Episode 16 Commentary

Planet Beeland, Underground Prison of Condemned Criminals

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

10 January 2200

Production notes: Nobuhiro Okaseko, who was originally hired as Yamato‘s animation director, got seriously ill during the making of the pilot film that sold the series in 1974 and had to abruptly leave the production. Episode 16 marked his long-awaited return to action. (Read more about him and all the key staff members of the series here.)

Until now, all scripts for the series were written by either Maru Tamura or Keisuke Fujikawa. This episode was the first one scripted by Eichi Yamamoto, who had previously participated only in story development. It was not to be his last; he wrote five more for series 1 and was an active scriptwriter throughout the rest of the saga.

Derek takes his food, dispensed from machines into a tray, and sits down wearily to eat. “It’s the same old stuff again, they just give it a different name on the menu,” he says. And indeed, it is the same old stuff, as the animation of the food dispenser was recycled from a few episodes ago.

Production note: although the editors of Star Blazers were highly vigilant about disguising or removing Japanese text from the show, in some cases it was impossible. The establishing shot for the mess hall is a good example: look carefully in the background and you’ll see a snack bar with a sign reading “Snack Yamato” in Japanese.

Nova sweeps into the room, catching everyone’s attention. She’s modeling a new dress, one that she’s thinking about wearing when the Star Force greets Queen Starsha. The crowd of men is entranced as she dances across the room. Unfortunately, she’s also captured the attention of IQ-9, who whizzes by at top speed. The wake of his passing causes Nova’s skirt to blow up, recalling the famous scene of Marilyn Monroe from The Seven Year Itch.

IQ’s presence changes the mood of the room, as all the men start hooting and hollering, and Nova darts out the door. The brief panty shot was too risque for American children shows in the late 70s, so it was cut out of Star Blazers, leaving American viewers to conclude that Nova was annoyed by IQ calling her “cutie” over and over (which, I admit, is pretty annoying).

Next we shift to a relaxing scene of the Star Force members sunning themselves. It’s not made clear exactly where they are on the ship. I always assumed it was the Holography Room. However, if it is, it’s not a very creative use of it, since it appears as an empty room with lounge chairs. On second thought, the structure looks somewhat like the operating theater, so maybe that serves as a “Vitamin D clinic” when not otherwise used.

IQ-9 is sunning himself too, for no apparent reason. (Perhaps recharging his solar batteries?) The talk turns to IQ and how human he acts. IQ insists that he’s “more human than you know.” When Conroy suggests IQ might like a female robot companion, the robot says he doesn’t want a distaff machine, he wants Nova. Conroy delicately points out that “it won’t work out,” but IQ remains undeterred. “I want to marry her,” he declares.

Animation note: Wildstar seems to have lost some muscle mass since we saw his sweaty workout back in episode 10. The dangers of low gravity?

Nova, still in her dress, talks to the Captain in his quarters about IQ’s strange behavior. He follows her everywhere, she says. Avatar suggests that maybe it’s time for his “10,000 mile check-up.” In Yamato, when Yuki describes what Analyzer did in the mess hall, she inadvertently panty-flashes the Captain! Her face turns red with embarrassment, but Okita doesn’t seem to mind. He rather absently suggests that Analyzer doesn’t need to be fixed! He corrects himself after Yuki asks him to repeat what he just said. The conversation is interrupted by Venture’s voice over the intercom. They’ve discovered a planet with vegetation.

The Argo approaches the planet Beemera, renamed Beeland for Star Blazers. As their food stores are running low (mentioned in the last few episodes), Nova is asked to take a recon ship and survey the planet for edible plants. She hesitantly asks for IQ-9 to go on the mission, as his analysis skills would be useful.

Additional note from Matt Murray: Excluding the end-of-episode countdown titles, the title for Beeland will be the last time an English caption will appear in the series. From this point on, the standard procedure became to simply cut out all onscreen titles rather than covering them with new ones.

As the recon ship enters the atmosphere, IQ decides that this would be an ideal time to ask for Nova’s hand in marriage. This so shocks her that she loses control of the ship. It tumbles out of Beemera’s sky, coming to a landing nose first in a shallow creek. They are both unhurt. In fact, IQ is better than unhurt, as he lands face first into Nova’s lap! This is one of those scenes where it’s amazing it was allowed past the censors. IQ doesn’t want to move. He likes it where he is.

Production note: there was actually some self-censorship at work here. An early Japanese fanzine that reprinted animation layout drawings presented one with Analyzer’s hands in slightly different–and far more invasive–positions. We could speculate that a clever animator knowingly pushed it past the limit so the inevitable pullback would still produce a strong scene.

Eventually he does move, and the pair start exploring this new planet. As they move on, the indigenous peoples discover the recon ship. As expected from a place named “Beeland,” the natives look like a combination of human and insect; olive green, segmented bodies, wings (vestigial, perhaps, as we never see them fly) and antennae. Their native language is a high pitched squeaking that sounds like two pieces of styrofoam rubbing together.

