Be Forever, Argo
By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)
Production note: Yasuhiko Yoshikazu returns for one last storyboard on this episode. Since he also storyboarded the entirety of Farewell to Yamato, this choice was only natural. The conclusion of that film was so emotionally engaging (thanks in large part to how it was staged) that it convinced a large contingent of Yamato fans that it could get no better – and therefore should not continue beyond that point. Fittingly, this episode contains numerous deliberate nods to that ending that make it every bit as effective. (Nevertheless, a LOT of Japanese fans have not changed their opinion.)
So, we’re finally at the last episode of “Classic Star Blazers” with the original voice cast. It starts off with a bang, and that bang is the near-destruction of the Argo. Zordar’s dreadnought (simply named “Giant Battleship” in Japanese) aims its main guns–each turret is bigger than the Argo itself and there are dozens of them–and they open fire. Each beam sinks into the armor and a huge explosion bursts forth. Two beams strike the superstructure between the first and second bridges.
On the first bridge, Eager, Homer, and Nova’s stations all explode. Derek runs over to Nova. Those who saw the movie Farewell to Yamato may have feared for her life, but she rises in one piece and says, “I’m all right.” The relieved smile on Derek’s face was undoubtedly shared by Japanese viewers who must have feared the worst at that moment. Homer and Eager are also OK, but injured.
Yamato 2‘s opening was a little different. There is a shot of the main crew on the bridge, and the officers in the EDF command room. All are frozen in stunned silence by Zordar’s unexpected revival. The initial strikes against the ship freeze to display the episode title, Be Forever Yamato. The explosions on the main bridge are explicitly shown knocking the crew over. (Oddly, this is the one and only time Yuki appears wearing gloves.)
Production note: Of course, everyone knows this was not the last time that title would be used in the Yamato saga, but many fans might be surprised to learn that it was also not the first. “Be Forever Yamato” originally appeared as the headline in an ad from the Tokyu Recreation Company, placed in a book about Farewell to Yamato that was published only a couple weeks after Yamato 2 went on the air in 1978. (See it here.) This puts a question mark over the authorship of the title; it could, in fact, have come from outside the writer’s room.
The dreadnought opens fire again with more devastating results, more so in Yamato 2 than in Star Blazers. In the original, Nanbu [Dash] pops up through the floor hatch of a main turret to find out why the gunners aren’t firing back. In fact, everyone in the gunhouse is dead. He only has a moment to register their loss when an explosion blasts through from the side and sweeps him off-screen. Nanbu appears whole and hearty in the next movie, The New Voyage, but I can’t help wondering if he was supposed to die here and the writers just forgot.
Tokugawa [Orion] meets his end as well, down in the engine room along with four of his men. Dutiful to the end, his last words were that the engine power was down, but the ship is still able to cruise.
Zordar takes a page from Desslok’s book and contacts the Star Force to taunt them. He doesn’t mince words. “You’re beaten. There is no power greater than mine. You are nothing.” He then claims he’s the most powerful being in the universe, calls Earth a “cosmic joke,” and laughs uproariously. Zordar’s laugh is even more maniacal in Japanese. I’m surprised the actor didn’t give himself a heart attack.
Zordar turns his massive, black ship away from the Star Force and toward Earth. The Star Blazers script continues the conceit that Gorce, Invidia, and Dyar are still alive with Zordar’s comment about the trio “still having a lot to learn.”
Production note: this sequence is underscored by a chilling variant of the already chilling Comet Empire theme, one which clearly encourages one to make peace with one’s God. It was not commercially available until the Yamato 2 Sound Almanac was released in March, 2013.
A huge cannon lowers from the bottom of the dreadnought and aims at Earth. The cannon looks a bit like the Wave-Motion Gun, but doesn’t need as much charging time. The first discharge is hampered by an animation error, a double exposure of the dreadnought’s bridge, with the dreadnought itself on the viewscreen. The bridge scene actually comes up later in the episode; evidently there was no time to correct this shot before the show aired.
Zordar blasts Earth over and over again, striking indiscriminately: an island, a mountain range, a glacier. Each punishing blow looks like a Gamilon Planet Bomb striking the surface all over again. EDF HQ is damaged in the attack, although the EDF Commander and some of his staff seem to have escaped unscathed. Yamato 2 displayed a bit more of the carnage in the Command Room, with bodies lying amongst the rubble. Watching from the bridge of the Argo, Derek vows to stop Zordar, a voice-over heard only in Star Blazers, not Yamato 2.
