The Solar System Faces Destruction
By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)
When Star Blazers was airing on TV every weekday afternoon, there was always a moment of anticipation while waiting for the show to begin. Then I would hear that opening fanfare, which marked the start of another half-hour glued to my TV. After 26 episodes of the familiar Series 1 opening title, there was even more cause for excitement–the 27th episode’s main title featured the same song, but it played under a new animation sequence and with different lyrics. The mission to Iscandar had ended and a brand new saga, The Comet Empire, had begun. New story, new opening.
I was not in one of the TV markets that broadcast Series 3. Years later, when I watched the first episode on videotape, I was disappointed that the American producers reused the Comet Empire opening instead of creating a new one. I thought, surely splicing together clips from the series wouldn’t have been difficult. They wouldn’t even need to record new lyrics, they could use the storyline-neutral Star Blazers ending theme.
When Series 3 was remastered for DVD in 2002, the Star Blazers opening was removed and the original Space Battleship Yamato III credit roll was put in its place, complete with Isao Sasaki and the Royal Knights singing the theme song in Japanese. Frankly, I would have preferred to see the series clips/ending theme idea used. The Bolar Wars is already something of an odd duck due to its delayed release and cast changes, so a more standard theme would create a sense of unity with the first two series. However, by the early 2000s the notion of “Americanizing” anime was seen as a relic of a bygone decade. Voyager Entertainment felt that such concessions were no longer needed.
There is an interesting (and perhaps unintentional) thread running through the Japanese versions of the opening credits. In Space Battleship Yamato Series 1, the theme starts with the ship breaking out of the earth. In Yamato 2, it’s shown rising out of water. A third element is prominent in the Yamato III opening: fire. The first shot features the ship haloed by the swollen red sun in the background. If they were ever to make Yamato IV, maybe they could continue the trend by having the ship fly out of a tornado.
This story opens with the narrator explaining the wonders and vastness of the galaxy. Similar introductions opened previous Yamato stories, making this the equivalent of “once upon a time.” The Japanese term for the Milky Way Galaxy is mistranslated to a mere “nebula in the great galaxy” in the Star Blazers script. The Milky Way is attributed with having “more than 1 billion fixed stars,” and while that is technically true, it is well below the actual tally of 200-400 billion. The narration takes a dark turn, explaining that each planet has an “inescapable destiny” of destruction. It is promised that Earth is no exception to this rule.
Story note: Right off the bat, one of the toughest details to reconcile in Series 3 is its exact time frame. Though the year is never stated in the show itself, we can be assured that we’re in a post-Be Forever period. When Final Yamato came out with the year 2203 stamped on it, fandom contented itself with the idea that the series fit between those two movies, even though it would have been a tight fit indeed.
This was all well and good until 1998, when a new edition of the series was released on home video with liner notes that placed it in 2205. For the purposes of the story, this is much easier to swallow. But it plays absolute havoc with the continuity of Final Yamato, and (by extension) Yamato Resurrection.
Therefore, as we proceed through these analyses, we’ll do what every other red-blooded Yamato fan has done with this information: ignore it. Extrapolated dates are still valid, however, and it is generally assumed that the latter part of Episode 1 takes place on October 11, the same calendar day the series premiered on Japanese TV.
The scene shifts to a red-hued area of the galaxy. This is a feature I like about the third series–the star field backgrounds are often imbued with different color schemes that denote which space nation’s territory we’re in. (This later matches the color coding on galactic maps.) The Yamato III narrator places this scene “near the Solar System,” which is a helpful detail missing in Star Blazers. I was under the impression that this battle took place in deep space, which made me wonder how Earth became threatened so quickly. More on this to come.
In an area littered with small planets, a fleet warps in. It’s identified by caption as “Planet Berth Fleet (Bolar Federation).” The gray-blue fleet is from Planet Berth, and is led by a red flagship. The Berth defenders have green skin, similar to the Comet Empire denizens, although no connection is ever made between the Berth race and those Yamato 2 villains. (The Comet Empire hailed from the Andromeda galaxy anyway).
They detect an enemy warping in nearby. If you listen closely, you will hear something rarely said in Star Blazers: the fleet’s position is identified in miles. Other than colloquialisms (“you’re off target by a mile”), previous episodes had stuck with the metric system, so the use of American standard measurements sticks out. This turns out to be a one-time occurence and future episodes revert to “megameters” (aka “space kilometers” in Yamato.)
