Episode 7 Commentary

Counter-attack! The Invisible Space Submarine!

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

From superfan Matt Murray: This episode recaps the threat of the Comet Empire and its artificial nature by stating, “if it was a real comet, it would burn up when entering our atmosphere.” This is a bizarre comment for multiple reasons. First, it implies that the comet is on a collision course with Earth, which has not been previously claimed, and second, the scriptwriter seems to have confused comets with meteors. Even a small comet colliding with Earth would likely be catastrophic; it would be highly unlikely for any but the tiniest of comets to burn up in the atmosphere. (An even dodgier assertion regarding the supposed behavior of comets will be heard from an astronomer of dubious credentials in episode 10.)

In the infirmary, Dr. Sane is finding that the marines’ bravery in battle is in stark contrast to their fear of a doctor’s needle. In Yamato 2, the marines weren’t bad patients so much as bad losers. Dr. Sado tries to encourage them, saying it doesn’t matter that they’ve lost a battle so long as they win the war.

The rest of the marines chow down in the Argo‘s mess hall. Nova offers them some dessert, only for her to shrink back when several marines approach her in a way that suggests they have a different kind of “dessert” in mind. IQ-9 comes to her defense and tells the marines to behave themselves. Although they laugh at being given “advice from a bucket of bolts,” they back off.

In Yamato 2, Yuki [Nova] doesn’t get off that easily. Analyzer [IQ] suggestively rubs her waist while claiming to be her “bodyguard.” While IQ isn’t my favorite character to begin with, I like the Yamato version even less. He’s rather chivalrous in Star Blazers. In Yamato 2, his behavior is nearly as bad as that of the marines.

Production note: One scene in this sequence depicts Nova speaking to the full group of 20 Space Marines (not counting Knox), which is the most seen in one place at one time. It is from this scene that their number is deduced, plus Wildstar’s estimate to the Commander in the previous episode that there are “about twenty.”

At a nearby table, Conroy fumes as he watches their “guests.” Wildstar ignores the marines’ behavior as he searches for Sergeant Knox. Told that Knox is outside, Derek promptly heads for the door without a word. Conroy, angered by Derek’s lack of action, yells at the marines to show some civility. His words have little effect. They couldn’t care less about manners, or what Conroy thinks about them. Words are exchanged, food is thrown, and fists are raised, but Nova steps in before things can escalate further.

In Yamato 2, there’s more distinction drawn between the two military factions, with the cavalry (marines) seeing themselves as “real soldiers,” ground-pounders who do all the dirty work, while Kato [Conroy] is an “elite” who hides safely behind his ship’s armor. The sentiment is that those who live their lives surrounded by steel become metallic and inflexible themselves.

Story note: The notion of the Space Cavalry being an elite force in Farewell to Yamato was completely overturned in Yamato 2 in which they are shown as ill-mannered and defiant of authority. This was done to create more conflict for the crew and Kodai as a fledgling leader.

Wildstar finds Knox on an observation deck, where he informs the marine that he and his men will be billeted on board for the duration of the Star Force’s mission. After a brief round of verbal sparring, Derek starts to walk out while Knox laughs about how cushy life is aboard ship. Derek stops at the doorway and looks at Knox. He may not have worried about the marines in the mess hall, but he sure looks concerned now.

Meanwhile, at the Comet Empire city, Princess Invidia is upset with General Naska for losing at Brumus. General Dyar tries to assure her that Naska will soon report a “glorious victory,” but she’s doubtful. After she leaves the room, Dyar and Gorce talk amongst themselves. They regret that Zordar listens to Invidia, and anticipate a time when she will become ruler, which Dyar says will be a disaster. Gorce likes the idea even less. “No! We’ve all fought too hard!” From this phrase alone, you can hear that the voice actor for Dr. Sane also played Gorce.

