Episode 5 Commentary

Open Main Guns! Target: Argo!

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

4 November, 2201

The original version of this episode starts with a summary, complete with a map detailing a section of the Local Group (which includes the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies). The Milky Way, Telezart, and the Andromeda Galaxy are all labeled, demonstrating the scope of Comet Empire’s travels. The White Comet is headed toward the Milky Way from the Andromeda Galaxy.

Note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: the map at the beginning of the episode shows the Comet Empire still outside the Milky Way, much closer to Andromeda Galaxy. Since Andromeda is 2.5 million l.y. from the Milky Way, the previous 1,000 parsec (3,260 l.y.) distance mentioned in Episode 2 is very wrong. The correct distance would be about half a million parsecs (1.5 million l.y.). The second map shown above is quite inaccurate; Earth (indicated by the red dot) is about 20,000 l.y. from the edge of the galaxy and Sirius (indicated by the upper yellow arrow) is about 9 l.y. from Earth. Thus, it should be positioned much closer to Earth at this scale.

General Bleek [Baruze] has captured the stars Procyon (in the Canis Minor constellation) and Sirius (aka “the Dog Star,” in the Canis Major constellation). General Naska’s advanced fleet is preparing to start “diversionary” attacks on Earth’s Solar System. Telezart is part of the Milky Way, above the Galactic plane, and in the path of the Comet Empire. Comet Empire Forces have already landed on the planet, namely General Scorch [Zabaibal] and his tank platoon. Torbuk [Goland] and Desslok [Dessler] have taken positions around the planet.

Production note: Whereas Yamato 2 was replete with tactical maps like this one, Star Blazers included barely any. The reason was simple: all onscreen text was in Japanese. For that matter, whereas the first Star Blazers series dealt with onscreen captions by covering them with white text in black boxes, all the Series 2 captions were excised by simply cutting scenes. This could be explained by timing: when Star Blazers started production (most likely early 1979), Series 1 had been in the can for years and was ready to work on immediately. Series 2 was still on the air in Japan and wouldn’t wrap until the spring. With Star Blazers set to debut on Labor Day, there was less time to deal with Series 2’s substantial onscreen text.

At the Earth Defense Forces command center, Commander Singleton [Todo] and his aide General Stone receive updates on the Star Force’s mutiny. The Argo will soon be passing the Moon. EDF flagship Andromeda has left Venus orbit and will be in position to engage the Argo at dawn the next day. Again, Yamato 2 shows a map, displaying Andromeda‘s intercept course.

The citizens of Earth see a new light in the sky, the burning battle satellite destroyed by the Argo. News of the mutiny has reached the streets, although the information is just that an EDF ship took off without orders. But Jordy Venture [Jirou Shima] knows the truth. He’s sitting on top of a crane, thinking to himself about how wonderful his brother Mark [Shima] is. I have to wonder about Venture’s parents. We saw them only once in the first series. Did the elder Ventures die before the Star Force returned from Iscandar? Is big brother Mark leaving him to fend for himself while he’s off to outer space? And most importantly, how in the world did he climb unnoticed up to the top of a crane?

The Argo is passing the Moon when Eager [Ohta] detects the approach of an incoming squadron. Wildstar [Kodai] orders all hands to combat stations. Gunners rush to the pulse laser cannons and track the fighters as they pass by. I always assumed that the pulse laser cannons were controlled from the bridge because they all seemed to fire in a uniform pattern. Here, we’re shown gunners behind each cannon. Perhaps the pulse lasers can work both ways. They are sometimes operated by remote fire-control systems, but can be manned if needed. Since they are mostly used for anti-fighter/anti-missile defense, it would be wasteful to have them manned for every battle, especially with so many cannons and a limited crew.

It’s possible that the fire-control systems have built-in failsafes to prevent the guns from firing on any craft with a friendly IFF signal (like these fighters), so manual control may be necessary to circumvent that. IFF, which stands for Identification, Friend or Foe, is a recognition system developed in WWII; it informs Command and Control whether aircraft are “friendly” or “other.”

The fighters fly around the Argo without attacking. Watching the lead fighter closely on the video panel, Wildstar is shocked to see it do a little wiggle (a manuever called “banking” which has been used as a signal since WWII to say, “not an enemy”). It’s followed by a message from Conroy, the former Black Tiger squadron leader. He and his mates have come to join the Star Force. As they pull into the hangar, we’re introduced to three of them. First is Conroy [Saburo Kato], who viewers will recognize from his numerous appearances in Series 1.

Second is Hardy, commanding the second squadron (which has yellow accents rather than red). He appeared once before, the pilot who almost crashed into the hangar right before the Argo‘s test-warp in episode 4 of Series 1. Although Hardy was shown in the animation, the Star Blazers script called him Conroy and used Conroy’s voice actor. That’s unfortunate, because Hardy is such a distinct character, with his bushy Captain Harlock hairstyle and laid back southern drawl, and could have used some more screen time.

