Star Blazers
March 17, 2015 12:12 PM   Subscribe

Star Blazers Got Me Through The Shittiest Year Of My Childhood. Charlie Jane Anders: "I was a happy child, but I didn't have such a happy childhood. Other kids didn't get my weird vibe, especially in elementary and middle school. And one year in particular, we moved to a new city and a new school, and things got ugly. Only one thing kept me from losing my shit: Star Blazers..." [Previously]
posted by homunculus (36 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I can still sing the theme song. I was, in junior high, technically too old to be so in love with a kid's show, but I always got home as fast as I could to see it anyway. We had a VCR but it never worked right and in those pre-digital days, you got home in time or you missed it.

It was such a soap opera!

I'm afraid to rewatch it in case my memories don't hold up. But I loved it.
posted by emjaybee at 12:34 PM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Heh. I too remember watching Star Blazers on Channel 56 ("LVI is part of living, living fifty-siiiiiix!") after school. The serialized aspect of it was quite captivating in that era of syndicated continuity at all costs. And yeah, that Wave Motion Gun was so intense.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:36 PM on March 17, 2015 [6 favorites]

Junior high here too! I remember running home so I could see it.
posted by Zangal at 12:42 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

4th Grade, Lowell Elementary. I could have written this.
posted by boo_radley at 12:43 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Well, I know what I'm humming the rest of the day. Channel 26 in Houston, show just before I left for school.

I need to find time to watch the live action version. The look is good, not sure how close the story is.
posted by beowulf573 at 12:47 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

For me it was Robotech, senior year high school, except it was my whole class and we'd sing Ling Mingmei's songs and argue about whether she or Lt. Hayes should get Rick Hunter, etc. Boys and girls, all of us.
posted by signal at 12:54 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Star Blazers didn't air in Louisville where I was growing up, so my gateway to anime was Speed Racer, followed by Robotech and Battle of the Planets. But once I got to college and anime became more available thru the magic of videotape, Star Blazers was one of the iconic programs I discovered.
posted by Gelatin at 12:58 PM on March 17, 2015

I absolutely loved this as a child, I'd say it set me on a path for loving anime later. In theory, I'm still a big fan of anime today, but in practice I haven't seen much of anything in many years except for Miyazaki discs we buy to watch as a family. These days, my 17-year old son avidly scours the internet for any anime he can find, while my 8-year old avidly watches the shows that make it onto Netflix (like Pokémon or Beyblades) and occasionally watches some of my old Card Captor Sakura discs.

The story I always have to tell about Starblazers is that when I was a kid, I just loved it for the space opera. Some years later, thinking about it, I went, "Oh, wait--the Earth is suffering from heavy bombing, and the Yamato goes out on a special mission...I get the subtext now!"

Then, many years later, I got to see a couple of the actual original episodes. If I recall correctly, the first episode opens with a scene of American bombers over Japan, which fades into Gamilon bombers over Earth--or maybe it's an American fleet action fading into a Gamilon fleet action. "Ah. Not exactly subtext, then."
posted by Four Ds at 12:58 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid to rewatch it in case my memories don't hold up. But I loved it.

A few years ago I tried rewatching the first few episodes. It definitely suffers.

I can wholeheartedly recommend finding fansubs of Yamato 2199 though.
posted by Foosnark at 1:05 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

I found out about Star Blazers during the summer of 1983. Had just ended a friendship and having back to back episodes every weekday on Channel 35 helped make the summer a little less bleak. I got a little crazy with the drawing and compiling my own version of a Star Blazers/Yamato encyclopedia, with the help of the Readers Guide to Periodicals and my local library.

