Episode 4 Commentary

Hit Mars

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

Yamato III opens with a recap, which ends with Galman General Dagon apparently obliterating ships from the Berth Defense Fleet.

Star Blazers skips the recap and begins this episode rather abruptly, with General Dagon being asked by Admiral Smeardom about the conquest of Berth. “Is the planet Berth proving a problem?” the Admiral asks, with the subtle suggestion that it is. Dagon assures him that Berth will fall shortly. Satisfied, the Admiral promises the “Supreme Medal of the Empire” will be awarded to him upon success.

Next, we get our first extended look at the Supreme Headquarters of the Galman Empire, located near the center of the Milky Way. The domed capital city of the Galman Empire displays its Gamilon origins, with the main tower looking like the old hanging flagship HQ from the first series. Any doubt of a connection is laid to rest when we see the man in charge, Gamilon Leader Desslok, now operating under the title Emperor. With the new title is a new chant; instead of the catchy “DESS-lok Desslok-Desslok” we have “All hail Desslok!”

Production note: the design of the Galman capital city is a bit different here than it will appear later in the series, gigantic domes surrounded by a huge lake. This configuration will not be seen again until the beginning of Final Yamato. For that reason, we can assume that later events occur in a different Galman city.

Desslok holds a meeting with his top military men. Admiral Smeardom reports the latest news from Dagon and his campaign against Berth, concluding that it will be Galman territory soon. Desslok’s officers seem to be a paranoid bunch–they never know if they are going to be shot for a bad report, after all–so it’s no surprise that a worried look crosses Smeardom’s face when the Emperor speaks. It turns out to be a compliment.

“Smeardom, you’re not only eloquent, you are the shrewdest of my officers!” (At least, I think that’s what he said. It sounds to me like Desslok calls him “the shortest of my officers,” and I’m a little disappointed that he doesn’t.) Desslok’s voice changes a time or two throughout The Bolar Wars. This time around he sounds like a sedate Dudley Do-right.

Smeardom is in charge of the Eastern Task Force, and with his report out of the way (concluded with Desslok taking a drink from a spikey goblet), it’s time to check on Admiral Smellon of the Western Task Force. Although 60% of Smellon’s campaigns were successful, it was at a loss of 40 ships. Desslok is not pleased. He starts to say he’s exiling the Admiral, pausing just long enough to see the terror in his eyes before adding, “IF you lose any more campaigns.”

If the threat of exile weren’t enough motivation for military success, Desslok’s birthday is coming up, so his Admirals are trying to conquer new worlds as birthday gifts.

In the Japanese version, the Galman officers retain the Gamilas [Gamilon] standard of Germanic names. Smeardom is Gaidel and Smellon is Histenbarger. Gaidel doesn’t even mention the Berth campaign–he speaks of the victories of the 11th Attack Fleet instead of Dagon’s struggling 18th. Also, the threat Dessler [Desslok] made against Histenbarger was actually execution. (A similar thing occurred during The Comet Empire, where General “Starflies” Garotte was sentenced to exile in Star Blazers, while in Yamato 2 he was summarily executed.)

Near the moon, the Argo is preparing to undergo a test warp to Mars as part of the shakedown of the new crew. Though it’s always been called a “space warp,” here Wildstar refers to it as a “time warp.” A steady diet of TV sci-fi has embedded the term “time warp” in my mind as a jump to another time–either the future or the past–which is not the meaning they’re going for here.

In the engine room, Orion–with the wisdom of two short missions behind him–puts the fear of warp into the new recruits. Like Desslok, Orion’s voice changes around a bit in the early episodes. This time, Orion is voiced by the same actor as Jason Jetter, only with a broad southern accent.

In the galley, Jason Jetter (sounding exactly like Flash Contrail, strangely enough) warns his KP Chief, Hardy [Hajime Hirata], that he needs to get ready. The Chief is busy securing supplies and pays him no mind. Jason appears dutifully square and earnest, sitting in his seat and struggling with his belt. He’s wearing a white apron over his uniform (as do all the KP crew), although in one shot the apron is miscolored as part of his uniform.

