Episode 11 Commentary

Leader Desslok, the Vengeful Demon!

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

We rejoin the prime crew on the bridge of the Argo, digesting the revelation of Desslok’s survival. Contrary to the end of the previous episode, they now take it seriously.

This episode commences with a recap, not only of the immediate story, but of Desslok’s battles with the Star Force, including his apparent demise at the end of Series 1. Yamato 2 recaps the story all the way back from the beginning (using music from the Yamato Symphonic Suite, a first for the series), while Star Blazers only goes back to the showdown at Gamilon.

After the flashback, we join Desslok and his fleet high above Telezart, waiting for the Star Force to arrive. Desslok and his adjunct, Talan, discuss “starflies,” part of their newest trap devised by General Garotte. The idea is that starflies will prey on the Star Force’s homesickness by reminding them of fireflies back home.

I can’t help but be amused by the fact that Desslok knows what fireflies are. It’s not the type of detail you would expect to be in Gamilon’s database. Perhaps the Gamilons cataloged every Earth species just to be sure they could kill them all with planet bombs?

In Yamato 2, the starflies are not mentioned yet, nor is Bandebel [Garotte]. All that’s revealed is that Dessler [Desslok] has a scheme to aggravate the Yamato crew’s homesickness, particularly among the new members. This confirms that the Yamato crew includes new members (like Arakome/Royster), likely culled from Kodai’s peacetime crew in the first episode of Yamato 2.

Story note: this is also a subtle reminder of just how insidious the Gamilons can be. General Lysis conducted a similar psy-op against the Star Force with his secret communication relay satellite in Series 1. To prey on the emotional vulnerabilities of their enemies gives Gamilons a bit more nuance than your average space villain.

At the Argo, the engineering group is performing some external repair work on the ship (particularly, the third bridge) when they drift into a cloud of starflies. Their presence makes the Star Force crew act like kids; they abandon their work and start running around trying to catch them. In Yamato 2, Analyzer volunteers to catch them for the crew, while Star Blazers‘ IQ-9 warns them that these are not fireflies. It almost sounds like IQ is trying to alert them to the potential danger, but in light of his later actions, I guess he was just being pedantic and correcting their terminology.

Production note: blink and you’ll miss it, but the animation staff of this episode revived a rare artifact from Series 1: the 2001-style EVA suits, now colored blue instead of yellow. Some are even equipped with the powered-arm backpack that was seen only a couple times in the past.

Later, Royster walks in to an area of the ship with a container of starflies, which gets the attention of some of the other crew. The script and storyboard was to include a flashback scene to his childhood enjoying fireflies in a park, but it was omitted.

Story note: 50 days since beginning its voyage, Yamato is about 188,000 space km from Earth on December 24, 2201. However, the need for repairs has slowed its pace to 10 space knots. With the holiday season upon them, feelings of homesickness are likely to abound, with or without starflies.

Sandor reports that the repair work is 90% completed. The ship didn’t seem to take any significant damage last episode, but perhaps it was battered by the meteors, or they may still be repairing the ship from previous battles. Suddenly, Homer announces to Venture that there’s an incoming signal from Trelaina. Homer and Venture seem to have reached an understanding about their turf issue, and there are no hard feelings evident between the two.

Additional note from Matt Murray: There’s a great bit of subtle humor in this scene, wherein we see that Homer, apparently weary of constantly having to vacate his seat for Venture, is now resigned to standing next to it, awkwardly hunched over his console.

Trelaina gives them a heading correction, then warns that the White Comet is aware of their destination. She breaks communication, much to the disappointment of Venture, who seems personally hurt when she signs off. In Yamato 2, instead mentioning the White Comet, she warns them of a nearby navigation hazard.

IQ-9 catches dozens of starflies and puts them into clear thermos-like containers, then hands them out to the crew as lanterns. He keeps one for himself to give to “someone special.”

On the bridge, the crew receives an alert from the Time Radar. It shows an image of Gamilon ships that were in the area earlier, either 2 hours ago (Star Blazers) or 10 hours ago (Yamato 2). Homer and Orion think they are dumping starflies out into space (Yamato 2 features an extra shot of the ships surrounded by starflies), but Venture isn’t convinced. When IQ-9 enters the bridge with a lantern for Nova, he is reprimanded for bringing foreign objects on board. Although Nova says the starflies are harmless, as the head of the environmental group she should be aware of the danger of introducing foreign objects to the ship, especially life forms.

