Episode 1 Commentary

2201: The Argo Returns!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Star Blazers on Hulu | Star Blazers on YouTube | Original version subtitled

At the end of Series 1, the Star Force had retrieved the Cosmo DNA and saved the Earth, concluding the Quest for Iscandar storyline. So where does that leave our favorite show? For viewers in Japan, there was a wait of several years that saw a long, slow buildup to a compilation movie, then an all-new sequel that smashed domestic box office records. It wasn’t until October 1978 that new Space Battleship Yamato adventures appeared on the small screen. Star Blazers fans were more fortunate; we only had to wait until the next weekday to begin this new journey. It’s hard to describe how strange and wonderful this series was back in the late 70s/early 80s, a show that told long stories with a beginning, middle, and end. This type of serialized storytelling is more common today, but back then it was practically unheard of.

To underscore the fact that this is the start of a new adventure, Star Blazers: The Comet Empire has brand new opening credits. Once again eschewing the visuals of the Japanese opening (since there was no way to remove the Japanese production credits), the Star Blazers production team created their own, mostly using scenes from Episode 25’s attack on the Comet Empire fortress. One improvement The Comet Empire made over Space Battleship Yamato 2 is that it features lyrics written just for this story. In Japan, they reused the theme song from Series 1, so Isao Sasaki continued to sing about Yamato‘s trip to Iscandar, which has nothing to do with this story. (Though there was a new ending theme to replace The Scarlet Scarf, titled Teresa Forever. Listen to the song here.)

Production note: Unlike the song, however, there was no possibility of reusing any Series 1 animation outside of the occasional flashback since a major percentage of the original cels had been given away to fans in person or at movie openings. At that time, confidence was very low that these works of art would ever have to be passed in front of a camera lens again (a sobering prospect to all those who poured their blood and sweat into them), so away they went. As a result, all of Yamato 2‘s animation was entirely new save for footage culled from Farewell to Yamato. That was an extremely valuable asset, but the re-usable scenes still only added up to about 5 TV episodes.

Therefore, though it was much easier to sell Yamato 2 to a network, it was no easier to produce than Series 1. In fact, it very nearly proved harder since anime production had increased across the board and talented artists were in high demand. So the ironic downside of the Yamato Boom was that it made Yamato harder to work on. Fortunately, the key personnel were all Series 1 veterans who kept the ship on course (literally) and gave Series 2 a consistency that wasn’t possible in the early days.

Space Battleship Yamato 2 starts off with what is the now the standard opening for new stories: vast expanses of space with the narrator expounding upon the wonders of the universe. Star Blazers eliminated this preamble and starts right off with the reveal of the Comet Empire. Our new villains’ home base looks like a huge white comet, but beneath the swirling plasma is a fortress/city called Gatlantis. (Note: the name “Gatlantis” comes from Yamato 2 and was never mentioned in Star Blazers.) In addition, it has a fleet of warships which it uses to subjugate planets it deems worthy of conquest.

We’re treated to a montage of a Comet Empire fleet attacking a city on an anonymous planet. As with several other scenes, this was recycled from Farewell. While a city engulfed in a mushroom cloud was judged safe for American TV (during the Cold War era, no less), a brief clip of people getting caught in an explosion was removed.

Story note: It took quite a while to reveal the enemy characters in the movie, seeing as they didn’t show up until Yamato was well away from Earth, but they were placed front and center at the beginning of the series to get the intrigue going as soon as possible.

Additional note from Matt Murray: A small but notable change occurs near the beginning of this episode, where the Star Blazers version is slightly re-edited to show the city within the Comet Empire right from the start. In Yamato 2, the city fortress was not shown until the start of episode five, where it is revealed rather matter-of-factly with no real fanfare, perhaps because the Japanese audience would’ve already been familiar with it from the feature film version.

Star Blazers makes a significant change in the relationship between two of our new villains: Princess Invidia is revealed to be Prince Zordar’s daughter, while in the original story, Lady Sabella (her Japanese name) was Zordar’s consort. I’m not sure why Star Blazers recast Invidia this way, since her relationship to Zordar doesn’t figure prominently into the story. It could have been to make Zordar appear less gullible, that he puts up with Invidia’s scheming because he’s indulging his daughter rather than being manipulated by a vixen’s feminine wiles.

While her platinum locks from the movie are now jet-black, Invidia’s skin still has flesh coloring while all other Comet Empire personnel are lime green. Perhaps her skin tone means that she’s not of the same race; hers might have been conquered in the Empire’s past, for example. Another possibility is that, like people from Earth, not all members of the Comet Empire have the same skin color. (For Star Blazers, these explanations would likely apply to Invidia’s unseen mother.) Invidia’s face has been redesigned as well. It’s more sharp and angular, giving her a slightly more “evil” look.

