by Tim Eldred
As Carol, Derek and I pounded, prodded, and massaged the storyline into place, another aspect of it came to light – for the first time ever, we would have the chance to build upon the characters in a way that was denied to the anime writers. In one staff comment after another, their biggest regret was that they never got to develop the new crew members the way they wanted to, which is why so many of them blur together over time.
In order to bring them back to life and give them more individuality, I thought the best approach would be to find new things for them to do and figure out how they might react based on certain traits. That lead to this character guide, which I actually wrote in Japan on Yamatour 2009 (spring). More accurately, I wrote it on the bullet trains that Andrea Controzzi and I took across the country. And it could be why we blew right past a critical stop without noticing. (See the travelogue for that sorry tale.)
Mariposa doesn’t get her own entry on this list, but her story naturally weaves through everyone else’s. She was arguably the biggest victim of the TV cutback; originally conceived as an active participant throughout the second half, she was ultimately cut down to just five episodes and spent most of them being enigmatic. Her romance with Flash was all the writers managed to save, and that was practically over before it began.
In fact, the earlier version of the story had her in a romance with Jason instead. It seemed to me that honoring both of those concepts in a love triangle would give us more opportunities to develop all three of them. From there it was a simple step to have the entire crew develop a crush on her as she interacted with all of them. Sometimes the key to building characters is to simply give them something to talk about.
Anyway, the fun part of writing a character guide was to create backstories for the newer crew members. Even if there was no way to actually use that information, it helped to inform how they would react to things.
Character Guide, May 2009
These notes for individual crew members will take them through chapter 8 (Planet Gardiana). After that point, I believe the plot will push everyone forward on auto-pilot. A lot of this stuff might make for good one-off stories, but there won’t be time for that, so my plan is to weave it all into the existing plotline wherever opportunities pop up.
The main bridge crew is primarily involved in combat ops, but have other things going on as well…
After the Lars incident, he is burdened by disappointment over the failure of his friendship with Desslok and questions his judgment of Desslok’s character. (Once a tyrant, always a tyrant?) He wanders the corridors looking for a distraction from this, but the rest of the crew does too good a job hiding trouble from him. Eventually he’ll discover the floating craps game and get into it – and really enjoy it.
Supportive of Wildstar, advisor to Jason and Flash in their growing love triangle with Mariposa. When the question of Nova’s own relationship with Wildstar comes up, she says it is on hold out of necessity. Someone can observe how hard this must be for her. Mariposa sees it as another example of investing everything in the future and paying the cost in the present.
His growing attachment to Tomoko makes him think about things other than science for a change. He stops putting in extra hours, delegates more to Bando. At one point his bionics go on the fritz and his personal history will come up, his continuing feelings of debt to his sister Mio.
He frets over Wendy from the moment of the coup by Contrail Industries. Before that, he is full of hope and dreams of their future together. This will come out in conversation when Mariposa sees Homer caring for the flower in his book, which gets him to tell his story. Touch on his former (unrequited) crush on Nova in some way, how the loss of his family in series 1 left a gaping hole in his life. His story shows Mariposa the power of romance, how the love for another can overwhelm one’s self-concerrn.
Yamazaki and Orion
They switch shifts at the bridge station, but Yamazaki always takes it during combat. Orion is usually running the engine room as Yamazaki’s 2nd man, and often has to ride hard on Ace to stop him fighting. Yamazaki and Orion are the only ones he will obey.
Orion is stretched to his limit acting like a mother hen in addition to his other duties. His concern for others gets placed above concern for himself. He doesn’t realize this until Mariposa points it out. After that he approaches the task with more gusto. Some of the vets can observe that he’s becoming more like his father. (Look for lines and mannerisms that he can repeat.)
Eager, Dash, Venture
These three form a ruling triad over the younger crew, always on the watch for slackers or troublemakers. They know how hard the conflict with Desslok is for Wildstar, so they work overtime to keep petty annoyances away from him.
