My views on Space Battleship Yamato 2199
I've wound up with tangled feelings about Space Battleship Yamato 2199 (henceforth Yamato), although I quite enjoyed watching it. Overall I think it's an excellent show that falls just short of greatness and is hard to unconditionally recommend because of one issue. That issue is with the structure of the overall plot, so let me describe how I see Yamato.
The core of Yamato is a bunch of excellent real characters who are put into an overall story that is somewhere between epic space opera and a mythic story (or a series of mythic stories, starting with a series of classic war stories). The characters are good, the situations that they get into are often great, and there are excellent individual episodes, but because the core is epic, mythic space opera there are a number of things that happen that are semi-cliches at best. This is especially the case at the end of the show, where events spiral into a series of climaxes that are emotionally satisfying but not necessarily entirely solid and convincing plotting. To enjoy Yamato fully you have to be willing to accept that things are grand and crazy in the best traditions of inexplicable space opera and that you will not get explanations for some core things. It is this not quite successfully executed mythic nature that costs Yamato its chance at greatness for me. The best mythic stories are both mythic and completely convincing at the same time, and Yamato doesn't quite manage that; by the end the seams show a little bit too much for me.
(To its credit I think that Yamato understands that the cliches are cliches, so it doesn't try to pretend that they are supposed to be surprises to us or anything. It speaks to Yamato's excellent writing and characterization that the cliches are still affecting and emotionally powerful.)
At its best, Yamato is glorious. And it's at its best quite a lot. The directing and animation is excellent (it's head and shoulders above ordinary TV-grade work, well up into OVA or movie territory), it does action very well, the writing is tight and surprising and capable of being genuinely disturbing, and it's quite emotionally affecting. There are all sorts of interesting characters and the show is happy to let them quietly do things in the background, confident that we'll catch the bits in passing. One of the things worth noting is that Yamato doesn't stop to explain very much about the Gamilan characters; there is a real sense that we're just seeing a little slice of their lives as they intersect the Yamato's journey and there is a whole sprawling complex history that we don't know.
(This is probably going to frustrate some viewers because at various points we're left to take a lot on faith instead of having the real background to understand things. I was not bothered by it for various reasons and in fact found it kind of interesting and refreshing.)
At the same time Yamato is not without flaws (beyond the overall plot issues I've noted). See, for example, the criticisms mentioned by Scamp at the Cart Driver. But the flaws are relatively minor compared to Yamato's major achievements (see eg The Card Driver's praise for it here).
By the way I would be remiss if I didn't single out episode 14 for special praise (it's the famous mental episode; see eg Shinmaru's writeup). This is not just a genuinely weird and suspenseful episode in the best traditions of good horror, it's also loaded with subtle, well done character backstory (and character development). This backstory emerges naturally because the characters involved are being ensnared in their own memories, which effectively gives us (deliberately nightmarish) flashbacks without the bad taste that flashbacks can often have.
Liked: very much.
Rewatch: possibly, although I'm not sure I'd see anything more in a second viewing.
Written on 01 January 2014.