Earth! Argo Returns!
By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)
Watch this episode now at these sources: Original version subtitled
1-6 September 2200
Like episode 22, this Space Battleship Yamato episode did without the opening theme, choosing instead to recap the story.
Production note: the script for this episode was supposed to be completed in January 1975, but continuous delays pushed it to the second week of February. The storyboard was done by Leiji Matsumoto and Noboru Ishiguro and the episode made it to broadcast just under the wire on March 30.
Three and a half months have passed since the last episode. With the Gamilon homeworld in ruins, it seems all their forces were either in disarray (if you follow the Yamato 2 timeline) or had been destroyed (Farewell to Yamato timeline), leaving the Argo to make it back to the Milky Way with no interference. We also get our first look at the Cosmo DNA machine, which has been assembled during the gap between episodes.
On the bridge, Homer shouts out that radio contact with Earth has been reestablished, and soon they have a brief exchange with Commander Singleton of Earth Defense Command. This scene continues for a few seconds longer in Yamato, as the EDF Commander asks for more information and then the screen suddenly goes blank. Shima [Venture] figures Earth is running low on power.
In the Captain’s quarters, Dr. Sane is finishing up an exam. Avatar starts to tell the Doctor about a dream he had about Earth. Perhaps Dr. Sane was alarmed by Avatar’s serious tone and wanted to keep the mood light, because he answers, “that’s a nice dream. I dreamt about my cat!” This is the first reference we had to Mimi in Star Blazers, her one and only appearance in episode 10 having been edited out.
Avatar continues on about his dream, saying that he was standing on a green, unbombed Earth with his wife and son waiting for him at home. From his comments we can guess that the woman in his photo is his wife, although she appears to be much younger than Avatar (daughter-in-law, perhaps?). This scene is more philosophical in Yamato, with Okita wondering where his soul will go when he dies.
The Argo prepares for its final warp. Venture jokes that it’s lonely without the Gamilons, unaware that Desslok is stalking them. Yamato has a flashback here, showing Desslok’s escape from Gamilon. Part of it, where Desslok drops through a trapdoor and up a ladder, was shown in Star Blazers during episode 24. Yamato‘s flashback reveals not only his trapdoor escape, but that his hanging citidel is actually his spaceship. It dropped from the ceiling, started to fall into the acid sea, then blasted off and away from Gamilon.
Story note: Dessler survived the destruction of Gamilas, but for whatever reason chose not to launch a counterattack while Yamato resided on Iscandar. Nor did he spend the time assembling the remnants of the Gamilas war fleet. Instead, he spent all the intervening time stalking Yamato like Captain Ahab. Now that’s an arch enemy!
Back to the present: Desslok, for the second time, says one of his stock phrases: “the only battle that counts is the last one.” He takes aim and fires, pulling the trigger on a large mock-up of a cannon. The Desslok Cannon begins to glow on the bow of his ship, then releases a powerful energy beam. Just before it strikes, the Argo shimmers away in a warp. Enraged, Desslok literally snaps the whip on a blank-eyed lackey, demanding that they follow the Argo.
The Argo rematerializes in the Solar System. They have only a moment to relax before an impact shakes the ship. Desslok has collided with them! He is quickly informed of the situation: despite near-impossible odds, the Argo and Desslok’s ship happened to warp to the same point. Desslok considers this a stroke of luck.
A boarding chute is shot into the Argo‘s engine room. Gas is pumped in, taking out a worker. Orion and his crew quickly don their helmets (which shields them from the gas) and start to fight back. Soldiers on both sides are shot, shown explicitly in Yamato, as the Gamilons storm through the room and out the door. Orion manages to call the bridge and tell them they’ve been boarded.
Wildstar, Dash, and Conroy (the three main guys in the Combat groups) go into action. The Gamilons, meanwhile, are meeting minimal resistance thanks to the gas, which quickly overcomes the Star Force troopers, although a scene of them gasping and choking was edited out.
Wildstar, Dash, and Conroy drop into the hallway via the fast transport chutes. In Yamato, a trio of Gamilon troopers drop out of another chute right in front of them and are quickly disposed of.
They meet Orion coming down the hallway, who warns them about the gas. The gas slowly creeps down the corridor, followed by Desslok and a few soldiers. Desslok asks for the Captain. Wildstar informs him that Avatar is ill, but he’s the acting Captain. Desslok laughs at the discovery that his opposition is lead by a “mere boy.”
He introduces himself while taking off his mask, demonstrating his immunity to the gas. Desslok says another of his catch-phrases: “As long as I live, Gamilon lives!” He tells Derek that once the ship is taken over, they will destroy the Cosmo DNA, then crash the Argo into the EDF HQ. “Not without a fight!” Derek shouts defiantly, taking a shot at Desslok before retreating from the gas.
Venture announces the presence of radioactive gas to all the crew. Nova, in the Medical Bay, goes running down the hallway, making a beeline for the lab. She runs past Sandor and up to the Cosmo DNA controls, ignoring his protests. She explains that the gas is radioactive, so the C-DNA should neutralize it. Yamato has a brief scene of a Gamilon soldier running into the room, only for Sandor to put a Cosmogun round through his chest.
