Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship YamatoWhere last year saw the release of the first animated extension of the venerable Space Battleship Yamato anime franchise in many years, late 2010 saw the release of the first ever attempt to do Yamato – better known to English speaking audiences as Star Blazers – on the big screen in live action. Though there have been tantalizing glimpses from video games over the years that hinted at CGI being ready to depict the Yamato’s endless devastating battles and ground-rattling launches, talk of Yamato or Star Blazers in live action form had, up until now, been nothing more than talk.

2009‘s animated Space Battleship Yamato: Rebirth Chapter‘s soundtrack revisited many of the key musical themes built up by the late, great Hiroshi Miyagawa and the composers who followed in his footsteps, and combined that music somewhat jarringly with numerous well-worn pieces from the world of classical music. Needless to say, many longtime fans were curious what the live-action film would do – would it refer to the original series’ music at all, or do something completely different?

As it happens, the answer lands somewhere between the two. Composer Naoki Sato reverently quotes several themes dating back to the first season of Yamato on TV (which aired in 1974), but arranges them for a huge orchestra and choir. These themes are interspersed with completely new material seamlessly, and the whole thing plays out on a grand scale – to put it mildly, it’s majestic. “The Universe Spreading To Infinity” goes from a single female vocal to an entire choir, and eventually joins with snare drums to become a funeral dirge (probably for Admiral Okita, assuming this movie is following the Quest for Iscandar plot and condensing it into two hours). The Yamato theme is also quoted in its entirety numerous times, and bits of it are quoted for flavoring throughout. If the production design’s obvious reverence to the original vehicles, uniforms and character “looks” of the original series isn’t enough of a stamp of authenticity, then the music certainly is.

The new musical material is worthy of sitting alongside the classic Yamato themes, too, and they bring the whole thing right up to date. “Gamilus” is clear that the slurring-brass sound of Michael Giacchino‘s music from Lost has survived translation across the Pacific, and “Enemy Fleet Disappearance” is a suspenseful piece of mysterioso music that begs comparison with selections from John Williams‘ music from Star Wars. Being compared to such things is not a bad thing.

4 out of 4Naoki Sato wisely chose to come storming out of the gates with Space Battleship Yamato, and the result is an addictively listenable soundtrack. Now someone needs to hurry up and bring the movie to these shores so we can see how good the rest of the package is.

Order this CD

  1. Space Battleship Yamato Opening Title (3:36)
  2. The Man Who Became Thin (1:16)
  3. Desired Vessel (4:18)
  4. Wave Motion Gun Discharge (4:40)
  5. Gamilus Fleet (3:27)
  6. Return (2:45)
  7. Gamilus (0:48)
  8. Orders (1:40)
  9. Enemy Fleet Disappearance (3:22)
  10. An Instant Of Calm (4:25)
  11. Consolation (1:42)
  12. Beautiful Blue Star (0:49)
  13. Crisis (2:15)
  14. Belief (2:12)
  15. New History (2:28)
  16. Cosmo Zero Takeoff (4:38)
  17. Truth Of Radioactivity Removal Device (5:53)
  18. Entrusting The Future (2:07)
  19. Earth (2:36)
  20. Desslar’s Retaliation (3:23)
  21. Those We Protect (4:43)
  22. Final Salute (3:07)

Released by: Crown Tokuma
Release date: 2010
Total running time: 66:10

Space Battleship Yamato: Rebirth Chapter

Space Battleship Yamato: Rebirth ChapterSometimes I review soundtracks without having seen the movies first. Sometimes this happens because the soundtrack is part of a merchandising blitz ahead of the movie release (see: every Star Wars soundtrack over the past decade-and-then-some). Sometimes I just haven’t gotten around to seeing the movie yet, or the soundtrack’s been sent to me by the label ahead of the movie’s release. But this is a first: I haven’t seen the movie because it hasn’t been translated into my language yet. (For the record, I’ll take subs, dubs or both.) We’re talking about the first half of the surprising resuscitation of the Space Battleship Yamato franchise, better known in the English-speaking world as Star Blazers.

