Episode 14 Commentary

Dimensional Submarine Galman Wolf

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Star Blazers on Hulu | Star Blazers on YouTube | Original version subtitled

Production note: this is the third of three episodes in the series directed by Toyoo Ashida. His lively, angular style stands out noticeably from that of the other episodic directors. In the past this would have been smoothed over but the policy on Yamato III was to give the directors more creative control than usual and allow their own individuality to shine through. Ashida was a veteran going back to the 1974 pilot film that sold Series 1, so he had earned all the freedom he could have wanted. Read our tribute to him here.

Homer [Aihara] hums a happy tune, checks his watch, and announces it’s time to call Earth. Homer’s conscientiousness and overly cheerful demeanor gets him some teasing from Eager [Ohta] and Dash [Nanbu]. The reason for his upbeat attitude is revealed when Wendy Singleton [Akiko Todo] appears on the main video panel. Homer rushes right up front next to Wildstar [Kodai] to say a few words to her. Their exchange is curt and official, but it’s obvious that the two are taking advantage of this brief contact.

Homer and Wendy’s burgeoning relationship was the focus of Episode 3, and wasn’t mentioned again until Episode 12, when Wendy was assigned as the EDF Emigration Office’s liaison with the Star Force. However, her appearance in episode 12 was removed from Star Blazers, so English speaking viewers haven’t seen her in 10 episodes.

Wildstar makes his report to Commander Singleton [Heikuro Todo]. The Star Force has inspected two more planets, N808 and P3249, but oxygen and moisture levels were too low to support Earth’s population, respectively. In Yamato III, only planet N808 was mentioned. The original episode contained several seconds of silence as technicians updated their star maps, which the American script filled in with info about the second planet.

Suspenseful music takes us to an empty view of space, broken by a neon-blue wisp of flickering energy. From out of this energy, the tip of what looks like a periscope appears. The energy expands, shifting and flowing like water, and a Galman “Dimensional Submarine” emerges. Several more subs “surface” nearby. As the subs proceed toward the fortress of the Galman Empire Eastern Task Force, blue energy streams flow along the ships’ horizontal midlines like a water wake.

A hatch on the lead sub opens and Commander Lugna von Feral [Frakken] steps onto the deck. He is soon joined by his oafish second-in-command. This has become a fairly standard pairing for Yamato villains–a respectable CO supported by a bumbling XO. (For previous examples, see Gans/Bain and Lysis/Volgar.) In Star Blazers, von Feral and his XO are given thick Germanic accents. The XO’s accent reminds me a bit of Arte Johnson’s German soldier from Laugh-In. (“Veeery interestink…but stoopid!”) In Yamato III, the XO is hoping that they’ve been summoned to the fortress to throw back a few drinks with Admiral Smeardom [Gaidel].

Production note: for Frakken’s first appearance in Yamato III, he was to be shown in his standard uniform out on the exterior deck, his cape blowing in an imaginary wind. Fledgling designer Yutaka Izubuchi objected to this, and the result was to outfit Frakken with a space suit instead. Izubuchi further objected to the cape blowing in the wind, but was overruled by Exec Producer Nishizaki who insisted that this was the Yamato style. There was already an example of Dessler standing out on the deck of his ship (at the end of The New Voyage) with no visible protection against the vacuum of space, his cape fluttering dramatically. We could speculate that he was standing inside an atmospheric envelope with a continuous air current, but the simple fact was that it looked cool. That made it artistically correct. Frakken got the same treatment with his cape, but evidently only Dessler is cool enough to stand outside in space without a suit.