Production note: From a pure filmmaking standpoint, it was probably decided to give her a human skin tone so she would be more appealing to a human audience, since a green Invidia would never seem anything other than alien. In fact, examining the entire sweep of Space Battleship Yamato, the only alien-colored females that ever appeared were Dessler’s concubines.

Zordar is an Emperor in Yamato 2, but is demoted to a mere Prince in Star Blazers. This raises the question of who the King and/or Queen are. As the scene begins, Zordar is being entertained in his court by General Dyar (Japanese name: Goenitz) and Gorce (Japanese name: Razera), who tell the Prince how great and mighty his empire is. Zordar has chosen Earth for his next conquest because of what they’ve accomplished: a year ago the planet was all but dead, and now it looks like nothing has happened to it. (Of course, a lot of that had to do with Iscandar’s Cosmo DNA, but hey, let’s give Earth some credit as well.)

Yamato 2 shows a few picturesque scenes of Earth that reveal just how completely it has recovered, but I have to wonder how it was restored so perfectly. The entire ecosystem had been trashed by Gamilon Planet Bombs. I imagine that genetics had come a long way, and Earth scientists had entire banks of plant and animal DNA tucked away for the restoration process. It’s still hard to imagine, say, the oceans restocked with everything from plankton and coral reefs to blue whales and giant squid. (Not that we ever saw anything in the ocean, but still.)

Desslok [Dessler] enters the scene, accompanied by the atonal jazz theme that followed him throughout Series 1. No explanation is given (yet) for how he survived the destruction of his ship. At Desslok’s request, Dyar outlines the Empire’s plan of attack on Earth with the aid of a floor map and headshots of his front-line officers. Dyar reveals that the Comet Empire has already acquired the territory once controlled by Gamilon. (He rather indelicately refers to the devastation of Gamilon as a “misfortune.”) Initial attacks on Earth will involve disrupting energy centers, which he calls “a very effective softening-up tactic.” Desslok will be assigned to “an importantĀ support position in the rear.” I’m sure Desslok is thrilled to hear that.

In Yamato 2, among the names listed by Goenitz is an Admiral Nagumo. Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was a Japanese carrier commander in WWII, and played crucial roles in both the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway. I’m not sure if the character mentioned was intended to be called Nagumo or if he just had a similar-sounding name. Either way, he was never seen or mentioned again.

Desslok is only interested in one thing: what are the Comet Empire’s plans for the Star Force? Princess Invidia sets the tone for her character by mocking Desslok and referring to the Star Force as the ones “who destroyed Gamilon single-handed.” This prompts Desslok to repeat his mantra, “As long as I live, Gamilon lives!” Dyar and Gorce dismiss the Star Force as a threat to their plans. According to their intelligence, the Star Force has been marginalized by the Earth Defense Force, relegated to patrolling the outer rim of the Solar System. Desslok maintains that they are a danger to the Empire, and claims to have survived for the sole purpose of defeating them.

7 October, 2201

Earth has resumed activities in the Solar System full steam. Energy-producing stations are set up on Pluto and elsewhere, and mining of the all-important Titanite is once more under way in the Saturn area. Both Pluto and Saturn are shown with labels in Yamato 2. These outer areas (which cover a lot of space, actually) are the domain of the 3rd Squadron of the Earth Defense Forces. The Argo is the flagship, under the command of Deputy Captain Derek Wildstar [in Japanese: Kancho Dairi (Acting Captain) Susumu Kodai], which is finally headed home after a year in space. Its expected arrival is October 10, a year and a month since its return from Iscandar.

They are currently in the vicinity of the remains of Planet 10, the rubble field which had been called Minerva in Series 1. The Argo is staffed mostly by anonymous crewmen. The only other familiar face is Homer [Aihara], who’s manning communications. The crew are all wearing “15” patches on their arms. This number refers to the 15th supply fleet, which the Argo is escorting. (Look very closely at the Argo‘s first flyby scene; they are briefly visible in its wake.) Derek is looking forward to returning to Earth at long last, in part because he’ll be reunited with Nova.

The scene shifts to Megalopolis City (a.k.a. Tokyo, Japan). Nova Forrester [Yuki Mori] is working at Central Hospital (introduced via caption in Yamato 2), assisted by a distaff android named “Miss Efficiency.” This female model was named “Koindar” in the original script, but this was never mentioned in dialogue. In Yamato 2, IQ-9 [Analyzer] announces his arrival in typical fashion by patting Nova’s butt with his “extenso-arms.” This brief bit of randy humor was (thankfully, IMO) omitted from Star Blazers.