They are the “bad cops” and have to be constantly avoided by Sakimaki and String for the sake of their floating craps game. The three know about it, but can never seem to find it. This will come to a head when they do finally pin it down only to discover Wildstar himself participating (happily so).
Jason Jetter (Ryusuke Domon)
Has climbed the ranks to the bridge crew and is also a go-to guy for the kitchen staff. His new assignment as Mariposa’s escort (on the A shift) gives him different responsibilities. The “handoffs” to Flash (the B shift) are peppered with rivalry. Jason still struggles with the loss of his parents, which he has buried under work, but now that he has free time it comes back to haunt him. He is resolved to see this mission through so others won’t be orphaned. He comes to see his loss as a motivator to prevent more loss. (Lesson: turn sorrow into purpose.)
Side note: being in the Star Force is like a fractured dreamscape for Jason. He was too young for the mission to Iscandar, but idolized those who went, became a walking encyclopedia of Star Force trivia. He found the reality to be far less romantic.
Flash Contrail (Takeshi Ageha)
Assigned as Mariposa’s caretaker on the B shift. His story is about conflict with his father. He became a pilot to stay out of the business track (or delay it as long as possible). Unlike dad, he wants to know the jobs of everyone who will eventually be under him. Mom’s illness made Flash even less interested in the business world. Dad couldn’t spend time with her as often as he should have, so Flash became sole witness to her pain. (Update on this: Dad could announce her death if he has comm with Flash during the coup.)
Reveal that Contrail industries is the top contractor for the EDF, and built most of the ships in previous stories. “Business robs one’s heart,” Flash says. “That won’t happen to me.” (Lesson: seeing obstacles before they become impassible.)
Buster Block (Goro Raiden)
Former wrestling champ. Also assists Venture in navigation, which is mostly about math and physics. One discipline was a break from another in the academy, but he could only go so far – Eager tutors him in advanced concepts in astrogation.
Like Eager, Buster is very down-to-Earth. He never had a great desire to see outer space, but was passionate about protecting his home after so much work went into preserving it after previous wars. (Lesson: preserving one’s past, derailed by impending loss of Earth and anxiety about losing one’s center.) Buster comes on too strong as overcompensation, since wrestling gets him back to his roots, restores his focus. It’s an outlet for his frustration.
Ace “Toughy” Diamond (Dairoku Akagi)
A former engineer on a freighter, transferred to the Argo at Yamazaki’s request. He and Buster are oil and water since Ace is a boxer rather than a wrestler. Their fighting styles are completely different, so neither is a good opponent for the other – yet they both try to take their aggression out on each other. Ace came from a large family and had to fight for everything in his life. It’s the only way he knows to deal with others. Machines are a lot easier to handle; linear thinking and logic in/logic out.
Set up a story point where Ace and Buster can team up to take out robots (during the coup attempt) and clear the way for Flash to get at a computer. IQ-9 is held hostage and they have to physically break him free. Jason and Flash can both hit on the idea together, approach Buster and Ace separately, trick them into fighting as a team. This will make them fast friends afterward. (Lesson: overcoming prejudice, concord works better than conflict.)
Heiji Bando (I’m dumping the name “Beaver.” I just can’t keep a straight face.)
Assistant to Sandor and a Buddhist. Gives himself completely to his work, sacrifices all his personal concerns. Sandor counsels him to take time off, says it’s part of being a good engineer (the holistic approach).
Set up a story point in which Sandor’s bionics go down for a while and Bando has to fill in for him. But he has no rapport with anyone and knows nothing about the kind of give-and-take that is needed on a ship with finite resources. We can learn that Sandor has drinking buddies in other departments which provides them all with a horse-trading network. Bando jeopardizes this by issuing demands for energy, tools, computer time, etc. and not engaging in the quid-pro-quo. When some of his requests are refused, he is unable to do his work and has a meltdown. Sandor talks him down, saying the way things work on a real ship isn’t like the Academy teaches, so the only way to learn it is by experience. This invokes the most basic Buddhist tenet about the refusal to accept change. After this, Bando loosens up and becomes one of the gang. (Lesson: growth and change.)
