944.  As Allied troops tightened their noose around the Japanese home islands and the IJN dwindled into virtual nonexistence, the Yamato was sent to Okinawa with orders to run herself onto the beach and serve as a massive gun turret to hold off the Allies.  While this final act of desperation would have been a truly awesome sight to behold, she never completed her mission as she was sunk by the aircraft of American Task Force 58.  Most of the 3,600 men of her crew – all poorly trained to handle her copious weaponry – went to the bottom with her and her flotilla.[2]  In his book The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, John Toland captures the scene of the sinking Yamato as described by her Executive Officer Jiro Nomura:

Yamato was on one side, like a foundered whale.  Lights blacked out as gun wreckage, ammunition, pieces of bodies slid inexorably into the sea.  Men struggled up the almost vertical deck, slipping on their comrades’ blood.  At the top they clambered over the starboard rail, where they clustered on the side of the ship… Nomura felt himself being pulled under water by a titanic force.  In the clear sea he saw other men “dancing about” in the whirlpool.  Below was a bottomless dark blue.  The light above diminished… he tumbled deeper and deeper in agony.  Bright red flashes shot through the water.  A series of concussions slammed him like battering rams.  It was as if “heaven and earth were blowing up.”  The ammunition was exploding under water. Nomura was propelled to the surface.  Balls of fire arched across the waves.  He rolled over on his back and floated.  The end of Yamato, he thought; the end of the Imperial Navy.[3]

Yamoto in her final moments.

Nomura was not the only Japanese who equated the sinking of the Yamato with the end of the IJN and ultimately Japan.  As she slid beneath the waves in one of the final battles of the Pacific War, she was indeed a representation of the sunken ambitions of Japan herself; even the word Yamato was the ancient name for the nation.  The Yamato and her sister ship had been a great source of national pride to the Japanese.  Declared “unsinkable,” not only did her peerless size and strength serve as a reminder of the naval power of the island nation, there were those who placed such hope in her strength that they believed if she were lost, Imperial Japan would fall – and she did.[3]

Yamato’s creator, Yoshinobu Nishizaki, displayed a fascination – even obsession – with the ship, describing her as a “tragic figure” for Japan.  At one point he even visited the wreck with a sonar boat and saw the large hull pieces – unlike the cartoon series, which depicts the wreck as one whole piece, the historical Yamato was blown in two when her magazines exploded.[1]  When he met his death in late 2010, it was because he had fallen from his personal boat, appropriately named Yamato.  wreck

Although credited as its creator, Nishizaki spoke casually of his influence on the story, stating that his main contribution was the idea of the Yamato flying in space and of course the brilliant marketing strategy that ultimately made the franchise successful.[2]  Much of the story’s influence came from its production/artistic director, Leiji Matsumoto.  Matsumoto was known to be a strong nationalist, and it is these sentiments that heavily influenced the themes of the Yamato series, essentially making it into his “idealized vision of the war.”[3]  Born in 1938, his formative memories would have been of the violence and horror of war-torn Japan.  Asbaugh states “the fact that so many of Matsumoto’s works focus on the WWII… or allegories… suggest his fixation on the traumatic events of the belligerent past…”[4]

The Yamato animated series is the result of these two artists’ glorification of Japan’s imperial past and her tools of conquest.  The series resurrects the legendary battleship and transforms her from a weapon of war and conquest into an instrument of salvation.  In the year 2199 Earth is attacked by a powerful alien nation called the Garmillas.  Bombarding the planet with radioactive Meteor Bombs, Earth is dried out and poisoned.  Humanity, forced to live in subterranean cities, is on the verge of extinction.  Potential salvation comes in the form of an alien princess from the planet Iscandar, who dies in a crash-landing on Mars while carrying a message for Earth.  This message promises that Iscandar has technology capable of reversing the radiation poisoning the Earth if only the humans can make it to the distant world.  Found in her craft are directions for the construction of what is called a Wave Motion Engine, which will allow the Earthlings to travel faster than light and arrive at Iscandar in time.

Working in secret beneath the dried-out floor of the Pacific Ocean, the Japanese government converts the wrecked Imperial flagship Yamato into a starship powered by the Wave Motion Engine, derived from the Iscandarian technology.  They  arm her with a powerful weapon also built from the alien Wave Motion technology – the Wave Motion Cannon.  Ressurected in self-defense as the Garmillas attack Earth, the Yamato reveals herself and takes off into space, embarking on her quest to reach Iscandar and save the Earth.  Both series detail the continuing conflict with the Garmillas, relations among the crew, their reception at the planet Iscandar and their triumphant return to Earth.  Both series demonstrate how their producers – and their audiences – grapple with their role in the Second World War, but these internal conflicts are as different from each other as the generations which spawned them.  When viewed together, the scholar can observe social changes in perception surrounding Japan’s wartime actions.

