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As something as a spinoff to our top space opera, we give you our top 10 spaceships from anime. This time, we will include titles from all other sub-genres of space anime including comedy, war, and cyberpunk. The spaceship could serve as a means of transport to fight a big war, serve as a home to its crew, be an equivalent to a metropolitan area, as a tool to make one’s living, and many more. Sometimes, the spaceship itself serves as a character to the show.
The spaceship is a representation of its crew, or in some instances, the crew can be its representation. And in many instances, the ship is the ultimate tool to tell the story. Maybe in the future some of these ships will be possible, or maybe not. In many instances, science fiction can be the gateway to science fact. The writings of Jules Verne paved the way for numerous concepts such as space travel and the Internet. In anime, Akira paved way for the 2020 Olympics to take place in Tokyo. Can the following anime do the same? Let's get to our list and start the discussion.
10. Space Dandy “Aloha Oe”
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 2014 – September 2014
Space Dandy serves as a parody of the “Jack-of-all-trades In Space” archetype with titles like Space Adventure Cobra and Cowboy Bebop. What also makes Space Dandy distinct from other space titles is that it explores alternates dimensions and timelines in the same way the Star Trek franchise explores in virtually every installment showing that space and time/inter-dimensional travel could be related. So how does all this happen? We can thank the Aloha Oe for all that.
The Hawaiian based gimmick of the Aloha Oe (homage to a traditional Hawaiian song) serves as a great foundation to represent the comedic and upbeat atmosphere. To characters of anime of these types of series, these spaceships are not only their means of transport, but also their place of permanent residence and not as a residence while on tour of duty. It is a place to have a good time and sleep while on autopilot and just ultimately find the next awesome adventure. The series and its ship is something you can say is what Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy could re-built it as.
9. Vandread “The Nirvana”
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: October 2000 –December 2000
In this anime, the good news is that humanity (like any other space anime) has migrated to space. So what's the bad news? Men and women are considered separate species and are at war. Our main character is Tokai Hibiki and wanting to prove himself as a man, he along with two guys named Duelo and Bart get captured by female space pirates. Due to each man having a respectable skill useful to these pirates, they serve useful to their captors.
So what is the name of this pirate ship they sail the seven stars on? It is called the Nirvana, a fusion of a former intergalactic battleship and the ship of the pirates. This was done due to a being sucked into a wormhole by the Pragma Paxis, the ship's core which powers everything. And even though some mega-cannons can potentially cause friendly fire, what makes this a great ship is that it has a great lock-on system that manages to avoid this.
8. Starship Operators “The Amaterasu”
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: January 2005 – March 2005
Ever wondered what war would be like as a reality show? Try this series. Upon returning home from its maiden voyage, an interplanetary war with very complicated political conditions has broken out, and it has the government of the planet Kibi in exile and their funds frozen. So how does the ship keep going? A TV deal through the Galaxy Network. Their rules, to have their adventures broadcasted as a reality show while the ship acts as something of a sovereign nation of its own. It is a ship where its crew have their roles and issues, but manage to work things out like any other controversial reality shows like Keeping Up With the Kardashians (as for anyone on board who can match Kanye’s ego? Maybe Captain Kanzaki can sort of match his inability to understand regular people and not self-proclaimed geniuses).
Besides its heavy firepower, class/crew structure, and sharing many design influences of Japanese World War II battleships, it is strongly a story of its messed up crew as they fight for their freedom. The ship represents their pride and sacrifices. Kanzaki shows what it means to be a leader by not being clouded by emotion. Having their trials broadcasted as a reality show is a great reflection on how society views the real struggles of human beings as entertainment (the again, who gets a laugh out of uncontrollable teenagers on Sally or when a man celebrates he is not the father on Maury?), and how media coverage of Vietnam gave people a live exposure to war. The Amaterasu is a great gateway for us as human beings to reconsider how we should conduct ourselves and greet one another.