Orion remarks that it’s strange to find starflies in deep space, which suggests that he’s familiar with them. This appears to be true in Yamato 2, because Tokugawa [Orion] says that starflies are just radioactive dust.

Sandor decides to analyze them in his lab, where he discovers they’re a type of bacteria. Their glow fades, signifying their change into something more dangerous. Elsewhere on the ship, several other starfly lanterns also lose their glow.

Production note: there is a small visual gag here that gets lost in translation. In the first shot of Sandor, he’s looking into a container with some English lettering on it: UCHU HOTARU 15 HIKI. If that sounds like Japanese to you, you’re right! It translates to “15 Space Fireflies.”

In what appears to be the ship’s bar, Wildstar meets some resistance from Sergeant Knox, who refuses to dispose of his starflies, and further argues that Wildstar doesn’t have the authority to give orders to his marines. As the confrontation becomes more heated, Knox vents his frustration over the amorphous goals of their current mission.

Things quickly dissolve into another physical fight between the two leaders. As with their previous punching match, Wildstar puts in a good showing despite being considerably smaller than the Space Marine. The fight comes to an inconclusive end when the gravity goes out!

We return to Desslok, where we’re finally given the backstory on how he survived certain death at the end of the last series, which had quite a conclusive ending. There was a good reason for killing him off: Series 1 was such a dismal TV ratings failure it was unlikely that the story would continue past that episode. In what was intended to be the last Yamato ever, the Earth is saved and the threat of Desslok is ended.

Even after the success of the first movie, they could have let Desslok’s death stand and moved on to new antagonists. But the writing team saw something in him that opened up story possibilities, enough to bring him back despite the finality of his death. The second movie and basis for the series, Farewell to Yamato, doesn’t even bother to explain how he survived.

Frankly, I didn’t find Desslok to be a compelling villain in the first series, where he spent most of his time laughing at the incompetence of his officers. It was eventually revealed that his war on Earth was for the survival of his people: Gamilon was dying and Earth was to be their new home. He was portrayed as a mad dictator and a reckless strategist, to the point where he ended up destroying his own planet in one of his more elaborate schemes. After that, he developed a never-say-die attitude, insisting that Gamilon will live on as long as he does. Then, he promptly dies.

This episode finally gives an answer to his miraculous survival: in the last episode of Series 1, his ship was destroyed when the energy of his Desslok Gun was reflected back at him. He managed to pull a switch that warped his ship as it was exploding. This inexplicably results in him drifting through empty space with no spaceship or even a pressure suit, where he happened to get picked up by a Comet Empire plane on orders from Prince Zordar.

Additional note from Matt Murray: The blue cigar-shaped command ship used by Desslok throughout Series 2 is similar but not the same as the one seen in the Series 1 finale. The new ship has the two big SMITE projectors flanking the Desslok Gun and distinct upper and lower hulls. The old ship was longitudinally symmetrical, owing to its having begun life as a vertically-mounted command post. However, they were apparently similar enough to fool even the animators. When this episode explains Desslok’s survival, it adds new footage to the scene first shown in the Series 1 finale. The new scenes show the Series 2 ship design as it warps away.

Story note: the Comet Empire pilots who discover his drifting body are also of hardy stock; they float out to retrieve him without any pressure suits or even sealed helmets. Formidable foes, indeed. In the storyboard based on the first draft of the script, Dessler’s body had been disintegrated and scattered into space. The Comet Empire used a cell regenerator to restore him to his former self.

Comet Empire physicians go to work trying to revive him (with some rather suggestive-looking methods). They succeed in restoring Desslok to perfect health, although they credit his will to live as the key to his recovery.

There are a few differences between the Japanese and American versions of this sequence. The Japanese version of the explosion scene contains a few seconds of extra footage showing some Gamilon soldiers burning in the blast. It is also nearly silent, while Star Blazers provides a running narration of Desslok’s escape and recovery.

More substantially, there is a difference in the tone of the dialogue during Desslok’s revival. Yamato 2 places emphasis on the spiritual side of things, and says his will is the main reason for his survival. Zordar explains that their science can’t resurrect people who don’t have the will to live. In lieu of metaphysical talk, Star Blazers is political. Invidia questions why Zordar is taking such an interest in Desslok, and reveals an opinion that will come into play later: she claims Desslok is the only man who can wrest the Comet Empire throne away from Zordar. While Zordar tends to see him as a comrade, Invidia feels threatened from the outset.