The most notable difference between the two is the nationalist overtones which permeate the original series, which “glorifies the military and men who fought and died for Japan in terms consistent with… right wing nationalism.”[5]  Tinged with both justification and remorse, it presents a slightly convoluted message which, while making analysis difficult at times, is indicative of the inner turmoil of the post war generation and illustrates the conflict its audience was grappling with at the time of its original air date. Asbaugh also argues that much of the original series is Matsumoto’s call for martial independence and the rejection of Article IX of the Japanese Constitution, which allowed only a small armed force for self-defence.  The actions of the characters are, according to Asbaugh, a  demonstration that Japan has learned her lesson and can be trusted with a powerful military and weapons of mass destruction – for Japan’s own protection.[6]


“The Yamato sits silently, like a tomb before the setting sun.  However, the Yamato holds mankind’s hopes for tomorrow.  When will the Yamato show it’s deadly power?”[1]  This early line from the 1974 series sets the stage for the glorification of nationalism that distinguishes  it.  A brief history of the ship presented in episode two portrays her as an underdog, outnumbered and hopeless, suffering a “sad fate for a battleship” and her three thousand crewmen.[2]  Rebuilt in secret originally as an ark to save a small portion of humanity from the radiation, the acquisition of Wave Motion technology from the Iscandarians led the Yamato’s mission to change from one of preservation to salvation, shifting her purpose from selfish to selfless.  It now falls to Japan to use a weapon of war to save the world.

Also glorified is the traditional Japanese fighting spirit, which receives especially strong emphasis in the early episodes. This is most clearly illustrated in the character of the wizened and noble Captain Okita and in the heroic but short lived actions of Captain Mamoru Kodai, who gives his life to protect Okita in the first episode of the series.  The Garmillas have attacked the Earth, inflicting heavy casualties on its fleet.  Okita orders a retreat and all but Kodai obey.  An embodiment of the ideal Japanese soldier and the Bushido principal of Yu (heroic courage), Kodai argues: “If I withdraw now, I’d be too ashamed to face the deceased.”

Okita replies, “…put up with the shame of today for tomorrow.  That’s how a man should be.”

“If you’re a man, you should fight and fight and destroy as many enemies as possible, and die…”  Kodai then makes a banzai run against the Garmillas  to allow Okita’s flagship to escape.  The name of Kodai’s ship is the Yukikaze, which was present when the real Yamato was sunk during Operation Ten-Go.

During the Second World War, the self-sacrificing bravery of the Japanese made them fearsome opponents as entrenched but outnumbered divisions would repeatedly battle the Allies to almost the last man and then, often, run banzai charges as a last stand in order to do exactly as Kodai had said – kill as many of the enemy as possible before dying.  The notion of banzai, like seppuku and kamikaze attacks, is an outcropping of the concept of honourable suicide – gyokusai, or “shattered jewel,” from the ancient Chinese phrase “a true man would rather be the shattered jewel,  ashamed to be the intact tile.”  First part of Samurai training, the Japanese government later indoctrinated the country’s population with this and other concepts of Bushido in order to order to ensure loyalty and obedience to the emperor.  During WWII, the Japanese government further fed this conditioning through use of propaganda which glorified the suicide attack based upon one of the seven virtues of Bushido.  By the end of the war the government itself was encouraging civilians to commit suicide rather than face capture by the Americans.  While civilians threw themselves from cliffs or blew themselves up with grenades, Japanese troops at Saipan mounted the largest Banzai attack of the war and charged the Americans, leaving behind 4,300 Japanese dead and nearly breaking the back of the 1st and 2nd Batallions of the 105th U.S. Infantry.[1]  A monument to the indoctrination of Bushido, the Battle of Saipan resulted in the deaths of 22,000 Japanese civilians – a ratio of two out of three – and almost the entire Japanese garrison, which numbered at least 30,000 men.  US losses were more than double those at Guadalcanal.[2]  Other Pacific battles read along similar lines, and at Okinawa the numbers of Japanese dead reached a shocking pitch, with losses of 110,000 troops and civilian casualties mounting up to an appalling 75,000.  This fighting spirit ironically proved to work against them; following Okinawa it convinced the Americans that an invasion of the home islands would be costly indeed, with some estimates putting the cost of invasion as high as one million American casualties.  The alternative to invasion was, of course, the nuclear bombs.

