Episode 10 Commentary

Counterattack of Dagon’s New Fleet

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

Production note: this episode is remarkably free of animation errors, but numerous scenes ran into trouble in the camera room. This was a common hazard in the pre-digital anime world, since the poor guys who shot the cels on the animation stand were the last in the production line and had to make up for everyone else’s lateness.

The “Galman Empire Eastern Front Fortress” is a mobile space station built on the scale of a Death Star. This is where we find Admiral Smeardom [Gaidel] as he receives a call from Emperor Desslok [Dessler]. Smeardom pledges that his forces will take possession of a new planet in honor of the Emperor’s upcoming birthday. Desslok has a gift for Smeardom in return: a new, top-of-the-line space carrier.

Story note: In Yamato III, Admiral Gaidel promises solar system invasion by the time of Dessler’s birthday, one month hence in Galman time. When estimated against the upcoming episode 16, one Galman month is about 102 days on Earth.

After the call, General Dagon is summoned to stand before Smeardom. The general apologizes profusely for his recent defeat. Smeardom is going to allow Dagon a last chance to redeem himself. He is given command of the 17th carrier fleet (a replacement for Dagon’s 18th attack fleet), which is augmented by Desslok’s gift: the twin tri-deck carrier.

This new warship is an updated version of the carriers used by the Gamilons in Series 1. Its U-shaped design features two triple-stacked side-by-side runways connected by a bridge/rearming station. The rest of the 17th fleet is composed of three battle-carriers and a white saucer-shaped command ship. If the ships themselves weren’t enough to invoke memories of the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster (a highlight of Series 1, if not the entire saga), the booming tympani-laden musical piece “Assembling the Carrier Fleet” makes a rare post-Series 1 appearance.

Production note: in addition to these new capital ships, there are also three types of fightercraft that rev their engines as the camera passes over them. All were designed by Katsumi Itabashi, who had been a regular contributor to the saga since Yamato 2. Another major design contribution for this episode came from Yutaka Izubuchi, who came up with the interiors for the battle fortress.

Since the story seems to be setting up a “Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster” redux, then it’s not inappropriate to compare the enemy commanders. But if Dagon is intended to be a nemesis on the level of Gamilon General Lysis [Domel], the comparison doesn’t quite work. For one thing, Lysis had a better build up. The first time he went against the Star Force, they escaped and earned his respect. Then he took his time, taking a half dozen episodes to craft a sure-fire plan that only failed due to interference from a jealous underling. This failure set him up for an all-or-nothing battle, one that cost him his life and nearly destroyed the Argo.

By contrast, Dagon has already lost two battles (at Planet 11 [Brumis] and Barnard’s Star) that he barely managed to escape, and did so in one case by deliberately sacrificing many of his ships. He appears to have a lack of integrity and composure, prone to fits of rage and selfishness. Even when Lysis was tearing up a subordinate’s room, there was a sense of control about him.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: The Galmans are clearly a mirror of the Germans in WW2, and here we consider the two typical high officers of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces). One is the “true warrior/keep-to-the-rules” type, like Domel’s namesake Rommel: a high officer accustomed to victories, focused on his duty and ready to destroy his enemy, yet capable of respecting that enemy and being chivalrous–a man who would never expose his men to higher risks than he’s ready to take. The other is the selfish, corrupt type, who uses power for personal gain. Ruthless and sly, not very capable, ready to break any rule and to send people to die in his place. Any loss is always a subordinate’s fault. A lot of those where found in the German High Command: Keitel, Jodl, Goring, Krebs. Those were just like Dagon.

The narration makes the point clear, once again, that Desslok is unaware that Dagon’s forces are fighting against the Star Force, or that the planet Smeardom has his sights on is the Earth.

The Argo passes Ross 154, a star 9.69 light years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. The Star Blazers translators apparently didn’t realize it was a real star, since it’s referred to as “Los” instead of Ross. (Switching “L”s and “R”s is a common Japanese-to-English translation error.) For the sake of consistency, the mission maps found as bonus material on the Voyager DVDs also list this star as “Los.”