This revival is two-fold: the first-ever live-action film based on the classic anime series is expected at the end of this year. The first animated continuation of the original series in over a decade was released at the end of 2009. To say that both are eagerly awaited is an understatement along the lines of “Those Gamilon planet bombs sure are reducing property values around here.” This soundtrack, of course, is from the recently-released (but apparently not very financially successful) Space Battleship Yamato: Fukkatsu Hen (Space Battleship Yamato: Rebirth Chapter). Clocking in at over two hours, the movie may have gained bad word of mouth by ending on a cliffhanger promising resolution in further movies… which, naturally, could be endangered by this film’s cool reception at the box office.

So much time has passed since the last movie in the series (1983’s Final Yamato) that there were numerous impacts on the new film(s?), including the death of the original voice actor behind lead character Susumu Kodai and even the death of Hiroshi Miyagawa, the composer who created almost all of the original Yamato themes and scores. For Rebirth Chapter’s music, it was apparently decided to mix-and-match existing music from Miyagawa’s previous work (in the form of new arrangements with new bridging material by Naoto Otomo. If that’s not confusing enough, Final Yamato themes by the late Kentaro Henada are also referenced.

And then, if we aren’t already right on the edge of losing musical cohesion (though Otomo’s arrangements do wed the Yamato film and TV compositions quite nicely), roughly half of the soundtrack is taken up by selections from the classical canon. Perhaps the classical music is explained as a plot point of some kind in the movie, but simply as a listening experience, it’s disconcerting (ha!) to hear a thundering, hard-rock-with-orchestra remake of the original Yamato theme and then wind up with Beethoven and Grieg a few tracks later. As much as I love the new treatments of Miyagawa’s music, I really find myself wondering if a more cohesive end result couldn’t have been achieved by finding some new talent and allowing them the freedom to reference Miyagawa and Haneda – if they wanted to – among their own original work.

The highlights of the soundtrack are the first track – a gorgeous new recording of Miyagawa’s “The Universe Spreading To Infinity” theme (but not a significantly altered arrangement) – and especially track 6, “Yamato Hasshin”, which is the aforementioned rocked-out new version of the original Yamato theme, featuring J-pop band The Alfee. My favorite revived piece of Kentaro Haneda’s is “Fly-By Warp”.

3 out of 4It’s hard to really judge fairly the odd balance of classical music and more-recent-but-still-recycled Yamato music without knowing what role the classical pieces may (or may not) play in the narrative. Someone’ll have to translate it for the western world so I can make that determination. But purely as a listening experience, Space Battleship Yamato: Rebirth Chapter’s soundtrack is pleasant enough, but never really establishes a feel that’s truly all its own.

Order this CD

  1. Mugen Ni Hirogaru Uchuu (Miyagawa) (1:42)
  2. Cascade Black Hall (Mahler) (2:39)
  3. Kodai No Kikan (Miyagawa) (5:55)
  4. Wakamono Tachi (Miyagawa) (1:43)
  5. Hyoukai Ni Nemuru (Miyagawa) (3:13)
  6. Yamato Hasshin (Miyagawa / featuring The Alfee) (5:45)
  7. Senka No Uzu He (Kousuke Yamashita) (3:50)
  8. Fly-By Warp (Haneda) (2:47)
  9. Amar (Tchaikovsky) (5:35)
  10. Golui (Beethoven) (5:33)
  11. Joou Ilya (Chopin) (5:27)
  12. Mirai Heno Tatakai (Beethoven) (5:46)
  13. Sus Dai Yousai (Grieg) (5:46)
  14. “Fukkatsu Hen” No Tame No Symphony (Haneda) (4:17)
  15. Metzler (Kousuke Yamashita) (2:45)
  16. Kono Ai Wo Sasagete (featuring The Alfee) (6:00)

