By Jerry Chandler
Star Blazers debuted on American television in 1979. One of the major channels to carry it was the early cable flagship channel, Superstation WTBS. I was eight-years-old when it hit the American television airwaves and the fledgling cords of a young cable industry. At least where animated television shows were concerned, I had never seen anything like it before. To say it blew my young little mind was a bit of an understatement.
Star Blazers had three season-long stories in total, but only two of them were aired in most markets. These were Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar, Star Blazers: The Comet Empire, and the lesser seen Star Blazers: The Bolar Wars. While I will more than likely address the second and third season down the road, want I primarily want to focus on here is Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar. For most people, this was the season that introduced them to Star Blazers, and this was the season that more fans seem familiar with.
Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar starts out in the year 2199 letting us see the space forces of Earth losing a major battle in our solar system. The enemy forces, the Gamilons, have both superior numbers and technology, and they’ve been beating the Earth forces in encounter after encounter for some time now. Worse still, the Gamilons have a weapon, planet bombs, that have been destroying the Earth itself. The planet bombs have not only been causing unimaginable destruction at point of impact, but they have saturated the Earth with deadly radiation. What’s left of mankind is barely surviving by moving underground, but the radiation is slowly sinking deeper into the depths of the Earth. It’s estimated by then that the Earth has only roughly one year left before it becomes completely uninhabitable.
In the middle of one of the losing battles of the Earth forces, a ship, seemingly out of control, is seen tearing across space towards Earth. The damaged ship ends up crashing on Mars. The ship contained one pilot, dead, and one message device. In the message device is mankind’s salvation. It is the flight path to a planet called Iscandar, the promise of a “Cosmo DNA” device that can restore Earth to a green, living world again, and the secrets of advanced technology that will both give an Earth ship a better than average chance against a Gamilon ship as well as a new engine design, the Wave Motion engine, that will allow Earth to send a ship over the vast distance within the time window required to save Earth by allowing the ship to make “jumps” across folded space.
The nations of Earth pool their limited resources and begin to build a single ship to make the trip. To speed things up (and to stretch their limited materials) the ship is built using an existing battleship, the Yamato, sunk during the war and resting in a great desert that used to be one of Earth’s seas. The finished vessel is rechristened The Argo (at least for American audiences) and retains the basic appearance of a sea going vessel. The final crew members are assembled none too soon as the Gamilon Empire has learned of the plans and sends a ship to destroy the Argo (thinking it an underground base) before it is completed. Fortunately, the Argo is in fact completed. We and the crew see the ship in all its glory for the first time as it breaks free from its longtime grave and is reborn as Earth’s last hope.
It became a bit of an iconic scene in Star Blazers fandom, and was one of the few scenes a much later live action adaptation kept largely intact in its storytelling. The big difference in the live action scene? They reveal the other thing the engine does; a reveal not seen until later in the animated series. The same energy that allows the ship to jump across limited distances of space also powers the ship’s most powerful (if limited use due to the power drain) weapon. This would be the Wave Motion gun.
From there the adventure was well and truly on. The entire season was one long story, and each episode was a chapter in the greater story. It was large scale, ongoing storytelling with twists, turns, secrets revealed, and losses and sacrifices that were beyond surprising and shocking for my then young little mind. The good guys didn’t always win every battle in the war, and the damage done to them was sometimes long lasting if not permanent. To hammer home the consequences of failure, every episode ended by telling you how many days Earth had left, how much less time the crew of the Argo had to complete their mission, before all life on Earth was gone for good.
For the era that the show came out of, Star Blazers was a surprisingly solid science fiction epic filled with grand adventure and fleshed out with a crew of characters that were all very relatable for the viewer. Some of the characters had issues and even held grudges towards others in the early going of the show, but the series avoided the pitfalls that even so many more “adult” live action shows and movies fall into with such characters. They weren’t written to be jerks and problem children you couldn’t stand.
In much more realistic fashion than some much more “adult” shows and movies to come along in later years, they didn’t make problem child characters that couldn’t function in a group and pretend that the powers that be would be fine and dandy filling the most important ship they had on the most important mission it would have with people that didn’t play well with others. Where the characters had personal issues with others, the issues were limited to those interactions between the two, and the issues had more realistic seeming roots to them.
Derek Wildstar, the lead character for the show, blamed the Captain of the Argo, Captain Avatar, for the death of his brother. It’s an issue that complicates their early relationship on the ship, and one that takes some time and work to resolve. Other relationships between characters may not have been that extreme, but it created a more realistic feeling crew than some live action sic-fi shows of the time. These people were packed into a large ship together for a year with nothing to do but complete the mission. They weren’t always happy, they weren’t always getting along, and they may not have always liked each other. But the mission was the unifying force that caused them to put those issues aside when needed.
As far as most science fiction on mainstream American television at the time, there were other aspects of the show that made it a more realistic feeling show than even some of its live action counterparts that were targeted at adult audiences. It was also in a way more complex and complicated than some of these shows. In its day- owing to the long form storytelling, the evolution of the characters, the callbacks to earlier plot developments in later episodes, and the overall tone –it was what Babylon 5 would be over a decade later. It was epic science fiction storytelling in a seasonal format that was at the time unlike almost any other show on the air that could be considered its contemporary counterpart.
By the time the story reached its end, a huge twist is revealed, a loss that deeply hurt the crew (and the viewers) is undone, a new loss hits everyone just as hard, and the Earth is ultimately saved. Oh, and pretty much everyone that watched it had become raving addicts. Fortunately, in most markets, another season long story would be coming soon after the end of Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar.
For a lot of kids in the 1980s, Star Blazers was a huge factor in their becoming fans of anime; maybe even more so than some of the giant robot anime. It was also an amazing story to see unfold. Over the decades, the following the show has had here and abroad has led to more updates and reboots and remakes than many other shows of its kind. Some of them have been very good, but the original Star Blazers: The Quest for Iscandar will always be the one that everyone eventually comes back to.
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek, dabbling in just about every genre but finding science fiction and horror to be his primary comfort zones. He has also had a lifelong devotion to that form of entertainment known as professional wrestling. When not worrying that his coworkers are going to inflict bodily harm onto him over his sense of humor, he enjoys hitting the convention scene or making indie films with his friends. He also finds talking about himself in third person to be very strange.