Episode 17 Commentary

Charge! Balanosaurus Special Attack Group!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

14 January 2200

At the Navigation center on the Argo‘s 2nd Bridge, Venture and Eager are plotting their course. Eager is glad that it’s been quiet recently, as it gives them a chance to catch up after months of delays. Venture isn’t so sanguine, because they’re still 3 days behind schedule (which sounds pretty good, all things considered), and they’ll have to make another warp to catch up. Venture is cautious about doing another warp so soon after the last one–it’s stressful for both the ship and the crew–but there is no choice.

When Venture is discussing their schedule, we see a timeline, complete with Japanese text. It’s not very easy to see the words, so it was left intact in Star Blazers. In Space Battleship Yamato, the situation is much worse than 3 days. They should have been at Balan on day 65, but it’s now day 98 and they’re still not there yet, so the mission is well over a month behind schedule. Star Blazers simply cuts to the next scene, while Yamato shows a lingering, ominous look at the timeline.

Story note: as of this point, the ship is now 77,000 light years from Earth.

Balan is the Star Force’s halfway point to Iscandar. It’s an orphan, not part of any solar system, and still cooling down from its creation. Volcanoes cover much of the surface. However, even in this atmosphere, life is struggling to evolve. So far, Balan’s native life forms are tiny blobs of matter referred to as “energy cells,” which the Gamilons are hoping to harness as a weapon. Yamato gives us several other factoids about the planet: it’s 20 times the size of Earth but its rotation is faster, making the gravity near the equator comfortable for the Gamilons, who have a base there.

Volgar, newly demoted vice-commander of the Balan base, meets with his replacement, General Lysis. Volgar has developed a method of “mind control” that will enable the Balan cells to be used as a weapon. Lysis clearly has little time for his subordinate, and shoots down his idea. It seems to boil down to a matter of pride; they can’t lose another battle to the Star Force, and when they do strike, Lysis will be the one to defeat them. Not Volgar, nor any alien life form.

Production note: Geru/Volgar was arbitrarily demoted to deputy commander of Balan when Dommel arrived. In the original 39-episode scenario it was a bit different. Geru takes out a fleet against Yamato despite the warnings of Domel. Naturally, he is outsmarted and defeated by Captain Okita.

The Japanese version of this scene is more revealing about Gamilas’ future plans. Domel [Lysis] mentions that they plan to colonize Earth. Geru [Volgar] says that there is a Pluto Base Reconstruction Team ready to start dealing with Earth itself, so all the Balan force has to do is take care of the Yamato. Geru believes that the Yamato‘s crew is overconfident because it destroyed the Pluto Base, and further states that Pluto Commander Shulz’s [Ganz] “passive” tactics led to his own defeat.

Domel doesn’t think Yamato even knows about the Balan base, and they should use that to their advantage. In other words, not announce their presence by striking prematurely. When Geru equates aggressiveness to “being faithful to Leader Dessler,” Domel pulls rank and shuts him down. Geru also mentions in this scene that it was difficult to train the peaceful Balan creatures to become a weapon, which further illustrates how cruel the Gamilas are. They will not hesitate to use (this episode) or eat (last episode) the natives of the planets they colonize!

Star Blazers shuffled scenes around a bit; in Yamato, we see Geru’s first attempt at making a Balanodon [Balanosaurus] before he talks to Domel about it. In Star Blazers, he tries to make the Balanosaurus after the meeting.

The Argo emerges from a warp (although it looks more like it emerges from a cloud). The crew springs to action when they discover Captain Avatar slumped over his console, and he’s rushed to the med bay. Inside, he slowly wakes up. Dr. Sane informs him that his condition is very serious and an operation must begin immediately. Avatar tells him to do what is necessary, because he must go on. Going by some of the expressions on Dr. Sane’s face, he must be angry with the Captain since this is exactly what he warned him about several episodes ago. In Yamato, the Captain seems to be almost throwing himself on the doctor’s mercy as he holds his hand for several seconds.

In Yamato, the scene continues on with Dr. Sane preparing for the operation, but Star Blazers inserts a scene of Lysis scolding Volgar for continuing to train his “little pets.” This second conversation between the two was completely fabricated for Star Blazers and was not in the original. (Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that this scene consists entirely of reused animation from the first conversation.) After seeing the Space Battleship Yamato version, it strikes me as an odd place to put it.

Doctor Sane puts on his mask and starts preparations immediately. Avatar tells him that there’s a file in his quarters containing vital information, just in case he doesn’t survive. Nova and IQ-9 assist the Doctor during the operation. We’re spared the gruesome details, but we see Dr. Sane using laser scalpels and robotic arms to assist him. Avatar apparently wants everyone to know he’s still Captain even when unconscious, since he keeps his hat on during the surgery!

Next comes a scene from Space Battleship Yamato that was edited out of Star Blazers, with Geru in his quarters throwing a drunken tantrum in front of his guards and half-naked concubines. When Geru asks a guard “who am I?” the guard answers “Vice-Commander Geru.” Geru becomes enraged at being addressed by his new rank and hurls a bottle at the underling. Naturally, he misses.

