Episode 12 Commentary

The Penal Colony in Space

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

If you’re following this commentary while watching along, you may be a little lost at first. The first six minutes of this episode aren’t in Star Blazers. But if you have the Voyager DVD, this deleted sequence (as well as most deleted scenes) is accessible as a hidden feature, complete with subtitles.

On the Galman homeworld, Dessler’s [Desslok’s] war council meeting starts off with a glowing report of the victories on the western and southern fronts. Chief of Staff Keeling credits Dessler for these victories, but the Emperor says the glory should go to the men who fought the battles. He commends Histenbarger [Smellon] and Kuroten, who are in command of the western and southern forces, respectively.

When attention turns to the commander of the Eastern Front, Admiral Gaidel [Smeardom], Dessler points out that he lost the new carrier fleet put under his command. Gaidel offers his apologies, but Dessler tells him not to be discouraged. His forces have subdued 80% of his territory, which is much more than was expected. Dessler will replace his forces. In return, he would like to see the new planet Gaidel has been promising for the past few episodes.

Note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: I find pretty unlikely Dessler would fail to recognize that Gaidel’s fabulous new planet is Earth. Our planet was Dessler’s best chance to save his race, and its invasion was surely at the top of his priority list. He should know very well where Earth is in the Milky Way, and understand that it is on Gaidel’s path. Of course his failure to recognize it is the basis for his forthcoming reunion with Yamato and his apology for the mistake. Yet, this seems pretty unlikely to me.

Meanwhile, Earth is struggling with the effects of the sun’s expansion. The sun now appears twice as large as it did a few months ago, the polar caps are melting, and the seas and temperatures are rising. The Earth President meets with EDF Commander Todo [Singleton]. Todo is put in charge of a new space emigration department. His duties are to expand the planetary surveys and prepare for the evacuation of Earth.

The Commander and his granddaughter Akiko [Wendy Singleton] discuss his new position as they zip through Megalopolis City in a tube-car. She offers to be his assistant, so the Commander decides to make her his liaison with Yamato, a position that will require her to be in regular contact with Aihara [Homer]. She feels a flash of embarrassment, but I’m not sure whether it’s because she just realized this or if it was her plan all along and her grandfather saw right through it. Aihara and Akiko’s burgeoning romance was the focus of Episode 3 and hasn’t been mentioned since.

Commander Todo’s new emigration office doesn’t waste any time getting organized. A meeting is held featuring a discussion about what comprises a suitable planet. There are six criteria “new Earth” must meet: 1) suitable atmosphere, 2) abundant water, food, and minerals, 3) be within a 15,000 light year range to allow safe emigration, 4) moderate temperatures, 5) orbit a Sol-type star, and 6) must be uninhabited by other cultures. If any one of these criteria is not met, the planet will be rejected.

Survey parties from around the world are sent out, and each one is escorted by a battleship. We’re shown four different vessels from different nations: the Prince of Wales (Britain), the Arizona (America), the Bismarck (Germany), and the Novik (Russia). Each name carries a significant amount of history.

Prince of Wales (below left) was the name of a WWII era British battleship. In 1941, the Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser Repulse were sunk by Japanese planes on the open sea near Malaya, becoming the first capital ships to fall solely by airpower. This heralded the end of the battleship’s reign as the dominant warcraft of the seas.

The Arizona (above right) is named after a US “super-dreadnought” class battleship stationed at Pearl Harbor. It was sunk during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The wreck was unable to be salvaged, so today it is a national memorial park. Despite its very brief screen time, Yamato III‘s Arizona has been a fan favorite since it first appeared, ranking third behind Yamato and Andromeda. It should come as no surprise that it was designed by Yutaka Izubuchi, and had another brief cameo in the 2012 Director’s Cut of Yamato Resurrection.

The Bismarck (above left) was the pride of the German fleet in WWII. It was perhaps most famous for the sinking of the Hood during the Battle of Denmark Strait (a battle which also involved the Prince of Wales). This lead to a chase, with a large portion of the Royal Navy concentrating on a search-and-destroy mission to sink the Bismarck. Eventually, it was a hit to the German battleship’s port rudder that did her in; the ship could only travel in circles. The actual cause of the sinking remains unclear, with the British cruiser Dorsetshire claiming to have fired the fatal torpedo strike, while German survivors claim it was deliberately scuttled.