The self-sacrificing spirit of bushido continues beyond Captain Kodai’s banzai run.  Okita himself embodies it, swearing early on that “as long as I live I’ll fight. I won’t give in to despair.  I won’t give up, even if I’m the last survivor.”[3]  Okita, we learn, is sick and dying and each time the Yamato makes another space warp his condition worsens.  None-the-less he sees his mission through in spite of the fate it had guaranteed him, finally turning command over to Kodai’s little brother Susumu when he becomes too ill to command.  In episode eighteen, the science officer Sanada is willing to sacrifice himself to save the Yamato from a powerful Gamillis machine; he has set bombs in the machine, but must remain there in order to explode them.  At the very end of the series, the heroine Yuki Nori gives her life to save the entire crew of the Yamato and thus planet Earth itself.  In a final vengeful attack on the Yamato, the maddened Garmillas leader Lord Domel has poisoned the ship with the same radioactive gas that is killing Earth.  Yuki wades into the gas and activates the Cosmo Reverser, the device given to them by the Iscandarians.  She does not survive the ordeal.  Nor does the spirit of sacrifice end with the character’s own lives – each has lost a loved one.  For Okita it is his son, for Susumu Kodai his revered brother Mamoru and finally the woman he loves, Yuki.

The spirit of bushido is also demonstrated by the Garmillas, who are willing to fight to the death. In defense of their Pluto base, the Garmillas commander orders a desperate banzai charge aimed at the Yamoto, declaring, “Our only destiny is either glory or death!… If we can’t return… we’ll sacrifice our lives to achieve glory… it is the fate of …soldiers.”  However, often times when such spirit is portrayed in the Garmillas, it is depicted as a bad thing – either the inhuman commanders won’t allow their troops to retreat, much as the Japanese commanders did not, or their fervour is driven by madness and not honour or patriotism.  This is where some of the conflict inherent in the original Yamato series surfaces and is indicative of the conflict the post-war generation wrestled with, torn between their desire to believe in the nobility of their fathers and maintain pride in their nation, while being aware of the aggression and atrocities that had been committed by both.

The Yamato and the spirit of bushido were both tools employed by the Japanese government in order to fulfill its imperialistic ambitions, ambitions which were to plunge South East Asia and eventually even the United States into a war that would ultimately cost millions of lives and change the shape of Asia forever.  Calling it “The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” the Japanese aim was to “free” the East Asian countries from their Western oppressors and unite them beneath Japanese rule for the greater economic and cultural independence of all.[4]  However, in practice the promised freedom was often anything but and their “liberators” were frequently proven brutal and sadistic, driven by ideas of cultural, racial, and nationalistic superiority that were no less twisted and evil than the Nazis themselves.  Plundering her conquered neighbors for natural resources was the only way Japan could support her empire, and thus it was that the so-called liberator was revealed a brutal mistress indeed.  Historians vary wildly on just how brutal, with numbers as low as 5.5 million[5] dead civilians to as high as 20 million,[6] with the majority in every case belonging to China.

Nishizaki once romanticized the imperialistic accomplishments of his nation in an interview:

…In my childhood the world map showed Japanese territories in red and they spread here and there to the south and the north. Its background was the spreading spirit of exploration and adventure, apart from nationalism or militarism. However, Japan is very small when you look at it on a world map now. If you can’t go forward or back or left or right, the only place left to go is up into space.[7] 

His childhood pride in empire resulted in the subconscious adulthood glorification of such in the Space Battleship Yamato, where he transfers imperial ambitions to the stars after Japan met roadblocks on Earth.

Yamato’s treatment of imperial colonialism is as problematic as earlier themes, making it clear that Japanese feelings and cultural memory was still, at the time of airing, rather convoluted – something which makes sense in light of the social climate, a storm of warring nationalism and revelation, of truth and denial.  This psychological and historical battleground is captured within the hand-painted celluloid frames of Yamato, and the viewer can watch the battle between propaganda and reality play out.  Earth – representative of Japan – is portrayed as being both victim to imperialism as well as guilty of such actions.  The Garmillas, with the radioactive planet bombs, represent America.  In one episode Yuki condemns the crew for their double standards.  After freeing a planet from the Garmillas, the crew reassure the maltreated and enslaved indigenous creatures that they are now safe in the hands of Earthlings.  Yuki snaps, “It doesn’t matter if Garmillas or Earthlings!  They have the right to live peacefully without any interference!  Don’t play innocent!  We came to steal vegetables too!”[8]  It is a rare moment of clarity, for the majority of the show takes a far more nationalistic approach, facing instances of imperialism and the abuse inherent in the system with a propagandist eye.

The Yamato travels throughout the galaxy, freeing several planets from Garmillas tyranny just as the Japanese claimed to do; indeed, the Garmillas loot, enslave, and murder indigenous populations making them the clear villain in the series. Conversely, the crew of the Yamato greets indigenous life with kindness, compassion, and respect.  For instance, during the Battle of Pluto, the crew of the Yamato  discover indigenous life and Kodai orders his compatriots not to shoot the strange, jelly-like creatures but instead put them to sleep so they cannot hurt the crew.  When one attacks Kodai and is killed, Kodai apologizes and begs understanding.  As the battle closes and the victorious Yamato crew watch the  Garmillas retreat,  Kodai magnanimously assures the Plutonians that they can now live together in peace, as the planet is once again theirs.  In a later episode, the crew is outraged to discover the massacred bodies of an alien lifeform known as Parandons – peaceful creatures with a hive ability that the Garmillas have enslaved and weaponized against the Yamato on previous occasions.

