Episode 21 Commentary

Shattered Hope!

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

Picking up where we left off last episode, the Star Force is on planet Phantom, which appears to be a replica of Earth. But soon after landing, the crew is confronted with apparitions from the past. They run toward an image of Heroes’ Hill, but it vanishes when they get close.

Wildstar [Kodai] contacts Desslok [Dessler] for more information. The Galman emperor is amazed at their reports, but claims that there is nothing in his records to match the Star Forces’ experience. He seems rather offended by the unspoken implication that he had either held back information or led them unwittingly into danger. After abruptly cutting off contact, Desslok has Keeling dispatch an investigation team to Phantom, headed by veteran science officer Nayzmayo.

In the late 70s, Griffin-Bacal Advertising was tasked with transforming the first two Space Battleship Yamato series into the original 52 episodes of Star Blazers. They chose to give many of the characters Star Wars-inspired names. Derek Wildstar is the most notable example, following the “normal first name/silly second name” mold set by Luke Skywalker. This naming strategy made sense, since the show was released in the midst of the initial Star Wars craze. Additionally, Griffin-Bacal’s goal was to attract a similar audience so their client, toy company Hasbro, could grab some of the market enjoyed by Kenner’s Star Wars products.

Bolar Wars scripter Peter Fernandez operated under no such mandate, and stuck with his own Speed Racer-style naming conventions, which tend to sound like corny almost-puns. We have the alliterative Jason Jetter (Jason because he’s going to be on the Argo; Jetter because it has the word “jet” in it), fighter pilot Flash Contrail, Buster Block (a twist on “blockbuster”) and Ace Diamond. Now we have a character name inspired by a condiment. Thus, the Galman character Helmeyer (his Yamato III name) is rechristened Nayzmayo. We later see Nayzmayo has two executive officers. Luckily, they are not named, or else we’d have to deal with Upketch and Tardmuss.

Production note: the trend of unique music tracks continues in this episode, with a zippy takeoff theme for Nayzmayo’s exploration ship that wouldn’t sound out of place in a bombastic industrial film or “action news” opening montage. It can be heard again right after the commercial break in this episode. It stands out stylistically because it was the first contribution to the saga by a very young Akira Miyagawa. His father, Hiroshi, gave him an opportunity to arrange this piece for the orchestra. (Many years later, of course, Akira would become the composer for Yamato 2199.) The official title of the track is The 18th Armored Division, and it can be found on the Yamato III Symphonic Album.

We can speculate that the reason we hear so many unrepeated cues like this in Series 3 goes back to the original intent to produce 50 episodes; a lot more music would have been needed to keep the soundtrack fresh. Since the production only ended up with 25, it created an embarrassment of riches on the music side. And, in fact, more new music was produced for Series 3 than either of its predecessors. Of course, it would have been preferable to get 25 more episodes instead, but this is an acceptable consolation prize for Yamato music fans.

Back at the base camp, Sandor’s [Sanada’s] tests continue to indicate that Phantom is identical to Earth. Remembering IQ-9’s [Analyzer’s] vehement warnings about the planet, Sandor suggests contacting the robot. A call is made to Dr. Sane’s [Dr. Sado’s] quarters, where the robot is sleeping off last episode’s tantrum. IQ initially refuses to wake up, and it’s only when Dr. Sane relays an order from the captain that he moves. The robot’s surliness only lasts until Nova [Yuki] appears onscreen and sweetly asks for his help. He is unable to resist. After all the skirt-flipping Nova (or Yuki, really) has endured, it’s nice to see her wield some power over the annoying robot.

IQ-9’s appearance is accompanied by a piece of music from The New Voyage, called “March of the Underwear,” which is starting to become the robot’s theme song. (The title is appropriate considering the many “panty shots” he’s been responsible for!)

IQ-9 arrives on Phantom, and while IQ, Beaver [Bando], and Sandor take off with him to do some science, Flash [Ageha] and Jason [Domon] are given time off to relax. They lie down in a field of grass, enjoying the feel of ground beneath them. Flash talks about the grass, the wind, and the mystery of the illusions while Jason drifts off to sleep. (Although Flash is the one speaking, it’s Jason’s voice that we hear in Star Blazers!)

Soon, Flash finds himself dozing off as well. But as they rest, a change comes to their surroundings. A musical wind-chime tinkling is heard, and the landscape art changes from beautifully-rendered background paintings to animated, flowing, linework; effective cues that something unnatural is happening. Flash is suddenly awakened by an eerie voice calling his name. He bolts upright and sees the image of a beautiful woman in a blue dress.

Nayzmayo’s ship dewarps near Phantom. While it took the Argo three jumps from Galman to Phantom, Nayzmayo’s ship either made it in one jump or there’s a few days’ gap in here. (Actually, that may be likely, since this episode ends 5 days after the last one–or 3 days in Star Blazers.) When Nayzmayo approaches the planet, it looks exactly like the Galman homeworld.

Flash continues to be mesmerized by the image of the woman. A blade of grass blows into his eyes, causing him to flinch and breaking the spell. He wakes up Jason, but by the time he looks there is no trace of the woman. Jason suspects it was another illusion, but Flash swears she was real. The pair rush off to report this to Wildstar.

