Be Forever Yamato Commentary, Part 4


Back up to Part 3

Back at “future-Earth,” Yamato is preparing to attack the guard fleet. Sanada suggests using the Wave-Motion Gun, and Captain Yamanami consents. On the planet, Sada warns Skaldart that they have no defense against the gun. Skaldart isn’t worried. The Glaudez and its fleet of battleships will use their own prime weapon, the Continuous Beta gun.

The fearsome looking Beta cannons release their beams. Before they hit, the Wave-Motion gun fires, washing away the Beta beams and striking the fleet. The WMG was fired at an angle so as not to hit the planet and endanger Sasha, but the explosion of the fleet expands and falls into the atmosphere, starting a chain reaction that consumes the planet itself.

Sanada realizes too late that the Wave-energy would have an explosive reaction with the planet, similar to how the Goruba fortresses chain-reacted. (Sanada should give himself a break. He identifies weird space phenomenae fairly regularly. If he gets one prediction wrong and blows up an enemy planet, I’d consider that acceptable. Of course, his concern is for Sasha.)

In the midst of the maelstrom, Skaldart is overcome with manic delight and rips off his human disguise, revealing his true hairless, blue-green skinned, red-eyed form. Skaldart isn’t the only thing unmasked–the planet itself is stripped of its illusion. First, a black shadow covers the entire globe. Within the darkness, a ghost image of a woman’s face is seen. The eerie, theremin-style music is heard once again (as before, it’s actually a synthesizer), and the woman’s face turns into a grotesque banshee, unleashing a horrifying shriek that resonates with the music. Then the image and the darkness fade away to unveil the planet’s true form–a skeletal frame shell with a metallic core. The core is attached to the outer frame by a long tube at its poles. The planet’s name is revealed by caption: Dezarium.

The brief image of the “Dezarium witch” is not explained within the story (it was only meant to serve as an allegory for the death of a planet), but it’s easy to tie it into the notion of powerful space goddesses. Starsha, Trelaina, and even Sasha fall into the role of a beneficient Mother-Goddess. This fleeting appearance marks the only time we see an “evil” version.

Sanada reports that this is the planet’s true form. The Earth disguise was created using energy from the core. The entire skeletal frame of the planet is made from “supra-metal” that even the Wave-Motion Gun can’t scratch. (Alphon’s dying comment about wanting to stand on Earth on his own two feet reveals a possible second meaning: it’s not just that he wanted a real, living body, he wanted a real planet to stand on as well.)

Before they can formulate a way to fight a whole planet (it’s not like they haven’t before!), Sasha contacts them. Calling from a communications room, she explains that there is a city within the planet’s core. She will open the south pole vent. Yamato‘s Wave-Motion Gun will react with the city’s energy and destroy the planet. She estimates Yamato will have 900 “space seconds” after the firing to escape through the north pole vent. Sasha ignores the crew’s concern for her and reminds them that Skaldart can activate the neutron bomb at any time. She ends communication.

Kodai doesn’t want Sasha to come to any harm, but Sanada explains that this is her fate–why she chose to stay behind–and urges him to accept her decision. Shima suggests rescuing her first. Before talk can lead to action, Skaldart appears on the screen. He is holding the neutron bomb trigger. With a voice that makes Aihara shiver, Skaldart explains that everyone on Earth will die five minutes after he pushes the button. He offers them another chance to surrender, setting a deadline of five minutes. Shima’s hopes of rescue are dashed. Kodai looks to Captain Yamanami for how to proceed.

On Earth, Yuki and a band of Cavalry break into the bomb’s core. With Cavalry holding back the troops, Yuki dismantles the trigger.

Yamato‘s crew is still locked in indecision when Yuki contacts them. (Instantaneous communications from 400,000 light years away? Sure, why not?) She says she dismantled the trigger. She and Kodai share a teary-eyed moment and he promises to return to her.

