Episode 4 Commentary

World of Wonder! Argo Leaps Past Light!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

7 October 2199

Production notes: Sharp-eyed viewers may notice a slight shift in the color scheme after episode 3. This is because episodes 1-3 used a set of color codes that was originally designated by Osamu Tezuka’s Mushi Productions and had become something of an industry standard. Starting with episode 4, all the codes changed and some of the colors with them. The storyboard for this episode was by Yoshiyuki Tomino, who came up through the ranks of Mushi Productions in the 1960s, worked as a director under Nishizaki on Triton of the Sea, and later went on to create an enormous number of anime hits including the groundbreaking Mobile Suit Gundam.

On Gamilon, a purple-skinned General Krypt advises a Caucasian-skinned Leader Desslok of the need to destroy the Star Force before they get too far. It’ll be easier than tracking them down later, he argues, plus it will teach the foolish Earthlings a lesson. Desslok seems more interested in his Gamilonian wine and adoring women. “A lesson? Krypt, it’s my officers who need lessons.” He then lets out a hearty laugh. It’s good to be Leader.

There are several edits in this scene. First, there’s an establishing shot of Gamilon, starting from far off, shifting to the outer crust and focusing on one of the craters, leading up to a shot of the subterranean city and Desslok’s palace. (It’s on the ground rather than hanging from the “roof” as we see later in the series.) Star Blazers edits out some of these establishing shots. The other missing bit is the intro (with captions) of Desslok [Dessler] and Krypt [Hisu], as well as an opening label for Gamilon [Gamilas].

The Argo reaches space and the crew looks back sadly at the damaged Earth. Captain Avatar announces a meeting of the Staff Officers in the Central Strategy Room. After he leaves, Sandor tells the group that the meeting is about planning a warp.

In the Central Strategy Room, Sandor explains the basics behind warp (or “space warp” as it’s constantly called in Star Blazers. We can’t ever forget that we’re in space, right?). It’s a jump across time and space, allowing them to quickly traverse large distances, and is the only way they can get to Iscandar in time. As with some other scenes, the Space Battleship Yamato version is slightly different. Part of Sandor’s opening remarks, including a diagram representing “Einstein’s closed cosmology,” was taken out, and the dialogue is more technical. Since a physics expert was actually consulted about this in Japan (Leiji Matsumoto’s brother, to be precise) it was probably deemed important to present the information with some veracity.

It’s worth noting that Engine Room assistant Sparks is at the meeting. He’s more clearly seen in the Yamato footage that was edited from Star Blazers. It’s his first appearance, although he doesn’t get a chance to speak for a few more episodes, and he’s not named until a few more after that.

Sandor continues on, stressing the potential dangers. If they make a mistake, they could “disappear forever, probably into the 4th dimension.” In Yamato, the stakes are even more severe–he says the entire universe may explode!

The warp is in Venture’s hands, and Nova is assigned to assist in the calculations. Furthermore, everyone must be alert for Gamilons, because they will be defenseless while warp preparations are made. Okita (Avatar) is more specific about Nova’s job in Yamato, telling her they must find a place that is unaffected by gravity from other planets. I wonder if this is part of the reason they’re so cautious–not only is it the first warp, but because of their location within the inner solar system they have to be extra careful. In future episodes, when they’re in deep space, they seem to warp with relatively little preparation, and we don’t hear much about this “while preparing for a warp, we’re defenseless” guff.

Cut to Gamilon Colonel Ganz and his assistant Captain Bain on the Pluto base. The Colonel’s name is interesting, because in Yamato, Captain Bain is called Gantz, and Colonel Ganz is called Shulz. Shulz may have sounded exotic and alien to Japanese viewers in 1974, but to American ears, it just sounds German. Why the Star Blazers writers decided to give him a different name is understandable. Why they gave him his assistant’s name (Gantz/Ganz) is puzzling.

I always loved Colonel Ganz’s voice. Bain’s voice, however, is a little bit too “put-on” for my taste. He sounds like Igor from an old Frankenstein movie.

Bain is sent out to destroy the Argo. This carrier is the same “four-armed Octopus” type we saw in episode two, and I don’t believe we see this type again. The final shot of the carrier in the distance hangs there a little too long–it just seems to freeze in the air.

