Episode 2 Commentary

The Great Battle in the Milky Way

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

Star Blazers opens with a familiar face arriving at the Argo‘s dock: Cosmo Tiger leader Conroy. Star Blazers fans may be surprised to learn that this is not the same character from previous stories. This is Cory Conroy [Shiro Kato], younger brother of the Conroy from the first two series [Saburo Kato]. Saburo Kato died of injuries at the end of Yamato 2, but his death was removed for American TV. Shiro Kato took up his mantle in Be Forever Yamato, a movie that was rarely seen outside of Japan when Series 3 first aired here. Thus, Star Blazers fans are allowed to assume that Cory Conroy is the same Conroy we’ve known all along.

My own preference is to stick more closely to the original storyline and think of Cory as a new character (it could explain why Conroy now speaks with a southern drawl). But seriously, which is better? Claiming there is only one Conroy, or that there were two but one died and his never-before-mentioned younger brother stepped in as his replacement? And not only does the “new Conroy” look exactly like the old one, he has the same voice (in Yamato III anyway), personality, skill set, and military role. Space Battleship Yamato is often described as a “space opera,” and situations like this serve to demonstrate why.

Production note: one reason cited for the presence of a twin brother was the popularity of Kato’s original voice actor, Akira Kamiya. As one of the most prolific performers of the 1980s, his versatility was matched only by his boundless energy, landing him high-profile roles such as Roy Fokker in Macross and Kenshiro in Fist of the North Star. Kamiya is less busy these days, but no less revered. After Kato died first in Farewell to Yamato and then Yamato 2, fan mail poured in asking for him to be brought back somehow so everyone could still hear Kamiya’s voice, and this was the result.

Two other bits of Conroy trivia: according to Voyager’s Star Blazers Perfect Manual and the first two DVD series’ extras, the elder Conroy is “Peter ‘Pete’ Conroy,” named by writer/artist Bruce Lewis in honor of astronaut Pete Conrad. In the out-of-print English dub of the movie Farewell to Yamato, his first name was Alex.

Not only does Cory Conroy have an accent, he doesn’t speak with a natural cadence, choosing instead to speak several sentences without pause. In one breath, Conroy explains he’s late because his orders were delayed by the EMP (last episode), congratulates Wildstar on his promotion, and asks “what’s that up there?” By “up there,” he’s referring to the new exploration craft, the Cosmo Hound. In Star Blazers, Wildstar erroneously refers to it as a Cosmo Tiger.

The Cosmo Hound is being taken on a test run by new Star Force members Jason Jetter and Flash Contrail. Contrail, wearing a mispainted combat group uniform instead of his usual colors, makes a pass over a target course, and Jetter fires the guns. Previous fighters in the Yamato universe seemed to use energy-based weapons, but the Cosmo Hound uses solid rounds here.

Later, in the ship’s galley, Contrail (now back in his proper uniform) is invited to pull up a seat at Wildstar’s and Conroy’s table. They only get a few moments to talk before Wildstar is handed a note. Contrail is to head home immediately.

In this galley scene, there are several women in the background. Nova/Yuki is not the only woman on board. (For now.)

Story note: look carefully at a yellow-clad woman in the background during this scene and you’ll see another new uniform variant, a jacket version with a collar. Since we don’t see it again, it could be considered a ground-crew version, or a special attache.

Nova and IQ-9 greet Dr. Sane and his nurse, Penny Aycur [Miyako Kyozuka]. The name “Penny Aycur” sounds like it’s some kind of joke or pun, but I admit I have no idea what a “penny acre” is beyond a small denomination of money and a parcel of land. “Cheap property?”

Dr. Sane and IQ greet each other like the old friends that they are. Dr. Sane has always been a bit eccentric, and his “classic” voice contained an appropriate mix of quirky and high-brow inflection. His new voice is broadly comedic and sounds like a cross between Bozo the Clown and The Simpsons’ Squeaky-Voiced Teen. IQ has some added responsibilities this time around, managing a large assortment of survey robots. Unfortunately, this set-up never really pays off and his robot crew are scarcely seen after this episode.

