Episode 7 Commentary

Argo sinks! Fateful battle to destroy the enemy stronghold!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

13 October 2199

Production note: seemingly energized by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu’s masterful storyboarding on episode 6, the animators stepped up their game considerably with episode 7. Leiji Matsumoto and Director Noboru Ishiguro storyboarded this one with care and precision, each working to their strengths and dividing up the animation duties to what was becoming a team of veteran artists. As a result, the character animation has greater consistency and the mecha shows a greater degree of quality control. The staff would be racing deadlines for the rest of the series, but as of this episode the shadow of previous artistic compromises grew noticeably shorter.

We open with Pluto, where the narrator informs us that temperatures reach 200 degrees below freezing (Celsius, presumably. It’s closer to 400 below freezing Fahrenheit). The Gamilons have a very important base here and it’s from this base that they’ve been launching the planet bombs at Earth. Gamilon base commanders Ganz and Bain are anticipating the arrival of the Star Force. Almost giddy with joy, Ganz reveals that the Argo will be destroyed by the latest Gamilon weapon, the Reflex Gun. Boasting that it is more powerful than the Argo‘s Wave-Motion Gun, it admittedly has a shorter range. (Considering that Ganz just described the WMG’s range as “almost unlimited,” just about everything else would have a shorter range.) Ganz plans to send out a small fleet to lure the Argo toward the base and have the Reflex Gun administer the coup de gras. With the destruction of the Star Force, Ganz will finally have proven his worth to Leader Desslok.

Based on 1974 knowledge, the Space Battleship Yamato narrator describes Pluto as being half the size of Earth, which (as it turns out) was a gross over-estimation. It’s actually smaller than the Moon.

Nitpicky science note: In order to make the trip from Jupiter to Saturn to Pluto in 2199, the Star Force would have to turn on an angle of 140 degrees and travel 5.4 billion km.

The Yamato version, as it is wont to do, has a few lingering shots of Pluto and the Gamilon Frontline base that aren’t in Star Blazers, as well as a title card showing the Reflex Gun.

The Argo is having one of its better days. When we first see the Star Force, Venture reports “All normal, engine condition good,” which is quite a change. Then we have some heavy-handed exposition, with Venture asking Wildstar about his brother’s death in the first battle of Pluto.

A couple dozen Gamilon ships take off from Pluto to lure the Argo to the base. Just in case a small fleet isn’t “convincing” enough, Ganz plans to fire about 8 or so missiles at them. Not ordinary missiles either, but Ultra Menace Missiles, the same kind that came within inches of sending the Argo to an early grave in Episode 3.

Ganz asks Bain if the planet bombs were launched today. Bain confirms that 20 planet bombs were sent to Earth. The idea behind planet bombs seems to be the same as mass drivers; just lob huge rocks at a planet and watch the destruction. No explosives necessary. The Gamilons apparently irradiate the rocks, or maybe put some radioactive material inside, to give it a nice menacing glow and that extra deadly touch. Planet bombs are certainly impressive, not least because the Gamilons launch them at Earth from about 5 billion kilometers away and they seem to strike their target more often than not. Of course, realistically, it would take years if not decades to reach Earth. Possibly, the planet bombs aren’t as simple as they look. They would need guidance and warping ability to perform as depicted.

Nova picks up the planet bombs on her radar bubble, actually displayed with new animation rather than the same old single blip! The Argo has to veer away to avoid getting hit. Strangely, they just let the planet bombs pass without trying to shoot them down. They look smaller than Ultra Menace Missiles, but no explanation is given. We could speculate that the bombs are immune to Earth weapons, something the EDF would have learned early on.

The Star Force decides that they must destroy the base. It’s a threat to Earth that can’t be ignored. In the Central Strategy Room, Avatar starts to outline the plan of attack. Sandor asks the obvious question: “will we be using the Wave-Motion Gun?” Avatar replies “No, shock cannon.” In response to the group’s collective gasp, Avatar explains that there’s life on Pluto. Since the Star Force’s mission is to save lives, it would be wrong to destroy life on other planets. Avatar’s cautiousness about using the Wave-Motion Gun is due to the events in episode 5, where they inadvertently destroyed the Floating Continent on Jupiter. The life on Pluto he mentioned will be seen next episode.

Soon, the Gamilon ships are within range of the Argo. While the forward shock cannons are being prepped, the Black Tigers engage the destroyers. The Gamilon ships are much larger, but the Tigers are more agile, easily dodging laser fire while zeroing in on the destroyer’s weak spots. The Tigers account for at least 3 destroyers, while taking no casualties themselves.

During the Battle of Pluto in episode 1, it seemed that Earth weapons were mostly ineffective against Gamilon ships. The only Gamilons we saw destroyed were by the Paladin, which used missiles. In this battle, the Black Tiger’s guns seem sufficient to penetrate the Gamilonian armor. One theory is that Starsha may have included information about a weakness in the Gamilon alloy in her message capsule. Or maybe Earth ships could destroy Gamilon ships with their laser cannons before, we just didn’t see it. The one laser shot we saw that reflected off the Gamilonian armor could have been because the laser cannon wasn’t calibrated properly.

My pet theory is that Wave-Motion energy was put to several uses, making even the fighters’ guns more powerful. Plus, the Pluto base may have been using relics and cast-offs from other campaigns. Gamilon had other military engagements, as evidenced later by Lysis and his Rainbow Star Cluster Generals. While it’s revealed down the road that the conquest of the Earth plays an important part in Gamilon’s plans, Earth was a joke in military terms. Really, why else would idiots like Ganz and Bain be put in charge of the Invasion forces? Second-hand ships and moronic commanders were considered more than enough to handle Earth. However, Starsha’s “gift” of Wave-Motion tech tipped the scales in Earth’s favor, and Ganz’s pride (or incompetence) didn’t allow him to see that. To be fair, Desslok didn’t realize it until too late either.

