Life and Death Struggle! Two Brave Men!
By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)
The opening of this episode backtracks a bit, with Wildstar struggling to make his way up to Desslok’s bridge. Nova, having inadvertently gotten Venture killed, stumbles among wreckage and dead bodies on Desslok’s ship, looking for Derek (she has also apparently lost her gloves somewhere). Meanwhile, the Marines continue to battle Gamilon forces on the hull. In a surprisingly explicit scene–surprisingly intact in Star Blazers, that is–a pair of Marines hiding under a Gamilon gun turret are hit by a well-placed shot.
In a bit of reversal from the ending of last episode, the Star Blazers narrator recaps the situation so far, while Yamato 2 presents these opening scenes without any commentary.
Production note: The title card scene of Kodai and Dessler at the beginning of the episode is a masterpiece by animator Kazuhiko Udagawa (it was cut from Star Blazers, unfortunately). He later served as art director on Be Forever and Final Yamato.
When we rejoin Wildstar, he’s face-to-face with Desslok. Wildstar, in obvious pain, has a gun pointed at his enemy. He demands answers; why does Desslok continue to fight on after Gamilon has been destroyed? He at least had a compelling reason for attacking Earth before, since he was fighting for a new homeland. The Comet Empire is just fighting for the sake of conquest.
Nova arrives and watches this scene just out of sight.
In Yamato 2, Dessler [Desslok] offers little in the way of explanation, at least at this point. He’s fighting to regain his honor from the humiliation he suffered at the hands of Yamato. He commends the late Captain Okita [Avatar] for being a strong foe. Now Kodai [Wildstar], the “boy from Yamato,” stands in his place.
In Star Blazers, Desslok makes the parallel between himself and the Star Force explicit, thus inadvertently opening the way for empathy, comparing his continuing fight for the extinct Gamilon to the Star Force’s continuing struggle with the Comet Empire after Earth’s surrender.
Desslok views this face-off as a fated meeting, one that he cannot back away from. Talan seems to protest (for reasons not revealed) and gapes sympathetically at Wildstar even as Desslok waves him off. (By the way, Talan’s combat armor has magically morphed back into his officer’s uniform, but that’s not important right now.) Desslok slowly, deliberately pulls out his pistol and aims it at Derek.
Production note: one of the reasons this sequence stands out in the series, over and above its high emotional content, is the care given to its animation. Knowing full well fans’ attention would be riveted by this long-awaited showdown, the animators put extra time and effort into the motion. Many scenes were animated “on ones,” meaning one drawing for every frame of film. This is the standard technique for feature film animation, but exceedingly rare in television owing to the time and expense. The fact that an exception was made for this sequence speaks volumes for its importance.
Derek is on the verge of passing out (the scene of the blood welling up on his arm is particularly disturbing, another surprising shot that made it past the censors). He tries to steady his gun with both hands. Desslok seems to enjoy this slow, tension-building encounter. He urges Derek to shoot.
Suddenly, Derek collapses from his own wounds. The fall is shown in dramatic slow-motion (also animated “on ones”), as is Nova’s response as she bolts from cover. She grabs his gun and aims it at Desslok. After a moment she drops it, choosing to comfort Derek instead. Cradling his head in her lap, she says reassuring words to him. Derek, barely conscious, frets about the fate of the Earth.
Desslok isn’t quite sure what to make of this. The look on his face is complete shock. An epiphany is perhaps the best way to describe what happens to him in this moment. It’s comparable to the Biblical story of St. Paul. Once a fierce opponent of the early Christian church, while travelling to Damascus, Paul had a vision of Jesus which changed his life completely. He went on to become not only a leader of the early church, but the author of a significant part of the New Testament. Desslok opened the door to his own road-to-Damascus conversion when he compared his struggles with that of the Star Force, and now the weight of that knowledge comes bursting through. He responds with a soliloquy. Although he addresses it to Wildstar, Derek barely hears it, so his audience is Nova and Talan.