Gas starts filling the room, forcing Sandor to escape to a sealed control room. From there, he gives Nova instructions on how to operate the C-DNA. Gas has completely filled the room by the time it starts up. Lightning flashes, and as quickly as it appeared the gas starts to recede. Then Sandor watches in horror as Nova’s limp body falls from the seat.
Throughout the ship, the pinkish radioactive gas dissipates. Desslok is forced to retreat. Star Blazers made a significant change to the Yamato dialogue: it claims that this is merely a “sleeping gas.” You see, Desslok was going to destroy the ship, everyone on it, and allow the Earth to go extinct, but first he was going to use sleeping gas on the Star Force. Not just sleeping gas, but radioactive sleeping gas!
Another odd thing, and this one is in the original dialogue as well, is Desslok’s comment “we can’t breathe this air” after the gas is neutralized. That line has caused headaches for fans trying to explain why Desslok can’t breathe the same air as humans, except when he can, such as in many of his later appearances. Not to mention that the pilot they captured several episodes ago didn’t have any problems with the air either. The Playstation game, which often added little “fixes” to the story, shows Dessler pressing a button on his uniform that seems to activate some kind of force field around himself. Perhaps it’s this field that protects him from the poison gas. As Desslok’s ship retreats, it’s shown to have the capability of warping while in reverse.
Derek runs to the lab to find out what happened. He’s horrified to see Nova lying unconscious. Sandor goes to get Dr. Sane while Wildstar runs over to Nova. Yamato included a shot of Kodai running toward Yuki that was removed from Star Blazers. It’s supposed to be a dramatic, slow motion run with Sandor’s explanation as voice-over, but instead it looks ridiculous, like he’s running underwater.
The Japanese script made it clear that Yuki is dead. Sanada explains that a poisonous gas was created around the Cosmo Cleaner-D when it activated. The good news is that her sacrifice allowed him to correct the problem so it won’t kill the next person who uses it.
Story note: Following the commercial break, the Scarlet Scarf theme swells to its full emotional resonance as the finale begins. It instantly evokes the portrait of sadness and loss that has marked all the best moments of the story. It also works to artfully remind us how far we’ve come with these characters. None of us are the same as when we started this voyage. The same was true of the animation staff, whose trial by fire made them all into masters of their craft.
In the Captain’s quarters, Derek tells Captain Avatar about Nova’s condition, which is said to be a deep coma in Star Blazers. Avatar expounds on what hope means: hope is what allowed the Star Force to make the trip to Iscandar, and hope is sustaining the people of Earth. Further, he says Nova “did a fine, brave thing” by risking her life to save the lives of others. Avatar weakly offers his hand out to Derek. This mighty leader’s last, feeble gesture marks their final moment together.
Story note: the dialogue in Yamato is quite different, but equally meaningful. Recognizing that Kodai’s heart is breaking just as he has found love, Okita counsels him to think of all the people waiting back on Earth whose hearts are linked to Yamato–the very thing that has kept Okita himself alive in his waning days. Hearing this, Kodai vows to work through his pain.
This ties directly to a sentiment in Episode 1, when Okita tried in vain to urge Mamoru Kodai not to go down fighting in the Battle of Pluto. “A true man endures the pain of today for the sake of tomorrow.” In a very elegant, understated way, the younger brother has now accepted the lesson the older brother could not. (Credit where it’s due: this line was written by Mr. Leiji Matsumoto.)
For the first time in months, the Argo is within visual range of Earth. Everyone is excited and runs to see for themselves. except for Derek, who walks morosely to the Medical bay. Approaching Nova, he gingerly brushes the hair from her face, then scoops her body up and carries her to the bridge. As he’s walking (in one of the finest Leiji Matsumoto-designed sequences of the series) he reflects on how much she’s come to mean to him. He even cries out, “Please God, make her wake up!” It’s a direct, emotional appeal that’s virtually unheard of in “children’s” shows.
In Yamato, the scene is drawn out a bit longer. We see the table where Yuki’s body lies, completely covered (another indication that she is dead,) and Kodai hesitantly pulls back the sheet. With her actually being dead, it’s surprising that Kodai is able to pick her up. Rigor mortis usually sets in within hours and lasts for days. At one point, realizing he’s lost his chance to tell her he loves her, Kodai falls on his knees and sobs, cradling her in his arms.
While this scene is meant to be touching, a demonstration of Kodai’s (literal) undying love for Yuki, it’s really rather disturbing when you realize he’s carrying the corpse of his would-be girlfriend around the ship. While I disliked the “sleeping gas” change, Star Blazers significantly improved this episode by writing this as a coma instead of death. It certainly makes her coming “resurrection” much more believable. (Oops. Too late for a spoiler warning here…)
Derek takes her to the bridge and sets her in his chair in full view of Earth. His voice thick with emotion, he says “You see Nova? That’s Earth. That’s where we’re going to live.”
