Episode 19 Commentary

Homesickness of Space! My mother’s tears are my tears!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

22 January 2200

It’s been two months since the Star Force has been out of communication range of Earth, since November 23, 2199.

While Space Battleship Yamato doesn’t tell us what Aihara [Homer] is up to in the beginning of this episode, the narrator in Star Blazers informs us that he is “sick with worry.” He goes to the medical bay, where Dr. Sane runs some tests. The prognosis: Homer is stressed. Dr. Sane recommends a relaxing session in the Holography Room. In Space Battleship Yamato, after Aihara walks out, we see Dr. Sado’s method of relaxation: his male nurse pours him a drink. In Yamato, the nurses seem to do little else but pour sake for the Doctor. The only nurse who ever does more is Yuki [Nova]. (As if she doesn’t have enough things to do!)

Story note: This is the first time since Episode 12 that we’ve seen medical personnel working under Dr. Sane. Back then, he had one misshapen nurse who was not definitively male or female. (Nurse Pat?) This time we see a normally-proportioned male with no lines.

Nova sets the Holography Room for Homer’s hometown in winter (said to be Iwate in Yamato, in the northern part of the main Japanese island of Honshu). Moments later the room comes to life. Snow begins to fall, white-capped mountains form in the background, and a dock appears along with workers unloading cargo. It then changes to a more rural setting with horses out in a snowy field, and a house appears. The scene shifts to night, and Homer sees an old woman resembling his mother. He reaches out for her, breaking the mirage, then drops to his knees in despair. Nova stops the program, and the simulated environment fades away.

We don’t see much more of the Holography Room, but I’ve always been curious about how it works. Are the images merely light or do they have some substance? The room created a facsimile of Homer’s mom, but all she does is smile. Can the simulated people speak? Do they have AI?

There is a piece of unreleased music during this scene. In Yamato, it was called “Kitagawa music” and was specifically chosen by Aihara for his Holo-session.

Production note: this is a classic Japanese folksong called Northern Nocturne, which was a popular karaoke tune in cafes and restaurants in the 1950s. It was originally written in 1941 by a student from Iwate named Tadashi Kikuchi and set to music by composer Andou Mutsuo. It has been commercially recorded six times and used in the soundtrack of three films.

Later, Dr. Sane helps Captain Avatar (still recovering from his operation two episodes ago) to the Communications Room. The Star Force has managed to reestablish contact with Earth from over 70,000 light-years away, a feat that should be impossible with Earth technology. Avatar sits at the communication console, helped by a tech wearing a black-on-white colored uniform. We saw this uniform color combo once before, worn by Captain Avatar himself, in Episode 4.

Production note: most likely, this color combo is a cel paint error since the tech is shown later to be a subordinate of Homer’s, which would put him in the communications group. Therefore, he should have a yellow uniform rather than a white one. Cel paint seems to be an affliction for this poor guy, since in his first scene he is painted on the front of the cel instead of the back. Oops.

Contact is soon established between the Argo and EDF Commander Singleton at the “Operations Headquarters in the Space Department of the United Nations.” Avatar reports that they perform warps twice daily and they expect to return to Earth in 158 days. Commander Singleton gives a recap of events on Earth similar to the one in Episode 10. Life in the underground cities is hard, but everyone’s managing.

Production note: in the first draft of the script for this episode, Captain Okita was to speak with Director Tanaka of the UN Space Bureau Yamato Planning HQ. The character of Tanaka was never fully developed, so EDF Commander Singleton appeared instead.

Space Battleship Yamato goes into more technical detail than Star Blazers, aided by a mission map. The daily warps take place at 0800 hours and 1600 hours and are 1,200 LY (light- years) each. However, they are still behind by 61,000 LY, which puts them 51 days behind schedule.

After the communication ends, Homer suddenly begins ranting at the assembled crowd. Appearing frantic and sweaty, he tells them that the Star Force is on a “fool’s errand.” Homer’s outburst concludes with him claiming that life on Earth is much more difficult than the Commander let on. When Avatar demands evidence, Homer’s breathing becomes heavy and labored, and he passes out.

In the mess hall, a table is set up for the Captain and the bridge crew. A Star Force member, dressed in a never-seen-before (or-will-again) baby blue uniform with white markings, pours drinks into wine glasses. And not “Spring Water” either. These drinks have a red-wine coloring. The dinner is Avatar’s gesture of thanks for the bridge crew’s work while he’s recovering. Avatar anticipates he’ll soon be able to return to active duty and remain in command for the rest of the trip. From this comment, I have to wonder if this episode got switched with the previous one at the last minute. Last episode, Avatar was back in his command chair, but now he’s talking like he’s been out of action for the last few weeks.

After a few toasts (and a deleted scene where Orion [Tokugawa] slaps the Doctor on the back, causing him to do a spit take), Avatar broaches the subject of Homer. Venture takes the opportunity to air his own concerns about their mission, which Avatar addresses with a brief speech.

Star Blazers gives away the game at this point. A scene was inserted here with Lysis revealing that he’s responsible for the restored communications. It came much later in Yamato. During this scene, Lysis is playing with one of his pets, a strange bird which he allows to groom his hair with its bill!

Production note: in the 39-episode scenario for the TV series, Domeru [Lysis] was to play a complex and extensive mind-game against the Star Force to prey on their anxiety, but the details of this game were never worked out since it was to come well after the TV network cut their order to 26 episodes.

