Episode 11 Commentary

Argo In Danger! The Demonic Cygnus Airspace!

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

The Argo is right where we left them at the end of last episode, stuck in a stellar current. The current itself isn’t as much of a problem as the dozens of tornados (or “whirlpools”) contained within. Ordinarily, the ship would be able to easily avoid them, but the engine was damaged in a recent Galman attack.

Sandor explains the existence of these tornadoes: they are caused by the star Cygnus’ pull on two nearby planets. The planets are close enough that their atmospheres get pulled toward the star, then flung back out toward each other, then back to the sun. This creates what looks like a Mobius strip of atmospheric channels. Within the channels, the strong pull of stellar and planetary gravity creates the whirlpool phenomenon. In Star Blazers, Sandor refers to it as a “sodium ion current.”

Notes from superfan Andrea Controzzi: There’s a lot of goofy science to unravel here, so let’s get started…

First: the idea of atmosphere been dragged away from a planet toward a star and then flung back is quite unlikely. Atmosphere attracted by a star is quickly eaten by the massive gravity field, and doesn’t have the escape velocity required to “go back.” Even if it had that speed, it would be flung away and never come back to form a closed stream. Dozens of physics laws are violated, too much even for the Yamato universe. And I didn’t mention the solar wind, which would sweep the atmosphere stream away. In reality, planets so close to a star would be quickly destroyed, or at least survive without atmosphere due to solar wind and the sun’s gravity field, just like Mercury.

Second: regarding the “sodium ion current,” I don’t think the stream could be sodium. First of all, sodium is a metal, not a gas, and has nothing to do with atmosphere. Then, if we consider the black hole (candidate) X-1 in Cygnus, it is drawing mass from the nearby stellar companion (not a planet), and that plasma stream is made of helium, at most calcium, ions. Not sodium. There are sodium-ion batteries; sodium and lithium are similar elements and good for electrolytes, but this has nothing to do with a “sodium-ion current.” An ion current is a non-scientific way to describe a plasma stream made of ions.

Third: the system description partially fits the 61 Cygni binary system cited later, which was predicted to have two or three planets larger than Jupiter. While the prediction proved wrong, in 1980 astronomers expected them to be there, and these two planets would be the source of the atmospheric stream–in a different universe with different laws of physics! (Class dismissed)

Eager estimates they will hit a tornado in four minutes (or 10 Minutes in Yamato III). Wildstar turns to Venture in hopes of avoiding them, but the chief navigator reports that it’s taking all their power just to hold their position. If the port engine isn’t fixed soon, they are doomed.

There’s some appropriately tense, spooky music in this sequence. It sounds like a solo violin, accompanied by the strumming of another instrument I can’t place. (A shamisen, maybe?)

Down in the engine room, Orion Jr., Chief Yamazaki, and Ace Diamond are trying to determine the source of the engine’s failure. Orion has a flash of inspiration and requests IQ-9’s assistance. (Music wise, we go from the sublime to the ridiculous, with The New Voyage composition “The Underwear March” accompanying IQ to the engine room.) With a quick apology, Orion and Ace hijack the robot’s body and connect it to the engine console. IQ soon reports that circuit Beta-5-3 needs to be replaced.

Story note: forcibly levitating IQ-9’s head off his body and hacking directly into his circuitry seems a bit over the top when it’s been shown over and over in previous stories that he’s perfectly capable of tapping into the ship’s systems and analyzing them on his own. This scene, therefore, requires a special explanation. Perhaps the CPU in his head wasn’t up to the task? Another oddity occurs in Yamato III when Analyzer’s voice suddenly deepens when he explains what the circuitry in his torso figured out from the linkup. In the end, it just feels like a scene written to give the engineers something different to do (at the cost of humiliating the robot).

With just 30 seconds remaining, the engine is repaired and hums to life. They are beyond the point of avoiding the tornado, but at least now they should have the power to push through. The ship enters the tornado funnel and is pummeled by rocky debris. It’s a difficult passage for both the ship and the crew, but they make it out intact.

Like the previous episode, this one shows signs of a rushed production. During one sequence, there’s a shot looking out the window of the main bridge showing the tornado funnel looming ever closer. But an incorrect image was used for the background, showing another Argo in front of them! Another problem is the abrupt transition from the tornado funnel to “blue skies.” One moment the ship is in the murky red atmosphere of the tornado, the next they’re in the sepia-hued current, then suddenly there’s clear space all around.