An upbeat Yamato theme plays as the Argo flies over Balan. Once again (and using the same animation as an earlier scene) the Balan energy cells clump together into a huge ball and forms into a “Balanosaurus.” Volgar rams it into the Argo, completely obliterating it. This would be a rather anti-climactic end to the series, if we weren’t immediately told that what was just destroyed was a test dummy. Buoyed by this victory over a defenseless test ship, Volgar immediately sets off to destroy the real Argo. In Yamato, you can be charitable and say that Geru may still be a little drunk.

Lysis is not pleased when an aide informs him of Volgar’s activities, and he’s probably less pleased that he was interrupted while drinking wine in the company of a bevy of women.

Dr. Sane informs the Star Force that the operation was successful. However, they’ll have to wait until the Captain comes out of the anesthesia to know how well he’ll be. Space Battleship Yamato presents a montage of the crew waiting in silence, with the eerie pinging of the medical equipment in the background.

Volgar approaches the Argo in his control craft, accompanied by 3 egg-shaped tankers. The appearance of this enemy causes immediate discord amongst the crew; Wildstar wants to fight while Venture wants to escape. Wildstar counters that if they run, they may have to fight anyway, but a quick decisive strike can knock out the Gamilons now. There’s a brief shot of Orion and Dr. Sane on the bridge that was edited out of Star Blazers. It might be because Sane’s sake bottle is displayed prominently, or maybe it’s because the Doctor seems to be floating a couple of inches off the floor. (Now that’s some strong sake!)

The Gamilon tankers release their cargo of Balan energy cells. They clump together, some forming vague Balanosaurus shapes. Faced with this weird phenomonon, Wildstar orders the shock cannons to prepare for firing, over Venture’s objections. After they’re prepped and aimed, Wildstar fires the guns. It’s a direct hit that tears the masses apart. The Star Force’s sense of accomplishment is short lived, however, as the cells reform and group together to form one huge Balanosaurus.

Production note: According to knowledgeable fans of Toho monster movies, the Balanodon’s roar is a combination of Godzilla and Hedora from Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.

Eager opines that they should escape, but Venture says it’s now too late. Derek suggests the Wave-Motion Gun. Orion points out how dangerous it is in the wake of all the warping they’ve done recently, that the ship may be damaged from all the stress. Derek says there is no other choice. The decision to use the WMG is now unanimous among the bridge, even from Venture and Orion. The Wave-Motion Gun is quickly charged and fired, destroying the Balanosaurus with ease. Volgar is practically in tears, slamming his fists into his control panel as he sees the Argo escape with only minor damage.

Production note: The scene of Wildstar’s hand pulling the trigger of the Wave-Motion Gun shows him wearing space suit gloves because it was lifted from episode 12 at the last minute.

Now, maybe this is a problem with having such a small crew of mostly 18-year olds, or maybe it’s because there weren’t more qualified officers available, but the drama on the Argo‘s bridge should never have happened. Even if there weren’t signs of Avatar’s illness before they began their mission (there were), some line of succession should have already been in place. If there wasn’t, Avatar should have appointed a Deputy Captain before the operation. Perhaps this information was contained in the file Avatar mentioned to Dr. Sane, but it didn’t do a lot of good here.

Story note: In the original scenario, while Captain Okita was in emergency surgery, Kodai sought the advice of Sandor and Orion before responding to the Balanodon attack with the Wave-Motion Gun. To better emphasize this as his coming-of-age story, the writers decided that Kodai would make the choice on his own.

On the Argo, two Science Group members report that there’s a crack in the lower gun deck. A short time later, Orion enters a small maintenance tunnel and says that everything was fine before the firing, that the Wave-Motion Gun shock caused the damage.

Some time later, the medical bay gallery is packed with Star Force crewmen. In the bay itself, Wildstar, Venture, Nova, Dr. Sane, and IQ-9 are with Avatar. Avatar commends Wildstar for taking the initiative to save the ship. The damage is regrettable, but the ship survived thanks to him.

Story note: Captain Avatar casually mentions here that he’s “seen lions push their cubs out of the cave to help them become good fighters.” It works as a metaphor when he observes that Wildstar “left the cave” on his own, but it seems a bit out of left field when we ponder it literally. Did a younger Avatar spend time as a zoologist in Africa in the years before the planet bombing? If so, he has certainly lead a full, rich life.

On the Balan base, there’s quite a different meeting between an officer and a subordinate. Lysis states the obvious: Volgar knew the Star Force had a Wave-Motion Gun, so he shouldn’t have been surprised that they’d use it. “Did you think they were just going to fly into your trap like your stupid dummy of the Argo? That’s all you’re good for Volgar, shooting down dummies!!”

In Lysis’ thoughts, however, he’s wondering how to defeat the Star Force. He almost sounds upset that Volgar failed.

“There are only 263 days left.”

Continue to episode 18

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