23:38, ship time. Homer walks down the dark corridors. As with his trip to the med bay, Star Blazers is upfront with what he’s doing; his thoughts reveal that he’s going to see what’s happening on Earth. He goes to the Comm Room and dismisses the officer on duty, the guy in the black-on-white uniform. As soon as Homer is alone, he activates the controls, making direct contact with his mother. This is obviously not Homer’s first time calling home, but it’s unknown how long ago he discovered contact had been reestablished, or how the rest of the Star Force learned of it. Homer has presumably edited the communications log to keep his calls a secret.

While the crew in Space Battleship Yamato often addressed each other by family name only, the Star Force is much more informal. Characters were often called by a single name, whether it’s a first name, last name, or nickname. In the case of Homer, the fact that his own mother calls him Homer confirms that it’s his given name. Unlike most Star Blazers characters, Homer eventually gets assigned a full name in Series 3, “Homer Glitchman.” His name in Japanese is a bit more muddled. In this episode, his mom calls him “Yoshikazu,” but he is also known as “Giichi,” an alternate pronunciation of the Japanese kanji characters in his name.

Fading in from the commercial break, we start with a faraway view of Earth. The focus switches to Japan, then underground, where we see smoke drifting out of some buildings in the underground city. On a rooftop, there’s a riot taking place. Police use water cannons to quell the crowd. The rioting isn’t shown in Star Blazers.

Homer’s mom tells him that his father is very sick, partially due to overwork from constructing underground cities, and partially from a new virus that’s spreading among the community. Star Blazers inserted a brief shot of the Gamilon relay satellite here, which would have been out of place in Yamato since it hadn’t been mentioned yet.

Papa manages to stir enough to tell Homer “Your mother needs you!” before his head collapses back onto the pillow. We’re allowed to assume that he’s just passed out in Star Blazers, but in Yamato, we learn that his eyes have closed for the last time. Mrs. Aihara places a sheet over her husband’s face. And it wasn’t a virus that ended the elder Aihara’s life, but violence. The couple were desperate for supplies, so Mr. Aihara took part in a riot–with disastrous consequences.

Homer sobs at the console. Suddenly aware that someone else is in the room, he turns to see Wildstar. In the ensuing argument, Homer is aggressive and unapologetic, insisting that he has a right to know how his family is doing. Accusing the Star Force of being “cold-blooded robots,” Homer storms from the room, knocking Derek down. Perhaps Homer doesn’t know about Derek’s situation, or maybe he’s too worked up to think clearly, but it seems rather cruel for him to accuse Wildstar of not caring about his family when Wildstar no longer has any family to speak of.

Venture is on night duty on the First Bridge. Homer bursts in and tries to convince him to turn the ship back to Earth. Whatever doubts Venture had before are now settled, and he calmly tells Homer that they’ll return to Earth after they complete their mission. With a cry of anguish, Homer goes running out the door. Both here and in the Communications Room, the Star Blazers script reinforces the belief that Homer’s dad is still alive, with Homer referring to him as “sick.”

Using a corridor phone, Wildstar and Venture contact Conroy and learn that Homer is heading for the space suit locker. A rather infamous scene was omitted here in which Nova comes out in the hallway wearing a scanty negligee. She tells Wildstar and Venture that she just saw Homer float by her window. Considering that the Argo was not stationary at the time, it was amazing that she managed to see him at all, much less identify him. Even a “slow” cruising speed on a ship like the Argo has to be in the hundreds if not thousands of km/hr. As the Argo continues on its journey, Homer obliviously “swims” the other way in an EVA suit. (And it’s rather chilling how quickly the ship disappears in the distance.)

Space Battleship Yamato had the reveal of Domel/Lysis’ relay satellite ploy here. The Japanese version also featured title cards for Balan, the Balan Base, and Domel. Domel even mentions his pet bird. It is a rare specimen from the Ruby System. Official reference gives it the name RocRoc.

The Black Tigers are launched on a search and rescue mission to find their errant Comm Officer. Homer drifts helplessly, exhausted and hallucinating, before fatigue overcomes him. He’s awakened when he bumps into a construct, which he quickly identifies as a Gamilon Relay Satellite. He suddenly snaps out of his torpor as he realizes this was responsible for the restored communications with Earth. Space Battleship Yamato is a little more pointed, with Aihara admitting he was victim of this Gamilas trap. He desperately needs to contact the Star Force, but the Argo is nowhere in sight.

Wildstar is flying nearby in his Cosmo Zero when he notices the satellite. Approaching for a closer look, he sees Homer waving him down frantically. He takes Homer on board, then circles around to target the satellite, but allows Homer to pull the trigger. Within seconds, the Gamilon machine is reduced to shrapnel and orange flame. Homer tells Wildstar that the next time they’ll contact Earth will be on the way home.

Story note: this quick display is an interesting reminder that we’re watching an action/adventure show. It is, in fact, the one and only action scene in this entire episode. Like episode 10, the character drama is so well-constructed it carries the episode all by itself and rivets the attention even decades after it was made. That’s the mark of a true classic.

Production note: Wildstar’s Cosmo Zero has magically gained a back seat for this episode. (Perhaps it’s the same model we’ll see again in Final Yamato.)

This is the last of the character study episodes as the series moves toward its final arc. I enjoyed seeing the focus shift from primary to secondary characters like Homer, IQ-9, and Sandor. This episode establishes Homer as one of the more fragile of the Argo‘s crew. We see this trait in future episodes, like when Venture takes over his console in Series 2, and when he almost abandons the ship over a girl he just met in Series 3. This was an excellent performance by Homer’s voice actor (listed at IMDB as Michael Bertolini), who does heroic work with Homer’s emotional breakdowns.

“There are only 255 days left”

Continue to episode 20

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