“This was a great battleship in a time when great fleets sailed the seas, and there were wars among the nations of Earth. It sank during one of the last wars between countries. All war on Earth ceased when Gamilon began bombing us. We all joined against a common enemy. Now, the ship has been brought back to life again–not for the purpose of war, although we’ll no doubt see out share of battles, but to save Earth. The message from Queen Starsha of Iscandar offers Earth its one chance for survival. As you know, the radiation increases every day. Now, life on Earth has only one year left. We must reach Iscandar, get the Cosmo DNA, and return to Earth in one year. The Star Force needs you–and others like you!” – Captain Avatar
As the above oration indicates, the second episode of STAR BLAZERS spends its 23 minutes laying out the concept of the series–even when it has to bull through logic and common sense to do so (such as the sequence where Wildstar, Venture and Dr. Sane are ordered to report to a given location, leaving Nova behind–only to discover moments later that she’s arrived there before them in some mysterious, unexplained manner.)
Speaking of that particular air-car ride, it’s the first instance in which the series needs to disguise Dr. Sane’s obvious alcoholism. It does so in this instance by suggesting that the bottle of liquid that he’s downing so readily is “a new motion sickness remedy I’ve been testing.” In the early YAMATO episodes, Dr. Sane/Dr Sado was very much a comedic character, and in fact most of his scenes across the first half of the series ended up on the cutting room floor when YAMATO became STAR BLAZERS. But some, like this one, were too entrenched in the narrative of the episode to discard. IQ-9 invites himself along on the mission as well, speaking of his capabilities, which leads Wildstar to quip, “Better be smart enough to have a good alibi.”
Remarkably, this particular episode of STAR BLAZERS makes no secret of the fact that its signature battleship is the reborn Yamato, although it is the last episode in which that name will be uttered. It’s pretty remarkable, given the time in which the series was brought over, that this identification was maintained–especially given how easy it would have been to get around it. And in fact, the episode opens with an extended replay of the closing minutes of the first episode, in which Wildstar and Venture crash their purloined plane near the wreckage of the ancient warship and speculate about its secret. This was necessary to bring the episode up to the necessary American run-time after the largest single cut made to STAR BLAZERS–the extraction of a three-minute sequence, beautifully and sensitively rendered, depicting the final mission of the battleship Yamato. And it’s really no wonder. Beyond the fact that an American audience would have no cultural touchstone for these events, in the context of the sequence, the American pilots who sink the Yamato are the bad guys, for all that they salute the fallen ship as it goes down.
The production team of STAR BLAZERS made one other significant tonal shift from the source material. In YAMATO, the emphasis was on the ship itself, with the various crew members being simply “men of Yamato.” But STAR BLAZERS flips that emphasis on its head by making the focal point the crew themselves, who are christened the Star Force in this episode. (In fact, STAR FORCE was originally to have been the name of the series, but apparently there was a legal snag with using that name, so STAR BLAZERS had to be concocted.)
This led to a greater emphasis in STAR BLAZERS on the characterization of the crew members as individuals. Often, sequences in STAR BLAZERS which were silent in the original YAMATO airings were given dialogue, and the dialogue itself centers more on the people and what they’re feeling and going through than the original did. That’s very much to the benefit of STAR BLAZERS, and another thing that set it apart from everything else on the afternoon airwaves in 1979. No other program contained a similar depth of emotion.
This is also the first episode in which we get out first glimpse of the enemy, personified by the harried commander of a Gamilon aircraft carrier dispatched to patrol Earth and eliminate any stray resistance. He’s a pretty stock character, but the key take-away from him is that, at this point, the Gamilons were Caucasian–they wouldn’t develop their signature blue epidermis for ten more episodes or so, a late-in-the-game change by the YAMATO creators. As the carrier bombs what it believes to be the aperture of an underground city, the reborn Yamato is, for a long. suspenseful couple of moments unable to fight back, and its mission seems predestined to failure.
And then, on cue, auxiliary power is established, and the great ship rises up, breaking free of the encrusted sea bed and unleashing the power of its massive guns to destroy the enemy ship. And this is one of those instances where, try as it might (particularly in the earliest episodes) , STAR BLAZERS can’t hide the fact that the Gamilon commander has just been killed. We see him aboard his distressed ship just seconds before it is completely annihilated, and even though the specific moment of his demise is cut, it’s clear that he is both a living being and that he is done for.
This was another big dramatic difference that STAR BLAZERS evidenced. Though it struggled with it as the earliest episodes were translated and adapted (as we’ll see in the coming weeks) there was no getting around the reality that this was a ship of war in a time of war, and that there were going to be casualties on both sides. After the death of Alex Wildstar yesterday, the end of the Gamilon commander helped to underline the fact that serious, life-threatening stuff was going on here, and the stakes were absolutely life-and-death.
Because it’s so concerned with laying out the plot, Episode 2 does take a few liberties with character. Wildstar makes only a passing reference to his brother’s death (”I’m proud to go with you, sir, and to serve with the Star Force, as my brother would have been!”), a thread that will come back up again the following day, and he seems completely on board with the notion of throwing in with Captain Avatar and kicking some Gamilon ass. His ambivalence toward Avatar and the circumstances of Alex’s end will resurface in the following episode, which gives the whole progression a herky-jerky quality.
We also get our first look this time out as the incredibly-popular Gamilon leader Desslok, here as pasty-faced as his subordinates. Voice performer Eddie Allen gives Desslok a unique cadence to his delivery–an odd choice that really serves to embody the character over time. He’s going for Boris Karloff, but ends up with something a bit more fey and unique.
This second episode closes by introducing one of the cleverest narrative bits in its arsenal–the episodic ‘countdown-to-extinction”. It’s such a simple thing, but it did so much to maintain suspense across dozens of episodes, as you would see the clock ticking down day by day as the Star Fore attempted to bridge space and retrieve the Cosmo DNA that can save mankind. At this point, the format of the series is set, and future episodes will go on to develop and refine it.