Revisiting My Otaku Roots

otaku-usa-3.gifThe latest issue of Otaku USA has a couple of features on the anime classic series Space Battleship Yamato. While reading these features and the writers talking about their first times seeing the series, it got me thinking about how I was introduced to it.

Like most other people my age, my first exposure to Japanese animation was through the cartoons that were brought over and re-written for a US audience. Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer, and Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman) were all shows I remember watching and liking, but they never differentiated them from the other cartoons I watched. That honor goes to another show; Star Blazers.

It was 1978, I’m almost certain. KTLA, channel 5, a local television station in the Los Angeles area. It had a show on the weekends that showed movies for kids; The Family Film Festival. It ran in the afternoons, after the morning cartoons were over, and there was only sports on the local channels (there was no cable at the time). So, the Family Film Festival was the best thing on. It was hosted by Tom Hatten, a well-known local personality. He sat in a director’s chair, a clipboard in his lap, next to a movie reel projector. He would introduce the movie to be shown and would give facts and trivia about tn_starsha_argo_jpg.jpgthe movie in before and after commercial breaks. It was here that on one Saturday, a new movie was shown Space Cruiser Yamato. That was the title as I remember it. It was the dub of the compilation movie of the series Space Battleship Yamato, and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen! The music was awesome, the plot was great and the characters were interesting. It was unlike any cartoon I’d seen before, and I’d seen quite a bit on the Film Festival. They had shown animated movies from all over the world. But Yamato had no talking animals or slapstick. It was real-looking people, with real problems, facing real peril. You saw people die! I liked it so much that I watched it again on the Sunday morning replay! Both my older brother and I fell for this movie. I was confused by one thing though. The movie was call Space Cruiser Yamato, but the ship was called the Argo. For the first part of the movie, I was wondering where they got this Argo, and where was the Yamato? I didn’t dwell on it long though. Such things aren’t of great concern when you’re 9-10 years old.

The next summer, I spent searching through the TV Guide to see if the Yamato movie would be on again. I don’t think it was shown again, on KTLA, but for the fall, we got a star-blazers-logo.jpgbetter surprise; the TV series would be coming! It was called Star Blazers now, and it was on a different independent station, KCOP, channel 13. But there was no mistaking the 1/3 page ad in the TV Guide, or the familiar chords of the opening. The voices were the same as from the movie, as were the names. We didn’t get it in the afternoons like everyone else it seems. Star Blazers was shown in the morning, at like 7 or 7:30 AM. I remember my brother would set up an audio tape recorder next to this old black and white 13″ TV and record the audio. There wouldn’t be a VCR in our house for another 5 years at least. We would play back the tapes and just listen to the episodes we couldn’t watch. So now, everytime I watch an episode of Star Blazers, after the opening credits, in my head I hear the narration for the episode of the Argo preparing to leave the solar system…

Star Blazers was a big deal for my generation. It was the first time we saw animation do something so different. After a steady diet of Looney Toons and Hana-Barbera shows, it was a breath of fresh air to get something without talking animals or the zany sound effects. Instead, we got orchestra music with that marching band-sounding opening. Characters that looked and felt real; that got hurt, sacrificed themselves, and even died. There was no reset button with everyone back in the next episode.

We only got 1 3/4 of the Star Blazer series shown in the LA area. The show got moved right at the end of the second season with the Comet Empire. But I have a lasting memory from that as well, and it’s the one that set me up to becoming an anime/manga fan. Near the end, Desslock and Wildstar are dueling on Desslock’s damaged battle ship. During the fight, Wildstar is wounded, and Nova runs to his side. She’s prepared to sacrifice herself to stay with Wildstar. Desslock stares at them together, and lowers his gun and walks away. Nova’s love for Wildstar reached his heart, and rather than break up the lovers, he gives up on his revenge against Wildstar and the Star Force. And it was, with that moment, that I would become an anime fan. Never in American animation did you see the villain have a change of heart, or that you might think that the villain wasn’t just pure evil incarnate. With that great ambiguity, I was, and still am, hooked.

For more information than you ever wanted to know about Star Blazers, check out the official site, Star or Issue 4 of Otaku USA, and read about others introductions to the series.

6 thoughts on “Revisiting My Otaku Roots”

  1. “Battle of the Planets” was what did it for me. I know that it was edited severely for American kids, but I still remember realizing that people were actually dying, and that the story wasn’t always resetting every single episode. I distinctly recall thinking it wasn’t like anything else I’d seen as an 8-year-old.

    Later, with the advent of the internet, I looked up BotP and learned all about Gatchaman, which led to an interest in other anime and then to manga, which I now prefer to anime. I still love Gatchaman, though. I probably always will.

  2. Reading the Otaku USA article(s) brought back so many memories of this series for myself, but it’s the commentary by others who first discovered anime because of it, that opens up the flood gates of nostalgia.

    This generation can’t imagine what it was like in the *good old days* when there was no chance of watching an episode again (in fact I had to watch the show on my little black and white tv using rabbit ears to catch the signal from across the boarder in the US). I also would record the audio tracks with my hand held mike, to a cassette recorder and listen to the episodes while I doodled Nova-like females and drew and redrew the Argo.

    For me the defining moment of the show was when Captain Avatar died ~ I recall running to my perplexed mother, babbling about this cartoon characters’ death and while thinking it was dreadful I was also lock, stock and barrel sold on anime. The characters would from this point on out angst and I would angst along with them. It was WONDERFUL!

    Starblazers is for our generation of otaku….the *Where were you when Man first Walked on the Moon?* question. We all remember the moment like it was yesterday ~ each of us has a scene from that show etched onto our subconcious, a moment when we had an epiphany so strong that it launched us out of our childhood Saturday cartoon stupor into the world of anime and we could never look at cartoons the same way again.

  3. Jun: It the music that I remember most from BotP. Even though the music from Star Blazers was good, I can still here the incidental from BotP in my head. I had a recording of the opening that I would listen to. It also got me interested in Phoenixes. I love the God Phoenix. It’s what I looked forward to most seeing in the episodes. šŸ™‚

    Pira: When I hear people talk about “old school anime” and they’re talking about the 90’s, I cringe. I mean, if fans from the 90’s are old, what does that make us fans from the 70s-80s? Ancients? Star Blazers was my gateway to other shows such as Mysterious Cities of Gold, Voltron, and finally Robotech. I was in High School when these last two shows came out, and I probably wouldn’t have watched them if I hadn’t had that first taste.

  4. I got my start much earlier, if you want to trace it back that far, my mother always said that she was responsible for my anime fandom because she let me watch Speed Racer and Kimba the White Lion. I didn’t get to see real anime until after Battle of the Planets, which I watched with the sound turned way down because I recognized that the story sucked. A friend told me about a brand new anime club called the C/FO that had just started and the rest is history. By the time Star Blazers rolled around, I had already seen the original Japanese series so I never really got addicted to the American version. I probably never would have watched Robotech if I hadn’t been good friends with Carl Macek. Voltron… the less said about that, the better. šŸ™‚

  5. looking for movies shown on Family Film Festival. loved the asian cartoons, but not know the title and where to look. there was the little mermaid and one about fire and water prince and princess. any help would be great. they are probubly too old to find.

  6. The fire and water prince and princess is called Sea Prince and Fire Child. It was released on video, but as you say will be hard to find or too expensive. If you know about file sharing, you can probably find it that way.

    I think the other title (which I vaguely remember as well) is known in the US as Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. The Japanese title is Dowa Ningyo-Hime. You can find it on Amazon for $6. Hope this helps.

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