Be Forever Yamato Commentary, Part 1

Analysis by Arthur Painter with additional notes from Tim Eldred

Watch this episode now at these sources: Star Blazers on YouTube (misnumbered as episode 77) | Original version subtitled

Be Forever Yamato is the franchise’s third theatrical movie and a follow-up to the previous year’s TV movie The New Voyage, which did three important things to set up this story. First, it introduced a new adversary, the Dark Nebula Empire, and ended with a promise of their return. Next, it saw the return of Mamoru Kodai [Alex Wildstar]. Lastly, it introduced Mamoru’s infant daughter Sasha, a product of his union with Queen Starsha of Iscandar.

The year is still 2202, and from the way events are portrayed it would appear at least six months have passed since The New Voyage. The story opens with the narrator explaining how peace now reigns in Earth’s speck of the universe. This peace is shattered when a huge black object streaks through the Solar system. Its initial appearance recalls the stock image of the White Comet, with the object appearing as a dot in the distance that approaches directly toward the camera. Then the camera follows the obsidian juggernaut as it zips through the outer solar system. Each time the object passes a planet, it unleashes a red energy that encompasses the sphere and all bases in the area fall silent.

Earth Defense Forces command HQ in Megalopolis City (Japan) is in a panic. (Look for one poor guy who gets accidentally body-slammed in the hallway) In the nerve center we see two familiar faces: Yamato‘s communications man, Aihara [Homer], and Mamoru Kodai. When the UFO approaches Earth, defensive missiles prove ineffective and the object starts landing procedures. While average citizens panic, Dr. Sado [Dr. Sane] and Analyzer [IQ-9] take it all in stride. “Maybe they came to have some fun?” Dr. Sado suggests between sips of sake.

Susumu Kodai [Derek Wildstar] contacts the EDF command room from his patrol ship, reporting directly to Mamoru. Yuki [Nova] and EDF Commander Todo [Singleton] are in the command room as well. Yuki is thrilled to see her “Kodai-kun” again, but he doesn’t acknowledge her.

Kodai shows a video survey of the interior of the Mars base. The buildings are intact, but all personnel are dead, frozen in whatever position they were when the red beam struck. (During the clip, one of the paralyzed men falls off his seat, but somehow everyone else remains upright.) While he tries to maintain a formal tone, Kodai slips and addresses Mamoru as “brother,” which earns him a sharp rebuke.

The EDF personnel turn their attention to the UFO, which lands outside of the city near the old underground base. The UFO looks huge, and an official source puts it at about 500 meters (1600 feet) tall. The Space Cavalry [Space Marines] are quickly on the scene, but an energy barrier prevents them from getting too close.

Story note: A tank driver highlighted in this scene looks an awful lot like Homer, but it’s not actually him.

From Megalopolis, Yuki is staring at the UFO on the horizon when her attention is drawn to a light in the sky. More and more of these lights appear, looking like stars drifting down like snow. They slowly come into focus, revealing enemy troopers equipped with flight packs. By the time Yuki runs inside to warn Mamoru, the command room is swamped with reports of attacks throughout the city. The alien paratroopers fire on everything as they glide downward, killing civilians–young and old–with ruthless efficiency.

More enemy forces are revealed: tripod tanks, large transport ships, wheeled patrol tanks, and attack fighters. The tripod tanks’ design is based on the Martian vehicles in H.G. Wells’ 1898 classic, War of the Worlds, which was adapted into a popular and influential American film in 1953.

Further pushing the similarity, this sequence is accompanied by music that invokes a 1950s B-movie with an eerie wail performed on synthesizer that would previously have been created with a theremin. This is an instrument noted for producing weird, spooky tones. It was used in the theme songs of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and the 60s TV show Lost in Space, which cemented its place in the sci-fi milieu.

At a nearby tower, Shima [Venture] remotely operates the controls of a new mechanized fleet currently stationed near the moon. However, the Dark Nebula’s black fleet, headed by the flagship Galiades, is lurking nearby and moves in from behind. Shima is quick to spot the approaching enemy but the Black Fleet strikes first, demolishing several battleships in its first salvo.