Desslok realizes his fight for his homeland is the same as the Star Force’s. Before, he self-righteously put his feelings above the “primitive” Earthlings, but now acknowledges they are the same. “War does not allow us to be our better selves,” he declares. He vows to start again, putting aside the harshness of war to build something new.
He stops in front of Nova and hands her Derek’s gun, a symbolic gesture that the war between their people is over. He also passes along some advice: attack the Comet Empire fortress from underneath. (In Yamato 2, Dessler’s parting advice is to attack “top and bottom,” rather than just from underneath.) He says he hopes they will meet again, then he and Talan stride out the door mere moments before Conroy and the others finally arrive. In short order, the Gamilon ships all retreat from the battle area.
So Desslok’s storyline of redemption reaches its conclusion. While this is intended to be a bright new beginning for Desslok, it might seem more disturbing if you see the Gamilons as an analogy to Nazi high command. If Dessler represents Hitler (both are responsible for attempted genocide), how would his victims feel if Hitler, at some point in WWII, decided to turn over a new leaf and settle in a nice cottage in Austria? Granted, there was nothing the Star Force or the EDF could do to Desslok without spreading more violence and misery, but his war crimes are more or less swept under the rug after his “conversion.” (It does come up again in Series 3, where the new crew members are very upset over the Star Force’s relationship with Desslok, but again, after they hear what happened, they basically shrug their shoulders and say “oh well.”)
What I’m trying to say is, if you’re a fan of Desslok, you’re a fan of Hitler! (Just kidding.)
Story note: though Leiji Matsumoto fought hard to keep real-world parallels out of Space Battleship Yamato, it is still a product of the 20th century so they can’t help but find their way in. The aesthetics and attitudes of Gamilas have an obvious German influence, but since Germany and Japan were never at odds with each other, comparing Gamilas to the United States is in some ways more historically accurate. The planet bombings of Series 1 are an undeniable allegory for the atomic bombings of WWII, and if Series 3 is interpreted as an interstellar version of the Cold War, Desslok’s Galman Empire is set against Bolar exactly as the U.S. was set against Russia (with all of Earth as a stand-in for Japan).
In both Farewell to Yamato and Yamato 2, Desslok’s personal vendetta against the Star Force breaks when he sees them as kindred spirits. Though there’s no direct equivalent to this in the real world, it does a good job of symbolizing the recognition of a former enemy as a fellow human in the wake of war. Dessler/Desslok was driven solely by passion until Yuki showed him the value of compassion. Finally, the epiphany of Space Battleship Yamato Series 1 is fulfilled: Instead of fighting, we should have shown love.
Star Blazers had a 20 second edit here, where the crew watches Dessler’s shuttle take him to Carrier # 1, which then turns around and retreats from the area, followed by the rest of the fleet.
Derek is soon aboard the Argo and wakes to a teary-eyed Nova telling him he’ll be all right. But when he arrives on the bridge later, he finds the crew unaccountably somber. He starts to ask about the problem when he notices Venture’s empty seat. Nova bursts into tears as she explains what happened last episode. While her outburst is deliberately dramatic, Derek’s reaction is nicely understated. Sandor takes command while Derek gets himself together. It doesn’t take him long. Once Homer passes along the details of Earth’s surrender, the look on Derek’s face changes from grief to determination, and he calls a meeting in the strategy room.
Attacking a fortress as huge as the Comet Empire would be difficult enough under normal circumstances, but the condition of the Argo makes it even worse. The Wave-Motion Gun has been disabled by the impact of colliding with Desslok’s ship, (in Yamato 2, Sanada says it’s the “striker bolt” that’s broken) and the main cannons are in a similar state of disrepair. The only weapons that work are their bow torpedoes. Derek remains undeterred. If torpedoes are all they have, that’s what they will use.
Nova brings up Desslok’s advice about attacking from beneath, which matches Captain Gideon’s last words to Derek. Wildstar suggests a two-pronged attack. The Comet Empire is floating in the ocean. The Black Tigers will attack the city on top as a diversion, while the Argo submerges and launches a torpedo attack from below.
