Decisive Battle! Fight For Honor At The Rainbow Star Group!
By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)
Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled
10 March 2200
Production notes: this is the big one, the episode consistently ranked as the favorite of longtime Japanese fans, the one veteran animators point to as the inspiration for their careers. The huge animation workload was handled by Tiger Pro Studio and took 50 days. Classic war movies such as The Battle of Britain were referenced to help make this one into a masterpiece. The storyboard was a tour de force by Leiji Matsumoto and Noboru Ishiguro.
Production delays ate into editing time, so rather than edit the main body of the episode down to the standard length, it was decided to push the opening title to the end and the show began with a “story so far” montage. Staff credits were seen after the episode, which resulted in the voice actor credits being squeezed out. (Star Blazers avoided the length problem by editing out a great many casualties.)
In Star Blazers, the episode begins rather abruptly with Lysis declaring a start to the hostilities. Carrier #1’s squadron, led by Captain Scarp, heads to the Argo. Their mission is to engage the Black Tiger Squadron. Both Scarp [aka Getto] and his olive green carrier are given title cards in Yamato.
Production note: one of the things that made this episode so memorable and ambitious was its liberal use of “animated camera” shots. These were extremely difficult to create in the pre-CG era, since everything moves in every frame. The takeoff scenes from the carriers are a prime example with the camera’s viewpoint swooping toward and away from the fighters to create momentum. There is more than one such scene in this episode, and they were absolutely cutting-edge in TV animation at the time.
The Argo‘s sensors appeared to be malfunctioning at the end of the last episode, but they work fine now as they pick up the incoming Gamilon planes. (Instead of the radar panels, the signal seems to be picked up by the two large spokes jutting out from the superstructure.)
The Black Tigers are scrambled to intercept, led by Wildstar in his Superstar/Cosmo Zero fighter. From the brief glimpse of the two opposing forces, the Black Tigers appear to be greatly outnumbered. Fighters on both sides are reduced to fireballs in the ensuing dogfight.
Once Lysis sees that the Black Tigers are occupied, he orders Carrier #2 to launch its precision bombers. Once again, Yamato supplies a label identifying the carrier and its leader, Rancor [Barger]. The bombers assemble in front of Lysis’ command ship, where he activates the SMITE projectors to warp them away. Volgar is so delighted by this he starts laughing maniacally.
The bomber squadron materializes above the Argo. Their first strikes hit the command bridge, taking out the radar array as per their mission directives. Followup attacks light up the ship with explosions around the superstructure. Yamato allows us a brief look inside the bridge, with the crew struggling to remain in their seats while multiple impacts shake the ship and instrument panels short out.
Realizing the first attack was a feint, the Black Tigers break off to defend the Argo. Fortunately, the 1st Carrier’s remaining fighters don’t seem to pursue the Tigers as they retreat.
Without fighter cover, the Argo is doing its best to defend itself, even by using the shock cannons. In the naval Yamato‘s last battle, special flak rounds were loaded into the main cannons for use as anti-aircraft weapons. Unfortunately, the space battleship cannons don’t have that ability, so they are not a very effective fighter screen.
Inside the Argo, rank-and-file Star Force personnel brace themselves with doorways and handrails. An impact knocks them all to the floor. Yamato sticks around a few seconds more, showing a wall bursting open and flames incinerating the crewmen.
When the Black Tigers approach the Argo, the bombers retreat, leading the fighters away. This is shown in more detail in Yamato.
Carrier #3 launches its heavy torpedo bombers. While we see a label for the 3rd Carrier, we’re not shown her Captain, Zadic [Kroitz]. Perhaps, unlike the other captains, Zadic doesn’t personally lead his fighter group. The second carrier’s bombers keep the Black Tigers occupied, allowing the torpedo planes to warp in and quickly surround the Argo.
Attacking with impunity, the bombers take out heavy shock cannon #1. Yamato shows a brief clip of the cannon gunners (one of which appeared to be part of the Navigation group) scrambling for their lives as the whole area goes up in flames. Dash [Nanbu] reports the cannon’s destruction, right before electrical feedback knocks him out of his seat.
Seeing the Argo‘s forward shock cannons in flames, Lysis orders the Drill Missile to launch. The Drill Missile is so large that a special plane was created just to carry it. It’s piloted by Borka [Hiderun], the Battle-carrier’s captain. The Gamilons are so confident in their missile that they are willing to have it fired by a one-eyed man.
