“Nova, is that the way you think of me? Am I just a lot of scrap metal to you? I also happen to have life. I hear. I see. I feel. All these things were created in me to serve human beings. And I live among you, sharing your hopes and dreams. And yes, your fears. I know when you’re lonely and frightened. I know how you dream of returning to Earth. All these senses…all this feeling…I’ve come to realize is…love.” – IQ-9
Week four of STAR BLAZERS begins with this little morality play, centering on the relationship between Nova and IQ-9, the Star Force’s self-proclaimed genius robot. But it’s another episode that holds some darker truths when compared to its YAMATO origins, and while it’s a strong emotional outing, the most disturbing business has as usual wound up on the cutting room floor–in this case, that’s possibly for the best.
It’s also a story that focuses centrally on Nova, although it really does very poorly by her. And that’s even taking into consideration when it was made, and the cultural differences between America and Japan during this period. The episode starts with the Star Force still cruising towards Balan, the halfway point on their larger voyage to Iscandar. Down in the mess hall, Wildstar is having dinner, and he and his fellow crew members are dismayed by the fact that it’s the same meal they’ve been eating for days now. As Captain Avatar was concerned about a few episodes back, the Argo’s dwindling food supply doesn’t allow for much variety.
A stir is caused when Nova has the temerity to show up for dinner not clad in her regular Star Force uniform, but rather wearing a dress. The Star Force crew reacts in slack-jawed astonishment, which can either be interpreted as the gaze of lonely sailors of space who haven’t seen a woman since they left port, or more cruelly like they’ve never encountered a woman before in their lives and they have no idea what to do or how to process this transformation.
One member of the crew who isn’t suffering from this discomfort is IQ-9. He promptly rolls up and basically catcalls Nova, causing her to become flustered and to run from the room as her fellow Star Force members all jeer her. And this is the nice version. In reality, in YAMATO, IQ-9 performs his signature move on Nova, pulling up her skirt and giving everybody in the mess hall a peek at her panties.
Much like Doctor Sane, the depiction of IQ-9 especially in these earlier seasons of YAMATO is pretty indefensible. His actions as a pervert are played for laughs–this isn’t the first time that he’s pulled up Nova’s skirt or fondled her bottom, and it won’t be the last. It’s degrading behavior, and one of the unfortunate realities that STAR BLAZERS fans have to confront and grapple with as their understanding of the show grows. IQ-9 is meant to be a playful letch, but he comes across in the context of 2018 as an abusive stalker. At this episode is all about that.
As the crew relaxes under some sun lamps post-dinner, Wildstar questions IQ-9 about his relationship with Nova, and the salty robot replies that he is in love with Nova and is going to marry her. As sensitive here as they were towards Nova in the earlier scene, Wildstar and Conroy attempt to convince IQ-9 that this will never work, that humans and robots are incompatible partners.
Nova, meanwhile, has gone to seek out the help of Captain Avatar. She complains to the Captain about IQ-9′s behavior, and he appears sympathetic, even though he’s not quite sure what can be done about it. This is still worlds better than YAMATO, in which Captain Okita tells Yuki that Analyzer is a very delicate piece of machinery and that he doesn’t want to mess around with the robot’s programming, despite her discomfort. (Possibly Yuki shouldn’t have demonstrated Analyzer’s move to the Captain, a bit of business cut from STAR BLAZERS although the Captain’s embarrassed half-cough remains.)
With the state of play established, the episode begins to get down to business. The Argo is passing nearby the uncharted and unfortunately-named planet Beeland, and Captain Avatar sees this as an opportunity to supplement the ship’s food stores with some edible plant life from the lush, green planet. As the head of the Life Sciences division, Nova is tasked by Captain Avatar with surveying the planet, locating any source of edible plant life, and harvesting it for the Star Force.
Despite her obvious discomfort with the idea, Nova realizes that in order to accomplish the mission, she’ll need the help of IQ-9, and rather insensitively considering the conversation they had in the previous scene, Captain Avatar not only goes along with this suggestion, but he doesn’t assign any further Star Force officers to the detachment to serve as an escort. It’s like the old man is looking for trouble, especially considering what happened the last time Wildstar, Nova and IQ-( ventured down to a planet back in Episode 6.
And right on cue, as they make their descent to the planet, IQ-9 seizes his opportunity and declares his love, asking Nova to marry him. Because she’s only a stupid girl, this causes Nova to become flustered and lose control of their plane, which crashes into the swamps on the planet below. (Can you imagine this happening to Wildstar or Conroy?) What’s more, Nova finds herself pinned underneath IQ-9′s metal body as the plane stops moving, and when she demands that he get up off of her, he replies, “I like it here.” STAR BLAZERS tries very hard to downplay the sexual connotation, but it is unmissable.
Nova and IQ-9 set out to explore their surroundings, unaware that the indigenous lifeforms discover their crashed plane moments after they depart, and begin to pursue them. They come across a strange, hivelike structure and begin to venture down into it, when they’re suddenly confronted by a strange insect creature. The pair are swiftly swarmed by dozens of these buglike beings and taken prisoner.
Marched down into the bowels of the hive, Nova and IQ-9 emerge into a huge processing factory, where the strange bee-men are filling giant vats with honey. The two Star Force members watch this process in action, then unceremoniously find themselves dumped into a convenient cell, to await an unknown fate.