Nova looks at all the numbers flow by on the computer grid, a panel lights up, and then she takes the slip of paper that spits out from her computer (a decidedly solid-state machine curiously labeled “Japan 2700”). She reports to the Captain, telling him the specific coordinates where the warp should be performed.

Avatar reiterates that the warp is essential to their mission. In Yamato, he announces this to the entire crew via loudspeaker. In Star Blazers, he seems to be speaking to whoever is within earshot.

IQ-9 wakes up Dr. Sane, who was still sleeping in the cryo-tube he hopped into last episode (left out of Star Blazers). The Doctor isn’t happy about being woken up, as he was content with the beautiful woman in his dreams. IQ-9 tells him that it’s almost time for the warp. Dr. Sane would prefer to go back to his dream. In Yamato, Sado (Sane) jokes about the warp, thinking it’s some kind of soup, and proceeds to pop the cork on his sake and takes a swig. He makes an odd sound of delight, then comments that wake-up sake is the best. In both Yamato and Star Blazers, IQ-9/Analyzer makes remarks to the effect that he doesn’t understand humans (or this human in particular).

The Gamilon carrier is picked up on radar. A second or two are omitted from Star Blazers here, showing the Argo‘s “radar ears” wiggling. Wildstar gets permission to take the Black Tiger squadron out and stop its approach. Owing to a color error, everyone we see jump into a fighter cockpit is wearing combat group colors, not Black Tiger uniforms. Wildstar gives the order for the Tigers to stand by for launch. However – oops – they just go ahead and launch anyway. This was a script mistake. In Yamato, Kodai gives the order to launch here, not to stand by.

Production note: This episode contained the first appearance of the Star Force’s fightercraft, which brought new production errors into the fray. One of the most noticeable was that the Black Tigers fly out and magically come back as Cosmo Zeroes since the scenes were done by different animators. Also, the Black Tigers first appeared with shark-mouth detailing that was subsequently eliminated because the animators often forgot to draw it on anyway.

The Gamilons launch fighters of their own. These are the same boomerang-shaped, flying-wing fighter/bombers we saw in Episode 2. What follows is one of the crudest dogfights we’ll ever see in this show. The Black Tigers handle the fighters very effectively, which isn’t too hard since the enemy fighters barely move. They even extend the courtesy of lining up so Wildstar can wipe a bunch of them out in one sweep!

My thoughts about this dogfight is that maybe these fighters were designed more for atmospheric manuevering than space (we did see them in Earth’s atmosphere in episode 2, after all), so they’re not as agile in a vacuum. (They bear a striking resemblance to the raider fighters in early Babylon 5, which had that very same problem). The other thing is that Earth probably never used fighters in space before. Maybe the Gamilons didn’t use evasive maneuvers because they didn’t think Earth ships could move like that.

As bad as the Gamilon fighters were, they still managed to damage a Tiger. Squad Leader Conroy’s Tiger. Well, sort of. It’s Conroy’s voice actor, and they call him Conroy, but the pilot shown is Hardy. Hardy never makes any further appearances until Series 2, about 25 episodes from now, so I guess they figured they could get away with calling him Conroy. (It’s no surprise that Hardy would get hit–it’s hard to fly a fighter with one eye covered by that bushy hair.)

As noted in previous episodes, there’s a lot more talking in Star Blazers. The entire battle sequence is practically wordless in Yamato, which Star Blazers fills in with a lot of chatter.

The battle over, Wildstar arrives on the bridge (followed by the “real” Conroy in a green-on-white uniform (oops) and tells the Captain that Conroy’s fighter is damaged and he’s just drifting outside the landing bay, unable to make it in. Sandor and Avatar stress that they will have to leave him behind. The beleagured pilot himself tells them to go ahead and leave him. Wildstar races to the hangar and shouts instructions to Conroy to guide him in. It’s quite a bumpy landing, but he survives.