Homer picks up an automated Earth Defense Force distress signal and tracks the source to a stranded space science vessel. Technician 1st Class Dan Hammer of the Space Meteorological Agency is brought on board. Hammer wears an EDF officer’s coat, but his rank and organization sound like civilian postings. (“Technician” was actually a rank used by the US military during WWII, but it was an enlisted rank, and was replaced by “Specialist” after the war). He’s later referred to as Captain Hammer, and seems to be treated as such. In Yamato III, his name is Jiro Dan and he is a military Captain in the EDF Space Weather Bureau. I assume he’s meant to be a Japanese national, despite his large roman nose.

Hammer explains that his ship was en route to an unmanned station when he had a close encounter with a whirlpool (a.k.a. a “radial gravity current”). His ship was able to escape, but the strain stalled his engines. He has two warnings for the Star Force: first, be careful of the whirlpools in this sector. Second, he spotted a huge war fleet in the area a few days ago. Hammer requests that the Argo escort him to the station. Mark Venture’s reply is brusque: “The Argo doesn’t serve as an escort!” Dash adds that they’re on a special mission. Hammer ignores them and appeals to Captain Wildstar. Wildstar says he will have to consult with his crew. Hammer can enjoy a meal in the mess hall in the meantime.

Hammer soon finds himself sitting in the mess hall, staring uncomfortably at the food in front of him. He admits to Nova that he finds it difficult to enjoy such a lavish meal while people are starving back on Earth. Nova explains that they are aware of the terrible conditions back home and their mission is to find a new planet to settle on.

Captain Hammer speaks with a deep growling rasp. He also has a slight accent, which makes him sound a bit like a cartoon pirate. A “shiver me timbers!” wouldn’t sound out of place coming from him.

The mess hall scene is accompanied by some light, pleasant background music. I like to imagine it as source music playing over the PA. In other words, “Yamato Muzak,” crafted by those psychological masters in the Life Services department to create a more relaxing dining experience.

The mess hall is suddenly invaded by the Cosmo Tigers. Flash Contrail sits at Captain Hammer’s table, and a brief discussion reveals that Hammer is old friends with Flash’s father. (Nitpicky note: in the English translation of the Bolar Wars anime comic, Flash’s father is called David, while The Bolar Wars Extended refers to him as Jonathan.)

On the bridge, Hammer’s petition for an escort has divided the staff along familiar lines: Wildstar is preoccupied with thoughts of the mysterious fleet, while Venture insists that they stick with their mission and avoid any contact with a potential enemy. By the time Captain Hammer strides onto the bridge, Wildstar has been swayed by Venture’s argument and starts to decline the request. However, now that Captain Hammer is aware of the Star Force’s mission he rescinds his entreaty, and even refuses Wildstar’s offer to escort him halfway. He passes along another warning about the mysterious fleet before returning to his now-repaired vessel.

The background music during Hammer’s departure is a track from the album Symphonic Suite Yamato. The album version contains scat vocals, while this background version is strings only. Despite its inclusion on the first symphonic suite album, I don’t recall hearing this composition–in any form–in the series before.

Captain Hammer’s vessel docks with the unmanned monitoring station and he and his two subordinates begin their work. A flash of light from outside alerts him to the arrival of Dagon’s fleet. One of them starts to transmit an SOS signal, but Hammer tells him instead to send a warning to clear the area. Hammer realizes they are just bait, and he is determined to keep the Argo from falling into an ambush.

