Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar – By Michael Wilson

“We must be strong and brave, Our home we’ve got to save…if we don’t in just one year, mother Earth will disappear….”

Jet Jaguar, here! This time in my Box office I’ve gone back to a time when anime didn’t mean “just another Pokemon clone”. Okay, that was catty….oops…excuse me. But nowadays when someone talks about animation from Japan its usually about Pokemon or whatever. Only a few old-timers like Dante, himself remember Star Blazers.

If you have never heard of this show, then hearken to me, children. Back in the 1980’s it aired on a lot of local stations. That was back when cartoons reigned from 2 PM to 6 PM traditionally. You see there was no Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, and a lot of the shows on then were recycled Saturday morning cartoons. Well, you have to remember, this was back in the day when Saturday morning TV schedules had nothing but cartoons in them. Anyway, this blast from the past was a welcome blast of fresh air. Like Battle of the Planets it was a Japanese made animated show, and unlike US cartoons at the time it wasn’t a half hour commercial for toys, and it did have a story and interesting characters. In the US it was titled Star Blazers, but in Japan the show was known as Space Cruiser Yamato.

In the Year 2199, the earth has been bombed relentlessly by the Planet Gamilon. The Gamilons are technologically superior and use “Planet Bombs” to devastate the Earth. The entire planet has become a radioactive wasteland and humanity has been forced underground, into crowded subterranean cities in order to survive. Still, the humans fight on, but their last fleet of ships gets a butt kicking. The fleet, led by Captain Avatar is clearly outmatched, and avatar’s flagship only makes it back to earth because Captain Alex Wildstar sacrifices himself and his ship the Paladin to cover avatar’s escape. (Lest you think Avatar is cowardly, he orders Wildstar to retreat wholeheartedly, but Wildstar ignores his commands.)

It seems the Earth is doomed and the human race is to become either extinct or slaves to the Gamilons….but there is a faint hope. Queen Starsha of the planet Iscandar has offered help. Watching the battle from afar she sends the plans for the Wave Motion Engine. Starsha offers to give the Earthlings the Cosmo DNA, a machine that will return the Earth to its natural state, erasing all of the big bad radiation. The catch is the humans must build the Wave Motion Engine so they can travel to the distant planet Iscandar to get it. And its 248,000 light years away! To put salt in that wound there’s a time limit….there’s only a year left before the radiation becomes so overwhelming that all humanity will die. With the clock ticking, a ship is built using the new technology. The hokiest part of this is that the ship is built using the superstructure of a sunken battleship. Dialogue will tell you that its a proud ship that was lost in one of the last wars between the nations of Earth. In reality, its supposed to be the Yamato, the Japanese flagship that was lost in the Pacific Theater of WWII. In the US version the ship is called The Argo. The reason the name was changed in the US version is obvious…..no one wants to bring back memories of World War Two and the devastating impact it had on Japan. At least that must have been what US censors thought. The Japanese didn’t seem to have a problem with bringing back memories of the Yamato, even though the US Navy sunk it.

In order to accomplish the daring mission to save the Earth Captain Avatar chooses the best and the brightest of earth’s defense force. The crew of the Argo are dubbed “The Star force”. Among them are Derek Wildstar, brother of the ill fated Alex Wildstar, Nova, the obligatory female crew member, Mark venture, the pilot, Sandor, a scientific genius, IQ-9 a highly advanced robot, and Orion the chief engineer. The Argo and its crew begin their journey into deep space, knowing that the Gamilons, led by the evil Leader Desslok, will be ready to destroy them at every turn. Luckily for the humans the Argo has a super secret weapon…The Wave Motion Gun. Its like an ultimate weapon, capable of destroying a continent in a single blast. Its a credit to the show that its not used as a deus ex machina all of the time. While the Star force gets out of a lot of scrapes using its power, it doesn’t provide instant escape or victory for them all of the time. For that matter, the Argo takes a hell of a pounding. If not for the miracle of animation I fear the ship wouldn’t be space worthy at all.

What made this series unique when it first aired on US shores was the complexity of the characters as well as an intriguing storyline. Wildstar started out as a hothead, with a quick temper and little to no respect for Captain Avatar. He blamed the captain for his brother’s death while under his command. As the series progressed however, Wildstar begins to mature and finally comes to respect Captain Avatar. Sandor has a secret that he reveals to Wildstar halfway through the series. There are several episodes where various crewmembers crack under the strain of the mission, and don’t believe they’ll be able to save the human race. For a cartoon, Star Blazers does well in portraying the desperation of the characters to accomplish their mission.

While the characters are interesting and somewhat realistically portrayed that doesn’t mean they all are. Venture, Wildstar’s best friend, doesn’t get much of a personality. Nova seems to become Wildstar’s love interest by default….and though Captain Avatar is supposed to be an tactical wizard it seemed to me that Sandor and Wildstar came up with most of the plans to elude the Gamilons. The Gamilons begin the series as stock villains. Desslok seems like he wants to destroy the Earth out of pure meanness, but we learn as time goes on that Gamilon is a dying planet and Desslok’s plans are to make earth their new home. As the Star force gets closer to succeeding their endeavor, Desslok becomes more desperate to stop them.

The only thing that bothers me about the series is that a few minor things were changed. The censors in the US apparently thought that a cartoon showing the death of some of the characters would be too much for the American Youth. I’ve never seen the Japanese version, but from what I understand there are a few points where people get…well killed. General Lysis, a Gamilon leader practically commits suicide to stop the Argo, but instead of showing it, the US version has a plopped in scene where Lysis just admits defeat and regrets that he’ll have to tell Desslok he failed. There’s another scene where Desslok shoots his chief aide for cowardice, but again a pasted in scene shows Desslok merely cursing him out.

You can probably tell that I’m trying hard not to give up too many plot points about the series. That’s because fans will be able to fill in the blanks and if you haven’t seen the series I don’t want to ruin it for you. Star blazers is not a series that aged badly. In my humble opinion it should be aired today, instead of some of the other claptrap kids might watch on TV. If you’re a fan of Anime, science fiction or just good old adventure stories, I’d suggest spending the $149.00 the complete series will cost. (unless you can find it cheaper, of course.)

This series was followed by the second chapter in the adventures of the Star Force, The Comet Empire. Don’t worry gentle reader, we’ll be seeing that one in a future episode of Jet Jaguar’s Box Office. Until next time, folks! I’m outta here!

JET JAGUAR’S TALLY:

Special Features on all of the disks! They include character profiles, schematics of the Argo, and a well written history of the Earth in the Star Blazer’s universe leading up to the Gamilon attack.

ARE THERE SUBTITLES?: Nope. Wish there were, but there ain’t.

WHO’S GONNA WANT IT?: Anime collectors, science fiction and space opera fans. Kids will love it, and its actually a fun series for the whole family.