In Yamato 2, after Yuki [Nova] mentions Desslok’s advice, there is a flashback to the battle of Gamilas from Series 1. While I’m usually glad to see a cool action montage, I feel the scene is stronger without it in Star Blazers. Yamato 2 also features a brief appearance from Arakome/Shinmai [Royster], who brings up the Comet Empire schematic on the floor video. It’s a little thing, but I’m happy to hear Kodai address him by his proper name (Arakome) instead of his nickname, Shinmai (“rookie” in Japanese). It’s nice to see him treated with a modicum of respect by the acting Captain.) In Star Blazers, Royster never appeared again after the Telezart episodes.
Additional note from Matt Murray: There’s something extremely odd going on with regards to Royster, a fact never more apparent than it is here. While he didn’t appear until episode 10, he quickly became a recurring character, to the point of saving the ship in episode 12. Yet following episode 16, he’s never seen or even mentioned again. His missing scene in episode 21 might have been cut for running time, and his final scene in 25 is easily explainable as being cut for its violent content. But here? Royster activating the floor display contains no objectionable content, and takes maybe three entire seconds. Did the voice actor become unavailable for some reason, or were there other motives? It’s as if the production team decided to eliminate the character quite abruptly after six episodes.
Meanwhile, we catch up to Mark Venture. He’s still dead, and still drifting in space. A familiar glowing silhouette swallows him up, and then he’s seen in Trelaina’s home. She either managed to escape the destruction of Telezart or she reconstituted herself and her home afterwards. She agonizes over his death, longing to bring him back to life. A tear runs down her cheek and touches his hand. He stirs, although only slightly.
This is similar to the finale of Series 1, where Kodai agonized over the body of Yuki and she miraculously came back to life. This time it doesn’t seem as far-fetched, since we’re dealing with an honest-to-goodness miracle worker in the character of Trelaina. Yamato 2 brings up an issue not mentioned in Star Blazers, that Teresa [Trelaina] was so drained from fighting the Comet Empire she doesn’t have enough energy to bring Shima [Venture] back to life.
Production note: there’s an animation error here when Trelaina rests on Venture’s chest; her cel floats a little high in the frame. But that’s not important right now.
On Earth, Zordar is full of smug satisfaction as Dyar reports on the arrangements to formally accept Earth’s surrender. In an unexpected show of generosity, he instructs Dyar to treat the Earthlings well since “they’re bound to be a little depressed.” Even now, his knowledge of human nature is surprisingly astute.
Meanwhile, representatives of the Earth government prepare to take a boat out to the Comet Empire to sign the surrender papers. Unstoppable war machine or not, the Comet Empire has a bureaucracy that needs its papers signed. The President himself is not among the envoy, which consists of Commander Singleton, General Stone, and the Prime Minister.
The remaining minutes of the episode jump between scenes of the surrender party, the Star Force’s approach, and shots of the Comet Empire. The Astro Fighters launch in the atmosphere before the Argo executes a spectacular splashdown (again, animated “on ones.”) They send a warning to the surrender ship. The Prime Minister feels the Star Force’s attack will be a disaster and wants them to return, but the EDF Commander knows better. The Argo‘s crew will never surrender.
As always, the background music is an integral part of the entire series. Several of composer Hiroshi Miyagawa’s most stirring pieces play prominent roles in this episode, heightening several already emotion-packed scenes. Desslok’s “epiphany” and Derek mourning Venture are particularly well-served by Miyagawa’s violin pieces.
Story note: the Star Force commences the last attack on the city fortress at 10:00 “Earth time” in the original Japanese script.
