“Captain, it’s very serious, you know. I have to be honest with you: I must operate immediately. It’s the only chance you have, a-and it’s a slim one at that.” – Doctor Sane
The next episode of STAR BLAZERS provides a lot of human drama, but the physical threat of the episode is kind of weak, and the animation quality is on the rougher side as well. So it’s not a stand-out episode by any means, although it does represent a turning point of sorts for the series. Not that it hasn’t become apparent already, but this is the episode where Derek Wildstar is tacitly confirmed as both the lead hero of the series and the eventual successor to Captain Avatar.
The episode opens with Venture, Eager and the navigation crew going over the Star Force’s progress so far. Venture explains that it should have taken them 65 days to get to Planet Balan, the halfway point to Iscandar, but that they are three days behind schedule. This seems like a hell of an achievement given that three episodes back the Argo had been stuck at a standstill for three weeks. And in fact, it is. In YAMATO, it’s taken the ship 98 days to reach this point, and they’re still 16 days out from Balan. So the Star Force is performing loads better than their Japanese source material.
From there, we cut ahead of the Star Force to Planet Balan, and the narrator gives us a brief crash course on the planet. It’s a younger planet than Earth, and the prototypical building blocks of life are just beginning to form in the primordial soup that covers the planet. These simple-celled lifeforms will become the menace that the Gamilons will throw against our heroes this time out.
At this point, for some reason, STAR BLAZERS chooses to reshuffle the order of a couple of scenes. I’m not quite certain why this choice was made–there isn’t any obvious need or reason to make this choice. In YAMATO, we segue to Volgar testing the weapons system that he’s developed that combines all of the single-celled creatures into a single attacking organism. His control over them is still imperfect, but it’s improving all the time, and he goes to inform General Lysis of his progress.
In STAR BLAZERS, however, we cut immediately to Volgar reporting to Lysis and attempting to convince him to allow Volgar to use his new weapon system against the Star Force. but Lysis won’t hear of it–it’s too unpredictable, he feels. He’d rather battle the Star Force with conventional forces, despite the possible cost in Gamilon lives that Volgar points out to him. It’s an irate Volgar who heads out in his control ship to once again test his command of the “Balan energy cells.”
In an attempt to make up for lost time, the Star Force is attempting additional space warps, which put an additional strain on both the ship and the crew. Coming out of a warp, the bridge crew is alarmed as Captain Avatar collapses. Medical assistance is summoned, and after a cursory examination, Doctor Sane delivers the bad news. The Captain’s condition has taken a turn for the worse, and his only chance to survive is for the Doctor to perform an immediate operation on him. (It’s probably worth pointing out that, in YAMATO, Dr Sane is a veterinarian rather than a human doctor–which makes this proposition just a little bit more dicey.)
Here, STAR BLAZERS again shuffles the running order, cutting back to Lysis and Volgar on Balan in what amounts to a replay of their earlier conversation. Lysis is unconvinced about the value of using the Balan creatures against the Star Force, and he tells Volgar to drop it in no uncertain terms. From there, we segue back to the Argo, where Dr. Sane, Nova and IQ-9 begin the delicate medical procedure. As this is taking place, we see members of the crew throughout the ship worrying about the fate of their Captain.
At this point, there’s a whole scene cut out from YAMATO, in which a thoroughly depressed and demoralized Volgar gets stinking drunk at a local Balan tavern and tears up the place. He’s pissed that leader Desslok gave his command of the Balan base over to General Lysis, demoting him in the process. This cut leads to a very strange segue in STAR BLAZERS, where we cut from Captain Avatar being somberly operated upon to the dramatic fanfare of the theme music as the Argo approaches Balan.
Despite his orders, Volgar takes off in his control craft, intent upon proving himself and smashing the Star Force. His heightened emotional state at last allows him to form the Balan energy cells into a perfect and full-size Balanosaurus (A Paranodon in YAMATO), and as we head into the commercial break, the enormous creature rushes directly toward the Argo.
