Be Forever Yamato Commentary, Part 2

Back up to Part 1

Sanada, Yamazaki, and several others enter the bridge, all wearing their Yamato crew uniforms. (The crew from Earth are all wearing their “EDF Regular” uniforms, mostly dungarees with royal blue coats or dress greens.) Sanada comments that Yuki is not there, but the long faces and Dr. Sado’s half-hearted explanation clue him in that something unpleasant happened to her, and he drops the subject. Sanada has gotten Yamato all ready for takeoff.

As in The New Voyage, there is a crew of cadets on board. Most are nameless, but one is a familiar face: Shiro Kato, younger brother of the late Cosmo Tiger leader Saboru Kato [Conroy]. He’s virtually identical to his older brother and even has the same voice actor.

Production note: There’s some validity to the speculation that the voice actor “resurrected” the character. Akira Kamiya was one of the most popular anime voice actors at the time (he’s still working today, in fact), and the loss of Kato at the end of Yamato 2 sparked a flurry of fan mail requesting that he come back somehow. And life…found a way. In Star Blazers continuity, where Conroy’s death was deleted, he simply went on in the guise of his brother.

Since Kodai spent two and a half missions as acting captain of the ship, it’s a little surprising to hear him ask Sanada if he’s going to take command. Sanada replies that he’s not cut out for the role, and introduces Captain Yamanami, an old colleague of captains Okita and Hijikata. Yamanami is determined to defeat the enemy, and promises he won’t be soft on the crew.

Story note: Carrying on a tradition begun with Series 1, this is another captain named after members of Japan’s famed Shinsengumi police from the 19th century, basically samurai G-men. The namesake for this particular captain was Keisuke Yamanami.

Production note: Though Yamanami is woefully underdeveloped as a character, his voice actor brought some gravitas to the role that had the effect of “stunt” casting; he previously appeared in the saga as the voices of Domel [Lysis] and Zordar, and would return again for Captain Mizutani in Final Yamato. Other than that, the only thread of background info we have on Yamanami comes from Leiji Matsumoto’s story draft, which set him up as an old friend of Okita whose underground colony got cut off during the Gamilas war. He was rescued years later and rejoined the EDF.

Since Yamanami was replaced by Mamoru Kodai as Yamato‘s captain in the PS2 game, his role in the story was altered and expanded. He was the captain of another ship called the Shunran (a powered-up Andromeda) and given a task force that was unavailable to defend Earth from invasion. Instead, they follow Yamato into the Dark Nebula as a support group.

Yamanami’s introduction is interrupted by Analyzer’s excited claim that Yuki has entered the bridge. It seems he’s in need of a receptor upgrade; the crew turn to see a young girl with long blonde hair. Sanada introduces her as his niece, Mio, and volunteers her for Yuki’s position.

Yamanami orders the ship to launch. As the crew takes their positions (and Mio leaves the bridge to put on her uniform), Aihara receives a call from Commander Todo, who has joined up with rebel forces in the old underground EDF base. Kodai asks about Yuki, but Todo hasn’t seen her and adds that if she’s alive, she’ll join up with the rebellion.

Todo then informs Kodai of his brother’s death. This is the second time in the Yamato saga that Kodai has received this news. The first time was in the debut episode. Kodai became bitter about his brother’s loss, in part because he was Kodai’s last surviving family member. His feelings were eventually alleviated as he grew closer to his shipmates. Thus, the rest of the crew close in around him–a small gesture to remind him that his “Yamato family” is still there.

Yamanami intends to head for Earth, but the Commander tells him not to, and shows Sanada a picture of the alien bomb. Sanada recognizes it as a hyperon bomb. Not only will it unleash a devastating explosion, it will destroy all brain cells within a certain radius. He surmises that the detonator for the bomb is on the aliens’ home planet. In this case, Sanada’s savant-like ability to identify unknown tech is an annoyance. We don’t see the logic in how he is able to identify the alien weapon by sight, or how he deduces the whereabouts of the detonator. It just is because it is. (A hyperon is a type of subatomic particle, BTW.)