Derek anticipates an eventless trip home, so when the radar operator reports an unidentified contact, he dismisses it as an errant cargo ship. But when the radar man responds that UFOs are approaching the fleet at a speed of 21 “space knots,” he snaps to. Displaying them on the video panel, they see a new type of “horseshoe crab” fighter. Homer attempts to contact EDF HQ. Despite his best attempts, all he can hear from his console is white noise.

The question of whether these new ships are hostile is answered a moment later when one of the escorts, a destroyer, is hit by missiles. Then a cargo ship is hit. While the Argo would just shrug these missile strikes off, the smaller vessels report major damage and are forced to retreat to the Planet 10 repair depot. The Yamato 2 version of this scene is a little more vivid; we hear one of the ship commanders scream over the radio.

Production note: This bit part was the first Yamato appearance by Japanese voice actor Shigeru Chiba, who was just starting his career in the late 70s and became a superstar in the 80s. His high-pitched, spine-convulsing shrieks endeared him to fans of Urusei Yatsura, Armored Trooper Votoms, Fist of the North Star, Patlabor, and many more. His next stop after Yamato 2 was Yoshinobu Nishizaki’s 1979 anime series, Blue Noah.

The radar operator, a husky, freckle-faced man, apparently voiced by Chris (Sgt. Knox) Latta, is unable to get a clear radar image of the attacking forces due to deficient equipment. Wildstar doesn’t accept that as an excuse, and blames the operator, whom he calls an idiot. (Avatar once berated Venture for calling Orion an idiot, so I have to wonder what the old Captain would make of Wildstar’s use of the word.) The Argo is soon shaken by a missile strike, knocking Wildstar to the floor. “That does it,” he spits as he goes running for the door. Homer calls after him, but Wildstar runs all the way down to the hangar and launches his Cosmo Zero fighter.

This is not the type of behavior expected from an officer, let alone the captain of a fleet of ships. Rather than lead his men, Wildstar impulsively abandons his post to play fighter pilot–without even stopping to put on proper space gear! He seems to have regressed quite a bit in the year since he was under Avatar’s command. No wonder he isn’t a full captain; he doesn’t even deserve Deputy Captain after this stunt! While the Argo has a skeleton crew, they should still have some kind of defenses. Pulse lasers, counter-attack missiles, something! Otherwise, their role as protector is a joke. Perhaps that’s what sets Derek off, having to operate without adequate equipment. Still, if I was an Argo crew member, you bet I’d file a report about Wildstar’s negligence.

In his Cosmo Zero, Wildstar soon encounters the enemy craft, which easily dodges his shots. It escapes when Wildstar is called back to the ship by Homer. The Argo‘s systems are burning themselves out from an energy overload.

General Naska, whose fleet is introduced in Yamato 2 via caption, is congratulated by General Bleek (mistakenly referred to as “General Tirpitz” in this scene) on his energy overload ploy. The pair also share a laugh at Desslok’s expense because his dreaded enemy, the Star Force, doesn’t seem so dreaded after all. Only halfway into this opening episode, I start to feel a twinge of sympathy for Desslok when I hear him mocked by his supposed allies.

Additional note from Matt Murray: I always assumed that Naska was meant to be spelled Nazca, as in Peru, since a Nazca carving is seen inside the Comet Empire landing bay in the penultimate episode. As for General Tirpitz/Bleek, I can’t help but wonder why his voice in this episode is so different from his later appearances, as it seems to be the same actor. I much prefer his delivery here; when he resurfaces in episode 18, he sounds like he’s speaking with a clothespin on his nose.

Wildstar and Homer extinguish the communications equipment, but they have to resort to actually ripping out wires. Back on Earth, Sandor [Sanada] is having the same problem, and has reached the same conclusion: physically tear out the wiring. (Listen to Sandor’s unnamed aide–that’s “Hardy” without the faux “southern gent” accent. In Japan, the character was designed after–and voiced–by a well-known contemporary TV star.) IQ-9 rushes in to alert everyone that he’s overheating, which causes his “head” to pop off and burst into flames.

Nova grabs an extinguisher and douses the robot. Sandor’s assistant tells him that when the overload hit, they started recording a woman’s voice, speaking in “some strange language.” Sandor says it should be on tape. After their systems are up and running again, they’ll analyze it.

As the Argo passes by Saturn, Homer declares the repair work finished. We’ll see later this isn’t completely true, because the radio is still out. He notes that there may be something on the Argo‘s tapes. In 2201, they’ve apparently gone back to recording on magnetic tape. Presumably the kind that isn’t vulnerable to radiation.

