Episode 19 Commentary

The Way To Planet Phantom

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

In the Argo‘s Navigation Room, Nav Chief Mark Venture [Daisuke Shima] holds a briefing to outline their current course. Their destination is the planet Phantom, which is orbiting the star M1678, located 9,950 light years away and will require three “extended warps” to reach. Star Blazers changes the star’s designation slightly to M1675, but severely shortens the distance to only 9 light years (ly). That’s a difference of 94 quadrillion kilometers, or 58 quadrillion miles. Last episode’s script correctly translated Phantom’s distance to “approximately 10,000 light years away.”

A standard warp used to be 500ly. In Yamato 2, when the ship was trying to outrun the Comet Empire, it performed jumps of an engine-straining 2,000ly. Since then, the Argo has been equipped with a super-charger that made trips of 400,000ly possible, so why a 10,000ly trip requires taking three so-called “extended warps” is not explained. Perhaps it’s because the 400,000ly jump was mostly in the empty space between galaxies. Within the Milky Way (and particularly as you near the center, where the stars are more dense), shorter jumps may be required to avoid navigation hazards.

At Earth emigration HQ, EDF Commander Singleton [Todo] is holding a meeting with government officials. The situation with the sun is at a critical point, and the assembled politicians demand to know what is being done about saving Earth’s population. One of the politicians refers to “billions” of people on Earth. Despite all the planet bombs and invasions, Earth still apparently has a healthy population.

Commander Singleton updates the Star Force with the decisions made by his office. The population of Earth is heading back to the underground cities, and the underground shipyards have been reactivated to build more emigrations ships. So far, other survey parties have searched Libra, Beta, Cassiopeia, Ypsilon, and Procyon without success. The Commander holds out hope that Phantom may be the second Earth they are searching for.

But for all the hopes mankind is pinning on the planet Phantom, there is an issue that is never addressed–Phantom is out of range. Galman is 30,000 light years from Earth, and Phantom is 10,000 light years from Galman. This means the minimum distance between Earth and Phantom is 20,000 light years. In Episode 2, we were told that the emigration ships only have a range of 15,000 light years. (The 15,000 light year limit is repeated again in Episode 12, in a scene that was cut from the American broadcast.) So even if Phantom is a suitable planet, the poor refugees will be stuck 5,000 light years away from their new home. I suppose the Argo and other long-range transport ships could provide a shuttle service to Phantom, but given that there are “billions” of people on Earth, that hardly seems feasible.

The grimness of the Commander’s report is followed by an exchange between Wendy Singleton [Akiko Todo] and Homer [Aihara]. Wendy, who was behind her grandfather throughout the briefing, reappears on the main panel right after the Commander signs off. She flips open a book, revealing a flower. Homer pulls out a book and shows her his own pressed flower, then they sign off without a word. Wildstar [Kodai] considered the couple’s romance a good omen at the start of their mission, so he apparently doesn’t have any objection to the communications net being used to pass these love notes back and forth. (Especially since it ignites an instant round of ribbing from the other crew.)

Production note: at the beginning of the series, an attempt was made to establish color-coded regions of space for the different factions in the story; Earth was set against blue space, Galman against green, and Bolar against red. That design thread was picked up when we reached Planet Galman, and we see it again in this episode when we jump from Galman (green) to Bolar territory (red). However, the Planet Bolar itself is in a blue region of space, most likely to emphasize the icy-cold nature of the home world.

The Argo‘s first warp skirts the edge of the Bolar Federation borders and is spotted by their spy satellites. Bolar Prime Minister Bemlayze has been taking a personal interest in the ship ever since the battle at planet Berth. In addition, he is aware that they are allied with the Galman Empire. Bemlayze assigns Commander Golsakov with the task of destroying it, who in turn delegates the job to Major General Balsiky [original name: Hakins]. Balsiky immediately departs the 8th Attack Force Regional Command Outpost with a fleet of destroyers. The Regional Command Outpost is a football-shaped construct about the size of the Galman Eastern Front Fortress.

