FWS: Forgotten Classics- The Comico Starblazers Series (1987)
After FWS resurrected Dynamo Joe, I decide to dig up another great series from the past from the same creator of Dynamo Joe, Doug Rice,the Comico Comics the 1987Starblazers limited four-part series. At the time, Starblazers was not released on VHS, only a few imported models, and Japanese-text animation books feed the fans hungry for more Argo action. Then suddenly, the long drought ended in 1987, with the appearance of a limited series by the American comic company Comico who had secured the rights to Starblazers and published a completely brand new story by American writers. This blogpost will not only cover more than just the Comico series, this will some of my thoughts on Starblazers as a whole since I cannot do a proper review due to my lacking of the complete series on DVD.
Starblazers...do you remember love?
Starblazers started it all for me, really, all of it. Nothing in the early years of my life is bigger than this. Nothing. This started me loving science-fiction, and Japanese Anime, before Robotech there was Starblazers. Even in Sunday School, I drew pictures of Jesus wearing a Star-Force uniform...I shit you not. I hummed the theme song for most of my life, and the mere imagine of the Argo/Yamato caused me to break out in goosebumps, that's the kind of impact I'm talking about.
The Plot of the 1987 Comico Starblazers series
Only a few weeks after the costly victory against the Comet Empire, the Earth Defense Force (EDF) only warship, the USS Argo, is in Earth orbit under going repairs and training new crew members after the bloody battle with the Comet imperial city and its guardian dreadnought.During this, the Earth Defense Force HQ recieves an emergency message from its science outpost on the Joviah moon of Callisto. Derek Wildstar, duty captain of the Argo uses the Callisto rescue mission as a training excuse, and transferring Sandor and Mark Venture back to Star Force Academy on Earth. Back at Callisto, General Radnar, the commander of the reserve Comet Imperial Fleet, and the last element of the once mighty power as invaded the Sol system on a quest of revenge for the destruction of Prince Zordar's fleet. Radnar himself is quite the religious zealot commit to making his blood path to make Earth a divine sacifice for the Goddess Arishna. He captures the base and waits on the Argo to arrive then as the springs the trap during the rescue operation. The Argo and it's crew of trainees falls quickly, and Wildstar is forced to surrender the only Earth warship to an alien zealot nutjob, but not before sending an SOS.
The EDF is desperate, and gives Sandor and Venture command of the Earth's last heavy cruiser in a hope to find out where the Argo is.Wildstar is dumped at the outpost, as the Argo leaves on a course for Earth, its human engine crew is forced to choice between helping the aliens repair the Wave Motion engine or being executed. Derek is pickuped by the Gamilons, also chasing Radnar for taking Leader Desslok prisoner, and they forge a temporary alliance to hunt down the madman. The limited offensive resources of the EDF are pitted against the Argo, which is mainly fighters and battle satellites, despite valiant efforts, the Argo tests its Wave Motion Cannon against Mars then moves closer to Terra. At the despite hour, during a massive space battle, Wildstar leads a boarding party to the engine room, and fails to stop the Argo from firing its powerful cannon at the Earth. The blast is stopped by the Goddess Arishna (it's much better in the comic book, believe me), and entombs the remains of the Comet Imperial Fleet inside the moon.
The mid-1980's were an exciting time in the USA for Anime/Manga, especially when the Comico series came on the shelves, because Robotech was on the air, more imported products were rolling in and American businesses were starting to see the light on Japaneses animation. One also as to remember that Starblazers itself had not been on TV for years when the series broke, giving fans just what they needed, and sales where in 300,000 range, massive for a small-press comic company. On a personal note, the moment that I spied this on the new release wall of Starbase 21 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I grabbed it so fast, I nearly ripped it! The drought that Starblazers fans had to live through broke the moment this series hit, and it had been years...long years. I can say now, that I cried reading these. It was overwhelming, Starblazers had such an impact on me, that I had mythaized it to the degree of religious importance. In addition, items of the Starblazers universe were rare and very hard to find, especially in Tulsa...but the few things I had, I loved. Then this series came out, and I finally had a great comic book with superior art, and a dense storyline to digest over months. Gods, it was wonderful...I still own those comics, and they are like they were fresh off the printer, because I took care of them. It wasn't until I was a junior in high school, 1994, that I would see Starblazers again via VHS. On a side note, it was interesting to see the basic story of Starblazers series one and two heavily mined for the 2003-2004 Xindi storylines of Star Trek: Enterprise. iincluding the battle between the Enterprise and the Xindi Superweapon Sphere in Earth orbit, which reminds me of the final battle between the Argo and the Comet empire city-ship.
Modern Review of the Comico 1987 limited series
Writers Doug Rice (of Dynamo Joe) and Philip Foglio created an original story that uses the iconic visual and emotional elements of the TV series, and is perfectly sandwiched between the Comet Empire invasion and the Bolar Wars. It should be stated in plain language that is 1987 American comic is the best product of the entire Starblazers/Yamato catalog. This limited comic series shows what talented writers and artists can do with a 1970's Anime series that itself had lackluster dialog, poor animation and character development. This series fleshed out several characters, especially the underused Nova, and give the Argo a nice edge mixed with humor. In addition, most of the core characters, human and alien are more grown up than in the original Anime. All of this really works within a storyline that was better than anything done in the Space Cruiser Yamato/Starblazers after the original two seasons. One of the biggest and most knowagable fans of Starblazers, Robert Fanelon wrote these brilliant introduction essays about the history of the Yamato universe, technical details of the ship, and some of the differences between American and Japanese animation. The odd thing is that later Robert Fanelon comments on this miniseries on the Starblazers official website are less than positive, often dismissing the basic plot of the comics, and that the creative minds behind it. In my opinion, if you want to know about Starblazers and the beauty behind it, than read these.