Production note: Oddly, though IQ-9’s voice in The Bolar Wars is deeper than the original Japanese voice actor, Kenichi Ogata, his tone and inflection are actually a closer match than what we heard in Star Blazers Series 1 and 2.

In the Argo‘s cartography room, Mark Venture outlines the ship’s course for his navigation group. There looks to be about 30 members of the navigation group present, which is more than we’ve ever seen in one place before. Also at this meeting are Wildstar and Conroy. The Argo‘s upgraded Wave-Motion Engine gives it practically unlimited range (as demonstrated in Be Forever), but the new fleet of emigration ships only has a range of 15,000 light years, so the new Earth must be found within that radius. Earth is located on the outer edge of the Milky Way galaxy, in the Orion-Cygus arm. Since the greatest concentration of stars is in the galactic core, the Star Force will search in that direction.

At this point, Star Blazers contains a brief edit. Shima [Venture] snaps his fingers, and a nav tech pushes a button on his console, changing the map on the big screen. The new display features an animated arrow with a flashing “Yamato cursor.” In this close up view, there are several labels in Japanese, indicating Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s Star, and Ross 154. (There are many such maps in the series, all of which were translated for bonus features on the Voyager DVDs.)

In Star Blazers, Conroy asks why they don’t scout out the Barnard’s Star area before moving on, and Wildstar answers that infrared probes have confirmed there are no habitable planets in the area. In Yamato III, Kato was asking about Ross 154, not Barnard’s. Another script change is Venture claiming that beyond Barnard’s Star, they will be in uncharted space. In Yamato III, Earth can see well beyond Barnard’s 6.4 light year distance. The exploration frontier is actually 5,000 light years out.

The scene shifts to deep space. We were briefly introduced to Galman General Dagon last episode, and now we learn the name of his superior officer, Admiral Smeardom [Gaidel]. (A general serving under an admiral?) We also see a glimpse of the Galman homeworld and its domed capital city, which features a towering spire that resembles the architecture of Gamilon.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: It is actually quite possible for a general to serve under an admiral. In WWII, Alexander Vandergrift was a Marine Corps general who served under Admiral Nimitz, commander in chief for the Pacific theater. As commander in chief, Nimitz had operational control on all air, land and sea units, so Vandergrift was serving under him. What is unusual is that Dagon seems to be a general (from the Army or a Marine Corps) who has direct command over (Space) Navy ships. An admiral should be in charge, with the general to have command over the Army/Marine units which happen to be delivered by the ships. But maybe in Galman the ranks are mixable. Also, they have the same uniform. Details on military uniforms and ranks are scarce and inconsistent in Yamato anyway, so no surprise.

General Dagon’s 18th attack fleet quickly overwhelms the defenses of planet Berth, led by Captain Ram, and forces them to retreat. Dagon is more interested in blazing a trail than with occupying territory, so he doesn’t pursue Ram’s fleet and moves on to his next target, Earth’s colony at Alpha Centauri.

Last episode, Dagon’s skirmish with the Berth defenders took place “near the Solar System,” and was close enough for a misfired missile to find its way to Earth’s sun within a short amount of time. This is hard to reconcile with the maps and fleet movements we see in the show. Dagon’s forces appear to be moving in a straight line towards Earth, and have just arrived at Alpha Centauri.

Alpha Centauri is Earth’s closest celestial neighbor, over 4 light years away. This leaves two options: either the runaway proton missile from last episode did a space warp, or the Galman/Berth battle is jumping all around the Orion-Cygnus arm, from the Berth homeworld to outside Earth’s solar system and back. Last episode, both the Berth and Galman fleets were shown warping into the battle area, so the second choice seems like the most logical one.

The Star Blazers script supplies the aliens with first names, which tend to sound like Latin filtered through Star Wars–Diabolius Smeardom, Spiruss Dagon, and Buckmaster Ram. These full names are never heard again.

