Episode 15 Commentary

Desperate Escape! The Galaxy’s Different Dimension

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

5 January 2200

Production note: Due to a script error, the credits for this episode mistakenly indicated that the storyboard was drawn by Leiji Matsumoto and Noboru Ishiguro. It was actually the first episode storyboarded by Takeshi Shirato of Tiger Pro Studio, who was a Yamato staff member throughout the entire saga. He later served as the animation director of The New Voyage.

It’s coffee break time on the Second Bridge, courtesy of Nova. The Second Bridge is devoted to the Argo‘s Navigation systems. The Nav Group is strenuously plotting their course, making charts, and calculating their next warp. In the second series, this area seems to be shared with the Science Group, but in the handful of times we see it during the trip to Iscandar, it looks like the exclusive domain of the Navigation crew. Interestingly, there is an old fashioned nautical wheel in front center of this bridge. I assume it’s just ornamental.

Nova wheels in the coffee cart and the break is much appreciated by everyone, except for Venture, who complains about Nova’s coffee. Eager, perhaps thinking his boss was being too mean, heaps on the compliments. Another Nav member, Ryder, thinks Eager is just trying to avoid having to make the coffee next time. Ryder is also unimpressed with Nova’s coffee, describing it as “strong enough to melt the spoon.” Freckle-faced southerner Ryder is only seen in this episode. In Japan they (surprisingly) didn’t even give him a full name, he’s just known as Hayashi.

In Space Battleship Yamato, this scene was loaded with mannerisms that were too Japanese for the editors of Star Blazers. When Ohta (Eager) talks about how great Yuki’s coffee is, she points to her nose and has a goofy, pleased smile on her face. (When you gesture toward yourself in Japan, you point to your nose rather than your chest.) Also, it’s not the reaction to the coffee that has Yuki (Nova) so pleased, but the fact that Eager says he’d marry the girl who made this coffee. I thought Nova only had thoughts for Derek, with Venture being a close second, but with a little compliment she seems agreeable to this idea!

Venture gives Nova the run down on how their mission is going, basically a repeat of what he said last episode. Nova wonders if Starsha realizes they’ve been delayed. Venture thinks so, as “she seems to know everything.” In Yamato, he gets a comically smug look on his face and chides her once more on her coffee making skills. She looks extremely miffed.

At the Gamilon base on Balan, everyone assembles to meet General Lysis. There to greet him is General Volgar, Commander of the Balan Garrison. Star Blazers often covered up Yamato‘s numerous caption labels with a black bar and white lettering, but they neglected to do it here, allowing his Japanese name (Geru) to be shown on the screen. This no doubt confused American viewers who were unaware of the show’s origins and might have thought it was Volgar’s name in Gamilonian.

Additional note from Matt Murray: The W.C.C. film comics of Star Blazers, which used actual images from the show to serialize the Iscandar series in five volumes, did provide an English title card for this scene.

Lysis, a man with the voice and physique of Superman, relieves Volgar of command. Volgar is not pleased. He’s even less pleased when Lysis trashes his hideously decorated room, then orders him to clean it up. It belongs to the new commander now, who confines everyone to quarters with a smirk.

Star Blazers had a very good voice cast, but in my opinion they dropped the ball with Volgar just as they did with the previous Gamilon assistant, Bain. Volgar (voiced by Mike Chechopoulos) doesn’t really speak so much as growl, with an odd, not-quite-German accent.

Lysis’ inspiration was German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, who was known for his brilliant tactics and his sense of honor. This was writ large by his name in Japanese: Domel (pronounced “Domeru”). Yamato often refers to him as “the Space Wolf,” just as Rommel was known as “the Desert Fox.” Similar inspiration lead to the name Geru, a shortened form of Goering. (Hermann Goering was also known for his notoriously bad taste in clothing and decor.)

In the Argo‘s hangar bay, Wildstar, Conroy, and some non-descript workers are doing some routine maintenance on the Tigers. There are a couple of odd things in this scene. For one, Conroy is working on a Superstar/Cosmo Zero mispainted in Black Tiger colors. For another, a stout combat crewman is identified as Eager. It’s not actually Eager, but he looked enough like Eager to fool the Star Blazers scriptwriters.

If it really is Eager, why would anyone from the Nav Group join the Combat group for maintenance? On the other hand, given the Star Force’s limited crew maybe this kind of cross-training was necessary. From the dialogue in this scene, it can be ascertained that the Argo has left the Milky Way and is in the great empty expanse between our galaxy and the Magellanic Cloud.

Suddenly, the ship shudders, knocking everyone to the the floor. Avatar reports a sudden drop in engine power. Orion and Sparks struggle to deal with it down in the Engine Room. In this scene, when the normally soft-spoken Sparks raises his voice, he sounds a lot like Eager, leading me to believe they shared the same voice actor.

It’s soon reported that they’re on the edge of a “galactic whirlpool.” We’re told by Eager, Venture, and Avatar that this is the early part of a star’s death, as it’s collapsing into a black hole. This is a bit of a misnomer; it would be more accurate to call it a stellar whirlpool rather than Galactic, but it means the Argo is in dire straits. The whirlpool doesn’t easily let go of ships that get snared in its pull, as dozens of derelict spaceships indicate. Wondering if that’s going to be their fate as well, Eager then reports that they’re not all derelicts–there’s a Gamilon ship closing in.