Skaldart has been watching and is amused. But, he says, the trigger on Dezarium is enough to set off the bomb. This is Sasha’s cue to run into the unguarded trigger room and destroy the circuit with a well-placed shot. Seconds later, Skaldart presses the trigger and it does nothing.

Sasha runs back into the communications room and contacts Yamato. She explains what she did, and that she’s opening the southern vent. They must hurry. Captain Yamanami orders the ship into action. Shima looks at Kodai for a moment, realizing he’s condemning someone his friend cares about to death if he follows orders. Kodai says nothing and just stares ahead. Shima sets course for the southern vent.

All around the skeletal frame of the planet, gun emplacements are revealed and fire at Yamato.

Sasha runs over to the vent controls and opens them up, which she somehow just knows how to do. (Another example of the Iscandarian ability to “just know things.”) The controls are not guarded. In fact, except for Sada’s two guards and a line of barely noticeable dignitaries in the museum, Skaldart and Sada are the only native people we’ve seen on the entire planet. Based on Alphon’s revelation, there probably aren’t very many Dark Nebulans.

Once Yamato is inside the vent tube, all is quiet. Entering the large hollow core of the planet, they see their target: a crystal city. It looks like a large ball with crystal buildings jutting out of it. It’s called a city, so it’s assumed that there are people in it, though they are never shown–just as well if they’re inside the crystal buildings, which suddenly launch like giant missiles. Shima tries his best to evade, but a few scrape the side of the ship.

More and more are launched, too many to dodge, and the superstructure gets razed on the starboard side. Inside the bridge, part of the ceiling collapses on Captain Yamanami. Kodai rushes to his side. Yamanami is critically injured and turns command over to Kodai before dying. Kodai angrily storms back to his seat to carry out Yamanami’s last command to fire the Wave-Motion Gun. (While the Captain was dying, the ship was still under attack. Shima left his chair and didn’t return to it until Kodai took command. Who was controlling the ship in the meantime?)

I was sorry to see Yamanami die. We never got to know him well. He seemed tough as nails when introduced, but softened up a bit throughout the movie. Personally, he reminded me of local Philadelphia children’s TV host W. Carter Merbreier, a.k.a. Captain Noah. Most Philly fans old enough to remember when Star Blazers was on the air are likely to have watched Captain Noah as well.

Enraged, Kodai takes his seat and prepares to fire. As he counts down, his anger gives way to despair and he sobs openly. With all the family he’s lost, he can’t bear to lose another. Sanada offers to fire the gun in his stead, but the countdown stops as Kodai hugs the trigger, refusing to surrender it. Sanada explains that Sasha means a lot to him, too. He was her adopted father for a year. Still, the city must be destroyed. Even if he has to kill a girl who was like a daughter to him, Sanada will do it.

Story note: the PS2 game milked this moment for all it was worth. Sanada came forward to do what Kodai seemingly could not, then Mamoru came forward as Sasha’s father to do what Sanada should not. Sasha was on screen watching the whole thing, emotionally moved by this one-upmanship. See the footage on YouTube here. Yeah, Yamato goes over the top sometimes.

Sasha appears on the monitor, urging them to hurry and fire. She reminds them that the cost of delay is the death of everyone on Earth. Further, she knows she will die here. She has known it for a while and has accepted her fate. Skaldart enters the room. Sasha continues to plead with Kodai to hurry or else the north vent will close and prevent their escape.

Skaldart shoots Sasha. She is injured, but gets behind cover and fires back, putting a laser round through his torso. Skaldart remains on his feet and fires again, this time putting her down. Gravely injured himself, he crawls over to the vent controls. Kodai cries out Sasha’s name and pulls the trigger on the still-standing-by Wave-Motion Gun. The crystal city withers under its power and Skaldart is incinerated before he’s able to close the vent.

