Episode 23 Commentary

Fierce Fighting! The Skalagek Star Cluster!

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

Two months have passed since the Argo took Queen Mariposa [Princess Ruda] on board. The Star Force has surveyed 132 systems during their mission, none of which were found to be suitable for human life, and are now headed to their final destination, planet Beta of the Skalagek Strait Star Cluster. On first sight, Beta doesn’t look very promising. Wild winds scour the surface, large waves tumble across the ocean, and the land is barren and dusty.

Production note: there’s a great choice of music at the top of this episode, an ominous, relentless piece last heard during the Episode 16 flashback to Desslok’s liberation of Galman. Whereas before it communicated the urgency of galactic upheaval, here it does an equally impressive job of underscoring the helpless despair of a failing mission.

Nova [Yuki], Jetter [Domon], and IQ-9 [Analyzer] form an exploratory team. As they descend into the atmosphere, IQ-9 reports he can detect metal. Video scans reveal it’s from the wreckage of a large ship. On the Argo‘s bridge, Sandor [Sanada] receives some preliminary reports, and it’s not good news. Beta’s oxygen levels are too low to support human life. It’s another dead end. Venture [Shima] notes the appropriateness of a ship’s graveyard marking the end for their search.

Sandor’s screen reads:

O2 – 0.5
CO2 – 59
Me – 0.7
SO2 – 14
Al – 0.83
Cl – 0.77
Ca – 10
Sr – 15

Assuming these numbers represent percentages, they are a bit off since they add up to 100.8. O2 is oxygen, CO2 is carbon dioxide, SO2 is sulfur dioxide, Al is aluminum (if this is an atmospheric analysis, it’s strange to see a solid metal listed), Cl is chlorine, Ca is calcium (another metal), and Sr is strontium (a metal that is often present in radioactive fallout). I’m not sure what “Me” is supposed to represent. Possibly methane, in which case it should be CH4, or maybe it’s supposed to be “Ne” for neon. Perhaps it’s an element that hasn’t been discovered yet?

There is also some other writing on the screen, which reads:

GASCROMATO E=MC2

WAKAI-SAN NO MUSUKO NO NAMAE WA YOUMA TO IU NODAYO

DATE-IN COSMO HAUND COM – YAMATO IMPOSSIBLE

Production note: If we decrypt the first line, “Gascromato” is probably short for Gas Chromatography, the process of determining component gases in the planet’s atmosphere. E=MC2 is, of course, the mass-energy equivalence equation made famous by Albert Einstein, but its appearance here is meaningless.

The last line is clumsy but understandishable: the data was communicated from the Cosmo Hound to Yamato, and “impossible” is the evaluation for habitability.

Then there is that middle line. It’s actually a Japanese sentence rendered phonetically as “Romanji.” What does it translate to? “The name of Mr. Wakai’s son is Youma.” No kidding. Early 80s anime was riddled with inside jokes like this. It could have referred to a Mr. Wakai on the production staff. (Special thanks to Tsuneo Tateno for translation help on this one.)

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: The percentages bring the planet’s atmosphere closer to Venus than Earth. Venus has 96.5% CO2, 3.5% N and traces of SO2. Only 0.5% O2 makes it pretty impossible to live there anyway, but if terraformed with many plants, which can turn CO2 into O2, it could become habitable. (Though, of course, not soon enough for humans.)

So many metals in the atmosphere and no oxygen could suggest another scenario. That planet may have been inhabited in the past, and a full-scale nuclear war destroyed both the civilization and biosphere. The burning plants and fossil fuels consumed the oxygen and replaced it with CO2, chlorine is residual from chemical weapons, and Al, Ca and Sr are isotopes from nuclear fallout. Of course this is only a suggestive scenario. Most likely the authors just picked some elements randomly and would laugh off our speculation. Especially after the joke on Mr. Wakai’s son. [End of note.]

The survey crew lands near the wreck, which is identified as the American space battleship Arizona. (Look for a mistake in the cel layering as they approach the ship–IQ’s image is placed above a mound he’s supposed to be behind.) IQ scans for radiation and detects “Bolar 100” (or “Boradium 600” in the Star Blazers script), indicating the ship was attacked by the Bolar Federation. Nova says that the same energy signature was discovered when exploration ships from Europe and Africa were destroyed. Apparently, the Bolars have been very busy off-screen. We’ve seen American and European ships before, but this is the first and only reference to African ships.

In Yamato III‘s original 52 episode outline, the Arizona was to play an important role. There were entire episodes planned that would focus on the Arizona, relegating the Yamato crew to little more than guest stars in their own show. The climax of “the sinking of the space battleship Arizona” storyline was planned to rival Captain Harlock’s grounding of the Death Shadow from the movie My Youth in Arcadia.

