Episode 20 Commentary

Phantom Planet

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

Star Blazers skips the opening recap of this episode, which featured all-too-brief appearances of the space battleships Prince of Wales and Arizona. The Argo makes its final warp to planet Phantom. Jason Jetter [Ryuske Domon] now appears to be a permanent fixture at the bridge’s combat station. Wildstar [Kodai] is seated at the Captain’s podium.

Phantom is the planet Desslok [Dessler] identified as a possible “second Earth.” Its appearance is so similar to Earth that Eager [Ohta] is ordered to double-check. (As he does, Dash [Nanbu] stands behind him wearing an improperly colored uniform.) The crew had been deceived by a false Earth in the movie Be Forever Yamato, so a bit of caution is prudent. Eager confirms that they are precisely where they should be, and the junior bridge officers break out in cheers. The four senior officers are more reserved as they congratulate themselves: Sandor [Sanada] and Venture [Shima] share a solemn handshake, while Wildstar and Nova [Yuki] stare silently at the planet, then gaze into each others’ eyes.

The rank-and-file crew react much like the junior bridge crew, and jubilant celebrations break out all over the ship. No solemnity from them, they just go nuts. Whizzer [Tsutomu Makanouchi] and his KP staff bang around their pots and pans. Buster Block [Goro Raiden] starts throwing around and/or bashing anyone within reach. Orion [Tokugawa] weeps uncontrollably. The Cosmo Tigers fire up their engines. Sakimaki’s gunnery crews fire their cannons.

Dr. Sane [Dr. Sado], predictably, has a couple shots of sake, presented as “headache medicine” for the poor impressionable children in America. (Yes, if the kids knew Dr. Sane was drinking sake, it might encourage them to think drinking is cool, but “headache medicine” is fine. Just grab a bottle from the medicine cabinet and drink up, kids!)

One recurring thing I’ve never commented on before is the “drifting Yamato.” In the numerous scenes that take place on the bridge, it’s very common to show stars and planets passing by the window. Oftentimes, these background motions don’t match up from shot to shot, even within the same scene. For example, in this instance, one clip shows Phantom is straight ahead, but another clip shows the planet passing by the window from bottom to top. Maybe the navigators were celebrating by putting the ship in a perpendicular spin?

An array of different probes is sent out, each one set to detect a different aspect of the planet (atmospheric analysis, biological surveys, etc.) These probes are launched from the catapults, which are shown to be capable of rotating out to launch from the side. (This feature was later picked up for the Cosmo Zeroes in Yamato 2199).

The probes confirm what their eyes see; Beaver reads off the atmospheric content (76.2% nitrogen, 21.4% oxygen, 0.92% argon, 0.03% carbon dioxide), which shows a remarkable similarity to Earth, as do temperature and gravity readings. (The Star Blazers script says the atmosphere is 81.4% oxygen instead of 21.4%, which not only puts the total atmospheric content over 100%, it would also be toxic!) Even more amazing is the animal life. Birds, oxen, zebras, giraffes, and polar bears all exist on this planet, looking identical to their earthly counterparts. When the wild oxen are shown, the American script calls them bison “like on Earth before hunters killed them all.” Peter Fernandez has admitted that he always changes a line or two in each script to put in a message or moral that wasn’t in the original show. I guess this constitutes his message for this episode.

With the findings confirmed, Wildstar heads for the communications room (seen several times in Series 1) to make a couple of calls. First is an announcement to the crew. Next, he contacts EDF Commander Singleton at the Earth’s Emigration center. General Stone is there as well. He has been a constant presence in the halls of the EDF since the 1978 movie Farewell to Yamato, but never received a Japanese name until the 2012 remake, Yamato 2199. There, his name is Kotetsu Serizawa.

Story note: though the design of the ship’s communications room is lifted straight out of Series 1, there are a more active lights in it this time, which has the unfortunate effect of stealing focus from the video screen.

Wildstar puts in a third call to Desslok on the Galman homeworld. Desslok rebuffs Wildstar’s thanks, saying he was glad to help friends. For Desslok, any bit of good news is an excuse to drink, so he pours two glasses of wine and offers a toast in honor of his friends. After contact ends, he tells Talan (a.k.a. “Masterson”) to put in a call to the Bolar Prime Minister, Bemlayze. Talan is surprised by this request.

