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-Bacal 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.