Series 1 review: A groundbreaking anime....that unfortunately didn't age all that well
I'm only going to be reviewing the first Yamato series of 1973 right now because that's the one that's influential, and the one everybody remembers. This anime was directed by Leiji Matsumoto, and a lot of greats in anime got their start here (including a young Yoshiyuki Tomino as storyboard artist.)
One of the things that's really strong about this series is Kodai's character arc. We get to see how he matures from a young, hot-blooded teenager into a levelheaded, but beleaguered officer. He often comes into conflict with Okita, the salty captain who has to maintain a steely demeanour for his men because of this, and their differences in command style and with the experience of leadership make for a lot of good drama.
Keeping with most media at the time, though, character drama is secondary to plot. Sad to say, a lot of the plots are not really that good and range from the formulaic to the kind of silly. The fact that this show was designed in the week-to-week era only partially forgives this. The Aztec space bees episode had to be the culmination of this, and the show's early cancellation didn't help matters as the ending feels very rushed. The countdown of days until everyone on Earth is dead didn't really add tension either because...really, would you expect them to do that?
The show must have been groundbreaking at the time for having a female character, Yuki the nurse, in a somewhat important role in the same vein as Uhura from the original Star Trek. Unfortunately though, this aspect didn't really age all that well. She doesn't get to do much, and the crew often harass her. We get a cameo shot of some of the other female characters (identifiable because they wear yellow-and-black rather than white jumpsuits), but they disappear after that. The production notes claim that they all "went to sleep" during the rest of the journey.
Overall, if you want to delve into the "canon" of anime, or like these type of series as a historical curiosity, there's a lot to mine here. As I said, a lot of greats worked on this anime or were inspired by it as kids. You can still see echoes of it because of this, and so you'll have a lot of "aha!" moments when you watch later anime. That said, it has to be evaluated as a product of its era, and there's not much here for viewers whose experience is limited to more "modern" anime.