This is the first appearance of the Bolar Homeworld. It looks like a very cold, sterile place. The Bolar Federation is based on the Soviet Union, which is notorious for its harsh winters, particularly in the vast northern reaches of Siberia.

When it comes to character design, the Bolars are one of the most uniformly ugly races in the Yamato series. Their character designs are much like their ships, very plain without much grace or beauty. Similarly, the Bolars don’t have a lot of nuance in their characterization. With the exception of Captain Ram (who was from a planet absorbed by the Bolar Federation), there are not many shades of gray. Also, I don’t recall ever seeing one woman among them. (Unless some of these Bolar characters actually are women, but we can’t tell the difference?)

After completion of the Argo‘s first warp, Homer picks up an SOS signal 4000 megameters away. (Actually, the Japanese script says 4000 kilometers, not “space kilometers,” which would equal 4 megameters, not 4000.) The signal is not Galman or Bolar. Sandor [Sanada] advises checking it out. Wildstar sends Flash Contrail [Takeshi Ageha], Jason Jetter [Ryuske Domon], and IQ-9 [Analyzer] out in the Cosmo Hound with orders to maintain radio silence. Soon after the Hound departs, the SOS signal is cut off. Wildstar chooses not to recall the away team, trusting that they have the training to cope with any surprises.

Production note: as with the previous episode, one of the factors that makes this one noteworthy is a unique track of background music heard nowhere else in the series. It underscores the next sequence and takes us all the way up to the commercial break.

The trio in the Hound find their visual range limited by dense gasses, and without a signal to home in on, they are effectively blind. IQ-9 picks up traces of metal on a small planetoid, where they find an old, dilapidated space ship. (Jason calls it a “jalopy”.) They decide to look inside. The crew are set upon by several men, but they quickly take them down. IQ-9 turns on his headlamps, revealing dozens of men, women, and children, all looking haggard, sick, and starving. IQ-9 contacts the Argo.

Production note: for those interested in the craft of animation, there’s an unusual lighting effect on the scene that pans across the crew of this ship. It’s difficult to keep animation cels in pristine condition as they make their way through the various steps that end in the camera room, and one remedy for this is to flood them with light from multiple angles when they are placed on the animation stand. In addition to creating the clearest possible image for the camera, this also fills in scratches, paint bumps, or other irregularities on the surface of a cel.

Conversely, a single source of light would enhance these irregularities with highlights and shadows. When IQ-9’s headlamp lights the scene, a spotlight effect was created by shining only a single light source onto the cel. Thus, scratches and glare are immediately apparent at the “hottest” point in the center of the screen. The shot might also have been filmed in real time rather than one frame at a time, which would have made things easier for the schedule. It’s always risky to experiment in the shooting stage, but in this case it actually enhances the tone of the scene.

One of the passengers, an elderly man, explains their plight. They are Gardiana [Mother Shalbart] worshipers, refugees trying to escape the war between Bolar and Galman. Their ship encountered trouble and managed to set down on this dwarf planet. They’ve been searching for the mythical Queen Gardiana for either two years (Star Blazers script) or 25 years (Yamato III script), and plan to keep on searching, from generation to generation, until they find her. As the elder is speaking, there’s a rather macabre image of an elderly woman with hollow, black eyes lying motionless on the floor. She looks like a corpse to me, perhaps signifying that the passengers lack the strength and/or means to bury or jettison their own dead.

Nova empathizes with the followers, comparing their search with the Star Force’s mission to find a new Earth. The Argo had taken on supplies at Galman that they are willing to share, and Wildstar sends down a repair crew to fix their ship.

In Yamato III, the elder explains that they only broadcast a distress call intermittently in order to avoid detection by the Galmans and Bolars. In Star Blazers, he says they had sent out no deliberate signals at all. The SOS signal the Star Force received was due to a child playing with the transmitter and sending it by accident. (Or providence, according to the elder.)