Production note: the original intent was probably to place Yamato‘s cel layer above the tornado when it shifts from a red hue to a sepia one, showing that the ship was emerging from danger. If so, this is another case where the camera crew either didn’t get the right information, or they read it wrong.

The Star Force’s sense of relief is short-lived. A squadron of torpedo planes and bombers warp in right in front of them. In Yamato III, Sanada recognizes the energy signature of the Gamilas’ remote warping (SMITE) system.

The main cannons are prepared for battle, but the gunners soon find that the turrets won’t traverse. Cannon 1 chief Sakimaki theorizes that particles from the tornado have lodged in the turrets’ rollers. The first enemy wave attacks the Argo without a response from the great ship.

Geren, the Galman commander in charge of the twin tri-deck carrier, orders the next wave to launch, instructing them to “keep attacking ’till you’ve blown them up!” Instead of a standard carrier launch, the torpedo planes roll to the end of the deck and stop within a marked area, where they are teleported away by the SMITE system built into the deck itself. The in-deck SMITE system represents an upgrade of their previous system (seen in Series 1 and 2), which used flood-lamp style projectors.

The torpedo planes begin precision attacks. Cosmo Tigers are now refueled and rearmed, but torpedoes strike the open hangar hatch, preventing them from launching.

With their main guns and fighters out of commission, Wildstar orders a switch to secondary weapons. All available crews are ordered to the pulse laser batteries (incorrectly called main guns in the Star Blazers script, most likely due to confusion over a line in Yamato III to “use the pulse lasers as primary guns”). Missile bays and torpedo tubes are prepared for firing. Sandor’s repair crew is ordered to all the hot points, with Beaver Bando leading the way to the hangar.

The crew is called to “general quarters.” This command is used in American Navy ships to prepare for battle. During general quarters, any sleeping or off-duty personnel are to report to their duty stations, bulkheads are sealed off, and security is tightened around the command and engineering sections. Since they had already been under attack, I’m surprised they weren’t already on the alert.

The pulse laser guns are manned by at least two people, one per barrel, and each barrel appears to be capable of independent up-and-down movement, a detail never shown before. Jason Jetter and Buster Block share the same ball housing (which is much more roomy than it should be) and compete to rack up the most kills.

Story note: obviously the gravity of the situation outweighs normal protocols, but when Jason Jetter and Buster Block jump into a pulse laser turret together, it directly contradicts what we learned in a previous episode, that everyone is supposed to stick to their job in a crisis, otherwise chaos could make it worse. Instead, someone from life services and someone from the navigation group grab two seats that should normally be filled by gunners from the combat group. One possible explanation is that all the gunners are working on getting the main turrets working again. But the real explanation is that without this scene neither Jason nor Buster get anything to do in this episode.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: In episode 7, we saw the Life Support group and Cosmo Tiger pilots man the guns during an emergency. This time even Navigation group members do the same. Modern capital ships (usually big carriers) have a crew of several thousand, even with increased automation provided by computers. The Space Battleship Yamato instead has a crew of a few hundred. Of course, such a long voyage requires a lot of supplies (especially food) so a huge crew is ruled out, yet such a low number of warm bodies means that each crew member must basically be able to perform every role–especially if casualties are expected and many specialists might be lost. As for the pulse lasers, we always see them fire in unison. Considering the low crew number, they are probably slaved to a few human controllers or controlled by computers under human supervision. Only during an emergency, when the other defensive weapons are unavailable, would they be fully manned, or when the computer and IFF are to be overridden. Indeed, we see humans manning them when Yamato leaves Earth in Series 2 and they meet the Cosmo Tiger wing, probably because the computers (if their software was built with proper fail-safes) would not open fire on friendly planes.

The pulse lasers appear to fire a different grade of energy than in previous installments. They used to fire yellow tracer-like rounds, but now the energy is blue. This is not unprecedented; the shock cannons had gone through a similar change. In Series 1, the shock cannons fired a yellow-green energy beam, but after an upgrade they fired a turquoise blue energy. Perhaps the pulse laser guns have undergone similar improvement. Another possibility is that energy from the disabled shock cannons was diverted to the pulse lasers, giving them an extra boost. Or maybe the animators just thought it looked cool?