In reality, however, STAR BLAZERS doesn’t show us the entirety of this disturbing process at all. For, in YAMATO, what’s going on here is that dissident and undesirable members of the Bee-men community are being herded into the colossal grinding apparatus and then ground to a pulp to make the special Royal Bee Jelly. This casts a totally different pallor over the later references in STAR BLAZERS to both the Gamilons and eventually the Star Force eating this stuff. (In YAMATO, the Royal Jelly is not a foodstuff, but a stimulant.)
The ruler of the Bee People, Queen Malina, is a vassal of the Gamilon state and is required to deliver quantities of Royal Bee Jelly to Leader Desslok and the Empire on a regular basis–it’s Desslok’s favorite food (ick.) The old man bee who leads the group that has captured Nova and IQ-9 is looking to start a revolt and overthrow Malina–and not knowing any better, he believes that the two Star force members are themselves Gamilons, and thus useful as bargaining chips.
Meanwhile, the Star Force has detected the approach of a Gamilon rocket-tanker, and the Black Tigers are dispatched to shoot it down. Here, STAR BLAZERS explains a bit of business that goes unremarked upon in YAMATO, as Wildstar tells Conroy that the tanker is too near to the Argo to blow up, and that they should use their delayed-action rockets on it, so that it will detonate after it leaves the area. (In YAMATO, the tanker simply shows up later and lands–and a sequence showing a pair of Gamilons coming down a gangway but suddenly becoming glassy-eyed and falling to their deaths before the ship explodes is edited out.
Back in their cell, as they wait for certain death, Nova and IQ-9 have a heart-to-heart talk–and Nova proves herself to be just as much an insensitive boor as everybody else in this episode. Contemplating death, she tells IQ-9 that all that will happen to him is that he’ll be turned back into scrap metal, but for human beings, death is a very different thing. This leads IQ-9 to give an impassioned accounting of himself, a portion of which is quoted at the beginning of this entry. He proclaims his value as a sentient being, and he swears to protect Nova with his life. The emotion and humanity of IQ-9′s response makes Nova view him in a different way, and the two are reconciled by the time the Bee Men show up to take them off the finale.
Possibly the best moment in the episode, and certainly the funniest, is the dubbing of the lead Been Man tasked with bringing the prisoners out of their cell. Something about the casual way he chirps “C’mon.” as he gestures with his thumb over his shoulder cracks me up every time I see it. No write-up can do this moment justice–it has to be experienced.
As the Gamilon rocket-tanker begins to come in for a landing, the tribal Bee People begin a primitive ritual, and Queen Malina comes forth to delivery their bounty to the Gamilons. But the Old Man Bee and his forces act out, crying for justice. Nova and IQ-9 are brought forward as hostages and human shields–Malina’s honor guard can’t fire into the crowd without hitting them, and if they kill what all concerned believe to be Gamilons, the consequences will be severe indeed.
The Old Man laughs with glee (and a bit too evilly, actually.) He has a huge weapon brought forward and he insists that Queen Malina prove her loyalty to her people by using it to destroy the Gamilon tanker. hesitantly, slowly, Malina approaches the great weapon, targeting it on the landing ship. As the moment arrives, she gets a wicked gleem in her eye.
In STAR BLAZERS, Queen Malina calls her opposition fools and says that she never intended to fire. That’s not quite how things go down in the YAMATO source material. There, she turns the gun around, pointing it directly at the Old man, and happily incinerates him. It’s one of the most lingering death sequences in YAMATO, a slow and very painful-looking demise.
With this, a full-scale riot breaks out, as Malina’s royal guard attempt to hold the revolutionaries back while the Queen attempts to complete the exchange with the Gamilons. In the midst of this chaos, IQ-9 bursts his bonds and protects Nova with his own metal body from being clubbed to death by the crazed Bee Men.
Just as things are looking their worse, the Gamilon tanker suddenly explodes–IQ-9 confirms that it was one of the Star Force’s delayed-action rockets that did the job. The Black Tiger team comes swarming out of the underbrush at this point, coming to the rescue of their two fellow humans. A delighted and relieved Nova rushes into the waiting arms of Derek Wildstar, happy to be safe once more. She does have one good moment here when she admonishes Conroy, who’s a bit miffed that the Ben Men are attacking them as well rather than seeing the Star Force as saviors. “They lived peacefully until the Gamilons came, and we look just like Gamilons to them. In their minds, there’s very little difference. We want something from them, too.”
To add insult to injury to poor IQ-9, heartbroken that his one true love has made her preference for the fleshy Derek Wildstar apparent, when the Bee Men can’t seem to injure him with their sticks and clubs, they run in fear from him, proclaiming him a monster. A very sad IQ-9 trundles along in the setting sun, backlit by the burning village.
Back on board the Argo several hours later, Nova finds IQ-9 on the observation deck of the conning tower, and tells him that the mission was a success–the Been People provided them with both supplies “…and some of their very special honey, too.” Ick. This too is a deviation from the YAMATO episode, wherein Yuki tells Analyzer that the Captain scolded her for destroying the plane and not coming back with any supplies. That guy could be a hardass sometimes.
Nova apologizes to IQ-9 for not being able to return his feelings for her, and IQ-9 accepts this. But as he trundles out of the room, he says, “But still, I love you very much, Nova. And there’s no reason why I shouldn’t love someone.” So, yeah, still stalkery, even at the climax. Fortunately, there are only 267 days remaining until the human race becomes extinct, and Nova no longer has to share her personal space with boors, boobs, creeps and perverts.