Story note: The name “Berth” is based on the phonetic term “Ba-su” in Japanese. It could also be interpreted as “Birth.” To figure out which actually works better, we can turn to the field of cultural anthropology. It stands to reason that any provincial culture would name itself “THE people” and their home as “THE place.” Later, of course, their view would expand and these names would become anachronisms. So if you prefer to think of these green-skinned aliens as natives of the planet they fight so hard to protect, then “Birth” is an appropriate choice. On the other hand, if they are a spacefaring people who found their way to the planet, then “Berth” is a better pick. There’s no right or wrong answer to this one. You could even call it “Bath” if you’re so inclined.
Another Japanese caption identifies the invaders as the Galman fleet. The Galman ships’ design, coloring, and their blue-skinned crew immediately remind the viewer of the Gamilons. The Galman fleet, led by General Dagon, draws first blood by attacking the Berth defenders as soon as they’re within range.
The Berth fleet withers under the onslaught, but retaliates with an impressive salvo. With a smug smile, Dagon orders his Executive Officer (XO) to bring up three “planet-destroying proton missiles.” These missiles are huge (648 meters), dwarfing every other ship in the battle, and are launched at the barren planet behind the Berth fleet. Two missiles connect, which is enough to light it up like a star. Its destruction obliterates most of the Berth Fleet.
Production note: Studio Submarine was in charge of the Bolar Federation mecha. They previously designed mecha for Legendary Giant Ideon (also known as Space Runaway Ideon). Mecha designer Katsumi Itabashi’s design work for the Galman side is mostly linear, and the Bolar mecha design uses more curves and mass for contrast.
Dagon’s XO informs him that one missile went off-target. And here we have a trademark of American scripter Peter Fernandez’ rapid fire speech. “But-only-two-proton-missiles-struck-the-planet-the-third-one’s-gone-astray!” This dialogue is voiced over a distant shot of the characters, so I can’t imagine this is a case of trying to match lip movements.
General Dagon dismisses the runaway missile as unimportant. This is followed by an ominous look at the warhead as it streaks off into the distance. Star Blazers cuts away to the next scene, while Yamato III stays on the missile until it vanishes into the distance, followed by the episode title.
The next scene opens with a view of a sprawling, developed complex. The accompanying narration (in both Japanese and English) states that Earth has established a base on Alpha Centauri. This might lead you to believe that we’re seeing that base, but it’s actually Tokyo International Spaceport. This is made clear with a caption. Star Blazers fans have to figure this out for themselves because the caption was either cropped off (original TV edit) or left in Japanese (on DVD).
The spaceport is where we’re introduced to a young cadet named Jason Jetter [Ryuske Domon], who has been given leave from his training to say goodbye to his parents. Jason proceeds to murder them with irony, assuring them nothing can go wrong on their 10-day sight-seeing tour of the Solar System.
Some fans seem to be annoyed by the name “Jason Jetter,” but I never had a problem with it. Unlike “Avatar” or “Wildstar,” “Jetter” is a legitimate surname. “Jason” is probably a little too on-the-nose since he’s to be a crewman on a ship called Argo.
The Solar Tour ship has a very retro design, like a 60s-era rocket. Near Mercury (another Japanese caption), the space tourists gawk at the sun (presumably through a highly polarized canopy). Mrs. Jetter spots something approaching from the other direction, which turns out to be the runaway proton missile. As the missile zooms past the Earth ship, one of its fins strikes the vessel, destroying it. The passengers scream as they dissolve in the explosion. This kind of “personal violence” would have been automatically removed from the 1979 Star Blazers show. By the mid-eighties, regulations had been relaxed, so such scenes remain intact. The missile continues on, directly into the sun.
Production note: From here we jump back to Planet Earth for a sight not seen since flashbacks in Series 1: a road-based car with four wheels and an audible engine. Derek Wildstar [Susumu Kodai] is driving, so the scene is his personal debut in Series 3. Plenty of other ground vehicles have been seen on Earth before, but until now they were either tanks or hover-cars. One possible explanation for this anomaly is that it was a toy tie-in. Confectionary company Glico released a small set of miniature Yamato III toys as candy prizes, and one of them was this car. Given the peculiarities of the merchandising business, the car could have easily been repurposed from some previous toy line and found its way into the show.
