Argo Sets Sail at Dawn
By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)
Production note: if the character animation in this episode seems to you a little looser and more cartoony than usual, it’s not your imagination. It’s the style of episodic director Toyoo Ashida, whose assocation with Yamato goes all the way back to the original 1974 pilot film. This was the first of three episodes subcontracted to his company, Studio Live. This also accounts for the unusual choice of extending the thumbs during the Star Force salute and the huge scale of the ship, which seems about twice its normal size compared to the people in this episode. Production resources were extremely slim in the anime industry at this time, so experienced directors like Ashida were given far more latitude than usual with the animation.
Read our tribute to Ashida here.
The recap at the start of this episode includes a close-up of the moon, which looks none the worse for wear after having been set on fire by the Comet Empire a year or two ago.
The episode opens on a small island resort in the south Pacific. The Japanese dialogue and captions call this location “Southern Cross Island,” while the American script refers to it as simply “Southern Island.” This actually matches the background art, where the words “Southern Island Hotel” and “Southern Island International Airport” can be clearly seen in English. Though its name is fictional (sort of like inventing an island in the northern hemisphere called “North Star Isle”), this is probably one of the Yae-yama islands, perhaps Hateruma-jima, which is Japan’s southernmost inhabited island.
Here we find communications officer Homer, and it marks the first time his Star Blazers last name is spoken: Glitchman. One of my first thoughts upon hearing this name was “oh, so he’s Jewish?!” Glitchman may have been inspired by his Japanese given name, Giichi. Another possibility is that they were trying to be ironic by putting the word “glitch” in the name of a guy who works with electronics.
At Southern Island Airport, we meet the other half of what’s to be a star-crossed romance: a young woman wearing a huge sunhat. The first thing we see this lovely woman do is pick up a dead bird. She looks around for a place to bury it. Homer offers his assistance and suggests a spot near the airfield. After it’s buried (maybe Homer happened to have a small spade handy in his Star Force kit?), the girl thanks him with a chrysanthemum and a sweet smile before running off to catch her flight. Homer is charmed by this sweet young girl who handles dead animals with her bare hands. As his flight takes off, the stupor she invoked subsides and he realizes he didn’t get her name or address.
The flower the girl gave him, a chrysanthemum, is a symbol of the Emperor of Japan. Chrysanthemum crests often adorned ships, including the WWII Yamato. The Star Blazers script calls Homer’s flower a chamomile, which is a daisy-like flower commonly used in tea.
It’s snowing in the “Canadian Rockies” [Japan Alps], where the Argo is berthed, covered by a clear dome. (I can just picture a line of Yamato snow-globes inspired by this scene.) I question the decision to launch the Argo from a mountain perch, but perhaps this is one of the few places that escaped the destruction wrought by earlier enemies.
Story note: it’s worth pausing here to marvel at the scientific advances that would have made such an enormous dome possible. Apparently made of a single piece, it looks like glass or acrylic and must weigh several hundred tons. On the other hand, it’s not unprecedented in the saga, calling back to domes seen in some shots of Megalopolis City, or the one that was erected over the ship’s superstructure for an episode back in Series 1. That one could have been inflatable, which would be much more feasible than something solid as seen here. The 1/1 scale snow globe: another amazing product by Contrail Industries?
In the mainframe room, Sandor is overseeing installation of new computers, which invokes feelings of jealousy in IQ-9. He maintains his robot crew can do as good a job as the humans. Sandor insists that the computers will be needed, so they must be installed properly and his crew trained to use them. IQ storms out of the room. Sandor, despite being an engineer, has always been skeptical about placing too much faith in machines. This may be part of the motivation behind his insistence on using human technicians over robots.
Story note: the reappearance of the huge, barrel-shaped computer core sort of flies in the face of Be Forever Yamato, in which the entire computer area was upgraded and combined with the strategic planning room. In some production materials it is referred to as a weapons computer, so perhaps it was simply repurposed.
Next comes a truncated scene of Homer and Nova on the main bridge, discussing his romantic woes. The full version from Yamato III features the arrival of Analyzer [IQ-9]. The robot wheels in, still ranting and raving from the previous scene. He looks at Yuki [Nova], then reaches over and flips up her skirt. She yells at him for interrupting her when she’s trying to help Aihara [Homer]. Analyzer replies that he has problems too, but Yuki has just helped him feel a lot better.
Star Blazers has another edit in the following segue to deep space: the camera pans up from the ship to the windy, snow-filled skies. In Yamato III, this is followed by a look at the Bolar/Galman territorial map, showing the recent thrusts the Galman’s have made into Bolar Territory. Earth is in the “south-east” corner of the map, Galman is in the center, and the Bolar are in the North. The Bolar have apparently colonized planets outside their normal bounds. One such planet is Berth, located far away from the heart of Bolar and relatively close to Earth.
As we join the action, Galman General Dagon is steadily whittling down Berth defense forces. Captain Ram orders his Berth fleet to scatter, using short warps. Dagon’s fleet follows.
Production note: This style of warp uses a rainbow filter effect, which was influenced by the multicolored warp seen in the 1979 Star Trek feature film.
A Berth ship de-warps near Saturn, and a Galman ship appears right in front of it. Both fire simultaneously and explode in spectacular fireballs. It’s a minor scene, and a fun one to boot, but it makes a fitting analogy to the series’ cold war theme. This is MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) in microcosm. At the time of airing, the US and Soviet Union had built up a surplus of nuclear weapons, enough to destroy the Earth many times over. This scene is a fitting analog, showing the result of an all-out war between the Galmans (US) and the Bolar (Soviet Union). Both nations would destroy each other just as these two ships did.
The cold war theme is also apparent in the idea of “runaway nuclear arms,” which is portrayed literally by the proton missiles fired with reckless abandon toward the solar system.