More enemy waves are warped in, and it becomes apparent that the Argo will be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. Eager scans the area and finds a nearby asteroid cluster that can provide cover. They quickly pull away from the battle and settle in near a large asteroid.

One advantage in the Yamato universe is that space is littered with asteroids. There’s always an asteroid shoal nearby for them to hide in. (It also comes in handy for performing the asteroid ring defense. Unfortunately, that will not be used in the saga again.)

Dagon receives a briefing on the battle: the Argo is still in one piece after three waves, but it is damaged and its firepower has been reduced. Dagon is through with preliminary rounds. The planes are recalled and the carriers themselves move up for the kill.

Wildstar gets an update from damage control crews. Beaver Bando gives the hangar bay an all clear, and the gunners report that the turrets can rotate again. As the Star Force prepares for a counter-attack, the carrier group encircles the Argo from above.

Dagon has a change of heart and decides that the Argo would make an ideal trophy. He offers his foes two minutes to surrender. Wildstar’s response: main guns target the sub-carriers, missile banks target the twin tri-deck carrier.

When the time limit is reached, the Argo opens up its main guns and smokestack missiles. The effect is devastating for the Galmans, destroying all four carriers and damaging Dagon’s command ship. As with the previous episode, the animation during the action scenes isn’t as dynamic as in previous battles, especially when it comes to the battle-carriers’ destruction. Rather than showing the ships erupting section by section, they either cut away or a simple explosion effect covers the entire ship.

The Argo pursues the command ship, which warps away. Dash urges Wildstar to follow. Wildstar agrees, but cautions the crew to be on the lookout for a trap.

Almost immediately after emerging from the warp, the Argo gets caught in a tractor beam. (Dagon must have opted for the tractor beam option on his command ship rather than a SMITE projector.)

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: A pity he did, because if his (backup) plan was to destroy Yamato with the black hole, he should have chosen the SMITE projector option, and teleported the ship directly inside the black hole’s event horizon.

Eager reports a black hole ahead. It’s the dreaded “black hole of Cygnus.” I once suspected that the “black hole of Cygnus” was referring to Cygnus X-1, which has been determined to contain a black hole. However, Yamato III maps identify it as 61 Cygni.

Also known as Bessel’s Star or Piazzi’s Flying Star, 61 Cygni is a binary system consisting of two dwarf stars that orbit one another. While there was once believed to be a planetary system in the area, there are no indications of a nearby black hole. 61 Cygni is also much more reasonable than Cygnus X-1 when considering Yamato‘s path: they’ve travelled from Alpha Centaurus (4.3 light years from Earth) to Barnard’s Star (5.9 ly) to Ross 154 (9.7 ly) and now they’re at 61 Cygni (11.4 ly). At over 6,100 ly from Earth, Cygnus X-1 is well off the established path.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: It is a clear mistake, they placed the X-1 black hole (which is a candidate, but still unconfirmed) near 61 Cygni, when it is 6,100 ly away. Probably because the X-1 is “close,” from Earth’s point of view, to the 61 binary system, but the writers didn’t do their homework.

The Galman Command ship pulls the Argo toward the black hole, which would seem to mean Dagon’s doom as well. But the Galman General has a trick up his sleeve–his ship separates into two halves, each side emitting its own tractor beam. They intend to slingshot the Argo into the black hole. The resulting momentum should carry the twin Command ships to safety.

The Argo reverses thrust. In previous stories, the ship was shown to have reverse thrusters behind retractable cowlings in the bow. This episode, we see a different way of reversing: the thrust emanates from the Wave-Motion Gun gate. It looks wrong to me. The Wave-Motion Gun and Engine are two separate components that share the same power source. It would take a remarkable feat of engineering to take a system designed as a powerful all-or-nothing gun blast and allow it to release controlled thrust. (Then again, Sandor has done other amazing feats and seems to be prepared for just about anything, so why not?)

The Argo fires its forward main guns (wrongly referred to as “pulse lasers” in Star Blazers), but their energy gets pulled toward the black hole before it reaches its target. This is another thing that seems wrong to me–if they’re close enough to the black hole to bend light and energy that way, doesn’t that mean the two ships are in the event horizon already? Wouldn’t the command ships get torn apart by the stresses exerted on them?