Although the imperialistic narrative of Yamato is convoluted and ham-handed in places, the series ends by making a clear statement on the morality of imperialism, thereby passing judgement on war-time Japan and also urging the audience to be better than their fathers.  It is revealed that the Garmillas seek to colonize Earth because their home planet is dying.  However, whatever sympathy this may generate is lost when it is learned that Iscandar – their twin planet – is also dying.  In fact, their situation is far more dire than Garmillas: since Starsha’s twin sister Sasha was killed on Mars, Starsha is now the last of her species.  Yet Iscandar did not seek to colonize other worlds.  Instead, they gracefully accepted their fate.  Starsha, as the last of the Iscandarians, is the truest hero in the series.  She is portrayed as wise, good, and unselfish, and her ways are the ways the crew of the Yamato and their surviving Earthlings must strive to emulate.  Ironically, once arrived on Iscandar several of the Yamato crew, having learned nothing from their experiences with the Garmillas, kidnap Yuki and claim an island, vowing to colonize a nearly empty Iscandar and rebuild the population with Yuki as an unwilling participant.  After all, their own planet is dying.  They receive their cummopence shortly, when an earthquake sinks the island into the ocean and all are lost except for Yuki, who is rescued just in time.

Yamato 2199 follows the same basic plot yet the entire series is simply more.  Eager to do right by a series which was so well-loved, 2199 presents a wide variety of well-developed characters, a fully fleshed-out plot, stunning animation, and edge-of-the-seat battle scenes.  Practically all of the themes that were just touched on in the first series are vastly expanded upon in a series which proves as complex and engaging as any live action sci-fi.  The message of the series and the depiction of wartime themes have evolved to reflect the modern Japanese psyche and present a far more honest and in-depth evaluation of wartime actions.  Furthermore, whereas the original series gave some allusions to the Second World War, 2199 borrows quite heavily from it, giving the series the spirit of allegory.

Take, for instance, the depiction of the Garmillas.  Although they are clearly meant to represent Americans with their radioactive planet bombs, it is interesting to note, in the original series, that many have Germanic sounding names and wear uniforms that are suggestive of the Nazis.  Lord Albet Desler, the Garmillas leader, is in fact the perfect Aryan with his blond hair and strong, square jaw.


This connection is maximized in 2199, with many of the Garmillas high command having names that are similar to ranking Nazi officials and characters that are in several cases even allegorical.  For instance, Deputy Lord Redof Hyss is clearly based upon Deputy Fuhrer Rudolph Hess, Field Marshall Herm Zoellik stands in for Field Marshall Hermann Goering, and Admiral Gul Dietz is based upon Admiral Karl Donitz.  Commander of the interdimensional submarine UX-01 is named Wolf Fleurken, a clear reference to U-boat wolf packs. The strongest connection however is the character of Erich Domel, the immensely competent general tasked with hunting the Yamato.  Nicknamed “the Space Wolf,” he is a clearly modeled onrommel General Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox.  Like Rommel he is even accused of plotting against Dessler and put on trial for his presumed assassination.  Rommel himself was found guilty of plotting against Hitler, but rather than ruin his status as national hero he was allowed to quietly commit suicide and the Rommel myth was protected.  Domel spends much of the series exchanging fire with the Yamato in a series of nail-biting battles before finally sacrificing himself and his crew in a kamakaze run on the Yamato.  Before he attempts to the destroy the Yamato, he and Okita have a cordial exchange in which they both compliment each other’s skills in nazisGarmillas ideology is also based upon the Nazis.  In 2199 they have evolved into a vast and powerful empire that has absorbed many alien cultures.  Hierarchy is based upon racial superiority, with pure Garmillas serving as the ruling class while all other “lesser” alien races are officially considered Second Class.  Lord Desler delivers rousing, emotional speeches to massive crowds in scenes that strongly resemble Nazi rallies.

The decision to make the Garmillas, clearly intended to be America at first, so closely resemble Germans is interesting.  Perhaps at first, in the original series, the intent was to make it more palatable for the hoped-for American audiences.  However the connection is so intentional in 2199 that it become apparent what the producers have done: Japan has effectively switched sides, and in this sci-fi version of the Second World War the Japanese are fighting against their former allies and all the

The fighter pilots of the Yamato look strikingly American. Note their vintage style bomber jackets. Yamato 2199, “The inescapable Trap,” May 5, 2013

things they represent.  In the original series, the Yamato was purely Japanese.  In 2199 she, and all the other Japanese space ships, are envoys of the United Nations and their hulls are marked as such – she has become a symbol of all humankind.  Yamato will gain redemption not just by saving the Earth, but by acknowledging past mistakes and seeking to correct them.  2199 effectively apologizes for being on the wrong side of history.

