“Nova, you’ve got to get better! We’re going to have a good life together. All this time on the Star Force together as friends, working side by side–I always knew you were there. Working hard. Laughing. I guess I loved you as a friend first, before I really fell in love with you. Always before with women, I’d think of them as different from me. But you became a part of me. I wanted to tell you what I thought and what I felt. I knew you’d understand. We’re almost home now, back on Earth, but it’ll mean so little if I can’t share it with you. Wake up, Nova! Oh, please, God, make her wake up!” – Derek Wildstar
Week six of STAR BLAZERS was a time of transition for the show, although viewers had no way of knowing this going in. Monday’s episode was the finale to the original SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO series, and brought to a conclusion the Star Force’s mission to Iscandar. This was a pretty surprising thing all around, as it had taken the Argo five weeks to get to Iscandar, so the return trip being covered in a single episode was unexpected. And what did this mean for tomorrow’s episode? Putting those questions aside, it’s a strong episode to go out on, and wraps up the initial saga well.
This episode of YAMATO ran long, so once again the original Japanese broadcast did away with the typical opening and closing title sequences and went straight into the episode, a luxury STAR BLAZERS didn’t have. After a quick recap of the situation–the Argo is on its way back to the Milky Way Galaxy with the restorative Cosmo DNA from Iscandar, which they’ve had to assemble during the trip in order to make up for lost time–the Star Force is approaching our galaxy and can once again receive communications from Earth. On the bridge, Wildstar informs the Earth Commander of the ship’s status, and the fact that Captain Avatar is weakening, his radiation sickness steadily killing him.
STAR BLAZERS doesn’t mess around with the fact that Captain Avatar is dying (and, spoiler, dies.) I expect that it was just too key a plot point, both in this episode and in future ones, for them to try to obfuscate. But especially in the quiet, contemplative manner in which he meets his end, Captain Avatar’s final hours are strongly remembered by fans for their emotional power. As Doctor Sane tends to him, he tells the Doctor, “I dreamed of Earth last night, the way it was before the bombings, green and cool.” When Sane replies that it sounds like a nice dream and he dreamed about his cat, Avatar continues, “And there was a fresh wind. And my wife, standing at the window with my son. I want to see my dear Earth just one more time“
But the Star Force is not alone in space. Close behind them, and in pursuit, is Leader Desslok’s flagship. STAR BLAZERS saves itself a few moments here by having moved the footage showing Desslok’s escape on Gamilon two episodes earlier. He’s also got a great new signature weapon: the Desslok Gun, his own version of the Wave-Motion Gun. He fires at the Argo the moment the ship is in range, but he falls victim to the curse of the one-second-too-late shot that was a motif for this show, as the Star Force unknowingly makes its final warp towards the solar system just before Desslok’s blast hits it.
Desslok is pissed at this turn of events and orders his own crew to warp their ship after their prey, despite the fact that they’ve made no warp calculations. STAR BLAZERS even leaves in the moment where Desslok whips his attache for trying to talk sense into him, which seems like the kind of repeatable action that wouldn’t have typically made it past the censors. Because they’re doing this all ad hoc, Desslok’s ship emerges from the warp virtually on top of the Argo, and the two vessels collide in space.
But Desslok sees opportunity in this misfortune. He orders his men to board the Argo, while also pumping a “radioactive sleeping gas” into the enemy ship. And if you think there’s a reason why I put that term in quotes, give yourself a star. In the original YAMATO, this was no sleeping gas at all, but rather a lethal nerve toxin. Those members of the Star Force who breathe it in die almost instantly. STAR BLAZERS cuts these fatalities, but not the shots of the Gamilon soldiers stepping over the lifeless bodies (whom we’re meant to believe are only asleep.)
Orion radios the bridge from the engine room where the Gamilons have begun boarding, and Wildstar, Dash and Conroy respond, beginning a deck-by-deck hand-to-hand battle with the Gamilon invaders. Again here, bits of the action are trimmed, mostly any point at which any soldier, human or Gamilon, is shot down. As the trio gets down to where Orin is evacuating his engine room crew, the older man tells him that they need to put on helmets and space suits if they’re going to withstand the radioactive gas.
Making his way to the front lines of the fighting, Wildstar comes face to face with Desslok–and it’s worth noting that this is the first time in the entirety of the series that these two main enemies have laid eyes on one another. Desslok demands the Star Force’s Captain, and when Wildstar tells him that the Captain is ill and that he is acting as Deputy Captain, Desslok is amused. “Heh, heh, heh, so the Star Force is being led by a mere boy!”
Desslok introduces himself, and his anger is palpable as he explains himself. “You thought I was dead, didn’t you? That was your first mistake! Gamilon has withstood many disasters! As long as I live, Gamilon lives! You’ve done well for one so young, but I strike the last blow!” Once the Star Force is dispatched, Desslok intends to crash the Argo into Earth Defense headquarters in the underground city, after first destroying the Cosmo DNA.
