published in Empire No.85, Sydney
Japanese live action cinema presents a movie on warfare and military involvement once a decade. Anime symbolically addresses war on average in about ten of the 50 titles produced in any one year. The Gundam series is the definitive ‘bible’ for this particular culture of story-telling, and its influence from the early 80s on is felt in a succession of titles. The latest – and not the last – in this stream of future-war titles is Starship Operators. And – like the better examples – it has a great twist.
A class of undergraduate defense cadets operating the Amaterasu space ship are about to return home when their small planet Kibi is attacked by the mega-powerful Kingdom, a political formation of planetary allegiances. They decide to buy the spaceship, and declare themselves a neutral domain refusing to bow to the Kingdom’s dictates. Funds for purchasing the ship come from an interplanetary TV cable network who in exchange have acquired rights to film and determine many of the Amaterasu’s actions and adventures. With incredible speed and momentum, Starship Operators launches into full-on space opera fuelled with almighty political intrigue. In fact, the series is almost like a radio drama, with the focus on excessive dialogue in favour of action. But even though this is anime, the series ends up being a gripping saga. So much is compacted in its 12 episodes, this is a perfect taster for those who wish to see what this sub-genre of symbolic warfare and its impact on the Japanese psyche is all about.