Released by: EMI Japan
Release date: 2009
Total running time: 65:32

Sound Fantasia Yamato – music by Hiroshi Miyagawa

 soundtrackNow here’s a different approach to a greatest hits album. As you’ve probably guessed, Sound Fantasia Yamato is a collection of notable background music cues from the entire history of the franchise, ranging from the first season of the TV series in 1974 to the movie Final Yamato a decade later, with memorable musical moments from all points in between. That in itself would be nice, but the producers of this 2-CD set then went in and plastered sound effects into the music, trying to create a sort of dialogue-free audio scene with these two elements.

The sound effects are often cranked up pretty high in the mix, and the result is something which ideally should, but ultimately doesn’t, focus on the music. Most of the actual music seems to have been lifted from Symphonic Suite Yamato for the earlier stuff, and directly from the soundtracks of the later chapters in the saga.

2 out of 4The first disc includes each of the sound effects in a section by themselves, with each effect given its own track. This is one of the only places to find the original Yamato/Star Blazers sound effects, so in that respect, Sound Fantasia Yamato is a real find for those who are into that sort of thing. Those looking for a good overview of the series’ music, however, are likely to be annoyed at best, and disappointed at worst, by the layers of sound effects covering it.

Order this CD

    Disc one

  1. Opening (0:57)
  2. The Universe Spreading To Infinity (5:24)
  3. Yamato’s Birth And Takeoff (8:28)
  4. Decisive Battle (7:02)
  5. Iscandar (4:09)
  6. White Comet (7:50)
  7. Yamato Takeoff (5:00)
  8. Desslar (4:55)
  9. Great Love (3:50)

    Sound Effects:

  10. Wave-Motion Gun (1:24)
  11. Main Gun (0:26)
  12. Pulse Lasers (0:10)
  13. Smokestack Missiles (0:18)
  14. Rocket Anchor (0:06)
  15. Hangar Bay Door (0:14)
  16. Main Nozzle (0:24)
  17. Sub Nozzles (0:11)
  18. Auxiliary Engine (0:19)
  19. Wave-Motion Engine (0:49)
  20. Flywheel (0:32)
  21. Main Bridge (0:33)
  22. Door (0:11)
  23. Panel (0:30)
  24. Yuki’s Radar (0:12)
  25. Video Panel (0:13)
  26. Departure Alarm (0:24)
  27. Emergency Alarm (0:27)
  28. Cosmo Gun (0:08)
  29. Analyzer (0:17)
  30. Explosion 1 (0:26)
  31. Explosion 2 (0:14)
  32. Gamlius Base (0:38)
    Disc two

  1. Dark Star Cluster Empire (4:32)
  2. New Cosmo Tigers (2:36)
  3. Double Nucleus Bomb (4:55)
  4. Within The Enemy Supply Base (3:04)
  5. Double Galaxy (4:27)
  6. Main Decisive Battle (6:11)
  7. The Sun (6:23)
  8. City-Satellite Uruku (4:06)
  9. Pluto Naval Battle (8:15)
  10. Aquarius – Planet Of Water (10:19)
  11. Yamato’s Sortie At Dawn (00:49)

Released by: Nippon Columbia
Release date: 1998
Disc one total running time: 56:48
Disc two total running time: 55:39

Space Battleship Yamato: The New Voyage

Space Battleship Yamato: The New VoyagePositioned between the second and third seasons of the legendary animè series, Yamato: The New Voyage was a slightly awkward full-length TV movie which offered only a little bit of expansion on the Space Battleship Yamato franchise – and not much dramatic innovation. As the second theatrical Yamato film had killed off the entire cast of characters (which, after fan outcry, was rectified in the second TV season, which retold the second film’s story without the high body count), The New Voyage had to do a bit of backpedaling, remind the audience that their heroes had not died, but had simply been banged up a bit in their fight against the Comet Empire, and get the ball rolling hastily for yet another showdown with an all-conquering alien force.

