Episode 18 Commentary

Floating Fortress Island! Two Men Brave Death!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

17 January 2200

Production note: the original opening narration (in Japanese) indicated this was the 97th day out from Earth, but in fact it is mission day 103.

The Star Force is 8 days away from Balan when they encounter a huge construct. They send out a recon ship, but as soon as it comes within 10 megameters of its target, it’s shaken to pieces. Space Battleship Yamato had a rather gruesome scene here. The cockpit is torn apart and the pilot screams, his face contorting grotesquely as he’s suddenly exposed to a hard vacuum. Star Blazers edited out the death scene and claims that the pilot is Sandor, and that he escaped by ejecting from the ship.

Sharp-eyed viewers had several indications that the pilot wasn’t Sandor; the uniform colors, for one thing. The pilot wore red markings (combat group) while Sandor wears blue (science group). Second, the pilot had big bushy eyebrows. A distinctive feature of Sandor, aside from his pinprick pupils, is that he’s drawn with no discernable eyebrows. Third, a close look reveals that Sandor is on the bridge right before Wildstar reports that he’s flying the plane. Also note that in a brief clip we see there are actually two people in the recon craft, so even if “Sandor” survived, Star Blazers is silent about what happened to the other crewman.

Afterward, the scene of the recon plane’s destruction is replayed on a vintage movie projector. From the footage, Sandor is able to deduce that this “Space Fortress” emits a “magnetron wave,” which sets up vibrations in a craft’s metal and shakes it apart. Venture has tried to maneuver around it, but the fortress has a lock on the Argo and moves along with it.

Sandor, naturally, has a plan. In his lab he has created a seamless plane that consists of smooth surfaces; a uni-body that can’t be shaken apart. Wildstar and Sandor both volunteer for the mission. In these scenes, the dialogue was altered to restate that Sandor was the pilot in the opening.

Production notes: In the original premise for this episode, Kodai [Wildstar] and Shima [Venture] were to fly off together in the mission to disable the Magnetron Wave Satellite. As they talk, their love-triangle rivalry over Yuki would come out and threaten to distract them from the task at hand. When this rivalry was eliminated from the larger plotline, it was decided to give Sanada some screentime instead.

The original design of the Magnetron Wave Satellite fortress looked like a large pumice stone but was modified to be more elliptical, like a giant sweet potato with holes all over it.

Sandor’s seamless plane is a success, but they soon find that the fortress’ defenses are too good. In order to destroy it they will have to go inside. They moor the ship near an opening and begin walking through the strange corridors. Wildstar is reminded of a cavern, but it almost seems like they’re walking through a living thing, with lots of vein-like wires and tubes lining the walls. Like most Gamilon bases, there are strange, rhythmic, stomach gurgling noises in the background.

Production note: the soundbed created for this environment made a comeback in Series 2 as the ominous ambient noises inside the Comet Empire city. For now, it comes across as an creepy indicator of Gamilon’s affinity for biotechnology.

The corridors are patrolled by “anti-bodies” in the form of robot sentries. After avoiding one such sentry, Sandor shares a story with Wildstar about his brother, Alex.

Sandor is a little older than most of the crew. Most Star Force members are 18, but Sandor is 28, the same age as Alex Wildstar. (I was surprised when I learned that. I thought everyone seemed much older than they were.) He was friends with Alex when they were both cadets. Their friendship continued after their cadet days, when Alex became Captain of the missile destroyer Paladin and Sandor became a top man in spaceship maintenance. Sandor had worked on the Paladin before the fateful Battle of Pluto, and regrets that he didn’t have enough time to do a thorough job. If he had, he feels the Paladin could have survived.

Story note: Based on Sandor’s flashback scene, the launch of Alex Wildstar’s ship in the Pluto task force happens about eight months earlier, April or May of 2199. The Planet Bombing of Earth must have been stepped up considerably right after this, since the atmosphere is still breathable.

Sandor seems to put an inordinate amount of faith in his maintenance skills. It looked like most ships at the Pluto front line exploded with one shot, while the Paladin took dozens of hits before its end. Does he really think that if he had more time it would have been able to survive that last, brutal assault?

