I’ve been thinking about Star Blazers a lot lately. For those too young to know what Star Blazers is, this syndicated series was one of the earliest Japanese anime imports to be shown in America. In Japan, it was known as Uchu Senkan Yamato (Space Cruiser Yamato) and is still something of a cultural icon, somewhat like Godzilla or even like what Doctor Who is to the British. Reformatted (and edited) for an American audience and distributed by a company called Harmony Gold, it was unlike anything American children of the 70’s had ever seen. Each 30 minute episode expanded on the tale of the crew of a reconstructed World War II-era battleship retrofitted to journey across the universe to retrieve a device -the CosmoDNA- that could reverse the effects of a brutal alien weapon that would kill all life on Earth within a year.
Of course, the premise to today’s ears sounds horribly implausible and campy, but for a seven year old boy, it was incredibly compelling. The story was filled with some very adult themes, not the least of which include loss, sacrifice, despair, and vengeance. What I find most odd now is that -unlike other childhood favorites like Star Wars- I never chose a hero to identify with. With Star Wars, it was of course Han Solo. Not so with Star Blazers. Sure, I liked Captain Avatar and Wildstar and Nova, but it wasn’t the characters that I really loved. It was the ship, the Yamato (or Argo in the Americanized version, but it will always be the Yamato to me). As a child, I was constantly rebuilding the Yamato from Legos and would happily spend my weekends recreating their many journeys, plus of course creating some of my own. Yet, it was always primarily about the ship, not the characters, per se.
As I’m writing this month, I’ve think back on that show a number of times. A lot of the narrative in the novel I am writing revolves around naval vessels in general and a special ship in particular. AS I write, I feel myself being influenced by the reverential way the Yamato and other important vehicles are treated in the variety of TV shows and movies surrounding them. Sometimes these vehicles almost become players in the story, important characters in and of themselves. We see this type of personification or affection in real life too, such as in historical accounts of sailors as well sometimes in modern day navy life. Your ship is your life and many sailors grow to love, fear, and respect her (all ships are female, by the way).
We also see this occasionally in contemporary Western fiction. Most notable are the USS Enterprise and the incomparable Millennium Falcon. These ships are more than place settings or stage dressing for the actors. They come to symbolize the characters on the ship as a whole. Kirk is swashbuckling and cavalier, Bones is sarcastic yet the voice of blunt rationality, Spock is the voice of cold, emotionless logic. Yet in Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, when the Captain Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh are facing off in the Mutaran Nebula (geek alert! geek alert!), it’s not Kirk and Khan you’re alternately cheering and booing, it’s the Enterprise and the Reliant. You shudder when the Enterprise is first attacked and you’re jumping-out-of-your-seat-cheering when she later pops up out of the Nebula and blows the living hell out of the Reliant. We’ve stopped viewing the Enterprise as a ship and it’s now a protagonist, a character. We feel her pain and when she ‘dies’ in Star Trek III, we share Kirk’s pain and mourn her passing.
Similarly, the Millennium Falcon is as much a partner of Han Solo as Chewbacca in many ways and just as important to who Han is as a character. He’s a ‘scruffy looking nerf-herder’, she’s a ‘pile of junk’. Just like Han Solo when we first meet him, ‘she may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts’. She’s an extension of Han Solo but also a willful being in her own right. Han consoles and cajoles her in Episodes IV and V. She’s a living, breathing thing in many ways and when the chip are down and the fate of the Rebellion is doomed, it’s Han and the Falcon, screaming out of the sun like a World War II flying ace to save the day. We love her, just like we love the Enterprise.
In my novel, I want to capture that sort of personification. I want to create a ship that captures the reader, that both encapsulates the goals and dreams of the characters on her as well as standing out an an entity of her own. To create an inanimate object deviod of personality or volition of its own and then imbued it with a type of life that compels the reader to feel an emotional connection with it would be a great accomplishment for me. I’d love to know that someone love the ship I create as much as I loved the noble Yamato.