The fourth battleship is the Novik (above right), named for a line of Russian vessels; the Imperial Russian Navy deployed at least three vessels with this name (a corvette, a cruiser, and a destroyer) from 1856 to 1941. The rendering of the name in Japanese katakana also generates Norwick as a possible translation, and there is a history of vessels named Norwich in both the British Royal Navy and the US Navy, but official Yamato III materials declare the ship to be Russian, so Novik gets the vote. One possible root word in Russian for Novik is New, but the ship looks more like a 60s era rocket, complete with a gantry launch pad. Its destination is said (in support materials) to be Vega, Casseopia, Ypsilon and Procyon.

Story note: In Yamato III, dialogue in the emigration department meeting states that two months have elapsed since Yamato launched, but 101 days is the correct number.

This is the point in the episode where Star Blazers begins. Other than the need for a shorter broadcast length or perhaps the significant on-screen Japanese text during the briefing, there’s no obvious reason for this opening to have been cut.

The Argo is 1500 light years from Earth. Commander Singleton contacts the crew to let them know of his new position and that the search parties have expanded. As for the Argo‘s own search, Wildstar reports they’ve surveyed 13 planets so far, with no luck. Now that the search is expanding, finding a new Earth isn’t just a matter of the survival of the human race, it’s a competition. Singleton hopes the Argo will prevail.

Story note: the mission report is slightly different in Yamato III. Since the last episode, they have explored ten planets in 55 days and are now en route to Planet Berth, from which Captain Ram’s fleet originated at the beginning of the series. This lies within the Bajiudo system, supposedly named after a character named Bashiuto from Leiji Matsumoto’s 1967 manga Lightspeed Esper.

Until this episode, the Argo has been encountering actual stars: Alpha Centauri, Barnard’s Star, Ross 154, and 61 Cygni. Now that they are in uncharted space, we’re firmly in the realm of fiction with the Bajiudo system, called the “fan nebula” in Star Blazers.

The new Star Force members Jason Jetter and Flash Contrail came up through the Space Fighter Training Academy together. Once they were assigned to the Argo, they were given different positions. We haven’t seen them together very much, but they had apparently forged a friendship during their school training. In the commissary, Flash settles down for a hot drink. There isn’t much for him to do when they’re not in a combat situation. Jetter’s KP assignment means just the opposite; there’s constant work. He sits next to Flash and pulls out a well-used notebook and calculator to go over the food prep plans. (In Yamato III, there is a surplus of onions that needs his attention!) Flash reminds Jason of his excellent marksmanship, indelicately commenting on his wasted potential. The effect of Flash’s words is unknown, because Jason is called to the kitchen by Whizzer.

The commissary scene is accompanied by the same music played when Captain Hammer was there two episodes ago, a light musical piece that seems to be the unofficial “mess hall theme.”

Whizzer and Nova apprise Jetter of their food supply situation, which is down to 2 days’ worth. Jason is alarmed. That’s not what his food plan says. Nova explains that the freezer’s thermostat was damaged in the last battle. It wasn’t noticed until now and most of their food has spoiled. The Star Force is often besieged with life threatening situations, usually involving large fleets and bright flashy explosions. Now, they’re faced with the more prosaic fate of starvation.

This is the first scene to show the spacious food storage area (other than a brief look during Episode 4). Since the background artists took the time to paint the food processing unit, the camera pans slowly from one end to the other.

The Argo approaches the 4th planet of Bajiudo. The Cosmo Hound is ordered out for recon, but before the Hound’s launch panel can fully extend, an explosion lights up the aft end of the battleship. Attacking ships are detected at the stern, so the Cosmo Hound is withdrawn. Dash recommends sending out the Cosmo Tigers, but Wildstar holds back. He maintains that this is merely an assessment attack and there is still a chance to settle this problem diplomatically. Homer is ordered to send a friendly message. The mysterious attackers respond by opening a channel, displaying a willingness to listen.