Von Feral, “the lone wolf of the liquid elements” (love that title!), docks with the fortress and meets with Admiral Smeardom. In a nice little slice-of-life detail, Smeardom is sitting in a barber’s chair, smock around his neck, getting his head shaved. After making himself presentable, Admiral Smeardom gives von Feral his new mission: he is to attack the Earth ship Argo. Von Feral is amazed to learn that the Argo single handedly defeated General Dagon and his top-of-the-line carrier fleet. (There’s a nice bit of “acting” here from von Feral, courtesy of the animators. When he learns of Dagon’s defeat, he quickly looks to the side, taking a split second to process this stunning news, before regaining his composure.) Admiral Smeardom is now dealing with the Argo personally, and von Feral is to act as his point man. Von Feral pledges his loyalty to his “ad mir AL” and sets his sub fleet on a warp course for their target.

Jason Jetter is peeling potatoes in the Argo‘s galley when he’s paid a visit by Wildstar. Wildstar asks how he’s doing on KP. To his surprise, Jetter thanks him for the assignment. It’s given him perspective and taught him the value of all jobs. Plus, he’s gotten his share of adventures. This is a nice coda to the first episode, where Wildstar had assigned Jetter to KP duty and challenged him to prove himself. The lesson has taken root in the young cadet. He once railed against his assignment, but now he’s embraced it. He’s showing the signs of maturity that Wildstar was hoping to cultivate in him.

Nearby, the space subs de-warp, all hatch seals are rechecked, and they submerge into subspace. The operation of the subs closely mirrors their real-life counterparts. The subs “dive” from normal space into the neon-blue “water” of the subspace “ocean.” Once they’re submerged, a small rift breaks the “surface” into normal space for a periscope.

These subs can be seen as space versions of the German U-boats, which were the scourge of the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. Like the U-boats, the space subs travel in groups called “wolf packs” (which is referenced by Commander Frakken’s moniker, “the Galman Wolf”). The Galman subs appear much more spacious than their real-life inspiration. Life in submarines–especially during WWII–was not very comfortable. Submarines were cramped and dirty and could get stiflingly hot, especially when “running silent” to avoid detection (which meant the air conditioning had to be turned off). Even with AC and ventilation systems running, crews had to live with the constant assault on their olfactory senses from the “three Fs”: Feet, Farts, and Fannies.

As difficult as the U-Boats made life for the Allies, US subs were even worse for the Japanese. Just hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, US submarine forces were ordered to engage in unrestricted warfare and were authorized to attack any ship flying the Japanese flag–military, merchant, or civilian–without warning. The submarine forces inflicted great damage on the Imperial Japanese Navy (taking down even the Shinano, a Yamato-sized aircraft carrier), and devastated the merchant fleet, starving the nation of goods and supplies.

In Yamato III, the Dimensional Submarines are specifically mentioned to have Wave-Motion Engines. I think this is the first time an alien ship’s engine is referred to as such. I have to applaud the dogged commitment to the show’s nautical theme by putting submarines into the show. They toyed with the idea in Yamato 2, but the Comet Empire’s “space subs” operated more like stealth ships than submarines. The Galman subs are much more fully-realized.

Story note: the dimensional submarines stand as the most unique SF concept to come out of Series 3, but the physics of subspace itself are rather vague. The terminology indicates that it is another dimension, but it isn’t referred to as the perennial “fourth dimension,” which we heard about back in Series 1. It also seems to have the same scale as normal space; the distance to other objects is consistent whether you’re above or below the “waterline.” (Despite one scene that shows three periscopes in much closer proximity to each other than would be possible in “real space.”) This was, of course, based on the easily-understood 3-dimensional relationship between boats and subs in the water and was probably limited to that so it would be easy to grasp. However, when the idea was further developed for Yamato Resurrection, the true advantage of subspace was realized when Yamato‘s enemy “surfaced” to attack from unpredictable angles and directions.

Von Feral orders the attack to begin. The torpedoes streak forward in subspace, then break through a dimensional rift and strike the Argo. The surprise attack is substantial and effective. While Venture struggles to regain control of the ship, Homer angrily accuses Eager of being negligent. Eager shoots back that nothing is showing up on his scopes. Indeed, the Argo‘s scanners can’t detect the submerged vessels that surround them. Von Feral prepares a second salvo.

