Episode 8 Commentary

Argo braves death! Destroy the Reflex Gun!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

14-15 October 2199

We pick up where we left off, with the Argo sinking in Pluto’s equatorial sea, down at least 300 meters. Avatar orders a stop at 400 meters, intending to play possum. To that end, the ship is flipped upside-down and comes to rest on the side of an underwater mountain.

Production note: in the original recording script it was named the Sea of Shulz, but is actually the Sea of Metan.

About Pluto’s equatorial sea–the question in my mind is, what is this sea made of? Liquid methane seems to be the consensus answer among Yamato fans, although in “real life” it would likely be liquid nitrogen. It’s estimated that over 98% of Pluto’s surface is frozen nitrogen. However, there is evidence of methane ice on the Charon side, where the Argo sank, so a methane sea isn’t out of the question. There is also some water ice in the planet’s mantle, kilometers under the surface. The temperature is much too cold to support a liquid ocean of any of those elements. I think it’s clear that the Gamilons have made some “improvements” since they first set up base here, given the amount of liquid we see in these episodes.

The Reflex Gun seems to be in a bubble surrounded by liquid, but the surface above it is ice, which melts and refreezes with each firing. However, the Argo landed in a sea which isn’t frozen at all. Pluto doesn’t have much of an atmosphere, which makes the presence of liquids even more problematic; liquids tend to boil away in low pressure. I guess the Gamilons melted some of the ice, creating an ocean and some atmosphere. But Pluto has such low gravity that I’m not sure this would be sustainable. Even today, it’s believed that when Pluto temporarily gains an atmosphere (when it’s closest to the sun some of its solids begin outgassing) some of it bleeds away into space.

If Avatar had any plans beyond “play dead,” we’ll never know. Ganz may be portrayed as a nincompoop, but he’s smart enough not to allow the Argo to remain in one piece. He orders a fleet of mini-submarines to “destroy them forever!”

Avatar arrives on the third bridge to take command. The third bridge, which is the module sticking out from the bottom hull, is configured to work when the ship is upside-down. Its upper half is literally a mirror image of its lower half, so no matter the orientation of the ship one half or the other can work as a command & control center. This, however, is the only time in the series it gets a workout. Otherwise, its main purpose is to get torn off in battle.

While the Argo prepares for an underwater assault, Wildstar is given permission to lead an infiltration team against the base. He tells Dash to gather Lance, Kato, and Conroy and have them report to the recon craft. Avatar orders Sandor to go on the mission too.

The Star Blazers dialogue is rather confusing about the membership of the infiltration team. It sounds like Wildstar orders Dash along as well, but as we see later in the episode, he remains on board. I think the scriptwriters were confused by Wildstar’s command (“Dash, come with me!”) as he leaves the room, and therefore wrote the scene as if he was to go on the mission. Wildstar’s “come with me” was most likely because Dash is the #2 guy in the combat group and he had to give him instructions on what to do while he was away.

Soon the recon craft takes off and the battleship ceases its ruse, righting itself for underwater battle. There’s an odd look of surprise on one of the submarine pilot’s faces; too odd for Star Blazers because that shot was removed.

The Argo engages in a torpedo battle with the submarines. Despite the submarines’ small size and maneuverability, the Argo fares very well against them. The Argo‘s torpedoes only fire forward–they’re launched from the six tubes (three on each side) near the Wave-Motion Gun–so they should be easy enough for the subs to avoid. (There are also six rear-firing torpedo tubes in the stern, but we never see them used.) I suppose Venture used the rocky bottom of the ocean to limit the subs’ approaches, and the Argo‘s torpedoes must have very good homing systems as well.

Ganz is very unhappy to see the Star Force is still fighting. He’s quickly approaching desperation. He’s already announced the Star Force’s defeat to Leader Desslok. Failure is no longer an option. It’s spelled out more directly in Yamato: he expects to be executed if he fails now. He might not need to worry though. The submarines (which appear to be defeated at this point) managed to score a major hit on the Argo, destroying the oxygen supply unit. Without it, according to Eager, they “won’t be able to stay underwater much longer.” Seeing as they’re far from any breathable atmosphere, they won’t be able to stay anywhere for much longer.

Breaking through the ice, the recon ship slides across Pluto’s surface, looking for the gun. This is the first time we’ve seen this vehicle, and it won’t be the last; it’s a six-passenger craft capable of both flight and ground travel. Handy when you don’t want to be caught on enemy radar.