Another Galman ship miscalculated its warp and finds itself in Earth’s atmosphere. Its captain says they might as well explore, since the Galman Empire lays stake to any planet they come across. In other words, they are operating under a galactic Manifest Destiny policy.
By chance, this enemy ship is near the Argo. The Star Force can’t risk discovery, so Conroy’s squad is assembled to fend it off. Using torpedo boats, they make quick work of the enemy battleship, destroying it in under a minute of screen time.
Later, Captain Wildstar stands on the deck of the great ship to address his crew, veterans and recruits alike. The tone of his speech is similar to the one Captain Avatar gave before mission launch in Series 1, where he warns his crew of the dangers facing them and offers the choice of backing out.
This also mirrors the historical Yamato. Before the naval ship’s last mission, “Operation Ten-Go,” the crews of Yamato and its escorts were informed that they were not likely to return and were offered the opportunity to back out. (No one did, but several dozen infirm, sick, and new crew members were ordered off the ships.)
Homer’s inner turmoil begins to surface. Nova gives him a nod of encouragement, but Wildstar, Sandor and Venture express amazement that he is considering backing out in light of his stalwart service in previous missions. He asks for forgiveness and runs off.
In the Captain’s now super-sized quarters, Nova tells Derek about Homer’s heartbreak. Derek reveals his own worries about the search for the new Earth. Nova responds with a overly tearful “oh Derek!”
The Argo‘s snow globe cover is rolled back to allow a transport helicopter to land. Emerging from it are Commander Singleton and the girl from Southern Island. The Commander introduces the girl as his granddaughter, Wendy Singleton. Although I’ve referred to the EDF Commander as “Commander Singleton” in my comments many times before, he’s only called “Commander” in Star Blazers, either by script or by label, even here. Singleton is the last name of his granddaughter so it’s assumed to be his last name as well.
Story note: coincidentally, this is also the point in the Japanese version at which the commander’s full name is given for the first time in the entire saga: Heikuro Todo. His granddaughter’s name is Akiko Todo, so the shared family name is valid in English as well.
The Star Force gathers in the mess hall, where the Commander gives a brief speech. Officially, the ship is being sent out to patrol the frontier of Earth’s territory. Unofficially, it is searching for a new Earth. He wishes them good luck. Glasses are raised in a hearty “kanpai!”
It’s soon revealed that Wendy is the girl Homer is searching for, so Wildstar sends Conroy, Flash, and the rest of the pilots out in S&R copters to find him. After the copters leave, Derek happens to see Homer, sitting forlornly on a outdoor stairwell in the bitter cold. They have a brief talk. Homer had left the ship, but returned when he realized that the Star Force’s mission is more important, “no matter how much I love her.” The Yamato III script doesn’t throw around the word “love” quite yet, which is good because, frankly, I find it a bit creepy. But then again, Homer has always been emotional and insecure, so to have him falling in love in such a dramatic way is appropriate.
Derek has Homer come inside to the reception, where he is literally shoved in Wendy’s direction. Homer is a total buffoon as he introduces himself, which prompts both clapping and laughter from the partygoers.
Story note: although Homer’s full name in Japanese is Yoshikazu Aihara, (perhaps named for storyboard artist Yoshikazu Yasuhiko), he refers to himself here by his well-worn nickname Giichi, which is an alternate reading of the kanji for his name.
Later, the Argo‘s three main officers, and Homer, see the Commander and Wendy off in their copter. After a well-wishing from the Commander, Wendy and Homer exchange a few words. They both want to see each other soon. Wildstar’s fears about the mission are somehow allayed by Homer and Wendy’s burgeoning, awkward romance, which he sees as a good omen.
Story note: this element of romance is a much better fit for the story than a previously-conceived subplot that would have gone the other way, with Wildstar and Nova on the rocks after the appearance of an “old flame” from Nova’s past sent Wildstar into a crisis of self-confidence. It would have been a tiresome twist without much legitimacy (especially after the tests they faced in Be Forever), and would have edged out a chance to do more with Homer, so we all benefited from its demise. Click here to read more about it and many other discarded story ideas.
At dawn the next morning, the storm has broken and the Argo is prepped for launch. The overture from the magnificent Symphonic Suite Yamato sets the proper mood. During launch, Yamazaki and Orion Jr. both speak a few lines. The American production team hasn’t yet settled on dedicated voice actors for the two. Strangely enough, both Yamazaki and Orion sound exactly the same, but then Yamazaki speaks a few moments later with a completely different voice.
The Argo propels itself across the snowy plain before lifting off, although one has to wonder how long of a “runway” the Argo would have in the Canadian Rockies/Japan Alps. I have to imagine a trench had been dug out for the third bridge, or else it would have been ripped off. (Again.)
Production note: the launch sequence really shines, and obviously got a lot of TLC from the animators. The movement is smoother than usual, a quality achievable only when time is lavished on it in the camera room. The scenes are all shot “on ones,” meaning the animation moves in every frame of film. Of special note is the liftoff away from the mountains with the background receding as the ship steadily enlarges. This is a complex double-exposure (called “skip photography” at the time) that was extremely rare for TV. It was probably done to evoke the famous shot from the Series 1 launch with Yamato pulling away from the giant mushroom cloud at the end of episode 3. By no coincidence whatsoever, that’s exactly where we find ourselves now.
The end of this episode sees the return of the countdown, a callback to Series 1.
“There are 329 days left.”
Story note: It is estimated that Yamato launches at 5:05am on October 24, 2205.
Production note: the end theme for this episode is titled Parting, one of two contest-winning songs written by fans. Composer Hiroshi Miyagawa set it to the love theme from The New Voyage and the vocal was performed by superstar anime singer Mitsuko Horie. See details here.