Yamato was an emblematic Japanese battleship that ended up sunk by the American forces during World War II. However, for those who grew up in the 1970s and the 1980s, she was also the spacecraft that took Captain Okita (or Captain Avatar) and Susumu Kodai (or Derek Wildstar) and their crew to their adventures in outer space, in the Japanese animated series Space Battleship Yamato (宇宙戦艦ヤマト), also known in the U.S. as Star Blazers – and which celebrates this year its 40th anniversary.
In order to commemorate the anniversary, I transformed myself into a Gamila, one of the alien races depicted in the story, and paid a visit to Yamato – not the spaceship shown in the animation, but a 3D reconstruction of the original vessel that was part of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II, which can be seen at the Battleship Yamato Memorial in Second Life. For the animated series, the original Yamato is not only a model: it is the very ship that gets transformed into a spacecraft by the addition of a powerful space engine and the adaptation of its weapons.
Space Battleship Yamato has helped to internationally disseminate Japanese animation, having been translated into English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Greek, and broadcasted in the U.S., Italy, Greece, Spain, Brazil and other countries in Latin America. In the U.S. and in the countries that used the American version as a base for their translations, it is said that the series was heavily edited. I can’t testify to that, myself, for I have never watched the original series, but a sign of the extent of the changes can be seen, for instance, in the fact that the battleship, in Star Blazers, was renamed as Argo (after the ship in which the Ancient Greek mythological hero Jason traveled), although it’s acknowledged that she was built from the remains of Yamato.
Arguably, the changes in Star Blazers were meant, in a large extent, to reduce the references to World War II, a conflict in which Japan and the U.S. were in opposite sides. Actually, not only was Yamato sunk by the American forces, but she was also designed and built by the Japanese in an attempt to compensate for the superiority of the naval power of the U.S., which would join the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor conducted by Japan.
I can’t guarantee that Yamato in Second Life was built to scale, but it is striking to compare an aerial view of it to the line drawing of the actual Yamato. It is easy to notice that the ship in SL is rich in details, as the Gamila me could see in his visit.
For those who aren’t familiar with the series, the Gamilas (or Gamilons in the American version), led by Lord Desslar (or Desslok), started the story as the greatest rivals of the Earth and the Yamato crew and eventually became our greatest allies. Considering that, in many aspects, sci-fi stories reveal more about the cultural environment in which they are created than about the future itself, I wouldn’t be surprised if those who know the Japanese culture of the 1970s and the 1980s could recognize in the Gamilas a certain stock of representations identified with those days. Anyway, I will not speculate in that direction here.
I will, nonetheless, caution people against fast conclusions, for the series is indeed a sophisticated creation, with a very interesting soundtrack and complex plots that include even a reference to the novel Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem (in the Star Blazers version, episodes 20 to 22 in the 3rd season).
So, if you feel inspired by the series to visit Yamato in SL, or if you are just curious about the ship or have seen her and would like to see her once more, you can find her at the Battleship Yamato Memorial in Second Life. And if you want to look like a Gamila, you can get the outfit by TCD Style Above & Beyond on SL Marketplace (don’t forget to combine it with a blue skin!).