In Yamato 2, Lady Sabela [Princess Invidia] wasn’t Zordar’s daughter, so there isn’t any mention of her inheriting the throne. Instead, Razera [Gorce] fumes because Sabela holds him responsible for Naska’s loss. Naska’s fleet failed to establish an advance base on Brumus. Razella vows to accomplish this in spite of the loss.

In keeping with the times, the Comet Empire personnel are given thick Russian accents. During the Cold War era, a Russian accent was shorthand for “bad guy.” Additionally, the fact that the Comet Empire is a war machine destined to either rule over or destroy everything in its path played into the fear of Communist takeover and/or nuclear annihilation. The accents may also have been inspired by the Comet Empire’s pipe organ theme, which has an Eastern European (read: Warsaw Pact nation) flavor. (It’s not quite Russian though–we’ll have to wait until Yamato III for more authentic sounding Russian music). This view of the Comet Empire as a direct analogue to Russia is a Star Blazers invention. The Comet Empire natives had no distinct accents in Yamato 2.

According to IMDB, Invidia was played by Morgan Lofting. Although this is unconfirmed, Invidia sounds an awful lot like Lofting’s most famous cartoon voice, G.I. Joe‘s Baroness, which also featured Knox’s voice actor, Chris Latta. This was not a coincidence; Star Blazers, G.I. Joe, and Transformers were all produced by Claster Television, a division of Hasbro. Thus, there was some natural crossover in the talent pool for all three.

On the bridge, the time radar activates, displaying an image of what was in the area a few hours ago: mysterious ships of a type never seen before. (In this series at least. They had a brief appearance in Farewell to Yamato.) The Star Force goes on alert.

Sandor briefly described the time radar a few episodes ago. It is able to view past events in the surrounding area. I’ve never read a technical explanation for how it works, but my best guess is that it’s related to the Wave-Motion Engine. The engine has the ability to distort time and space, thus enabling the ability to warp. Perhaps a similar time-distortion effect is used for the time radar, warping space/time just slightly to allow a brief view of the past. The effect seems fairly limited, since we only see images from the very recent past.

Story note: One possible explanation for the process can be found in The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter. In the novel, stable wormholes are created in space-time, through which any point in the past can be viewed. The story fully explores the impact of this invention on our culture, which would be enormous. In the context of Yamato 2, it would have to be a recently-developed byproduct of Wave-Motion technology, since its effect on Earth’s culture is nonexistent.

Next we’re introduced to the Argo‘s hydroponic garden, a section of the ship dedicated to growing fresh fruits and vegetables. The garden had been mentioned as far back as Episode 9 of Series 1, but this is its first on-screen appearance. (The presence of a garden makes me wonder if there might not be a place for livestock as well. Large herd animals like cows might be out of the question, but maybe a small hen house or a goat or two?)

Nova and IQ lead a group of marines on a brief tour, only to find Knox has been exploring the garden on his own and now has his face buried in a watermelon. Nova begins to scold him, only to rush out of the room at the sound of an alarm klaxon. After she leaves, Knox crudely summarizes his feelings about life aboard the Argo: “fresh fruit and fresh girls.” IQ comes to Nova’s defense, for which he’s effortlessly pushed over. The Yamato 2 script has a less chivalrous Analyzer claim Yuki for himself before he’s knocked down.

On the command bridge, they’re trying to figure out what kind of spacecraft they saw. Nova checks her radar only to find she can’t get a proper reading, reporting that it’s “out of focus.” Sandor suddenly claims the strange ships are “space submarines” and that they can counter with “space mines.”

Production note: At the time this episode was made, US and Russian submarines used a coating of sound-absorbing paint to dampen sonar waves. That was the inspiration for a ship that would not appear on space radar, the Comet Empire submarine. The concept was further developed into the Dimensional Submarines in Series 3.

I once talked with a fellow Star Blazers fan who claimed you could lock Sandor away for decades with no contact with the outside world. When you let him out and showed him technology that had been invented during the interim, he’d be able to immediately and accurately describe what it does. His ability to identify unknown technology seems to border on savantism.

