The first movie off Space Battleship Yamato (second, if you consider the theatrical recap of the original series) was produced with the intention of making it the final tombstone to the franchise, as the title itself quite directly suggests. With that in mind, Leiji Matsumoto's unmistakable hand wrote one of the most intense, moving, sad, and romantically heroic stories of his whole career, and probably of the whole history of anime.
When the menace of the Comet Empire comes to threaten the Earth, the crew of the Yamato re-assembles against all orders to defend it with the glorious spaceship which already saved the Earth years prior.
A very simple premise, and a very simple development, with the very simple purpose to conclude the story of the characters and the starship we already grew attached to. Those themes so dear to Matsumoto's writing and to the original series (sacrifice for one's own loved ones and fatherland, true honour in battle, what a true man is and should be, the value of peace...) return amplified tenfold, as many of the characters are heroically killed off one by one. The last 40 minutes are so emotionally intense and heroical that there will be no helping it: manly tears WILL be cried, you WILL against your own better judgement spontaneusly raise your hand and give a military salute to the greatness of the character's actions in the finale. I would dare to say, that the whole movie holds up so beautifully thanks to how strong the finale is, not only because of the fact that so many of the characters die, but for the sheer heroism of their actions, and for the effective way all the scenes are put together. Matsumoto has always proved he can write stories that can be percieved as modern in any age.
I'm gonna have to warn, though, that some of it depends on how up you put your "ham&cheese" guard level: it is a Leiji Matsumoto work, and thus some scenes and dialogues may sound cheesy to today's western audience. I, personally, find it part of the fun of watching an old anime, as it lets you see the tastes of the time, but I do realise that it may throw off some other people.
A great deal of the emotional impact of the movie is due to the characters. As I already mentioned, many of them die, and do so convincingly, with worthy last words and last actions, and realistically (for the most part, at least). A couple of them are also developed further (for example, a love relationship only hinted at during the series is here shown in full bloom), but not drastically. The movie expects the viewer to already know them and be attached to them, of course, from the original Uchuu senkan Yamato, and that's the reason why what happens here is so impacting, but this costitutes a problem if you HAVEN'T watched it. They try to bring out as much of their characterisations and relationships as possible, but of course 26 episodes of development and exploration can't be compressed into a few minutes, so if you're new to the franchise and watch this movie, half of the impact it was supposed to have will simply vanish.
While the character and starship design is really solid and interesting (being done by the same person who did the first series), the animation has not aged really well, particularly in battle sequences, where most movements will look a bit jerky, expecially if compared to today's standards. Still, the art will probably have that delicious retro flavour for those of you who, like me, enjoy older anime, and this being a Matsumoto work you'll be more than willing to forgive it.
The soundtrack manages to punctuate perfectly every moment, be it sad, heroic, depressing, pumping or nostalgic, and that's all a soundtrack could aspire to. It is masterfully composed, and the closing song is simply unforgettable. I hereby dare anyone, even a freakin' rock, to watch this movie, then listen to this song while reading the lyrics (in this page there's a good translation), and then try not to be brought on the verge of tears, try not to feel chills down your arms, try not to feel a gentle but strong grip on your heart. I double dare ya, motherfucker! The song is pretty intense by itself, but if you've heard it after watching the movie, than any other listen will be an emotional storm.
Well, now we're going into a dangerous territory. I must admit that, whenever I'm facing an older anime, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to judge the voice acting, whether by today's standards or by that day's. Today, most of the acting will sound plain, boring, silly, cheesy or a combination of the above. It's not that they cannot make you feel their emotion, but they do so in a different way. Part of it may be due to the kind of Japanese spirit this franchise always sported, but while I find, for example, Yōko Asagami's performance as Yuki very moving and intense, and Masatō Ibu's acting strong enough to give new dignity to a former villain, I also find Kei Tomiyama a bit too plain and unconvincing in his performance of Susumu Kodai, the main hero. It is competent, but it hasn't aged that well.
In short, this anime movie is a masterpiece of romantic heroism and sacrifice, a masterpiece of heroic Japanese spirit, a masterpiece of love towards a single important person and towards all humanity. It shows just how much stronger can a work of fiction be if given a tragic but still somehow "in medias res" ending, and it shows clearly what Japanese animation can offer that Western animation cannot. I personally consider it one of the best anime movies I've ever seen, right up there with The disappearence of Haruhi Suzumiya and The end of Evangelion, and I'll even go as far as saying that the whole first series Uchuu senkan Yamato is worthy of being watched if only so that one can, then, experience this film at its fullest. If you're in the mood for some classic anime, take a look at Starblazers, and then at this. If you have gone through Starblazers but not through "Saraba..."...the hell you waiting for? If you don't want to watch the series... well, you could technically watch it anyway, but you would be losing half the pathos.