Whizzer (Tsutomu Makunouchi)
Head of the food division under Nova, expert in biology and nutrition. Pesters everyone like a mother hen about eating right to maintain good health. A fanatic about vitamins and minerals, since a single virus in the ship’s closed environment can threaten “critical systems.” (You mean, “people?”) After every planet-stop, he goes into high gear with the virus protection, driving everyone nuts. Show this after leaving Galman and again after Planet Lars.
He is mystified by Mariposa, whose biology is basically human but whose immune system is impenetrable. Finally there is someone on board who can tell him “no” and get away with it. Whizzer becomes an unwitting target when he jumps on Jason and Flash after they come back from Planet Gardiana. They almost punch him out rather than taking their medicine. Then we see the wisdom of his approach when he tells them it’s all about the future. Your body is what will take you there, you have to protect it. This is a callback to an earlier chapter in which Mariposa sees Whizzer taking abuse from others over his nutrition obsession and she calms the entire room by saying that line. She wins his heart that day, too.
Namio Sakamaki (no Star Blazers name given)
& Ben “String” Bean (Haruo Nishina)
These two are expert gunners, very proud of their skills. Both previously went out on the New Voyage and Be Forever, missions so this makes them vets in the eyes of the newer crew members. After a while (and several experiences), they don’t quite have an edge over the others, so they come up with other ways to dominate, like floating craps games. They will find a way to turn even the most minor events into high-stakes tension, like “will Mimi turn left or right,” but they are total pros when called to duty.
Mariposa witnesses the activity and asks Jason and Flash about it. They try to paper it over, but she investigates, participating in a wager. She has only her Gardiana pendant, so she bets with that and loses. But she’s not unhappy about it. The others wonder why and she talks about the ship being a closed system. Nothing is lost to anyone as long as they have compassion for others. This wins many hearts. After she herself is lost, Sakimaki and String close down the floating craps game in her memory. Time to just be pros again.
Penny Aycur (Miyako Kyozuka)
Dr. Sane’s nurse; she also doubles as the ship’s chaplain. She runs an all-inclusive religious service in the holo-room. Crew members go there to worship in whatever faith they adhere to. This requires her to be conversant in all the major Earth religions and puts her in the position of explaining them to Mariposa. Mariposa can talk only in sketchy terms about Gardianism, but recognizes the basic structure of religion as an organizing principle. The message of Gardiana has not been articulated accurately for millennia, though. The words are buried somewhere deep in her mind, but refuse to come. (This is an allegory for how scripture gets progressively farther away from the starting point and ultimately obscures the original message.)
Through discussions with Penny, the idea of “no one right way to live” becomes the new articulation of Gardiana’s core truth, the complete opposite of totalitarianism. Earth society (with its multiple religions) embodies this better than Galman or Bolar. The variety of personalities and personal dramas in the Star Force are the proof. This makes Gardianism a meta-religion that can accommodate all others. Mariposa therefore describes all of them as “correct” when Penny asks her how they stack up against the rest of the galaxy. This vagueness is written off as a side effect of Planet Lars amnesia, but turns out to be the irreducible tenet of Gardianism.
Tomoko Yamagami (no Star Blazers name given)
She and Mariposa are the first civilians to travel with the Star Force. She and the nurses have a strong bond, and they constantly fret over her pregnancy, which drives her to Sandor’s company where she can talk about something other than bodily functions. He engages her intellect, making her feel like a person rather than a biological vehicle. She aids him when his bionics go down and hears his personal history. This includes the loss of his sister and his short tenure as Sasha’s honorary uncle. It made him think for the first time about the positive aspects of being responsible for another person.
Tomoko turns this into flirtation: “well, maybe you’d enjoy another opportunity.” She can talk about her husband and father; why and when they left Earth. Mariposa will take a strong interest in the baby, watching how it affects those who are close to Tomoko – their care and concern for a new life is a strong hope for the future. Many should comment that they want to hear the sound of a child again; the vets still have a fond memory of the infant Sasha.