True to his accent, he was eventually given a southern name. In the second Star Blazers comic book series published by Comico in the mid 80s, he was revealed to have the first name of Jefferson (or, as it was written in Hardy-speak, “Jeffuhson”). In the 90s, the Star Blazers Perfect Album supplied him with a middle name: Davis. Jefferson Davis Hardy. Jefferson Davis was President of the Confederate States that tried to break away from the US during the Civil War. You can’t get much more southern than that.

The last pilot we’re introduced to is even more scarce: “Pilot Bud of the 3rd Air Force.” His Japanese name was Jiro Tsurumi and he was voiced by popular voice actor Shigeru Chiba. If you listen carefully to the Japanese episodes, Chiba steps in quite often as a bit player.

The Tigers are now flying a new model called an Astro Fighter. In Yamato 2, both the pilots and planes were referred to by a new moniker, the Cosmo Tigers. (The fighter’s official designation is Cosmo Tiger II.) I think Star Blazers made a wise choice by sticking with Black Tigers, a much cooler sounding name, IMO. It’s difficult to get an accurate count, but some reference material puts their starting number at 18.

This entire sequence, from the confrontation with the squadron to their arrival in the hangar, was lifted from Farewell to Yamato.

Meanwhile, Andromeda is pursuing the Argo. Gideon’s aide informs him that 3 men from the moon station have joined the Star Force, which sounds like an error in the translation, since it was 3 squadrons, not 3 men. Yamato 2 says it was “a number of followers.”

The Star Force celebrates the Black Tiger’s arrival in the mess hall. Wildstar admits that there was previously only one fighter on board (his own Cosmo Zero), so he’s glad to have a full complement of planes. Conroy brags a bit about the new Astro Fighter, with Bud adding, “Mine’s a great little plane and I just couldn’t bear to leave her behind.” This is the last thing Bud says before vanishing into the ether. It seems strange that they took the time to introduce him, then ignored him completely. (It wasn’t the last time, either; see The New Voyage.)

The party is interrupted by a much more important character than Bud: Mimi [Mi-kun], unofficial mascot of the Star Force. The tabby goes scampering through the room, across tables and Wildstar’s head. Respect for his command in jeopardy, Wildstar chases after the cat, only to stop dumbfounded when he sees Mimi run into Nova’s [Yuki’s] arms. Nova scoops the cat up and walks into the infirmary without a word. Wildstar follows.

Yamato 2 showed Yuki running into the locker room, where Dr. Sane [Sado] is sitting on a stool and drinking…um, well, I’m not sure what he’s drinking, but something alcoholic is a sure bet. He looks back and forth between the two, then starts stuttering and offers Kodai a drink when it’s evident a fight is brewing. Star Blazers cut out some of these scenes. As a result, Dr. Sane just kind of appears from nowhere.

Wildstar takes a hard-hearted stance, reproaching Nova for being on board without being signed in on the crew roster. Dr. Sane tries to take the blame for it, but Wildstar keeps his steely gaze on Nova, saying that she must leave since she’s not following regulations. Yamato 2 had Dr. Sado blame this situation on little Mi-kun, following up by bopping the little cat on the head before advising Kodai not to be too harsh with Yuki. Star Blazers removed this tame bit of animal abuse, and then had Sane call Wildstar on his hypocrisy. “Say, you’re a fine one to talk about regulations, or are you the only one who can break rules?” he asks as he walks out.

After a moment, Nova turns away and starts undressing, stating that she’s leaving as ordered, even if she has to jump ship in a space suit. Derek, a bit flustered but still maintaining his authority, orders her into uniform and to resume her duties. His demeanor softens and he explains that he wanted her out of danger, and didn’t feel he could ask her to risk herself like this. Nova, tears starting to flow, answers that she is part of the Star Force and has earned the right to join them on any mission, no matter how risky. With a sentimental version of “Great Love” playing in the background, the scene ends with the two lovingly falling into each other’s arms. Pure soap.

I must admit, the scene with Nova taking off her clothes and standing there in her slip was rather…interesting to my young self. It struck me how much more mature this show was in comparison to any other cartoon at the time. While it seems very tame now, at my age then, it was very titillating.

Star Blazers shows a rather innocuous scene of Conroy opening a porthole to say goodbye to Earth, only to catch site of the Andromeda. It wasn’t quite so innocuous in Yamato 2, because this porthole is actually above a urinal. Conroy, Eager, and Aihara [Homer] are all shown running in to the bathroom, where they take their places at the stalls and Conroy decides to enjoy the view. A fully-functioning toilet had originally been designed for Series 1, but didn’t make it to the screen. Just a few years later, Japanese TV was ready to see the ship’s head (to use the nautical term for a toilet) in all its questionable glory. About all we can say for it is that it’s got a good rear view.

Sandor explains to Wildstar that Andromeda hid in the Argo‘s blind spot. Now, considering the Andromeda is practically running up the Argo‘s tailpipe, that’s one heckuva blind spot! What kind of blind spot would a ship like the Argo have? Its sensor array should have enough redundancies to cover all directions. I think a more likely explanation is that the Andromeda sports some kind of state-of-the-art ECM.

