“Centuries ago, another ship sailed out on another important mission. it was called the Argo. In honor of our mission we have renamed our ship the Argo.” – Captain Avatar
The third episode of STAR BLAZERS does double-duty. Its primary purpose is to introduce the remainder of the cast and to provide the audience with a thorough overview of the heroic main battleship. But it also does a good job of returning to the strong emotional underpinnings of the series, as the untested crew must say goodbye to their loved ones, possibly forever, as they begin their journey out into the universe, farther than man has ever traveled before.
We’re also introduced to the first running antagonist the Star Force will face on their journey, Colonel Ganz of the Gamilon base on Pluto. A balding, overweight figure, Ganz doesn’t cut much of a figure, and seems more comedic than a true threat, especially when he comes to be paired with his aide Bane in an episode or two–the pair act like a classic comedy team, the Laurel and Hardy of outer space. Ganz is also Caucasian, the Gamilons still having not developed their signature blue skin color. Upon hearing of the events of the previous episode, Leader Desslok order Ganz to destroy the enemy battleship with a long-range Ultra-Menace Missile, which is fired towards the Earth from Pluto and which remains a looming threat all throughout the episode.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Captain Avatar briefs the assembled members of the Star Force on their mission, and rechristens their ship the Argo. The word Yamato isn’t uttered in this episode, nor will it ever be heard again for the duration of the series. That said, the Argo is pretty fitting name-choice given the premise of the show.
More crucially, as the Star Force makes its way in full parade across the city to where the ship is waiting, there are a number of moments of pure characterization–and even trepidation. People in the crowds cheer the Star Force, yes–but they also decry them for leaving their families and going off into space. So the situation is contentious. Individually, we see Mark Venture given a goodbye Lei by his younger brother Jordie, and Nova has an emotional parting with her parents. Rather than just cutting to the chase and loading everybody up on the boat, STAR BLAZERS takes the time to establish the emotional gravity of the situation.
This all sets up the actual storyline of the half-hour, which revolves around the relationship between Wildstar and Captain Avatar, and sets the level for the journey they’ll be going on together as mentor and protege. In the last episode, Wildstar had seemingly forgotten his ill-feelings towards Avatar over the death of his brother, but here they come out in full force, and Wildstar acts like a thorough brat, We’ll assume that seeing everybody else being sent off by their families stirred these feelings up to the surface.
Wildstar is pissed and acting out. Of Avatar, he tells Venture, “Sure, he wins a lot, but look at the cost in lives!” Again, this is the sort of consideration that one didn’t’ typically find in an animated cartoon in 1979. but Wildstar is forced to put these feelings on a shelf when Avatar asks he and Venture to tour the ship with him, meeting the new members of the crew and establishing all of the key areas of teh ship that we’ll see again in the future.
And so we get the parade of the second bananas; Conroy, Homer, Dash and Eager. Of them, only Homer will get a full storyline to himself (though Conroy will steal one that actually was somebody else’s) but all of them will be figures throughout the trip, mostly defined by their individual accents–in particular, the comically-southern Eager.
Of greater importance to the narrative are Sandor, the Argo’s head mechanic and resident genius, and Orion, the chief engineer. Orion’s served with Avatar for years, and recognizes Wildstar as Alex Wildstar’s younger brother. And when Wildstar asks Orion about what kind of a man Captain Avatar is, Orion dishes out some hard truths, including a key reveal: that Avatar’s own son had been killed during the battle at Pluto that took Alex Wildstar’s life as well.
It’s worth mentioning, given that I had to source these particular stills from actual STAR BLAZERS episodes rather than the much better Yamato source material, that the prints used to create STAR BLAZERS were awful. They’re washed out and grainy, and even occasionally a bit blurry. This was perhaps good enough in an era in which color television wasn’t 100% widespread (I watched STAR BLAZERS on a black and white set for years, and was stunned to learn that not all of the crewmembers wore red accents on their uniforms like Wildstar). The one good bit of fortune is that STAR BLAZERS was dubbed on film, rather than video tape which became the norm soon after. This is why the soundtrack and sound effects remained the same as in Yamato–in dubbing on video tape, you need to wipe the existing sound track–it’s all one piece, whereas the voice track and music track are separate elements on film.
During the tour, we get to see the medical facilities, the Holography Room (which pre-dates STAR TREK’s Holodeck), the fighter hanger, the mess hall and more. Avatar even takes Wildstar and Venture out into the muzzle of the Wave-Motion Gun, the ship’s ultimate weapon, revealed here for the first time. Somehow, they stand in its maw facing out over the Earth, wind whipping air and coats, and they’re not at all bothered by the poisonous radiation. Go figure!
As the tour concludes. a warning comes in from Earth Defense Headquarters about the missile headed their way, prompting Wildstar to go summon the Captain from his quarters atop the ship (and thus establishing that location as well.) There’s a stoic moment where Avatar starts to speak to Wildstar about his brother’s death, but can’t get himself to do so–followed by Wildstar getting a glimpse of the Captain’s barely-hidden photograph of his son. Avatar and Wilstar are two-of-a-kind, for all that there’s a shadow between them. They’ve both suffered tremendous personal losses, and neither one has anybody to stand before them and wish them well as they take off.
The inexperienced crew botches the start-up of the Wave-Motion Engine on their first attempt, despite Avatar’s admonishment that, “The less time you have, the more you need to use it wisely.” For the engine to start, power must be fed to it from all across the globe, and a wrong move will cause the equipment to shake itself to pieces.
In their second attempt, Venture realizes his mistake–he’s left one of the auxiliary switches turned off–but still the great ship does not move, causing Wildstar to cry out in frustration. Avatar’s face fills the camera as he yells at Wildstar to shut the fuck up before seemingly willing the engine to turn over, his eyes pulsating with concentration bordering on effort. The Yamato/Argo is as much a talisman in this series as a piece of hardware, so there’s a spiritual side to a lot of what goes on inside the ship. This moment is truly the first hint of this added dimension.
In short order, the Argo takes off, its main guns firing a full broadside at the approaching missile, seemingly annihilating both the target and the ship itself. But after a few tense seconds as the Commander in Earth Defense headquarters watches sullenly, the Argo pulls clear of the detonation cloud and heads into space. Wildstar and Avatar share a moment of connection on the bridge in the aftermath of their successful narrow escape.”It’s going to be a very long journey!”
The final shot of the episode is especially beautiful, a multiplane camera set-up that gives the image additional depth as the flame-plume burns in the background and the Argo grows larger and larger in the frame before the final day-count for the episode pulls up. Reportedly, the cost of this shot almost got the animator fired–it’s one of the signature moments of the initial series. Now the preamble is over, and the series can get down to business.
There are only 363 days left, after all!