Brothers of Yamato, Part 2: Blue Noah

Earth is in grave danger. An alien race from far beyond our solar system has begun a global attack that will systematically wipe out the human race and clear the way for new inhabitants. Just when the situation seems most desperate, a vessel rises from under the surface of the Earth to answer the challenge. Crewed by determined young people with unique skills and special motivations, this mighty ship carries unheard-of firepower capable of meeting the enemy head on! The mission is critical for Blue Noah!!

What, you were expecting the Yamato?

Blue Noah: Originally built to patrol the regions around Jupiter and keep the military in ready-status.
To stave off economic shortages, it was built as a multi-purpose vessel.

Back again we travel to 1979, probably the busiest year in the history of Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s Office Academy Studio. The Yamato series took a big step forward when The New Voyage premiered on Japanese TV in July and established an anime format called the Tele-feature (a made-for-TV movie). Immediately afterward, two new projects demanded Nishizaki’s attention: the development of Be Forever Yamato and the conversion of the first two Yamato series into Star Blazers. Despite what must have been an insane workload, Nishizaki added a third project to the mix: Space Carrier Blue Noah.

The Blue Noah at sea in flattop mode (above left), and submerged in battle-submarine mode.

Like Triton of the Sea, Blue Noah was an action-adventure series created for television. Unlike Triton, Blue Noah is more than a brother program to Yamato–it’s practically a twin in many important respects. First, it made its home on the Yomiuri network, where Yamato got its start. Second, many of its key staff members were Yamato veterans, such as Hideaki Yamamoto (writer), Kazuhiko Udagawa (director), Hiroshi Miyagawa (score) and storyboard artists Kenzo Koizumi, Takeshi Shirato, and Tomoharu Katsumata. Third, the initial premise (as described in the first paragraph above) is clearly cut from the Yamato cloth.

The series began as a Tele-feature in October 1979, cementing Office Academy’s reputation as the progenitor of the format, and continued for an additional 23 half-hour episodes. The story opens in the year 2052. Science and technology have lead the way to a peaceful century (imagine!) in which the United Earth Federation has begun to develop colonies on the moon, Mars and Jupiter. One day an object is spotted approaching the solar system–but before contact can be established, it attacks and destroys all the outlying bases. Enter Godom, an artificial planetoid that parks itself in lunar orbit and begins spraying Earth with a “Gravity Aurora Beam.” This melts the polar caps and obliterates major sections of the world, killing 90% of the population.

Artificial Planet Godom

During the battle, academy cadet Shin finds his mortally-wounded father, who gives him a pendant and tells him to seek out the salvation of mankind, the mysterious Blue Noah. Shin leads his friends to the Federation’s Island base in the South Pacific, where they discover an underground chamber. A keyhole matches the shape of the pendant, and Shin uses it to access a massive undersea dock containing a gigantic vessel. Cue the theme song and the rising-up-from-the-Earth sequence.

Shin (above left): a former student of the School for Science and Engineering; becomes a sailor on Blue Noah.
Tadaharu Shimizu (above right): Blue Noah’s first mate and commander of the Shira. Takes on the training of Shin’s group.

A few minutes later, the real crew of the ship arrives in a submarine that docks neatly into the lower hull. They are lead by Commander Domon and First Mate Shimizu, who explain that this is indeed the Blue Noah, and their mission is to single-handedly strike back at the invaders. Shin’s group volunteers to join up, and the story is off and running.

Evocative of the Thunderbirds and the Seaview from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the Blue Noah is a multi-purpose vessel containing numerous smaller vehicles. Chief among these is a fully-equipped submarine called the Shira that docks and undocks to take on various missions. Second to this is the Bison, a heavy airship that incorporates Blue Noah’s entire engine block. Then there are smaller, single-purpose vehicles including a squadron of fighter planes – the Blue Noah is not only a giant submersible, it can also surface and transform into an aircraft carrier. What’s more, it even has its own version of Yamato‘s Wave-Motion Gun, a massive laser cannon concealed in the bow of the ship.