Before the mines can be deployed, the Argo is struck by missiles. A marine (who looks like Sgt. Knox but has a different voice) steps out of his quarters and is knocked down by Black Tiger squad members sprinting down the hallway. Knox rushes onto the flight deck and tries to convince Hardy that he can fly a fighter. Hardy scoffs at the idea and closes his canopy, knocking Knox to the ground. In Yamato 2, Saito’s falling was accompanied by a loud slapping sound not heard in Star Blazers. I slow-mo’d the scene, but Yamamoto [Hardy] doesn’t appear to strike the marine. (It must be those fighter-pilot reflexes–he hit him faster than the eye could follow!)

Wildstar commands Dash to release the mines. Outside, a section of the ship’s hull has opened to reveal an conveyor belt containing 3 mines. The mines are released and three more are quickly loaded. Soon dozens of mines are released. Despite the fact that the missiles seemed to approach the Argo from the front, deploying the mines behind them achieves success. The cloaked submarines trigger the mines and appear on the Argo‘s video panel silhouetted against the explosions.

These space subs are vaguely defined, as are the mines (aka depth charges). The subs appear to be cloaked, both to radar and the naked eye. How did the mines/depth charges find them? Are they able to home in on their cloaking field, or did the Star Force just make a lucky guess about where they were? There’s something to be said for letting the audience figure things out for themselves, but in this case I would have appreciated some more information. Unfortunately, in this instance, Sandor doesn’t offer anything in the way of a technical explanation.

In Yamato 2, after the first depth charges explode, Nanbu [Dash] says that the subs will have to make themselves appear to protect themselves from the charges. From this bit of dialogue, it can be guessed that the subs are probably enveloped (“submerged”) in a subspace cloaking field. This cloaking field may rely on them “running silent” (no scanning equipment), which means they would have to stay nearby, within visual range of the Argo, in order to target it. Knowing this, the Argo carpeted the surrounding area with mines, forcing the subs to de-cloak in order to use their radar and avoid them.

The space subs that were introduced in Farewell to Yamato seemed less impressive. No depth charges were needed to counter them, just large flood-lamp style beacons to flush them out.

Now that the subs are revealed, Wildstar orders the main shock cannon to fire. In one of the main cannon gunhouses, a gunner is accosted by Knox, who claims to be an old hand. This leads to a brief scuffle, so when the command to fire comes from the bridge, the cannon misses the target. Wildstar says the gunner is “off target by a mile,” but surely he meant “by a kilometer.”

The fact that Star Blazers retained Space Battleship Yamato‘s use of the metric system not only made translating the script easier, it also was a sign of the times. In 1975, congress had passed the “Metric Conversion Act” to promote the use of the metric system in the US in anticipation for a nation-wide conversion. This effort lost support in the early 80s under the Reagan Administration.

Wildstar orders the Black Tigers to launch. The Space Sub’s main defense is stealth; with that compromised, they’re little more than targets.

Doctor Sane is in the middle of some heavy drinking when Knox wanders in, looking for Nova. (Not being familiar with the crew, he probably assumed she was a full time nurse, rather than the leader of the Environmental Group who does nursing on the side.) “Soy milk” is introduced here as the Star Blazers replacement word for sake in Series 2, probably due to the fact that Mimi is seen lapping it up from a bowl. Knox admits that he’s been getting in everyone’s way, but now he’s found something he can do: drink “soy milk” with Dr. Sane. The hulking marine and the short blobby doctor seem to share a friendship from this moment on. They share more scenes together in Yamato 2 than Star Blazers.

Story note: in Yamato 2, their newly-found bond is predicated on the fact that neither of them has anything to contribute to a space battle.