The Argo‘s shock cannons are finally aimed and ready. The Black Tigers clear the area, and the ship fires. Despite having all that room in space, the Gamilon ships all huddle together to make two large groups of targets. This could have been a result of the Black Tigers’ attack. The Gamilons were forced to group closely together so they could cover one another, thereby setting them up for the Argo‘s guns. The Argo hits both groups and each cannon shot takes out three or four enemy ships. The remaining Gamilons retreat back to Pluto, pursued by the Star Force. This is ample payback for the last battle in the Pluto region and the humiliating rout of Captain Avatar’s fleet.

The Gamilons launch about eight Ultra Menace Missiles. Wildstar fires a salvo of “counter-attack missiles” which travel out a short distance and explode, leaving a web-like energy field. When the enemy missiles hit the field, they detonate. This eliminates approximately half of them.

Pulse lasers are next. These are the clusters of guns mounted on the side of the ship. They send out a barrage of small but powerful laser bursts at its targets. It takes a lot of hits to detonate a missile, but there are a lot of pulse lasers and they shoot very quickly. They account for the rest. The last missile, unfortunately, detonates a little too close to the Argo, and the resultant fireball damages some of the armor plating near the Engine Room.

Ganz arrives down in the Reflex Gun control room. The gun is located some distance from the main base and control room, in a bubble dome beneath the water. I’m not sure who designed the Reflex Gun, but it sure is… interesting. Let’s just say Freud could have written a paper about it.

Ganz presses the button on the hand-held remote trigger. The Gun takes a few seconds to charge up before releasing an energy beam. The beam goes through the protective bubble (probably a membrane rather than glass), enters the water, melts the surface ice, and continues out into space. The Argo is hit amidships, port side, around the cluster of pulse lasers. After the initial impact, Venture reports that the braking system (that is, the reverse thrusters) are out and they’re heading for Pluto at full speed. They seem to be coming in at a shallow angle, and fortunately for them, they pass by Pluto’s moon.

Story note: When the series was made in 1974, Pluto was the outermost planet in the solar system. Its moon Charon (about 1270 km in diameter, it’s about half Pluto’s size) was discovered in 1978, and Pluto turned out to be smaller than was previously thought, about 2306 km. Two smaller satellites named Hydra and Nix were discovered in May, 2005.

Passing close to the moon, Avatar gives the command to shoot the rocket anchor. The anchor is quickly aimed and fired, embedding itself into the rocky surface. Coming to the end of the anchor chain, the Argo stops moving forward and starts swinging to the side. It’s amazing that the chain didn’t snap from the force of all those Gs the ship is pulling. This may be why the chain snaps relatively easy 2 episodes from now; it must have been weakened here! We won’t go into the fact that it looks to be few hundred miles long…

Sandor immediately sends his crew out to start the repair work. There are some nicely detailed scenes of his crew in EVA suits removing damaged portions of the ship and replacing them with new. The onboard factory must be very efficient to have those parts ready so quickly.

Production note: this is the first time we’ve seen crewmembers outside the ship in zero G, and their spacesuits appear to have been modeled on those from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There’s also a new spacecraft shown here, a mobile work platform, which was designed by Naoyuki Katoh of Studio Nue (read our tribute to him here.)

Ganz orders the Reflex Gun satellite computer to target the Argo. Several orbital satellites open up and adjust their reflective plates. The Reflex Gun once again fires, the beam striking a satellite, which reflects the beam to another, and another, and another. Nova barely has time to announce the incoming beam before it hits the starboard side of the Argo, causing a huge explosion. There was a brief scene of a repair crew member in an EVA suit getting knocked off his platform. It wasn’t particularly violent, but it was close enough for the Star Blazers editors, because they removed it. Perhaps they disliked the implication that the worker would be stranded in space?

The force of the impact tears the anchor out, sending the Argo once again plummeting toward Pluto. Venture steers the ship toward Pluto’s equatorial ocean. Sandor orders the areas around the damaged parts of the ship to be sealed off. Yamato had a long and, frankly, drawn-out scene of the crash-landing in the sea, as well as the ship bobbing back up to the surface, which was shortened in Star Blazers (and, interestingly, is almost a dead ringer for the ship’s last scene in Final Yamato). Star Blazers also left out a little scene of the water rushing in through the gaping holes in the ship, only to hit the partition walls which Sandor had wisely sealed.

In the next scene, once gain omitted from Star Blazers, Okita (Avatar) tells Sanada (Sandor) to restart the repair work. Kodai (Wildstar) asks the Captain for permission to go and find the base, but Okita urges Kodai not to be so reckless.

Ganz once again fires the Reflex Gun and the beam blasts the Argo. It seems to strike the aft section, just behind the bridge tower. The Argo slowly starts to capsize and sink. Victory for Ganz at long last! He orders Bain to send a report to Leader Desslok.

On Gamilon, Desslok is enjoying the company of wine and women when Krypt happily reports the Argo‘s sinking. The poor guy seems to really think Desslok will be pleased. Instead, Desslok calmly berates him for “interrupt[ing] my pleasures.” Noticing the women for the first time, Krypt nervously laughs and admits that the news is “a trifle.” Desslok calls him an idiot.

Ganz bragged that his gun was more powerful than the Wave-Motion Gun, yet the Argo has survived three hits from it so far. What ship has survived even one hit from the Wave-Motion Gun?

“There are 356 days left.”

Continue to Episode 8

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