It’s Nova who has a brainstorm as to how to turn the tide. She rushes to the laboratory and begins to activate the Cosmo DNA, reasoning that it should be able to neutralize the radioactive “sleeping” gas just as it will the radiation on Earth. But the gas is seeping into the chamber, and while he sticks around long enough to shoot down an attacking enemy soldier, Sandor has to flee the room for his life, advising Nova from the observation deck.
Nova is able to activate the Cosmo DNA, and as advertised, the deadly gas begins to clear away. Losing his advantage, Desslok orders his troops to withdraw–he puzzlingly indicates that they can’t breathe the purified air, a STAR BLAZERS addition that flies in the face of every other Gamilon interaction with humanity that we’ve seen or will see. The day is saved–but not before Nova herself has been exposed to the gas, and her limp body falls from the height of the Cosmo DNA to the deck below. Wildstar is distraught when he learns from Sandor what has happened. YAMATO is even more cruel on this point, as Sandor explains that a flaw in their construction of the Cosmo DNA is what left Nova exposed–he can correct this flaw, but it’s too little, too late for her.
After the commercial break, Wildstar commiserates with Captain Avatar for what, unbeknownst to both men, will be their final conversation. The Captain urges his protege not to give up hope. “Wildstar, you know what hope has meant to the Star Force? Without that hope, we never could have gotten to Iscandar. And the people of Earth, living underground, hoping that we would return so they could reclaim their place in the sun. “
The Captain’s words are more fanciful than they might first appear thanks to a major liberty that STAR BLAZERS takes with this episode: Nova isn’t just asleep or in a coma, in YAMATO she is absolutely and 100% dead. She gave her life to save Wildstar and the rest of the Star Force, to say nothing of the Earth. As their homeworld comes into view, the members of the Star Force rush to the observation decks, all except Wildstar who is profoundly sad and depressed. He goes to the morgue, where Nova’s body is being held in state–STAR BLAZERS cuts all of the shots where it’s clear that Nova is lifeless–and with anguish he reveals the true depths of his feelings for Nova. But it’s too late. Even with their longshot mission to save humanity looking like it will be a success, there is no joy in Wildstar’s heart any longer. He picks up Nova’s lifeless form and carries it to the bridge, so that she too can see the Earth.
But it’s not over yet. Desslok, driven by his all-consuming need for vengeance, is still out there, and he once again lines up a shot with his powerful Desslok Gun. The radar on the bridge picks up the incredibly powerful energy surge headed straight for the Argo, but there isn’t enough time for the Star Force to avoid it.
But then, Sandor activates a switch and the entire hull of the Argo begins to glow and shimmer. He’s devised a defense for the ship that works on the same principle as the Gamilon Reflex Gun on Pluto, and it reflects the Desslok Gun blast right back at Desslok’s own ship, destroying it and him. (Or so it would seem for the moment–the trailer for the next episode would show clearly that Desslok survived.) This Deus Ex Machina defense system was a byproduct of the fact that the YAMATO production team thought that this was going to be the final episode ever–despite the fact that there are subsequently dozens of occasions on which such a defense would have been invaluable, it is never used or even mentioned again. In any event, the way to Earth is now clear at last.
Up in the Captain’s quarters, Captain Avatar tells Doctor Sane that he wants to be alone and thanks the Doctor for all of his service. After Sane leaves, Avatar gazes down at the Earth and pulls out his old photograph of his dead son and presumably daughter-in-law. “The Earth. I’m sorry I won’t be here to see you green again. But I have seen you.” And then his arm drops lifelessly and he quietly expires. Returning to the room a few seconds later, all Doctor Sane can do is to snap off a handy salute to the now-deceased Captain.
There’s a visual segue here from Captain Avatar’s lifeless face to that of Nova, still on the bridge with Wildstar, and the implication is that Avatar has something to do with what happens next. But nothing is ever spelled out. Either way, as Wildstar holds her lifeless body, Nova somehow revives and wakes up. It’s a joyous moment on the bridge as Wildstar has a new lease on life and on a future, as does the Earth.
As the episode closes out, the narrator tells us “In the year 2200, the Star Force returned to Earth.” But STAR BLAZERS trims the final three-point flyby from YAMATO showing the ship descending to the planet’s surface and then it regaining it’s natural blue color. This is natural enough given that this final sequence took the place of the end credits in the original broadcast. The Japanese final narrative crawl was even more specific: “On September 6, 2200, the Yamato returned to Earth safely. Space was calm, as if nothing had happened.” Of the original 114 crewmen who had set sail, 67 safely came back, with 47 lives having been lost during the voyage.
The trailer for the next STAR BLAZERS adventure was a bit longer than usual, and promised an exciting new enemy; the Comet Empire. So the story wasn’t quite finished just yet. And American audiences wouldn’t have to wait years for the follow-up as the original Japanese fans did–it would be only a day away.