Weeks later, Jetter is back at the Space Academy. Outside, a trainer aircraft is piloted with consummate skill by another recruit, “Flash” Contrail (Takeshi Ageha). Flash smiles after a daring display of aerial acrobatics. The Star Blazers script adds a line not found in the original: an instructor’s voice mildly chastises Flash for being too low to the ground.
There’s little I can say to defend the name “Flash Contrail.” Tim Eldred did some damage control in The Bolar Wars Extended webcomic, revealing that his birth name is August Contrell. His father changed the family name for the sake of his business, Contrail Industries, and “Flash” is merely a nickname.
Production note: One of the veterans on the animation staff for Yamato III was a true industry superstar, Yoshinori Kanada. His name has come up in many previous episodes, so by now his unique style should be easy to spot. It’s all over the academy training sequences, which are full of quirky poses, angular scenery, and arcing energy effects. These are all trademarks of “Kanada style” and they help give Series 3 a distinct visual flavor.
Inside the academy, an instructor reads off a list of students, who are then told that they are at the top of the class and will be graduated immediately, a year ahead of schedule. Among this advanced group are Jetter, Contrail, and Heiji “Beaver” Bando. Bando is merely a background character for now, but goes on to play a recurring role in future episodes. Viewers can recognize him from the mark between his eyes, which is either an unfortunately-placed mole or a religious decoration called a bindi.
Jetter reports to Derek Wildstar and learns he has been assigned to the Argo. Wildstar asks for his preferred post. Jetter answers Cosmo Tiger pilot. Wildstar is succinct in his response, saying he doesn’t have enough experience, then assigns him to Kitchen Police (KP). Incredulous, Jetter asks for an explanation (despite Wildstar saying he didn’t have enough experience a second or two ago) and is told he’s not to question orders.
In Yamato III, Domon requests to be part of the gunnery crew, not the Cosmo Tigers, with the goal of following in Kodai’s [Wildstar’s] footsteps. Kodai doesn’t mention anything about lack of experience, so his decision to assign him to mess hall duty seems more of a whim (until later in this episode, anyway).
In Series 1, KP duty appeared to be its own group. In Episode 10 of that series, the chef was shown wearing an apron with a “crossed utensils” emblem, and in another episode, mess hall servants wore a Star Force uniform that was baby blue with white markings. By the time Series 3 rolled around, the KP crew had been folded into the Environmental/Life Services group headed by Nova, so they now wear the common black-on-yellow uniform. The Life Services division handles a wide variety of functions from communications to radar to surveying to xenobiology. It should be noted that even in Series 1 Nova was the one responsible for maintaining food supplies, so there has always been a link between her group and the mess hall crew.
There has also been a more general change to the Star Force crew uniforms. In previous stories, the section chiefs (Wildstar, Venture, Sandor, etc.) had colored collars while everyone else, including the junior bridge staff (Dash, Eager) had white collars. From a production standpoint, this color choice invited cel-painting errors, so in Series 3 all Star Force veterans wear colored collars, and the new recruits’ collars are marked with a white slash.
Jetter talks to Flash as they’re getting into their uniforms. Jetter becomes enraged upon learning that Flash was assigned to his preferred position, the Cosmo Tigers. He vows revenge on Wildstar for this perceived sleight.
The Jetter character is inadvertently following in Wildstar’s footsteps in all the worst ways. Like Wildstar, Jetter has lost his family and develops a grudge against his Commanding Officer. In Wildstar’s case, he blamed his CO for the death of his brother. While he was wrong, his emotions were at least understandable, given the circumstances and strong feelings involved. Jetter comes off as a petulant child, throwing a fit because he didn’t get what he wanted.
At Earth Defense Forces Headquarters, Wildstar meets with EDF Commander Singleton. (Watch Wildstar’s eyes when he reads his new orders. He reads each line from top to bottom, Japanese style.) Wildstar has been promoted to Captain of the Argo. No more Deputy/Acting Captain, now he’s the real thing. Stephen Sandor and Mark Venture are assigned as his Executive Officers, with Sandor as the senior of the two; in the Italian broadcast, he was specifically named “Vice-Captain.” Derek hears a note of worry in the Commander’s voice, which leads to new scene featuring Dr. Simon Probe [Dr. Simon].