As soon as Todo’s message ends, Yamato is prepped for takeoff. Down in the Engine Room, Tokugawa primes the engine for launch. Young Tasuke Tokugawa was rather inept during his first mission in The New Voyage, but now he performs his duties with confidence.

I should note a change in the art style that I like: the bridge control panels are much more detailed than in previous installments. They actually look like they have a purpose. In the first series, they were just a haphazard assortment of buttons, levers, and dials that would change from scene to scene. (Not to mention there was a tendency to reuse animation, which created a “universal control” situation. For instance, Kodai would pull down two levers to activate the forward main cannons, then a few minutes later the same two levers are used to activate the counter-attack missiles and pulse lasers.)

Production note: The redesign of both the first bridge and the Wave-Motion Engine was the work of Katsumi Itabashi, a former assistant to Leiji Matsumoto who joined the saga to do mecha design for Series 2. Read an essay by him about Be Forever‘s design demands here.

Sanada detonates Icarus just before launch, starting a painstakingly rendered sequence of the ship breaking out of the rock. Like the first launch in Yamato episode 2, this is a powerful scene. The ship blasts away its cover, free of its cage, like nothing will be able to contain it again. After the rock is pulverized, parts of it form a ring, recalling another iconic shot, the asteroid halo. This is followed by a third update on a classic, the Yamato fly-by, where the ship flies toward the camera, coming closest amidships, then pulls away into the distance.

There’s still one more self-homage here, and that’s the “farewell to Earth” serenade. Isao Sasaki sings Pendant of Stars over a montage of Yamato leaving the Solar System. During this sequence, Mio’s outfit is revealed. She gets a special one-of-a-kind suit, baby blue and white, with an anchor emblem on the front collar.

Another montage follows. Sanada is seen instructing the crew in the Central Computer Room. The narrator explains that Yamato is heading for the “Virgo System,” which I assume means the Virgo Cluster. The Virgo Cluster is part of the Local Galactic Cluster, which includes the Andromeda Galaxy and our own Milky Way. There is estimated to be between 1300 to 2000 galaxies in the cluster. How Sanada is able to determine the location of the Dark Nebulans’ origin point is not revealed.

An alternate translation of this scene perhaps offers a clue: Sanada has managed to track the path of the missile, which leads back to the Dark Nebula itself. He stated earlier that he had tracked the missile’s approach while he was at Icarus. Maybe the missile left some kind of energy trail in its wake or they used the “Time Radar” to backtrack the missile’s path.

The narration sequence also reveals some of Yamato‘s updated systems, such as improved Shock Cannons that can utilize Wave-Motion Cartridges, and a spherical “celestial radar room” in which navigators are seated in elevated chairs that move around a 3-D map of space, allowing a real-time look at their surroundings. (We never see the Holography room after Series 2, but this device seems to use the same technology; perhaps it was a replacement.) The most important update is a super-charger built into the Wave-Motion Engine which allows continuous warping. It’s decided to try it out with a field test.

The Dark Nebula fleet spots Yamato and moves to intercept, but before they get too close, the ship warps. The animators leave behind the old 70s psychedelic effects in favor of a new high-tech warp sequence. No ripple-glass dissolves, multi-colored images, or floating chairs this time; instead, there are lots of streamers and kinetic effects. The power and speed of the warp impresses and shocks Kazan.

Production note: The warp sequence brings animation superstar Yoshinori Kanada into the film; he designed the new effect. After contributing to some of the Earth invasion scenes, he takes the reigns as a key animator at this point and continues on for some very lively results. Read our tribute to Kanada here.

Alphon has set himself up with an Earthly residence. (One that has special significance in the Argo Press adaptation of Be Forever and is revived as the Wildstar household in the Star Blazers Rebirth webcomic. And, in fact, the Kodai home in Yamato Resurrection bears more than a passing resemblance to it.) It’s here that Yuki awakens. She’s shocked to learn she’s in the custody of Alphon, but he’s quite gentle around her. When he steps toward her, she shrinks away with a gasp, and he backs off.

