Episode 9 Commentary

Duel At Planet Barnard

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

This episode opens on Planet Galman, with Emperor Desslok (or as Mr. Narrator calls him, “Dezzlok”) meeting with his war council. Admiral Smellen [Histenbarger] reports great success on the Western front, which Desslok attributes to his threat of “exile” (read: execution) from the last council meeting. Not to be outdone, Admiral Smeardom [Gaidel] reports his campaigns have also been triumphant. He promises even greater victories in time for Desslok’s birthday.

Desslok appears to have made a drinking game out of these meetings. Every time he gets a good report, he takes a drink. When the report isn’t good, Desslok doesn’t get a sip and is therefore cranky. When Desslok gets cranky, he shoots people.

At Barnard’s Star planet 1, the Argo is being pummeled by reflex beams. The reflex gun from Series 1 had a long recharge period and a slow beam speed. The new model is much quicker but seems to lack the destructive power of the original. Venture does his best to avoid the beams while Eager continues to look for the satellites on his radar. In the Cosmo Hound, Wildstar’s group is searching as well.

Story note: This would be an awfully good time for Sandor to activate the ship’s reflecting shield, the one he saved everyone with at the end of Series 1, but that’s true of practically any battle scene in the saga. The problem with a perfect defensive weapon is that you can’t get many interesting stories out of it. That’s probably the best explanation for why it was never used again.

Additional comment from superfan Andrea Controzzi: We could find some technobabble explanation for this. Like the perfect “cloaking device” in the Star Wars novels, when the shield is activated the ship is unable to fight and even maneuver. So it is used only when the ship is completely unable to fight back, or floating in deep space with impending doom coming toward her. Add the concept that the shield works only once and then dissipates, and we have an explanation for why it cannot be used in real battles (against multiple incoming beams) but only as a last resort against a single crazy enemy vengefully firing a Gamilas gun at you. This is not so unrealistic, actually, since a near-perfect reflexive coating would be easily disrupted by aggressive maneuvers, energy discharges (like the ship’s own guns firing) and so on.

The third bridge is regarded as the ship’s deathtrap, but the second bridge takes its share of hits as well. During the barrage, a reflex beam catches the port side of the second bridge’s window, heating the steel red-hot. It actually looks more damaging–painful, almost–than an explosion.

Venture’s evasive maneuvers are felt in the med bay, sending Dr. Sane crashing to the floor. Retaking his seat across from the pioneer woman, Tomoko, he’s pleased to announce that she has no sign of the illness that claimed the life of her husband.

The attack continues, directed by the reflex gun commander, a Galman officer named Usterz. Usterz is only seen in a few short clips, but he’s notable for a rather odd character design; narrow eyes and an angular head. His features lack any smooth, graceful curves, as if they were carved out of the crystal mountains that surround the base.

While looping back to restart their search for the reflex satellites, Kodai (in the Cosmo Hound) sees a beam bounce off a reflector ship. The Star Force was so focused on the idea of reflector satellites that they didn’t realize the plates were mounted on ships surrounding them. When the Hound closes in on a reflector ship, the Galmans launch a fighter escort.

Jetter defends the Hound from a retractable ball turret and destroys a reflex ship and at least two fighters. The Argo launches what looks to be an impossible number of Cosmo Tigers in response. The Tigers are so skilled and daring that they fly just meters apart from one another. Flash’s group appears to be literally nose-to-tail as they break away from Conroy’s squad.

Story note: The green and yellow Galman fighters are new to the saga, an agile craft named the Seeadler III. Their appearance marks another contribution to the saga by mecha designer Yutaka Izubuchi.

Conroy’s squadron quickly clears the enemy attacking the Cosmo Hound. During the ensuing dogfight, Flash has a moment of hubris, saying “I knew I was terrific”, after chasing down and destroying a fighter. Pride goeth before a fall–he is so intent on taking out that one craft he loses situational awareness and finds himself the target of five enemy fighters. Conroy comes to his rescue and hammers home the point not to go solo. (So within the space of a few moments, both Jason and Flash are saved by Conroy’s quick action.)

The immediate danger quelled, the Cosmo Hound searches the ground. Their efforts are soon rewarded when Wildstar spots the reflex energy beam in the distance. They head straight for the gun and Jetter takes it out with the ball turret. After a brief hurrah another beam flashes right in front of them, revealing a whole network of reflex guns. The presence of multiple reflex guns is as much a surprise to the viewer as it is to the Cosmo Hound team. (And also explains all those extra beams we saw at the end of the previous episode.)

Buster reports the enemy base at 10 o’clock. It’s fortified against a ground assault, which would prevent the team from going inside and blowing up the energy station as they did in Series 1. After the Cosmo Hound returns to the Argo, Venture evades incoming fire as he guides the Argo toward the base. The shock cannons take out several gun emplacements. This requires very deft flying. All of the Argo‘s weapons are topside, so the ship has to tilt in order to fire towards the ground. Some scenes are canted almost sideways in order to communicate this visually.

Dagon plans to fire the remaining reflex cannons at the Argo, and follow up with a giant proton missile, just to make them extra dead. Wildstar orders the ship taken up to 3 km and the Wave-Motion Gun is prepped for firing. Dagon misinterprets these maneuvers as a sign that his foes are at a loss. The proton missile is launched. Before it reaches its target, the mighty Wave Gun fires!

