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Six of the Best 1980s Anime Space Operas

by Lynzee Loveridge,

After decades in relative obscurity in the west, HIDIVE began streaming Legend of the Galactic Heroes, a 110-episode OVA space epic that started in 1988. The series languished on shared fansubs for nearly 30 years, likely in part to its giant episode count. The series is considered by some to be the crown jewel of 80s anime space operas, but that decade gave us plenty of other forays into the final frontier. The only thing the decade loved more than spaceships and robots was over-the-top violence, and the home video era let creators leap over boundaries that were restricted on television. The tech boom also made the impossible seem possible and the year 1999 still had a certain aura of futuristic mystery. Step into the anime wayback machine as we look at how the 80s did space exploration.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross Macross was a game changer when it debuted, introducing a music-filled space adventure like none other. The franchise is a medium mainstay despite its confusing and frustrating history with Harmony Gold in the U.S. The story takes place post 1999 in what is now considered our past, but the upcoming millennium seemed like a very futuristic time and place in the early 1980s. The series starts with humanity just managing to reverse-engineer a crashed alien spacecraft only to have invading aliens mistake it as the one used by their enemies. In an attempt to escape their attackers, the crew on the SDF-1 Macross end up warping to the solar system's far reaches and have to navigate their way back. This plot device later works its way into a good handful of sci-fi media, most recently in the Astra Lost in Space manga.

Toward the Terra Based on Keiko Takemiya's classic manga, the Toward the Terra movie shows an abandoned Earth. Humanity has vacated after ravaging it of its resources and only intends to return once the eco-system has realigned itself and recovered. Humanity has also evolved advanced psychic abilities but not everyone is cool with their peers being gifted so they do what you'd expect any future dystopian government to do, and kills them. This incites a rebellion, with their eyes set on returning to the abandoned Earth if they can make their way there without being slaughtered by the State authorities first. The film was released by Right Stuf, and there's also a television remake with updated character designs.

Final Yamato Star Blazers! Yamato went dormant in 1983 and stayed there for about a decade; there were no new entries in the franchise until the Yamato 2520 OAV and yet another decade passed before Dai Yamato Zero-go, another OVA. The whole franchise was 'resurrected' in 2009 and has been going strong since with new multi-part theatrical films. Final Yamato, though, was originally intended to be the end cap on the Yamato voyages. A sprawling film at 163 minutes, the crew are tasked with saving Earth yet again, this time from flooding by the planet Aquarius that is heading towards the crew's home world at break neck speed.

Ulysses 31 Originally aired in France in 1981, this co-production is a retelling of Homer's classic The Odyssey but,you know, in space! Cutey Honey and The Rose of Versailles character designer Shingo Araki provided the character designs and Macross mechanical designer Shoji Kawamori was one of four staff members listed as creating the show's spaceships. The story introduces a lot of the plot beats from the original Greek tale: a cyclops, punishment by the (space) gods, and venturing into Hades.

Space Adventure Cobra - The Movie Early sci-fi is full of memorable pirates including Harlock/Herlock and Cobra. One is the creation of Leiji Matsumoto, the other, the limitless Buichi Terasawa. Cobra is more rough around the edges that Matsumoto's cool and aloof captain. He travels through space picking up odd jobs for the right price. In this adventure, he's hired by one of the remaining daughters of the Queen Myrus from an artificial planet to save her sister Catherine from a necromancer. The film itself is very pulpy, but should be considered quintessential viewing for anyone interested in the foundation of sci-fi anime. Plus, it's the coolest-looking movie on this list.

Arcadia of My Youth Speaking of space pirates, of course I wouldn't forget the irreplaceable Harlock. Arcadia of My Youth is in many ways considered the starting point of the Leiji Matsumoto universe as it takes place before Galaxy Express 999 and the Captain Harlock television anime. The film takes place over the course of history where one Harlock after another embarks on dangerous journeys during wartime. The most recent Harlock of the 2960s is catapulted into a war to save humanity and takes on the role of a marauder. He teams up with Toshirō, a man who also appears again and again in his timeline, and Queen Emeraldas. The movie fills in how both Emeraldas and Harlock became exiled wanderers in the far reaches of space.

The new poll: What's your favorite ending song for the Fall 2017 season??

The old poll: What's your favorite opening song for the Fall 2017 season?

  1. The Ancient Magus' Bride: "Here" by JUNNA
  2. Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond: "fake town baby" by Unison Square Garden
  3. Inuyashiki: "My Hero" by MAN WITH A MISSION
  4. Recovery of an MMO Junkie: "Saturday Night Question" by Megumi Nakajima
  5. Girls' Last Tour: "Ugoku, ugoku" by Inori Minase & Yurika Kubo
  6. Jūni Taisen: Zodiac War: "Rapture" by Panorama Panama Town
  7. Blend S: "Bon Appétit ♡ S" by Blend A
  8. Gintama Season 4: "VS." by Blue Encount
  9. Love Live! Sunshine!!: "Mirai no Bokura wa Shitteru yo" by Aqours
  10. Land of the Lustrous: "Kyoumen no Nami" by YURiKA


When she isn't compiling lists of tropes, topics, and characters, Lynzee works as the Managing Interest Editor for Anime News Network and posts pictures of her sons on Twitter @ANN_Lynzee.

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