Nova brusquely tells Jason to mind his own business and points out all the things he’s doing wrong. She adjusts his seat and tightens his belt. He looks absolutely stunned. He’s beginning to realize that despite his training, he’s new to the reality of being on the Star Force. His nervous discomfort is not helped by the sensual brushing of Nova’s hair over his face.

The warp sequence re-uses the dynamic effects from Be Forever, with streamers and grid patterns. After the warp and a quick system check, the red alert is sounded. They are going to start the new crew’s combat training right away.

Cosmo Tigers rush to their fighters and cannon gunners to their seats. The target is the Mars station (Mars Phobos station, to be exact). The three forward cannons are quickly aimed and fired. The cannons aren’t firing actual rounds for this part of the training. Instead, the barrels flash and a low-rez computer display indicates where the shots would’ve hit. Immediately afterwards, Dash says the total time between target announcement and firing was 22 seconds. “Too slow!” Derek shouts.

Sandor initiates a damage control sim. A smoke pod is placed in the tail section. Once the exterior aft section is covered in smoke, firefighting teams are sent out. The teams, a part of the science/engineering group, put on their gear and grab their equipment. One of the newbies, “Beaver” [Heiji Bando], puts his helmet on backwards, then panics when he thinks he’s gotten lost in the warp. He is “saved” when someone turns it around for him. This is Beaver’s first speaking part, and he’s voiced by Contrail’s VA.

Firefighters rush into a smoke-filled room and begin spraying fire-retardant foam. Bulkheads are sealed and repairs are made to one of the walls. Two crewmen get to play wounded soldiers, only for one to wind up with real injuries when the nurses roll him off the gurney and onto the floor. Besides Nurse Aycur, there are several other female nurses on board.

The repair crew are sent out for some exterior repair work, giving us a good look at their EVA suits. There are small track-ball-like units located on the belt that spin around and provide thrust in whatever direction is required. The controls are on the suit’s chest plate. Beaver once again provides the comic relief when he presses a wrong button and sends himself into a dizzying (and, from the looks of it, fatal) spin.

Beaver/Bando is recognizable from the decorative mark between his eyes, called a bindi. It’s traditionally worn by people of the Hindu faith, but some Buddhists wear it as well. We never get much background on Bando in the series, but an issue of Anime Zine described him as a Buddhist who “signed up in an attempt to repent for a sin he committed with his old mentor.” From his treatment in this scene, I’d say he’s “paying off karma at a vastly accelerated rate.” (Quote from Babylon 5.)

A dummy target ship, which looks suspiciously Galman, is released for the next round of training. After its position is identified by the Stellar Radar room (its first TV appearance), the Cosmo Tigers are ordered to launch. Contrail and two recruits show up late and exhausted in the hangar, having gotten lost on the huge ship. The Tigers successfully attack the dummy ship, although Wildstar criticizes a 1-second delay between attacks. (Man, that guy is tough!)

The name “Cosmo Tigers” originated in the second Yamato movie, Farewell to Yamato, and followed the squadron into all subsequent Yamato stories until it was replaced by the Cosmo Pulsar in 2009’s Yamato Resurrection. Star Blazers kept the original name, Black Tigers, throughout the first two series. (More accurately, “Black Tigers” refers to the pilots and planes in Series 1, then the planes are replaced by Astro Fighters in Series 2. In Japanese they go from Black Tigers to Cosmo Tigers, and the names are all-inclusive.)

There may have been a political motivation for not using the “cosmo” prefix. “Cosmo” is associated with the Soviet space forces, while “astro” is the American preference. To wit, America has astronauts, the Soviet Union has cosmonauts. Further proof: Yamato‘s sidearm, the Cosmogun, is called an Astro Automatic in Star Blazers. But whatever the reason, Star Blazers Series 3 uses the Cosmo Tigers moniker.

