“Wildstar. That’s our home. And to save it, we must leave it for a while. But we’ll be back. WE’LL BE BACK!”“ – Captain Avatar
The second week of STAR BLAZERS broadcasts wrapped up with an episode that was unlike anything that had been seen previously in afternoon animation. It’s an episode devoted virtually entirely to characterization, with no battles to speak of. Not a shot is fired. There was conflict, but it was almost entirely internal conflict. So this is a seminal episode in the development of the series, but I wonder how much of a favorite it was of the audience as a whole. It tends to be the big turning point action episodes that people remember the best. But without episodes like this one making the audience come to care about the characters, none of it would have meant anything. This is really the secret to STAR BLAZERS’ success and why it is so well remembered decades after the fact.
When I think about this first series of STAR BLAZERS, the two words that come to mind most often are loneliness and isolation. There was a genuine sense of despair running through the series, and this is perfectly illustrated in the opening of this episode, as the Star Force in to the nameless Earth Commander (he wouldn’t be given a name until years after the show was out of production. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve never been wild about the additions later folks made to the names in STAR BLAZERS, so for the purposes of this page, we won’t be using them.) They’re about to leave the solar system, and that means that no further contact with Earth will be possible from this point on.
The Commander tells the Star Force about conditions on Earth, reiterating that everybody is forced to remain miles underground to stay safe from the deadly radioactivity that now permeates the planet. But even more tellingly, he explains that the people of Earth are desperate for new of the Star Force’s journey, that they know that the Star Force represents the only hope for a future that mankind has left to it. And it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to be out of contact, to not know whether the Star Force members are alive or dead, whether their mission has any chance for success. It’s pretty affecting stuff.
In a bit of business inspired by the naval tradition of the line-crossing ceremony (held whenever a ship crosses the equator) Captain Avatar addresses the crew and informs them that he’s arranged for each Star Force member to get five minutes of communications time, for a final call with family or friends still on Earth. Avatar also explains that the ship will soon do another space warp, to which one crowd-member exclaims, “What’s a space warp? “ in mystifying fashion–he must have been on board for the previous warp. But this at least allows Avatar to explain the process again for newer viewers.
So the whole day becomes a gigantic celebratory party–the Star Force did destroy the Gamilon installation on Pluto, after all, and stop any further planet bombs from striking Earth–as well as a waiting game as each character in turn awaits the moment when they can make contact wit their loved ones. Only Wildstar seems sullen and a bit withdrawn. Anybody who’s been following the series so far can work out why, but his fellow crewmates take no notice in the bustle of activity–though Captain Avatar does. Nova is in charge of making sure that every crewman gets his or her turn. (At this point in the series, we get plenty of visuals of other female Star Force members. The production team would change its mind down the line, deciding that Nova was the only woman aboard ship–another continuity gaffe that would simply be driven past.)
The producers of this episode were definitely trying to tug on the heartstrings as much as possible, so many of the interactions between the Star Force members and their families are pretty powerful. There’s a real sense here that the emotions being channeled here are a reflection of the upbringing of the men and women tho made YAMATO, who grew up in postwar reconstruction-era Japan. Even the happiest scene in this episode is tinged with sadness, and the soundtrack is unrelenting in how it amps up the emotional undertone of a scene.
Mark Venture gets to speak with his younger brother Jordy, previously seen in Episode 3, as well as his mom and dad. Jordy’s pretty upbeat–he’s made his own model of the Argo. But he also has to report that two of his classmates have come down with radiation sickness, and can no longer come to school. More than anything else up to this point, this episode underscores the tremendous suffering that the people of the Earth are experiencing as they wait for the Star Force’s return and their salvation.
Wildstar, meanwhile, is in a full-on depression. He mopes around the empty bridge, running off when IQ-9 tries to approach him, and he upbraids a pair of hapless crewmen on the way to speak with their families because he’s got just so much anger and sadness boiling under the surface. And he’s not the only one that’s out of sorts. The Captain aimlessly wanders around the Engine Room, despite the fact that it’s a place that he rarely comes, and he brushes aside the attempts of the Engine Room staff to help him.
Nova is worried that Wildstar is going to miss his turn at talking to Earth, and sends Conroy to fetch him. Conroy finds Wildstar sulking in the cockpit of his plane down in the hanger, and despite everything that he tries to do to convince Wildstar to come to the radio room (”It’s our last chance to talk to Earth, you know…”) Wildstar will not be consoled. The slow instrumental of YAMATO’s closing theme song Scarlet Scarf plays throughout this exchange, and it’s brutal,
Alone up in his quarters, Captain Avatar wordlessly opens a drawer containing a photograph of his dead son, killed during the battle of Pluto, before silently closing the drawer again and musing, “There’s no one down on Earth for me to call either, Wildstar. I know how it is for you.” Meanwhile Wildstar is trying to distract himself, doing sit-ups in the gym and trying to keep his mind occupied. As this is happening, Orion gets his turn at the console and has a sweet exchange with his daughter and granddaughter: “We’re going to make it to Iscandar, you must believe that! All of us on the Star Force have loved ones on Earth, we know what is at stake!”
Nova asks Orion to stay while she makes her own call home, as she may need the emotional support. But er mother is ridiculously cheerful and upbeat, displaying photographs of potential husbands for her daughter. Things turn comic for a moment when Nova’s parents assume that the older Orion is the fellow on the Star Force that Nova intimates she’s interested in, but things get dark again as Nova’s mother has an emotional breakdown. “It’s you and the other young people who are important. You and the children you will have. They can save the Earth! It’s the only hope we have!”
Finally, there’s nobody else left on the list, and Nova seeks Wildstar out to get him to take his turn speaking to Earth. He can’t get out of it, and he can’t tell Nova the truth, so he just goes into the communications room and stares at the static. It’s not until Nova sees this that she realizes what’s going on with Wildstar and what a mistake she’s made–but the damage is done. As Wildstar returns to the bridge, his fellow crew members all look towards him with sorrow and pity, and he can’t stand it. “They can’t understand!” he muses to himself, “No one can but...” and his gaze turns towards the Captain’s quarters high atop the ship.
Captain Avatar is waiting for him when Wildstar arrives at his quarters: “Come on in, Wildstar, I knew you’d find your way up here . it’s been a tough day for both of us. I, too, have no one to talk to on Earth. The Captain then tells Wildstar that before they left, he took a bottle of fresh water from a spring near his home. This became something of a recurring bit in STAR BLAZERS for whenever they had to conceal alcohol consumption. In my crowd, we used to joke that the reason it came from a “once-beautiful spring on Earth” is that Avatar ruined it by sucking up all the water to take with him into space.
STAR BLAZERS cuts all of the bits in this sequence of Wildstar getting liquored up while sitting cross-legged with Avatar. but the sequence is still powerful. And then, the Captain rises, points to the Earth in the distance, and the two men yell their goodbyes into the void of space: “Goodbye to Earth! You’ll see us again! the Star Force will return!” Over a montage of the various crewmembers, the instrumental version of Scarlet Scarf plays, culminating in the very last lines, where the voices of the STAR BLAZERS theme song singers boom out, “We will return again! We will return!”
Sadly, Homer reports that the Argo has left Earth’s solar system, and that from now on, communication with their mother planet will be impossible. “The party is over”, declares Captain Avatar, “Now on to Iscandar!” After all, there are only 315 days left!