Beyond all this destruction, near the cracked and charred moon, sits Trelaina’s vessel, Teresarium. Trelaina is still agonizing over the body of her dear Mark. He’s barely alive. She’s giving him a blood transfusion in Yamato 2, which is translated into a more kid-friendly “life-force” in Star Blazers. (The fluid in the tube is also clear, not red like human blood. Trelaina’s ability as a miracle worker is a suitable explanation for why this type of xenograft is possible in the first place.)
She’s prepared to give her life for his. Her efforts seem to work, but very slowly. Color returns to his face and he stirs a bit. Then Trelaina sees the Argo and Earth’s worsening predicament.
IQ-9 reports the ship is in a perilous state, explosions and fires occurring throughout. Wildstar begins to assess the damage. Dr. Sane arrives on the bridge. When asked about the wounded, the doctor replies “we have 18 wounded, Wildstar, including Sandor.” In Yamato 2, Dr. Sado’s line was that there were 18 survivors, not wounded. Kodai [Wildstar] asks about Mr. Tokugawa. Dr. Sado responds with a sad shake of the head, news that greatly upsets both Kodai and Yuki [Nova].
Story note: the official Yamato 2 survivor tally is 19: 18 survivors listed by Dr. Sado, then Venture comes back. However, that only counts the survivors that were on the ship and doesn’t include those that may have been left at Ganymede. There are 19 members present at the memorial service in the beginning of The New Voyage, but that doesn’t include engineer Yamazaki, who was specifically mentioned as having served on previous missions, or Hirata [Hardy from Series 3], who also claims to be a veteran.
Wildstar orders an evacuation, which prompts Dr. Sane to ask if he’s going to join them as well. We see a reaction shot from Nova at this question. Derek responds with perhaps the most unconvincing “sure” ever uttered.
Wildstar carries Sandor (who understandably hasn’t had time to replace his bionic leg) toward the med ship. “I never thought this would happen. Never,” Wildstar grumbles. Sandor encourages him not to give up yet, using Desslok as an example. Desslok’s mantra was that as long as he lived, Gamilon would live. Even if humans have to evacuate the planet, some part of Earth will live on. While Desslok has learned from the Star Force, they’ve gained something from him in return, co-opting one of his catch-phrases.
“Hurry up! This is the last rescue ship,” Dr. Sane says to Wildstar. After placing Sandor in a stretcher, Wildstar thanks Dr. Sane for all his work. There’s an undercurrent of finality to his words, but Dr. Sane has a lot to worry about, so he doesn’t react to his implied goodbye. On the other hand, Dr. Sane turns to him and asks, “coming?” so perhaps he suspected something.
Derek asks about Nova, but is assured by IQ-9 (who’s piloting the craft) that she must have left on Homer’s ship. Upon hearing that, Derek makes his move. He sets the auto-pilot controls and locks them in. Then he leaps out of the open hatch, closing it as he exits, and drifts down to the Argo. Derek salutes as the ship, with Dr. Sane screaming from a porthole, fades into the distance. Wildstar looks up at the crumbling superstructure of the Argo. In Star Blazers, his voice over returns: “We’re going to win. You and I.” In Yamato 2, the scene played silently.
Production note: In this sequence, Wildstar wears a helmet and boots to work outside the ship, but also wears gloves unfit for activity in a vacuum. However, they magically change into airtight gloves when he salutes the lifeboat from the deck.
Derek stands on the main bridge and says his goodbyes, to both his home and Captain Avatar. Fortunately, Captain Avatar’s spirit doesn’t speak back to him as it did in Farewell to Yamato. (To put it bluntly, I found that scene more cheesy than moving in Farewell, but I’m probably in the minority.)
Production note: this is another deliberate nod to Farewell, but it plays very differently without the ghost speaking back.