Cinematically, I’ve never thought The New Voyage was up to much – it lacks the dramatic punch of Be Forever Yamato and even the weak swan song that was Final Yamato – but its music, when heard apart from the movie itself, is a revelation.

Hiroshi Miyagawa’s music is to the Yamato franchise what John Williams’ music is to the Star Wars universe, plain and simple. And in this installment of the saga, Miyagawa brings some new elements into play, including the first major use of synths in his Yamato soundtracks. The modernization of the sound, while quite a departure from what came before it, isn’t unwelcome or out of place. Early on, most of the synth work is relegated to pads underneath a mostly orchestral score.

The real innovation isn’t technological, however, but musical. In The New Voyage, Miyagawa starts to put some of his well-established themes from two previous movies and two years of television series through very interesting permutations. Dessler’s theme (that’s Desslock for you Star Blazers fans) goes from being a strident, militaristic piece to a sweeping, wistful love theme that recurs throughout much of the score. The Yamato theme itself runs through some minor key variations, and one incredibly haunting cue (“Mystical Yamato”) which gives it a very ethereal quality.

4 out of 4One of the new themes composed specifically for this movie is introduced in the first track as a song (complete with vocals in both Japanese and English), but that motif too reappears in various places. The heraldic brass of the opening track was a huge break in tradition for the series, but it’s a break that was needed by this point. Overall, The New Voyage makes for better listening than viewing.

Order this CD

  1. Yamato: The New Voyage (1:50)
  2. Isao Sasaki (1:42)
  3. New Voyage – instrumental (2:54)
  4. Yamato Meditation / Great Love (2:12)
  5. New Cosmo Tigers (2:29)
  6. Tsunpa March – March Of The Underwear (0:45)
  7. Mystical Yamato (2:04)
  8. Wandering Iscandar (2:10)
  9. Mamoru and Starsha (2:11)
  10. Crisis On Iscandar (1:12)
  11. Desler’s Suffering (1:42)
  12. Desler In Silence (2:19)
  13. My Feelings For Starsha (1:51)
  14. Wandering (2:39)
  15. Goruba’s Theme (4:17)
  16. Goruba’s Theme – synthesizer (1:16)
  17. Goruba’s Theme – piano (1:18)
  18. Goruba’s Theme – strings (1:35)
  19. Goruba Chord (0:13)
  20. Parting – guitar and orchestra (1:54)
  21. Parting – strings (2:01)
  22. Parting – piano and orchestra (1:13)
  23. Parting – guitar solo (3:00)
  24. Sasha My Love – instrumental (3:49)
  25. Sasha My Love vocals by Chiyoko Shimakura (1:48)

Released by: Nippon Columbia
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 50:24

Space Battleship Yamato Part 2 – Hiroshi Miyagawa

Space Battleship Yamato 2 soundtrackWhen Leiji Matsumoto’s epic space opera Space Battleship Yamato (later imported to the U.S. as Star Blazers) proved to be a success in Japan, the show’s landmark first season was rewritten and compressed into a movie with new (and, in many cases, improved) animation. The movie also went over well, so a second film was created, though it made the ill-advised move of killing off the entire crew of the Yamato in a fateful battle with the Comet Empire.

One little problem: that movie also went over well, creating even more of a demand. So the movie was rewritten and expanded into enough scripts to cover another season of the TV series, a season which left the crew alive at the end to continue their adventures on both the big and small screens.

This is the soundtrack to that movie, which was also used for the TV reworking of the story.

Now that the history lesson is out of the way, let’s talk music. There is a vast difference between this soundtrack and the soundtrack of the first season’s music in terms of both sound quality and, on a less technical level, the sophistication of the music itself.