The recon group includes IQ-9 in addition to the five men mentioned before. Sandor theorizes that the gun must be under the ice since it’s not showing up on their radar. But it must have some form of ventilation, so finding that is their best bet.

Receiving an update from Wildstar, Avatar decides to surface the ship and allow the Gamilons to fire the gun. As soon as the Star Force sees a satellite open its reflective plates, he orders them to dive again. The ship just manages to get the bridge tower underwater before the beam strikes. There is a loud explosion when it hits the water, but the Argo is spared from taking any damage.

Nova calculates the gun’s firing point and sends the data to Wildstar’s group. Additionally, Avatar tells Dash to fire missiles to those coordinates as well. Moments later, several guided missiles are released from the Argo‘s smokestack launcher. Wildstar’s group sees the explosions from the missiles just over the horizon.

One nice thing about these two episodes is that they demonstrate the full compliment of the Argo‘s weaponry, save for the Wave-Motion Gun, which got its due in Episode 5. In this battle, the Argo uses Shock Cannons, Pulse Lasers, Torpedoes, Smokestack Guided Missiles, and Counter-Attack Missiles, not to mention the Black Tigers. I don’t think we ever see the full array of weapons used as we do in this battle.

Ganz sends bombers out to release dozens of depth charges, and the Argo is pummeled by undersea explosions. Homer receives a message from recon attack group, indicating that they’re still not able to find the base. In Yamato, it’s a little more direct; Sanada specifically requests them to make the Reflex Gun fire again. In Star Blazers, this is the Captain’s decision.

The Argo resurfaces and again starts to submerge once they see the satellites move. This time the recon group actually sees the reflex beam as it bursts through the surface, confirming Sandor’s theory that the gun is underground. Then they see a column of steam rising into the sky a short distance away indicating where the gun vents are.

Wildstar’s crew arrives at the target area. However, as the crew jump out of the ship, there’s two extra men, and no IQ-9! Yes, seven men and no robots are briefly shown in the recon group. It doesn’t help that Conroy is occasionally mispainted with a white uniform rather than black.

They approach the giant exhaust vent, only to be stopped in their tracks when they see an unusual sight. Slithering out from under the vents are several blue amoeba-like creatures. Wildstar is about to shoot one, but Sandor stops him. He identifies the creatures as “Protozoans of Pluto.” These are the life forms that prevented Avatar from using the Wave-Motion Gun on the base last episode. They seem playful, oozing around and rubbing against each other (but when they turned up many years later in a Yamato computer game, they were quite lethal). Sandor orders that they be put to sleep with gas. Lance and Kato fire their gas guns and soon the Protozoans are inert.

Production notes: Special transparent blue paint was used for the gelatinous Protozoans. Since it had to be applied with an airbrush, it was difficult to spray evenly and was especially vulnerable to smudges and scratches. The surface temperature of Pluto is below minus 200 degrees Celsius, but the liquid ocean that supports the Protozoans is thought to be heated by geothermal energy.

Soon, the group is spelunking through the huge exhaust vents. Sandor explains that they need these exhaust vents because the Reflex Gun creates a tremendous amount of heat. They must hurry before the next firing or “we’ll go out faster than we came in.” Lance gets his only Star Blazers utterance ever, as he cries out when he loses his footing on the steep incline. Surprised, Wildstar is thrown off balance as well. They are both stopped by IQ-9, who is leading the way.

Sandor decides they’ve reached a good entry point and has IQ cut through. Entering the generator room, they run down a hallway. Shooting open a door, Wildstar is about to step into a big empty room, only to be stopped by Sandor. Ripping off his holster, Sandor throws it into the room. Just before it hits the floor, it’s pulverized by an electric jolt.

Back on the Argo, the crew can do nothing but wait. Dr. Sane’s medical bay is now flooded with anoxia patients. Nova, of all people, is getting impatient. Avatar looks at his watch and tells her to relax. They still have time.

In the enemy base, IQ-9 is proving to be extraordinarily useful, extending his height and shooting his hand, still attached to his body by a cable, to the doorframe on the opposite side. The team members then pull themselves, hand over hand and making sure not to touch the electrical floor, across to the other side.

Star Blazers does something rather subtle here. We see that our resident “Ensign Expendibles,” Lance and Kato (Lance is tall and skinny, Kato short and stout), still haven’t crossed yet. Wildstar crosses first, soon joined by Conroy. Then Sandor says “OK, looks like I’m the last.” This implies that Lance and Kato stay behind, which explains their absence in the rest of the episode. Of course, the “real” reason we don’t see them again is because they were killed soon after.

Yamato wastes no time going about it, either. Akira Nemoto (or Frederick Lance, as he’s listed in the Star Blazers Perfect Album) is up first. Running down a long, narrow hallway, he sees the Reflex Gun room up ahead. A few steps later, he’s electrocuted by the corridor. The current is so powerful it appears to burn him to ashes.

The Star Blazers version simply has Wildstar, Sandor, and Conroy suddenly stopped, looking at an electrical flare-up off-screen, while Sandor yells “Look out! The corridor is electrified! It can kill you!” Since the very next scene in Star Blazers shows IQ-9 getting juiced up by the corridor, perhaps we’re to assume that the robot was the cause of the flare-up. By the way, Star Blazers further implicates Lance’s survival by mentioning him a few episodes down the line.

The next scene isn’t in Star Blazers. Back on the ship, they’ve reached the deadline. The Captain reluctantly orders the battleship to surface. Shima (Venture) starts the engine. Yuki (Nova) is apparently upset over the idea of never seeing Kodai (Derek) again.

IQ-9 once again serves as a bridge across danger. With his “legs” extended, he absorbs the electrical energy of the corridor (quipping that “grounding my electric current clears up my circuits”) while the humans crawl under him, careful not to actually touch him. In Yamato, Analyzer’s line was much shorter: “HURRY!”

The raiding party is now through all the traps and finally in the gun room. The Star Force crew in Star Blazers get right to work planting their explosive charges. The Yamato crew are not so lucky and have to deal with armed guards first. I was happy to find that, in Yamato at least, Ganz didn’t just leave the gun protected by all those traps, but had actual armed guards there as well.

Production note: When Wildstar and his team invade the control room for the Reflex Gun, an alarm sounds and Analyzer disables it. This was drawn in the storyboard, but cut from the finished show. This was the second episode storyboarded by Yasuhiko Yoshikazu, and his skill with physical action scenes shines brightly throughout.

After taking care of the first couple of guards, more manage to sneak up from behind, killing redshirt # 2, Wahiko Sugiyama (Harold Kato). Kodai does a cool action hero move, dropping to the ground, rolling, and promptly dispatching the guards. With the guards taken care of, the charges are set and the crew skedaddles.

The Argo breaks the surface of the sea and starts advancing. Ganz and Bain prep the Reflex Gun again, but then pause and reconsider. Deducing that the Star Force is submerging when they see the satellites move, Ganz has them use a different set of satellites to “make the best use of the ship’s blind side.” As the gun is preparing to fire, we see the timer on the charges ticking away. The expectation when watching this scene is that the gun will explode before the next firing and the ship will be saved. However, the writers aren’t that obvious, and the gun actually gets another shot off.

Recycling animation (slightly altered) from the previous episode, the Argo is struck from above, behind the bridge tower. Homer and Eager report heavy damage in the aft section, and Avatar’s response comes as a shock to the crew: “Deploy the wings! Ascend and attack the Gamilon base!” But before any such attack can be carried out, the bombs go off, destroying the Reflex Gun. Star Blazers, for some unknown reason, has Nova report the explosion, but they don’t actually show it. In Yamato, they show a blinding explosion which forms a huge lake where the Gun used to be, the bombs having liquefied the surface. While the main part of the base was safe from the explosion, water is now flooding in. Ganz and Bain launch away with the fleet.

On Gamilon, Desslok has unpinned his ears, displaying them in all their jug-handled glory and admires them in the mirror. (He is actually closely modeled on Producer Yoshinobu Nishizaki in this scene.) Krypt reports the annihilation of the Pluto base, but says Ganz and Bain escaped with the fleet. Desslok’s response is “Tell them to return and fight, and never come back to Gamilon. I never want to see their faces.” Yamato gives the Leader an extra line about wanting to move to Earth but having to shoot down a “sparrow” first. This was the first inkling of Gamilon’s ultimate plans for Earth. In spite of the destruction of the Pluto base, Dessler still doesn’t regard the Yamato as a threat.

Avatar announces that this is a great victory. The destruction of the Pluto base means no more planet bombs will be hitting Earth.

Story note: The planet bomb campaign against Earth began in 2190 and is finally ended by the actions of the Star Force on October 15, 2199.

“There are now 354 days left.”

Continue to Episode 9

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