7. Knights of Sidonia (Sidonia no Kishi) “The Sidonia”
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: April 2014 – June 2014
Generations after Earth is massacred by an unknown alien threat, the last of mankind use some remains as a space colony/battleship to survive and find new worlds. The ship is appropriately modified for Earth-like conditions (and ready for combat with its mega-cannon) and its citizens are allowed to live a normal life, but is governed in a very Brave New World like setting. As opposed to being born naturally, humans are genetically created. Due to food shortages, people are modified to nourished through photosynthesis. As for having water, if you remember the beginning of Kevin Costner's Water World, you get an idea of what I'm saying as a source. Then again, some accomplished combat sports athletes such as Juan Manuel Marquez (boxing legend) and Ryoto Machida (former MMA champion) have been advocates of these means of hydrating.
But when such space stations are regulated to self-govern, how is that power handled? Who becomes the real threat? How do we truly define equality? The circumstances which lead to the necessity of the Sidonia is a great representation of some theoretical answers. The ship is a very excellent representation of where mankind can evolve for better or worse if we go into space. As I mentioned earlier in the space opera list, maybe someone can show Dr. Neil de Grasse Tyson this series and get his take on the concept of a colony/space battleship such as the Sidonia.
6. Irresponsible Captain Tylor (Musekinin Kanchou Tylor) “The Soyokaze”
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: January 1993 – July 1993
In this series, we have the Soyokaze, or meaning breeze in Japanese. Prior to being captained by the titular character (who would be a better fit in the world of the hit Sci-Fi novel, Ender’s Game), it shares an unfortunate history of its previous crew committing suicide just because they were bored of being stationed on that ship. Despite, its tragic history and being outdated compared to other ships, the military uses that ship to crew unwanted members in hopes they either quit or die. This use of the Soyokaze by the military in the series is a perfect metaphor on how Japanese companies deal with unwanted employees.
So why that analogy? Allow me to explain. Just like in numerous countries, in Japan, if a person gets let go from a company, there are some payment packages they get. In order to avoid paying these packages, Japanese companies send their unwanted employees to dead-end positions with no chances of advancements or raises so they can psychologically break them down and make the quit. If the employees quits, the the company is not obligated to pay the package. With the military in this anime, they put their unwanted serviceman in a situation where they make the employees still part of the team, but not significant. But with a lot of luck and the drive to never give up, we can all rise from adversity just like the Soyokaze.
5. Cowboy Bebop “The Bebop”
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 1998 – April 1999
In this series, the Bebop serves as as a residence, base of operations, and as transport. Despite Spike being the central character, the official owner is his partner, Jet Black. The ship has an adequate navigation system, comfortable living quarters (such as a living room and bedrooms for its crew), a kitchen and a Bonsai tree garden. Its design shows it is both functional, but its condition gives the audience some impression it could be for middle class residents in outer space.
So if you want to live and work in space, the Bebop may be for you but be prepared to get your hands dirty to maintain its costs. If you can be as successful as Dog the Bounty Hunter on the Hawaiian Islands, then being a space cowboy can be for you. For combat purposes, its attached fighter plane known as the Sword Fish can achieve that. This ship is also home to some crazy adventures you have to see to believe. Heck, one particular episode is subject as an AMV based on Livin in the Fridge by Weird Al.
4. Martian Successor Nadesico (Kidou Senkan Nadeshiko) “The Nadesico”
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1996 – March 1997
In this parody of the mech genre, Earth is at war with the Jovian lizards from Jupiter who control frightening mechs that are mostly AI operated. The only hope for humanity is the crew of the Nadesico, a ship under the exclusive command of Nergal, a private military contract company. Despite having some official military consultations, the crew mostly consists of a ragtag group of some crazy civilians that may cause some personality clashes, but come together when it counts.
In addition to being a parody, Nadesico is entirely a homage to space and mecha anime and the ship itself takes the best of various ships from the anime it spoofs. The design of the Nadesico itself with its shape and white, red, and blue color scheme pays tribute to the White Base from the original Gundam series, while its space jump physics is a reference to space folding from Macross. It also carries heavy fire power with its main weapon being a reference to Space Battleship Yamato’s Hadouho.