Story note: In order to pursue the Star Force, Andromeda was diverted from its previous mission; investigating the outage at the energy-mining base on Venus. It catches up to the Argo in the asteroid belt between mars and Jupiter 19 hours later, in the early morning of November 5.

Unable to outrun the flagship, Sandor suggests making a break for the Asteroid Belt. The Argo proceeds through it at full speed, weaving between asteroids. Andromeda tries to follow, but either it’s not as maneuverable or its helmsman isn’t as good as Venture, or both. The ship makes the mistake of trying to match the Argo move for move and gets stuck. Additionally, they’ve lost the Argo‘s signal because of asteroid interference. Gideon isn’t worried because they can easily catch up to them on the other side. The Star Force celebrates their minor victory, but Wildstar notes that it isn’t over yet.

The Argo makes it to Jupiter without incident. Then, Nova reports a signal on her radar–Andromeda! Sandor suggests a different tactic: talking. Venture agrees that it’s worth a try. Avatar made most of his descisions without consulting his officers. Wildstar, still new to his command, frequently looks to his for advice.

Contact is soon made with Gideon, who urges the Star Force to turn back. Wildstar refuses, saying they’re not acting out of rebellion, but in response to a threat. “Then you leave me no choice,” Gideon says, adding “I’m sorry,” before breaking contact.

Both ships prepare for combat. In both versions, Gideon/Hijikata orders the ship to turn 180 degrees. Andromeda was head-to-head with the Argo, so turning 180 degrees would expose the stern. Not what he meant, obviously. Instead, Andromeda turns 90 degrees, effectively “crossing the T” (a classic naval maneuver where one ship (Andromeda) turns its side to an oncoming ship, where it can use all of its main cannons, while the other ship (Argo) is limited to its forward facing guns). Star Blazers emphasizes the computerized aspect of Andromeda by having a mechanical voice announce the targeting instructions, while Yamato 2 had a human voice.

What follows are a few tense moments (masterfully storyboarded by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu) as the Argo approaches the flagship. Andromeda‘s XO urges Gideon to fire. Sandor and Venture inform Wildstar that a collision will damage the Argo too severely to continue. Gunners sit at their posts with their hands on the triggers. Black Tigers sit in their cockpits waiting to launch. With neither side willing to take the first shot, the two ships nearly collide. The Argo passes just meters above Andromeda, giving them a close look at the third bridge as it passes right in front of the windows.

The XO immediately orders Andromeda to follow, only to have Gideon belay the order. “Let her go. I hope Captain Avatar taught you well.”

Story note: In Yamato 2, the line was, “Good luck, children of Okita.” This was a deliberate echo of the exact same line from the commander at the end of Episode 4.

A wave of relief sweeps over the Argo. It soon turns to jubilation after Homer reads two messages from Andromeda: one from Gideon to EDF saying he didn’t find the Argo, and one from Gideon to the Star Force wishing them luck. The Argo‘s aft observation rooms and gun decks fill with an impossible number of people cheering Andromeda as it recedes into the distance.

At soon-to-be-named Planet Brumis, Comet Empire officer Naska is informed that the Star Force is leaving the Jupiter area. He doesn’t care. Unfortunately for him, Desslok has been listening in, and reminds Naska that he’s in charge. Anything the Star Force does is to be reported. After breaking contact, Naska rails against “that Gamilon upstart” and wonders why the Star Force occupies so much of his time. Nevertheless, he smiles, clearly enjoying the intrigue.

Story note: The Star Force passes Saturn on November 6, 2201.

Continue to episode 6

2 thoughts on “Episode 5 Commentary

  1. My guess is that the Yamato “blind spot”, as on every spaceship, is right behind her, into the exhaust of the main engines. The ionized gases of the engine’s plume can act as an effective shield against detection with relatively devices as radars and also their hot temperature can efficiently mask the infrared signature of a pursuing ship.
    Because, in void, the expansion ratio of a rocket engine exhaust is very high and thus the plume should be actually very large and invisible at distance, the pursuing ship can be still viewed at naked eye through it, if too close, as Andromeda from Yamato.
    In reality, spaceships that returns from orbit are isolated from communication because of the “cushion” of ionized gas that is producted during atmospheric reentry.
    My two cents…

  2. I’m afraid I have to plead ‘guilty’ to coining Hardy’s full name. I was a member of Bruce Lewis’s ‘Brain Trust’ (listed by name in the Perfect Album) and was writing fan-fic stories of my own at the time along with other members of the ‘Brain Trust’ most notably Derek Wakefield. I knew they had already decided on the name ‘Jeff’ for Hardy and sometimes even expanded it to Jefferson, but I suggested his full name of Jefferson Davis Hardy (partly to appeal to Derek who was a true southerner and a history buff. He loved it, and ran with it. Other members of the brain trust accepted it, and Bruce Lewis finally officially adopted it as well. The rest is history. On a side note, Bruce Lewis also inadvertantly named a main character after me as well…the replacement Engineer Yamazaki who was never named in the American version and referred to in one frame as Commander Mayes. Bruce intended (I believe) to name a random original character after me (as he had done for other members of the Brain Trust), but oops, accidentally assigned my name to Yamazaki. I didn’t complain.

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