Watching the original 1974-1975 Space Battleship Yamato series (presented in bowdlerized form as Star Blazers in the US) is a little like unearthing the first Homo Sapiens, the ur-text, you can see its DNA in everything (Macross/Robotech, Evangelion, hell, I’m watching the relatively recent Gurren Lagann and the influence is plain as day).
The plot is suitably epic, the Yamato and its crew must travel across the universe to save Earth and defeat the evil Gamilan space fascist empire. And while the story can occasionally get a little saggy in the middle, the last batch of episodes hit like a real punch, with some incredible action and genuine pathos/tragedy.
The animation is definitely crude on occasion and the characters aren’t as well drawn as I’d like. And the sexism and silly fan service were already there – Yuki, the only significant female crew member, has to be both nurse and coffee maker, and spends too much of her time being sexually harassed by R2D2 or having her clothes disappear during warps. But the space opera and massive cosmic battles are impressive and exciting, prefiguring Star Wars by a couple years, and the Leiji Matsumoto designs and backgrounds, especially for the Yamato itself, are absolutely gorgeous.
I’d recommend this to anyone with more than a casual interest in anime or space opera, especially if you can find the full original Japanese version. And while there are various sequels and remakes, the 1974-1975 story is absolutely complete in itself and leaves no dangling story threads, so you can watch this without committing to some larger watch.