Outside, the new Astro Fighters easily destroy the subs. While the immediate threat is taken care of, this attack disturbs the command crew. Their enemy is still unknown, and is likely tied into the larger mystery of the blackouts and the mysterious message. In Yamato 2 Kodai [Wildstar] expresses some confusion and doubt about the moral implications of fighting. Shima [Venture] shows no such qualms in this instance, saying they had no choice but to attack the subs. Sanada [Sandor] tells Kodai that his doubts are a sign of maturity.

Star Blazers’ dialogue doesn’t dwell on these moral issues. Wildstar and Venture are vexed by these events, with Sandor acknowledging that the mission facing them isn’t as clear cut as Avatar’s mission to Iscandar.

There are some coloring mistakes in this scene. First, Homer’s outfit appears white where it should be yellow. Second, when Sandor comes over to talk to Wildstar, the close up shots show a green-on-white navigation uniform, while the shots with his face revealed show his correct blue-on-white science uniform.

On Earth, an aide brings an analysis of enemy materials to Commander Singleton. Unfortunately, they defy classification. Singleton orders fleets to the Brumus area and clamps a lid on this information, not wishing the public to know.

The Argo lands on a dwarf planet and begins repair work. As with the landing on Mars in episode 4 of Series 1, I have to wonder if the repair work wouldn’t be easier in Zero-G. Maybe it’s too difficult to keep the ship from drifting, so having a place to anchor it helps keep it steady. (Or if the artificial gravity has to be turned off for some reason, an alternate source may be needed to keep things in place.) We see the repair crew exit the third bridge in a new type of “moon buggy” landing craft.

Wildstar experiences a few moments of calm on the bridge before Conroy arrives to tell him that tensions between the Star Force and the Space Marines have reached the breaking point.

In a nearby room, Knox walks into a scene of chaos, as Star Force members are engaging in an all-out brawl with his marines. Knox immediately starts busting Star Force skulls. Wildstar enters the room and comes to the aid of his own crew, punching a marine in the face. Seeing this, Knox goes after Wildstar.

Once their leaders get into it, both the marines and the Star Force crew stop fighting and begin cheering. As in a similar fight between Wildstar and Venture in Series 1, Yamato 2 is more brutal than Star Blazers, featuring a splatter of blood when Kodai’s punch connects with Saito’s face. This would seem to be an unfair fight–this big hulk of a marine against wiry little Wildstar–but Derek holds his own quite well.

Dr. Sane finds the whole situation ridiculous. Shrieking and shaking his fists, he clears the room of spectators then turns his attention to Knox and Wildstar. He becomes a one-man cheering section, encouraging the two to fight even harder. “Show us how really grown-up people settle differences,” he goads them. Realizing their audience is gone and they’re being mocked by the alcoholic doctor, they stop fighting and admit they got carried away.

Dr. Sane isn’t letting them off that easily. He reminds Wildstar of the responsibility he carries not only as leader of the Star Force, but as head of their “insurrection” against the EDF. Turning to Knox, he tells him “you’re so used to fighting you don’t know when to stop!” Knox explains, with no small effort on his part, that having lost at Brumus was difficult for him, but he’s now willing to place himself under Wildstar’s command.

From superfan Matt Murray: I was always somewhat confused by Knox’s assertion that he and his men had never lost a battle before. Since the Comet Empire attack on Brumus was the very first real conflict with those enemies, we can only conclude that he’s referring to the Gamilon war, but it’s not at all clear when there would have been any significant land-based combat with the Gamilons. In light of the fact that all planets beyond Mars were under Gamilon control, it also doesn’t seem as though struggles for territory were habitually won by the Earth forces.

Wildstar immediately orders Knox’s men to stop loafing. Knox is offended by the comment, and even Dr. Sane tells Wildstar he might not want to take such a hard stance. Wildstar insists that, in spite of what just happened, the Star Force is a disciplined group, and the marines better get used to taking orders. Knox takes his leave with a warning to Wildstar that they could have a rematch if he doesn’t ease up. After he’s gone, Wildstar admits to the Doc that he’s not sure this will work out. Dr. Sane assures him that they’ll fit in fine, given time.

