In Our Next STAR BLAZERS Adventure

EPISODE 52

Come on, Wildstar, you’ve done all you can here. The Argo has served us well, now Earth needs us.” – Doctor Sane

We had no idea, tuning in on that Tuesday, that the ten-and-a-half week journey of STAR BLAZERS was about to reach its conclusion. Wednesday would take us back around to the beginning of the series, which would play thereafter in reruns. We were also largely unaware that in Japan, further stories were in the process of being told about these characters–it was the strong interest in these unseen stories that drove a large part of the early fandom for STAR BLAZERS and the larger realm of “Japanimation” from which it sprang. It was also an excellent episode to go out on, despite its necessary deus ex machina ending–and despite the need to edit out several bits of business from the original YAMATO 2 episode. If the previous episode was all about winning a hard-fought victory, then this one is about shouldering a bitter defeat.

The Star Force believes they have defeated the Comet Empire until they see, emerging from the ruins, a gigantic new space fortress! Prince Zordar fights on!” And Gigantic it is, dwarfing the size of the battered Argo. It turns in space, presenting its broadside, and a ridiculous amount of guns hone in on the Earth ship. The Argo is peppered with hundreds of shots–it looks as though nobody’s even bothering to aim, they’re just shooting in the general direction of the Star Force. But the Argo is hit numerous times, and disappears into a cloud of smoke and explosions.

The detonations send the crew on the main bridge flying, and Homer and Eager are both wounded as their stations explode around them. Wildstar is concerned about Nova, but she’s fine, and helps him in assisting Homer and Eager. Homer sure seems like he dies here, his weak utterance of “I’m all right–unhh!” feeling like his last words. Fortunately, he’ll turn up later in the episode. But he’s one of the lucky ones, as we shall see momentarily.

STAR BLAZERS cuts two sequences here. In the first, Dash has made his way down to one of the main gun turrets, where he urges the crew to fight back–and is shocked to discover that everyone in the turret is already dead. As he processes this information, another volley hits the turret, which explodes, seemingly killing him. This sure seems like what the YAMATO 2 production team had in mind here, but when the follow-up TV film SPACE BATTLESHIP YAMATO: THE NEW VOYAGE made its debut a few months later, Dash was still alive and well, so somebody must have changed their mind.

Meanwhile, down in the engine room, Orin is hit–and his death is a certainty, since he also perished in SARABA, the film that YAMATO 2 was amending in order to keep the property alive. With his last breath, he radios the bridge, telling Wildstar that the engine output is falling, but that the ship can still move–before his lifeless hand falls onto the console and out of frame.

Secure in his victory, Prince Zordar takes a move out of Desslok’s playbook and calls over to the Argo. For all that they’ve been battling the Comet Empire for over five weeks now, this is the first and only communication the Star Force ever has with him. And it’s a dramatic and memorable speech, one that was often used in commercials for the series: “Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! Fools! Are you ready to give up? Why fight on, Star Force, can’t you see it’s useless? You’re beaten! There is no power greater than mine! You are nothing! I hold the whole universe in the palm of my hand. I just close my hand and planets crumble, the stars shatter! What chance does your planet Earth have? It’s a cosmic joke! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!

Zordar turns his warship towards the Earth, intending to force the defeated Star Force watch as he lays waste to the planet. His ship deploys an enormous bazooka-like weapon, and he starts firing potshots at the surface far below. These images are harrowing, probably even more so for Japanese audiences who could still remember the ravages of the Atomic Bomb. Some minor casualties are edited out here, in particular in the Defense Command chamber, where the Earth Commander watches impotently and waits for the end. On board the Argo, Wildstar thinks to himself, “Zordar must be stopped! But how?

The answer to that question may have just shown up on the far side of the moon (which, once again, is clearly still in one piece despite the damage it took a few episodes ago.) There, we find Trelaina’s flying citadel. You could be forgiven for having forgotten the fact that Trelaina saved the adrift Mark Venture back on Friday–and realize that for the YAMATO 2 audiences, that happened two weeks earlier.

Venture is still non-responsive, so Trelaina is giving him a transfusion of her Life Force to revive him. In YAMATO 2, this is more directly a blood transfusion–Trelaina even talks about how she’s beginning to grow cold, but that she’ll still give Venture every drop of blood she has left in her if it will bring him back to life. And he does begin to stir, giving her hope. As her craft rounds the moon, she’s able to see the flaming wreck of the Argo in the distance, as well as Zordar’s dreadnought attacking the Earth, and she is alarmed by these developments.

Back on the Argo, IQ-9 reports that the damage to the ship will cause further explosions and that the wounded must be evacuated. Doctor Sane shows up to tell Wildstar that they’ve got 18 wounded, including Sandor. This is a major shift from YAMATO 2, where Sane tells him that there are only 18 survivors–and that includes the six people in the room. Either way, Wildstar asks him to evacuate the rest of the crew as well, and when the Doctor asks what about him, Wildstar casts a glance over to Nova and affirms that he’s coming along as well.

