In 2199, the Earth is under severe attack by the forces of the planet Gamilon. Earth's space fleets are outnumbered, outmatched and outgunned. In the first episode, the audience is shown the last battle of the remains of the earth fleet and the destruction of all ships, save one that limps home.
Planet bombs (asteroidial chunks of rock with nuclear warheads inside, apparently launched by mass driver) have reduced the Earth's surface to a radioactive wasteland. The seas have been boiled away, and humanity lives cowering in underground cities. (The term geo front was not in use at the time, but the underground cities are perfect examples.) But even this reqoubt is crumbling. Radiation is seeping downward into the Earth, and the Underground cities will become as irradiated as the surface in approximately a year's time. Humanity seems doomed.
A mysterious message capsule from the Queen Stasha (Queen Starsha in the English adaptation) gives earth a ray of hope. There is a device on her home planet called the Cosmo Cleaner D (Cosmo DNA) which can completely restore Earth. But she cannot send it herself. Earthmen will have to come and get it. She sends along plans for a faster than light stardrive - the Wave Motion Engine - to make the journey possible.
The Gamilon forces have achieved air and space superiority over the Earth's surface by now. And there is no dock underground big enough to build the type of ship necessary. So the Earth forces build a ship utilizing the rusted remains of the sunken battleship. The new ship is built inside and under the shell of the old, so that the enemy cannot see it. This ship is the Space Battleship Yamato. And it is more powerful than anything the enemy garrison force has ever seen. It has powerful turreted guns called "shock cannons" in place of the old 18 inch guns. And laser batteries where all the machine guns used to be. It is powered by the Wave Motion Engine, and it's ultimate weapon is an extrapolation of Wave Motion Technology called the Wave Motion Gun that essentially turns the entire ship into one massive gun capable of destroying fleets of ships at a time and vaporizing continent sized asteroids.
The series ran for 26 episodes and chronicled the adventures of the Yamato's voyage to the Planet Iscandar and back. Fighting and dodging the Gamilon forces along the way in order to save Earth. In the end, the battles are taken to Gamilon itself before the crew wins through and returns with the Cosmo Cleaner D and restores the Earth.
The original Japanese series aired beginning in 1974 through 1975 and was reasonably popular. Though not incredibly so by the standards of the time. Then the Star Wars phenomenon of 1977 occured and space opera was very popular. Reruns of SBY in Japan became popular in a way similar to that of Star Trek in the United States. Popular enough for the producers to create a theatrical release based on a compilation of major plot points of the 26 episode series. There was little to no new footage added. And the plot was severely truncated. But fans loved seeing SBY on the big screen. Plans were made to make a wholly original feature.
In 1978, Farewell Space Battleship Yamato was released. The common English title is "Arrivederci Yamato". The film featured the fight between the Earth Defense Forces, spearheaded by the Yamato and her crew. Along the way, most of the crew is killed, and finally the ship herself is used as a final "kamikaze" against the Comet Empire Dreadnaught. The story was incredibly dramatic. Even melodramatic! And Japanese fans ate it up. They couldn't get enough. So the production company decided to make a TV series based on the movie.
This would be known as Space Battleship Yamato II.
The series kept most of the elements from the movie. But the 26 episode format allowed fleshing out of characters in story arcs that the movie did not have time to do. Even the villains were made more 3-dimensional. Their chief nemesis, Desslar (Desslok) of Gamilon returns in service to the Comet Empire. But he appears to reform at the end of the series and gives the crew a key weakness of the Comet Empire to exploit.
The ending, while similar to that of the movie allowed more of the main characters to survive, and the ship herself survives the end of the series as well (though severely damaged).
At about the time Y II was in production. It was decided to export the series to other countries, including the United States. Westchester Corp bought the rights to the series and began translation and redubbing. The series premiered in limited markets in September 1979. And in wide release in 1980. Star Blazers consisted of the 26 episodes of Yamato and the 26 episodes of Yamato II, for a total of 52 episodes.
Star Blazers is widely credited as one of the main influences on the Anime market, if not THE series that really broke through and made other shows possible. Other shows had been brough over in the past, such as Astro Boy, Speed Racer (Maho Go Go Go!), and Battle of the Planets (Gatchaman). But none had ever been tranlated as faithfully to the original story and intent as Star Blazers. The show, instead of being episodic, was an ongoing story. Much like Babylon 5 nearly 20 years later. There were almost no "filler" episodes. And each time the show was broadcast, the episodes were shown in order. This was unheard of on North American TV at the time, and was truly groundbreaking.
A note on names - In Star Blazers, the ship was initially called Yamato, but was renamed the Argo, after the ship helmed by Jason and the Argonauts of Greek Mythology. Some fans dislike the change of name, where others recognised the nod to the parallels in the mythos. In fact, all the Japanese names were changed to western sounding names. And as Star Wars was very popular at the time of Star Blazers initial release, the names have a "Star Wars" feel to many of them. For example Derek Wildstar, Mark Venture, Captain Avatar, Nova Forrester. Modern anime series keep their Japanese names even in translation. But Star Blazers was not so much a tranlation as an adaptation. At the time of North American release in 1979, it was thought that the Japanese elements needed to be toned down or eliminated. Perhaps surprisingly, this did not harm the story. Uchu Senkan Yamato was already mostly a generic space opera in any case. There was not much in the way of Japanese cultural idioms that needed to be removed. And the story remained intact and true to it's original intent.
We're leaving Mother Earth!
To Save the Human race!
Our Star Blazers!
Befriended by Underwoo and Sandstorm as well as the entire Random Crap Crew.