Additional note from Matt Murray: The celestial phenomenon encountered in the original Yamato episode was entirely different, which explains why the images we see as Venture describes it have essentially nothing to do with what he’s saying. In Yamato it’s actually the Magellanic Stream, a band of hydrogen gas clouds stretching away from the Milky Way and towards the Magellanic Clouds (which can be seen on the intergalactic map shown at the start of most series-one Star Blazers episodes, roughly paralleling the Star Force’s course). Information on the actual phenomenon can be found here.

Production note: The idea of a space current was one of the earliest story ideas developed by writer Aritsune Toyota while the series was still under the working title of Asteroid Ship. The notion of a graveyard of lost ships in a Sargasso Sea of Space came later, and the two concepts were combined for this episode.

On Lysis’s flagship, they’re tracking the Argo‘s movements. The Gamilons are evidently familiar with the whirlpool, as Volgar states that “the whirlpool has often taken care of our enemies for us.” Such a victory wouldn’t suit Lysis. He must destroy the Star Force personally.

Production note: Originally, Lysis’ flagship Domelus II was meant to be a high-powered space battleship larger than Yamato, but the design was simplified and shortened when it was decided to make it resemble a submarine.

Wildstar prepares the Black Tigers and gunnery crews for battle. Dash reports that they have limited power and can’t use the Wave-Motion Gun. Wildstar is still determined to fight, but Venture points out that the enemy knows the whirlpool and the Argo can’t use its Wave Engine now. A fight would be reckless. Wildstar bridles at the thought of retreat and appeals to Captain Avatar. Avatar agrees with Venture. They must instead try to escape.

Lysis and Volgar receive the report that the Argo is retreating without returning fire. Lysis commends the Star Force for showing more intelligence than he expected. Volgar orders the entire fleet to move up to force the Argo into the whirlpool.

The Star Force retreats under heavy fire from the pursuing ship. Orders or not, Wildstar tells Dash to ready the guns. Eager reports an entire fleet is approaching. Displaying it on the video screen, Dash claims there must be at least 3,000 ships(!) That’s more than even Wildstar wants to fight. Unfortunately, they’re on auxiliary power and can’t outrun the enemy. Avatar tries to keep his crew calm, stating that they found their way into the whirlpool, they can find their way out. He’s immediately undercut by Sandor, who reports that their instruments are affected by the whirlpool and useless for navigation.

The fleet comes into range and starts firing. I don’t know if the Gamilons are just toying with them, trying to drive them into the whirlpool, or if the whirlpool is affecting Gamilon sensors too, but dozens of shots fly around the Argo with very few hits. Avatar loosens Wildstar’s leash a little, allowing him to “give [the Gamilons] something to think about.” He fires the aft main cannon, which doesn’t seem to hit anything. In fact, the forces of the whirlpool bend the energy beams away from their intended target.

Far from being cowed, the Gamilons are pleased that the Star Force is showing some vigor. Lysis is perplexed though, unable to see what the Star Force is planning. He then seems to have an epiphany, realizing that they don’t know what the whirlpool will do to them. He orders his men to press the attack.

Additional note from Matt Murray: At this point in the original broadcast, Volgar excitedly exclaimed “Now we’ve got them!” However, on the official DVD release, the audio is inexplicably absent, resulting in a close-up of Volgar mouthing the line in silence.

The Argo is still making its slow escape when all their energy is inexplicably leached away. The effect is even visible, like a mist, as energy pours out of the ship. The Captain falls back in his chair. For a brief moment, it’s obvious that he’s at a complete loss, which is a first. Suddenly, the Astro Compass in the middle of the bridge starts to glow. Unexpectedly, Starsha’s voice comes out of nowhere and she appears on the video panel. She has been watching them and is now offering a helping hand. She causes the Astro Compass to point in the direction they should follow. As she breaks contact, the Argo comes to life again.

OK, this is a cop-out, a literal deus ex machina. Using hitherto unknown and unexplained powers, she gives them a magical jump-start. What, is she an intergalactic Triple-A? Did she replace the WME’s spark plugs too? What other kinds of help could she have offered up to now? (I had the same feeling about this for years, which lead me to create my own explanation for it in Star Blazers Rebirth.)

Realizing the Argo is heading in the one direction that will allow them to escape, Lysis orders his ships to fire. But with the Wave-Motion Engine functional, the Star Force is now able to warp, which they do as soon as they’re free.

Afterward, Wildstar and Venture have a little talk in the aft observation room. Wildstar admits that Venture was correct, and that they would have met with disaster if they stayed and fought. Venture gives the credit to Starsha for saving them. Nova appears in the room. Wildstar thinks she looks like Starsha, but Venture apparently doesn’t. Nova’s resemblance to the Queen of Iscandar (or, more accurately, her sister Astra) is referenced a couple other times in the series, but it doesn’t lead to much more than that.

There’s a brief post-script with Lysis typing up a report on what looks like a quaint old-fashioned typewriter, where he declares the Star Force “a worthy foe.”

“There are 273 days left!”

Story note: The ship enters the Magellanic Stream on January 5, 2200. They are now 86 days out from Earth. Though they appear to be caught in the dimensional “dead zone” for only a short time, two days pass outside of it. Thus, they emerge on January 7.

Continue to episode 16

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