Above left: Attack submarine Shira, undocked from Blue Noah. Above right: firing the prime weapon.

The enemy is completely unprepared for Blue Noah‘s appearance, and despite an arsenal of their own exotic weaponry (including a really nasty mini-black hole bomb), they lose their South Pacific base in the first battle against this new foe. Blue Noah‘s crew gains both a victory and an arch-enemy from the fight, a Godom officer named Yurgens, who embarks on his own personal vendetta in the TV series (think Dessler in Yamato 2 and you won’t be far off the mark).

Yurgens (above left): Commander of Godom’s Pacific Air Fleet. Urges Zaitel to treat Blue Noah as a priority threat.
Admiral Garf (above right): Godom’s 2nd in command. Thinks nothing of the
Blue Noah at first.

This is where the Tele-feature gives way to the series. Just as Triton made his way across the oceans to find and defeat Poseidon, Blue Noah must find its way through hostile waters in an Earth that is almost unrecognizable. Many of the land masses are either broken or completely sunk. Throughout their journey, the Godom planetoid hangs in the sky like a malevolent moon, and numerous traps lie in wait. The crew’s ultimate goal is to reach the Federation’s secret base in Bermuda, where facilities exist to remake the Blue Noah into an even more powerful weapon. (Spoiler warning: the next few paragraphs reveal the whole plot. Continue reading at your discretion.)

Bermuda is reached in episode 20, in which the series finally fulfills the promise of its full title, Space Carrier Blue Noah. Accompanied by cruisers that have also been built in secret, the ship launches into space to directly attack the Godom planetoid. At this point in the story, we begin to investigate who this enemy actually is.

Space Carrier Blue Noah

Godom was originally a peaceful planet dozens of light years outside our galaxy. A black hole collided with their sun, and within 5 years their entire system would be destroyed. The genius Zaitel invented a new engine to move their 200 million citizens to safety on the artificial planetoid. Turning it into a war machine, they went forth to seek a habitable planet. They decided to terraform the Earth to suit their own needs and kill all the Terrans in the end.

Emperor Zaitel: the Godom leader who issues orders from his 1970’s bad guy throne.
Believes everyone other than his own people is less than human.

At least, that’s how it looks on the surface. Zaitel actually had his followers brainwashed into believing he was their savior, and only he could save them. They followed him without realizing he was insane, his data was flawed, and his artificial world could not sustain itself. By pure chance, their path just happened to cross the Earth’s orbit. While Zaitel’s people busied themselves with the attack, they failed to see that their own society was collapsing. If Earth had not been found, Zaitel would have been content to lose all of his subjects and preserve only their DNA for future revival.

When this truth is discovered by Godom Admiral Garf, he seizes control and kills Zaitel. Garf then orders a withdrawal from Earth, but Yurgens defies him, wanting instead to stay and battle it out as a matter of pride. Blue Noah, naturally, is more than equal to the task.

And thus does the series come to an end.

As should be evident from everything described above, the formula for this series was seemingly perfect for kids of the late 70s. There are some genuinely original and imaginative moments along the way to a stellar climax. So why was it not more successful? For all its entertainment value, Blue Noah is notable less for what it has than for what it lacks. Surprisingly, what it most lacks is substance, in both the mecha and the characters. The design work dated itself very quickly with machinery from the solid-state 70s (lots of big fat buttons and switches) and a library of Atari-era sound effects.

Above left: the Blue Noah‘s bridge looks out into space. Above right: Shin in his space uniform

As for the characters, Shin and his gang were poured from an earlier mold, taking the lead from straight-ahead, uncomplicated heroes who don’t have much on their minds other than the defeat of their enemy. Shin and his would-be girlfriend Kei occasionally disagree over one thing or another, but beyond an unexplained uniform change in episode 10, very little about them or anyone else evolves over the course of the series. There might have been more to work with had the Blue Noah made it into space at the mid-series point (where all the best anime programs tend to place their big plot twists) but to be fair, the writers probably delayed this event in order to keep clear of Yamato territory until the very end.