As soon as Dagon’s forces are in range of Earth’s Alpha Centauri colony, they begin their attack. News of the attack quickly reaches Earth Defense HQ. An EDF tech reports that defenses are moving to reinforce Captain Ram, a comment only heard in the American script. This comment doesn’t make much sense, since the only Captain Ram we’ve been introduced to is the Berth defender, who is not known to Earth at this point. What that tech said in the original Japanese script was that the colony’s battle satellites have been activated. The battle satellites (once again) prove to be totally ineffective. (Unless they are supposed to explode, in which case they do a terrific job!)

Production note: in one scene, an apparently gigantic battle satellite drifts behind others before blowing up. Based on its sparse detail and the fact that they were previously shown to all be similar sizes, this was likely an error in the cel layers.

After the mid-show commercial break, the action returns to Alpha Centauri, still under attack by Dagon’s 18th Attack Squadron. Captain Ram and the remnants of his Berth defense fleet have regrouped and now approach from behind. Ram’s XO suggests retreating and gathering reinforcements while the Galmans are distracted, but Ram’s pride won’t abide such tactics. His forces launch a surprise attack and demolish several Galman ships. For as much damage as they seem to do, Dagon regards them as more of a nuisance than a threat. Nevertheless, he orders his forces to break away from Alpha Centauri and engage the attacking Berth forces, determined to finish them off once and for all.

This scene marks the first appearance of the Bolar Federation theme (heard here), which is unmistakably Russian-sounding. I queried fellow Yamato fan Peg DiGrazia about its similarities to Russian music and this was her response:

A lot of it is the tonality, the harmonies that the composer uses, and his instrumentation. I think to a large extent our sense of it being Russian comes from movie and TV soundtracks–composers frequently use this style when scoring Russian scenes. Which is legitimate, since a ton of Russian folk music sounds like this.

The music from about 1:20-1:30 has the low brass playing the slower theme and the high strings doing the quick runs over the melody, along with the percussion being very straight and on the beat. Plus it’s in a minor key and has a strong 1-2-1-2 beat. That all makes it sound very Russian. The part at 1:30 is typical in Russian folk dances, where they start the theme slowly and pick up the tempo as they go along, again with the minor key, the low brass/string combination, the 2/4 time signature and the strong drum hits on the beat/strong cymbal hits on the off-beat.

Two pieces people might know are the Tetris theme, which is a Russian folk song called Korobushka and the Russian dance from Fiddler On the Roof. Just for fun, here are two more Russian folk song links: here and here.

Thanks, Peg!

At the Space Physics Lab of Earth Federal University, Professor Simon Probe is visited by Dr. Dubiaius and Dean MacGruder. The Professor has been holed up in this lab, continuing his observations on the sun. Unfortunately, the Dean and the Doctor find his theory preposterous and he is “asked” to resign. Like real life global warming, it is a hot-button political issue. The Earth Government has apparently learned nothing from previous experiences, and ignores potential dangers until it’s too late.

At the Argo, a test of the Wave-Motion Engine is just starting when another EMP hits, causing the test to fail. This marks the first English words spoken by Engine Room Chief Sho Yamazaki (who never gets a name in Star Blazers) and his assistant, Patrick Orion, Jr.

By the time I watched The Bolar Wars, I had read a few issues of the second Comico Star Blazers comic book series. That series was designed for the American market to bridge the gap between The Comet Empire and The Bolar Wars and ignored the events of The New Voyage and Be Forever Yamato. In the first issue, the elder Orion (whose death, like Conroy’s, was cut from Star Blazers) announces his retirement and introduces his son to the Engine Room team. Because I happened to read that issue, “Orion Jr’s” appearance didn’t come as a complete surprise to me.

The young Orion has actually had two first names. The DVDs and webcomics call him Patrick Orion, Jr., while the Argo Press comics from the 90s gave his first name as Tim (after writer/artist Bruce Lewis’ brother, incidentally). The dub never calls Sho Yamazaki by name and instead just calls him “Chief.” However, an issue of Anime Zine (#2, 1987) referred to him as “Joe Yamazaki.” It is unknown whether this was intended to be his actual Star Blazers name or if the authors misheard the name “Sho.”