Nayzmayo wastes no time in contacting Desslok. On the screen, Desslok sees what Nayzmayo sees: the landscape of Phantom is identical to Galmania, the Galman homeworld. Nayzmayo is ordered to get to the surface. Galmania can be added to the list of awkward name choices made by the Series 3 scripters. Galmania sounds like a fandom, not a planet. Beatlemania, Hulkamania, Galmania…I’ll just continue to call it Galman, thank you very much.

Wildstar, Nova, Jason, and Flash greet Nayzmayo. (And here’s where we see Upketch and Tardmuss!) Nayzmayo addresses the mystery, asking them directly: does this planet look like Earth or Galman? Earth, they say. Nayzmayo says that to him it looks exactly like Galman. The planet’s appearance changes in accordance with the culture of the observer.

Sandor arrives a moment later to announce his findings. He leaves most of the explanation to IQ-9 (perhaps to mend his hurt pride). Basically, the planet is alive. It’s sending out “super-psycho energy” that affects human senses, and even long-range instruments. Sandor theorizes that it’s a defense mechanism designed to ward off invasion by intelligent beings.

Now this part of the explanation doesn’t make much sense to me: how would looking like an observers’ home-world prevent an invasion? Wouldn’t it be more apt to invite one? Perhaps Phantom has some kind of empathy powers, allowing benevolent travelers to settle there, while appearing inhospitable to hostile forces? It’s also noted that this energy somehow works via interstellar transmission, showing up as an image of Galman on Desslok’s view screen.

Story note: Another puzzling aspect of all this is that Desslok originally sent the Star Force to Phantom after receiving a report of it being an Earth-like planet. It would be interesting to know who actually sent that report, and how they got that impression. Go get ’em, fanfic writers!

Nayzmayo is intrigued by Sandor’s hypothesis (Sandor calls it a theory, not a hypothesis. As a scientist, he should know better), but says he must conduct his own tests. First on the list is to send a drill missile to the planet’s core. IQ-9 tries to warn him off, saying that could be a bad thing to do to a living planet. Nayzmayo’s response is that he is a scientist too, and must run his own experiment rather than just accepting someone else’s word. He returns to his ship and starts the drill missile procedure.

The drill missile appears similar to the one used against the Argo during the Rainbow Star Cluster battle, only with a different coloring. (They’ve also taken care of the design flaw of the previous model and attached a tip to the cone. No more easily accessible nose-cone engine rooms in this model!)

The effect of the drill missile is quickly felt. The grass morphs into tendrils that wrap around the legs of the Star Force crew and the Galman ship. Wildstar orders a retreat while Nayzmayo’s ship blasts off. Wildstar finds the recon ships have been consumed by nature gone wild, so they head for the Cosmo Hound with a rolling wave of ground following closely behind them. They reach the ship safely, but realize that Jason and Flash aren’t with them. There is no time to search. Wildstar orders the Hound to take off.

Production note: over the course of Space Battleship Yamato‘s many story concepts, the notion of a living planet first appeared during development of The New Voyage, when ideas were being tossed around for new threats. That film eventually went in another direction, but the concept went into the bank until it could find a home here. In fact, the basic story concept for Yamato III itself was first suggested during the development of Be Forever, but it was thought to be better-suited for an extended TV treatment rather than a feature film.

The grass and trees seem to melt into putty that sweeps across the land. Nearby, Jason and Flash wade through the wild tall grass. Jason says they are going the wrong way, but Flash insists otherwise. Before their eyes, the grass forms a tunnel that descends into the ground, where the grassy walls give way to sparkling rock. Flash feels he is being led somewhere, which Jason doesn’t find comforting.

Next they hear their names being called. A glowing silhouette forms in the tunnel ahead of them. As they get closer, it coalesces into the form of a woman, and in another few moments it becomes the woman in blue who Flash saw earlier.

On Galman, Desslok is informed of Nayzmayo’s findings and is incensed. He orders the planet to be destroyed once the Argo has reached safety. Commander Gustav is sent out with a task force accompanied by a planet-destroyer missile. Gustav always reminded me of Dagon, probably because they share the same voice actor and hair-stylist. Seriously, J-curl sideburns must be all the rage on Galman. (Maybe that’s what “Galmania” means?)

Production note: both Helmeyer and Gustav actually appeared earlier in the saga, serving as part of Desslok’s reassembled task force in Yamato 2. (See the evidence here.) However, they aren’t quite the same characters. They were originally named Bareld and Maizel, respectively. (Their Star Blazers names were Arkadeen and Maizer.) Their hair colors differed as well. Rather than invent some convoluted in-universe explanation for this, let’s all accept that animation designs are sometimes recycled out of necessity, and just get on with our lives.

The mystery of planet Phantom has a very 60s vibe to me. In seminal sci-fi shows like the original Star Trek and Lost in Space, the characters would often be confronted with mysterious planets where Things Are Not What They Seem. This usually meant they resembled some aspect of pre-1960s Earth culture, created by some advanced race or being, sometimes for sinister purposes, sometimes for benevolent ones. (There’s a bit of frugality involved in using this set-up in a live-action show, since it allows them to make use of modern props and sets.) One thing I appreciate about this episode is that the mystery doesn’t remain a mystery for too long. Once someone arrives with a different cultural palate–and therefore, a different view of the planet–the mystery is solved without beating around the bush.

Five days have passed since the arrival at Planet Phantom. 216 days (about 7 months) have passed since launch. It is estimated to be May 28, 2206.

There are only 113 days left. (Or 95, according to the Star Blazers narrator.)

Continue to Episode 22

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