Before Shima can counter-attack, his control tower comes under fire from outside. He and Tokugawa [Orion Jr.] are forced to run for their lives as their control room goes up in flames. “If only I’d been aboard…!” Shima laments. In space, without his guiding hand, the remaining mechanized ships go out of control and crash into each other.

A recurring theme in the Yamato universe is that mere machines are no match for human control and ingenuity. It’s no surprise that the mechanized fleet only lasts about a minute of screen time, and most of that was of the ships exploding. They didn’t even fire a single shot.

Story note: As seen in Leiji Matsumoto’s first story draft for the movie, the mechanized fleet began as a much more significant thematic point. The story was to be set many more years in the future after human crews had been largely taken out of circulation, thus creating a major vulnerability to alien attack.

Kodai sets his patrol ship on course back to Earth. It comes under attack and he is forced to escape in a life-pod.

At EDF command, Todo finishes writing a letter which he hands to Mamoru, who hands it to Yuki. He gives her instructions to give it to Kodai at Hero’s Hill. Mamoru is sure his brother is all right and will head there.

In the bay outside the city, Kodai’s life-pod has splashed down, giving him a panoramic view of the destruction.

On the Galiades (a ship of the same class as the Pleiades from The New Voyage), the commander of the occupation forces, Kazan, is instructed by his unseen emperor to find the Yamato.

Kodai reaches a bombed-out airfield. A flying patrol ship does a sweep to destroy the few remaining Cosmo Tigers, forcing Kodai to run for his life. It’s in the aftermath of the attack that Kodai and Yuki meet up. After a quick embrace (complete with swelling, romantic music), Yuki reads the letter from Commander Todo. Kodai is to gather the Yamato crew and meet up with Sanada [Sandor] at the Icarus base. Yuki suggests going to Hero’s Hill to wait for the others. The Hill is often where the crew meets in times of trouble.

At Hero’s Hill, Dr. Sado, Analyzer, and Mii [Mimi] are at the memorial to Captain Okita [Captain Avatar]. Dr. Sado is swilling sake and getting himself all worked up about the devastation. Aihara is the next to arrive, carrying a radio backpack. He’s exhausted, but Dr. Sado urges him to his feet to pay proper respect to Captain Okita.

They are soon joined by Ohta [Eager], Nanbu [Dash], Kodai, and Yuki. As Aihara tries to contact Sanada, Shima and Tokugawa arrive. Kodai and Shima’s reunion is nearly as emotional as the one between Kodai and Yuki. This sets Dr. Sado up for another sake-fueled round of maudlin sentimentality. “Truly your boys, Captain Okita,” Dr. Sado says between sniffs.

Story note: After the ferocious, overwhelming assault that brings Earth to its knees in only a matter of minutes, the unspoken look of mutual strength between Kodai and Shima is the first sign of hope in a very bleak opening act. It is the first of many wordless moments driven by the relationships built up in previous stories, and helps to elevate Be Forever to a whole new level.

The crew sits on the ground and watches the city burn. Aihara finally gets a response from Sanada. Through the static, they learn that Sanada’s Icarus station remains untouched. More importantly, he knows where Yamato is. Before he can explain further, his signal is jammed. The crew is energized by the news that their beloved ship is safe and waiting for them. The immediate problem is how to get to Icarus base. Yuki volunteers information about a hidden terminal that houses the President’s personal escape ship.

At this point, there is a brief sequence missing from the film master used for Voyager Entertainment’s DVD; the Yamato crew runs down a tunnel to the secret hangar. Dr. Sado has trouble keeping up, so Analyzer scoops him up in his arms. They arrive at a sealed door. Yuki punches the buttons on the keypad lock, and the door slides open. This was an edit made in Japan for no self-evident reason.

The DVD rejoins the movie with the crew being pursued by enemy troops. Everyone makes it onto the escape ship safely, but the ship-board hangar bay door controls are not working. Yuki runs out to open them from a nearby control room. Kodai covers her, standing in the door of the escape craft and shooting any black-clad enemy trooper that threatens her. Finally, the bay doors open and Yuki sprints back to the ship. Mere steps away from the vehicle, blaster fire clips her shoulder and she falls.

