“My home! Mother! Father! Mother! They were gonna meet me here at the bus stop! Where are they? Mom, dad!” – Derek Wildstar
The next episode of STAR BLAZERS didn’t make all that much of an impact on me when I was a younger viewer, but it is absolutely chilling as an adult, even with all of the editing that was done to it. It’s an episode that captures the real-world pain experienced by the animators who made it, and contains a number of sequences that I’m surprised made it onto American airwaves in what was marketed as a children’s cartoon. For all that it pulls the worst of its punches, it still hits like a ton of bricks.
There are a whole string of episodes right here in the middle of the first YAMATO series whose content wound up being blunted and neutered quite a bit by the differences in broadcast standards between the United States and Japan. Consequently, many of these episodes are largely treated by American fans as being filler between the big, satisfying battles–whereas in reality, they are among the most satisfying installments in the canon, at least before they were tampered with.
This particular episode starts off with an unrelated prologue, in which Leader Desslok is called away from a relaxing soak to award a medal to one of his front-line generals, Lysis. Lysis tells Desslok that he’s heard about the Earth ship encroaching on Gamilon territory, and he asks for the honor of being allowed to destroy it. He’s to be the next recurring enemy that the Star Force will face over multiple episodes, and he’s instantly painted as far more formidable and dangerous than the late Colonel Ganz.
Meanwhile, for no readily apparent reason, Wildstar, Conroy and the Black Tiger squadron is flying a scouting patrol ahead of the Argo. They come across a Gamilon patrol and engage the enemy in combat. This winds up being another underwhelming space dogfight, especially to viewers who were fresh from STAR WARS, but it was still a step up from the previous one in Episode 4. During the skirmish, one of the Gamilon planes is damaged but not destroyed, and Conroy lines up a killing shot (”If I do get him, Wildstar, it’s one less we’ll have to fight tomorrow!”) But Wildstar has a different idea, and he and Conroy shoot tethers onto the crippled Gamilon fighter, towing it back to the Argo.
In the fighter bay, everybody is excited about the prospect of seeing just what a Gamilon really looks like (”I wonder what those Gamilons are really like!” opined Eager, “I guess judging from their advanced science, they must be extremely intelligent creatures!”) no one more so than Doctor Sane, who’ll be conducting the examination. Everybody seems to have forgotten about Episode 6, where Wildstar, Nova and IQ-9 got an up close look at a Gamilon soldier. But that guy wound up buried in an ice slide on Titan, so this is really the first opportunity anybody on the Star Force has had to speak with or study an actual Gamilon.
STAR BLAZERS tries mightily to disguise the fact that, as Doctor Sane makes his examination of the enemy pilot and the crew watches from the observation deck, Derek Wildstar is growing more and more agitated–to the point where he races downstairs and breaks into the examining room. This whole sequence is heavily edited from YAMATO, in which Wildstar doesn’t just jump at the guy, but rather grabs a knife from Doctor Sane’s tools and attempt to out and out kill the helpless prisoner. Wildstar is suffering from post-traumatic stress, and we’re about to find out why.
The episode segues into a flashback to the events of seven years earlier, at the start of the Earth’s war with Gamilon (and it’s pretty incredible that they whole affair lasted for seven years, given the technological superiority of the Gamilon forces, to say nothing of their eventually-revealed need to emigrate to Earth.) Again here, STAR BLAZERS needs to take some liberties, because this extended flashback clearly takes place in Japan, in the traditional Japanese home of Wildstar and his family. All sorts of cuts and trims needed to be made to transform the place into the location-neutral “Great Island.”
The sequence opens with Derek and his unnamed mother meeting his older brother Alex at the bus stop, as Alex is returning home for leave from Cadet School. At home, friends and family gather, and Alex is peppered with questions concerning reports of interplanetary bombings that are beginning to spread. The older Wildstar sibling hasn’t got any better intel to provide to his family. (Sequences of the gathering dancing traditional Japanese dances and eating in the style of the culture were all excised.) Derek himself is shown to be a sensitive and emotional child, who is a bit jealous of all of the attention being lavished upon his elder sibling.