In Space Battleship Yamato, Sanada [Sandor] mentions that Kodai Mamoru [Alex Wildstar] sacrificed his ship to protect Captain Okita [Avatar]. This is different than what is actually stated in the first episode, where Mamoru insisted on staying behind because he couldn’t face the shame of retreat. But then, Sanada wasn’t actually there.

Derek responds by telling Sandor that he shouldn’t feel responsible for his brother’s death. He starts to walk away, unaware of an approaching sentry. In one continuous motion, Sandor shoves Wildstar out of the way, rolls, and fires his handgun, destroying the robot.

“That’s what we get for being sidetracked and not taking care of business,” Sandor chuckles. He then wistfully starts talking about another time when he was careless. When he was a boy, his family went to an amusement park on the moon (identified in the Argo Press Star Blazers comics as being at the “New Sweden Lunar Colony” in 2177). Sandor, in grade school at the time, insisted on driving a rocket car. The car, which traveled on a roller coaster-like track, was involved in an accident. Space Battleship Yamato reveals a significant detail that was cut from Star Blazers: Sandor’s older sister was in the car with him. The car collided with another and went flying off the track. The accident is shown in slow-motion, freezing on a frame where we see his sister thrown from the wreckage.

Sanada’s sister is unnamed, but “Mio” became a popular choice among fans after the Be Forever Yamato movie. In the movie, Sanada introduces the crew to his “niece,” Mio Sanada, which is later revealed to be a false identity. It’s believed that Sanada chose the name Mio in memory of his late sister.

Meanwhile, the magnetron wave starts to disintegrate the Argo. Venture explains to Captain Avatar that the ship may have to warp, but there is a great risk. The Argo is most vulnerable right at the moment of warp, and the effect of the magnetron wave could destroy it in the attempt. Venture puts the chance of a successful warp at 50%. (It’s slightly better in Yamato, where Shima puts the odds at 55%!) While it’s never stated, this could also explain why they didn’t use the Wave-Motion Gun. In two out of the three times it’s been fired so far, the Wave-Motion Gun caused damage to the ship. Firing it while being affected by the waves would almost guarantee a major mechanical failure.

As for the shock cannons, in Star Blazers the fortress is well out of range. At the top of the episode, Venture says it is 7000 megameters (Mm) away. In Series 2, the Argo‘s original shock cannon range is defined as 7.5 Mm. Megameters is an actual unit of measurement, equivalent to 1,000 kilometers. Space Battleship Yamato gives us different figures. They list the distance from the fortress as 20,000 kilometers (which in Star Blazers is still out of range), and Yamato‘s main gun range is less than 10 “space kilometers.” Space kilometers have never been defined, but it seems likely that 10 space kilometers falls below the 20,000 km mark.

Production note: This episode originally contained a very unusual scene for an SF anime series: someone actually goes to the bathroom! A scene in the storyboard followed Venture as he entered a men’s room to relieve himself while expressing worry about Wildstar and Sandor. The bathroom itself was fully designed and worked out in detail (shown at right)…but was ultimately judged “not ready for prime time” and cut from the final storyboards.

Having found the “brain” of the fortress, Sandor starts wiring the explosives. He explains that the bomb placement must be very precise. If they only damage the computer, it will be able to fix itself. This leads him to talk about technology and how its inventors must be careful to keep control of their creations “or else we’ll end up inventing our own destruction.” These comments are very common in Cold War era stories, where the threat of technology running amok (read: nuclear annihilation) was never far from viewers’ minds. This was probably even more so in Japan, where a staunch anti-nuclear policy was adopted after WWII.

The dialogue in Yamato is more personal. Sanada states that he loved painting as a kid and wanted to grow up to be a painter. Because of the accident that killed his sister, he became interested in science and technology. Even though he’s a professional scientist, he has a somewhat antagonistic relationship with his field of study, viewing it as something to be mastered. “Science is my enemy to defeat,” he says. He seems to want to make sure science is used as a tool, and not a weapon. He gets even more intense in a later scene, where he states, “I despise science! It’s so overrated!”