The WWII references extend past the Garmillas and into the show’s technology.  The names of the spaceships destroyed in what is known as the Second Innerplanetary War are all named after ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy: Kirishima, Korama, Yugiri, Abukuma, Shimakaze, Murasame, Isokaze, and the Yukukaze.  The Yamato has been fitted to carry space fighters, and these are called Zeros and Hayabusas.  The Yamato fighter pilots wear vintage-style bomber jackets, and even the Garmillas guns are modeled on Japanese Nambus.[1]


Several of the events depicted in 2199 also mimic the war.  For instance, it is revealed to the shocked Yamato crew that the Second Innerplanetary War was in fact started not by the Garmillas as they have been raised to believe, but by the Earthlings – specifically the Japanese, who fired first upon the Garmillas.  The struggle of the crew to accept this fact is representative of the ongoing struggle of Japanese war memory.  The crew member whose father fired the first shot refuses to accept it at all, much as the nationalists in Japanese society refuse to accept responsibility for the war.  Kodai, also struggling, takes a far more pragmatic approach to the issue: “Sometimes there’s more than one truth.  You have your truth and they have theirs.  But there is only one reality.  The war really happened.”[1]

The series ends with a wartime event just as it started with one:  the Yamato is finally able to fulfil the banzai mission she was meant to complete at the Battle of  Okinawa.  As the series climaxes Okita orders her to ram into the Garmillas palace.  This she manages with success and then, just as she was supposed to do on Okinawa, she serves as a massive gun turret and once again thwarts Desler’s plans for her destruction.  Also reminiscent of the war is the fracturing of Garmillas society beneath the weight of Desler’s obsessive warmaking and the numerous coups and assassination attempts levelled at him throughout the series.  Following his seizure of power, Hitler survived nearly a dozen such attempts.

One of the common functions of anime as a genre is to indoctrinate the youth with an abhorrence of war.[2]  This both Yamato series do through demonstrating the consequences of war, although the theme is greatly expanded upon in 2199.  Yamato reminds the youth of the costs of war constantly as characters are shown mourning for their lost loved one in various ways; indeed, there is surely not a crewmember on board that has not lost someone to the Garmillas.  Okita’s own son has been dead for a year when they begin their voyage to Iscandar.  Hotshot pilot Akira Yamomoto – conveniently named – mourns her brother Akio and fights in his memory.  Sasumu Kodai, the hero of the story, loses his beloved brother Mamoru early in the series.  Mamorou sacrifices himself to protect Okita, although it is later revealed that he was actually captured by the Garmillas for study and ended up wounded and dying beneath Starsha’s care on Iscandar, his death is one of Kodai’s driving factors.  Kodai also loses Yuki, who is killed in a tragic scene with Dessler when he accidently shoots his loyal Propaganda Minister Miezela Celestella, who is desperately in love with him.

Ultimately Desler ends up destroying himself in his obsession to destroy the Yamato, the message being that war is all consuming.  In the 1974 series he even destroys Garmillas itself as the Yamato, trapped there by Desler’s plot, is forced to fire her Wave Motion Canon into a volcano chain which ends up destroying the entire planet.  As Yuki and Kodai stand on deck of the damaged ship, Yuki sobs uncontrollably as she contemplates the costs of war:  “What have we done?  I can’t face God.”

Kodai replies, “We’ve been told to compete and win since childhood… There are losers behind the winners.  What happens to the losers?  The losers don’t have the right to be happy?  I never thought about that until now… There’s no difference between the people of Earth or Garmilus in hoping for  happiness.  But we fought.  We weren’t meant to fight… we were meant to love each other.  Victory…?  Tastes like ashes!”[3]

Yuki’s speech in 2199 is similar, although the placement of it is different.  Through a series of strange events she has ended up befriending Propaganda Minister Celestella and knows of her feelings for Desler.  As the minister lies dying, killed by Desler’s own hand, Yuki cries, “There was no need for Garmillas to fight!  They could’ve cared for one another… they could have loved one another!”

Desler’s reply, while he looks down at his golden gun, echoes the rhetoric of the Co-Prosperity sphere: “War is necessary.  To force worlds to obey, and bring salvation to the universe.”[4]  Desler truly believes what he is saying, and wages war for the most twisted of reasons – to bring peace to the universe. Only if all worlds have been united beneath Garmillas rule can there be any peace, and only once there is peace can Dessler be with the woman he truly loves, which is not Celestella but rather Starsha of Iscandar, who has turned her back on him due to his warlike ways.

Yamato 2199 not only teaches youth the costs of war, but also reminds the audience that ultimately enemies are the same at their core – human, and capable of becoming allies, friends, and even lovers when differences are set aside.  Unlike the original series, which depicts the Garmillas as a comparatively shallow and one-sided race, 2199 presents the Yamato crew with an adversary that is as complex and many-sided as any large nation.  By the end of the series lines between enemies have become blurred and those who were formerly trying to kill each other have become allies.