Additional note from superfan Andrea Controzzi: This is another plot twist that trades credibility for drama. How could an obviously lower-technology fleet dodge the ship’s radar and approach so close to open fire? Being in their “home space” is no explanation for such a successful ambush, unless Eager is sleeping on his watch (wouldn’t be the first time), because the ship is bound to be on high alert in such a scenario. And I trust they managed to cover that “radar blind spot” used by Andromeda years ago! Also, even during war a defense force is supposed to have rules of engagement which prompt them to ask first, shoot later, when unknown intruders are detected in their borders. And unless Kodai developed some long-range ESP, it is not clear how he managed to distinguish between a real attack and a one meant to probe. The entire scene is pointless and unnecessary. Yamato should have been contacted by the Berth Defense Force to hear the reason for their presence. Or at least the Berth fleet should have recognized the “benefactors” before opening fire, if they held them in such high regard.

Wildstar is showing a tremendous amount of restraint here. His ship has been attacked without warning and he’d be within his rights to retaliate. Yet he correctly guesses it’s an assessment attack and avoids an escalation of conflict. Dash seems to have taken over Wildstar’s role as the aggressor. Both here and when chasing down Dagon’s ship last episode, he’s been eager for battle.

Wildstar identifies his ship and allegiance. Within moments, a pale blue-skinned officer appears on the main video screen, hailing the Argo as “benefactors.” The alien, Justin (yes, Justin) Liberatus, explains that their last fleet was lost in Earth’s solar system. The final transmission from the fleet’s commander, Captain Ram, told of the Argo‘s brave defense of his ship. In return for mistakenly attacking them, and repayment for their kindness to Captain Ram, Liberatus will render any aid the Argo requires. Wildstar asks to drydock for repairs and to collect plant samples. Liberatus allows them a 3-day stay on their planet, Berth.

Back in Episode 5, when the Star Force came to the aid of Captain Ram, he never mentioned the name of his interstellar nation, the Bolar Federation. Thus, our heroes are hearing it for the first time.

As the Argo descends, the narrator spouts some facts about Berth. It’s very Earth-like, but the temperature doesn’t get any higher than 110 fahrenheit. I believe this is an error, since most of the planet seems covered in ice. The original Japanese script said 4 degrees, which would be around 40 degrees fahrenheit. The number might have been mistranslated as 40c (104f) instead of 4c.

After docking, Liberatus is there to greet Wildstar personally, and invites his crew to a reception feast held in their honor, where General Lobo [Boroze] hopes to meet with them. Wildstar accepts the offer.

Star Blazers isn’t going all that far to create these “alien” names. “Liberatus” is Latin for “liberate” and is the name of a 6th-Century saint. It’s also a rough match for his Japanese name, Rebarus. (Which could also be translated as Revarus, Lebarus, Levarus, Levalus, etc.) “Lobo” is Spanish for “wolf.” Then again, it’s hard to criticize the American names for being unoriginal when the Japanese names are usually direct lifts from German and Russian.

A small life services group, including Nova, Jetter, and IQ-9, head out in a vehicle that looks a bit like an ATV dunebuggy. They start collecting small shrubbery. During their activities, they come across a forced labor camp. Prisoners in shabby clothing are overseen by guards and forced to do strenuous work. The group is startled by a guard, who tells them this is restricted area and that they need to leave immediately.

The prisoners all have the same pale-blue skin as Liberatus. The guards are green, like Captain Ram and his crew were. It would appear that the Berth natives are green and the Bolars are blue.

On the ride back to the ship, the explorers discuss what they’ve seen. The prisoners were working under torture, which is couched in more family-friendly terms in Star Blazers, saying instead that the prisoners looked like they “need a good meal.”

Production note: when we cut back to the Argo, there is a short music sting that hasn’t been heard before this episode, and was never released on album or CD. It is just one of many Yamato III tracks that fall into this category.

While Whizzer loads the collected plant material into the food processor, Jason and Flash talk about the camps. They are aware of gulags from history (specifically referred to as concentration camps in Star Blazers, which strikes me as rather bold), and are disturbed by the fact they exist on Berth. The entire planet may be a prison colony. Flash suggests that he and Jason investigate these prison camps on their own.