A moment later, an eerie sound, like female laughter, fills the room, emanating from the computer, indicating they’ve tripped its defenses. The air becomes wavy. (Perhaps a gas has been released? Luckily, Wildstar and Sandor are wearing their space suits.) The ground starts moving like water, guiding the two toward the computer core. Sandor is quickly entangled by thick tendrils, which wrap around his arms and legs.

Meanwhile, the Argo has finished warp preparations. Nova (who seems to be sitting at Sandor’s station) thinks about how she’ll never see Derek again, thoughts that are only revealed in Star Blazers.

Wildstar slowly wakes to the sound of Sandor calling his name. Sandor is trapped about 15 feet off the ground, his arms and legs still gripped by the cables. Sandor already has his escape worked out–all Wildstar has to do is take off his arms and legs! He explains that the childhood accident made him a quadruple amputee, that all his limbs are bionic and can be safely removed. The Star Blazers script was a bit awkward here, with Sandor prompting Wildstar urgently to remove his limbs with only vague instructions. Wildstar seems understandably confused.

Shortly, Wildstar is walking through the corridors, carrying the head and torso of Sandor, his empty sleeves and pant legs dangling down (though not, apparently, compromising the integrity of his space suit). When they reach the plane, Sandor tells Derek to leave him there because he has to set off the explosives that are implanted in his bionic limbs(!). Since he was bound up near the main computer, his limb-bombs are in an ideal place to do major damage, but if he goes too much further, he’ll be out of range.

It appears as though only the parts below the elbows and knees were removed, and since Sandor mentions a detonating device on his shoulder, presumably he still has some cybernetic parts on him. Reluctantly, Wildstar places Sandor just outside the opening, in what looks like a dent in the fortress.

Space Battleship Yamato explains how Sanada expects to survive. As we saw earlier, there are shutters on the openings of the fortress that block incoming attacks. Sanada theorizes that the shutters may activate in response to an internal explosion, so he should be shielded (at least partially) from his own bombs. Sanada-san is much more morbid than Sandor. He tells young Kodai to come back after the explosion. “You might be able to find one of my bones.” Yes, the cyborg man with exploding limbs is somehow even more creepy in the original version!

Just as Venture is about to warp, Wildstar’s voice is heard over the radio. Back at the fortress, Sandor has some kind of cord rigged from his left shoulder to what remains of his right arm (how he hooked it up with no hands is anyone’s guess). He pulls the cord and the limb-bombs explode. They don’t destroy the fortress outright, but flames and smoke pour out of the entry holes. Following Sandor’s voice on the radio, Wildstar finds his teammate, covered with soot but with a big grin on his face.

Production note: you can be forgiven for wondering what’s behind that strange expression. In any other show, it would tip off something conspiratorial or an alien mind-game. Of course, this is nothing of the kind, but it could possibly be an artifact of a deleted subplot involving a mutiny in the Star Force. An internal revolt was written into every draft of the story from the very beginning, including the first novelization. At one point, there was even a plan for Orion to rebel against Avatar for making Wildstar the deputy captain. Such ideas floated freely around the Yamato production office and occasionally lead to a false start in the animation. But in the end, Sandor’s expression can be chalked up to simple bravura.

At the Balan base command room (which is introduced by several establishing shots in Yamato), Lysis pulls out what looks like a hand-rolled cigarillo. (I’m curious as to what is in a Gamilon cigar. Space tobacco? Ground-up Bee People?) Volgar attempts to light it for him, but his lighter is all sparks and no flame, which Lysis notes is a good metaphor for him.

On the Argo, Wildstar is quietly watching as the ship pulls away from the inert fortress. The front of his shirt is open, which is strange since it always seemed the shirts were pull-overs. At a touch on his shoulder, he turns to see Sandor, his lost cybernetic parts now replaced with the newest models. Wildstar thinks about his brother. Sandor’s survival gives him hope that Alex is alive somewhere. In Yamato, Sanada channels up the spirit of Disney, telling Kodai that this brother is alive! Where? “Why, in your heart, of course!”

“There are only 260 days left.”

Continue to episode 19

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