We break from the melodrama to Desslok, once again lining up the Argo in his Desslok Cannon sites. The energy beam heads for the Argo. Unable to escape, Sandor hits a switch, and the ship is covered by a milky white film. The beam hits the Argo, only to be reflected right back at Desslok. We get to see a look of horror in his eyes as his ship explodes in a huge fireball. Dessler, like Yuki, is finally, unequivocally dead.
Additional note from Matt Murray: In a rare moment of bravado, Star Blazers cut none of the scene of Desslok’s demise at all, including the close-up of his face wreathed in flames as it dissolves away. However, they couldn’t spoil the fact that-surprise!-Desslok would return for the next 26-episode series fast enough, as he shows up promptly in the preview for the next day’s episode. (These previews have regrettably never been included with any of the commercial releases of the series, and now only exist in the collections of those who taped the show in its broadcast run.)
The protective film around the Argo dissolves. Sandor explains that it’s his newest brainstorm, based on the Reflex Gun Satellites they encountered on Pluto. In Yamato, it’s referred to as a “dimensional magnetic reflective coating.” It is an extremely effective defense that is never used or even mentioned again in the saga.
Dr. Sane is with Avatar in his quarters. Avatar asks for a moment alone. Dr. Sane seems very hesitant, but makes his way to the door. Halfway out, he stops in his tracks when Avatar tells him, “thank you.” Pausing a moment more, the Doctor leaves the room.
Avatar looks at Earth before him and digs out his family photo from his jacket. Tears streaming down his face, he gently touches the photo. His last thought is, “The Earth. I’m sorry I won’t see you green again, but I have seen you.” His arm goes limp and the picture floats to the ground. Dr. Sane peeks in, gasps, then opens the door all the way for a better look. Hardly one for military regs, the doctor nevertheless snaps to a salute.
It’s one of the most moving scenes in the whole series. The animation, script, and score all work to create a wonderfully dramatic scene.
We then see a vignette of Avatar’s face before shifting to Nova. In Yamato, I believe this is to answer his earlier question–Okita’s soul is going to revive Yuki. Of course, that doesn’t quite work when you consider the movie Final Yamato.
On the bridge, Derek decides to take Nova back to the medical bay. As he walks over to the door, he sees her move. Her eyes open. Derek is so overcome with joy that he starts dancing around the room with her. Dr. Sane, still mourning the loss of the Captain, is shocked at the celebration of life before him. The intention of the scene is clarified in the Playstation game for the series in which Dr. Sado enters the bridge with the sad news; he sees Yuki alive and with misty eyes he looks up the ladder toward the Captain’s dome as he understands (privately) the source of the “miracle”.
Star Blazers ends with the Narrator stating “In the year 2200, the Star Force returned to Earth.”
In Yamato, there is a final scene of the ship heading to Earth, disappearing to a point. The orange-red Earth then fades into its familiar blue color over a scrolling caption reading: Yamato returned to Earth September 9, 2200, followed by a movie-style credit roll. The credit list was transplanted from the opening title, so the voice actors were not included.
Production note: in the 39-episode scenario, the final battle with Dessler played out pretty much as it was seen in the broadcast version, but the camera was to follow Yamato all the way down to Earth and witness the restoration of the planet. The last scene was to be of Yuki holding out her hand to Kodai, who had no family to greet him.
The name of the purifier in Star Blazers is revealing: Cosmo DNA. DNA is often described as the building blocks of life. By inference, the Cosmo DNA should have the building blocks of the universe itself at its disposal. By contrast, Yamato‘s name for this miracle machine, “Cosmo Cleaner-D”, sounds like a household cleaning product. (Tim must have thought so too and used it as a throwaway gag in Star Blazers Rebirth. I wonder if Starsha gave them pine-scented Cosmo-Cleaner D or Lemon?)
Argo Press’s Star Blazers comics depicted the activation of the device. It essentially functioned like a specialized time machine, resetting the Earth to what it was decades ago. Writer Bruce Lewis developed his own personal theory for how the C-DNA worked its magic, which he describes in detail here.
This last episode is a very satisfying end to the series, hitting the right emotional chords. It’s ultimately uplifting. Although the Captain has gone, he got his last wish to see the Earth. Derek and Nova can now have a future together on a restored planet. Flaws only arise when viewing Episode 26 in the context of future Yamato in which some dramatic moments are undone. (Star Blazers fans didn’t have long to wait for one of them: Desslok is revealed to be alive in the very next episode.) I can’t think of any other cartoon from my childhood that was played as a straight-up drama, allowing even the death of a major character. While it’s easy for anime purists to grouse about what was changed or edited, it’s amazing to consider what was left in.
It should be noted that this was intended to be the final episode of Space Battleship Yamato…FOREVER. Dessler was given a final send-off because no sequels were planned. It would take an amazing twist of fate to make that happen. Fortunately, one was waiting just over two years hence.
Production note: the animation for episode 26 was shared by the entire Office Academy staff except for the members of Tiger Pro Studio, who had moved on to another series at the end of February, 1975. Voice recording was completed on March 19, and the production of Series 1 officially wrapped around March 22, the day before the broadcast of Episode 25.
Read about the next phase (the transition to movie production) here.