I like the Doc’s new role of giving sage advice to the young captain. During Series 1, he was used mostly for comic relief, but since the start of Series 2 he’s evolved to become a moral compass to the young crew.

One of the issues Knox has with accepting Wildstar’s command probably has to do with age. Wildstar would be about 20 at this point, while Knox is perhaps a decade older, at least old enough to call Wildstar “kid” and mean it. In Yamato 2, there was the matter of rank to consider as well. Saito is a Captain, an officer of equal rank (or slightly above, since Kodai is only an acting captain) to Kodai. Traditionally, the ship’s captain retains command even if there are superior officers on board, so Kodai’s status should not be in doubt.

At the Comet Empire city, Zordar and Invidia are sharing a drink. While gazing into each others’ eyes they are interrupted by Gorce. He tells them that Naska has been defeated.

This is a rather ignominious defeat for Naska. He didn’t even make an appearance during his last battle. How he met his fate is a mystery. Last episode, he retreated from Brumus in a carrier. In this episode, he was apparently in charge of the space subs. Did he transfer his command to one of the subs? We’re not shown or told, so we have to assume.

On the bridge, Homer calls out that there’s an incoming message from Telezart. While Telezart is a familiar name to viewers, having been mentioned in several scenes, this is the first time it’s spoken by a member of the Star Force. The name Telezart isn’t used in the Yamato 2 script for this scene.

Homer is rudely bumped from his place by Venture. When Homer protests, Venture explains that he needs the message for navigation. Wildstar backs him up. When all he hears is static, Venture becomes frustrated and starts banging on the console, which upsets Homer. They start receiving a voice, very faint, telling of a danger from the White Comet. It fades again, and Venture slams his fists on the comm board once more.

As Homer wails about the abuse his equipment is taking, Venture lists the coordinates he was able to determine from the brief message. Wildstar congratulates him for getting such good info and leaves Homer to his station.

Production note: The original script and storyboard for this episode included a scene (deleted before it could be animated) which established that Kodai would concentrate on determining the size and purpose of the enemy and Shima would focus on finding the source of the powerful signal from the first episode. This was meant to explain why Shima would so aggressively elbow Aihara aside and take over his duty.

Sandor announces that repairs are now complete. The Argo launches from its improvised repair dock and sets course for their new coordinates.

There are some wonderful character moments in this episode, especially with Knox. Like the rest of his marines, he’s crude and obnoxious (which is probably why he was originally called “Nox” in production documents), but he’s a proud man having to live with the shame of defeat. Yamato 2 also explicitly mentions that he’s privately mourning the death of many of his comrades. He’s a jerk, but a jerk with depth. He and his men never quite integrate with the Star Force crew, which creates an interesting dynamic among our heroes.

Production note: In the recording script, the closing narration was to include a specific number of days remaining until the Comet Empire reached Earth, but this line was omitted.

Continue to episode 8

2 thoughts on “Episode 7 Commentary

  1. The battles that Knox was referring to having never lost might have been ‘peace-keeping’ and ‘riot suppression’ efforts in the underground cities during the Gamilon War. Remember the shots of the riots and the water cannons in the Homer episode? Imagine if the only action US Marines ever saw were riot suppression in inner cities and then one day they found themselves under attack by well-trained and equipped ‘foreign’ troops. Their misplaced sense of superiority would likely lead to initial defeat, depression, desire for revenge and rematch, and loss of pride…much like the Marines here.

    • Funny you should mention that, because in the 2199 universe, Saito does exactly that – spends a good portion of the year Yamato is off on its mission to Iscandar doing just that – riot suppression. In the epilogue to Ark of the Stars, he complains to Hijikata, who rescues him and his troop from the moon in the opening scene of the movie, that his gun wasn’t intended to be used on humans.

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