On the heels of an incredibly disappointing re-cap movie, space opera epic Yamato 2199 returned to the silver screen this past weekend in Japan with Yamato 2199: Ark of the Stars -- a film that is less a stand-alone story and more of a beginning for a whole new epic.
Note: This review contains spoilers for the Yamato 2199 TV series. For a non-spoiler review of the show, look here.
Good -- A New Threat
Ark of the Stars is not exactly a sequel to the TV series. Rather, it takes place right before the end of the series. During the return trip to Earth, the Yamato encounters a fleet of unknown ships that suddenly attack. To escape, the Yamato makes an emergency jump -- one that leaves the battleship trapped in a nebula-like area of space, orbiting a mysterious planet where the laws of physics are skewed if not outright broken.
This film serves as the first real introduction to the "Gatlantis" -- the re-imagined Comet Empire from Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato. Their fleet is powerful and, thanks to their long-range super weapon -- and the Yamato's self-imposed ban on using the wave motion cannon -- they are portrayed as a credible threat in the film.
Good -- Easing Tensions
But between the film's opening and the final climax, the Gatlantis are surprisingly absent. A good chunk of the film takes place on the surface of the planet, where the landing party finds themselves trapped in a Victorian-era five-star hotel. Yet, they are not alone in the hotel: A landing party from a Gamilon fleet is trapped there as well.
Instead of attacking the Yamato crew, however, the Gamilon crew oddly sees them as comrades, thanks to the reality-bending nature of the hotel. Thus, the crew of the Yamato keeps their true origins hidden as they work with the Gamilons to discover the secret of the hotel so they can escape.
This serves as excellent development for the Gamilons by showing how the common soldiers have reacted to the events of the series. It does a great job of humanising them -- something the series also was fantastic at -- and serves as a moral lesson about survivor's guilt and letting go of revenge.
Good -- Dealing with Limbo
As Ark of the Stars largely takes place before the series' final two episodes, this means many of the characters are static in their personal relationships -- especially that of Kodai and Mori -- given what is to come. Thankfully, instead of retreading old romantic plot lines or introducing a contrived personal conflict, the film takes the personal heart of the story in a new direction in two ways.
The first is the introduction of two new characters -- an earnest young pilot and a genius linguistics expert. The story -- spanning from their antagonistic first meeting to the beginnings of a budding romance -- serves to take care of the film's romance quotient.
But the other -- and far more impactful -- personal story is that of Kodai. As his past and romantic life are already thoroughly covered in the series, the film serves to show a prelude to his future after the completion of the mission to save Earth. When the Gatlantis attacks, neither the Captain nor XO are on the bridge. Thus Kodai takes command. Impressed by Kodai's natural leadership ability, the XO allows Kodai to stay in command for much of the movie -- thus allowing us to see him in the big chair for the first time. It is an excellent bit of future foreshadowing and character development that does a great job of taking Kodai in a new direction.
Mixed -- More New Start than Missing Episode
Oddly, Ark of the Stars feels less like a movie and more like the first arc of a new series. Ark of the Stars is far from a self-contained story like most non-recap anime films. There are two plots running through the film: One is the first contact with the Gatlantis and the other is the mystery of the planet. And while the story of the mysterious planet is neatly tied up, the same cannot be said for that of the Gatlantis. By the end of the film, it is clear that Earth has made a powerful new enemy and the restoration of the planet is only a prelude to a much bigger looming threat than the Gamilons ever were. So while the film does indeed have an ending, it feels like the real meat of the story is yet to come.
All in all, Yamato 2199: Ark of the Stars is a decent movie that does its best to build an exciting, important adventure despite the restrictions placed upon it by its position in the series' timeline. While the new characters and their romance are nothing special, seeing Kodai in the captain's seat for much of the film is a welcome change of pace that allows him to develop as a character in a new, yet believable, direction. Seeing the fallout from Yamato's adventures from the enemy perspective is a nice touch as well. But more than anything else, Ark of the Stars sets the stage for a whole new Yamato saga. If you are a fan of the series, this is a film you should not miss.
Yamato 2199: Ark of the Stars was released in Japanese theatres on December 6, 2014. There is currently no word on a Western release.