Story note: eagle-eyed viewers will notice some costume design changes at play in this episode. First, the academy cadets all wear the same uniform seen on the cadets in The New Voyage, but the insignia has changed from red to blue, perhaps denoting their grade level. Based on context, we can deduce that red uniforms would be worn by seniors, thus surprising the blue-wearers when they are summarily advanced to grad status.
Second, Wildstar is wearing the same fleet jacket we saw in Be Forever with an upturned collar, but Venture’s has some extra piping and Sandor wears one with a different collar, closer to that of an EDF ground officer, but he’s still in spacefleet colors. From this we could assume his science department crosses over between both.
Dr. Probe is a space physicist. Three weeks ago, he noticed an unusual increase in nuclear fusion in the sun. If it were to continue, it would render Earth unlivable in a year, and the sun to burst into a supernova two years later. He presents his findings to the Earth President (the same one from The Comet Empire), who then confers with another scientist, Dr. Dubiaius [Professor Kuroda]. Dr. Dubiaius literally laughs at Probe’s data and assures the President there’s nothing to worry about. We all know how this is going to end, don’t we?
Professor Probe insists he is correct about this “global warming” issue. He gathers more data and presents it to Commander Singleton and the Argo‘s officers. In Dr. Probe’s opinion, there is no hope for Earth. Humanity’s only chance is to find another planet to emigrate to. Singleton agrees. He believes the government won’t see the danger until it’s too late, so the Argo‘s secret mission will be to find this “new Earth.”
Shades of Series 2: the Earth government is portrayed as complacent at best, incompetent at worst. The Star Force, under the Commander’s orders this time, once again has to go against the prevailing “wisdom” of their own leaders.
Wildstar and Nova discuss their mission on a balcony under the moonlight. Derek expresses doubts about the chances of finding a suitable planet while Nova offers reassuring words. Derek stresses that her position as head of the survey group will prove invaluable. Nova asserts that they will find the new Earth together as they dramatically stare off into the distance.
This is the first time we hear Corinne Orr step in as Nova’s voice actor. While the tone of her voice is closer to the Japanese actress, Yoko Asagami, she sounds young and girlish compared to the Nova we’ve become accustomed to, originally played by Amy Howard Wilson. Similarly, John Bellucci, the new voice of Wildstar, lacks the bite and anger of original VA Ken Meseroll.
Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: In this series, the characters appear to have “grown up.” They are more experienced, like true veterans. Wildstar and Nova appear closer; their bond is stronger and more mature than before. They support each other openly. While in the previous series series their love is still teenager-style, now they look a real couple. He worries about the future (the strategist) and she supports him (the supportive). They appear even better matched than before and this is quite evident from episode 1.
Another Galman proton missile streaks into the solar system. This one is detected by the Planet 11 [Brumis] base. Squadrons from the Planet 10 asteroid field are sent out to intercept, but they fail to stop it. The asteroid bases fire on it with pulse laser cannons, which are also ineffective. The missile threat is ended when it careens off the side of one asteroid and directly into another, which causes it to detonate with a tremendous explosion.
This incident is viewed from EDF HQ by Commander Singleton, Wildstar, and Nova. The Commander reveals that a similar missile was spotted three weeks ago, and may have collided with the solar tour ship. The timing also coincides with the increase in solar activity. Singleton is confident there is a battle being waged in space, which makes the mission to find a second Earth both more important and more dangerous.
Jetter, Flash and the other recruits report to the Argo, which is stationed in the Japan Alps (or Canadian Rockies, if you believe the Star Blazers narrator). Jason marvels at the ship, and we’re treated to several lingering shots.
Story note: don’t be embarrassed if you’ve never heard of the Japan Alps; I hadn’t either before Yamato III introduced them, but they are definitely real, named by a foreigner for their alpine climate. Read about them here.
IQ-9 leads Jetter down the halls to his assigned department. The robot lets him know when to step off the corridor conveyer belt, but Jetter almost loses his balance crossing over. Those conveyer belts always seemed like they’d be more trouble than they’re worth.
