Eight year old Dorothy Gale (voiced by Mariko Kouda) along with her genetically enhanced dog Talk-Talk (Katsumi Suzuki) and robot companion Chopper (Hiroshi Takemura) is swept off the peaceful farm planet New Kansas off to the distant fantastical galaxy of Oz. There she befriends the dim-witted Plant Man (Kozo Shioya) and cowardly Lionman who join her on an epic quest in search of fabled genius Dr. Oz, the one person seemingly able to help Dorothy return home. Along their journey the group are pursued by the wicked witch Gloomhilda (Noriko Uemura) who commands a vast space army of raygun-toting frog-like aliens and crazy giant robots. It eventually falls to Dorothy to retrieve the legendary Rainbow Crystal and save the universe.
Japanese animation has a long tradition of quirky sci-fi takes on western children’s literature going back to Toei fairytales from the Sixties like Gulliver’s Space Travels Beyond the Moon (1965). Down the years there have been numerous anime adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories from Fumihiko Takayama’s relatively faithful The Wizard of Oz (1982) and a sprawling 1984 television series narrated by Margot Kidder to more oddball examples including the post-apocalyptic war drama Oz (1992). Star Wars (1977) appears to be the overriding influence on Space Oz no Boken a.k.a. Galaxy Adventures of Space Oz which is perhaps apt given George Lucas drew a fair amount from Baum in the first place. The nods to Star Wars prove far from subtle what with Chopper’s overt resemblance to C3PO, a climactic space battle amidst the witch’s flying castle dubbed the Shadow Star and, as if that were not enough, dialogue that includes numerous direct quotes from Lucas’ classic space opera.
This English dubbed version condenses the twenty-six episode television series into an eighty-three minute feature film. While Yoshiaki Okumura’s goofy chara designs seem skewed towards western sensibilities the psychedelic backgrounds, alien worlds and super-technology retain that uniquely colourful eccentricity that characterizes anime. Fans of Dragonball will see certain similarities in the its madcap mix of whimsy, sci-fi and slapstick comedy whilst the crazy contraptions Gloomhilda deploys against Dorothy and her friends bear comparison with those featured in the seminal Time Bokan (1975). There is even a cool nod to the Godzilla movies when Gloomhilda sends a giant mechanical dinosaur to stomp Dorothy to death. Although the English dubbing has a monotone quality that proves less engaging than the imaginative imagery, the plot retains many of Baum’s original motifs. The Scarecrow a.k.a. Plant Man wants a brain, the Cowardly Lion wants courage, etc. More importantly Dorothy remains the smart, intuitive girl familiar from Baum’s stories and is less sappy than in some of her other screen incarnations.
Interestingly, the big twist regarding the real identity of the wizard beneath his fearsome facade occurs midway through the movie. In this instance Oz is not a charlatan stranded in a fantasy realm but a bratty little techno-genius called Mosey (Mami Matsui). After this revelation the plot increasingly resembles a Leiji Matsumoto space opera as a mouthy space waif with daddy issues drags Dorothy and friends along on an epic quest after a mystical Macguffin guided by a glowing galactic entity in feminine form. It is a shame Mosey proves such an abrasive, unlikable character given so much of the subsequent story arc centres on him and his mad scientist father. A final change of heart from a hitherto unrepentant villain comes somewhat out of left-field and was likely another Star Wars influence while the conclusion is something of an over-simplification of Baum’s theme. However the climactic grandiose space battles and mass destruction are enjoyably apocalyptic as only Japanese children’s entertainment can be.