Yamato steers around the explosion and heads out through the north vent as all of Dezarium chain-reacts. The exploding mass expands behind them, forming a new sun. The ship is about to be overcome by the explosion, but warps once, twice, then three times to safety. (Somehow, the top starboard side of the superstructure appears intact now. Those repair crews are good.)

The notion that Sasha was aware she was going to die but performed her duty anyway plays into Nishizaki’s respect for heroic idealism, rooted in ancient stories of Samurai. This famously clashed with Leiji Matsumoto’s philosophy of “survival above all,” which inevitably lead them toward their separate paths.

Now behind Yamato is the former Dark Nebula Galaxy, which Sanada reports has collapsed and a new galaxy is being born in its passing. (It was described as the size of the Milky Way, so realistically it would take several millennia for this to happen.) I have to note that for all the platitudes about the horrors of war and killing, Yamato leaves a lot of destruction behind. The ship has destroyed Gamilas and the Comet Empire, Telezart exploded behind them, and Iscandar didn’t survive their last adventure. Now, they leave an entire galaxy burning in their wake. To borrow a phrase from X-Men comics, “you can generally tell where Yamato has been, because it’s on fire.”

Kodai regrets all the lives lost and holds himself accountable for Sasha’s death. Her voice reassures him that it’s all right. Looking out the bridge window, they see an image of Sasha floating among the Heavens. Like her mother, she can communicate from beyond death, and delivers a short benediction. She thanks Kodai, “her handsome young uncle,” and Sanada, her adopted father. She thanks them for showing her happiness. She says that because Kodai understands the value of life, this knowledge will grow among mankind and lead to a better life for Earth in the future. She then drifts off, joining her mother Starsha.

What follows is a peaceful montage with a song titled Love Until That Day. We see a reunion with Kodai and Yuki among pink celestial clouds, and a “curtain call” of lost crew members, including Captain Hijikata [Gideon], Shinmai [Royster] and the happy dead family of Mamoru, Starsha, and Sasha. All three members of the Iscandar clan have sacrificed themselves while fighting the Dark Nebula.

Yamato disappears into the distance, leaving a view of the Earth as the credits roll.

This is one beautiful movie. Nice, smooth animation. No complaints on that part.

But I have a few problems with the story. First, the Dark Nebulans aren’t terribly interesting opponents. Kazan (occupational commander) and Grotas (commander of the Goruba fleet) have maybe a dozen lines between them. Sada, even less. Skaldart is cackling and evil, nothing more. Lt. Alphon gets the most focus, but he never rises above his role as Dessler-lite. Alphon is the only one who presents the Dark Nebulans in anything approaching a sympathetic light, but a good portion of that sympathy is based on repeating the same beats that played out in Dessler’s story.

Second, the Nebulans’ plan seems like an awful lot to go through for little gain. The idea to make their home planet look like future-Earth is a pretty sophisticated ruse to try and pull off, and that’s about all they did. If their goal was to make Yamato surrender, they didn’t come close. Even if they had paid closer attention to things like works of art and fingerprints, I don’t see how their plan could have worked. Their fleets put in an impressive first showing, but got progressively weaker. The planet itself was the main threat, but like the fleet, it possessed a massive Achilles heel, being vulnerable to Yamato‘s most powerful weapon.

Also, they really amped up the soap opera factor in this. They separated the two lovers, Kodai and Yuki, and introduce new romantic rivals for them. To heighten the drama, one is an enemy and the other is a blood relation. These are the types of situations more common on daytime TV (either soap operas or Jerry Springer, take your pick.) Sasha also falls into the TV Trope called the Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome. (It has its own Wikipedia entry.) That’s when a character suddenly ages off-screen for no apparent reason other than convenience. Sasha has a slight advantage in her “I’m half alien” fallback explanation.