The Argo‘s guns and Black Tigers have finally taken their toll on the enemy planes, and the few that remain retreat back to their carriers. The Black Tigers decide to return as well. This is the last outing for the original Black Tiger squadron. Aside from Conroy, we don’t see them for the rest of the series. It’s likely this battle decimated their numbers.
As soon as Lysis sees the Star Force’s fighters are in the hangar, he SMITEs the Drill Missile to the Argo. Borka pulls off his flight mask, apparently intending to relish this moment. In earlier scenes, we saw the missile ended in a sharp point, but now there is no tip. Did it fall off somewhere? Perhaps last minute adjustments needed to be made to the missile and there wasn’t time to put the cap back on.
The missile flies true, lodging itself in the Wave-Motion Gun. Then the missile starts to rotate, literally drilling its way into the ship, working its way past the firing breech.
While the crew are evacuated, Sandor and IQ-9 (and a brave vehicle driver) head toward the missile in a cherry picker. Raised to the level of the missile’s cone, they walk into the opening at the tip and find themselves inside the missile’s core.
I can only assume that the Drill Missile was assembled in a hurry, and the easily accessible core was a design flaw the Gamilon engineers didn’t have time to fix. Or perhaps they didn’t see the need. (“After all,” I can hear them saying, “what are those Earth barbarians going to do, walk in and rewire it?”)
Yamato shows the Drill Missile Bomber returning to the carrier. It’s so large that I wonder how they store it away. Perhaps it’s disassembled or folded up?
The Star Force repair crews have begun their work, with the radar given top priority.
In a deleted scene, the Gamilon forces emerge from the black cloud. The Battle-carrier is converted into gunship mode and opens fire. (Its first strike wasn’t shown in Star Blazers.) With infernally good aim, it hits the port radar panels, blasting the repair crew. The next shot hits the aft section, making a huge explosion and, in Yamato, is shown to rupture some of the inner compartments, sending crew hurtling through the hallway.
Wildstar returns fire by pressing the remote firing control of heavy shock cannon #2, perhaps indicating that its crew is dead or abandoned the gunhouse. Usually, all three barrels of the cannon fire in unison. This time, only two of the barrels fire, each a second apart. Both shots miss. A few scenes later, an explosion rips through the deck below the cannon, disabling it.
The Gamilons cease their attack and assemble side by side in front of the Argo, waiting for the end. Sandor and IQ finish rewiring the missile, setting it into reverse and a collision course with the fleet. In the original show, a brief look of surprise is shown on Borka’s face moments before the missile collides with his command bridge.
The Gamilon fleet falls like dominos. Debris from the battle-carrier’s demise hits the other carriers and they too explode. These are the type of explosions we will see more of in the second series: bright, colorful fireworks (blue! orange! pink! purple!) that seem to hang in space forever. I wonder what kind of fuel and materials are used in the enemy ships that makes them burn in a vacuum for so long.
Lysis’ command ship is shaken up, but unharmed. He orders his ship to head straight for the Argo. While Venture says that it’s “buzzing” them, in Yamato it’s stated to be a suicide charge. The Argo tries to lose it in the dark cloud, but Lysis uses a special sonar to locate the ship and drop concussive “space bombs” on it. None of the bombs directly hit, but being within the cloud rather than a hard vacuum, the near misses still pound the ship with shockwaves.
In Star Blazers, Volgar says they stop bombing because “they’ve moved above us,” which doesn’t make much sense since there is no true up or down in space. As long as the bombs are pointed in the right direction it doesn’t matter where you’re positioned in relation to your target. Yamato‘s Domel [Lysis] simply says that they can’t defeat the ship with bombs. He brings up the controls for the self-destruct mechanism, revealing to Geru [Volgar] his final ploy.
Lysis’ ship attaches itself to the Argo‘s third bridge on the bottom hull. Moments later, he appears on the Argo‘s main video panel, demanding that they return to Earth on the grounds that they have invaded Gamilon space. Avatar responds that Gamilon is the aggressor in this war, and now Earth’s only chance is to reach Iscandar. Lysis closes his eyes, almost as if he were considering letting them go, but instead says “I cannot permit it.” He declares that they are too much of “a threat to [Gamilon’s] survival.”
In Yamato, Domel’s last words were “Glory to planet Gamilas [Gamilon] and the great Earth,” indicating the level of respect he had for the Yamato crew. In Star Blazers, Lysis obligingly tells Avatar that there is a bomb against their hull that will detonate 10 seconds after he leaves. Avatar orders an evacuation of the lower decks. Far from an orderly, professional retreat, the Star Force members run screaming for the exits.
