Episode 5 Commentary

SOS! Spaceship Legendra

By Arthur Painter (with notes from Tim Eldred)

Watch this episode now at these sources: Star Blazers on Hulu | Star Blazers on YouTube | Original version subtitled

Production note: The moment we get past the recap into new material, this episode immediately takes a big jump up in visual quality. Credit for this can be laid at the feet of animation director Kazuhiko Udagawa, whose had previously done character design for Be Forever Yamato. Episodes 1-4 were supervised by Kazunori Tanahashi, whose pedigree went all the way back to Series 1, but Udagawa’s firm hand on the character animation elevated the standard and made this the best-looking of the first 5 episodes.

The Argo is about to pass Neptune when it detects an alien ship warping in. It’s the Legendra, flagship of planet Berth (and distinguished from the other blue-gray Berth ships by its red coloring). It appeared in previous episodes, but this is the first time (in Star Blazers, anyway) that it’s named. In its last appearance, it was whole and hearty, but now it’s trailing smoke from its many wounds. Based on this, the other Berth forces have probably been eliminated.

The name Legendra actually has a history from before the Yamato series was realized. In one early treatment, the show that was to become Space Battleship Yamato was called Asteroid Ship Icarus, which set Earth against a vampiric race called the Rajendora. So while the original idea was drastically retooled, the name lived on. Not as a race, but as a ship.

Legendra is checked against the Star Force’s database directory. No match is found, so Wildstar commands the ship to stop. Legendra‘s commander, the battle-weary Captain Ram, appears on the Argo‘s monitors. He explains his plight; his ship is damaged, out of fuel, and his crew has been without provisions for 36 hours. Wildstar responds that Earth considers itself neutral territory and the very presence of an alien warship jeopardizes their stance. Ram states that it is impossible to leave without assistance.

In this bridge scene, Homer’s voice actor apparently wasn’t available, so a noticeably different actor fills in his lines.

Wildstar says he will consult with EDF Commander Singleton. Given the seriousness of the situation, the Commander should be direct and decisive, but in both the English and Japanese versions, he does a fake-out. First he says they should reject their request, waits a few beats for Wildstar to react with shock, then concedes that that is the wrong thing to do. They will accommodate their “guests,” but there are strict limitations on Earth’s hospitality; Legendra‘s crew will be allowed only 24 hours at the Neptune base to repair their ship, and they can receive food, water, medical supplies, and fuel. Weapons and ammo are prohibited.

Sandor is sent out in a medical ship to pick up Captain Ram and his XO. When the ship returns to the hangar, the alien emissaries are greeted by three members of the Life Services group: Nova, Jason Jetter, and Whizzer. Nova offers to alter the climate to make their guests more comfortable.

The scene shifts to the climate control room where Nova, Jetter, and Whizzer are reviewing a computer analysis. Jetter reports that the atmosphere of Ram’s ship appears to be similar to Earth’s. Whizzer explains, “That’s logical, because only intelligent beings would be able to develop in a similar environment unless we discover some bizarre mutants out there.” Jetter replies “You’re a good example of intelligence!”

There’s just something in the way Jetter says that line that grates on me. It’s so sycophantic. Every time I watch it, I really want him to slip and say to Whizzer “You’re a good example of a mutant!”

Ram is taken to the Captain’s quarters for a meeting with Wildstar and Sandor to discuss Legendra‘s predicament. Wildstar and Sandor have dressed up a bit for this meeting and are wearing blue pea coats over their uniforms. After a few words of pleasantry, Ram tells them about his enemy, the Galman Empire.

Production note: picking up on Be Forever Yamato‘s “supersized” spaceship dimensions, the captain’s dome once again seems to have increased in size to about double what it used to be. Previously, the table and chairs would have easily taken up half of the available space.

Ram is a bit cautious at first. He respects Earth’s neutrality and doesn’t wish to involve them any further. But Wildstar insists that it is important for them to know what’s out there. Ram himself doesn’t seem to know much about the Galmans. He says they seem to be based in the center of the galaxy and are spreading out in every direction, claiming all territory in their path. It should be noted that during this conference, Ram never mentions his own interstellar nation, the Bolar Federation.

Before they can discuss matters further, they are interrupted by Jason Jetter, who delivers “fruit juice” in wine glasses. “Fruit juice” is the Series 3 stand-in for alcoholic drinks, like “spring water” or “soy milk” were in series 1 and 2, respectively. However, unless the Life Services Dep’t was thorough enough to determine how similar the Berth race was to humans, it might be better to serve something non-alcoholic. I think of Babylon 5‘s Minbari, who are driven into a murderous rage with the tiniest bit of alcohol. On the other hand, alcohol didn’t affect the aliens in Alien Nation, but sour milk did. There could be a danger no matter what was served.

Production note: as things progress here, we get some background music that hasn’t been heard since the start of Series 1, the funky electric guitar riff that accompanied our very first tour of the ship. It was composed for a montage-type sequence and added to the charm of the early days, but the rest of the Yamato music catalog has progressed so much in the intervening years that this track now sounds very incongruous. It’s an interesting reminder of how far we’ve come.