At the Bolar homeworld, Bemlayze meets with Golsakov, demanding to know where the Argo is at the moment. Golsakov explains that the Earth ship delivered a humiliating defeat to their destroyer fleet (last episode). Bemlayze replies “don’t give me ancient history! I asked you where the Argo is at this very moment!” (I rather like this bit. Golsakov provides a helpful bit of exposition for the viewers–something Bemlayze should (and does) know already–and gets lambasted for stating the obvious.) Golsakov has tracked the Argo to Phantom. Bemlayze wonders aloud why they would have stopped there. Golsakov thinks for a moment, then gasps in surprise. (We won’t find out the answer for another two episodes.)

IQ-9 [Analyzer] wheels urgently down the hallways to warn Wildstar and Sandor that there are anomalies with Phantom, which he can’t pinpoint. He insists that it is dangerous and they must not go down there. He’s uncharacteristically aggressive, which doesn’t help his case. Wildstar and Sandor agree that there is likely to be something unusual on the planet, but the only way they can find out more is to go down there and explore.

At the Bolar homeworld, Bemlayze receives the call from Desslok. Desslok warns the Bolar P.M. against attacking the Argo. Bemlayze laughs off the warning, seeing it as a sign of weakness. He states that the Argo is responsible for great losses and he plans to destroy it. Frankly, I’m baffled by Desslok’s call. What purpose did it serve except to point out that attacking the Argo would be construed as a personal strike against him? If anything, this would encourage, not discourage, an attack.

Is Desslok actually trying to goad Bemlayze into attacking, perhaps with the thought of him getting vaporized in a Wave-Motion Gun blast? The Star Blazers script is even more perplexing. Desslok warns Bemlayze that attacking the Argo could mean war between the two nations. The Galmans had attacked Bolar forces at planet Berth, and just a few episodes ago the Bolars sent a planet-destroyer missile to the Galman homeworld. Are these not acts of war?

Story note: plot complexities aside, an interesting comparison can be made between Desslok and Bemlyaze based on their communication protocols. Dessler’s video screen (shown a few minutes earlier) is huge, filling an entire room in his palace whereas Bemlayze’s screen is miniscule, set high up as if relegated to lesser priority. Bemlayze’s tone is just as derisive; everything about the staging of this sequence demonstrates his contempt for his rival. Evidently aware of this, Desslok plays his own dismissive game by starting with his back to the camera when he first appears on Bemlayze’s monitor. Subtle choices like this in the storyboarding go a long way to establish character.

At the Argo, the survey teams prepare to launch in the Cosmo Hound. In previous episodes, the crew would enter the Cosmo Hound before its docking platform opened up. (Which always seemed like it would be hard on the crew since they had to climb into a ship that’s turned sideways.) This time, the Hound and its docking platform are extended first, and crew and supplies are ported in through an access tube.

But before the Cosmo Hound crew can enter the tube, the portal malfunctions and the lights begin to flicker. The cause is revealed to be IQ-9, who is on a rampage in a nearby room. The robot smashes equipment and yells, “I won’t let you go down!” He crashes through a door, leaving an IQ-9 shaped hole in his wake.

His tantrum ends when he comes face to face with Nova. Her mere presence slows him down enough to get tied up by Beaver [Bando], Jetter, and Contrail [Ageha]. Convinced that IQ is malfunctioning, Beaver gets a gleam in his eye and decides to take IQ apart. IQ is saved from dissection by Doctor Sane, who assures the cadets that he will get to the bottom of what’s ailing his robot buddy.

Story note: the concept of physically tying up IQ-9 to immobilize him is a rather quaint artifact of a pre-wireless era. There’s still plenty he could do to sabotage the ship depending on what level of access he has to the central computer. On the other hand, the crewmen use metal cable on IQ rather than rope, so perhaps it has a localized dampening effect on wi-fi.

During his rant, IQ puts himself in competition with the Argo‘s computer system, insisting that he is correct and ship’s computers are in error. Prior to launching this mission, Sandor had installed a new computer system. This led IQ to have a fit because the human-controlled computers were going to be used instead of his robot crew (which haven’t been seen since the repair montage in the last episode). In light of that earlier episode, it’s easy to see IQ’s reaction here as a fit of pique.