The EMP knocks out the robot crew, including IQ-9. Nearby, wildlife panics. Bats take to the air in an aimless swarm. In Tokyo (identified by caption in Yamato III), thousands of rats scurry through the streets, attacking anybody they come across. (Look carefully in the background to see one poor guy apparently being nibbled alive.) Road-based cars skid and crash trying to drive over the creatures. At “The Central Air Traffic Control Center” (at Tokyo International Airport), big jumbo airliners are forced to land without guidance. One plane skids into another and breaks apart in a spectacular fireball. The chaos and panic provide more examples of scenes that would likely have been removed from the original broadcast of Star Blazers.

The chaos extends from large-scale to small, where a robot servant collapses in the Contrail Mansion, spilling a drink. This alerts young Flash of a problem, and he takes off down the road in his sports car. Rushing into Central Hospital, he starts manipulating the controls of a machine. The patient is Flash’s mother, bed-ridden from an unrevealed malady. As her condition stabilizes, she asks Flash why he isn’t at the Argo.

Flash’s father appears in the door, revealing that he had Flash recalled. Mr. Contrail is a stern father stereotype, complete with a conservative suit and cob pipe. A successful businessman, he indulged his son with Star Force training, but now he expects him to join the “adult world” of the family business. Flash refuses. The father gives him no choice–he’s very influential in the government and they will refuse to allow Flash back into the service without his say-so.

As the two men argue, Mrs. Contrail shows she can be just as unyielding as her husband and starts pulling out her IV tubes. She says she’d rather die than see them continue bickering. She begs her husband to allow Flash to follow his dreams. Reluctantly, he relents. Mrs. Contrail certainly knows how to lay on a guilt trip.

This scene establishes that Flash comes from a privileged background, and that his father has ties to the military. The Bolar Wars Extended tied the Contrail business in with the robots aboard the Argo. Since there were robot servants in the Contrail household, this connection makes sense.

Story note: though it’s not openly stated in this episode, Contrail Industries is the aerospace company hired by the EDF to refit the Argo for its new mission. The intention was for this to become a major plot point later down the road, but it was among the many stories lost when the episode count dropped.

This scene is one of the few that gives us some insight into Flash’s background, but it’s hampered by the rapid-fire delivery of the American script. In The Bolar Wars DVD extras, there is an interview with Peter Fernandez where he reveals that his scripting and recording technique tried to match the lip synch, focusing the timing of the closing of a character’s mouth with certain consonant sounds.

I have two thoughts about this technique. First of all, this method is more suited for dubbing live-action films than anime (and to be fair, Fernandez learned his craft in live-action). The whole reason for the “flapping mouths” in anime is that the dialog is recorded after the animation, the reverse of how it is typically done in America. Japanese animators simply aren’t concerned about the type of meticulous synching that Fernandez was striving for. Second, the result of concentrating on lip-synch is this fast-paced delivery that reduces the script to something to be read, rather than acted. Lines like “Ah ‘forbidden’ that’s a word I heard all my life well you can’t use it anymore with me now that I’m grown up!” [sic] would have had more impact if there were some natural pauses in the delivery.

The closing scene is a meeting between Wildstar and Professor Probe. Probe confirms that the continuing EMPs are in line with his theory. He reveals he’s lost his position at the academy, but isn’t concerned with personal matters, encouraging the Star Force to begin its mission.

Storywise, I find this is ticking along quite nicely. We get some decent scenes with the reckless battles in space (although the American script confuses things a bit). The situation with the sun is building up, and continues to be a hot political issue. Last episode focused on Jetter; this one is ostensibly Flash’s, although he doesn’t get as much screen time as Jetter did. The trend of focusing on Jetter over Flash continues throughout the series.

Story note: At the time Dagon’s Galman fleet attacks Earth’s forward base on Planet Alpha of the Centaurus system, there are 6 days until Yamato‘s launch. It can be presumed that the last scene takes place on the 5th day before launch, October 19. There are 337 days left for Earth (estimated).

Continue to Episode 3

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