I still blast the theme songs from my car stereo with the windows down in mid-June and watch the original movies from time to time. They hold up pretty well.
posted by gargoyle93 at 1:09 PM on March 17, 2015

Find a fansub of the original show if you can. It is far more insane than what you remember. Favorite bit: when the science officer explains that he became a scientist because he hated technology so much, he just had to master it.

because, you see, his sister was killed by a roller coaster. not even kidding.
posted by phooky at 1:11 PM on March 17, 2015 [5 favorites]

"fansub" is "fan-subtitled" yes? And so, they are better than regular subtitles or the dub? Or a substitute for when there are no English subtitles?
posted by emjaybee at 1:19 PM on March 17, 2015

I watched a lot of Star Blazers on channel 56 too. (RIP, Uncle Dale.) I never watched it as religiously, but it was enough to grasp the basic overarching plot, and I was similarly struck by a lot of the same themes that Charlie Jane Anders discusses, especially the Argo/Yamato as star of the show. (If you grew up in greater Boston in the late '70s/early '80s, there's a bit more WLVI/WXNE anime nostalgia in this post from 2011.)
posted by usonian at 1:29 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Where would one look for a fansub of Yamato 2199? There are bits on Youtube (which look awesome) and I'd love to see more!
posted by peakapeow at 1:31 PM on March 17, 2015

Link was buried in the article, but all of the episodes are on YouTube.
posted by zarq at 1:31 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

For me it was Strijd der Planeten, featuring the invincible Gyfors team which in 1980 or so was the shit for the discerning six year old and some of y'all may recognise as a remake of a remake.

A few years later it was "Er Was Eens... De Ruimte, sort of pseudo anime French animated series of space opera what was supposed to be an educational programme, but it became properly epic.

And then of course came Robotech.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:31 PM on March 17, 2015

This was always forbidden fruit for me. Channel 26 (or was it on 32?) showed it during the time I had to be in a car being driven to school, so I only got to see it if it was a holiday, or I was sick, or whatever. And I was always FASCINATED by this crazy damn thing with continuity and spaceships and everything.
posted by egypturnash at 1:36 PM on March 17, 2015

Was this the same TV-56 that showed He-Man?
posted by dr_dank at 1:58 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

"fansub" is "fan-subtitled" yes? And so, they are better than regular subtitles or the dub? Or a substitute for when there are no English subtitles?

The latter.

It's fairly common that official versions with subtitles never come out (either because the official one is an English dubbed version which may have lesser voice acting or translations or a partial rewrite) or they're months or years behind. Every once in a while the English dub is really damn good though (as is often the case with US releases of Studio Ghibli movies).
posted by Foosnark at 2:00 PM on March 17, 2015

Channel 26 (or was it on 32?) showed it during the time I had to be in a car being driven to school...

I learned to program the family's VCR so I could watch Star Blazers. It was my religion. It came on at like 7:30 in the morning? Chicago 'burbs. I was an idiot, though: I rewound after every couple of episodes and taped over them. TV was ephemeral, and I just never gripped the object permanence of cheap VHS tape. I could have binged a whole series of TV repeatedly in the early 'Eighties.

And hell, yes: Robotech.
posted by steef at 2:02 PM on March 17, 2015

Star Blazers was my childhood favorite tv show. I'd run home from kindergarten to watch it daily. All of the friends I let get close to me in my early teen years were also Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato fans.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 2:06 PM on March 17, 2015

I remember watching that, along with Battle Of The Planets, on the state-run TV channel in Australia; at the time, anime has not yet become widely appreciated, so it was probably bought as children's programming on the cheap (buy some of those lavish-looking animations from Japan (the producers intended them for domestic consumption and any price will be a bonus for them), dub them (replacing the original script/plot with a completely new one that fits the images, and often giving it a goofy name, like, say, Star Blazers) and profit). I recall reading that, in both cases, the original program was a lot darker and weirder than anything that would be shown as after-school programming for kids.

And yes, I did notice the WW2 victimology subtext in Star Blazers. Though don't remember if there was anything specifically American-ish about the blue-skinned alien dudes.
posted by acb at 2:15 PM on March 17, 2015

I have hazy memories of seeing Star Blazers on KCOP (channel 13) on a rainy Saturday afternoon. One of these days, I'm going to watch the whole series to see if those memories line up with the reality.

But, man, Robotech. That was the first time a cartoon had actual stakes.
posted by RakDaddy at 2:17 PM on March 17, 2015

And yes, I did notice the WW2 victimology subtext in Star Blazers. Though don't remember if there was anything specifically American-ish about the blue-skinned alien dudes.