In both series it begins with the capture of a talented Gamillan fighter pilot.  Never having seen a Gamillian before, the crew watches in fascination as the helmet is removed, expecting to find some sort of monster beneath; they are shocked to discover instead that the pilot beneath is a human and looks just like them, save for having pale blue skin – merely a different race of the same species.  The epiphany of the pilot’s humanity and his talent as a fighter pilot lead the crew, especially Kodai, to question their assumptions about the monstrous nature of their enemies.

Japanese propaganda depicting America and Great Britain as man-eating daemons.

Propaganda during the Second World War was often very racist in nature, depicting the enemy as less than human in order to harden the populace, and of course the armies, against their enemy.  In Japan for instance the government warned its citizens that if they were to be conquered, the Allies would most certainly rape and murder them.  This fear was in part what drove so many Japanese to suicide as the Allies approached the home islands.  Those who did not were often shocked to find the western invaders were kind to them, even giving candy to the children.  The feared Americans proved to be just like the Japanese after all – human, just a different race.

2199 broadens this theme and the Garmillas pilot became a major character.  Yamato finds herself trapped in a dimensional rift, but she is not alone – a Garmillas cruiser is trapped inside with her.  Rather than killing each other, the commander of the Garmillas ship purposes a truce while they work together to get free.  The fighter pilot in question is dispatched to the Yamato as an emissary and then remains on board as a gesture of good faith while the plan is put into motion, for the plan will leave the Yamato vulnerable – the ship is to use her Wave Motion Gun to create a rift through which they can sail, but it will leave her without engine power and utterly helpless for some time.  The Garmillas ship will tow her out of the rift and release her on the other side.

The fighter pilot turns out to be a female, Melda Dietz, the daughter of Admiral Dietz.  The Yamato crew are shocked to find that she looks just like them.  The truce is uneasy and there is treachery on board the Garmillas ship, and when both ships are free of the void several more Garmillas ships arrive and try to destroy the Yamato.  To maintain their honour and protect the Admiral’s daughter, the original ship sacrifices itself to protect the Yamato.dietz

Melda is now stranded on board the enemy vessel.  Treated as a prisoner of war and regarded with suspicion and hostility, tensions finally boil over between her and fighter ace Yamomoto.  They decide to have an unauthorized dual during which time it is discovered that each pilot is the equal of the other, neither able to win.  When Yamomoto’s ship malfunctions she is forced to eject. In an act of honour, Melda rescues her and returns her to the Yamato.  The lines between enemies continue to blur as Melda wins the respect of Kodai, Yamomoto, and others.  Eventually it is decided to release her and she is sent on her way with enough food for several days.

Tensions within the Garmillas empire escalate due to dissatisfaction with Desler’s iron rule; when Melda’s father is put on trial for the attempted assassination of Desler she rescues him and defects to the Yamato, forming strong friendships with former enemies and eventually even fighting alongside them as the Garmillas empire fracture and resistance groups make allies of the Yamoto.  Through the revelation that humans started the war and their growing comraderie with not only Melda but other Garmillians, the crew of the Yamato gradually learns to let hate go, representing the post-war evolution of the Japanese themselves who are now close allies with their former adversaries.

It is this evolution, this humanizing of the enemy, which ultimately opens the door for the salvation of Earth.  In a daring attack upon the Garmillas capitol itself, the Yamato flings herself into the Garmillas palace in a banzai run reminiscent of that which she was intended to do at Okinawa.  Dessler abandons the palace, fleeing to one of his space stations.  Obsessed with destroying the Yamato, now wedged in his palace, he detaches a massive piece of his space station and launches it at the palace in spite of the fact that it will destroy the entire capitol and everyone in it.  Okita orders the use of the Wave Motion Gun, obliterating the falling piece of space station and saving the Garmillas city, much to the surprise of the residents.  Dessler’s decision to sacrifice his people in the name of war and Okita’s decision to save his enemy trigger a deep fracturing of the already troubled empire, and it is soon embroiled in its own civil war, ultimatly providing the Yamato with surprising allies in times of trouble as Dessler continues to pursue the ship all the back to her own solar system.

A destiny fulfilled. Top, the Yamato just after her banzi run, her bow buried deeply inside the Gamillas palace. Middle, the Yamato fulfils her destiny as a stationary gun turret, using her Wave Motion Gun to destroy the piece of Dessler’s space station and save the citizens of the Garmillas capitol. Bottom, the shocked Garmillas citizens realize who has saved them from their leader. “One Man’s War,” September 8, 2013.