Yamato 2‘s Kodai hadn’t decided on a course of action at the beginning of this scene. Rather than say goodbye, he stands before the Captain’s plaque to admit to his failings. He underestimated the strength of the enemy, and it’s cost him not only the lives of his crew, but will possibly lead to the extinction of the Earth. He’s literally brought to his knees by the knowledge of the price of his decisions. We then switch from spoken dialogue to his thoughts, where he decides to ram the ship into the dreadnought and detonate the engines. This will both save the Earth and assuage his guilt, at the cost of his own life.
Captain Okita [Avatar] must be a different character in the TV series than in Farewell to Yamato. In the movie, Okita’s spirit urged Kodai to sacrifice his life. In Yamato 2, Kodai admits he’s going against Okita’s advice to “live, no matter what” and asks the Captain’s forgiveness for what he is about to do. The differences between the movie and TV versions of Okita reflect the philosophies of Yamato‘s primary creators, Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Leiji Matsumoto.
Nishizaki valued the idea of sacrifice. Thus, in his vision, Farewell to Yamato, Okita counsels Kodai to use his greatest weapon–his own life–to end the threat of Zordar. In Yamato 2, Matsumoto’s personal view prevails: “Live, no matter what.” Okita’s character was based, in part, on Matsumoto’s father, so Kodai’s admission that the Captain would not approve of a kamikaze charge was Matsumoto’s way of redeeming the character from his movie depiction.
After Derek promises Avatar that the ship will “go with honor,” Nova makes her presence known. The following discussion with Nova turns into a wedding proposal. Although the ramming maneuver entails considerable risk, Derek and Nova intend to bail out in an escape capsule at the last minute.
The idea of an escape capsule is never brought up in Yamato 2. So while there is no wedding talk in the original (other than Yuki saying they missed their wedding due to the mission), they do talk of being together forever…in death, by implication.
Derek and Nova hold each other as they ascend toward the captain’s station, marching forward in tandem toward their eternal union. Yamato 2 had some reflective silence after they sit down, which Star Blazers fills in with some trite dialogue. Nova says “I’m your co-pilot, Derek” as if she’s a little girl playing pretend. It’s not the kind of thing you’d say during a kamikaze charge (or “ramming charge” in Star Blazers), unless she’s deliberately trying to lighten the mood.
“Target: Zordar’s ship. Argo, make us proud!” The Argo is sent on its final voyage. (As it moves out, we see that the third bridge has been blown off. It was there in the first part of the episode, but must have been obliterated during Zordar’s attack.) In Yamato 2, we hear the slow acapella version of the Yamato theme, lifted straight out of Farewell.
Several moments later, a light appears ahead, accompanied by Trelaina’s musical “ping.” Teresarium appears in front of them, and Trelaina’s image forms on the main video panel. She’s holding Mark in her arms. She tells them she brought him back to life (confirming that he was dead, even in Star Blazers) and is returning him to the Star Force. Derek and Nova try to talk her out of it, insisting that she needs to go with him and see to his health, but she refuses.
Story note: throughout this exchange, Trelaina seems to emerge from the video panel, then sink back in. It could have been another animation error, but it might also be construed as her attempt to will herself bodily onto the bridge. We’ve never seen her teleport before, and since she seems winded by the effort, she’s apparently trying it for the first time.
Derek and Nova tell her the Argo isn’t returning to Earth. She replies that she’s aware of their intentions, and there is no need to sacrifice themselves. She will see to Prince Zordar. There is another attempt to dissuade Trelaina as she materializes on the bridge, but she’s insistent. Leaving Mark with his two closest crewmates, she says goodbye and fades ghostlike through the bridge window. Her voice echoes and fades with her last words, a plea to let Mark know how much she loved him.
While Wildstar and company are making life-and-death decisions, Zordar is having himself a grand old time, blasting away at Earth and shouting insults at the top of his voice. He’s evidently become a bit unhinged, no longer seeing Earth as a prize but now a toy to be demolished. Unfortunately, he’s being a bad boy, and his joy comes to an end when Trelaina arrives to give him a spanking.
“You’ve misused your power,” she says. “I have come to return you to the cosmos.” Zordar was defiant during their first meeting, but this time he knows he’s outmatched. The self-professed “ruler of the universe” is now facing a power much greater than his own. Zordar and his mighty dreadnought dissolve as though they had no more substance than a shadow. Trelaina speaks sharply and with finality, but Teresa is stone-cold silent in Yamato 2. Both are equally chilling.