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: When the Star Force fires the WMG at Dagon’s base, it is a huge change of policy compared to Series 1. On Pluto, Captain Avatar refused to fire it so as not to harm indigenous life forms. With Earth’s fate at the stake, he nevertheless makes a high-risk choice: an away-team on a risky ground assault against a potentially well-guarded objective. He even makes the ship a target to find the reflex gun. A pretty steep price for some jellyfish. In Series 3, we have another frozen planet populated with higher-level life (we see Tomoko’s husband hunting for a deer), yet Kodai fires the WMG without a shadow of regret. Of course in Series 1, “save the environment” was an excuse for the good guys to make the ground assault, but this a big change of policy!

The missile and the enemy base are dissolved in one blast. Dagon’s main base was his flagship, and as the explosion of the surrounding area expands, his ship emerges and warps away. Wildstar is content with the destruction of the base and doesn’t wish to pursue.

In the med bay, the pioneer father is now weak and bed-ridden. He mumbles feverishly about Earth. For as pridefully as he refused to return to his home planet, his subconscious seems to admit that it’s where he wants to be. He passes away, and his daughter grieves over his body.

Wildstar learns that there’s something wrong with the daughter, Tomoko. There is speculation that the virus is about to claim another victim before Nova reveals that Tomoko is pregnant. Homer springs into action, ready to start boiling some water. That won’t be necessary, Dr. Sane says as he steps onto the bridge, because she still has several months to go. (The folklore of boiling water during childbirth was either to sterilize instruments or to give the father busy work while the baby was delivered.)

IQ-9 makes a point that the baby would be better served by being born on Earth. The robot doesn’t elucidate further, but in real life the main obstacles against child-bearing in space are radiation and gravity. Astronauts are exposed to a greater amount of radiation, making it more likely that the unborn child may die. Then there is the danger of exposure to less-than-Earth-normal gravity. Tests conducted on lab mice and other mammals found the effects of low gravity were low birth weights and malformed skeletons and organs. There is artificial gravity in the Yamato universe, so that should compensate. Presumably the ship would be equipped with better radiation shielding than is available today, although I would also wager that even Earth-bound citizens in the 2200s had been exposed to a considerable amount of radiation due to the Gamilon planet bombs, and are therefore a bit more resistant to its effects.

Additional comment from superfan Andrea Controzzi: This argument is sound, but I have the feeling it is not the environment that could harm the baby (radiation shielding and artificial gravity would suffice). Simply put, a space battleship on active operation is no place for a child to be born or raised. (Yes, Sasha is an exception.)

Derek’s reactions to the pregnancy news is rather quaint: he calls for all female staff to leave the ship. Nova states her intention to stay. Derek doesn’t argue with her, but all other women are to be removed. Wildstar knew it was likely that they would be running into the middle of a space war, but now that it’s been confirmed, he deems the situation too dangerous for them. The nurses weren’t trained for war, he explains, and he can’t put them in that kind of risk.

I’m sure it’s meant to sound chivalrous instead of chauvinist. Aren’t the nurses trained for treating battlefield wounded? I was always curious about how Dr. Sane could be an effective doctor and surgeon when it’s just him in the med bay (not to mention all the drinking). I was happy to see other nurses or orderlies helping him. Still, as the only surgeon on a warship, wouldn’t he be overwhelmed by dozens of wounded soldiers needing immediate attention during the ship’s more intense battles?

As for removing most women from the ship, I imagine that makes a certain amount of sense. It’s not a matter of thinking that women can’t do the same kind of jobs men can do, but a matter of the survival of the species. The human race was devastated by the Gamilon war, and since then has found itself threatened with crisis after crisis. Women of childbearing age would be seen as a valued resource. Men can go out and fight and die–the women would have to make babies. This kind of conservative attitude would probably be prevalent in such an atmosphere. Nova’s mother expressed similar views in Series 1. Part of her desire for Nova to marry was for her to have children to “save the world.”

In the next scene, an Alpha Centauri EDF Transport ship arrives to remove the dozen or so nurses, including head nurse Penny, who I can’t recall ever saying anything despite her constant presence at Dr. Sane’s side. The transport ship is captained by the same EDF officer who greeted the Star Force at the Alpha colony. This is another one of those moments where it’s implied that ships are surrounded by an atmospheric envelope, since people stand on the decks of both ships in normal clothing to say their goodbyes.

Watching his former staff’s ship disappear in the distance, Dr. Sane hopes that they will find a planet soon. The future of the human race, exemplified by Tomoko’s baby, requires the Star Force’s mission to be successful.

There are 306 days left.

Story note: The Argo departs the first planet of Barnard’s Star 23 days after launch from Earth. It is estimated to be November 16.

Production note: By the time Episode 9 was entering production, ratings information had been gathered on the first few episodes, and it was not promising. The average was only about 6%, substantially less than the numbers on Series 2 and far below what was expected of a franchise that had recently cleaned up with a hit movie at the summer box office. The Yomiuri network’s conclusion was that Space Battleship Yamato wasn’t as big a deal on TV (where there was no competing anime program in its timeslot), so they pulled a page out of their earlier playbook and reduced their broadcast commitment.

When they did this on Series 1 back in 1974, it resulted in a 39-episode story being chopped down to 26, a 33% reduction. This time it was worse; a 52-episode plan was cut in half to 25. Needless to say, a lot of careful plotting had to be jettisoned in mid-flight. This was the first episode to be impacted, since the original story had Tomoko staying on board the ship and delivering her baby there at the end of the series. Thus, the removal of the nurses was probably an eleventh-hour decision to close off that storyline.

That thread is just one of many that is picked up again in our webcomic, The Bolar Wars Extended.

Continue to Episode 10

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