“We’re going to have to step up our attack! It’s now or never! While we’ve been searching for the Argo, her Captain has been repairing his ship and when they’re finished, they’ll be able to use their cursed Wave-Motion Gun again, and you know what that can do to us! It’s our last chance to get the Argo and return as heroes! You’d like Leader Desslok to give you a medal, wouldn’t you, friend Bane?” – Colonel Ganz
This next episode of STAR BLAZERS is well-remembered among viewers, largely due to the fact that the opening title sequence for the first half of the series drew extensively from footage from this episode, in particular the asteroid ring around the Argo. It’s otherwise a pretty meh installment, partly because a portion of the central drama in today’s conflict had to be excised for American audiences, as we shall see.
After his loss of the Gamilon Pluto Base, Colonel Ganz has pulled together his remaining forces and gone in search of the Argo, intending to have a final showdown with the hated enemy ship that has brought him such ruin. In the meantime, Sandor and his repair crews are working frantically to repair all of the damage that the ship took from the enemy’s Reflex Gun–Sandor tells the repair team that, “We have to hurry, because the Argo is very vulnerable right now!”
This is the first time that we see full-scale repair efforts in the series, and they do raise some questions perhaps better unasked. For one thing, where is all of this new armored plating coming from? Over the course of the series, the Star Force will repair the ship dozens of times, including replacing the entirety of the bottom-mounted Third Bridge. Assumably, they could be mining the metal from asteroids of the sort that will soon play a key role in this episode–but we never get a hint of anything along those lines happening. Best to press on and not worry too much about it.
Ganz has his fleet out canvasing space in an attempt to locate his prey–and when a Gamilon ship pops up on the Star Force’s radar, Captain Avatar calls for Battle Stations, which causes Sandor to exclaim, “He can’t do that!” Rushing to the bridge, Sandor tells the Captain that the ship isn’t fit to go into battle in the half-repaired state its in. Fortunately, Nova notices a nearby asteroid field on the radar. Captain Avatar explains that this is all that’s left of the planet Minerva, once the tenth planet of our solar system, until the Gamilons attacked and destroyed it.
This bit of astronomical chicanery aside, the Star Force maneuvers the Argo into the asteroid field, intending to use it as camouflage to confound the pursuing Gamilons, at least long enough for them to effect repairs. Sandor also approaches the Captain with another idea he’s been working on. he proposes to cover the ship with asteroids in order to both conceal it and protect it from attack.
Meanwhile, the dopey and clueless Ganz and Bane continue to search for the Argo in vain, overlooking the obvious possibility that the ship may be hiding in the asteroid field until way late in the game. They also have a schedule report to make to General Krypt back on Gamilon–and when they do so, Desslok mocks them, asking if they know which side they’re fighting on. This kick in the ass motivates Ganz to finally consider that his nemesis may be concealed among the asteroids.
But it’s too late by this point, as Sandor has already put his plan into motion. The Argo fires off a series of projectiles into the surrounding rocks, then uses a magnetic field to draw them towards the surface of the ship, almost completely covering it. This whole idea is a callback to one of the initial concepts for what became the YAMATO series, when it was being developed as ASTEROID SHIP ICARUS–the idea being that the ship would travel through space in a rocky shell, only dropping it into the ring in order to do battle.
Now safely concealed, at least for the moment, the Star Force can get back to the repair work at hand. There’s a whole sequence edited out of STAR BLAZERS throughout this point, involving a drunken Dr Sane taking a space walk. Sane was at this point in the series dealt with almost exclusively as a comedy relief character–he wouldn’t get to display his more serious side for a couple more episodes yet, and most of his early antics wound up on the STAR BLAZERS cutting room floor, largely because they mostly revolved around him being a drunk.
There are also a few sequences in the episode that did make the cut revolving around IQ-9 harvesting tomatoes from the Star Force’s hydroponic gardens and making a supply of tomato juice for the crew. These little breaks emphasized the humanity of the characters in a very understated way, while also underscoring the difficult conditions both aboard ship and back on Earth, where such luxuries as a glass of juice had become very rare indeed.
But events begin to heat up at this point, as the Gamilons have finally located the concealed Argo, and begin a sustained bombardment of the enemy ship. Fortunately for the Star Force, the rocky outer covering allows the repair crews cover to get back aboard ship, and enough of the work has been completed to make the ship a formidable fighting vessel once more.
And here’s were we start to get to the big change between this STAR BLAZERS episode and the YAMATO episode it was based upon. In the original, Ganz and Bane are at this point exiles from Gamilon, intending to sacrifice themselves and their fleet kamikaze-style for the glory of their homeland and to regain their honor. This is a sentiment that was both too violent and considered too unrelatable for an American audience. So STAR BLAZERS dances around it deftly, putting pressure on Ganz and Bane but not making either of them appear suicidal. but this is why Bane seems so horrified when Ganz orders their final attack–he’s ordering their ships to literally fly into the Argo in order to destroy it.
But Sandor has one more trick left in his arsenal. By reversing the polarity that attracted the asteroids to the ship, the Star Force can turn them into a gigantic ring orbiting the Argo, which can be used to fend off enemy fire and enemy ships alike. It also gives the series one of its signature visuals, seen in the opening minutes of the title sequence every day.
In STAR BLAZERS, the near-collision of the Argo and Ganz’s capital ship is played as an accident (”We’re going to crash into them–!”) whereas in YAMATO this was a deliberate and desperate last-ditch strategy on his part–Ganz even yells “Leader Desslok, Banzai!” as he does so. But even STAR BLAZERS can’t get around the fact that Ganz’s ship instead collides with a huge asteroid and is completely annihilated with all hands aboard. It’s understated, but it’s as clear a confirmed fatality as the series ever offers up.
And that’s it for the Star Force’s first somewhat-underwhelming recurring main enemy. The series was about to rethink its approach to the Gamilons completely, so it’s unfortunately just as well that he and Bane bit the dust at this point–they were more a comedy duo than anything that represented a true threat. And the question of why, if Earth is so important to the Gamilons’ own plans for survival, would you appoint two boneheads like these guys to head up the outpost closest to your ultimate goal? But really, there are all kinds of tactics and strategy in STAR BLAZERS that doesn’t really make a whit of sense if you think about them–so better not to dwell on any of it too much.