Fri
Jan 20 2012 5:00pm
A Ship Called Argo: Star Blazers

I was never a big reader of military science fiction when I was younger, but I certainly watched plenty of movies and television shows in the genre as I grew up. One of my earliest joys was the television show Star Blazers which aired on American television in the early 80s.

Star Blazers was a transplanted Japanese anime called Space Battleship Yamato, recut and redubbed to appeal to American audiences, though, unlike other shows at the time, much of the story and characters were left intact. Since it was aimed at children, most of the references to alcohol and sex were removed, though, and many of the Japanese references were altered to be more familiar to American audiences. *

* In one scene, for example, characters are dressed in traditional Japanese garb and eating sushi. The American version refers to them as “cake’.

The series was set in the future, when the Earth has been bombarded by planet bombs from an alien planet, Gamelon. These planet bombs have increased the level of radiation on the surface of the planet to dangerous levels, forcing humanity to move underground. When the story starts, the Earth is dangerously close to being uninhabitable. However, a communication from the mysterious Princess Starsha of Iscandar tells them she has something called Cosmo-DNA that can help cure the Earth. She also provides them with the plans for a wave motion engine that will enable them to travel the distance to her planet. A Star Force is created to take a spaceship out to Iscandar to retrieve the Cosmo-DNA. From the beginning we are told that Earth has only a year, so they have to reach Iscandar and come back in that time to save it.

The ship in the American version is renamed the Argo and it is crewed by the aforementioned Star Force, essentially a space navy. The Argo is essentially an aircraft carrier or other battleship that can travel through space. The leader of the vessel is Captain Avatar, a veteran commander. Other key individuals include gunner Derek Wildstar, pilot Mark Venture, head mechanic Sandor, Nova the nurse, and Dr. Sane, the medical doctor. There was also a robot that provided comic relief called IQ-9.

The Star Force and the Argo make the dangerous journey, often facing threats from Gamelon along the way. They are often called upon to use their most powerful weapon, the Wave Motion Gun, the offensive side to the Wave Motion engines used to transport the ship across the vast distances of space.

For those who haven’t seen the show, I won’t spoil the ending for you (it’s on Netflix streaming right now), but consider that they made two sequel series, The Comet Empire and the Bolar Wars, though the last was only released in the U.S. much later.

What is interesting about the show in the context of military SF is that the show sticks very close to military procedures. Though the characters don’t bear ranks, save for Captain Avatar, much of the activity aboard the ship resembles what you might find aboard a naval battleship. Orders and headings are shouted out and repeated as they deal with space battles or evasive maneuvers. It’s also a war show. Earth is at war with Gamelon, fighting for her survival, though it isn’t until the Argo is constructed that the Earth forces have a chance of truly fighting back.

Though it was primarily aimed at children, they deal with some of the fallout of a military career in the midst of a war. Derek Wildstar spends many of the early episodes angry at Captain Avatar because his brother, Alex, was presumed dead after an earlier attack under Avatar’s command. But Avatar’s own son was also lost, and this aspect of their relationship, and shared loss, is played out over the first season. Sacrifice during war is something they attempt to examine again and again.   

It’s not a perfect show — the animation is dated and it can drag in places — but it’s one of my first experiences with military science fiction, and I believe it still holds up after all of these years.

And, after all, it gave us this wonderful theme song:

Star Blazers is currently available on Hulu and Netflix streaming. 


Rajan Khanna is a writer, narrator, and blogger who loved Star Blazers so much that he named all of his early Lego space characters after the characters on the show. His favorite was Derek Wildstar. His website is www.rajankhanna.com

This article is part of Military Science Fiction on Tor.com: ‹ previous | index | next ›
8 comments
Skip Ives
1. Skip
I remember watching Star Blazers in the 70s when I got home from school, and it was one of my favorites growing up. I even remembered the theme song when I rewatched some of it on Netflix.
Sky Thibedeau
2. SkylarkThibedeau
I loved Star Blazers when I was younger and have been watching it on Netflix. It is somewhat dated now but at the time when the only science fiction on Television was Star Trek TOS reruns it was a good escape.

I do like the tension between Wildstar and Captain Avatar. He is brash and disobeys orders and Captain Avatar is gruff and by the book. It probably works better in Japanese as I see one as a brash inexperienced Samarai and the other his older veteran sensai.

It has not aged well at all. Still like the 'Hidden Fortress' I can see many things that may have been culled from the series for Star Wars by GL.

I do want to see the live action version "Space Battleship Yamato" that came out in Japan last year preferably subtitled and not dubbed.
Michael Grosberg
3. Michael_GR
An important detail about the ship: the Argo or Yamato is built inside - and using - the remains of the WWII Japanese battleship Yamato, sunk off the coast of Japan in 1945. It was supposed to be the crown of the Japanese navy and was an immense ship, the biggest battleship ever created; but its contribution to the war effort proved negligible.
Still, it was an imposing-looking ship. It had a squadron of five sea planes that could be lunched off catapults in the stern, nine main cannons and dozens of AA batteries. The Sinking of the Yamato was shown in the beginning of the series but the segment was cut from the american adaptation.
Sadly, as it was much later discovered, the real Yamato had broken in two as she was sunk. No complete hull lies on the seabed to be rebuilt as a starship.
AndrewB
4. AndrewB
I remember watching this series as a child in the early 80's. Both the initial mission (discused above in the article) and the second mission (which I will not discuss because any discussion will involve spoilers).

I thought at the time it was cheesey; nevertheless, I liked it.

Thanks for the memories.
AndrewB
Cait Glasson
5. CaitieCat
That's cool about spaceship Yamato being built inside RL Yamato herself - I didn't remember or ever know that detail, cool to know.

Yamato's end, as with the other IJN superbattleships, was typically tragic: she was sent out on a suicide run, given only a little more than enough fuel oil for a one-way trip, her goal to somehow use her eight smaller companion ships to help defend Okinawa, and to beach herself to be an unsinkable gun platform. Given the Japanese had almost no pilots left by then, Yamato was easily sunk by wave after wave of US planes, long before she or her sisters got anywhere near Okinawa.

I think I might check this out. I've just been getting into anime recently, and can't really ignore one of the great classics of the past. I watched it some as a kid, but not regularly, as it wasn't shown regularly enough. Thanks for the article!
AndrewB
6. Petar Belic
Battleship Yamato (Starblazers) in the big budget Japanese live action movie in 2010:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmSBbfBduaY&feature=player_embedded
AndrewB
7. Dr. Thanatos
Loved this series! Especially the way Desslok, in prime bad-guy mode, names every weapon and toy after himself.

Original Japanese version seen once at a con: I appreciated how Derek Wildstar and Desslok had very deep resonating voices instead of the wimpy nasal american dubs; also how in every episode they found an excuse for Nova to flash her undies. Heady stuff...
AndrewB
8. wingracer
Best theme song ever, hands down. Man it's dated now. I loved it as a kid but tried to re-watch it just a year or so ago and just couldn't get through more than a few episodes. Things like Mars being "thousands of lightyears" away just killed it for me.

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