In a fateful collision, the Balanosaurus completely destroys the Argo–and we learn that this wasn’t the real Argo at all, but rather a test dummy ship. This is the worst kind of false drama, especially as it was set up around the mid-episode cliffhanger. I suppose the production team felt the need for an action hook to make certain that the audience wouldn’t turn off during the commercial break–but it’s very weak plotting.
Anyway, buoyed by his success against a mindless dummy ship, Volgar decides to disobey Lysis for real and go after the genuine Star Force. His control ship and the Balan energy cells head off into deep space on an intercept course. Back at the base, a subordinate reports all of this to general Lysis, who is practically given a headache by this news. They’re not quite the comedy duo that Colonel Ganz and Bane were, but Lysis and Volgar are developing their own tight twenty as a comedy team at this point.
Back at the Argo, the operation is finished, but the status of the patient remains uncertain. At this point, explains Doctor Sane, all they can do is to wait and see if the Captain regains consciousness. An undercurrent of fear and uncertainty runs throughout the crew as everybody is concerned not only for the Captain’s life but for the success of their mission and the survival of the Earth should their wise leader perish.
It’s in this state that Volgar finds the Star Force and begins his attack run against it. And this points out another flaw in the Star Force’s organization: with the Captain incapacitated, there isn’t a clear chain of command, so the Star Force is paralyzed with indecision. As is typical of him, Wildstar wants to attack, whereas Venture cautions that they should take evasive action and live to fight another day. As the Balanosaurus bears down on the Argo, nobody can make a decision–until Wildstar breaks the stalemate by opening fire on the beast with the ship’s shock cannons. The creature is destroyed by the volley–or so it seems for a moment.
The bridge crew is startled as the fragments of the Balanosaurus pelt the front windows of the bridge, before the rise up above the Argo and reform once more, taking on their mighty prehistoric shape, apparently unharmed and unfazed. Now the Star Force is well and truly hosed. They no longer have the option to withdraw, and the Balanosaurus appears impervious to the Argo’s weaponry.
It’s no great surprise when Wildstar suggests bringing the Wave-Motion Gun into play–that’s become his signature request, after all. But the Argo has just completed a space warp only a few hours earlier, so it’s even more dangerous than usual to use it–the stress might tear the ship apart. In essence, there’s a parallel here, as both the Captain’s condition and the fate of the ship are a result of the Star Force attempting to push themselves too hard too fast.
In what is perhaps the least-impressive firing sequence in all of STAR BLAZERS, the Wave-Motion Gun is set up and fired, totally disintegrating the Balanosaurus and sending Volgar into paroxysms back in his control ship. But there’s been a cost to pay as well, as the Argo has sustained damage itself, a gaping crack in the hull near the engine room caused by the shock of firing so soon after the warp. but it’s a small price to pay for survival.
Speaking of survival, in the aftermath, Captain Avatar opens his eyes. It’s an overjoyed IQ-9 who races through the ship shouting “The Captain’s going to be all right! H’s awake! He’s all right! The Captain’s all right! He’s all right!” like a demented Paul Revere. (Or like a reverse-Holly from RED DWARF: “Everybody’s dead, Dave!”)
This leads to twin summations. When the Captain has been briefed about what’s taken place during his convalescence, he compliments Wildstar on his performance using a strange metaphor that doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense: “Wildstar, you had to make a decision and it was the right one. I’ve seen lions push their cubs out of the cave to help them become good fighters. You did them one better. You left the cave on your own and protected us all. The Star Force has just been wounded. You’ll help her to heal, just as the good Doctor here is helping me.” It’s an instance where, in trying to shift the focus from the ship to the crew in the narrative, the translation team went a bit too far–clearly, it’s the Argo that’s been wounded here, not the Star Force.
Back on Balan, Volgar needs to face the music himself, as he receives a parallel dressing down from Lysis: “ So, your marvelous monster was destroyed by the Star Force’s Wave-Motion Gun. Why were you so surprised? You knew they had one. Did you think they were just going to fly into your trap like your stupid dummy of the Argo? That’s all you’re good for, Volgar–shooting down dummies!” Harsh, and hurtful–Lysis will pay for these comments in a few episodes. For now, there are only 263 days left.