The ship slowly starts to rise. Kodai reaches for her. Leaning out as far as he can, he grabs her wrist. As the ship lifts off, she slips out of his grasp and falls to the ground. Throwing away all self-preservation instincts, Kodai tries to jump out after her, but he is caught and pulled back in by Aihara. The ship rises into the night sky and is gone. Yuki falls unconscious.

In the EDF Command Room, Mamoru is in a gunfight with invading troops. He gets shot in the shoulder and falls. Through a hole in the wall he sees the Presidential escape craft fly away. He smiles, satisfied that his brother escaped.

In the President’s hangar, Technical Officer Alphon stands over the unconscious form of Yuki, intrigued by her beauty. He takes off his helmet, revealing bushy blond hair framing his blue-green face. Alphon seems deliberately designed to evoke Dessler [Desslok] both with his look and his outfit, which includes a cape. The violin music during this scene even recalls the music heard during Dessler’s change of heart from Yamato 2.

A rather significant sequence was storyboarded for the film at this point, but deleted before it could be animated. Furious with Aihara for preventing him from rescuing Yuki, Kodai goes berserk, swinging wild punches until Dr. Sado jabs him with a hypodermic needle. The others are shocked when Kodai exhibits no life signs. Nevertheless, Sado commands that they all submit to similar treatment.

A few moments later, the purpose of his unorthodox treatment becomes clear; enemy ships are approaching. With Analyzer at the helm and everyone else temporarily “dead,” they are able to slip past the blockade’s lifeform sensors. The sequence could have been cut for any number of reasons, but the usual explanation with any Yamato production is that the schedule ran too tight to accommodate it. The complete storyboard for this sequence can be seen in the Special Features section of Voyager Entertainment’s Be Forever DVD.

The Argo Press comics adaptation of Be Forever added a little flourish to the story (conceived by writer Bruce Lewis) that I liked: when the enemy sees the condition of the crew, they let them pass by because they don’t want to anger Earth’s planetary goddess by mistreating Her dead. This plays into the comic’s recurring idea that each inhabited planet has its own protector goddess, a concept that is supported by a scene later in this movie.

By morning, the fighting is over. Enemy troops and tanks stand guard beside the huge UFO. The Galiades and its escorts land and Kazan strolls into the Earth Federation conference room and declares that the planet now belongs to him. Like Alphon, the invasion forces wear capes, but their outfits’ dark coloring makes them less outlandish than the light-gray-and-white “super-hero” uniforms seen in The New Voyage.

Kazan reveals that the giant UFO parked outside the city is a neutron bomb capable of killing all life on the planet. It works by destroying brain tissue. Presumably, this is what happened to the crew of the Mars base.

A few years before the release of this movie, a real-life neutron bomb made headlines around the world. This bomb, or enhanced radiation weapon (ERW), was a nuclear warhead designed to release high energy neutron radiation but with a lower explosive yield. Thus, it could eliminate soldiers and civilians while leaving buildings and equipment intact. Critics derisively referred to it as a “capitalist bomb” for its ability to preserve valuable property and equipment. The N-bomb was the subject of protests across Europe in the late 70s when US President Jimmy Carter announced plans to deploy them across the continent. He stopped development on the N-bomb after the protests, but the program was revived in 1981 under President Reagan.

As noted in the New Voyage commentary, there is an implied analogy between the Dark Nebulans and the United States. The use of what is referred to as a “black fleet” (a reference to American Admiral Matthew Perry’s “black ships”), the bombing of Megalopolis (mirroring the real-life firebombing of Tokyo by US forces during WW2), the occupation, and the literal looming threat of a nuclear weapon all support this view. The use of American SF designs (i.e. the tripod tank) drives the analogy home.

Another thing of note: the Dark Nebulans are decidedly less “human” looking than other extra-terrestrial characters, giving us a visual clue that the occupiers are alien intruders. This is particularly true of their eyes, which have a long narrow shape with blue sceleras. So what we have is literal blue-eyed invaders that have sailed from their remote nation across the “sea of space” to occupy Japan. Intentional or otherwise, the echoes through history are apparent, from Admiral Perry’s arrival in Japan in 1854, where the nation was threatened by force to open its ports to Western powers, to the surrender to General Douglas MacArthur at the end of World War II and the subsequent occupation.