The only problem with this scene is the timing. Wildstar supposedly ran down to the hangar, guided Conroy in, and ran all the way back to the bridge in 80 seconds, which is what Nova tells him is how long they had before the warp. The time she reports in Yamato is a more reasonable NINE MINUTES! The Yamato script gives us several indications of the time left to the warp. After the dogfight, it was T minus 30 minutes to warp; after the planes were recovered, 20 minutes; then 15 when Wildstar was on the bridge; then 9 when Wildstar runs to the flight deck; and 3 when he’s back on the bridge. Apparently, the Star Blazers script writers tried to make this scene play out in real time.

The Argo comes within the carrier’s range. It fires a salvo of missiles. The command to warp is given. Just as the missiles reach their target the Argo fades from view, to the surprise of Bain and the carrier crew. There are all kinds of bizarre psychedelic effects while the ship’s in warp. (The animators had a lot of fun with this bit!) Inexplicably, the Argo is seen floating by cavemen and dinosaurs, even though the ship was near the Moon! The infamous fan-service scene of Nova’s clothes fading away was, of course, removed from Star Blazers.

The ship rematerializes and drifts toward Mars. The crew, unconscious from this wrenching experience, slowly wakes up to find the warp was successful. There’s a weird “double Sandor” scene here. We see Sandor sharing a cheerful laugh with Conroy seconds before he wakes up at his console! For that matter, Conroy’s uniform colors seem to have finally corrected themselves–another magic side effect of the warp, perhaps.

Venture is woken with a touch on the shoulder. He stands up as Mars fills the window. In Yamato, Shima (Venture) looks out the window at Mars in silence. In Star Blazers, Venture is given an extra line. He says “Ah! It’s a miracle! We traveled thousands of light years in less than a minute!”

As Chief Navigator of Earth’s main (and, at this point, only) spaceship, Venture should be aware that Mars is not even 1 light year away. A Light Year is about 10 trillion km. The average distance from Earth to Mars is a “mere” 78 million km.) I don’t care if he’s still woozy from the warp, if I were Captain and I heard my Chief Navigator mumble something like that I’d reassign him to the third bridge!

Production note: there’s a truly strange shot shortly after the ship exits warp which pans the length of the hull to reveal damage in the aft section. In any other episode, the ship would be rendered in pure profile, but in this particular case it bends away from the camera in the middle – which is better grasped when the frames are stitched together (above). This montage shows what the art looked like to the animation staff. Best guess is that this was meant to simulate a camera orbiting the ship from bow to stern with the bridge tower as a pivot point, which might have worked if there wasn’t also a zoom-in during the camera move. In animation parlance, this is called a “banana pan,” but usually we see the other side of the “banana.” Chalk it up as an interesting experiment that didn’t quite work out.

The Argo lands on Mars, near the polar cap, and is treated to a snow storm. I don’t believe there are any snow storms like this on Mars–most ice is frozen CO2 that falls as a mist. However, that might have changed by 2199. After all, later in the series, a character mentions that we “improved” Mars. (Or it could have something to do with Star Blazers Rebirth…right?) The Argo lands, and the crew has fun playing in the snow. I’m not sure why the Argo landed. I would think repairing the hull would be easier in zero-g.

Story note: Lest anyone not make the connection between the voyage to Iscandar and the last great naval battle off the southern coast of Japan, this is the first snowstorm the crew has seen in years. Snow is analogous to cherry blossoms, like the cherry blossoms that bloomed on the Okinawa coast as the crew of the Yamato shipped out to battle the massed Pacific Fleet. Both snow and cherry blossoms are symbolic of sacrifice.

That snow also might also be likened to rain, which always seems to fall in at least one scene of classic Japanese-warrior epics. The Star Force, in addition to being astronauts, are samurai. There is one other way to read that Martian snow: although the Star Force has not seen any kind of frozen precipitation for years, they have probably seen fallout for as long. The Martian snowfall is the first snow they’ve seen (since the Gamilon siege began) that won’t sicken or kill them. -contributed by Andrea Lyon, aka Wicked Good Grrrl

The Captain comes outside, wearing a standard Star Force uniform with a one-of-a-kind black on white color scheme. We’ll ignore the line of black-on-white uniforms seen in the episode 3 parade march, since they’ll never be seen again.

There are now 362 days left.

Continue to Episode 5

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