With regards to Desslok’s/Desler’s “war crimes”, you mention how in some ways Desslok is more or less pardoned in this episode. Well, Kodai/WIldstar did pull the trigger on the Wave Motion Gun, destroying Gamillon/Gamilus in the first season, as if it that weren’t punishment enough. One reason why I miss Kodai’s mourning & anti-war speech, the one cut from Yamato in Starblazers, is that he realizes that he has done exactly to Gamilus what Desler had done to Earth. In fact, the barren remains on the enemy planet are almost similar to those of Earth after the meteor bombs. And what I think (or hope) Matsumoto was trying to imply was while it was a do-or-die-situation, Kodai too had committed genocide, wiping out the city and most of its inhabitants (save for Desler, some servants, & those posted elsewhere off-world). And unlike Hitler retreating to a cottage, Desler has gone through hell. His empire is in ruins, he loses every battle with Yamato, even getting “killed” before being rescued at the mercy of the Comet Empire. Later, he will witness his entire home planet wiped out by the Dark Nebula Empire. Desler/Desslok may not have been tried at Nuremberg or swallowed a cyanide pill. But he seems man enough to endure more than his share of bad karma, enough to make any tyrant change his ways. And don’t also forgot that Desler/Desslok would later come to Earth’s aid three times. So maybe, what both Yamato & Starblazers imply is Desler/Deslok can be pardoned only if we understand that he has been both punished and been reformed, the result being that he will save Earth later to return the favour for Kodai having saved his life from the Black Nebula Empire.
Watching this episode and reading your commentary on whether the Gamilon Empire is a parallel for either the Nazi, Russian, or American empires, I wonder if there are also parallels with the Japanese Imperial Army as well. At times, the fights between Gale/Volgar & Domel/Lysis resembled squabbles within Japan’s own troops (and. correct me if I’m wrong, one of the triple carriers in Domel’s/Lysis fleet resembles one of Japan’s own from the 1920’s). In any event, Gamilon/Gamilus is a culture steeped in militarism, and much like George Lucas borrowing from both Imperial Japan’s & Nazi Germany’s respective militaries, Leiji Matsumoto borrowed where he felt inspired, being such a fan of WWII designs and culture.
What’s interesting for me, is that both Yamato/Starblazers & Star Wars represent a paradox in the sci-fi battle operas’ respective philosophies. Leiji Matsumoto fought also to not make the show pro-military, and to his and writer’s/producer’s credit, the show saw both sides in the Earth/Gamilas war, showing empathy and compassion to the Humans as well for the Gamillons. I still get a chill up my spine when Schultz tells his troops they must sacrifice themselves to the Yamato’s Asteroid Defence Ring, not to mention when Kodai has to be refrained from killing the Gamillon soldier. And I think both Kodai’s soliloquy overlooking the remains of Gamillus or Desler’s beautifully orated anti-war speech are the most eloquent dialogs I’ve heard in Sci-Fi TV. In some ways, I wonder if this was not Matsumoto’s and his generation’s way of rejecting any form of totalitarianism in the form of a TV cartoon.
But as much Matsumoto wanted to keep the show anti-military, the popularity of the show meant that there had to be new battles and rivals for Yamato to fight. So there had to be more hardware, more explosions, more ingenious WWII references, more action, and more of the conflict the first season had preached against. Even with its occasional anti-war sermons, Yamato increased the popularity for high-tech battle anime, upping the ante from Robotech onwards. There’s a similar parallel with Star Wars. George Lucas may have been a child of the 60’s, but in making the space war film, he created an audience for the 80’s, and Hollywood onward, from Aliens to Top Gun to Transformers to American Sniper became more pro-war than ever. (In fact, I wonder if there’s a parallel that every time there’s a new Star Wars Trilogy, there’s always a new Republican administration.) Lucas, being a 60’s Liberal, probably didn’t intend his films to create the waves that they did, just as Matsumoto didn’t intend Yamato to become increasingly more pro-war. But Lucas & Matsumoto were also delving into mediums that glorified in the very forms of conflict that they both personally were philosophizing against. Yet they succeeded, both born under the shadow of WWII, both working in comic book sci-fi, and both influencing a medium and the world around them in ways they never anticipated- both yin and yang.