The Bolar Federation is an obvious stand-in for the Soviet Union, making Berth a stand-in for Siberian prison camps.

Wildstar announces that the crew has been invited to the reception party. Anyone not assigned to work duties is welcome. In Yamato III, engine room workers Akagi and Tokugawa are thrilled to hear about the party, in part because Akagi points out that a place this cold is likely to have a lot of liquor on hand. (Space Vodka, one would assume.) Their Star Blazers equivalents, Ace and Orion, are looking forward to the feast itself, with no mention of alcoholic drinks.

Story note: We cut again to an exterior of the ship, which is now hovering above its former resting place with verniers burning bright. Presumably, this is to allow the landing craft to exit the aft hangar bay, but it’s a rather energy-consuming operation. We could account for it by speculating that Berth’s drydock didn’t allow the hangar bay hatch enough room to open.

The reception is attended by about two dozen Star Force members including Wildstar, Venture, Nova (wearing a pink dress instead of her uniform), Dash, Homer, Eager, Conroy, Dr. Sane (naturally, because there’s booze around), IQ-9, and Orion.

General Lobo welcomes the Star Force and launches into the history of Berth’s association with the Bolar Federation. Berth was once an independent planet-nation. When it was attacked 10 years ago, they asked for the protection of the Bolar Federation. Lobo displays a map of the Milky Way which shows the outline of the Bolar territory, the center of which is 35,000 light years away.

Lobo says their boundaries are expanding. They will soon control the center of the galaxy, and continue from there to assimilate the entire Milky Way. He is honored to make first contact with Earth and declares that one day, the planet will belong to the Bolars. This doesn’t sit well with the Star Force crew, who mutter amongst themselves about the implications of Lobo’s words.

Story note: In one shot, the Bolar alphabet is seen on the galaxy map, a dense string of letters indicating their territory. The next view is a closeup with Japanese text. Curiously, whereas the Japanese map labels Galman’s territory, the native-language map does not.

Jason and Flash go back to the prison camp and view it from afar. They wish to talk to a prisoner, but security is too tight.

The reception ends and normal duties resume aboard the Argo. Inside the stellar radar room, the navigators give an “all clear.” For some reason, the Star Blazers navigators report that the food storage unit has been repaired, which is a strange thing for them to be concerned about. From the bridge, Wildstar sees a transport ship land at the camp to deliver more prisoners.

Jason and Flash (who must have been away for a few hours by now) watch with interest as a group of prisoners assemble in the work-yard and kneel down. They each raise their right hand, in which they hold a small cameo with a woman’s face. While chanting “Queen Gardiana” [Mother Shalbart in Yamato III], a holographic full-body image of the Queen appears. The audience is filled in about the mysterious Queen Gardiana (which could also be spelled “Guardiana”) by the narrator, who explains that she once ruled the galaxy as a peaceful and benevolent leader but her power waned as the Bolars and Galmans swept across the her territory.

As the narration ends, we see her peaceful followers do something not-so-peaceful; they attack the guards and take away their guns. Commandeering a motorized sled, they ram it into the electric fence and escape. They quickly find the Argo and enter through an open hatch, shoot an engineer, and make their way into the engine room. They command the crew to stay put. Ace is ready to argue with the men holding the guns, but Orion motions him to calm down. “What do you guys want?” Orion asks. One of the intruders says they’re taking control of the ship.

Orion radios the situation to Wildstar on the bridge. He’s abruptly cut off by the lead hijacker, who instructs Wildstar to get the ship off the ground in ten minutes or they will start shooting.

After seeing so many episodes and situations that seemed like callbacks (deliberate or not) to previous stories, it’s nice to see Yamato III tread some new ground. The Bolars, who seemed so honorable in the form of Captain Ram, now show their nastier side. I like this aspect of Yamato III, where things aren’t always the way they seem at first. The ship has been boarded before, but a straight-up hostage situation is something new.

Story note: It is the start of the 101st day of the mission, estimated to be February 2, about three months since launch.

There are only 228 days left.

Continue to Episode 13

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