The Star Blazers dialogue also reveals that Desslok and Zordar are familiar with each other, although vaguely. This raises the question of what a meeting between the two as equals might have been like.

Back to the present story, where Talan informs Desslok that Garotte’s “gift” is now on board the Argo. Morta, Desslok’s Comet Empire “adviser,” wants to know what the two are referring to, but Desslok tells him that it’s a secret that they can’t reveal because, frankly, they don’t trust him. Garotte, the architect of this plan, is given permission to move his carrier into attack position.

Yamato 2 continues to be more vague about the Gamilons’ plans. Instead of a reference to Bandebel [Garotte] and the starflies, Talan just reports that the Yamato passed through “Secret Sector X.” (That’s always the worst one!)

The Star Force struggles to cope with their lack of artificial gravity. Wildstar makes his way to the bridge, shoving aside anyone in his way. Yamato 2 has a brief scene here of Mi-kun, clasping onto a sake bottle with all four limbs, floating into the hallway pursued by Dr. Sado. Whether his concern is for the cat or the sake is up to the viewer.

Arriving on the bridge, Wildstar is informed by Sandor that the bacteria eats metal. This seems to convince Wildstar that the Gamilons have indeed returned. Yamato 2 had an extra line in here from Shima [Venture], indicating that someone had introduced the bacteria to the second bridge where the gravity control systems are located. The second bridge is shown to be where Royster is stationed, so it may be his starflies that caused the gravity to go out.

Production note: later in the episode we see Sergeant Knox on the bridge, despite the fact that we didn’t see him arrive there. That’s because his entry was cut. Here we see some extremely rare production cels that tell a mini-story all by themselves–with the gravity still out, he “accidentally” makes a grab for Nova (buckled in at her radar console) and she gives him the heave-ho. The scene could have been cut for any number of reasons, but it wasn’t entirely deleted from history.

Garotte finally makes an appearance. His name carries a rather gruesome connotation, a method of execution that involves choking a victim with a wire. Cruder versions of the device often cut right through the victim’s throat. Garotte’s carrier launches their precision bombers. These bombers were last seen in the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster. The Star Force immediately recognizes them, more confirmation that the Gamilons have indeed returned (along with the Series 1 background music).

Sandor makes his way to the second bridge, where he and Royster begin repair work on the gravity control system as the bombers start their attack. Wildstar orders the fighters to launch, only to be reminded that their launching systems require artificial gravity. (The Astrofighters weren’t even moored to the deck, so they apparently didn’t take combat readiness too seriously today.)

Royster and Sandor get into the gravity systems, and as expected, discover that the bacteria has eroded the controls. Sandor pushes Royster aside to do the work himself.

Homer puts through a call he’s receiving from Desslok. At last, the Star Force is face to face with their arch-enemy. Desslok praises them for doing so well, even invoking Captain Avatar’s name, much to Wildstar’s chagrin. Desslok claims to have been one step ahead of them the whole time. He knew they’d come to Telezart, and he was able to predict their reaction to the starflies. He gives them one of his patented laughs as he breaks contact.

Derek springs out of his seat, ready to fight, only to be forced back down. The gravity has been restored, but to a much greater-than-normal level. Everywhere on the ship, crew members are plastered to their respective decks. On the second bridge, Sandor blames this on Royster, who simply responds, “well, you said you wanted more gravity!” (Didn’t Sandor push him away to repair the controls himself?) In Yamato 2, we see Dr. Sado and Mi-kun flat on the floor. Sado cries out helplessly as his precious sake bottles crack under their own weight.

Garotte orders his bombers to return. After they’re on board, the carrier is converted to gunship mode (this is the same battle-carrier type used by Borka at the Rainbow Cluster battle in Series 1) and moves into position to strike.

Prior to this episode, Desslok seemed to be repeating his Series 1 role, where his subordinates would fight the Star Force, get defeated, then endure humiliation while he grudgingly admired his foes. Now, even before we hit the midway point of Series 2, he’s stepping up his involvement. We’re reintroduced to his love of complicated schemes. Sure, he has dozens of ships at his disposal, not to mention the backing of the Comet Empire, but why deploy that when you can use something “amusing” like starflies? He also displays his love of taunting his enemies, whether sending radio messages or appearing on their video screen in the middle of a battle.

The warm-up skirmishes are over. Now we’re finally getting to the main fight: Desslok vs. the Star Force!

Continue to episode 12

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