As for the new protagonists, Be Forever continues the trend of disposable characters. When I first started getting back into Star Blazers/Yamato, I marveled at the power of storytellers. They can create these characters, put them in dramatic situations, and kill them off if they want. It’s like having an entire universe, and you’re God. The problem with the Yamato series at this point is that “God” doesn’t seem to care anymore. Be Forever introduced two characters to the crew, Sasha and Yamanami, only to kill them both off by the end. (OK, three new characters, but does Kato mark II really count as “new”?)

The New Voyage‘s new characters (two of the four, anyway) were just ignored, not killed off, leaving the door open for their return (although they never did). And Mamoru Kodai, a character who’s supposed death was a huge deal way back in Series 1, is dispatched with little fanfare, foregoing the possibility of doing anything more interesting with him.

Story note: In a gesture of respect toward Leiji Matsumoto, the witers of the PS2 game gave Mamoru a very different payoff, giving him his own ship and sending him off to become Captain Harlock. He’s even got the facial scar to seal the deal. He takes along a new engineer character named (of course) Tochiro and one possible ending allows Sasha to survive and join them. (See the footage on YouTube here, starting around the 4 minute mark.) There is no followup story, though it’s interesting to note that Mamoru’s design at the end of the PS2 game is practically identical to “Young Harlock,” a character who appears in another Matsumoto project called Cosmo Warrior Zero. Make of this what you will; there is no official word on the subject.

The most interesting things about this movie are the themes lingering under the surface, some of which I touched on earlier. By the time of the movie’s release, Japan had rebuilt itself from its postwar ruins and was quickly becoming one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet. Space Battleship Yamato served as both an inspiration and a warning to the younger generation.

The inspiration part is the Yamato itself, a relic resurrected from one of Japan’s greatest defeats that goes on to vanquish great nations with its indomitable samurai spirit and sacrifices. The warning part, repeated several times throughout the series, is that technological advances can make one as soulless as machines. This is writ large in the Dark Nebulans–they are powerful, able to construct wonders and travel great distances, but they have no soul. For all their achievements, their greatest desire is to be flesh and blood (human) once more.

It’s appropriate that this conflict between technology and the spirit is thrown into sharp relief against the backdrop of a war with [perhaps] subconscious stand-ins for America, since it has a parallel in Japanese attitudes during WW2. The Allies had a distinct advantage in technology and manufacturing during the war, but many Japanese officers, encouraged by early victories in China and the south Pacific, fostered an indifference to the disparity.

For example, American ships were equipped with radar, but some Japanese officers asserted that their own two eyes were more than adequate to compensate. The Yamato-damashii (“Japanese spirit”) made them superior. While this type of insouciance toward innovation helped lead to the defeat of Imperial Japan, this movie (and, it can be argued, the entire franchise) fits this skewed wartime view. In Yamato, relying on technology always leads to failure, but human ability, passion, and sacrifice will get you through. In just this movie alone, the mechanized fleet–the pinnacle of terran technology–lasts barely a minute against a small enemy fleet. But a single ship manned by a determined and spirited crew takes on a whole planet!

Production note: Despite this philosophical undercurrent, the project began with an attempt to turn a particular Yamato motif on its head. Rather than starting the ship out as an underdog, hopelessly outmatched by a high-tech enemy, Nishizaki wanted to try the opposite; power it up to an unprecedented degree and make it capable of accomplishing practically anything. One example is the 400,000-plus light year voyage to the Dark Nebula, well over twice the distance to Iscandar but little more than an arbitrary number in the end.

This “powerup” to the ship was reflected in its outward depiction, which was super-sized in many scenes to make the point. On more than one occasion, we look in on the main bridge from outside and see the crew as tiny specks inside a room the size of a sports arena. This doesn’t come close to matching the interior proportions, but that’s not the point. This Yamato–and more to the point this Yamato movie–are symbolically larger than life.

Concurrent with the production of Be Forever, the third TV series (Yamato III, naturally) was in development and went on the air just over two months after the movie opened. It picked up on all these threads and plunged forward into another mission. We’ll begin to examine that episode by episode starting with our next update.

The End

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