Despite Hammer’s inntention, Wildstar decides to rush to his aid upon receiving the message. Comparing the Japanese and English scripts, there is a notable difference in Venture’s [Shima’s] reaction. In Star Blazers, Venture asks Wildstar how they are going to respond. In the Yamato III script, Shima correctly reads Dan’s intent, pointing out to Kodai [Wildstar] that the message wasn’t an SOS. The Yamato version puts Shima back in the now-familiar position where his concerns are more or less ignored. I can’t help but feel his frustration, since these situations seem to occur more and more often. Once a rival of Kodai’s in terms of status, both in-story and among fans, Shima has been reduced to a dissenting voice that is dismissed with little fanfare. Sanada [Sandor] shares Executive Officer status with Shima, but he typically sides with Kodai, although usually for his own, more pragmatic reasons.

Captain Hammer and his crew run back to their ship. They manage to take off just before the station explodes. The science vessel comes under fire and begins breaking up.

Near Ross 154, the Argo finds the remains of the space station. A scan of a nearby dwarf planet leads them to the wreck of Hammer’s ship. Flash leads a search-and-rescue mission and finds the dying Captain Hammer. Hammer commends Flash, the young boy he met years ago, for becoming a brave young man. He dies with a final plea either for the Star Force to find a new Earth [Yamato III] or for them to escape the enemy fleet [Star Blazers].

Story note: this scene would have played out differently if the series was still on course with its full 50-episode length. In the original plot, Dan Hammer survived and returned to Earth. He was to appear again later in the series when Flash Contrail’s father attempted a long-distance takeover of the ship. Despite his friendship with Contrail, Hammer was to intervene on behalf of our heroes and foil the plot.

Dagon prepares to spring his trap, which is to force the Star Force into the whirlpools at Cygnus (specifically 61 Cygni, which is actually several light years away). Dagon sends in his first wave of fighters, consisting of a mix of three different types: torpedo planes, “Schuelstellar” twin-body attack planes (the yellow “manta ray” fighters), and heavy bombers. The Cosmo Tigers drive off this first wave, although the Argo takes some damage.

Production note: this is the area of the episode where the camera errors begin to pile up with regard to Cosmo Tiger scenes. First, we have a shot of Yamato with a squadron of Tigers in the middle ground and another in the foreground. The background isn’t moving, so they appear to be sitting still in space. Then everything but the background vanishes and the foreground Tiger drifts into its former position. Obviously, the camera operators misinterpreted the intent of the scene (or the exposure sheets were incorrectly written) since the foreground Tiger should simply have drifted in over the background objects.

What deadens the scene, and many others that follow, is the frozen background. Though the fighter animation is crisp and energetic throughout the dogfight sequence, the backgrounds often move slowly or not at all, which drags down what would otherwise have been a high-octane space brawl. The blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of the camera crew, though to be fair they might have simply had no time left for the extra labor.

The Tigers return to the bay for rearming and refueling while the enemy fighters return to the twin tri-deck carrier for the same. The Galman fighters land on the starboard runways, are whisked through automated rearming stations, then quickly launch out the port-side runways. This demonstrates the mechanical efficiency of the German (whoops) Galman war machine. The Cosmo Tigers are just pulling into the Argo‘s bay when the Galman fighters approach for round two.

Wildstar orders a warp to escape. At the 5-second mark, the ship shudders from a torpedo strike. The port side engine is too severely damaged to warp. (Which is an error in the English script, since only the central Wave-Motion Engine is used for warping, but oh well.)

The battle scenes lack the flair and dramatic staging of previous episodes. The hit to the engine should have been more dynamic than the distant, unclear view we’re presented with. The actual damage is revealed through dialogue. It’s telling, not showing.

While Yamazaki and Orion try to repair the engine, Venture alerts the crew they are approaching the Cygnus current. Venture believes their current power level will be enough to get them through, so they enter the Cygnus stream to avoid further enemy attacks. But soon after they encounter the “gravity stream,” Eager picks up “tornadoes” within, which Sandor says have enough power to tear them apart. The parting image is of the Argo, drifting through the gravity current (which looks like a sepia-toned mist), with a half-dozen tornado funnels dead ahead.

Story note: this episode is estimated to take place on December 7, 44 days since launch.

There are only 285 days left.

Continue to Episode 11

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