Yamato’s decision to let hatred go and save her enemies enables the salvation of the human race.  When they arrive at Iscandar and Starsha learns that they have taken Wave Motion technology and turned it into a weapon, she refuses to give them the Cosmo Reverser technology that will cleanse the Earth.  It is only after she learns that they used their weapon to save their enemies that she decides humanity is worthy of salvation. mushroom cloud

Their development and use of a weapon of mass destruction nearly cost the Earth dearly as the series hits upon another repeated theme in anime – the misue of science to create weapons.  Starting with images of mushrooms clouds from radioactive alien bombs, the original Yamato presents themselves as victims of agression from outside alien invaders – the Americans – and their poisonious bombs.  When gifted with Wave Motion Technology from Iscandar and a promise to cleanse the Earth, humans immediately set about doing what they do best and figuring out how to turn science into a tool of destruction.

After discovering its incredibly destructive power, both series’ Captain Okita declares that it must only be used in the most desperate of circumstances.  As the Yamato travels through the solar system she comes across a floating Garmillas base on Jupiter.  Intending only to destoy the base itself, they fire the Wave Motion Gun for the first time and are appalled when it vaporizes the entire continent.

“Did we do something unforgivable?” 1974 Kodai asks.  “We only had to destoy the base, didn’t we?”  This echoes criticism of the use of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, a city, which Truman had described as a military base in his address to the American people.

“The Wave Motion Gun is a valuable power, but we also realize that it is an excessively destructive weapon if we misues it.  We need to think carefully before we use it,” Okita intones.[1]

Shortly thereafter they refuse to use it on the Garmillas’ Pluto base because they do not wish to destroy the indigenous lifeforms that reside there.  According to Ashbaugh, this scene and similar restrained use of the gun throughout the original series was Matsumoto’s way of demonstrating the Japanese were responsible enough to have their own nuclear weapons – perhaps that they were even better suited to the possession of such, having suffered uniquely from them.[2]  In 2199 Okita not only orders the gun to be used solely for self-defense, he also ponders the nature of the weapon itself in dark apocapalytic ruminations often used for nuclear weapons: “A power that could destoy the universe itself.  Have we obtained the forbidden fire of Megiddo?”[3]  When the crew arrives at Pluto and discovers they will have to fight the Garmillas to pass, the use of the gun is hotly debated.  Echoing the argument that the nuclear bombs saved potentially one million American lives, the crew argues that using the Wave Motion Gun on the Garmillas will save the lives of the Yamato’s pilots.  “Our goal is not to exterminate the enemy,” insists Okita.  “The Yamato’s weaponry exists solely for self-defense.”  Throughout the rest of the series, the Wave Motion Gun is indeed used in only the most dire of circumstances, leaving the Yamato to rely on her more conventional weaponry – her original guns have been retro-fitted with lasers.

In the original series Starsha does not make much of the Yamato’s Wave Motion Gun, but in 2199 the development of the weapon nearly causes her to turn her back on them entirely.  “We made the weapon of salvation you offered us into a weapon of destruction,” Okita grimly admits.  “We are well aware of the gravity of this deed.”[4]  Feeling betrayed by their use of her technology and heartbroken over the apparent death of Desler,[5] she decides that humanity does not deserve to live.  However, her surviving sister Yurisha has been with the Yamato for some time and speaks in their defense, explaining that they would never have survived the journey without it and that it was only ever used in their own defense.  After describing how they showed compassion for their enemies and saved the Garmillas capitol from Desler’s madness, Starsha relents and gives them the technology – the Cosmo Reverser.  She reveals to the crew that they are not the first to weaponize Wave Motion technology; the Iscandarians once did, and they used it for conquest, destroying entire planets in their quest for empire and power.  “Promise me you’ll never repeat our mistakes!” she demands.[6]

In the end it is love, not war, that makes the salvation of Earth possible.  Had the Yamato not found love for their enemies they would never have acquired the Cosmo Reverser to save their planet.  While the device is a specific piece of equipment in the original series, in 2199 the ship itself becomes the Cosmo Reverser, and so the symbol of Imperial Japanese agression and war has come full circle and is now a tool for salvation and life.  Starsha explains that the device is actually memory – in this case, the loving memory of Kodai’s older brother Mamorou, who died beneath her care but whose spirit has been preserved by Iscandarian technology.  The ship is now almost a living being with Mamorou’s memories and soul as her heart, and it is with the power of the Cosmo Reverser that Mamorou first restores Yuki, dead from Desler’s bullet, to life and then restores the Earth.  The date the ship returns to Earth – December 8th, 2199 is the anniversary of the day in which the United States declared war on Japan.  This time it is not death and destruction which the date heralds, but salvation and life.  “How many young ones have died while we’ve kept living?” Lt. Commander Hikozaemon Tokugawa once asked Okita.  “…People’s lives are more than numbers,” Okita responds.  “All we survivors can do is ensure the young ones still have hope for tomorrow.”  Tokugawa nods, “That’s all we can do to atone for taking so many of their lives.”[7]

The Yamato has completed her circle of redemption, and the story ends on the note of hope that Okita wishes the youth to have


[1] “Escape the Floating Continent! Crisis Calls for Wave Motion Gun!” Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Space Battleship Yamato, aired November 3, 1974 on Nippon Television Network System.