The Cosmo Hound blasts off accompanied by several recon ships, a rarely-seen model that carried the attack group to Pluto in Episode 8 of Series 1. The number of seats in this particular craft seems to change whenever it appears, but in this episode we see five.

In the doctor’s quarters, IQ bemoans the fact that no one will listen to him while Dr. Sane gulps down drink after drink. He offers a cup to IQ, who not only refuses, but sounds offended. In the original script, Dr. Sado tries to explain the situation: the robot’s warnings are too vague to be of use. The Star Blazers script tries a more humorous take; IQ-9 refuses the cup of so-called “medicine” the doctor is offering. Dr. Sane describes the contents of the cup as “concentrated silicon blended with computer oil extract.” Bear in mind that Dr. Sane himself drinks this concoction, and says it tastes awful. He keeps drinking it anyway.

IQ’s American dialogue is often troublesome, since the scriptwriters always want to remind us that he’s a robot. In the “classic 52” episodes, this often meant his speech would be peppered with a liberal use of the word “compute.” His Bolar Wars dialogue varies the terminology a bit more, but its attempts to sound cute fall flat. “My chips are pulsing in confusion,” “You’re getting my diodes angry,” and “I’m liable to get hardening of my software” are some examples from this episode.

The exploration crafts touch down. The Cosmo Hound establishes a base camp and disgorges some newly-designed exploration vehicles while the recon ships spread out in all directions, rolling through the landscape on their thick wheels. The initial reports disturb Sandor; there are no traces of bacteria in the soil samples. (More specifically, Yamato III‘s Sanada is disturbed by the report. Star Blazers’ Sandor says it “seems safe” because there are no “germs.”)

Jetter and Contrail find an idyllic little wooded paradise. They open the canopy to hear the sound of birds singing and see a herd of deer vaulting over a nearby stream. But almost as soon as they set foot on the ground, they are confronted by images of their parents. For Jetter, this is particularly disturbing since his parents are dead.

Elsewhere, Derek and Nova stop near a peaceful stream and face similar apparitions. Nova sees her parents (last shown in Series 1), and Wildstar sees his “spiritual father,” the late Captain Avatar.

Near the Cosmo Hound, small dome huts have been constructed to form a base camp. Sandor steps outside and we discover that even his keen, logical mind is not immune to these images. He sees a vision of Alex Wildstar [Mamoru Kodai] and Starsha of Iscandar.

Members of the various exploratory groups (minus Jason and Flash) run back to the base, all reporting these ghostly apparitions. Then, before their eyes, they find themselves looking at Hero’s Hill. They look in another direction and see what appears to be the landscape of Megalopolis sprawling in front of them.

Story note: it’s too soon to draw conclusions from the ghostly apparitions that close out this episode, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that many of them are dead and gone. Flash’s parents and Nova’s parents are presumably still alive, since we haven’t seen contrary evidence. Dismissing death as a pattern, then, we have to assume that everyone is seeing people who are personally important to them. In Wildstar’s case, we can guess why Captain Avatar would score higher than his own parents, but Sandor’s vision of Starsha and Alex is somewhat of a head-scratcher.

After holding out so much hope that Phantom is the second Earth, they find that it’s a creepy, haunted place, and wonder if the planet itself might not be an illusion. Considering it’s called “Phantom,” perhaps they should have known better. Maybe they thought it was just named after Phantom F. Harlock (ancestor to Matsumoto’s Captain Harlock)?

Story note: It is 211 days since launch. It is estimated to be May 23, 2206. There are 118 days left. (98 according to the Star Blazers narrator.)

Continue to Episode 21

One thought on “Episode 20 Commentary

  1. I didn’t realize all these nice callbacks to series 1 ( the cosmo hound, communications room etc ) — It shows a thoughtful and dare I say loving nod by a production crew under the stress of time constraints still being mindful of the past and some elements not seen in years. Times like these such commentaries
    are deeply appreciated for pointing out these little easter eggs that might go unnoticed by viewers that have only seen these episodes and tv series many years apart.

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