She asks him about Kodai. Alphon is glad to know the name of his rival. He reports that the ship broke through their cordon, but later scans revealed there was no sign of life. This leaves things open to interpretation–if you accept the deleted scene, Dr. Sado’s “death drug” was responsible for the lack of life signs; if you just go by the movie itself, Kodai and the others got away clean and Alphon’s story here is a little fib designed to get Yuki to accept her fate as a prisoner.

Story note: It could be argued that the writers missed a good opportunity here by not having Alphon confuse the two Kodai brothers. If he’d simply said “a man named Kodai died,” Yuki might have accepted the explanation with neither of them realizing it was Mamoru. This twist would also have given Mamoru’s death a little more impact on the story, rather than a simple plot contrivance.

Yamato‘s mini-warp takes them 183,000 “space kilometers” past Planet 11 (Brumis), a distance Nanbu says is 0.7 light years away from their starting point. Mio’s radar screen malfunctions in the wake of the warp. While Sanada fixes it, Kato goes out on a recon patrol.

There’s another song sequence, during which Yamato is seen approaching two hazy-red planets. Kodai polishes his Cosmo Tiger (instead of his Cosmo Zero, which we don’t see in this film for some unexplained reason) on the stern catapault and thinks about Yuki. Yamato must be surrounded by some kind of atmosphere (like the enclosed one in the “Octopus Star Storm” episode of Series 1), because Kodai is out on the ship’s deck without a helmet. He’s joined by Mio.

Mio calls him “uncle.” He asks her to stop, but she reveals that she’s not using the term to be cute. He really is her uncle. She’s Sasha, the daughter of Mamoru Kodai and Queen Starsha of Iscandar. She was just a baby a few months ago, but Iscandarians grow up fast, she explains. Now that she’s reached maturity (or near maturity, since she seems like a teenager) she’ll continue to grow at the same rate as a human. She tells Kodai to keep this a secret. Only Sanada knows her true identity. Because of her unusual growth, it was decided to raise her on the Icarus station. The origin of her alias, Mio, is never explained, but a popular fan theory is that it was the name of Sanada’s sister who perished in the same accident that crippled him, as seen in the first Yamato series, episode 18.

Sasha’s appearance raises a few questions about her biology. First, the concept that humans and aliens would be compatible enough to produce offspring is extremely unlikely. Given the wide breadth of life forms on Earth itself, the idea that a similar species of “human” would just happen to spring forth in another galaxy is ludicrous. However, this is a common trope in science fiction.

Some SF shows (Star Trek, for example) rely on a version of the panspermia theory, which postulates that life originated in space and “seeded” various planets. Since all life derived from this common source, the results tend to be genetically similar. Behind the scenes of Yamato, there were some concepts floating around that humans and Iscandarians had actually mingled in the distant past, thus explaining the similarities, but these ideas were never put forth in the series itself.

Next problem: how was Sasha able to absorb enough knowledge to be a functioning human being in less than a year? Most other animals grow to adulthood within a year or two, so humans are comparatively slow, taking the better part of two decades to reach maturity. One theory for the delay is that it allows humans to reach higher cognitive levels. The brain is better able to learn and adapt before adulthood; thus, if you slow down the process of becoming an adult, you are able to learn more. Somehow, Iscandarians have evolved to reach maturity within a year, yet still absorb what takes a normal Earthling 20-plus years to learn.

Perhaps this is not natural. Yamato was vague in describing what happened to the Iscandarians, where Starsha simply said it was the fate of Iscandar to die. In Star Blazers, they came up with another reason: there was a disease that shortened the lifespan of Iscandarians. I’ve heard speculation that this is the reason for Sasha’s rapid development. Iscandarian physicians were unable to halt the lifespan-shortening disease, so they did the next best thing: artificially engineered Iscandarians to mature faster. The sooner they grow up, the sooner they’ll be able to have kids of their own, and thus the race will continue, despite the disease. Of course, it didn’t work and the Iscandarians died off anyway, but it offers an alternate explanation for Sasha’s appearance.

Story notes: A few additional points about this. (1) Genetic engineering to speed up development would not have flown with the Japanese outlook in general and Leiji Matsumoto’s views in particular, since artificial tampering with the body is considered a detriment (see Galaxy Express 999 for further elucidation).