In a somber scene, the crew is evacuated. Wildstar carries the legless Sandor on his shoulder, and the older Engineer gives him some advice: “Don’t give up! You know, we should remember what Desslok said. He said as long as he lived, Gamilon lived. Well, as long as we live, Earth lives. If we have to, we’ll find another planet to live on. That’s what we live for, Wildstar!” Wildstar can only nod mutely.

Wildstar and Doctor Sane load Sandor into the final rescue ship, and the Doctor asks him if he’s coming. “I want to thank you, for everything you’ve done, Doc.” he says in reply. The Doctor urges him to come along, that there’s nothing more he can do here–and after asking about Nova’s whereabouts (“She must have left on the other ship with Homer” offers IQ-9) he appears to acquiesce. But he locks in the auto pilot, then scrambles out of the shuttle, closing it up behind him. With no way to alter course, Doctor Sane screams silently at Wildstar as he descends to the deck of the Argo and gives them a final salute as their ship recedes into the distance. Then, he turns to the burning hulk. “We’re going to win–you and I!

And now, all I have to do is say goodbye to what has been my home for so long–and to you, who have been like a father to me.” Wildstar muses aloud as he enters the silent bridge and faces the image of Captain Avatar. “Ohh, this is hard. Captain–I know what the Argo meant to you. It was your home, and it was home to the Star Force. The Argo’s a proud ship, and I’m sending her on her last mission–from which she’ll never return. It’s the only thing I can do to save planet Earth. I know to some, the Argo is just a ship, but she’s more than that to us. She’s the spirit of the Star Force, and she will do what must be done. It’s a hard duty, Captain Avatar, but if Earth is to survive, it must be done. She’ll go with honor, I promise you–a great ship.

This scene plays out differently in YAMATO 2. There, Wildstar has remained behind because of the guilt he feels about causing Earth’s destruction, but he has no plan for fighting back. It’s only as he collapses to his knees and begins sobbing that he decides to turn the ship itself into a weapon by kamikazeing it into Zordar’s dreadnought and detonating the Wave-Motion Engine–and he asks Captain Avatar’s spirit for forgiveness for going against his teachings that they must live on no matter the hardship. This itself is a major reversal from SARABA, in which it is Avatar’s own spirit that advises Wildstar not to give up, and to make his life a weapon. It was the desire to refute these sentiments that motivated much of the production of YAMATO 2 (as well, of course, as the desire to produce further installments of the series.)

At this point, Nova emerges from the shadows–she knew all along that Wildstar was going to stay behind, so she remained on board as well. In STAR BLAZERS, she tries to conceal what’s really going on with lines like, “I saw you put the escape capsule in the airlock–what’s your plan?” but even the first time I watched this episode, I was not fooled. It’s clear that these two are going to carry out a suicide mission. And that makes the fact that Wildstar asks Nova to marry him here even more of a gut-punch. (In YAMATO 2, he and Nova had been betrothed since the beginning of this series.)

Target: Zordar’s space ship! Argo, make us proud!” And the battleship begins to move towards the enemy. In YAMATO 2, this moment is accompanied by the haunting dirgelike refrain from the theme song. But ten, there’s a bright light ahead of them, and Trelaina is there, carrying Mark Venture’s unconscious but still living body. She teleports herself and her charge on board the Argo’s bridge, telling Wildstar and Nova that she’s come to return Venture to them, for she cannot take him back to Earth. This is phrased like a limitation, as though her power would destroy the Earth were she to set foot on it, but this isn’t further elaborated on.

Wildstar protests that the ship isn’t going back to Earth, and Trelaina responds that she’s aware of his plan and that the Argo need not be sacrificed; she will fight Zordar. Wildstar protests this decision, but in all honesty a little bit half-heartedly. In YAMATO 2, Trelaina tells him pointedly that it’s harder to go home in defeat than it is in victory. She also tells him there that because her blood is now in Venture’s body, she will live on in him, so there’s no concealing the fact that she intends to do herself what Wildstar has been proposing to do with the Argo. And then, proclaiming her love for Venture and for the two of them, she is back outside and moving towards Zordar’s vessel.

Zordar, meanwhile, is enjoying his genocide of the human race–until there’s a sudden glow. Then, Trelaina is there, and he knows his number is up. “Zordar, I have come because you need me!” she tells him as she descends upon his ship, bathing it in the light of her energy, “You need to learn, Zordar, a new way, another way. You have misused your power. I am here to return you to the cosmos.” Consumed with fear, Zordar tries desperately to elude his pursuer, but it is no use–and she and his ship disintegrate in a blazing ball of fire.

Some distance away, Wildstar, Nova and the unconscious Venture watch the fireworks. Wildstar tearfully gives thanks to Trelaina for what she’s done for them, and for Earth. And then, the half-destroyed wreck of the Argo turns in space and descends towards Earth, and STAR BLAZERS is finished. A few years later, a different team would translate and dub the third YAMATO television series YAMATO 3 into English as further episodes of STAR BLAZERS, but those episodes have a different ethos to them, and are more of an afterthought than a genuine continuation. But we’ll get into some of that in a few follow-ups I have planned.

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