That evening, “Great Island” is bombed, awakening both Derek and Alex and causing the latter to be called back to his post. These sequences are plainly very visceral for the Japanese animators who are crafting them, working out the complex emotions of the only civilization to have had an actual Atomic Warhead detonated upon its cities. Again, STAR BLAZERS softens all of this in tone, but even the footage that remains is quite powerful and chilling when viewed with knowledgeable eyes. Also affecting is the scenes of the devastation left in the wake of the bombing, and the manner in which the citizenry pull together to help one another out during these difficult times, a reflection no doubt of the true experiences of the Japanese.
Things grow more dire as the Earth in total, and Great Island in particular, is bombed many times. Construction begins on the underground cities that the survivors will relocate to, enormous city-sized bomb shelters situated deep below the surface of the Earth. But building them takes time, and the population rows ever more panicked and fearful about its survival.
Derek visits Alex at his base, bringing his older brother a Bento lunch that their mother had made for him. (STAR BLAZERS has Alex call it “chocolate cake” even though it is fairly clearly sushi and rice balls–sushi hadn’t quite come over from Japan yet at the time when STAR BLAZERS first aired.) Derek is a scared kid, and he rejects Alex’s encouragement that he should go into the armed forces. “Oh, I forgot,” the senior Wildstar says, “My little brother doesn’t believe in fighting.” This is worlds away from the Wildstar that we have witnessed throughout the first half of the series, who can hardly restrain himself when the opportunity arises to lay the smackdown on some Gamilon attackers.
Back at home, Derek’s mother and father head out to the bus stop to meet his returning bus. Along the way, they share a lovely little story about their proposal of marriage, one that serves to humanize them both a bit (despite the fact that neither of them is given a name.) Wildstar’s mother muses that it’s still a lovely place, despite all of the surrounding devastation. But Derek has missed his bus home, and so mom and dad are still standing at the bus stop when a planet bomb lands practically on top of them, vaporizing the both of them almost instantly.
Again here, STAR BLAZERS cuts the actual moment of impact–which is a good thing, as it’s a pretty difficult moment to watch. But there’s no getting around the fact that Mr and Mrs Wildstar are very much dead, and that Derek is now an orphan. What’s more, as Wildstar, himself caught up in the shockwave from the blast that overturned the later bus he was on, makes his way unsteadily to where his parents are meant to be waiting for him, it is clear that he blames himself and his delay as the reason why they had been standing at ground zero. The rage and trauma and guilt turning him from the sensitive butterfly-collecting child we saw at the outset into the angry, revenge-hungry young man of today.
Back in the present on board the Argo, Venture, IQ-9 and Doctor Sane are able to talk Wildstar back to his senses, and he drops his knife, ashamed of himself. But it’s only a momentary reversal, as the Gamilon pilot takes this opportunity to go for the weapon, intending to end his own life in ritual suicide. Wildstar is able to stop him by knocking the blade out of his hands, but then he loses control completely, pummeling the Gamilon crazily until the two of them are spent, tear-filled, breathless sacks upon the floor. STAR BLAZERS cuts all of this business with the knife and the suicide attempt, but does allow Wildstar to go apeshit on the prisoner, a more violent action than most other episodes might have allowed. With everything that needed to be trimmed here, I expect that the bar was set a bit higher in terms of what was deemed acceptable for this episode.
STAR BLAZERS also introduces a bizarre bit of nonsensical business that wasn’t in the original YAMATO episode. As Avatar and Sandor attempt to interrogate the prisoner, the narrator reveals that, before each mission, each Gamilon pilot has his memory erased so that he can’t provide information to an enemy if captured. The source material simply had the captured pilot being of low enough rank that he knew nothing of value that he could tell the Star Force–I’m guessing that somebody realized that just the location of Gamilon itself would have been valuable intel that any pilot was sure to know, hence this contrivance.
Either way, the finale is the same in both YAMATO and STAR BLAZERS: the Star Force is operating with a very limited food supply (a situation that will grow more dire in the coming days), so they can’t afford another mouth to feed. Once Sandor has repaired his plane, Avatar orders the Gamilon released. And for all that food is a precious commodity, Avatar makes his wishes known to Wildstar subtly: “You know, he hasn’t had anything to eat all day.”
In the hanger bay, just before he takes off, the Gamilon pilot is surprised when Wildstar races up to him and gives him a package of food to take with him on his journey home. The two enemies share a smile between them, and the tension is broken. We’re told that the pilot eventually made his way back to his unit, while the Star Force continued on towards Iscandar–now with only 305 days remaining until the human race is completely wiped out.