Analysis: Space Battleship Yamato
A national and international phenomenon since the 1970s, Yamato was a pre-modern, or classicist, work - its narrative progressed with the same straightforward martial discipline as its characters, and any subtext was unpremeditated. (All those bulging phallic symbols and climactic cannon discharges - how innocent we all were once!)
The series is fascinating as a reflection of Japanese attitude towards its past military adventurism. That the spaceship is a resurrected Yamato (the storied, supposedly unsinkable mammoth WW2
battleship symbolising the Spirit of Great Japan), and that its crew's mission is to reverse the effect of enemy atomic bombardment: these are barmy, cathartic wish-fulfilments. By positing a future where the Japanese noble-warrior tradition is an unambiguous good, and by portraying the Aryan-like alien aggressors as even more fascist and decadent than anything Earth can come up with, Yamato is as close to a pop-culture apologia to kamikaze credo as you can get.
In a 2004 interview director Leiji Matsumoto
confirmed that the ship's gung-ho crew were named and modelled after samurai
from the Shinsengumi
- the late-shogunate special police group that aimed to drive out foreign influences and to renew the empire. The notoriously anorexic and sylphlike Leiji woman, the cartoonist also revealed, was based on a daguerreotype of an ancestor of his that he found in the family home as a child. The ancestor was a young war widow, and Matsumoto felt powerfully drawn towards her, an emotional and genetic link across time. Thus the prototype of his wan ice maidens
, often the instigator and the final object of cosmic quests, was born.
Simply animated but full of atmosphere, and highly influential to this day in terms of visual design and plot devices (e.g. the quest story arc of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise
, the anachronistic aircraft carrier metaphor and the grown-up drama of the new Battlestar Galactica
, the mix of realistic combat tactics and dodgy cosmology in Neon Genesis Evangelion
), Yamato stands as an undiscussed and enthralling pop milestone.