Eager [Ota] reports incoming ships, 30 Mm away, identified as Galman. They are led by Commander Gustav (who has restocked his command ship with a planet-destroyer proton missile since last episode). Gustav hails the Argo, announces that he knows they’ve taken Queen Mariposa on board, and formally requests that she be remanded to him. Just in case his “request” sounded too polite, he follows it up with a threat, saying he is authorized to use force.

Wildstar [Kodai] asks if this order comes from Desslok [Desler] himself. Gustav affirms that it does (which is not true since the use of force was authorized by Keeling, but Gustav may not know that). Wildstar refuses. Gustav warns him again, and Wildstar responds that the Argo will retaliate if attacked. With that, communication ends and the Star Force prepares for battle. Nova identifies 5 main warships and 10 auxiliary ships.

In the midst of battle preparations, Wildstar orders Flash Contrail [Takeshi Ageha] to check in. Flash reports from his Cosmo Tiger, ready to launch. Wildstar yells at him for being negligent in his duty. He was assigned to protect Queen Mariposa. He abandons his fighter and rushes to her side.

Then everything changes in a heartbeat; Desslok calls Gustav to let him know he’s on the way there with reinforcements to help deal with a huge Bolar Fleet approaching their position. In the meantime, Gustav must prevent Queen Mariposa from falling into Bolar hands. It is rumored that she has ties to a power that once ruled the universe, so they cannot risk allowing the Bolars to force an alliance with her. Gustav pledges to capture her at once. Desslok says Gustav must wait for his forces to arrive before making any move against the Argo. Furthermore, he must defend the Argo against the Bolars–with his life, if necessary.

Animation quirk: during Gustav’s conference with Desslok, look for a shot where Gustav has his arm raised in salute for no apparent reason.

Gustav’s reaction to this sudden change in plans is understandable: he launches a brief tirade, complete with what sounds like an expletive. The curse is part of a no-pause-for-breath line reading, and therefore hard to make out, but I can’t imagine what other word fits.

Gustav doesn’t have long to fume, because the Bolar advance fleet is approaching fast. Gustav is not confident that his forces can hold them off, but he has his orders, so he turns to face them.

Major General Balsiky, commander of the Bolar Fleet, contacts the Argo and tells them to surrender Mariposa. Wildstar refuses. The Bolar fleet opens fire with beam weapons and missiles, striking the Argo several times. The Cosmo Tigers are launched to begin an offensive on Gustav’s fleet, while the battleship counterattacks the Bolars.

In Star Blazers, the Argo fires at the Bolar fleet from 15 megameters away. The Argo‘s main guns only had a 10 megameter range in The Comet Empire series, so their shock cannons must have gotten an upgrade.

Story note: the range of Yamato‘s remodeled main guns was 10 space KM in Series 2, but the range was reset to 400 space KM in Series 3. Furthermore, Yamato uses wave-motion cartridges with a range of 250 space KM.

Gustav orders his ships to engage the Bolar fleet. Wildstar quickly adopts the old adage “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and commands the Cosmo Tigers to switch targets from the Galmans to the Bolars.

The Argo takes even more damage. Gustav cannot permit this to continue, so he puts his fleet between the Bolars and the Argo. Gustav sends a message to Wildstar, saying he regrets that he won’t have the chance to face him in battle. His fleet is set on a collision course with the Bolar advance ships. When Gustav’s ship comes in contact with the Bolar command ship, its proton missile ignites a brilliant white explosion. The threat of Balsiky’s fleet is over, and Balsiky himself is dead. (For good this time.)

Gustav’s end is written as a big dramatic event, but it doesn’t quite work. The battle unfolds too quickly, and lacks the growing sense of desperation where a kamikaze run would be deemed a viable option. Gustav’s fleet did very little before deciding to ram the Bolars. Another problem is that Gustav is a forgettable character. He was introduced two episodes ago and never displayed any traits besides “cranky” (OK, maybe you can add “foul-mouthed” for the American script), so his demise doesn’t carry a lot of emotional weight. Still, his end may have been more memorable if it had been animated with a bit more liveliness.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: Indeed this battle is a┬ábig delusion and filled with so many illogical and self-contradictory choices, it is almost hilarious rather than tragic. Yamato refuses to give Ruda/Mariposa to Galman and Bolar, and that’s ok, they’re the good guys, but why stay and fight against overwhelming odds? They could warp away. They weren’t shy to do that in the past.

Yamato‘s fight with the Bolar advance fleet is pretty contradictory too. The Bolar ships seems to have high tech main guns with superior range, yet Yamato fights on after being hit many times, while the Bolar ships are clearly outclassed even if they fire beams and missiles by dozen. Gustav could have fired the proton missile against the enemy fleet instead of ramming it along with his ship (which could be destroyed before hitting the target). And why ramming one on one? His ships had perfectly good guns and were in position to make a flanking attack. The last dialogue between Kodai and Gustav is supposed to be dramatic, but instead sounds more like some Time Bokan script. Even Ageha worrying about Ruda’s safety by asking if she’s OK is funny. [End of note.]

