As a four year-old, the joys of UHF channels were numerous. They were the 1970’s equivalent of YouTube, showing a variety of things that regular network VHF channels simply couldn’t broadcast. Their boilerplate schedule typically included old sitcom re-reruns and movies the networks couldn’t be bothered to find ad revenue for. But every now and then, something truly unique would appear. And school mornings were no different.
I still remember one particular morning. It was so early the sun hadn’t decided whether to rise or not. Our house was not well lit even though the lights in the adjoining kitchen were on. The room was fairly dark, almost like a movie theater. My mother, an introverted hippy married to an extroverted salesman, was in the middle of getting me ready for another day of kindergarten. My sister, a mere two years younger, was throwing a hissy fit.
I never liked it when my parents were upset, and my high performance sis, bless her heart, had a special ability to fluster my mom at the drop of a hat. Before you could say ‘I’ll give you something to really cry about’, the tv flew on. The UHF knob ripped like a zip cord as she wrenched through over a dozen channels in a half second twist. Ah, a cartoon set in space. She stopped and ran off to tend to my screaming sibling.
All of this focused my fragile little brain on the tv like a moth to the flame. A marshal march, a catchy chorus, and a spaceship’s engine glowing in the eerie dark of space. With guns! Oh ho, the mom-lady wouldn’t like this! You couldn’t pry me away with a crowbar. I still remember the theme song over thirty plus years later:
We’re off to outer space, we’re leaving Mother Earth
To save the human race. Our Star Blazers!
Searching for a distant star, heading off to Iscandar.
Leaving all we love behind, who knows what dangers we’ll find?
We must be strong and brave, our home we’ve got to save.
If we don’t, in just one year, Mother Earth will disappear
Fighting with the Gamalons, we won’t stop until we’ve won
Then we’ll return, and when we arrive,
The Earth will survive with our Star Blazers!
Derek Wildstar and Captain Avatar were going to Iscandar. I had to watch tomorrow to find out how they were going to do it. Hot diggity, a cartoon like Star Wars! I loved cartoons (still do) but Star Blazers was another beast entirely. This show had as much in common with Loonytunes as Gilligan’s Island and Ghandi (no offense to Ben Kingsley).
To start with, the tone was much darker than anything I’d ever seen. The evil Gamilons had devastated the Earth’s surface with atomic weapons, driving all of humanity underground. The radiation’s toxicity would reach Earth’s remaining population in one year. Queen Starsha from the planet Iscandar sends a message: she has technology that can cleanse Earth of all radiation. She also sends plans for something called the Wave Motion engine, a powerful weapon to be used against the Gamilons.
To survive, Earth sends their last starship, the Argo, on a mission to planet Iskandar to retrieve the technology that can save the planet. The journey wasn’t told in one-off, disposable, adventure-of-the-week episodes. It was a continuous storyline, and you had to watch each episode to keep up. The show’s characters often got hurt, seriously injured, or died from sickness or battle. Nothing else for kids at the time rivaled it.
I hadn’t actually seen Star Wars at this point; I was barely 4 years-old when the movie came out. But I knew the plot, the characters, and the toys. But Star Blazers might as well have been Star Wars for all I cared. I had no idea what I was watching, but it had robots like R2-D2, starfighters like X-wings, a big ship like a Star Destroyer, and the good guys had all 3.
I had no idea I was watching what was called anime. I had no idea how much Star Blazers had been fundamentally altered from the original anime, Space Battleship Yamato. I also had no idea I was watching one of the most iconic cultural depictions of Japanese nationalism made since World War II. All I knew was Star Blazers was cool even if no one else around me knew about it, and that was all that mattered. This was something special, and despite my tender age, I knew it in my bones. Little did I know how right I was.