Many of the same cues heard in season one were reused in season two, but the technical and musical improvements are perhaps most detectable in the recycled cues. “The Mystery Of Space” is a solemn variation on “The Universe Spreading To Infinity”, one of my favorite pieces from the original season one soundtrack. In this case, it underscores the Yamato’s crew gathering at a memorial for their fallen captain at Hero’s Hill. And the effect, even without the visuals is spectacular.

In other tracks that revamp season one’s signature themes, the overall effect is bigger and bolder – brassy cues blast even louder than they did originally, and the funky cues with rock instrumentation crank it up that much more in this recording. The larger orchestra used for these sessions almost has the same impact of the 4 out of 4excellent Symphonic Suite Yamato.

Knowing in advance that Space Battleship Yamato Part 2 featured much music that had already been used in the first soundtrack, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. It’s both an excellent collection of music and a pleasant surprise.

Order this CD

  1. The Silence Of Space (1:04)
  2. The Mystery Of Space (1:45)
  3. Iscandar (1:43)
  4. The Universe Spreading To Infinity (1:05)
  5. Yamato’s Theme (1:28)
  6. Yamato Takes Flight! (1:30)
  7. Courageous Yamato (1:12)
  8. Yamato’s Battle (1:07)
  9. Wounded Yamato (0:59)
  10. Rise Up, Yamato! (0:45)
  11. Desler’s Bolero (1:04)
  12. Meditation (1:41)
  13. Desler’s Tactics (2:32)
  14. Complications (1:47)
  15. Imprisonment (0:44)
  16. The Rival I (3:00)
  17. Kodai And Dessler’s Friendship (1:27)
  18. The Rival II (1:22)
  19. Reminiscence (2:10)
  20. Menace In Space (1:49)
  21. Appearance And Attack (0:47)
  22. Comet Empire Fleet Sorties! (1:09)
  23. Battle Theme (1:18)
  24. Comet Empire Emperor Zordar (0:37)
  25. Great Love (1:58)
  26. Reunion (1:30)
  27. Thoughts Toward The Stars (1:00)
  28. Tears Of Love (0:47)
  29. Melody Of Love (1:58)
  30. Andromeda (1:30)
  31. Yamato Opening Theme (1:29)
  32. Yamato Reunion (2:03)
  33. Teresa’s Theme (1:15)
  34. Mystery Of Planet Telezart (0:43)
  35. Teresa’s Love Theme (2:20)
  36. Various Endings (3:40)
  37. The Scarlet Scarf (1:54)

Released by: Nippon Columbia
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 56:38

Yamato 2520 – music by David Mathes and Kentarou Hata

Yamato 2520In 1995, without the help of Leiji Matsumoto, who was instrumental in the creation of the original Space Battleship Yamato, Yoshinobu Nishizaki tried to launch a “Yamato: The Next Generation” of sorts, Yamato 2520, set 100 years after the original Yamato’s adventures came to a fiery end. With no concrete connection to the original Yamato characters or settings – i.e., no mention of the Gamilons, Iscandar, or the Comet Empire – the series chronicled the voyages of a small group of young people from a divided future Earth who discover the plans for the original Yamato, and use them to build a ship that manages to look almost completely unlike it.

The show lasted only six episodes before production and financial difficulties closed up the animation shop, and creator Nishizaki later wound up in prison, leaving former partner Matsumoto to take the reigns of the Yamato license and the franchise. Many fans now regard Yamato 2520 as a curiosity, and not part of the main Yamato saga (not unlike the second Yamato movie, which killed off the entire crew!).

Not helping matters much is the music. Though some of it is quite nice in its own way, there is once again no connection to the Yamato sound of old. Hiroshi Miyagawa’s sweeping, epic music helped to define the original series with pounding martial action music, dreamily romantic pieces with a lyrical quality, and even a little 2 out of 4edge of 70s funk. The original Yamato music isn’t even so much as quoted here, with the Yamato 2520 score favoring modern-day synth precision, and frankly it’s dull in places. It’s not a total loss, but like the short-lived series from which it originated, the Yamato 2520 soundtrack fails to live up to the legacy to which it would inevitably (and yes, perhaps unfairly) be compared.