Star Blazers has one of its more obvious and infamous edits here. They inserted footage of Lysis’ ship detaching from the Argo by reversing the animation of its approach. After the “bomb” explodes, more footage is recycled: a shot of Lysis’ ship being shaken by an explosion, followed by a few scenes of Lysis and Volgar talking, all reusing earlier scenes. This Star Blazers-only dialogue states that Lysis set the bomb off while he was still within blast range because of pride: he had to observe their destruction up close. After seeing the Argo wasn’t destroyed, he claims his own ship is too damaged to pursue. Strangely, he feels that it’s still capable of making it back to Gamilon. (Head over to the Star Blazers Rebirth webcomic to see some followup on that.)
In contrast, Yamato shows the flagship, still attached to the third bridge, self destructing. Panicking Yamato crew members are blown to bits as the deck ruptures under them. It was pretty clear why Domel chose this path. He narrowly escaped execution after losing at Balan. Now it was either victory or death. There was no way he could return home unless he destroyed the ship. The Argo emerges from the black cloud, trailing smoke and with a huge gaping hole in the hull where the third bridge used to be.
A short time later, the Star Force is assembled on the forward decks for a funeral service. Even Star Blazers, while it eliminated much of the violence in the battle scenes, acknowledged that there were casualties. In Yamato footage, about 20 coffins are set adrift.
Space Battleship Yamato has to be given some leeway about its portrayal of space battles. They don’t make much pretense about scientific accuracy. Moreover, WWII Naval battles are a frequent inspiration for the series. The Argo itself is the most obvious example: built from the ruins of an actual WWII battleship, it retains a basic naval battleship form, from its superstructure to the smokestack to its triple-barrel gun turrets. Even ships that didn’t have its unique origin are designed with a look similar to naval vessels.
The Gamilon carriers are comparable to today’s ocean going aircraft carriers. As such, these big space battles are often played out as they would on Earth. All the ships follow the same orientation, appearing to be upright in relation to one another. Fighters are shown maneuvering much as they would in an atmosphere.
The Argo‘s underbelly is woefully undefended, which should make it a tempting target, but, with the exception of Lysis’ final attack, it rarely is. Instead, ships come at each other like they’re on a 2-D playing field. The Argo is often shown with copious amounts of smoke and flames pouring out of it, which would mean a devastating loss of oxygen. Many of these “inaccuracies” can be attributed to artistic license, embellishments made for a more exciting action sequence.
Production notes: though there wasn’t time to add a countdown caption to the end of the episode, The storyboard and recording script both indicated there were 214 days left. When the opening title was shifted to the end, the first credit to come up was for Tiger Production [i.e. Tiger Pro], the studio that rose to the challenge of this extremely demanding episode.
Photography of this episode ran into overtime, so it was initially broadcast with animation errors. After the series wrapped production, enough time and money remained to go back and reshoot these problematic scenes. The corrected version then became the one seen in reruns and on video. This was also done so that episodes 21 and 22 could be combined into a 40-minute featurette for film rental clubs.
The “NG” (No Good) version of Episode 22 has often been included as an extra on video releases in Japan. Most of the changes were enhancements to nearly-empty space backgrounds, but six scenes were significantly changed as shown here:
BEFORE: The Gamilon dive bombers teleport into a scene on top of the Gamilon fighters. AFTER: The fighters were removed and the background changed so the dive bombers didn’t have anything to crash into.
BEFORE: The first dive bomber cuts loose with a couple explosives near a blue planet that isn’t supposed to be there. AFTER: wide open spaces.
BEFORE: Fire and smoke pour out of the ship. AFTER: Differently-colored fire and smoke pour out of the ship.
BEFORE: Lysis watches Yamato burn from the deck of his command ship. AFTER: Yamato is easier to see without that big intrusive screen graphic over it.
BEFORE: The SMITE machines irradiate the drill missile ship, but it’s still visible after it was meant to be teleported away. AFTER: Gone, baby, gone.
BEFORE: Coffins drift away to float through space for eternity. AFTER: Same thing, but now the ship’s engines are lit.
Oh God, yes, this episode is the one that was the climactic payoff for series one, and yet Matsumoto was able to outdo this in series two! Of course I bought the Bandai models- including three of the carriers and painted them to look like Dommel/Lysis’ fleet in this episode. I have about half a dozen Yamato books that I bought in comic shops circa 1984, but I must acquire this to watch on my own time!
Does anyone else think that this episode was inspired by the WWII Battle of Midway – with the four aircraft carriers and the designs of some of the Gamilon fighters being inspired by the torpedo bombers of the day & the gull-wing design of the Corsair (that was used later in WWII) fighter?