General Bleek [Baruze], again referred to as “Tirpitz,” reports personally to Zordar’s throne about the matter of Trelaina of Telezart [Japanese name: Teresa], who has sent a message to Earth. Although Comet Empire forces tried to block the message, some of it may have gotten through. Zordar isn’t surprised at her actions, but is duly cautious. In Yamato 2, we’re given an indication of just how powerful Trelaina is when Zordar refers to her home as the one untouchable planet in his empire. While Zordar is content to let Trelaina be, Invidia is inclined to see her as an active threat since she has “discovered the secret of anti-matter.” Desslok, showing amazing insight for an enemy he’s had relatively little personal contact with, thinks the Star Force may seek out Trelaina. Zordar makes a deal with Desslok: he gets to take on the Star Force, while the Comet Empire takes on Earth.

On final approach to Earth, the Argo‘s rookie helmsman can’t find a place to dock, and can’t alert ground control because the ship’s communications are still out. He finally spots an opening and sets the ship on its new heading. They are soon alerted that they’re on a collision course with another ship, specifically the new EDF flagship Andromeda. Wildstar maintains that incoming ships have right of way. Flagship or not, the Andromeda must give way.

Story note: Like the temporary crew who initially got the Argo off the ground (though not into space) in Series 1, Wildstar’s crew at the start of Series 2 are just placeholders who won’t be participating in the main story. There are plenty of explanations for this, since events unfold pretty quickly over the next couple episodes, but one would assume that Wildstar would have formed some camaraderie with them after being stationed together — and their familiarity with the Argo would have made them valuable to the mission even if they weren’t originally Star Force members. On the other hand, maybe Royster was among their ranks and we just never got names for the rest.

In Yamato 2, the radio had been repaired by this point, and Aihara is able to send a request for the Andromeda to change course, which is promptly refused. Having the radio out in Star Blazers gives Wildstar added weight to his decision to remain on course. He can’t inform Andromeda of their damage, but the very fact that their radio is out (noted by an Andromeda bridge officer) is proof of their plight. In the Yamato 2 version, Kodai simply doesn’t tell them. Andromeda, commanded by Captain Gideon, is given a reason for remaining steady as well: the ship is on its first test run. They can’t alter their course less they invalidate some of their data.

There may be a deliberate parallel here between this scene and Episode 1 of Series 1. There, Alex Wildstar stubbornly refused to obey Captain Avatar’s orders. Here also, two captains (one a Wildstar) each choose what they believe is a correct course of action and behave accordingly, with the junior officer refusing to submit to his superior. Captain Gideon is unimpressed by the Argo, describing it as a “tub” that “should’ve been grounded,” which is now a common opinion among the Earth Defense Forces. He also seems surprised when informed that Derek Wildstar is the Argo‘s captain. In the end, neither side backs off, and the ships almost collide. It turns out it wasn’t quite head-on. Instead, the two ships scrape each other’s sides as they pass. Homer jokes that the Argo “just lost two coats of paint.” As the crews breathe sighs of relief, the two captains start laughing. (Gideon is more reserved and just chuckles internally.)

Captain Gideon’s first name, first given in the Star Blazers Perfect Album, is Draco. Draco is Latin for “dragon,” and is also the name of a constellation. Bruce Lewis, who assigned his first name, chose it because of Gideon’s Japanese name, Ryu Hijikata. The name Ryu can be translated as “dragon.” As for the name Gideon, it’s interesting to note that, like Captain Avatar, he’s given a “holy” name. The word “Avatar” comes from the Hindu religion and describes an incarnation or manifestation of a deity. The name Gideon calls to mind the great warrior in the Old Testament who defeated an army with only 300 men.

Back on Earth, Sandor finishes putting IQ-9 together. IQ demonstrates his fitness by immediately trying to grab Nova’s skirt. This brief scene of harassment was, once again, deleted from Star Blazers. The narrator closes out Episode 1 with a promise that the mysterious voice message will have a great impact on the Star Force.

Production note: Whereas Series 1 had a countdown calendar over its entire run, dates for Series 2 are a bit sketchy. October 7 was chosen as the date of the encounter near Saturn because Yamato 2 was originally scheduled to make its TV debut on that day in 1978. (It was later pushed back a week to avoid competing with high-profile programming on a sister network.) Dates and times for the rest of the series were worked out later and will be presented throughout these commentaries. At this point the ship is landing on schedule, October 10, and the Comet Empire is thought to be about half a million light years away.

Continue to episode 2

2 thoughts on “Episode 1 Commentary

  1. What I’ve never understood is why the EDF has such a low opinion of the Star Force in these episodes. Their voyage to Iscandar saved the entire planet, for crying out loud! I find it astonishing that they’ve been given so little credit or recognition for those deeds.

  2. I agree: that behavior is largely inexplicable. I can only assume that EDF consider the Star Force and the Argo as a mere product of his awesomeness and thus is believed the true savior of the Earth. And with the new prosperity after the Gamilon crisis, the Argo, the last chance in desperate days, is now considered a relic of the past and an obsolete ship.

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