More commonly known as Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs, Sei Juushi Bismark is the very first not-so-just-for-kids series that ever aired on television outside of Japan.
For a mecha series, it was the first to offer true character interaction. The protagonists did not spend the entire show inside their base just waiting for the next attack. They were going on holidays, discussing their futures, loving and hating others. Oh, sure, older series like Battleship Yamato and the first Gundam series did the same; but they were only offered on VHS. I never got to see those titles because they were scarce and generally not for mass viewing. But Bismark was! It was aired on television while the aforementioned, didn’t. So, although Yamato and Gundam are no doubt superior series to Bismark, their absence from our childhood lives made no impact, while Bismark did. Oh, the irony of censorship and publicity did it again!
Bismark was also the first aired series with plot twists. It was the first time I got to see traitors from the “good side” that didn’t evolve greed as a reason, but instead, it was jealousy. It was the first time I got to see defeat for the protagonists by… internal politics! The atmosphere changed a lot in the second half, making the first drastic scenario change I ever witnessed. And I loved it!
Bismark’s good points are quite typical in today’s action/mecha series. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was the first to offer those typical elements on television and prepare us for what was about to follow in later series. I can say that thanks to this title, my opinion about mecha series improved a lot. In my mind, they stopped being just transforming robots, fighting each other. They became extensions of their pilots’ emotions. This series made me and many others a lot more otaku than we already were.
The graphics are old and typical, like in most 80’s series. A special remark must be given to the based-on-real-history setting of the story, which is reminiscent of a high-teck Wild West (very original back then). The alien bad guys’ uniform had a hint of a 19th century England/Spain military look, and the good guys’ a hint of cowboys and the American cavalry, making the whole war a reference to the American Revolution. Before this series, all settings were always either Japan or some imaginary country.
A rather good attention was given to the otherwise typical drawings, so the scenes with deformity problems are very few. Even the repeating clips (reuse of footing) are not overdone, like in most series of that time.
As for the sound department, it’s totally mediocre. I can only point out a thumps up for the English opening theme, the first and still amongst the best rock opening songs I ever heard.
DO YOU FEEL THE THUNDER INSIDE has become a common ring tone in cell phones around here. The same cannot be said about the original Japanese opening theme. That COME WITH ME pop song was rather distasteful and it’s one of the few times I liked the English change in the music.
Starts very commonly but gets better along the way, thanks to some good plot twists. (spoiler alert!)
In the future, humanity has colonized other planets. An evil alien race attacks the New Frontier (a Wild West reference) and is unstoppable until special teams of Star Sheriffs (another Wild West reference) are formed to stop them. They are highly trained soldiers that pilot huge robots that can fire hundreds of lasers/missiles in just seconds.
The first part of the story is very typical and even boring most of the time. Most episodes are stand-alones and almost all battles end in less than a minute. Characters remain stale and only some light comedy scenes is all there is to expect here. But then… the second part comes to change everything!
The second part is quite short and in fact, it was made exclusively for the American version of the series. Yet, it is the magic touch that turned the story from boring to good. A low-ranked Earth soldier was in love with the main woman in the story. But he was continually mocked, as he was quite inexperienced before the Star Sheriffs. Even the woman made fun of him as she was clinging on the arms of the main males in the story. Getting obsessed with revenge and getting the woman for himself, he betrays humanity and joins the aliens as a spy and elite warrior. Also, the aliens ask for truce and request for the leading mecha and its assembly line to be destroyed as a sign of good will. The human leaders agree and before the dreaded eyes of the heroes, the mecha is destroyed by the traitor with the approval of their own politicians! (I almost cried in this part. The good guys were screwed by their own leaders!)
Of course, the aliens lied and soon the truce broke. And as another surprise… so did the good guys! Another mecha was built in secrecy in case something happened. So, the story continues in a new setting. No longer Earth-bound scenery but the endless vacuum of space and alien-infested planets and bases. Action and plot get a lot better and the last episodes are still amongst the best I have seen in ways of epic scale and way of closure.
It’s not so much their personalities but their presence that you will like.
The leading team is three males, an American, an English man and a Japanese man (it almost sounds like an anecdote, doesn’t it?). In the Japanese version, the red suit Japanese is the main lead, yet through some weird editing, the lead in the American version was the English man. Hmmm… Plus, there is a gorgeous longhaired, blonde woman as an aid (Boy, she was my first anime girl crush!). They pilot a spaceship that transforms into a huge mecha, called Ramrot (Bismark in the original Japanese series). They do not exactly mature throughout the series but their interactions are well made and are sympathetic most of the time.
The main villains are the traitor (whom you get to excuse a bit for his actions, as being mocked and ditched by beautiful women does tend to make men do stupid things), and Nemesis, the alien leader, a very cool-looking skeleton-like robot that controls an entire mechanical moon! They are both megalomaniac and treacherous enough to be considered decent bad guys.
Even the aliens’ origin makes an impression. They appear as gray-skinned humans but they are in fact beings, made of steam from another dimension (!!!). They form solid bodies in tubes inside the mechanic moon and when they are killed or retreating they literally go “poof!” and only their clothes remain (a nice trick to hide dead bodies and give the bad guys an easy way to escape on each episode). Grey-colored steam means they died, green-colored means they retreated to reform naked in a tube. Very original.
The first part sucks ti the most part, the second is mediocre to good by today’s standards. It reformed many peoples’ opinion on what a good series should look like. Fan favorite to many older otaku that didn’t get to watch Gundam in their youth. It’s not really worth watching the whole show just for that, so just stroll through some of them before you head for the finale.
And now for some excused scorings.
ART SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: General Artwork 1/2, Character Figures 1/2, Backgrounds 2/2, Animation 1/2, Visual Effects 1/2
SOUND SECTION: 7/10
Analysis: Voice Acting 2/3, Music Themes 3/4, Sound Effects 2/3
STORY SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Premise 1/2, Pacing 0/2, Complexity 1/2, Plausibility 1/2, Conclusion 2/2
CHARACTER SECTION: 6/10
Analysis: Presence 1/2, Personality 2/2, Backdrop 1/2, Development 1/2, Catharsis 1/2
VALUE SECTION: 5/10
Analysis: Historical Value 1/3, Rewatchability 1/3, Memorability 3/4
ENJOYMENT SECTION: 4/10
Analysis: Art 0/1, Sound 1/2, Story 1/3, Characters 2/4