(2) The subject of Sasha’s age was one of the biggest stumbling blocks in developing the plot of Be Forever. The desire for her to be 18 in the story first meant projecting everyone else 18 years into the future, which would more than double the age of most of the main cast. Concerned that the youthful viewing audience would be turned off by this, it was decided instead to speed up Sasha’s maturity instead; a solution that was literally the best of both worlds.

(3) Though Sasha’s fully-grown appearance was a shock to Kodai, it did not surprise devoted fans in the audience at all. No secret was made of this point in pre-release coverage, and it was even revealed in the movie trailer. So it was a rare case of the audience being way ahead of the main character.

Sasha was not present on the bridge during Kodai’s talk with Todo, so he has the unenviable task of breaking the news of her father’s death. Kodai vows to take his brother’s place as a surrogate father.

Kato’s recon discovers a Dark Nebula supply base, and the Cosmo Tigers form a mission to destroy it. It’s a huge fortress (modeled on the famous Sydney Opera House), but it appears dormant. Kato takes the lead for the first part of the attack, strafing every vehicle they find. This is the start of some satisfying payback for the wanton destruction on Earth, fully realized by master animator Yoshinori Kanada. (The angular, energetic staging is a unique element of “Kanada style.”)

Kodai, leading the attack in a red-finned Cosmo Tiger instead of his usual Cosmo Zero, spots a line of larger vessels just as the base defenses come online. A dome slides over the housing area, cutting them off, and AA guns begin taking a toll on the Tigers. Having seen Star Wars, Kodai leads the squadron in through a narrow trench that runs under the dome. They quickly destroy all the ships they can find before retreating. (During their retreat, they don’t leave through the channel. How they get back out with the dome in place isn’t clear to me.)

The base itself starts moving, revealing that it’s essentially a giant battleship. The fighters are recalled and Yamato‘s shock cannons finish off the huge base with very little effort. To extend the Dark Nebula/United States metaphor, this battle is comparable to the attack on Pearl Harbor, where a remote enemy base full of warships is taken by surprise, crippling their operations.

Yamato performs a continuous warp all the way to the outer reaches of the Dark Nebula Galaxy. It appears to take only a few hours with the new warp super-charger, which would have served as a good explanation for the speedy trip to Iscandar in the last movie. The Dark Nebula is actually a galaxy as large as the Milky Way, but consists of dim, cloudy material that renders it effectively invisible from Earth. Proceeding through the cloud is deemed risky, but there is no other choice. Going around it would take too long, and they need to destroy the trigger of the hyperon bomb quickly. The nebula is rotating at a relatively high rate of speed, which makes warping through it dangerous. Sanada suggests entering through the center, where he believes they will find a channel.

As Yamato moves deeper into the nebula the gas gets thicker, and neither Mio’s radar nor the celestial radar work. Sanada describes the gas as having the consistency of water. They still have a visual range of 7 space km, which will be enough to get them through. Just then, they are attacked by dozens of DN escort ships.

Kodai asks Yuki to put the enemy on one of the side video panels. Mio refuses. Kodai asks Yuki again, then realizes his mistake, and asks Mio to put up the image. (This bit of petulance on Mio’s part is uncalled for, considering their circumstances. Then again, she’s going through her teenage years and “terrible twos” at the same time!)

Using the external cameras, Kodai is able to spot the enemy at 10 space km away. They duck into a nearby cloud for cover, then burst out, taking down several ships with shock cannons and counter-attack missiles. The remaining ships join the attack, giving us a running battle. Unlike many of the battles in the series, this one has a great sense of motion, with Yamato swerving and rolling to avoid attacks.

When only one escort ship remains, Yamato pursues it, intending to follow it through the channel. Just then, they are struck from behind. The “black fleet” invasion force has followed the ship all the way from Earth. The pulse lasers take care of the small fightercraft while Yamato retreats. There are several small asteroids in the area. Shima uses them as a shield, running along a channel through a larger one. Unfortunately, this was the enemy’s plan.

Continue to Part 3

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