[2] Asbaugh, 342.

[3] This is a reference to the Book of Revelations and the final battle of the end times, which will be fought at the mountin of Har Megaddio.

[4] “The Faraway Promised Land” Yutaka Izubuchi, Yamato 2199, aired September 15, 2013, on Anime News Network.

[5] Desler “dies” numerous times in 2199, but like a bad cold he just keeps coming back.

[6] “The Faraway Promised Land.”

[7] “Bid Farewell to the Heliosphere” Yutaka Izubuchi, Yamato 2199, aired May 19, 2013, on Anime News Network.

[1] “What Lies Beyond?” Yutaka Izubuchi, Yamato 2199, aired June 23, 2013, on Anime News Network.

[2] Jack Singleton, “Japanese Animation, the Pacific War, and the Atomic Bomb,” Impact:  The University of Nottingham’s Official Student Magazine, August 23, 2011, (accessed May 5, 2014).

[3] “Iscandar!  A Dying Planet of Love!” Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Space Battleship Yamato, aired March 23, 1975, on Nippon Television Network System.

[4] “Battle Without End,” Yutaka Izubuchi, Yamato 2199, aired September 22, 2013, on Anime News Network.

[1] It’s interesting that the Gamillas guns are not modelled on the Luger, in keeping with the rest of the Nazi imagry.  However, in spite of the two guns’ visual similarities the fact that the Garmillas gun cocks from the back, and not the top, suggest it is in fact modelled on a Namu and not a Luger.

[1] Harold Goldberg, D-Day in the Pacific: The Battle of Saipan, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 67–194.

[2] Toland, 519.

[3] It is interesting to note that very last Japanese soldier surrendered in 1974.  Second Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda held out in the Philippines for 29 years until his commanding officer personally flew down and relieved him of duty.

[4] Toland, 447-448.

[5] R.J. Rummel, “Statistics of Japanese Democide: Estimates, Calculations, and Sources,” Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002, (accessed June 29. 2017).

[6] Werner Gruhl, Imperial Japan’s World War Two: 1931-1945, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010).

[7] Kazuo Kuroi, Interview with Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Space Battleship Yamato: Flying in a Quest for Love and Exploration in the Present Day, Cosmo DNA, (Accessed May 14th, 2017)

[8] “Planet Beeland, Underground Prison Condemned Criminal,” Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Space Battleship Yamato, aired January 19, 1975, on Nippon Television Network System.

[1] “SOS Earth!  Revive Space Battleship Yamato!” Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Space Battleship Yamato, aired October 6, 1974 on Nippon Television Network System.

[2] Ibid.

[1] Hideki Anno is the creator of the hit series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Eldred.

[2] Eldred.

[3] Asbaugh, 329.

[4] Ibid., 335.

[5] Asbaugh, 329.

[6] Ibid., 342.

[1] William Asbaugh, “Contesting Traumatic War Narratives: Space Battleship Yamato and Mobild Suit Gundam,” 327 -353, in David C. Stahl and Mark Williams, Imag(in)ing the war in Japan representing and responding to trauma in postwar literature and film (Leiden: Brill, 2010).

[1] Ibid, 180.

[2] Spector, 538.

[3] Toland, 695.

[1] “Memories of the Blue Planet,” Yutaka Izubuchi, Yamato 2199, aired September 29, 2013, on Anime News Network.

[2] Ronald H. Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan, (New York: Random House, 1985), 47.

[3] Ian Johnston & Rob McAuley, The Battleships, (St. Paul: MBI Publishing Company, 2000), 123.

[4] Ibid, 180.

[5] Spector, 538.

[2] Sometimes referred to as Space Cruiser Yamato, or in the US Starblazers.

[3] Although this pseudo-science is not all-encompassing, as it is never explained how the heroine Yuki Mori miraculously rises from the dead at the end of the original series, nor how the Yamato is inexplicably and completely repaired after each damaging battle.

[4] Tim Eldred, “Yoshinobu Nishizaki X Hideaki Anno, 2008 Interviews,”  Cosmo DNA, (Accessed May 14th, 2017). Hideki Anno is the creator of the hit series Neon Genesis Evangelion and one of the biggest and most respected names in anime.

[5] Edith Hanson, “Space Battleship Yamato carries romance and 500 Million Yen: Yoshinobu Nishizaki, Producer of the Big Hit Anime Movie,” Cosmo DNA, (Accessed May 14th, 2017)

[6] Eldred.

[7] Jonathan Clements, Anime: A History (London: British Film Institute, 2013), 165.

[8] Ibid., 165-166

[1] Frank Robert Fuller, “The Atomic Bomb: Reflections in Japanese Manga and Anime,” (PhD diss., Clark Atlanta University, 2012), 22.

[1] Yomiuri Shimbun, “A-bomb survivors leery of Battleship Hype,” August 5, 2006, High Beam Research, (accessed June 21st, 2017).


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