Around the time of the American dubbing, Comico released a 5 issue Star Blazers comic book series. Since the movies New Voyage and Be Forever were never released stateside, this comic story served to fill in the gaps with a completely new story, and attempted to pave over some continuity errors. The series introduced the Black Tigers’ founder, Cosmo “Pops” Shannon. The comic’s original writer, Markalan Joplin, died just as the series started, and writing duties were given to Phil Foglio, who had no idea about Joplin’s original plans. It’s easy to speculate that a link between the name Cosmo Tiger and Cosmo Shannon would have been made explicit in the original draft, possibly with Shannon dying and the Tigers renaming themselves in his honor. As it turned out, Shannon was still alive by the end of the series and no such re-naming occurred.

In the kitchen, Jetter is keeping busy, taking rice balls [onigiri] and placing them into carrying trays. A portly, bespectacled man mixes the rice while Jetter’s chief, Hardy, does a taste test. They are running late, so Jetter has to take what food is ready. He heaves 3 trays onto his shoulder and runs down the hallway. There’s another Life Services worker behind him pushing a tray cart, so I wonder why Jason is carrying his.

The cook in the glasses marks the first appearance of a recurring character, Tsutumo Makunouchi (and no, he’s not the same cook as in series 1). According to the Anime Zine article mentioned earlier, he was going to be called “Ben Makunouchi” in Star Blazers, but instead he’s given the odd nickname ‘Whizzer.’ A background summary of him reveals that he graduated from the same class as Sandor/Sanada.

The ship passes Mars and they get ready to start the next phase of training in the asteroid belt. Meanwhile, Jetter delivers food trays to the second bridge.

During the approach to the asteroid belt, we hear Eager’s first line of dialog in Series 3. He sounds like Jetter speaking with a southern twang. It’s not as Gomer Pyle-ish as his original voice, but at least it’s within throwing distance of what Eager should sound like.

Production note: Eager’s Japanese voice actor, Yoshito Yasuhara, was meant to return to the part, but he was already committed to another show (the lead role in Fighter Gordian), so the role was inherited by Hirotaka Suzuoki, popular as the voice of Bright Noah from Mobile Suit Gundam. In fact, Yamato III became a reunion point for three Gundam actors: Suzuoki, Toru Furuya (Amuro Rei) and Toshio Furukawa (Kai Shiden).

For the next part of the training, the Argo uses live rounds, so the focus switches to the roomy gunhouse of shock cannon #1. When we saw the interior of the cannons before, there seemed to be only 3 people stationed there, one behind each barrel. Now, there is a fourth, a gunnery director. The GD is Namio Sakimaki, another recurring character who is never named in Star Blazers. He’s a strange-looking character with a head roughly shaped like an inverted triangle. He’s voiced by the same actor who does Flash, only with a more nasal delivery.

I’ve referred to the Argo‘s main guns as triple-turrets before, but that’s not technically accurate. Triple turret cannons have barrels that elevate and fire in unison. The Argo actually has “3-barrel turrets,” which means each of the three barrels can elevate and fire independently.

Once the target asteroid comes into focus on the display, Sakimaki receives the order to fire, then presses the button. The shock cannon beams strike a small bullseye mounted on the asteroid and obliterate the space rock. Jetter arrives with the food and Sakimaki calls for a meal break (although he’s the only one who eats, and the firing of the cannons seems to continue without his presence at the controls). Jetter asks his permission to sit in the gun director’s chair for a round or two. Saki is surprised to hear Jetter had artillery training, and agrees to let him show his skills. Another asteroid comes into focus, the gun board lights up green, and Jetter fires, blowing up another asteroid. Saki is unimpressed because he missed the bullseye.

In Yamato III, Domon’s [Jetter’s] desire was to be a gunner, so for a brief moment he is right where he wanted to be.

In Naval Battleships, it took a crew of about 25 to handle the operation of the turrets, including support crew to handle the ammunition and powder hoists. The gunnery captain (on American battleships at least) had two buttons to press when the gun was ready for firing. The left button sent a warning that the gun was to fire, allowing crew in the tower to cover their ears and shut their eyes. The button on the right fired the cannon. If the left warning button was not pressed, unprepared crew could be temporarily blinded and deafened by the discharge; a dangerous situation in the heat of battle.

