“It’s not just because of that wound you’ve been feeling so ill lately. I think you know that yourself. I checked the results of your physical tests just before we left Earth. Even then there were signs of radioactive poisons in your body. And Captain, your condition is getting worse!” – Dr. Sane
This is perhaps the quintessential episode of the first series of STAR BLAZERS, one that fires perfectly on every level. It’s the episode that I would show to people who were interested in knowing what the series was about. It’s got everything–action, drama, emotion, stakes, memorable visuals (the Argo flying down into the Sea of Fire, seen above), the Wave-Motion Gun, and Desslok being cool. While it’s the big battle episodes from the climaxes of both series that most fans point to, I feel that this episode stands equally among the best of them. It’s a little masterpiece.
The episode opens on a cute sequence between Wildstar and Nova. The Star Force is now in intergalactic space and cruising towards the Greater Magellanic Cloud where Iscandar is located. So they’re passing through unexplored territory. At the moment, they’re in the vicinity of the three stars of Volton. According to custom, the central red star grants wishes to travelers, and so Nova is taking advantage of the moment to make a wish. Wildstar chides her for believing in something so unscientific–until suddenly the ship is rocked and the duo races towards the bridge.
Once there, the crew swiftly comes to understand that the ship is caught in an electromagnetic field, like a giant net and slowing to a crawl. Tempers flare as Venture and Orion separately try to get to the bottom of what’s holding the ship back, and more mysteriously, the Captain hasn’t yet appeared on the bridge. As the crew wonders about is absence, we see him collapsed on the floor of his quarters, struggling to rise. He’s able to make it to the bridge just in time for Eager to detect incoming missiles.
The Argo struggles to break free of the electromagnetic net at least enough to avoid the incoming barrage, and Venture and Orion begin to lose their cools. (”I’m tryin’ my best! if you can do better, Venture, come down here and do it yourself!” Orion yells at the navigator. Venture responds by calling the chief engineer an idiot.)
As the enemy missiles close in, Wildstar awaits the order to fire the Argo’s counter-attack missiles to protect the ship–but as the second tick by, the Captain is strangely silent and unmoving on the bridge. Ultimately, Wildstar chooses to act on is own, firing the defensive barrage of missiles without an order. The interceptors protect the ship from damage, but Captain Avatar is pissed.
“If you’re going to be an officer in the Star Force, you need to have self-control” he lectures Venture, “You don’t yell out ‘Idiot’!” Then he turns his attention to Wildstar as Venture and Orion leave. When Wildstar attempts to justify his actions (”You are right, sir, but I did it, Captain, because you were not able to give the orders–”) Avatar slaps him before once again collapsing to the deck. It’s somewhat remarkable that this slap wasn’t cut, it’s about as violent a moment as was ever seen in an American cartoon of this vintage. A shamed Avatar pushed Wildstar away as he moves to help the old man, telling Wildstar to leave him alone.
Light years away on Gamilon, we see that this whole affair is another entertainment on the part of Leader Desslok. He’s got his whole staff assembled as he lays out his latest trap for the Star Force. Now that they’re ensnared in his space-net, he’s going to unleash his latest weapon upon them. It’s an Ecto-Gas, which feeds on energy and consumes matter. Desslok demonstrates before his Generals, who watch as a small sample of the gas absorbs a raygun blast and then consumes the gun itself. Desslok reveals that he’s left the Star Force one possible course–but it’s directly into Red Star, across the “Sea of Fire.”
Back at the Argo, medical help has been summoned for the stricken Captain, and for the first time since the series began, Doctor Sane shifts from being a purely comedic figure into being the voice of authority. Once everybody else has left the room, convinced that it was only the Captain’s old wound from Pluto that was acting up, Dr sane confronts him with the truth: Captain Avatar is dying, stricken with the radiation sickness that is widespread across the destroyed Earth. The Doctor urges Avatar to be hospitalized, but the salty old Captain refuses on the grounds that he is responsible for the well-being of the ship, the crew and the mission. Doctor Sane is merciless: “As a matter of fact, you were so sick today you couldn’t issue the order to fire the counter-attack missiles. If it gets any worse, you’ll be totally unable to perform your duties as commander!” (Te voice actor for Dr. Sane mispronounces it as “preform”!)
Captain Avatar’s ongoing illness becomes a central and long-running subplot on STAR BLAZERS, really only secondary to the mission to get to Iscandar itself. And it’s a much more dramatic situation than one was used to seeing a cartoon grapple with. There ultimately aren’t any easy answers to be had here, no miracle cures by the end of things. We’re going to watch Avatar slowly deteriorate, episode after episode.
After the commercial break, the Ecto-Gas makes its appearance, drawing up behind the Argo and melting one of the ship’s catapults. The crew scrambles to put some distance between the ship and the gas, but as Desslok has planned, the only avenue open to them is to dive directly towards the Sea of Fire. Everybody has a tense moment where it seems as though Captain Avatar has once more passed out in his command chair, before Avatar confidently gives the order to steer the Argo towards Red Star.
Witnessing this, Desslok chooses to retire for the night. In the time-honored tradition of all villains, he assumes that his trap is perfect and that there is no way for the heroes to escape. With a flourish, he tells Krypt not to even bother telling him what the outcome is, so confident is he in his success.
As the interior of the ship begins to heat up dangerously, the Star Force dons their protective space-suits in order to give them more protection from the heat. But the weakened Avatar slumps over, once again overcome by the strain. Doctor Sane bursts onto the bridge like a crazy person, bellowing for Venture to stop the ship before he kills the Captain. Examining the old man, Dr. Sane whispers to him that he needs to be very, very, very careful about his condition. (”Or you’ll end up…in a hospital!”)
The Argo plunges into the maelstrom of the Sea of Fire, with Eager working to compute the location and movements of the enormous solar flares that shoot up from its surface. One such flare makes contact with the pursuing Ecto-Gas, completely immolating it. Wildstar is impressed with the Captain’s strategy. (”The flames consumed the gas! The Captain’s smart, he must have known that all the time!”) But it’s the last piece of good news the crew is going to have.
Suddenly, a giant fire eruption rises up directly in the Argo’s path. There’s no way to go around it without slackening the ship’s speed and being pulled into the star’s gravity well. With only moments before the Argo is consumed, Avatar orders Wildstar to fire the Wave-Motion Gun at the flames. Somehow, they’re able to hastily charge up the super-weapon without slowing down and without the typical ramp-up time. And the discharge from the Gun obliterates the impeding solar flare, allowing the ship to proceed unharmed.
Back on Gamilon, Krypt has the unpleasant duty of interrupting the Great Leader’s slumber to give him the news. (”A beautiful strategy by Captain Avatar”, Krypt enthuses) Desslok momentarily considers sending the Star Force congratulations again before dismissing his aide.
As the Star Force heads away from the area, the episode winds up with a very nice tag sequence featuring Wildstar and Nova. Wildstar finds her on the observation deck again, still casting her wishes into space. (”I trust the power of my wishes. They’ll fly off and find a good star to make them come true.”) Wildstar needles her some more about her stubbornness, and Nova confesses to her that she’s wishing for a certain person to fall in love with her. When Wildstar tries to get her to tell him who “a certain person” means, she playfully runs off, with Wildstar in pursuit. The meaning is clear. And now, there are only 308 days left.