Heck, the title Nadesico, or Nadeshiko in the original Japanese alphabet, is a homage to Yamato. When the Japanese use the word Yamato Nadeshiko, it's a means of expressing the ideal Japanese woman and the title is very appropriate considering its captain is a beautiful lady.
3. Mobile Suit Gundam (Kidou Senshi Gundam) “White Base”
- Episodes: 43
- Aired: April 1970 – January 1980
Just like how the Serenity from Firefly is designated as a Firefly ship in that show, the White Base is designated as a Pegasus class ship. When looking at the design, it loosely looks like the mythical creature. This ship would later pave way for numerous other ships in the Gundam franchise such as the Minerva in the SEED seasons. Just like the original Enterprise from the old Star Trek shows, the series has a feel that despite being futuristic, is still in touch as a product of its time that still resonates with audiences to this day. The White Base does a great job of demonstrating those qualities. On the Captain’s chair, there are phones that are like the old phones. Instead of simple buttons or touch screens, there are switches and levers like you would see on radios and television sets from the 1970s, etc.
Despite being an advanced ship, its crew would circumstantially consist of lower ranking soldiers both officer and enlisted, and teenage civilians. The White Base crew would not only experience the horrors of war in both space and on earth, but strong and realistic tensions in their relationships. The attitude of the civilians were natural and wanted to run away, and heck, they did only to come back because it was the right thing. It would suffer damage and repairs. It served as a battleship, and ultimately as a home to a group of strangers that would end a war.
2. Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (Chojiku Yosai Macross) “SDF-1 Macross”
- Episodes: 36
- Aired: October 1982 – June 1983
In this hit classic, in the year 1999, this spaceship randomly crash lands on Earth and scientists work hard to reverse engineer it for space travel for the human race. Taking ten years to accomplish, on the day of its maiden voyage, the planet is invaded by the Zentradi race and it becomes an intergalactic war that wages across the universe. So how did this all happen? During the middle of the first battle, the Macross, its crew, and surrounding civilians were “space folded” to the opposite end of the Galaxy. Try to imagine the plot of Star Trek Voyager times a hundred (and this was 15 years before Voyager).
Due to the distinct and immense size of the SDF-1 Macross, to accommodate the civilians, the city is also retrofitted to have a city of its own with shopping centers, cars, etc. It’s as if you never left home. But when it's time to fight, the Macross transforms into a giant mech and carries heavy firepower. This allows it for more flexible defensive capabilities and serves as an effective form of back up to its Valkyrie squad. The Macross is also home to a distinct crew where they also deal with human emotions, most especially love.
1. Space Battleship Yamato (Uchuu Senkan Yamato) “The Yamato”
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: October 1974 – March 1975
At number one, we have the Space Battleship Yamato. After an invasion that has Earth on the brink of extinction, a crew of space cadets retrofit the sunken World War II Japanese battleship, the Yamato for space travel and warfare. All of this is thanks to the hadou engine, or wave motion engine. But the hardware of this ship is not what defines what makes it number one, but the crew that mans it. It is home to other tensions and high stakes. Despite his rapidly deteriorating health, Captain Okita courageously leads his crew to the final frontier. Even though the concept of using a Japanese World War II battleship as its foundation would be an understandable source of controversy to the Chinese and Koreans (seeing it as a means to glorify their imperial past up until the end of WWII), the titled ship in this series to its native audience is a representation of courage and sacrifice. Lives were lost
As the westernized adaptation known as StarBlazers (such as being renamed the Argo), the same messages reached those respective audiences and continue to have a profound impact on the audiences of those generations. In case you missed other articles highlighting Yamato, its main cannon, the hadouhou, was the inspiration of the hadouken in the Street Fighter franchise.
So here is our list of top anime spaceships. Some make the list because of its hardware, some because the crew makes its ship. These ships tell a great story of the human condition in the same way the Enterprise has done for all Star Trek incarnations. Maybe in the future, we will get these ships and maybe we won't. Only time can tell. In the meantime, write to your local politician in your home nation to invest more in its space programs.