Captain Ram’s ship is towed to the Neptune drydock. Neptune’s atmosphere extends deep below the “surface,” and the closest “solid” land would be a water-ammonia ocean (the high pressure and heat from its core means Neptune’s interior is actually very hot.) From the brief views of the Neptune base, it appears to be floating in the planet’s upper atmosphere. This would also pose a problem in real life; because of the great difference in temperature from Neptune’s interior (7000 celsius) to its outer atmosphere (-200 celsius), the planet has very volatile weather patterns, with wind speeds approaching 2,100 km/hr.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: It’s interesting here that for the first time in Yamato, and probably in SF anime in general, we have what appears to be a whiff of “interstellar policy and military conventions.” The idea of an actively-operating warship docking at the port of a neutral nation is well-covered in military conventions. Specifically, the 13rd section of Hague Convention is “concerning the rights and duties of neutral powers in naval war.” (You can find it here) Notice Article 2, which Dagon apparently follows. Article 6 is the legal base of Earth’s refusal to do anything but repair & refuel the ship, and resupply food, water and medicine. Article 12 specifies that a warship can stay only 24 hours, except in special cases. And finally Article 17 covers the right of Earth to repair Legendra but not her guns, least they violate the “not add in any manner whatsoever to their fighting force” clause. The Hague Convention is followed so clearly here that it shows someone had done research on the matter. This gives additional depth to the show by introducing interstellar policy and the (so far) neutral stance of Earth.

This episode has a strong parallel with the Battle of River Plate at the beginning of WW2. (You can read about it here) In short, the German ship Admiral Graf Spee was doing commerce raiding since the beginning of the war, when a British task force engaged her in battle. She withdrew to a neutral port in Montevideo (Uruguay, a neutral nation during the war), where the Hague Convention rules were followed as the British task force blockaded the port while the ship was repaired. End of note.

The Argo‘s alert klaxon sounds, and Wildstar and Sandor excuse themselves from the meeting. The reason for the alert is revealed to be the Galman fleet. Approximately 30 Galman capital ships have warped into the area. Sandor recognizes the warships as the same type they destroyed prior to leaving Earth (Episode 3).

General Dagon contacts the Argo with a brief message: they are to surrender Legendra within 10 minutes, or they and Earth will be attacked.

There’s a slight animation inconsistency here: when Dagon contacts the Argo, Derek appears on his screen in his Star Force uniform, but in all the surrounding scenes he is wearing his officer’s coat.

Ram enters the bridge and requests permission to speak with Dagon. Homer (who’s properly voiced this time) contacts the Galman commander, and the two adversaries talk. Ram explains the Star Force is only giving them food, fuel, and repairs. This will be completed in a few more hours, then they can resume their battle. Ram promises he won’t attempt to escape. He pleads with Dagon not to involve Earth. With a smirk, Dagon agrees. Yamato III is a bit more specific: 8 hours is the deadline.

Despite having seen Dagon’s uniform and his olive green ships, no one on the Star Force makes a connection between the Galmans and the Gamilons.

The repair work and reloading continues on Legendra, but Sandor soon reports some distressing news: very few of Legendra‘s cannons are in working order. Ram insists on continuing his journey, too proud and honorable to give up the fight, no matter the condition of his ship. As Ram returns to his ship, Dagon prepares for battle. He plans to hit Legendra before it can warp. Not only that, he plans to strike the Argo as well.

Legendra blasts away from the azure planet. When Ram transmits his thanks to the Argo, Wildstar offers to escort his ship out of the Solar System. Ram accepts. The Argo goes on battle alert, and the Cosmo Tigers are sent out to provide a fighter screen for the Bolar ship. Dagon orders his fleet to prepare for their attack.

Despite the seeming urgency of Dagon’s commands, the two ships travel from Neptune (the 8th planet) all the way to Brumis (the 11th planet) with no action from the Galman fleet. It seems that, as eager as he is for battle, Dagon is willing to indulge the terms of the temporary truce. To a point, anyway. Once Legendra is at the edge of the Solar System, it prepares to warp. Dagon strikes first, hitting Legendra several times. Wildstar is incensed. He calls Dagon up on the video screen. He says Legendra is still in Earth’s territory and if they don’t cease fire immediately, the Argo will open fire. (Ram could have gained the upper hand had he tried warping much earlier, but evidently his honor forbade him even from that.)

Dagon’s response is one of calculated arrogance. He doesn’t respond to Wildstar directly. With the video link still open, he turns to his bridge crew and tells them to open fire on the Argo.

Taking several hits, Sandor urges Wildstar to fight back. (In both versions of the script, Japanese and English, he says something about not being able to do anything so close to Planet 11. Um, why? Derek seems to ignore this comment anyway.) The Cosmo Tigers are ordered to attack, the main guns open up, and both actions take their toll on the enemy fleet, easily demolishing several Galman ships. Dagon laughs sadistically, delighted by the battle. Several of his forces break off to engage the Argo. Thus ends this episode, setting up for one of the most intense battles in Yamato III.

For the two main players of this “Space Cold War,” we have the Bolar, representing the Soviet Union, and the Galmans filling in for the US. It’s interesting to note that so far the Soviet stand-ins are portrayed as honorable and trustworthy, with the US side arrogant and ready to pick a fight. The “Space US,” the Galmans, subscribe to a policy of manifest destiny, and any who resist–to the Galmans’ delight–will be crushed beneath their heel. America may have been Japan’s most recent adversary, but Japan had been at war with Russia during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) and during WWII, so historically the Japanese have no great love for either side.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: While the galaxy is divided between two superpowers and small neutral nations (like Earth, which sort of represents Japan during Cold War) struggling not to get involved, this is not Cold War. This is real, open war. The Galmans have German names and a Manifest Destiny, but if we have to compare, I see them as an alternate-history version of the Third Reich. In that history, they won the Battle of England, finished the war on the West before the US became involved, and then the Feuhrer turned his military might against the USSR.

The Bolars are surely based on Russians: they have the names, they have cold planets, gulags, mass armies and production (strength in quantity, while Germans had strength in quality), and a socialistic order. Their leaders don’t care for individual planets and much less for rebels and human rights. The war is also very “dirty” as it was in the USSR, both sides hitting civilians and inflicting mass destruction on infrastructure. End of note.

Story note: It is estimated that the Star Force reaches the airspace of Planet 11 on October 27.

“There are 326 days left.”

Continue to Episode 6

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