Additional note from Matt Murray: It’s interesting how knowing the motives behind certain decisions color the way you perceive them. Back when I had no knowledge of Star Blazers’ previous life as Yamato, I took the ending of this episode to be exactly what it looks like: Trelaina kills Zordar. After learning that such content was often attenuated in the English version, it was suddenly clear that I was meant to have viewed it as Trelaina taking Zordar away to some other place in the universe (her dialogue suggesting that Zordar needed to “learn a new way, another way” confused me somewhat, given that she only gave him a few seconds to learn it). Unaware that the American producers would rather not show a heroic character flat-out killing an apparently defenseless enemy, I took her statement that she was “here to return you to the cosmos” as analogous to “I’m sending you back to the oblivion from whence you came.” After all, nothing could change the fact that whatever she did to Zordar involved one gigantic explosion.
As the light from Zordar and Trelaina’s final meeting slowly fades, we have a brief epilogue. Wildstar and Nova, tears welling in their eyes, express their thanks to Trelaina for her sacrifice. The ship, in a state barely better than the WWII battleship when the series began, points toward home.
Kodai’s final words in Yamato 2 were a re-affirmation of Matsumoto’s philosophy. Someone’s future ends when their life does. Kodai vows to never take that lightly.
There is one further epilogue in Yamato 2, similar to the ending of Series 1. Yamato descends to Earth, shrinks to a speck, and disappears. Then there is a screen caption: The universe remains unchanged. But… one story has come to an end. The Earth fades away for a view of empty space, and we hear the cold, abstract sound effects of the eternal void.
The narration continues: People are never alone. There’s always someone at your side, someone with whom you share a connection. That is love. But there are times when people lose sight of that connection. There is no love–And there is nothing sadder. One story is now ended. However, nothing in the cosmos has been changed… (Translated by Neil Nadelman.)
Overall, I like this ending better than Farewell. Part of my issue with the movie is it tried really hard to sell the idea of a kamikaze charge as a good thing. “Don’t be sad! My ‘death’ will just be the start of my new life!” Kodai said in the movie. The TV series turns this back into a serious affair, a decision made for more pragmatic reasons, devoid of the spiritual spin heard from jihadists many times in the years since this show first aired.
It may not have been intended, but Trelaina’s final act was a more literal interpretation of “kamikaze.” The word kamikaze is derived from the words kami, meaning divine or spirit, and kaze, meaning wind. Given the level of Trelaina’s powers and her philosophy of good vs. evil, she certainly seems to be a divine force, and her attack seemed as gentle as a breeze.
One of the most striking things about this ending is that the heroes lose. They are completely and utterly defeated. The ship is ruined and most of the crew is dead. A deus ex machina arrives to save the day in their stead. Having grown up on Saturday afternoon Godzilla movies, it’s worthwhile to note that the specter of Japan’s WWII defeat recurs again and again in its stories. Japanese pop culture seems fascinated by cities being leveled, or fleets defeated, or heroes beat up and left with little hope.
Additional note from Matt Murray: The term “deus ex machina” is often used as a pejorative, criticizing stories wherein the author has written the heroes into a corner and can only rely on something analogous to divine intervention to save them. I would argue that such is not the case here. After all, had Trelaina not changed her mind and come to Earth’s aid in the end, it would be quite fair to ask just what her purpose was in the story to begin with. As a few characters in the story point out, her intel on the Comet Empire wasn’t even all that helpful. While coming from the opposite direction on the spectrum, her development here is reminiscent of Wildstar/Kodai’s at the end of the first series: the realization that, however regrettable, sometimes waging war against a hostile enemy is necessary, even when a peaceful resolution is preferable.
Story note: as observed through the personal experience of Leiji Matsumoto and his contemporaries, the most valuable quality gained from war was endurance. Every conflict produces a winner and a loser, and lessons from losing can be far more valuable than lessons from winning. Whereas societal victory is the common climax of stories from the Western world, personal victory amid the specter of defeat is a more common theme from Japan…and one of their greatest gifts to world literature.
There is an ironic closure to this episode. At the beginning of Series 1, the Earth fleet had been demolished and their only hope lay in one ruined battleship. Now, that same battleship is once more a wreck, and the Earth fleet is no more. But there is a New Voyage on the horizon.