Nova and IQ find lots of plants, which IQ says may be edible. They then discover a structure, described by IQ as looking like “some kind of beehive.” Deciding to explore, their communication with the Argo is cut off as soon as they enter one of the underground tunnels. IQ-9 uses one of the lights on his “face” to illuminate their path. They soon spot an elderly looking bee-person (distinguished by his white hair), who lets out a screech. The two are immediately besieged and overcome by dozens of bee people. They are tied up and led through the tunnels.

They arrive in a dungeon. In Star Blazers, we see slave-drivers with whips forcing workers to push some kind of turbine wheel, which dispenses some “Royal Bee Jelly” from a huge faucet into a container. Nova seems upset by this. As horrible as slavery is, the insidious little detail that wasn’t shown in Star Blazers was that bee people prisoners are the main ingredient of this Jelly. The prisoners, many pleading for their lives, are thrown into the machine and mulched into a fine liquid.

Nova and IQ are thrown into a cell, where the robot tells her what he’s been able to surmise: the bee people’s Queen Melina is under the control of the Gamilons and they’re forced to make Royal Bee Jelly. The old man who captured them is leader of a rebellion and believes that the two are Gamilons. (It’s odd that the rebel leader was allowed to give the prisoners a tour of the factory he’s fighting against, but never mind.)

Nighttime. We’re introduced to Queen Melina, dressed in her red and black striped dress. She differs from the rest of the bee people in that she’s pink skinned and seems capable of communicating in spoken words. (Incidentally, she has the same voice actress as Princess Invidia from Series 2.) She sits at a console and is clearly unfamiliar with the controls. A Gamilon officer appears on the video screen and chastises her clumsiness. The officer speaks to the queen in a condescending manner, not bothering to hide his contempt.

I always assumed this Gamilon officer was Krypt and they mistakenly used Talan’s voice for this scene, but I’ve since learned that, no, this beak-nosed officer is a new character, presumably one of the supply tanker captains. He tells the Queen to be ready for the tanker’s arrival. He also mentions that Royal Bee Jelly is one of Desslok’s favorite foods and he is pleased that the bee people have doubled production. Melina pleads for help in dealing with “the old man” and his rebel forces but is told bluntly that it’s her problem.

A short time later, the bee people are gathered for a celebration. There’s some great music at the celebration consisting of a fast percussive clip-clopping and a simple Shamisen (a Japanese acoustic guitar). We’re shown several musicians banging on log drums, but no guitar. Despite their current situation, it seems like most bee people are happy to see their queen. Melina walks out on to a balcony to cheers from the masses.

Production note: Numerous Yamato soundtrack albums have come and gone, but there is still no sign of the Bee People party music, which is a real shame. One theory for this is that it wasn’t composed for Yamato, but was instead lifted from some outside source. This has happened in other programs; Mobile Suit Gundam and Armored Trooper Votoms, both productions of Sunrise, each “pirated” a track from an Italian film titled Two Marines and a General. Reusing outside music on broadcast TV may sit in a legal grey area, but international music licensing laws would certainly prevent such tracks from being bundled and resold on an album. The fact that we still don’t have the Bee People music after more than 30 years fits this theory pretty well.

The Argo detects the Gamilon rocket tanker heading for Beemera and the Black Tigers are launched to intercept. Deciding the tanker is too near the Argo, Conroy suggests laying some “delayed action rockets” in the belly of the tanker which will cause it to explode a safe distance away. In Yamato, there were no such rockets mentioned. In fact, we’re never shown that Black Tigers can even carry missiles. Furthermore, as with several other dogfight scenes, there is no dialogue at all in Yamato.

IQ tells Nova that the Old Man plans to kill them. Nova doesn’t want to hear such talk, and berates IQ for not understanding what death means to humans. “You’ll just be turned into scrap, but for us humans it’s an entirely different thing,” she says. IQ responds with a very thoughtful speech, stating that he’s been created to serve humans, and he understands them better than anyone realizes. He’s been created with feelings, and observes and relates to their hopes and fears. It’s a good speech, although it veers into corniness at the end when he says, “and if I am destroyed, and only scrap metal is left, well, it once held a heart.” His words work well on Nova; she asks his forgiveness and hugs him. IQ has the tact not to ruin the moment by copping a feel.

Nova and IQ-9 are taken from their cell to the celebration, where the natives are dancing around a raging fire. Melina is informed of the tanker’s approach and heads toward the gantry to greet it. She doesn’t get very far before the Old Man and his followers surge forward, mostly armed with sticks, proclaiming that the Queen sold them out to the Gamilons. The Royal Guard aim their arrow guns at the rebels. The Old Man brings forth his “Gamilons,” Nova and IQ, using them as shields. Melina was told earlier that she would be replaced if she can’t pacify her people, so she can’t afford to let these “Gamilons” perish.