I don't know about the original Japanese version of the series, but in 2199 the Gamilons have pseudo-German names. Dessler rather than Desslok, etc. In fact, one female officer is, despite apparent competence and badassery, "Corporal Ditz."
posted by Foosnark at 2:18 PM on March 17, 2015

I couldn't catch the original Star Blazers because of my age (I'm from the Voltron generation) but apparently it was one of the foremost members of the vanguard of the new Anime Age of the 80s:
Susan Napier marks the film "Yamato" as a particular watershed moment in the acceptance of anime into science fiction conventions. With its clear cultural markers, "Yamato" is very obviously a Japanese product. During a science fiction convention in Baltimore, "'Yamato' was to be shown after a screening of 'The Right Stuff'.... but 'The Right Stuff' proved so popular that fans clamored to see it again, setting up a confrontation with the 'Yamato' fans' waiting for their turn. [...] 'The Right Stuff' fans sneered at the very notion of the 'Yamato' series, asking why anyone would want to see 'some militaristic Japanese cartoon.' Ultimately, a compromise was reached, and the 'Yamato' film was shown well after midnight. And then it was shown again, and again."
from r/AskHistorians by /u/earthpresidentnixon
posted by procrastinator at 2:43 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Where would one look for a fansub of Yamato 2199? There are bits on Youtube (which look awesome) and I'd love to see more!

I don't know what Metafilter's policy on linking to torrent sites is, if it's forbidden please don't hesitate to remove this, but: for the highest quality anime and anime-related content, is my go-to place. Here's 2199.
posted by procrastinator at 2:51 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

But, man, Robotech. That was the first time a cartoon had actual stakes.

"If we don't, in just one year Mother Earth will disappear" [emphasis mine]

I should mention that I sing a well-received bilingual version of the Yamato/Star Blazers theme in properly-equipped karaoke venues.
posted by The Tensor at 3:04 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

Man, when I was a kid I thought the Black Tigers were just the coolest. Thanks for this.

P.S. Man did I wind up down a rabbit hole at looking for something cool to link. Like the Black Tigers windbreaker on 2008 merchandise in review page.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:54 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

For a minute there, I thought they were talking about Star Blazer, which did get me through my childhood.
posted by pashdown at 5:38 PM on March 17, 2015

Channel PHL17 out of Philly for me.

Not my first exposure to Anime, I know for certain that I had seen Speed Racer, and Thunderbirds 2084 prior to this, and possibly the butchering that Sandy Frank did when he slapped together Battle of the Planets out of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (My family moved midway through my Kindergarden year, and I'm absolutely certain I saw those first two prior to the move, but my recollection of when and where I saw the third is hazy).

This was the one that really solidified the addiction though. Even with the sanitizing required to get it past Broadcast Standards & Practices and onto US airwaves, you couldn't hide the fact that the Planet Bombs were an allegory for nuclear weapons. I imagine quite a few other 80s Cold War kids got their fears of just what might happen if that finger on The Button slipped one day shaped by this show, but also some measure of hope that if the unthinkable did come to pass, there may be enough good in humanity for us to find a way to continue on.

Coincidentally, I've currently been introducing the rest of my household to the Yamato 2199 fansubs, as they've got all the best parts of what I remember from watching Starblazers, minus the truly cringeworthy bits (I have gone back myself to watch the originals as an adult, and it was a potent object lesson on nostalgia's influence on memory).

My favorite parts about 2199 would be the parts where they took some of the rougher patches from both the original Yamato or the US translation, and used them as springboards for worldbuilding. In the original Yamato, the aliens start out looking like typical white humans, but then midway through the season, their skin color changes to blue. 2199 turns the initial white aliens into a subjugated race who's planet was absorbed into the blue aliens' empire. When Yamato was translated into Star Blazers, some instances where the Earthlings fought with the aliens, dialog was added to try to claim that they were shooting at robots instead, so our heros wouldn't be killing people. When 2199 gets around to those same scenes, the writers decided "hey, it would be kind of cool if the aliens had robots in their military," and threw it in.