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: The idea of being so close to the event horizon that the energy from the guns is bent away from their target is surprisingly well-founded. Even if they are not inside the event horizon (from which not even light can escape), the gravity is enough to make direct fire impossible. I suspect, unless they are already inside the limit, that firing a bit offset to the opposite side of the black hole would suffice, but hitting a small, distant target in such a strong gravity field is probably impossible.

The Argo is three megameters from the event horizon when the suggestion is made to fire the Wave-Motion Gun. Wildstar feels it would be useless, but then they see some asteroids pulled in by the black hole. (The Star Force’s magical ability to attract space rocks strikes again!) If they use the Wave Gun on them, the shock wave should disrupt the tractor beam. The one major problem is pointed out by Venture — by charging up the gun they will have to cut power to the engine, causing them to be pulled in even faster. Sandor feels there is no other option.

The Wave-Motion Gun fires, strikes a conveniently passing asteroid, and creates a huge shock wave that hurls the Argo backward. The force of the Argo‘s backward motion causes Dagon’s ships, which are still connected via tractor beam, to smash into one another. The beams are disabled and the two command ships are flung out of control. One crashes into an asteroid and explodes, the other is sucked in to the black hole.

There is nothing said about disengaging the Wave-Motion Gun’s “anti-recoil device” (called a “gravity anchor” in Yamato), which is the technique the Star Force used to shoot themselves out of the tunnel satellite in Series 2. This would seem a logical place to use it.

Story note: another potential solution (which would have required the writers to know more about black holes than most people did in 1980) would have been to unload the WMG directly into the maw and essentially clog it up. It is now known that black holes pull in far more matter than they can actually “swallow.” The excess is shredded into its constituent atoms and blasted back outward in massive perpendicular jets. This creates a spectacular light show, which makes Yamato III‘s depiction of the black hole (almost certainly based on the Disney version) obsolete.

Of course, if the high-energy jet phenomenon were understood then, Yamato and the Galman ships would already be in its direct path, and disintegrated in seconds. But it’s barely conceivable that a huge WMG blast would create a backlash that might push them to relative safety. Regardless, either solution is equally unscientific–in the grand Yamato tradition.

In a brief post-script, Admiral Smeardom learns of Dagon’s final defeat. He doesn’t seem angry about the loss of even more ships. Rather, he seems pleased to have the opportunity to face the Argo himself. He raises a glass, toasting a portrait of Emperor Desslok, as he vows to accomplish this task in honor of his esteemed leader.

This episode is designed to echo the Battle of the Rainbow Star Cluster. It has some of the same beats from the original; Yamato/Argo is brought into submission, the carriers move in, the Star Force makes an unexpected move that wipes out all but the flagship, the flagship tries one last maneuver that ends with its own destruction.

I rather liked Dagon, with his faux-British accent and curly sideburns, but it was time for him to go.

Story note: 46 days have passed since launching from Earth. It is estimated to be December 9.

PS: despite the ship going through several major crises this episode, Nova [Yuki] was nowhere to be seen. Must have been her day off.

There are only 283 days left.

Continue to Episode 12

2 thoughts on “Episode 11 Commentary

  1. As far as black holes go, they DO “ingest” all matter that they take on. They can emit powerful x-ray blasts from their “poles”. You often see these depicted as bright and colorful although they are actually invisible to the naked eye. What you CAN see is what’s called an “accretion disc”. Like a ballet dancer drawing their arms in matter begins to accelerate faster and faster as it nears the black “hole” center. It’s also why black holes spin and where you will get the whirlpool effect from. (it’s also why the x-rays spew from their “poles”) So Disney and Yamato weren’t too entirely off the mark. As far as if firing a WMG into the maw of a black hole would sling it backwards, I would have to say no. WMG is just no match for the power of a massive singularity. Then again, this is the Yamato universe… 😉 Watch the new movie Interstellar to see how light from an accretion disc would look like when viewed edge on… 😀

  2. Strangely enough the contemporaneous Japanese manga did indeed have the wave gun fire into the black hole which I found absurd — but reading this now not so much. I still prefer the episodes take on it rather than firing energy into an energy sucking phenomena and hoping for the best. More through luck then skill they tripped upon the outlandish idea of clogging a massive stellar sucking machine with a tiny raygun and three decades later it turns out to be true ( oh and lest we forget 1979 – 1980 was the year asteroids got sucked into wormholes too, between trek and lucas and Disney there wuz a whole lotta asteroidery goin on in that time period )

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