“We’ve just learned a very important and painful lesson. Without meaning to, and not knowing what the result would be, we used too much power. We must be very careful in the future. Such power is a great responsibility.” – Captain Avatar
The first week of STAR BLAZERS in syndication ended the “tutorial level” of the series with this episode, which revolves around the power of the Star Force’s ultimate weapon, the Argo’s bow-mounted Wave-Motion Gun. And yes, the original YAMATO series aired on a weekly basis, so the fact that this initial week’s episodes follow this pattern is a fluke. But that’s the way I experienced them, so that’s the way I remember them.
Leaving Mars, the Star Force suddenly finds the Argo being pulled in the direction of Jupiter, thanks to its massive gravity. Clearly, nobody who was working on YAMATO gave any thought as to the relative positions that the planets of the Solar System would be in during 2199. The show treats them pretty much as if they are all lined up as waypoints on the journey towards open space. It’s not at all realistic, but by that same token, asking for realism in a show about a World War II battleship flying around in outer space is probably a proposition foredoomed to failure.
The Argo in these early episodes seems especially vulnerable. Chalk it up to the crew being inexperienced as much as anything else. But the ship is drawn to the huge gas giant despite Venture’s best efforts, and Sandor’s protestations that, “We don’t know if our ship can fly in such an atmosphere” are brushed off by an unconcerned Captain Avatar. Like it or not, the Star Force is visiting Jupiter.
It must be said that this is among the most clinical episodes of STAR BLAZERS, without a whole lot of time for characterization. Everything is focused on the procedural–it’s all plot, plot, plot. So, entering Jupiter’s atmosphere, the Argo makes an emergency landing on a strange Floating Continent, a huge island mass suspended in midair in some strange and unexplained way.
While IQ-9 is dispatched out into the soupy atmosphere to examine the exterior of the ship (”Our hull is intact. No leaks. Could use a paint job.”) Orion heads down to the Engine Room, where he soon discovers that there’s a meltdown in the Energy Storage Unit, easily repairable. Unfortunately for the Star Force, this Floating Continent is also a Gamilon staging base.
The Gamilon commander dispatches a fighter plane to investigate the enemy ship. In response to this threat, Wildstar takes off in his Superstar fighter, and the pair engage in a colorful dogfight in the skies above, one better choreographed than the battle in the last episode.
This is one of those instances where the STAR BLAZERS producers became tentative about the content of the show. There are a couple of edits made to insure that nobody thought that any Gamilons got harmed during the making of the episode, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary. And so here, at the moment that Wildstar is clearly about to shoot down the enemy pilot, we then cut to some earlier footage of the two planes circling one another, with Wildstar lamenting, “Got away this time!” STAR BLAZERS would be a bit schizophrenic in how they’d deal with the deaths of enemy combatants. Sometimes simply deleting shots of the people inside the enemy ships would be enough for them, in other instances they would go out of their way to show you that everybody was all right. I suspect that this is the product of different teams working to edit each episode, and no central set of standards being agreed upon ahead of time.
With the engine repaired, the Argo can once again take off, narrowly escaping a missile barrage from the enemy base. Captain Avatar realizes that he cannot allow that fortification to continue to operate so close to Earth, but there isn’t time for a prolonged confrontation. Wildstar eagerly suggests that this would be the perfect occasion to test out the Wave-Motion Gun.
The Wave-Motion Gun is a particularly fetishized weapon, and a big draw of the show. As the explanatory read-outs illustrate and the Captain explains, it concentrates all the powers that the ship is able to generate into a single discharge of devastating energy. The one downside is that it takes a period of time to power the gun up, and during that period, the ship can’t do much of anything else.
There’s a sense of ritual whenever the Wave-Motion Gun is called into action as well, a number of familiar steps that must be undertaken in order to unleash its awesome might. For one thing, the blast is so bright that the crew must don protective lenses or be blinded. There’s also the build-up of energy, the opening of the target scope, the removal of the final safety lock (which always made the weapon seem especially dangerous) and the deliberately paced countdown to the firing.
STAR BLAZERS used the original YAMATO prints of this episode, later corrected, which include a prominent animation error. The cel depicting the Yamato was left on the board as the beam arcs away from it and towards its target, making it seem as though the ship is somehow firing horizontally across its own bow. Such errors were pretty routine on the show, as it was being produced in Japan at a frantic pace and without sufficient lead-time. On more than one occasions, episodes were aired once and then had sequences reshot in order to improve them for later re-airings.
Here again, the STAR BLAZERS production team splices in some earlier footage, showing the Gamilons rushing around and then that same fighter launching from the base. But this time, a voice-over is added from the Gamilon Commander, reporting: “We’re all right, Colonel Ganz! We took off just before it was hit!” It’s done in such a way that the edit is relatively seamless–I never saw any reason to question their survival as a young viewer.
Things continue to go badly for the underpowered Argo, however, as the ship begins to fall back down into the blast zone. Ultimately, the Star Force is able to get power rerouted back to the engine in time to pull free. But as Captain Avatar reflects in the quote that started off this entry, they’ve come to realize that the Wave-Motion Gun is a lot more powerful than they had figured on. They had only been attempting to destroy the enemy base, and wound up completely obliterating the entire Floating Continent!
Back on Pluto, poor old Colonel Ganz is stunned by what he’s seen, and he’s almost hyperventilating as he muses to himself, “I’ll have to report this to Leader Desslok and I wouldn’t blame him if he didn’t believe me. The Floating Continent is gone, totally destroyed! What kind of weapon did the Star Force use? Where could they get such power?”