Medical and repair crews are sent down. There’s a montage of clips showing the Star Force engineers fixing the vessel. In Yamato III, this was a dialogue-free montage, but Star Blazers adds words to one part where Sandor gives instructions to Beaver [Bando] about repairing the computers. Within a short amount of time, the ship is repaired and on their way. Wildstar is amazed at their tenacity, continuing the search no matter how long it takes.

Eager’s [Ohta’s] scanner detects 18 warships coming in fast (or 12 warships, according to the Japanese script, or 16 judging by the number of blips on his screen). Wildstar orders all hands to stations. After the Cosmo Hound and medical ships return (along with the seldom-seen flatbed-style repair ships), the Cosmo Tigers are sent out to provide cover for the refugees.

The incoming ships are identified as Bolar. Wildstar identifies himself and his ship and asks the Bolar commander to stand down. The Bolar commander, Balsiky, has a real flair for the dramatic. He appears on screen with his back to the camera, then turns around and declares, “I have two words for you, Commander Wildstar of Earth: drop dead!” In Yamato III, General Hakins is not as flippant and (falsely) claims that Yamato has violated Bolar borders, therefore inviting this attack.

The Bolar forces split into two groups and launch a missile attack at a distance of 26 megameters. (The last defined range for the Argo‘s shock cannons was 10 megameters, so the Bolar missiles have over twice the range.) The missiles travel straight toward their target but scatter into random striking patterns when they get close. The first wave hits the Argo and the area around it. The next wave is intercepted by wave-motion depth charges, then the Argo counterattacks with the shock cannons. Wave-motion cartridges are shown being loaded into the shock cannon barrels, but neither the script nor the animation indicate that these solid projectiles are actually used.

Meanwhile, a contingent of Bolar forces closes in on the refugee ship, which is defended by the Cosmo Tigers. Several energy beams hit the refugee ship, and shattered glass sprays the Gardiana followers. A woman holds her Gardiana cameo aloft like a charm of protection, only to find faith in Gardiana does not stop shards of glass from cutting her cheek. The elder prays to Gardiana for the Star Force to prevail.

Story note: in the shots of the refugee ship being hit by energy beams, it looks to have some sort of reflective coating, which would be an ideal defense mechanism for an unarmed vessel. It could have been added by Sandor during the repair montage.

After a few minutes of screen time, the battle is over. The end of the fight is not shown; instead, there’s just a fade from the heat of battle to the aftermath, with the Star Force the clear winner. In the wake of the battle, and seemingly in response to the refugees’ prayers, an image of Gardiana appears before the Star Force, floating in space, pointing the way to Phantom.

I find I have little sympathy for the Gardiana worshippers, who play the role of perpetual victims. They are portrayed as pacifists who believe in a goddess that will save them and bring peace. For all their appeals to Gardiana to save them, their goddess only appears as a sparkly image that says and does nothing. Their goddess didn’t stop the Bolars, the Star Force did, using guns and missiles. And the notion of not using violence yourself but praying for the success of those who do seems hypocritical to me.

A case could be made that prayer tipped the scales and helped our heroes be victorious against overwhelming odds. This plays into the philosophical undercurrent of the Yamato series, that spirit and sacrifice prevail over technology. I admit I am probably 4 times as old and 10 times as cynical as the show’s intended audience, but I always find these notions somewhat disingenuous.

In the early 1900s, China’s society of “the Righteous and Harmonious Fists,” aka “the Boxers,” fought against western imperialism. The Boxers believed their spirituality and martial arts training would make them impervious to bullets. They didn’t, and the so-called “Boxer Rebellion” was put down. There’s no doubt that focus and determination can accomplish great things, but flesh and metal impose limits that prayers, training, and sparkly goddesses simply cannot overcome.

The Star Blazers narrator claims there are only 103 days left; the Japanese script and caption says 139.

Story note: Two weeks have passed since the departure from Planet Galman, and repairing the pilgrim ship takes several days. It is now estimated to be May 2, 2206. 190 days have passed since launch and 139 days remain to the extinction of humanity.

Continue to Episode 20

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