I had the good fortune to see this screened at Anime USA once, I think maybe in late 2011? I used to think this was as good as live action treatment was likely to get, for good and ill...and then I saw Rurouni Kenshin this summer at Otakon.
On-topic, though. I was impressed, although my feelings on this are mixed. On the idea that maybe it is too close an adaptation, well...yes and no. The fundamentals are the same, I suppose, but the alien threat isn't the only thing that's different. The movie takes its own approach with many characters, from Kodai and Yuki to even the robot Analyzer, whose Death Robot of Doom mode is 100% original (no significant changes to Okita, though. You don't mess with perfection).
I digress though. I don't think it'd be too far off to say that as it relates to other Yamato media, this takes after Ronald D. Moore's take on Battlestar Galactica. Certainly in terms of tone and special effects. It's like an independent fusion of the original Yamato story and the 1978 anime movie Farewell to Space Battleship Yamato, which was an interesting creative choice. Farewell Yamato was promptly retconned by series II (what Yamato / Star Blazers fans would identify as the Comet Empire saga) because not all that many people were terribly satisfied with how it went since.....well, just look at the title. Here, you certainly do have the essence of Yamato: this is an intrepid, indomitable crew that will stop at nothing to fulfill their mission, knowing that they are the last and best and only hope for Earth. Their unshakable determination is an inspiration and speaks to what I think resonated with people about the show. These are the words of Yutaka Izubuchi, general director of the recently completed animation series Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and one from the "Yamato Generation" of the 70s: "Yamato is an unchanging figure that makes its best effort when it must not be defeated. It does not give up. Yamato is a universal symbol that does not lose hope.”
Live-action Yamato takes this into overdrive. I was talking abut tone earlier: the movie is very bleak. As the review notes you see in harsh detail just how desolate the Earth is. Humanity's journey to Iscandar is framed to be a particularly desperate and uncertain thing. Time and again we hear about what the Yamato crew have lost and endured. And on top of all that, heroic sacrifices are everywhere in this movie. After a certain point characters nameless and beloved just start dying left and right as their comrades press on, and it just keeps going. There's tragedy in old Yamato also, but this movie is far more grim. It's compelling stuff but also tough to take. I'm glad I saw it, but also very glad I didn't stop here. One could be forgiven for thinking Yamato is a dire, near-joyless affair going on just this movie, which is absolutely not the case.
I did enjoy the drama aboard the ship, notwithstanding that arguably things were distilled to give lopsided attention to Kodai and Yuki. I can see how you'd see a bit of Kirk in Kodai, although I'm not sure it's necessarily Abrams' Kirk - Kodai is typically understood as something of a "hot-blooded" character in classic Yamato, which of course came just a few short years after Star Trek began and wrapped up its TV run in the 60s. Also, it seems to me there's an element of witty (maybe cocky) confidence in Abrams' Kirk that Kodai doesn't have. In regard to Yuki's character, I have to disagree about this, I think this was a positive point in the movie with no exceptions. Her being tough as nails and basically the face of Yamato's pilot corps is nearly a complete reimagining of the character, to the point that the romance with Kodai that you're so down on is just about the only thing that persists from the original anime. Which is not to say that's a bad thing at all, by the way, considering that in old school Yamato Yuki was practically Smurfette in space for a long time and there was no way that was going to fly. Putting aside that anything would have been an improvement from Yuki's original role, I wouldn't agree she was "betrayed" by developments. If I remember things right, a large part of her anger toward Kodai was about negative perceptions of his character. They grew closer as all that changed and they came to understand one another better. Sure, it would have been more original if the movie hadn't gone there with the romance, but I count this as character development and not a subversion of her better traits.
In regard to the bit on WWII and ethics, well, I don't remember the speech in the movie verbatim anymore. But what I can assure on this point with certainty is that as a general matter, taking all the different Yamato stories into account, there is a major anti-militaristic streak to it. If anything Yamato's foes trend toward imperialism themselves, while when Yamato embarks on a voyage its purpose is to save humanity or protect something. It's powerful and will fight when it has to, and the wave motion gun is nothing short of devastating, but a point is made out of that being used only when Yamato truly needs it. Everything about the Yamato and its crew is about upholding a completely different set of values, and not at all about trying to redeem or disguise old ones. If anything this is all the more true for the new Yamato 2199.
1. That's pretty much it, on the "things are rough" point. All spacefaring Earth ships were wrecked by the Gamilas. Though in Yamato 2199, I believe they take the reasonable approach of saying the battleship was constructed beneath the ruins of the original Yamato to deceive the enemy. It's also still made clear that it took a tremendous amount of our resources just to put the thing together and give it enough power to get off the planet.
Originally Posted by Gatomon41
2. In most animated Yamato, aliens are usually looking like humans but with different skin color. In this? Very alien.
I would suggest that it's not the medium, but the quality of perception and expression, that determines the significance of art. But what would a cartoonist know? -Bill Watterson