“The Argo is just making its turn now. Don’t they know it’s ten seconds too late? But then, it was already too late when I pressed this button. Watch carefully now. We have an excellent view here, high above Balan!” – General Lysis
After teasing it for so many episodes now, at the end of the fourth week of STAR BLAZERS broadcast the Star Force finally arrives at the Planet Balan, the halfway point in their long voyage to Iscandar and salvation. Sadly, after all of that build-up, this episode is pretty much a bust, with a few nice visuals (several of which wound up as part of the closing title sequence, so viewers had been seeing them for weeks) but a story that’s rife with cheap coincidence and bad plotting, intensified due to some details that didn’t transition over from YAMATO clearly. This one’s a bit of a stinker, to warn you ahead of time.
As the episode opens, the Star Force has indeed made it to Planet Balan, and Wildstar, IQ-9 and Conroy are on a reconnaissance flight across the planet, with Wildstar piloting an unarmed recon plane. Wildstar and IQ are surprised by some of the characteristics of Balan: the strange plants on its surface grown downward rather than upwards, and Balan’s sun is the size of a moon, and orbits the planet rather than vice versa. It’s a pretty good hint that something strange and unnatural is going on here.
There’s also a massive Gamilon installation on Balan, the one commanded by General Lysis, who has been dogging our heroes for the last couple of episodes. Discovery of this base sets off some panic among the Argo’s bridge crew, but Wildstar and Conroy take it in stride, easily avoiding the base’s pitiful attacks on their planes and flying swiftly out of range, but they’re ordered to return to the Argo.
There’s a bit cut here where Wildstar and IQ-9 see a dried-out riverbed containing thousands of skeletons of dead Paranodons, the indigenous lifeforms of Planet Balan. In YAMATO, Wildstar is outraged by this genocide, and it plays a central motivating role in why the Star Force chooses to attack the Gamilon base. But STAR BLAZERS, perhaps wisely, makes the argument all about the Argo’s own safety–if they don’t destroy the base while they have the chance, they’re going to have to face it on the way back from Iscandar as well.
Wildstar and Conroy are attacked by a squadron of Gamilon fighters as they withdraw. Wildstar switches seats with IQ-9 so he can man the scout plane’s gun (despite us earlier having been told that it is unarmed) and IQ takes this opportunity to follow Captain Avatar’s orders and return to the Argo. Wildstar makes his report, insisting that the Star Force has to destroy the enemy facility, and despite Venture’s typical protestations against such a reckless action–the mission is running 44 days behind schedule at this point– Captain Avatar agrees. (In YAMATO, they cannot allow the massacre of the Paranodons to pass.)
This is all playing right into the hands of General Lysis, who has withdrawn along with his fleet to a position far distant from Balan. Lysis has made a thorough study of his enemies: “They are idealistic, full of kindness. Such feelings, fortunately, do not hinder us!”
He explains his plan to an impatient and thereafter-horrified Volgar: he’s going to lure the Star Force into attacking the base on Balan, and while they are occupied by that attack, he’ll drop Balan’s artificial sun down on top of the Argo from behind, destroying it.
General Lysis’ only concern is the Star Force’s Wave-Motion Gun, which could be used to annihilate the artificial sun. But he thinks he’s got things timed out to where the Star Force won’t notice the sun bearing down on them until it’s too late for them to turn around and aim the Gun at his sun. Volgar has a more practical concern: the Gamilon base and all of the men stationed there will be destroyed along with the Argo. Lysis is nonplussed: “Don’t worry about it! Maybe there will be a little damage, but we’ll get the Star Force!”
As the Argo comes into the effective firing range of the enemy base, the Gamilons launch missiles at the advancing Earth ship, and the crew returns defensive fire to protect themselves. Casting his gaze over to the artificial sun that he observed earlier, Wildstar turns to Eager and tells him to keep a close eye on it as they enter the battle. Wildstar won’t explain any further, leading Eager to remark, “Whatever you say, but I don’t need any more freckles.”
But apparently Eager isn’t that good at following through on Wildstar’s orders, as he doesn’t seem to notice right away when, his plan going perfectly, General Lysis sends the signal that will cause the sun to drop out of the Balan sky atop the Argo. And that delay is going to prove to be fatal to the Star Force because, by the time that Eager finally cries out, “Hey, the sun is bearing down on us!” they’re already past the point where they can make the necessary turn in time to save themselves.
The Star Force is caught in the trap and the pincers are closing inexorably on them. In order to try to buy themselves the few precious extra seconds they need, they begin to drop the ship closer to the surface of Balan–but this just exposes them to greater concentrations of enemy fire from the base. They’re able to buy themselves an extra second or two, but not the additional ten that they need in order to align the Wave-Motion Gun.
To make matters worse, the heat and the strain cause Captain Avatar to collapse again–he’s not as healed up from his radiation sickness as we’ve previously been led to believe. General Lysis is in his moment, and is delighted with himself about his brilliant strategem. All Volgar can think about, though, is the welfare of the Balan base below them. “A small loss!” proclaims Lysis at the height of his mania as Volgar races from the room muttering, “It’s madness–utter madness!”
Right at the moment of his triumph, General Lysis receives an urgent communication from Leader Desslok back on the Gamilon homeworld. Turns out that Volgar has ratted Lysis out to the big man, and Desslok isn’t down with the idea of losing his Balan installation just to wipe out the insignificant Star Force. He orders Lysis to call off his plan immediately.
To add insult to injury, this still results in the same outcome for the base as, given the additional few seconds that they need, the Star Force fires the Wave-Motion Gun at the artificial sun, obliterating it–and fragments from the destroyed structure crash down onto Balan, destroying the base and everybody in it. Lysis quakes with rage, hurling his communication device to the ground in front of Volgar: “It would have worked, I know it…if it hadn’t been for you! Volgar, you fool!” Way to take responsibility, Lysis!
Speaking of responsibility, Captain Avatar orders Wildstar to report to his quarters at 0800 hours. There, he tells Wildstar that he can no longer shoulder the entire responsibility for the mission and asks Wildstar to take on some of his duties under the rank of Deputy Captain. Wildstar protests his lack of qualifications, but falls into line when the old man tells him that he’s counting on him.
And on that note STAR BLAZERS wraps up its fourth broadcast week. Given the schedule so far, one would expect the rest of the trip to Iscandar to take at least another four weeks, but events had transpired back in Japan during the broadcast of the original YAMATO series that would change that assessment. But we’ll speak more about that as we get into the next episode. There are now only 253 days remaining!