Jason is carrying food supplies to safety when he’s knocked to the floor by a passing fire crew. Glancing out a nearby window, he sees von Feral’s periscope appearing out of the glowing subspace rift.

Jason reports to the bridge, comparing what he saw to a submarine periscope. Sandor confirms that a dimensional submarine is possible. Sandor originally thought the surprise attack was accomplished through some form of warp (SMITE) technology, but the readings he recorded are different. Jason suggests that performing a warp may enable them to detect the subs, and Sandor agrees.

Jason was training for a position in the tactical/combat group before he was assigned to KP, so he possesses quite a bit of knowledge of theoretical warfare tactics. Wildstar orders him to remain on the bridge. This prompts Mark Venture to note that many new disciplines are being taught in the schools. Venture is only a few years out of the academy himself, but theories and tactics have advanced quite a bit in that time. The Wave-Motion Engine design–given to Earth just after Venture’s training was completed–probably revolutionized many aspects of Terran science and warfare. (And then, of course, there are all the alien technologies that have turned up since then.)

Jason takes the seat at IQ-9’s rarely-used analysis station (to the left of the center seat), and begins dispensing advice. He suggests using “wave explosives” (a.k.a. Wave-Motion depth charges) to break through the sub-space barrier.

Von Feral’s ships are all ready to fire another salvo when the Argo warps. The Galman subs surface and warp in pursuit. Evidently, the subs can’t warp from their subspace pockets; they have to enter normal space first.

After the warp, Eager detects the sub squad for just a moment before they submerge and disappear from his screen. Jetter theorizes that the subs must create a localized warp space to descend into. Sandor says he will be able to detect them with a subspace sonar.

While Sandor retires to his lab to MacGyver up a sonar, Wildstar orders the W-M depth charges targeted to 15 kilometers behind the Argo, where the subs were last detected. These weapons appear to be the same as the missile defense system used in Be Forever Yamato. They are launched from the top aft deck and fly in an arc. When they reach the target area, they explode, emitting Wave-Motion energy that breaks through the sub-space rift, crippling a sub. The sub is forced to surface, where it is quickly destroyed by the Argo‘s aft shock cannons.

In the wake of the sub’s destruction, von Feral orders an all-out strike. Dozens of torpedoes explode against the Argo‘s hull. The Argo‘s main bridge is targeted and another brace of torpedoes is launched. The impact is felt on the bridge, and the combat station explodes. Wildstar catches the full force of the blast and lies motionless on the floor. Jason rushes over to him.

This serves to highlight one problem with Yamato‘s normal operation–everything is done on the main bridge, located on an easily-identified command tower. Most warships have what is known as a Combat Information Center (CIC). The main bridge is used for normal operations, but when a battle starts the Captain and other necessary combat crew (Tactical Action Officer, Tactical Information Officer, Weapons Supervisor, etc.) moves to the CIC, located in a more protected area of the ship. (In Space Battleship Yamato 2199, the second bridge is used as the CIC.)

The effects animation in this episode (designed by Yoshinori Kanada) appears very sleek and stylish. The same water-like effects used for the subs’ surfacing is used for fire and explosions, giving them a very fluid, flowing look. In addition, the ships and mechanics seem to have an extra layer of sheen to them, as if every piece of machinery were newly washed and waxed.

This episode touched on Jason’s humble beginnings as a mere galley boy, and by the end of it, he’s occupying a temporary deputy-captain role. I don’t find him all that convincing as a leader, in part because he’s given such a mousy voice in Star Blazers. Part of his command training should be using his voice (tone, inflection, cadence, etc.) to command attention. (Perhaps he was to learn that in his senior year at the academy, which got skipped due to his premature graduation?) His Japanese voice is much more appropriate.

There are only 207 days left

Story note: This episode is estimated to take place on February 2 (2206 according to one possible timeline), 20 days after the previous one. The Star Force is about 12,000 light years from Earth, on the 122nd day of their mission.

Continue to Episode 15

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