“In the year 2199, Earth was under severe attack from the mysterious planet Gamilon. Gamilon planet bombs cover the Earth with radioactive pollution, and as a result, in one year’s time, Earth will be unlivable. But on the planet iscandar, there is a machine that can remove the radioactivity. Queen Starsha offers it to the people of Earth. A team of star blazers called the Star Force undertake the perilous journey. But, can the Star Force travel 148,000 light years in just one Earth year?” – Narrator
That was the boiler plate narration that overran the short recap added to the beginning of almost every episode of STAR BLAZERS from this point forward. It became so familiar that it was almost like a mantra, able to be recited from memory. (A few older, more sophisticated fans of this era made a game out of it, using Polaroid instant cameras in an attempt to get a snapshot of Queen Starsha’s head perfectly positioned in front of Iscandar as it went by.)
Now that the preliminaries are out of the way, the rest of this first week’s episodes will focus on acquainting the audience with the Argo’s two main special features: its ability to make long-distance space warps and so travel faster than the speed of light, and its powerful superweapon, the Wave-Motion Gun. So by Friday of this first week, orientation is complete.
But this episode starts with a return to emotionalism, as the hastily-launched Argo leaves Earth’s atmosphere, and the Star Force takes a lingering look back at their devastated home planet. There’s a genuine feeling of loss and sadness here as Sandor says, “Now you can really see how the radioactivity has ruined it.” Wildstar, however, perhaps inspired by his earlier interactions with Captain Avatar, is gung-ho about their mission and its need to succeed.
But this is really Mark Venture’s episode, as the ship is going to perform its first test-warp to the orbit of Mars, and Venture is at the helm. One slip, we are told, and the Argo and its crew may vanish forever into the fourth dimension. After Venture’s performance with the auxiliary switches yesterday during take-off, Wildstar confidently offers to step in for him. But Venture isn’t having any of it–even though it’s profoundly obvious how much the pressure of this responsibility is getting to him.
Wildstar and Venture’s rivalry will be a constant theme all the way through this first season, and the push-and-pull between them ranges from friendship to open hostility, often depending on what the needs of a particular episode happen to be. But this conflict felt genuine (if a bit scattershot)–unlike the characters in most other cartoons of this era, the Star Force members didn’t always get along well, and had personal problems. As a viewer, this reminded me very much of the flavor of the early Marvel Comics of the 1960s.
But just as the Star Force begins preparation for the warp, they are set upon by a Gamilon aircraft carrier. This gives Wildstar a chance to lead the Argo’s fighter squadron, the Black Tigers, in a counter-offensive against the enemy. But the clock is ticking, and the squadron has to be back on board the Argo before the warp takes place. Otherwise, they will be left behind.
The animation quality of these early Yamato episodes varied wildly, and this is one of the weaker entries. It just doesn’t look good, and the animation team hasn’t quite worked out how to stage a WWII-style dogfight in outer space and make it look good. To make matters work, the design of the Black Tigers changes along the way–as they return to the Argo, they all seem to have become duplicates of Wildstar’s personal Superstar fighter. Oops.
The Tigers all dock once more in the fighter bay–all except Conroy, whose plane has taken damage during the battle. And actually, this isn’t Conroy at all–it’s Yamamoto, who will by the second season of STAR BLAZERS be introduced as Hardy. but, having introduced Conroy as the fighter captain in the preceding episode, the Star Blazers production team decided to simply use his name and voice here, rather than making this just another random pilot.
Wildstar needs to coax him back into the hanger by essentially yelling directions at him. I don’t know that Wildstar’s actions actually accomplish much here, but he’s treated as though he’s done something pretty cool regardless. And he does pull Conroy/Yamamoto out of the wreckage of his plane, so there is that. And the sequence does have some genuine tension to it–it’s entirely possible that Conroy will be left behind here, as he’s not that important a character so far in the story.
And then it’s time for the main event–and the first instance of a recurring STAR BLAZERS trope: the shot that is fired one second too late. For as the moment arrives and the Argo begins its warp, the Gamilon carrier launches a barrage of missiles at it–missiles which go helplessly astray as their target vanishes out of normal space. One second earlier and they would have gotten her!
As the Argo warps, we’re treated to a series of trippy visuals including the ship colliding with itself, chairs floating in midair, and, of all things, dinosaurs. It’s a nice visualization of the disorienting experience of being wrenched from normal space-time, but one that will only be slightly touched on in future episodes once warping the ship becomes standard operating procedure.
As the warp is completed, the Star Force awakens to discover that they’ve survived the experience and have reached Mars. This would perhaps have been a more significant moment if Wildstar and venture hadn’t been stationed on Mars a mere three episodes ago. But the ship has been somewhat damaged in the process (the crew chalks this up to the strain on the Argo from warping, but I’m wondering if maybe one of those Gamilon missiles didn’t find its mark after all) and so they need to put down on Mars in order to make repairs. The Argo was exceedingly fragile in these early episode, a far cry from the unstoppable juggernaut it would become as the series progressed.
Back on Gamilon, Desslok’s attache Krypt reports to the supreme leader that the Earth-ship has exceeded the speed of light and has made a successful space-warp, making them more dangerous than ever. Strangely, while Desslok himself is still Caucasian-skinned, in this one sequence Krypt’s pallor is borderline purple.
The episode ends with the Star Force frolicking in the martian snow, a meteorological phenomenon we are told is no longer seen on Earth. Even Captain Avatar breaks out a regulation Star Force uniform for the one and only time in the series so that he can join his crew outside. But the mission goes on and the clock is still ticking. Now, there are only 362 days left!