Episode 12 Commentary

Will The Argo Perish In the Hollow Planetoid?

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

Production note: this is yet another episode storyboarded by master craftsman Yasuhiko Yoshikazu.

“Come on, Royster, put your back into it,” Sandor urges.

“I don’t have that much back!” Royster pleads.

While Star Blazers has an abundance of brave heroes, Royster is an exception. It’s not that he’s cowardly, but he’s admittedly not a fighter. He’s the antithesis of Sergeant Knox. Thin, gawky, bespectacled, and often nervous, he’s mostly played for comic effect. Dr. Sane [Sado] fulfilled the comic relief role earlier, and still does on occasion, but the doctor seems to have moved up to the ranks of a wise sage, dispensing common sense advice to the young crew.

Leiji Matsumoto has a penchant for goofy-looking characters, having specialized in diminutive “everyman” protagonists in his manga since the early 70s. Dr. Sado was his design, as were others like Captain Harlock’s Tochiro. When the Yamato Playstation games came out under Matsumoto’s watch, it’s not surprising that Royster/Arakome received a makeover. He was reduced to Dr. Sado’s stature, and was given a similar baboon-like face. (I prefer Kenzo Koizumi’s original Yamato 2 design, frankly.)

Sandor’s and Royster’s current problem is the Argo‘s gravity control system. As in many TV SF stories, gravity is just assumed to exist on spaceships, but I rather like that we have a situation dealing directly with the controls themselves. Gravity was disabled last episode, then restored at a crushing level in an attempt to fix it.

With every movement taking considerable effort, Royster and Sandor manage to finally get the gravity restored to Earth-normal. Sandor does most of the heavy work. It’s not made explicit, but it’s possible that his bionic limbs grant him greater strength, or at least allow him to surpass the limitations of real limbs. Sandor’s lack of natural limbs would benefit him in another way: when gravity increases, the heart has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. With less of a body to pump blood through, Sandor’s heart wouldn’t have to work as hard, so he wouldn’t fatigue as quickly.

In the scene where Sandor gets up and puts his weight on the lever, he appears to be standing on Royster’s legs owing to an error in the cel layers.

On the main bridge, everyone is able to finally get out of their seats. The Gamilon battle carrier approaches. Its arrival is accompanied by an odd, single-note music sting not heard elsewhere in the series. Wildstar looks ready for some payback.

Garotte gives the order to begin the attack, but the weapons system malfunctions. Gamilon crewmen discover the problem: the metal-eating starfly bacteria has infested their own ship. If that weren’t bad enough, a starfly lands on Garotte’s nose, which results in him slapping his own face.

The Argo‘s main batteries fire, sending two shock cannon beams through the carrier. Not only is it crippled, but more starflies are heading their way. Garotte chooses discretion over valor and retreats. Wildstar is shocked that the carrier left the battle area without firing a shot, but does not pursue. Nova reports starflies nearby. Realizing they are the reason the Gamilons retreated, the Argo leaves as well. There is a minor edit here: Star Blazers cuts directly to the next scene, while Yamato 2 shows starflies pursuing the ship.

Though their main enemy has retreated, the Star Force still has to deal with the starflies. IQ-9 had quite a bit of contact with them, which now plays havoc with his system. Dr. Sane and Conroy witness an IQ-9 gone wild, dancing on a pile of unconscious bodies, singing digitized gibberish (it sounds a bit like “yippie kai-yay.” Maybe IQ is into some old school Snoop Dogg? “Bow-wow-wow-yippie-yo-yippie-yay”.) The robot sits on and literally spanks one of his victims.

Sandor manages to get IQ to the lab, where he’s sprayed down with a gas to neutralize the starfly bacteria. Either the treatment is supposed to be unpleasant or Sandor likes to torture robots (I vote for the latter, given some of his views on technology), because he’s concerned when IQ says the spray feels good, and has him sprayed some more. Yamato 2 had a few extra seconds of the robot’s disinfection, and in this additional footage it does look somewhat unpleasant. Star Blazers is also missing a brief shot of the ship surrounded by a cloud of starflies as the screen dissolves into the next scene.

Garotte stands before Desslok, apologizing profusely. Desslok pronounces his judgement: “You’re dismissed from my command!” You can imagine what this means: Garotte is disgraced, banished from his fellow Gamilons, living in exile on remote, undeveloped planets. However, he meets a more immediate fate in Yamato 2: Dessler pulls out a pistol and executes him on the spot.

Comet Empire Adviser/Spy Morta reminds Desslok that he doesn’t have a great track record against the Star Force himself. Seeing as the Star Force defeated one of his most powerful fleets, destroyed his planet, and essentially killed him, Morta has a very good point. Desslok lets Morta off with a stern warning, and he quietly slinks away.