The space battleship has simpler and less dangerous firing procedures. Other than the infrequently used Wave-Motion cartridges, the shock cannons don’t appear to require any ammunition loading. While there are four men in the turrets, the space battleship apparently has more gunnery crew below, in the barbette. Later in this episode, there is a brief scene of a crewman stationed in the room with the turrets’ roller plates.

The training continues for 16 straight hours. By the time the ship cruises by Jupiter, it’s all over and the crew is wiped out. Jason and Beaver share a brief moment of exhaustion. Jason walks wearily down the hallway, peers in an open door, and sees Hardy (his chief) studying a book about nutrition. (In Yamato III, Domon asks if he’s reading a manga.) Hardy puts his book aside and asks Jason to follow him down the hallway. With a weary moan, he does.

Hardy takes him into a shooting range where Nova, Dash, and others practice their marksmanship skills with their Cosmoguns. Even Dr. Sane is there, taking shots between gulps of saki. Jason is amazed that after a workout training session, they’ve come down here for even more training.

The notion of a doctor carrying a weapon was a bit surprising to me. Doctors are protected under the Geneva Convention, and don’t usually carry weapons. But in modern times, soldiers have been faced with enemies that don’t respect the rules of the Geneva convention and see soldiers with a GC brassard (a white armband with a red cross) as targets. Thus, more and more medical personnel carry pistols or service rifles to be used in self-defense. In the Yamato universe, they are dealing with unknown enemies and no known “space Geneva Convention” exists. Dr. Sane would therefore be expected to have weapons training.

Hardy leads Jason to another room, where he witnesses a strenuous workout by Wildstar. Gun in hand, Wildstar flips, rolls and dodges shots while taking out his mechanical targets. Hardy explains that he and Wildstar graduated from the same class. They both strive to be the best at what they do. Hardy stresses that disaster could await them if the crew is not in top shape. The ship could be lost, and thus Earth could be lost as a result.

Hardy wraps up his “one to grow on” speech by preparing lemon tea for the captain, which Wildstar enjoys as the ship leaves Jupiter. He’s surprised to see Jason up and about. Jason enthusiastically tells Wildstar how excited he is to be learning so much.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: There is a moral lesson here: by military law, a high rank gives orders, and lower-ranking soldiers are supposed to obey. Yet personal respect for an officer comes only from example. The crew is pushed hard during the training, and they complain. Then we see the high-ranking officers practicing more than the crew, and the captain more than everybody else. The lesson is that to earn respects from your peers and your subjects, you have to work harder than them because with higher the rank comes more chances to make mistakes. Without respect from his men, an officer is nothing. The lesson comes obviously from a veteran like Hardy, and is delivered with utmost efficacy to Jason.

The radar picks up a signal and an alert is sounded. Wildstar runs to the bridge while stunned and exhausted crew members literally fall out of bed and get to their stations. This is no drill.

The radar signal is exposed as three proton missiles, similar to the one that hit the sun. Venture suspects they are headed for Earth, but Wildstar believes they are just strays. The main shock cannons destroy all three at close range, with Sakimaki getting really worked up in the heat of the action. I might wonder if it’s wise to let the missiles get as close as they do, but I admit it looks cool to see the Argo emerging from the red smoke.

Story note: Although Wildstar initially presumes it these are the same class of planet-destroyers that hit the sun in Episode 1, the missile this time is approximately 100 meters long. The full length of a planet destroyer missile is over 600 meters.

Jason and Hardy watch the action on their monitor while Hardy drives home the lesson about training and preparedness. Lesson learned, now it’s off to bed for our weary characters. The extended training shows what daily life is expected to be like on board ship. We’ve seen this briefly before in The New Voyage, but now we see how different departments are affected, like the gun crews and KP.

Production note: the closing shot of the ship is reused from the opening title, but the last few cels were accidently shot paint-side up, so it appears to tilt abruptly as it recedes into the distance.

Story note: it is estimated that the Star Force passes Jupiter on October 25.

“There are 328 days left.”

Continue to Episode 5

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