Order this CD

  1. Track 1 (2:57)
  2. Track 2 (4:49)
  3. Track 3 (3:36)
  4. Track 4 (4:17)
  5. Track 5 (5:29)
  6. Track 6 (2:48)
  7. Track 7 (5:09)
  8. Track 8 (3:55)
  9. Track 9 (2:43)
  10. Track 10 (5:54)
  11. Track 11 (2:49)
  12. Track 12 (4:35)
  13. Track 13 (3:30)

    (Track titles on this disc were entirely in Japanese.)

Released by: Sony Music Japan
Release date: 1995
Total running time: 52:39

Symphonic Suite Yamato – music by Hiroshi Miyagawa

Symphonic Suite YamatoI have a problem with a lot of re-recordings of soundtracks. The tempo tends to be wrong, the emphasis is different (or, worse yet, there is none), or the whole thing sounds hollow. Conductors like Cliff Eidelman and Joel McNeely – themselves composers (see, respectively, Star Trek VI and Shadows Of The Empire) – make a living these days off of re-recordings, and labels like Silva Screen – the folks behind Cult Files and Space and Beyond – do re-recording compilations as their bread and butter. But the results aren’t always pretty.

Why do I bring up the whole re-recording issue? Because Symphonic Suite Yamato is, essentially, a rearranged orchestral suite of music from animè series Space Battleship Yamato (known in the English-speaking world as Star Blazers). But what sets this CD apart from other re-recordings is the complete participation of original Yamato composer Hiroshi Miyagawa. He knows the music – he wrote it. He conducts it, too, meaning that we haven’t wound up with a weak, watered-down interpretation of the original. A new interpretation, to be sure, but that’s not a bad thing.

So good, in fact, was the resulting recording that music from Symphonic Suite Yamato – originally intended to be a stand-alone recording – was actually used in later Yamato movies such as The New Voyage.

The suite kicks off with an overture built around the solo female vocal piece “The Universe Spreading Into Infinity”, one of the most haunting, lovely and unforgettable cues featured in the original series. Though it starts out as a female solo vocal again, Miyagawa reinterprets the theme for full orchestra with an absolutely stunning result. As blasphemous as it main seem, the martial main theme associated with the series and movies doesn’t kick in until later, setting the tone for the entirety of Symphonic Suite Yamato: a musical experiment bringing some lesser-known themes to the fore and developing them, as well as some new twists on the better-known pieces.

“Scarlet Scarf”, which was used as the closing title music for the Yamato TV series in Japan (and has seldom been heard in the English-dubbed edition of the series), is taken through some similarly surprising progressions, starting out with the customary mournful rendition and then exploding into a more military sound.

The track titles have little to do with music from specific scenes, and deal more with the moods Miyagawa was attempting to bring across with his new arrangements.

4 out of 4Overall, Symphonic Suite Yamato is a lovely thing to listen to; the closest comparison I can think of in recent American soundtrack music is the first two Babylon 5 soundtracks, which composer Christopher Franke re-sequenced and amended to create new longform compositions which stood on their own. And Symphonic Suite Yamato does it so much better.

Order this CD

  1. Overture (5:22)
  2. The Birth (4:27)
  3. Sashia (1:39)
  4. Trial (2:40)
  5. Take Off (2:56)
  6. Reminiscence (2:10)
  7. Scarlet Scarf (4:27)
  8. Decisive Battle (4:36)
  9. Iskandall (3:32)
  10. Recollection (3:16)
  11. Hope For Tomorrow (5:09)
  12. Stasha (3:16)

Released by: Nippon Columbia Co., Ltd.
Release date: 1977 (released on CD in 1995)
Total running time: 44:27