The tanker is moments away from landing. A large artillery gun is brought up. The Old Man offers the Queen a chance to prove she is fit to be their leader: use the gun to destroy the tanker.

Star Blazers has the Queen nervously grip the gun controls and line up the tanker in its sights. All of a sudden, she gets a gleam in her eye, then throws her head back and laughs. “Did you think I would do it? Guards, stop them!”

Yamato is quite different. She gets the gleam in her eye, then turns the gun on the Old Man, reducing him to smoke and ashes. She then throws her head back and laughs as the guards hold the rebels at bay. Queen Melina continues her approach to the tanker, but then she stops, shocked by what she sees. Two hollow-eyed Gamilon soldiers start down the stairway, then suddenly fall off and plummet several dozen meters to the ground. It’s a very strange scene, in that the two soldiers simply died on their feet, and also that Queen Melina was able to sense something was wrong seconds before anything happened. Star Blazers originally edited that part out, and it’s much clearer without it, IMO.

The tanker explodes, destroying the landing structures nearby. I’m not sure what makes the (presumably empty) tanker so volatile, but I guess it was a good idea to use those Delayed Action Rockets on it. In the wake of the tanker’s destruction, the rebels attack. The fighting between the guards and the rebels is more vivid in this version, as we see rebels fall before the arrow guns and guards getting clubbed with sticks. In the midst of the battle, IQ breaks his bonds and shields Nova from the clubs.

The Star Force arrives moments later, led by Wildstar and Conroy. Nova goes running into Derek’s arms, an action that doesn’t go unnoticed by IQ-9. Conroy defends himself against a bee person while exclaiming, “We’re on your side, we came to help you!” This makes Nova indignant. “Are you so sure? They lived peacefully until the Gamilons came, and we look just like Gamilons to them. In their minds, there’s very little difference. We want something from them, too.”

She then runs off, and the Star Force retreats. IQ is the last to go. He’s in no hurry, as the blows of the bee people do no damage to him. Indeed, it seems apparent that seeing Nova and Derek together hurt him more than any clubs could. When he’s called a monster, IQ responds forlornly, “That’s right, I am not a human being. I am a…robot.”

Back aboard the Argo, IQ watches Beemera recede from the Aft Observation Deck (which seems to be a favorite Star Force hangout). Nova comes around and tries to cheer him up by saying that the Bee People gave them a lot of fresh food. IQ couldn’t care less. Realizing what’s wrong, Nova starts, “I appreciate how you feel about me, but….”

“That’s all right, Nova,” he says, then starts wheeling away. He stops at the doorway. “But still, I love you very much, Nova. And there’s no reason why I shouldn’t love someone.”

In the Star Blazers script, Nova says the bee people gave them some food “and some of their very special honey.” This usually elicits some disgust from people who realize the implications, that the Star Force was given some pureed bee people. However, that ain’t necessarily so! The Gamilon foodstuff was Royal Bee Jelly, while Nova said they were given special honey. Presumably, bee people honey is similar to Earth honey and doesn’t involve putting bees into large blenders.

Additional note from Matt Murray: This has parallels with actual bees: honey is food made by bees from nectar, whereas royal jelly is an entirely different substance which is secreted from the bodies of worker bees and fed to larvae (and when a new queen is needed, overfed to larvae to stimulate development). Nova’s use of the specific term “honey” should allay any concerns that they were actually going to be eating murdered bee slaves.

In Yamato, the stop at Beemera was a total failure, as Yuki didn’t get any food and was scolded by the Captain. Despite this, food supplies stop being an issue after this episode, even in the original.

Production note: the concept of finding food and materials for resupply was an important part of the original 39-episode story from the beginning. This episode grew out of an idea for the crew to visit a planet named Vela to obtain supplies. There, they would meet with resistance from a “strange creature.” Ultimately, Yuki was to give up this operation after being shamed by the creature as a “vegetable thief” and the ship would move on. Such a failure to restock the foodstuffs would, of course, be a truly serious problem.

A rather strange episode, this one. I felt for the little robot, and it’s a perfect episode for the age group Star Blazers was originally aimed at. What 10 or 11-year old kid hasn’t had an unrequited crush by this point? However, I’ve always been weirded out by IQ’s harassment of Nova, and am glad that SB toned it down.

Additional note from Matt Murray: This episode originally concluded with the narration “The Star Force flies on, its crew aware that the fate of planet Earth depends on their getting to Iscandar in time. On Earth, everyone waits anxiously for news from the Star Force. Will they be able to reach Iscandar in time? They must, if planet Earth is to survive. Hurry, Star Force! There are only 267 days left.” However, on the DVD release the narration is missing; only the music is heard over the closing scenes.

“There are 267 days left”

Continue to episode 17

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