Each week, one of Biff Bam Pop’s illustrious writers will delve into one of their favourite things. Perhaps it’s a movie or album they’ve carried with them for years. Maybe it’s something new that moved them and they think might move you too. Each week, a new subject, a new voice writing on…something they love.
For something so important, so inspiring in a young boy’s life, it’s a little strange that I can’t quite pin down the exact date. I can only say that sometime in the late 1970’s or, at the very latest, the early 1980’s, I found myself compelled to run home every weekday after school and turn on the television.
There was no horsing around in the schoolyard for me after 3:30 in the afternoon, no visiting friends houses to play board games and street hockey games would have to wait till a later in the day. No. A new cartoon with an animation style and real-time, mature storyline, that incorporated action, adventure, love, sorrow and joy had captivated me.
I had fallen for the 1970’s Japanese import anime science fiction series called Star Blazers.
The original Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar series, called Space Battleship Yamato, aired in Japan in 1974, its first season lasting 26 episodes. It took films like Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) to spawn two sequel seasons in 1978 (The Comet Empire) and 1980 (The Bolar Wars) as interest in the science fiction genre gained momentum in Japan.
It was no different in North America. A company called The Westchester Film Corporation had seen the Japanese version of the cartoon series and believed it would be ripe for an English translation and that American kids would love it as well. In the fall of 1979, it made its debut on television screens across the United States and Canada.
And that’s when I, along with many other kids, got hooked.
Star Blazers takes place in the year 2199 and tells the story of the Earth facing certain extinction, as an aggressive alien race known as the Gamilons, led by Prince Desslok, have been bombarding the planet with radioactive meteorites that have laid waste to the surface, killing all life there. The surviving humans have had to live deep underground as they slowly lose their battles against the superior Gamilon space armada. The deadly radiation, however, has been sinking lower and lower into the ground and Earth, it is estimated, has only one year until the poisonous effects are permanent – and all life dies.
A message arrives from the mysterious Queen Starsha of the planet Iscandar, who grants the humans advanced technology and promises them the “Cosmo DNA” a substance that can neutralize the radioactivity and restore Earth’s ecosystem to its natural state. But the humans must travel to her home world, 148,000 light years away, in order to retrieve it. This “there and back again” journey needs to be completed within one year or all life is doomed. And, of course, the universe is full of the evil Gamilon threat.
What young boy wouldn’t be enticed with that kind of story?
The main cast was made up of the surly Captain Avatar, Commander of the Star Force fleet, the hotheaded Derek Wildstar, his friend Mark Venture, the responsible navigator, Nova, the beautiful nurse and radar operator and Sandor, the head mechanic. Their ship was, for the English series, called the Argo, the name taken from Greek mythology: the ship that Jason and his Argonauts sailed in during their adventures to gain the Golden Fleece. In the Japanese version, the ship was the resurrected and future-retrofitted Yamato, the great and hailed battleship from the Second World War.
The visual of this craft was unlike anything I had seen before. A technology I knew and understood, fitted with laser cannons, a propulsion engine and a devastating weapon called the Wave-Motion Gun that shot out from the front hull of the huge ship.
During the course of the 26 episodes, characters would form friendships with each other, fight each other, fall in love and tragically even die for their cause. The Star Blazers series, whose core message revolved around pollution and early thoughts on the green movement, told stories that emulated real-life. As an eight year-old, it was something that, even though young, I understood as being important. The greatest hook that each episode had came at the end, where a narrator would remind viewers that the Star Force only had “362” or “245” or “83” days left to save the Earth! Hurry Star Force, hurry!
For me, the show was so inspiring that I started drawing the battleship Argo on my school books. I created the spacecraft in Lego and, after receiving a tape recorder for Christmas, I started narrating my own Star Blazer stories, committing the scripts to tape, emulating the voices of each character and even singing the opening theme song, which is, by far, one of the greatest ever conceived!
As I got a few years older, Star Blazers led into Robotech on Sunday mornings and I started feigning illness so that I could watch that great anime series at 11:30 instead of going to church!
Today, I still occasionally watch Star Blazers courtesy of a fantastic DVD box set, and that theme song still pops into my head from time to time. There have been a few different Japanese-led Star Blazers films made over the years as well – visual anime porn for the eyes, featuring real sets and actors instead of animated cells.
The original series itself, that Japanese import dubbed into English, has proved to be a timeless classic, as relevant, as interesting and as inspiring for today’s generation, as it was for a young boy in the late nineteen seventies.