Etsushi Domon (above left): Commander of Blue Noah; was forced to leave his family to work on the top secret ship.
Kei Domon (above right): the estranged daughter of Commander Domon; she hates him for abandoning his family

In addition to the character deficits, Blue Noah also suffered from some artistic ones, not all of which can be attributed to the production values of the time. Animation errors were both numerous and obvious, one of the hallmarks of a high-pressure, low-budget program. The animation overall was unremarkable except for a short air battle scene in the Tele-feature that was designed by Yoshinori Kanada, whose dynamic storytelling sensibilities offered the first hint of where anime would go in the 1980s. He had already made a name for himself by this time, worked on both Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2, and would continue with the saga all the way to the end in 1983. Read our tribute to Mr. Kanada here.

Above left: a Godom space battleship. Above right: Space Carrier Blue Noah flies into the future.

On the music side, a large portion of Hiroshi Miyagawa’s score is very recognizable (much of it could have been unused Yamato music), but the maestro is only credited for some of the work. He did not compose the main title theme, and instrumental variations of it are used to excess in the body of the shows. This is fine if you’ve got a catchy and haunting melody like the Yamato theme, but not if the song becomes progressively grating upon repeats. Unfortunately, this is the case with Blue Noah.

Historically speaking, Blue Noah was a sort of meeting ground for some of the period’s top voice actors. This included Toru Furuya (Gundam’s Amuro Rei) as Shin, Makio Inoue (the voice of Captain Harlock and Lupin III’s Ishikawa Goemon) as Yurgens, and an early appearance of the volcanic Shigeru Chiba, whose shrieking voice enlivened many a program afterward, including Urusei Yatsura, Fist of the North Star, and Mobile Police Patlabor.

In the end, Blue Noah‘s deficits weigh about as much as its positives. It achieved almost no recognition outside of Japan and soon faded to obscurity in its native land as well. And let’s face it, Yamato cast a very long shadow. The expectations for another program from the same studio must have been impossibly high. Given these and other factors, it’s unlikely that the dubbed version of the series (retitled Thunder Sub) will ever be exhumed from the limbo of forgotten kidvid but if you’ve got patience and a strong taste for bygone anime, Blue Noah just might be worth the wait.

UPDATE: Several years after this article was published, Thundersub arrived in its entirety on Youtube! Enjoy.

The End

Learn more about the series at Let’s Anime!

3 thoughts on “Brothers of Yamato, Part 2: Blue Noah

  1. So, attacking and colonizing Earth is a pretext (“How can I distract my foolish followers? Oh look, a populated planet conveniently along our course”) and not the from-the-start plan for a race that originated thousands of light years away? In that respect, at least, these adversaries make more sense than the Gamilas (“despite all these other inhabited planets in the vicinity, the one to which we plan to transplant our society is as distant as possible”).

  2. Blue Noah was well known here in Italy, mainly because of the custom intro theme realized locally. At the times, it was a tradition for Italy to make genuine efforts in realizing original openings for the imported Japanese anime shows – complete with original lyrics and with the contribution of skilled musicians for the instrumental parts.
    Blue Noah in particular was one of the most appreciated openings of that times – ironically, far better and far more known than our Star Blazers opening (that was ridicolous in comparison with the original Yamato theme).

    Here the awesome Italian opening of Blue Noah:

  3. Blue Noah was dubbed in Arabic in the early eighties BEFORE Yamato and the finished work was pretty decent. It ran under the title ” Al Ghawasa Al Zarqa'” which literally means “The Blue Submarine”.

    The Jordanian talents who brought this to life in the Arabic-speaking countries underwent a shuffle but were more than apt to tackle the masterpiece that is Star Blazers. Seasons 1 & 2 were dubbed to critical acclaim later on and the rest is history.

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