Along those same lines of discarding the crap to make room for world building that takes the original material's warts and not only turns them around to make sense, but goes even further to make them make awesome sense, there's Tim Eldred's Star Blazers Rebirth webcomic. If you're at all a fan of the original Star Blazers, this is a must read.

(Tim also started a second webcomic where he tried to extend the third season's Bolar Wars with material that was cut when the network airing that season in Japan scaled back from the initial order of 50 episodes down to just 25. Unlike Rebirth, however, this one is unfinished, with the next to the last chapter having been posted in July of 2013, and nothing coming out since then. Still an interesting read, but if you need closure, you may want to skip it for now.)
posted by radwolf76 at 8:06 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm another Channel 56 viewer!

We watched the live action version and enjoyed the heck out of it. The special effects are good for the most part and it keeps some great suspense going. Would watch again.
posted by rednikki at 9:29 PM on March 17, 2015

This show was a gigantic staple at the house i lived in at the end of high school with my friends, and my first college apartment. We watched the SHIT out of this show(and star trek TNG, and a couple other things. we were turbonerds). This was in the mid-late 2000s, too. Everyone knew the entire song, we had a ton of in jokes related to it, we named a giant bong the "wave motion gun"... and eventually named our old(RED AND SILVER, IN THE RIGHT PLACES ALREADY) city bus the argo, and even looked in to getting the vanity plate "YAMATO" which was available at the time!

The theme song instantly makes me think back on a mostly great, and also really silly time of my life. It's good shit.

I never bothered with the live action or any of the remakes. And i never watched it fansubbed. The terrible late 70s/early 80s dub job and modification of story elements/dialog in weird ways is part of the charm to me. It's like watching a supermarionation show or something. I've heard the original is just as bizarre and campy but in different ways from places other than this thread too, but just never wanted to give it a shot.

We knew about it because my friends dad made us watch it, and i'm really happy he did.

I haven't even rewatched it, because i watched basically all of it on a projector screen with giant speakers, deafeningly loud. We'd literally scream along to the theme song. I feel like it wouldn't be as hilarious/epic without that.
posted by emptythought at 11:38 PM on March 17, 2015

I'm a giant fan of Star Blazers. Watched the American dub pretty much first run, so I would have been, um.. 11 when it started? Only saw the first two series, but enjoyed them a lot then.

And I rewatched them all about a year ago, and really enjoyed them again, too.
posted by hippybear at 1:23 AM on March 18, 2015

I think anime (and some cartoons) did this for a lot of people. Myself included. (Along with JRPGs, of course.)
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 3:00 AM on March 18, 2015

This show. My god, this show. My whole family was obsessed with this show in the late 70's/early 80's when it was airing on Channel 5 in NYC (WNEW at the time, WNYW these days). Every weekday morning at 7:00 AM, my parents, my sister and me would be parked in front of the TV in the playroom watching Star Blazers. It was the first time I had seen my parents take an active interest in one of "my" TV shows.

My obsession with this show was such that on Christmas Day one year, the first thing I did was get up and turn on Star Blazers-- the gifts under the tree could wait. Later that morning, after we had opened the gifts (and I had debriefed the rest of the family on what happened on that morning's episode of Star Blazers), my parents asked me if I liked the train set "Santa" had left me. I looked at them like they had two heads, as there had been no train set under the tree. My father said Santa had left it in the playroom. I went to the playroom and there, on the floor was a full 4' by 8' train set with foam mountains and tunnels, a town, tiny little people, the whole works. Apparently, between my early morning grogginess and Star Blazers obsession, I had completely missed the train set when I had gone into the playroom to watch Star Blazers, even though I had to have stepped around the train set to turn on the TV and get back to the couch to watch Star Blazers.
posted by KingEdRa at 4:34 AM on March 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

One thing I really liked about Space Battleship Yamato -- googling, it looks like this was pretty much left out of Star Blazers -- is near the end. Our Heroes have fought their way to Gamilas and, in trying to escape to Iscandar, pretty much lay waste to what's left of the planet. And they weep, horrified by what they've done.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:36 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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