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Realistic Friendships (and music) in Yamato 2199

Although this is my first time watching Space Battleship Yamato, I have had an indirect relationship with the old classic for a long time. As a young anime fan I had heard of it, but always thought it would be one of those old titles I would never have the patience to go back and watch. Year later, I discovered my band director in college grew up watching it on cable TV and loved it so much he asked a relative he knew living in Japan to buy the music and send it to my university. My final concert senior year was an anime concert; it was absolutely incredible (and proved to me there was a God). We played the OST’s to Spirited Away, Ponyo and Space Battleship Yamato. To my surprise, Yamato turned out to be an absolute jam!

The music in this 1974 anime is amazing. I got the opportunity to not only listen to this impressive score, but study it and perform the three movement behemoth for an audience. Over those weeks of preparation for the show, I started to fall in love with a franchise I knew nothing about. The music spoke to me; I was able to picture the emotional swells, exciting battle scenes, and impressive drama the space opera possessed. Just from the score, I knew this was a knock-out of a show. But unfortunately, it would be a show I would never get the opportunity to watch.

Guess again.

Three months ago while browsing through Twitter, I saw Funimation had posted about the show. They were going to stream the 2012 remake of Yamato on VRV! Unbelievable! Two years after the concert, I’m getting the chance to find out what makes this show a classic! And I haven’t been disappointed so far…it’s really good.

I used to watch some Star Trek with my dad, but besides that had never watched a space opera before. I didn’t expect to like it so much, but I was emotionally attached by episode 3! We’ve got our motley crew— complete with a rugged, badass captain— an ancient spaceship that looks like a navy destroyer, an alien race to defeat in war, and one year to save the human race. Let’s go, Yamato!

If you can’t tell, the hype is real.

There are many things I like a lot about this show, one of them being (you guessed it) the score. They re-recorded the original OST from 1974; I’m hearing what I played in concert in action! Watching it and knowing the music so closely is an absolute thrill! I’m happy I get to experience the show with such a deep knowledge of its musical motifs and cues; it’s resonating a lot more with me than it would be if I was watching it without this context.

But all this was just a long way of saying I started watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (sighs deeply). At the time of this writing, I am on episode 12 (about to watch 13 after I finish this) and there is one thing that has struck me about the show’s cast; they are all in realistic, mature relationships that are an absolute joy to watch.

The main cast of the show, excluding a few outliers, are all around my age. They are young adults with little military experience but, since humanity is desperate, get put on the Yamato and shot off to another galaxy simply because all the other options are dead.

These twenty-somethings bring a lot of baggage with them on board and it leads to some pretty great on-ship drama. Even with the developing love triangles (more like octagons at this rate) and rising tension, my favorite dynamic by far is the relationship between Tactical Lieutenant Susumu Kodai and Navigational Lieutenant Daisuke Shima. They are comrades, brother-in-arms, and absolute bros every step of the way. Their friendship differs from most other male relationships in mainstream anime I’ve seen and I find it absolutely fascinating.

Shima (left) and Kodai (right) at their graduation

Kodai and Shima graduated together from the Academy and both had dreams to be stars in the military, Kodai like his late brother and Shima like his late father. Both are happy when they find out they will journey to save humanity on the Yamato— and, as a bonus, they would get promotions and go together. But not all is right and jolly in space opera paradise and the two lieutenants have a major tactical disagreement early on, causing a rift between to the two friends.

And you know what happens then. They make up.

Unbelievable, I know! A dispute in an anime not being drawn out and filled with unnecessary misunderstandings and drama? No way! But, after the argument, the two sit together in the cafeteria and talk out their issues. It’s an amazing scene. They both come to terms with the fact that professional disagreements are bound to happen, but they will not let it affect their friendship. What mature men! I was amazed by this down-to-earth (get the joke) encounter. The protagonists of this show aren’t dazzling superheroes; they are normal people who have already lost everything and are trying desperately to hold on to what they still have. For Kodai and Shima, the only thing they really have left is each other. For the sake of that, they put their disputes in the war room aside and determine to remain allies no matter the consequence.

They put each other above their status and mission— they value their relationship more than being right or seeming tough— and move pass their disagreement with a maturity that only deepens their bond.

This scene inspired me to write this article because this rarely happens in anime. It’s always about drama, betrayal and regaining trust through a long, drawn out trial. But not here. Kodai and Shima are adults; I can see people my age having the same argument and conversation afterwards as they did. Yamato 2199 is saving the drama for big moments, which leaves us with these beautiful and developmental character scenes. These two characters are now my favorite in the series.

This episode happened weeks ago, but a similar issue happened on a recent episode. It wasn’t just a disagreement on strategy, however; this was a big moral argument that could change the projection of the entire mission. Shima and Kodai's argument escalates to a point where they are forced to be separated and punished (tensions run high on the Yamato). The whole episode is about them trying to sort through their feelings and understand the other’s perspective. Shima talks with other crew members for advice; Kodai plays the harmonica alone to settle his head. Kodai comes around first, but eventually Shima does as well and they agree to get lunch together to make amends for their emotions getting the best of them. What emotional maturity! You would not see this in a slice-of-life high school anime. 16 year-olds would never be able to do this. But thanks to these 22 year-olds, we are able to get some realistic character development with a good deal of tonally appropriate drama.

I love these two buffoons but I worry for them. I believe that their arguments will continue, that their relationship will be forced to the breaking point time and time again. I think they’re going to fall in love with the same girl! But I can only hope that, at the end of the day, they’ll be able to shake hands and sit next to each other in the cafeteria like the bros they are. They need each other and they know it; I thank Yamato 2199 for giving such a candid and relatable male friendship to contemplate and draw us deeper into its thrilling narrative.

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