In Yamato 2, Miru [Morta], having just witnessed a summary execution, is shocked by Dessler’s brutality, and questions whether it was necessary. Dessler simply answers that a man like Bandebel isn’t needed in his empire. (Note the sly smile on Dessler’s face when Miru speaks up. I think the execution of Bandebel was meant to put Miru on notice. In Farewell to Yamato, Dessler showed no qualms about shooting Miru.)

Desslok reviews Talan’s back-up plan. Since the Argo was damaged, it will have to stop for starfly bacteria removal and repair. Directly in their path is a tube-like tunnel satellite which makes a natural repair dock. Talan has rigged it with electro-magnetic mines. He says this operation is foolproof, which Desslok finds funny for some reason. Talan must be relieved. A laughing Desslok is much better than a shooting Desslok.

Meanwhile, Morta sends a coded message to the Comet Empire. Shortly, in the throne room, Gorce, Dyar, and Invidia have an audience with Prince Zordar. “Now what has Desslok done, Invidia?” Zordar asks. From the wording, it seems this is not the first time Invidia has gone to her father about the Gamilon Leader.

Invidia tells him Desslok is still obsessed with the Star Force. When Zordar shows no concern, Invidia questions the wisdom of giving the Gamilon so much power. He lost his own planet fighting the Star Force, and that kind of recklessness could unravel the Comet Empire’s plans. Zordar continues to defend Desslok, calling him “the kind of man the Comet Empire needs.” Dyar steps forward and warns him that Desslok may provoke Trelaina. Zordar silences him. He trusts Desslok’s judgment.

Afterward, Dyar, Gorce, and Invidia discuss their mutual distrust of Desslok. “We must do something,” Invidia says. A few episodes ago, Dyar and Gorce indicated they were wary of Invidia, so the fact that they are united against Desslok says something about how strong their feelings are in this matter.

The Star Force discovers the odd-looking tunnel satellite. (Yamato 2‘s Aihara compares it to a chikawa, a tube-shaped fish-cake that’s a popular snack food in Japan.) Wildstar orders Conroy and IQ-9 to check it out. IQ is eager to get to work, wishing to make up for his recent failings, but overdoes it to the point that the crew worries he’s still not back to normal. Both IQ-9 and Sandor’s analysis indicate it is safe. As Venture brings the ship in, the Gamilons watch closely. Once the Argo is inside, Desslok orders his ships into position.

EVA-suited repair personnel exit the third bridge and begin the starfly removal, using the bacteria-neutralizing spray. They are augmented by the marines, who grouse about having to perform clean-up duty. IQ-9 also helps out in his own whimsical way, using an old fashioned broom to sweep the hull.

After the Gamilon ships surround the satellite, Desslok activates the electro-magnetic trap. Several small devices break out of the surface, generating an energy field around and through the tunnel satellite. From Yamato 2 footage, it looks like the crew members outside the ship get electrocuted like flies on a bug zapper.

Production note: the music heard when the trap is sprung was originally written for Farewell to Yamato and titled “Dessler Attack Theme.” This is its first use in the TV series, and its hard-driving beat (a faster version of the Comet Empire dirge) has made it an all-time favorite. Listen to it here, then just for kicks compare it to this track, a Warner classic called Powerhouse, popularized by Looney Tunes shorts. (Special thanks to Peg DiGrazia for pointing out the similarity.)

Sandor reports the magnetic field is holding the ship in place, as well as affecting the instruments. Oddly enough, Nova’s radar still works and now picks up the Gamilon ships surrounding them. Dash is tasked with getting the repair crew inside. (This comment is made in Yamato 2 as well, so it appears they didn’t receive a lethal shock.) Once all personnel are on board, they try to escape. First the auxiliary engines are fired, then the Wave-Motion Engine. The Argo doesn’t move a meter. Sandor says they’re just wasting their energy, so the engines are shut down again.

Desslok radios in and taunts them with one of his stock lines about the final battle being the only one that counts, before offering to give Trelaina condolences on their behalf. As he breaks contact, a skull appears on the monitor over his face. The video screen fades to black, but the image of the skull lingers just a few seconds longer. It’s a creepy effect, but Derek isn’t unnerved by it at all and vows that Desslok won’t win.

Desslok leads his men in a toast with his spiky goblet. Tossing the empty cup over his shoulder, he prepares to fire the Desslok Cannon.

Lost in thought, Sandor walks down the hallway and passes by Royster, toweling off in his BVDs. (Yamato 2 dialogue mentions that he was part of the repair crew, more proof that they survived the shock.) Sandor informs him of the trap they’re in. Royster starts musing out loud, mentioning the power of the Wave-Motion Gun. Sandor is on him in a flash, prompting him for info like he’s going to beat it out of him. Royster nervously finishes his thought, that the recoil from the Wave-Motion Gun can shoot them out of the satellite “like a pea in a pea-shooter.” Sandor is so excited he throws his poor assistant to the floor and runs to the bridge.