When Jetter is presented to his section chief, Nova Forrester, he balks at the notion of taking orders from a woman. “They should take orders, not give ’em,” he sniffs. IQ-9 takes offense and speaks up on behalf of Nova and other female officers, which is ironic coming from a robot that likes to harass them at every opportunity. IQ has often shown less restraint than the humans he serves, so he does what I imagine many others have wanted to do to Jetter–grabs him by the shirt, ready to beat some sense into him. As the situation escalates, Wildstar enters the room. If anyone’s going to fight Jetter, it will be him. “That won’t settle a thing,” Nova exclaims. (Yuki’s line in the original was simply “Kodai-kun!”).
Derek and Jason duke it out on the foredeck of the ship. Their match ends with both combatants splayed out on the deck, exhausted, neither one claiming victory. Immediately after the fight’s conclusion, there’s a buzz of electrical activity. IQ’s head-dome pops off and he falls over. Nearby, birds suddenly take flight as if reacting to some unseen terror. The birds are aimless, and some smash into trees. Sandor explains that they just experienced an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse), most likely caused by disturbances on the sun. Derek and Nova see this incident as confirmation that Professor Simon’s theory is correct.
While sun activity has never caused a full-blown EMP that I’m aware of, solar storms have been known to affect satellites in orbit and communications and power grids on the ground.
This scene introduces the term “skipper” in reference to Wildstar. It’s not wrong to use the term per se, but it’s not something we’ve heard in Star Blazers before. “Skipper” is a term I associate more with yachts, fishing vessels, and small charter boats on three-hour tours.
Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: In military context, “Skipper” is a familiar way for the crew to address the captain when he has been on the ship for a long time and earned their respect. In using this term, they consider him “their” captain instead of “the” captain (it is also used with the captain’s permission). Since Wildstar has always tried to appear “one of the boys” on the bridge, staying in his original chair instead of the captain’s station (not to mention wearing his combat group uniform), it’s actually pretty normal for the crew to call him “skipper.”
The fight between Wildstar and Jetter appears to have worked out some of the young cadet’s grudges, and the two have a much calmer meeting on the foredeck at sunset. Derek offers his apologies to Jason. He had been assigned to retrieve the bodies of the sightseeing ship disaster, but failed to locate any. Jason latches onto his parents’ disappearance as an explanation for his behavior. If he had known Derek tried to locate his parents, he claims, he wouldn’t have behaved the way he did.
Derek lays out some common ground between them, revealing to his young charge that he himself was an orphan and found a new home in the Star Force. In assigning him to a low post, Wildstar wants him to learn as much as possible from the experience. The dialogue in Yamato III goes a bit deeper. Domon claimed earlier that he wanted to follow in Kodai’s footsteps, and in so doing got more than he bargained for. In purposefully assigning Domon to a post far below the one he wanted, Kodai is challenging him to rise above himself. The circumstances were different, but Kodai himself has done the same–with a captain’s rank to show for it. Domon takes this in the spirit intended, as encouragement to go farther than he might otherwise have done.
The Argo will launch in two weeks to begin the search for the new Earth. (A real-time match for the original broadcast.)
Story-wise, I think this is a pretty strong start. At this point, a ship full of recruits has a lot of appeal, although this is the third time they have set out on a journey with a crew of newbies. (They didn’t play a significant role in Be Forever, though). The threat to Earth is a bit worn, but it’s almost to the point where it’s expected. The Argo/Yamato is undertaking a slightly different journey this time; rather than seeking to save the Earth, it’s trying to find a new planet (an idea that is explored again in Yamato Resurrection). The wild, reckless battles in space convey the danger lurking out there. As far as the recruits themselves go, the only one we’ve met is Jetter, and in my opinion he’s not very endearing. But like Sergeant Knox, he has room to improve.
Production note: though the opening title song of Yamato III is unchanged from Series 1 and 2 (still proclaiming that we’re off to Iscandar), there were a variety of end title songs. The first two episodes end with a song titled Life of Love, sung by Hiromi Iwasaki. It was released just over two months before Yamato III‘s premiere as the B-side of Galaxy Legend, a song she performed for Be Forever. It can also be heard as the postlude on all of Be Forever‘s video releases.
Animation 101: these two shots occur in succession during the closing sequence. The colors and body shapes are slightly different, but not enough. When the shot of Wildstar cuts to the shot of Jetter, he momentarily seems to jump forward because almost nothing has changed in the composition. This is an animation flub called a “jump cut,” which could have been avoided by more careful storyboarding. The worst kind of “jump cut” happens when two shots such as these accidentally use the same background art; then character 1 suddenly pops into character 2. Class dismissed.