Immediately after the destruction of the Bolar advance fleet, Conroy reports that he can see the main Bolar fleet, consisting of hundreds of ships, approaching from the other side of an asteroid shoal. Wildstar contacts Balcom, the Bolar commander. Balcom demands that Wildstar surrender Mariposa, warning him that the main fleet is five times the size of the advance fleet. Wildstar has a stone-cold response: “Balcom, you’re never gonna get her. Sorry.”

Another battle begins. The Cosmo Tigers are charged with keeping the fleet occupied for ten minutes. Despite their best efforts, the Argo takes hit after hit, forcing them to use the nearby asteroids for cover. Sandor suggests using the Wave-Motion Gun, but before they can act, their asteroid cover begins to shred from the Bolar assault. Now they won’t have time to charge the WMG before the ship is destroyed, so Wildstar comes up with another solution–the Wave-Motion cartridges. Venture navigates the ship from asteroid to asteroid, leapfrogging closer to the fleet.

At 2 megameters range, the Argo attacks. It fires the first rounds from above, then swoops down underneath the fleet and fires another round, then follows up with Wave-Explosive rounds (a.k.a. the “Wave-Motion depth charges” last used against the dimensional submarines) and smokestack missiles. This proves most effective, and the entire fleet is wiped out.

The dialogue says “Wave-Motion cartridges” are used, but the animation shows the main guns firing standard shock cannon blasts, not solid-round projectiles. Perhaps when the script said W-M cartridges, it was referring to Wave-Motion depth charges, which we do see used?

Like Gustav’s sacrifice, this battle is a big letdown. The Argo was faced with an overwhelming force of over a hundred ships, and victory was achieved by remembering that space allows for maneuvering in 3-D. They move quickly, fire a lot, and poof, the 100-plus ship armada is gone. From the beginning of the Argo‘s counter-attack to the fleet’s complete destruction takes less than a minute of screen time!

Production note: We’ve seen big fleet engagements in the saga before, and the animators deserve kudos for doing the best they could under what must have been a shrinking budget, but the conclusion of this battle comes up short compared to others this late in the story. By comparison, the battle at the edge of the Solar system way back in Episode 6 was much more intricate. It’s likely that the production team was looking ahead to the rapidly-approaching finale and conserving resources for it. It’s an unfortunate but inevitable fact that tradeoffs like this become necessary in the midst of a series.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: This battle is even more pointless. It just shows how Yamato far outclasses the best Bolar ships. The huge elite armada proves to be cannon fodder, and makes you wonder how the Bolar Federation was able to conquer half of the galaxy if their best fleet is annihilated by a single ship. Granted, it is the Yamato, but this is not supposed to happen. A 21st-century ship against a full armada of 19th-century ships would easily wipe out all of them with impossible (for 19th-century) weapons like cruise missiles and even radar-directed gunfire. The 1944 Yamato would have made target practice against the 1200 ship armada of the Persian Empire which fought the Battle of Salamis, and the Persians wouldn’t even scratch the Japanese battleship with their arrows and catapults.

But here we compare an elite fleet of a galactic superpower against a single warship. Their technology should, and appears to be, comparable. If Yamato can do that to the 1st and 2nd elite main fleet, then the EDF fleet assembled by Hijikata to fight the Comet Empire would conquer the whole galaxy right away! Sorry, but this whole episode is a waste of resources, an exercise of good (for the time) animation, but nothing else. They could have cut it off along with many others and spent more time on characters. If the purpose of the battle was to convince Mariposa to take them to Shalbart, the despair after their failure to find a new Earth was enough. To see a princess of peace being finally “convinced” by what is essentially a one-sided slaughter adds the final comic (and not so comic) twist to what is probably the most useless and ugliest episode of the whole series. (And Yamato III is my favorite series ever!) [End of note.]

We segue back for a brief look at Earth. The surface is bathed in red light, and the average temperature on the surface is now over 200 degrees.

On the observation deck, Flash explains Earth’s plight to Queen Mariposa. An image of Queen Gardiana appears outside the window. This inspires Flash to place his hand over his heart and pray to Gardiana to save the Earth. This is the sign Mariposa was looking for. She helps Flash off his knees and says they will go to planet Gardiana. Flash asks why she hasn’t offered up anything about the mythical planet before, and she answers that she wasn’t sure they could be trusted. Flash’s prayer was the act of faith she was looking for.

Wildstar agrees to take Mariposa to planet Gardiana. Their quest to find a new home for mankind has failed, so they would be glad to give a wanderer a ride home, wherever it may be. Sandor asks the basic question: where is Gardiana? Mariposa says she’ll show them and to prepare the ship for a warp.


Story note: It is estimated to be July 29, 2206, 278 days since launch. The human race has 51 days left.

Continue to Episode 24

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