Space Battleship Yamato – Who Cares If No One Would Build A Ship This Way, It Looks Badass [Blu-ray Review]

©Funimation/Giant Ape Media
©Funimation/Giant Ape Media

It’s 2199, and for the last five years the Earth has been under attack by an alien race known as the Gamilas. The war has left the Earth a ravaged, radioactive wasteland.  Everyone lives underground, only occasionally going to the surface to scavenge materials. After a particularly catastrophic battle, one that leaves humanity in its final hours, possible salvation arrives in the form of an alien device from the planet Iskander. The device provides schematics for a warp drive and a weapon that can protect Earth’s last battleship. With hope that Iskandar can provide humanity the technology to cleanse Earth of its radiation, and restore the planet to its former glory, the Space Battleship Yamato journeys 148,000 light years across the universe to seek it out.

Space Battleship Yamato is a live action adaptation of the 1974 anime series of the same name. Though the Japanese production of the film was made in 2010, it saw its first U.S. release by Funimation this past April on DVD and Blu-Ray.

©Funimation/Giant Ape Media
©Funimation/Giant Ape Media

When it comes to anime, I’m definitely more of a fan of the old school stuff. I grew up on Speed Racer, Marine Boy, Tobor, Astro Boy, blah blah blah.  So the approach taken by Yamato is certainly up my cultural alley: a simple premise with the occasional complex execution.

I confess that when I watched the disc, I did so with virgin eyes; I’ve never seen either the original Japanese anime or the heavily edited version that was packaged for syndication here in the U.S. back in 1979 as Star Blazers. As such, this worked both for and against me. On the one hand, I didn’t know anything about the story so I didn’t share the complaints some fans have with how the plot was changed from the original series; what I saw on the screen was all I knew about the story, its characters and the plot. On the other, the homages and similarities that were carried over from the original didn’t register…I understand that most of the actors based their performances on the show and so they were at times pretty damn histrionic and over the top.

In addition, the writing reflects its source roots in the constant sappiness and Win One For That Kid With Cancer speeches and platitudes. And on THAT level it all works rather nicely. The sense of live-action anime comes across and the presentation stays on point through the whole film. The creators are clearly playing to their fan base. Considering that it premiered in Japan at number 1 at the box office (kicking Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows out of first place), it was the right call. But I definitely think that having seen the original show I would have appreciated it more; sometimes the little homages are all that makes a film based on a much-loved work enjoyable (that’s right 2003’s The Haunted Mansion, I’m lookin’ at YOU).

Still, I found myself distracted by a few minor details. Several scenes in the Yamato’s mess hall have no background sound effects looped in, which makes the background action look like lunchtime at a lip reader’s convention. There’s no background sound wash of ship’s engines, something that we take for granted in all shipboard sci-fi. I don’t know if these were stylistic decisions or if someone’s cat jumped on the sound board and hit the “Mute Track” button during mix down, but it pulled me out of the moment a few times. Still, these are minor quibbles.

Shot on film for $12,000,000, the production is very impressive. The effects are certainly as good as anything Hollywood churns out these days. The production design looks like a functioning ship, and strikes that perfect blend between functional and Who Cares If No One Would Build A Ship This Way, It Looks Badass.

©Funimation/Giant Ape Media
©Funimation/Giant Ape Media

The disc itself (I watched the Blu-Ray) is an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1 with a picture that looked nice and sharp. TOO sharp, really; the image grain was more noticeable than perhaps it should have been. In the plus column, colors were well presented, the blacks were deep without losing detail, and the explosions and other eye candy we expect from such films was bright and vibrant. The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix was solid and well-balanced, with the occasional surprise from the rear channels. Though the disc gives you the choice of the original Japanese dialog track and a dubbed English one, I only watched it with the Japanese track, because honestly … it’s anime, and isn’t this kinda the way it’s SUPPOSED to be watched?

The disc also has a handful of extras that, apart from previews and commercials, consists of CG featurettes. The disc was clearly authored to the broadest possible international standards (“Don’t throw any content on here that we can’t re-author by simply changing the display language on some of the menu items”) so most of the features are mostly visual in nature. The main featurettes include a number of Space Battleship Yamato Pre-Visualizations, rough, animated conceptual sequences created for the cast and production team to have an idea of what the final effect sequences will look like (it’s always easier to act scared of a big green wall if you know just what that wall will look like in the final film. And did you know why that big wall is green, anyway? It’s because green is the color farthest away from most skin tones on a color chart, meaning there’s less chance of someone’s head disappearing during the final compositing of an effects sequence. See? These reviews aren’t just fun, they’re also darn educational). The other primary extra is a breakdown of the film’s major effects sequences using split screen and wipe transitions to show all the individual plates, models and elements that were layered together to create the final scenes. It’s interesting but nothing too different from the many other similar Making Of segments we’ve seen before.

Scott Bruffey

About Scott Bruffey

Scott Bruffey is a jaded, cynical freelance polymath obsessed with Disney's Haunted Mansion who spends his time dabbling in videography, audio production, Harvey comics and can't help thinking that somewhere in the universe there has to be something better than man. Has to be.

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