The Second Comico Starblazers Series (1989)
Seeing success and glowing reviews, Comico Comics launched a second limited series in 1989 which another original story that did not mine a previous Starblazers or Yamato release. The plot weaved several alien and human stories and backstories together, and deepened fans understanding of the complex Starblazer universe, however, the series took a few issues to gel, leaving fans confused. The 1989 series was spiritually more in-line with the strangle and fantastically elements that Leiji Matsumoto liked to incorporate into the Yamato animated series, like planetary goddess. The hope was that the second series would pave the way for a permanent monthly Starblazers comic. The failure of the second series's art and odd story failed to attract the positive attention, despite similar sales to the first limited series in 1987. During the second series release, Comico Comics teetering on the edge of bankruptcy due to the end of most of its profitable limited series, like Robotech,Grendal, and Mage all in 1989, leading to filing in 1990.
What Happened to Starblazers?
Historically speaking, Starblazers was one of THE pioneering Anime series that opened the American market, and created a generation of fans hungry for Anime and Manga. Then by 1983, Starblazers was off the air, and there was long drought for us fans. What happened to Starblazers?One of the biggest causes for the failure of the continuation of Starblazers was its Japanese source, Space CruiserYamato. Unlike Robotech, where three different series were combined to make an Americanized series, Starblazers was completely reliant on the Japanese Yamato franchise to fuel more American Starblazers series, and when the Japanese studios turned out dogshit like the Bolar Wars, the New Voyages, Be Forever Yamato, and the single worst: Final Yamato, the American studio had no where to go. The last Starblazers TV series was the Bolar Wars and was barely seen due to limited American broadcast, most fans wouldn't even see it until around 1989 or 1990, when the VHS tapes were released by Voyager Entertainment would run up against another factor limited Starblazers, the age of its fans.
I was three when I watched Starblazers, and then for about ten, there was little or nothing that came out. In the mid-1990's, VHS tapes of all three series, plus some of the original Yamato movies, by this time, fans like me where teenagers and couldn't afford the $450 for the complete VHS Starblazers Saga. Then there were issues of the quality of the VHS footage, the first releases were terrible, adding to "dating" the series in the minds of fans that were moving on to other Anime/Manga or girls and cars. This caused Starblazers to be remembered by only a certain age group that was aging out of buying such things. The other nail in the coffin was Robotech, because when Starblazers went off the air around 1980-83, fans turned to the other grand Anime military sci-fi series on American airwaves at the time, Mobile Suit Gundam, which features futuristic warfare and mecha. Both of these series paved the way for Robotech in 1985. This 85 episode epic featured cool characters with cool hair, great space battles, love stories, tons of kick ass mecha, and was created by Americans for the American audience and filled the gap left by Starblazers. Robotech would also do something that Starblazers could not, gain widespread acceptance by American businesses. Robotech had a major comic company, Comico, publishing its stories, Matchbox making its western toys, and importers rushing model kits to every comic book store possible. Robotech would also continually put new products out into the mainstream market, like toys, models, comics, and even still be on TV into the mid-90's!
The major reason, to me, that Starblazers as not enjoyed the success of Robotech or even Gundam, transforming into amore stale property is due to it's creator, Leiji Matsumoto and his odd ideas.Don't get me wrong, I loved Galaxy Express 999 and Captain Harlock, but his concepts of planetary goddess, uber-soft science, unrealistic, almost cartoony battle scenes, and two-dimensional thinking on the plot causes Starblazers to seem flat and more-kid like when compared to Robotech or even the comics of Starblazers. That's the really sad thing to me, I have owned the complete Robotech saga on DVD since 2008, and watched it each summer since, and enjoyed it each time, I cannot say that about when I've watched Starblazers recently. That's a shame to me as a 32 year fan of the series, that this landmark Anime series has not aged well at all.
The Future of Starblazers/Yamato...Is There One?
There have been several aborted attempts at relaunching the Yamato brand over the years. In the mid-1990's there was the Yamato:2520, where the 17th ship to bear the Yamato name was launched during a bitter peace between the Earth Federation and the Seiren after a 100 year war. The studio only developed three episodes before money problems. Since that effort, the rights to Yamato transfer back to Yoshinobu Nishizaki, causing new projects to move forward. Unfortunately, the Japanese studio is again recycling tired old stories with their Space Battleship Yamato: Resurrection, that takes place 17 years after Final Yamato, however, it does have CGI effects and some of the best art in a Yamato series. Released this year was the Japanese live-action Space Battleship Yamato that re-imagined the original storyline along with elements from the new Battlestar Galactica. While in this country, Starblazers as had the benefit of a dedicated company, Voyager Entertaintment that believes in Starblazers and maintains an impressive, often updated website, complete with webcomics that are quite good In addition to selling DVDs of the Starblazer and Yamato movies and shows, they designed a tabletop ship combat game, called Starblazers: Fleet Battle System complete with miniatures. The technical manual to this game is a must-have for any Starblazers fan. My hope is that, Starblazers is one day able to complete remake the original two series into something more modern and mature.
The New website of the old Starblazers/Yamato Voyager Entertainment portal: http://www.ourstarblazers.com/
The Starblazers official site covers the 1987 Comico series: