Episode 9 Commentary

Revolving defense! Asteroid belt!

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled

31 October 2199

Production note: As with episodes 6 and 8, Yasuhiko Yoshikazu drew the storyboard for this one. Those familiar with his design aesthetic will recognize it at the core of the character animation here. Unfortunately, it appears rushed in the many scenes of Ganz and Bain, which are not as carefully animated as those of the Star Force. (Bain, for example, is drawn differently in almost every scene.) This may be due to the high number of exterior space scenes, which probably pulled resources away from character animation. It’s equally likely that this episode paid the dues for the attention that was lavished on the previous three.

Colonel Ganz has been forced to retreat since the Star Force annihilated his Pluto base. He is disgraced, and his only path to redemption is to destroy the Argo. He gathers his fleet of survivors, which looks to be about two dozen ships, and prepares for a search-and-destroy mission. Yamato shows us a few static, uninspired scenes of the fleet as they move out, which didn’t make it to Star Blazers.

Unaware of the approaching enemy, Captain Avatar orders Sandor to resume the repair work. The Argo was heavily damaged by the Reflex Gun on Pluto. Presumably, they’ve already fixed the all-important Oxygen Supply Unit from last episode. To give you some indication of just how damaged the ship was, note that this episode takes place 16 days later and the Argo still needs a lot of repairs. Soon, work groups exit the third bridge in their heavy duty EVA suits and start fixing up the ship, lasering off damaged panels and welding new ones into place, aided by the same mobile platforms seen in episode 7.

Some time later, Nova picks up a Gamilon ship on her radar. Figuring it’s from Pluto and expecting more to be nearby, Avatar orders the repair crew back inside and the Argo to go on full alert. Sandor rushes in and tells the Captain that they must avoid any and all combat. “We can’t put up any kind of fight now. The damage is much more extensive than we first thought,” he explains.

Above and below: a comparison between the original layout for the repair scene and the panning shot that resulted from it is a strong example of how much labor went into the episode, whether it was seen on screen or not.

Avatar closes his eyes, and you can almost guess the question running through his head: “What do we do now?” Or maybe he’s praying, because what Nova says next sounds like the answer to a prayer–there’s an asteroid field nearby.

Looking at the field on the video panel, Avatar says it’s all that’s left of Minerva. According to Venture, there used to be 10 planets in the Solar system, but the Gamilons destroyed the 10th, Minerva. There’s no explanation as to when or why the Gamilons destroyed Minerva. It may have been a demonstration of their power to frighten Earth into surrendering. A more intriguing idea is that they used it for raw materials to make planet bombs and whatever else they needed.

Additional note from Matt Murray: The claim that “There used to be ten planets” runs into a little snag in Series 2, when we are introduced to planet Brumis, the eleventh planet, supposedly discovered near the end of the 20th century. If the continuity causes some headaches, here’s a potential remedy: Pluto’s demotion to dwarf planet status would make Brumis the tenth planet, and thus make Venture’s statement correct after all. Brumis would’ve been deemed the eleventh planet for a while, at least, had it been discovered when the story claims.

Minerva is a great, solid name for a planet and a good choice by the writers. Minerva is the goddess of wisdom, poets, and warriors. Before the names “Uranus” and “Pluto” were chosen, Minerva was a close runner-up for those two planets. Yamato doesn’t bother with a name. It’s just “Planet 10.” Furthermore, there’s no reason given for why Planet 10 is a field of rubble. The Gamilas (Gamilons) apparently weren’t responsible for destroying it in the Japanese version.

This asteroid field, while invented for this Yamato episode, has a real life counterpart called the Kuiper belt. There are over 70,000 of these trans-Neptunion bodies out there. The most famous object in the Kuiper belt is the recently demoted Pluto. Actually, having this field be the remains of a planet explains why the rocks are so close together; asteroids are usually many kilometers apart, and rarely clustered like we see them in popular movies (or future episodes, where hot dog pilots can weave in and out between them!)

Production notes: In 1999 asteroids of the Kuiper Belt were observed in the neighborhood of Pluto, but they were not formed out of planetary debris. An 11th planet (Brumis) appeared in TV series 2, but earned no mention in series 1. It must have been off the map.

Ganz and Bain watch as the Argo retreats from their approach. Ganz will not let them escape, and he orders his forces to pursue. Ganz’s flagship seems to have trouble staying on-model. It’s sometimes shown as long and sleek, and other times it’s more of an oval blimp shape.

With the Argo‘s radar screen now showing the entire Pluto task force coming at them, Avatar orders Venture to enter the dense asteroid field. The Argo is soon drifting among the rocks, some of which dwarf the ship. The Gamilon flagship is tracking the Argo‘s signal on their scanners when it suddenly disappears. Thinking they must have a way to interfere with their “radar detection equipment,” Ganz has Bain check the video scope. Instead of the Argo, they see a bunch of asteroids. “Space trash,” Ganz sneers.

IQ-9, concerned about Sandor’s well-being, wheels into the lab with a fresh glass of tomato juice grown in his hydroponic garden. Sandor gulps down the juice (ignoring the straw IQ considerately put in the glass for him) and then says he’s too busy and runs off to see the Captain. IQ seemed like he really wanted to talk about his garden. We don’t actually get to see it until the second series.

The Gamilon fleet is still having no luck finding the Argo. Bain reminds the Colonel that it’s time to report to General Krypt. Not hiding his disgust, Ganz mutters “Ah, we’d better do it and get it over with!” Bain sits down and makes his report, which is all of six words long: “We’ve lost sight of the Argo.” Showing no signs of embarrassment, he then asks Krypt if he happens to know if the Argo performed a space warp.

Krypt’s bloodshot eyes seem ready to burst out of his head. “You are a pair of incompetents! With a whole fleet at your disposal you can’t track down one Earth ship?!” Desslok overhears the exchange, and is not pleased. “Tell Ganz I’m a little confused. Who’s side is he fighting on anyway?” Desslok then laughs rather strangely. He usually does a great laugh, but this time his heart must not have been in it.

Ganz and Bain are horrified at the thought that they might be considered traitors. Getting the Star Force is now more important than ever. In Yamato, Dessler’s comment was to ask if Shulz (Ganz) would like him to dispatch the Royal Guard to “help.” The implied threat is that the Guard will execute Shulz.

Sandor has plan a to cover the ship with asteroids. He orders Wildstar to launch the three “polarity reactors.” Explosive shells have been loaded into the two medium shock cannons (I’m not sure which cannon serves as the third reactor cannon). Interestingly enough, the barrels are shown spreading horizontally, something they are patently incapable of doing. After the guns fire, the shells explode a short distance out. The fragments released by the burst explode themselves, sending out hundreds of dart-like sensors that embed themselves into the asteroids.

Ganz is one step behind the Star Force. Finally realizing that the Argo must be hiding in the asteroid field, he sends his fleet in to find it.

Wildstar turns on the reactor, which activates the sensor darts embedded in the rocks. The rocks immediately start moving toward the ship, magnetically drawn to the hull. In a short time, the Argo is almost completely covered by protective rock. The repair crew is sent out to resume working. They don’t seem to have any problem working around the asteroids.

Next is one of those rare scenes that I was glad didn’t make it into Star Blazers. Dr. Sado (Sane) goes for a drunken spacewalk with his favorite companion, a sake bottle. He pops the cork and tries to take a gulp, forgetting that he’s in space and wearing a space suit! The sake just splashes off his faceplate and bubbles away. Undaunted, he then opens the hole in the top of his helmet, sticks the bottle in the opening, and gulps down the rice wine. He gets a goofy look on his face, either from the sake or the fact he just decompressed. Analyzer (IQ-9) pops his head out and warns Sado to be careful. Sado complains, “you’re cramping my style” and leaves the area in a huff.

The next scene is almost as odd. Bain is checking the asteroid field visually. He thinks he sees the Argo. Ganz comes running over. Neither one of them can find it though, as it’s lost among the rocks. Bain catches another fleeting glimpse, but again loses it. Then Ganz himself spots it. “Bain! Bain, are you blind?! That’s the Argo!!” Ganz then appears to slam his fist on Bain’s shoulder as Bain meekly says “Yes, that’s what I said, sir.” The awkward movements and bizarre expressions on their faces (throughout this episode actually) are very strange.

As the Gamilon fleet prepares for battle, all is quiet for the Star Force as the repair work continues. On the bridge, Nova arrives with fresh glasses of tomato juice, “compliments of IQ-9.” Like Sandor, Wildstar is too cool for the straw and gulps his drink down. Not Venture. He’s too gentlemanly to gulp, and slowly sips his drink. Looking out the window, he spots the Gamilon fleet. (This would have been a good point for a spit-take, alas….)

Wildstar reports this to the Captain, who tells him to calm down. Sandor has everything under control. Another brief scene was edited out here, as a shadow from above crosses the Captain’s desk. The three look up and see Dr. Sane walking on the clear dome that forms the roof of the Captain’s quarters. The doctor waves down at them.

Ganz orders his fleet to commence the attack. In another edited scene, IQ-9 retrieves Dr. Sane by pulling in his “lifeline.” The doctor makes it in just before the first shots hit.

With ships approaching both forward and rear, and each shot removing some of the asteroid cover, Avatar orders the repair crew inside. With his permission, Sandor starts the asteroid ring operation. He orders Wildstar to reverse the polarity of the reactors. The asteroid covering peels off and forms a vertical ring surrounding the ship. This shot, a concept wholly unique to the series, was used in the opening of Star Blazers, and has become absolutely iconic.

Production note: In the original 39-episode plan for the series, Yamato was to reach the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter in the fourth episode and acquire the defensive ring, which was a concept developed way back when the ship itself was still basically a giant asteroid. The idea was moved to this episode when it became necessary to use it in battle. Captain Okita uses the term ‘Asteroid Ship’ several times, which was the original title for the concept that eventually became Yamato.

Multiple shots are fired by the fleet, only to have each one hit the spinning ring instead. The animation could be a bit clearer here. The ring appears to just stay in one place, and it looks as if the shots are deliberately being fired at the ring and not the Argo. It’s also not entirely clear how the ring works. We see Wildstar using a little joystick control. Is that what’s positioning the ring? Manually? Near the end of this scene, we finally see a good shot of the ring actually moving, as it rotates in front of the ship to block a shot.

Production note: when this sequence was recreated in the 1999 Playstation game, the CG animators finally gave it the treatment it demanded. It is controlled from the bridge by a spinning trackball and swirls around like lightning to block all incoming fire in a full 360-degree sweep.

While Sandor calls the ring a “great success,” Wildstar is far from impressed. “You call that a success? We’re just sitting here!” “Wildstar, we need a good strong defense too,” Venture responds. “We can’t always be on the offensive the way you’d like us to be.” This is the start of a recurring argument between the two. Wildstar presses every opportunity to attack, while Venture is much more cautious. We’ll see this disagreement develop over the next several episodes.

In Yamato, Shulz (Ganz) makes a speech to his fleet at this point, telling them to die like brave, honorable warriors. Gantz (Bain) starts sobbing. Shulz himself seems a bit choked up, as he gives his final orders to the fleet, a kamikaze charge.

Star Blazers isn’t that direct, with Ganz telling Bain that they will “step up” the attack, and this is “our last chance to get the Argo and return as heroes,” implying that it’s not a suicide charge and he expects to survive the battle.

Additional note from Matt Murray: While the specific nature of just what was or was not allowed to stay in Star Blazers could vary widely from one episode to (sometimes literally) the next, certain trends are apparent: eg. the writers were clearly uncomfortable with the idea of suicide. While it was permissible for Ganz and Bain to die in combat, it could not be of their own choosing.

As the ships move in from all sides, Avatar orders Venture to release the ring, letting it fly at the Gamilons. It’s strange that he’s talking to Venture, considering Wildstar has been in control of the ring. It’s Wildstar’s hand that releases the ring anyway. Okita’s meaning is clearer in the original script, where he says “Shima, we’ll lighten the load, you avoid the enemy ships.”

The incoming ships are pelted with small rocks, which is enough to send the Gamilons out of control and crashing into each other. Apparently, the whole fleet of about 25 ships are obliterated by this maneuver. The last remaining ship is Ganz’s, which is heading straight for the Argo‘s command bridge.

Instead of Shulz’s last line, “Dessler Soto banzai!” (“Long live Leader Desslok!”), Star Blazers gives us a frightened “We’re going to crash into them,” implying the collision is accidental instead of deliberate.

Wildstar quickly shoots the rocket anchor into the ship’s hull. The anchor hits it with enough force to knock it off course so that it merely grazes the starboard side of the command tower (scraping off some antennae) instead of crashing directly into it. The chain goes taut, then snaps. It’s possible that the chain was weakened in episode 7, allowing it to break under fairly little force here. There’s a brief (and frankly, goofy looking) shot of Ganz getting thrown around by his ship’s wild motion that was removed from Star Blazers. Ganz’s ship careens into an asteroid and explodes.

Then comes a memorable animation mistake: the port side anchor is broken despite the fact that the starboard anchor was fired. Simply flipping the image would have corrected that mistake. The scene also shows the antennae still attached to the superstructure. Now that’s fast repair work!

The Yamato writers seem to have set themselves a challenge with this episode: to show an entire battle where the space battleship fights entirely on the defensive. Yamato does not fire even one of its guns against an enemy ship. The only time the ship takes direct action is when it uses the rocket anchor, which is a tool rather than a weapon, and its aim was to deflect rather than destroy.

The narrator informs us that the repairs are quickly completed now that they don’t have to spend time hiding from Ganz’s fleet.

“There are 338 days left.”

Continue to episode 10

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