The Bolar Wars: An Introduction

By Arthur Painter

Many fans who watch Star Blazers series 3 wonder, “what happened to the original voices?” I’ll do my best to piece this together, starting with the impetus behind the creation of the original Star Blazers series. Some of this is supposition. Any errors are mine.

In 1971, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) initiated new rules regarding children’s television. This led the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to make voluntary changes to its policies with the intention of increasing educational content and removing commercial aspects.

In the late 70s, toy company Hasbro was looking for an effective way to market their products. The new NAB policies prevented them from creating a program based directly on one of their toy lines, so instead they looked for a show that would attract a similar market. They worked out a deal with Westchester Films, the American rights-holders of Space Battleship Yamato, to cover the production costs of translating, rescripting, editing, and hiring actors in exchange for free advertising during the show’s run.

This is actually a common business model known as “barter syndication.” Hasbro’s advertising contractor, Griffin-Bacal, created a subsidiary company called “Sunwagon Productions” to mold Yamato into a suitable show for American children’s TV. Another Hasbro subsidiary, Claster Television Productions (bought by Hasbro in 1969) handled the syndication end, selling the show to various markets. The result was the original 52 episode run of Star Blazers, first broadcast in 1979 and running in various markets for the next few years.

With the 80s came a wave of deregulation. FCC and NAB restrictions were relaxed. Soon, cartoons based on toys–particularly action figures for boys–were unleashed. One of the first of this new breed of animation was Filmation’s He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, based on Mattel’s eponymous toy line. It didn’t take Hasbro long to jump on the bandwagon. In 1982, spurred on by the success of He-Man, they created a 5-episode G.I. Joe animated miniseries, based on their newly re-released toy line. A second miniseries aired the following year, and a regular weekday series arrived the year after that. Claster Productions, Sunwagon (which morphed into Sunbow), and Griffin-Bacall were all involved in this new venture. More Hasbro TV series followed, such as Transformers and Jem and the Holograms. (Another Star Blazers connection: the music for G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Jem was registered under the copyright “Wildstar Music.”)

In 1984/85, Westchester Films wanted to release Space Battleship Yamato III. Hasbro now had a direct market and no longer needed Star Blazers. Westchester was left on its own, so they turned to Peter Fernandez.

Fernandez is well-known for dubbing foreign movies, handling both writing and voice acting. He was also no stranger to animation. He’s probably most familiar as the voice of Speed Racer, one of the first anime series to hit American shores. In an interview published in Argo Press’ Star Blazers #3, Fernandez had said he was actually contacted during the original creation of Star Blazers in the 70s. But by that time, production was already under way and actors had been hired. He was a veteran of dubbing by this point and wanted to work with his own stable of talent. It soon became clear that he was not going to have much say over the production, so he passed on being involved.

From all accounts, Peter Fernandez was a wonderful guy. And he must have put up with a lot from Star Blazers fans over the years; when meeting a Star Blazers fan, one of the first things he’d say was “Don’t hate me!” When it came time to dub The Bolar Wars, he’s said that he tried to find the original voice actors, but had no access to records of who they were. Had it been a union job, they could have been traced fairly easily. It wasn’t. With little to go on, he instead turned to his usual crew of voices.

The cast is limited. I don’t mean limited in terms of talent–you can look up the resumes of any of the actors to find out otherwise–but in sheer numbers. The lineup consisted of Fernandez (Venture), Corrine Orr (all females), John Bellucci (Wildstar), Jack Grimes, and Earl Hammond, and maybe another actor or two. That’s a half dozen people playing about twice the number of regular cast, and dozens of recurring characters. It doesn’t take long before you come across a character with an accent or affectation, the result of trying to make all these characters sound unique.

The Bolar Wars was released during a glut of animation on weekday afternoons, competing with all the above-mentioned shows and other anime imports such as Robotech. As a result, it was only picked up in limited markets. Many fans (such as myself), only got to see the series when it was released on videotape in the late 80s.

In addition, the third series was not a major hit in Japan. It faced some stiff competition in its home market, which was in a boom time of its own (ironically spurred by the success of Yamato). Its fate was nearly identical to that of Series 1: when ratings underperformed, the Yomiuri TV network cut their commitment in half from 52 to 25 episodes.

This sent an instant shock wave through Office Academy Studio, forcing it to close down. Yoshinobu Nishizaki then founded a new company, West Cape Corporation, to continue production. Leiji Matsumoto’s attention was divided among projects of his own (chiefly the Galaxy Express 999 movies), which significantly reduced his involvement in this series. But despite all these setbacks, Yamato III (and The Bolar Wars by extension) is in many ways the most ambitious story of the entire saga, giving us the largest cast of characters and the most visual variety, and greatly expanding our view of the Yamato world.

Continue onto Commentary for Bolar Wars Episode 1

11 thoughts on “The Bolar Wars: An Introduction

  1. So which opening and ending sequence did Star Blazers season 3 use? The Yamato version or recycled from Season 2?

    • Ok – you answered it on the next page – LMAO. Pre-DVD release used recycled Season 2 opening/ending. DVD release changed it to Yamato opening/ending.

  2. Ok then – why did the Japanese captions not get covered up in Season 3 as they were in Season 1? I understand for Star Blazers Season 2 they cropped or skipped the scenes with them but why not do that with Season 3? Even the narrator dates of ‘There are only -blah blah- days left’ did not match the Japanese captions. Low investment in Americanizing it? Time crunch?

  3. Yes and yes. The production of Star Blazers series 3 was extremely rushed and cheaply done. They didn’t even have the budget for a decent output, so they broadcast a low-rez version with a lot of video artifacting. All this was swept away in the remastering for DVD. Uncovered captions only appeared in one episode in the broadcast version. All the others used the same coverup methods as series 2 (don’t call them seasons – they were not seasonal broadcasts in the way we understand them) with freeze frames and cropping. When I did the remaster, I left all captions uncovered so as not to compromise the picture.

  4. In all fairness, a lot of TV doesn’t have seasonal broadcasts in the way it did when the term was first coined, but we still use the term as a convenient convention. The BBC Sherlock series has three “seasons” of a mere three episodes each. Shows like The Sopranos took breaks of irregular length between so-called seasons of irregular length. It’s pretty much just vernacular anymore.

    • The term you’re looking for is studio economics. Union politics had nothing to do with it. On-record union talent is more expensive because you pay for their benefits in addition to their talents. It was the production studio’s decision to hire them off the record and pay less.

  5. the bolar venture actually sounds like the actor
    was trying a tom tweedy impression — its almost
    close. Is earl Hammond the narrator and did series
    3 use the same narrator from 1 and 2
    ( his voice is the only one that sounds the same )

  6. I think Westchester Films should have got Harmony Gold Pro to do a better dubbing job of the voices for
    the characters,it would have given the personalities of the characters more depth and more believability.

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