Sandor excitedly tells the plan to Wildstar. There is an “anti-recoil device” attached to the Wave-Motion Gun that disburses the force of the gun and prevents the ship from getting propelled backward with each firing. (Science!) The anti-recoil system can be disengaged to allow the “pea-shooter plan” to work. In Yamato 2, the anti-recoil device is referred to as a “gravity anchor.”

While Desslok’s final plans for the Star Force come to fruition, the Comet Empire conspirators put their own plans in motion. Morta receives an order from Dyar to give to Desslok, an order that ostensibly comes directly from Prince Zordar.

While the Wave-Motion Gun is charging, Sandor goes over the anti-recoil mechanism with Royster. The recoil suppressor can be disengaged using a giant lever. Royster is tasked with pulling the lever when the Gun is fired. If he doesn’t, the ship will blow up. In Yamato 2, the stakes aren’t quite that high: Arakome [Royster] will simply be crushed if he doesn’t pull the switch at the right time.

Desslok is waiting for his ship’s prime weapon to finish charging when Morta informs him he is to return to the Comet Empire at once. Desslok ignores him, but pauses for a moment when Morta tells him it’s a direct order from Prince Zordar. He again returns to the task of destroying the Star Force. As preparations for firing are made on both ships, it becomes obvious that Desslok will fire first. Taking the controls in hand, Desslok is suddenly given a communicator from Morta. “It’s a direct call from the Comet Empire.”

Deciding it’s too important to ignore, Desslok takes the phone. It’s Invidia, confirming the (fake) order from Prince Zordar. Desslok is annoyed by the distraction, especially since it’s coming from Invidia. He dismisses her with a flip comment about “exchanging jokes and the latest gossip” and hangs up. However, critical seconds have been lost, and now his ship and the Argo are locked on simultaneous countdowns.

At the count of zero, both guns fire and Royster disengages the anti-recoil device. The tunnel satellite is consumed in an explosion. Then, Desslok and Talan stare in stunned silence as they see the Argo. Glowing red, it shoots backward at great speed, flying out of the explosion in one piece.

Talan trembles as he points at the retreating Argo. Desslok trembles as well, but with rage, still holding the side-bolt on his cannon trigger. He pulls it off and slams it to the floor with such force that it bounces off Morta’s forehead. Morta informs Desslok that since he disobeyed a Comet Empire command he must return to the capital city (Gatlantis) at once to face Prince Zordar. Grabbing Morta by the uniform, Desslok tells him that that is exactly what he plans to do. “Set course for the Comet Empire,” he snaps.

Here, Morta’s voice actor is revealed to be the same as Hardy’s. His line, “Desslawk, you have disobeyed a Comet Empah Commahnd,” uses almost the same drawl.

For the second time this episode, the Star Force is shocked at witnessing the Gamilons retreat. Afterward, Sandor goes to visit Royster, who is resting in bed. Sandor congratulates him on doing a fine job, but Royster isn’t sure he can make it as a Star Force member. To encourage him, Sandor has brought a gift for him: a starfly. Royster dives under his covers before Sandor explains he removed the metal-eating element from it.

The Star Force is finally within sight of Telezart. Every available member, it seems, rushes to the forward bridges, all looking for a glimpse of the mysterious planet. Yamato 2 features a few additional comments by the bridge crew, indicating their relief at reaching their destination.

Story note: ignoring for a moment the huge mistake in scale, which makes the ship look about five times bigger than it should be, there’s a random line of crew dialogue saying, “I never thought we’d make it!” That guy must have been a barrel of laughs up until now.

Probably my main criticism of Series 2, although it is my favorite, is that a large chunk of it is a carbon copy of Series 1. They both track the Star Force responding to a call from distant space. Both have episodes with captured enemy pilots. Both trap the ship in a “Sargasso Sea” phenomenon. Both use the asteroid ring defense. Both have episodes where their enemies send creatures after the Argo (Balanosaurus/Star Flies).

This episode also contains an echo of the Battle of Balan. At Balan, Lysis crafted an intricate plan to destroy the Star Force, only to be undone on the cusp of victory by a jealous underling, just as Desslok is in this episode. Both were seconds away from complete victory, and the Argo literally escaped through fire. Even the remote activations of their traps looked similar. Desslok and Lysis have the same reactions: they smash their instruments to the ground. They then both return to their respective governments to answer for their perceived failings. And these episodes are grouped together in a similar order, giving the series a formulaic feel. However, Series 2 has a more sophisticated political undertone that prevents it from coming off as a rehash, and from this point forward it decisively forges its own path.

Story note: Gamilas conducts the bombing attack on December 25, 2201 and the ship is caught in the hollow planetoid around December 28. After escaping and spending at least two days on major repair, the ship is estimated to arrive at Telezart on December 30, 56 days out from Earth. Likewise, this episode was first broadcast on December 30, 1979. Thus, up to this point, the series can be said to have progressed roughly in real time.

Continue to episode 13

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