Kazan has a demand for the Earth leaders: surrender the space battleship Yamato. Todo refuses to give up the ship. Sensing a weakness, he taunts Kazan, observing that he’s afraid of Yamato, and promises that Earth will continue to fight as long as that ship exists. However, Todo’s boasts have little to back them up; Kazan is the one in charge. He demands that Todo be beheaded.

Mamoru is being escorted to his own execution when he sees Commander Todo being led away. Realizing what is happening, Mamoru breaks away from his guard and runs over to the commander. He tells Todo he has a bomb on him, and to escape in the confusion. Mamoru walks over to a group of guards by the door and explodes. Though horrified, Todo makes good his escape.

Considering the role Mamoru had been destined for in Matsumoto’s original Series 1 plot, I admit to being disappointed in his ultimate fate. However, Mamoru Kodai had a suicidal streak from his very first appearance in Series 1. In the debut episode he was unwilling to retreat, intending to “fight, fight, fight, and die taking [the enemy] with us!” Now he’s come full circle and accomplishes that very act.

A close look at his name reveals something interesting. “Mamoru” means “defender” and “Kodai” means “tradition.” Thus, Mamoru Kodai is a “defender of tradition.” With this in mind, it’s rather apt that he evokes the commanders of World War II and their Bushido code, choosing to stay and fight rather than retreat. Mamoru’s actions carry a legendary and romantic undertone, recalling stories of ancient samurai fighting against hopeless odds.

In reality, the WW2 version of the Bushido code was out of date in modern warfare and had a detrimental effect on Japan’s war efforts. Many Japanese Naval officers, faced with defeat, chose to go down with their ships. This depleted their military of many of their most able and experienced commanders.

Taking another look at that Episode 1 sequence: it’s interesting that Captain Okita–though ironically much older than Mamoru–was cast in a more modern, pragmatic light. Unlike Mamoru, Okita refuses to follow the WW2-era Bushido code. He retreats from the battle, bearing the shame of loss so he can continue the fight. Okita had learned from history and lived to fight another day, which eventually lead to Earth’s salvation.

Story note: The biggest deviation in the Playstation 2 version of Be Forever Yamato occurs at this point in the story when Mamoru Kodai actually escapes Earth with his younger brother and the Yamato crew. Since he has the senior rank, it is he who takes command of the ship. Naturally, this has a huge effect on what happens later, which is described here.

Yamato‘s crew makes it to the asteroid Icarus. Icarus was likely chosen for sentimental reasons: one of the earliest drafts of what would become Yamato was called Asteroid Ship Icarus, which was about a crew from Earth building a ship inside the asteroid for its mission to Iscandar.

The caption identifies Icarus’ location as the Asteroid Belt. The real-life Icarus (official designation: “1566 Icarus”) isn’t in the belt at all. It’s a type of planetoid referred to as a “near-Earth asteroid” with an orbital path that extends from Mars’ orbit to Mercury (and, in fact, approaches closer to the Sun than Mercury). It’s possible that this is not intended to be the actual asteroid. “Icarus” may only be the name of the base; original production documents do not specify.

They fly into a landing area built into the rock, where they recognize Yamato‘s third bridge. After a quick elevator ride, they find themselves on the familiar command bridge. Even though it’s powered down, just being on the ship again fills the crew with spirit and determination.

Kodai looks out the window and sees a new design aesthetic: a white anchor emblem, painted on the gun turrets. The side hull and bow are also painted with the emblem, and the barrels of the heavy shock cannons have three white stripes at the end. (I never much cared for it. The splash of white looks too garish against the deep red and metallic blue-gray of the ship.)

Story notes: There’s another nice moment here when Kodai sinks into his familiar seat at the combat station and, for the first time in the film, allows himself a moment to relax. It’s touches like this that keep the characters human.

One theory for the three gun stripes (backed up by certain merchandising) is that they symbolize the three previous missions of Yamato: The Quest for Iscandar, the battle with the Comet Empire, and The New Voyage. This idea is valid only to the end of Be Forever when no further stripes are added despite additional voyages. The larger picture, then, suggests they are meant to match the three stripes on the crew uniform’s shoulders, which could be based on the I Ching. (As described here.)

Continue to Part 2