Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 – Episode Four – Gravestone on a Frozen Field
January 23, 2016 Leave a comment
With the fourth episode a number of subtle little shifts occur regarding character development, while also offering a reminder of the price paid by those who have come before. At the same time the series maintains its classic sci-fi feel, with more meetings, disagreements, and little moments that point to something more complex than a story simply about saving earth.
In many respects this is a very simple episode dealing with ideas of duty, revenge, and loss, with Kodai and the fresh wound that is his brother’s death initially adding an element of tension. The first major disagreement of the series comes in the form of Kodai and Shima arguing over the best route to take during a planning meeting. Kodai clearly wants to go to Pluto and destroy the Gamilas base, thus ending the immediate threat to earth, but Shima acknowledges that to do so would be to delay their journey, and possibly put the whole operation in jeopardy. It is an interesting clash between duty and personal feelings, with Shima keeping his personal feelings bottled up in acknowledgement of the necessities of the Yamato’s mission. Kodai on the other hand wears his feelings on his sleeve, and his frequent outbursts serves to demonstrate his immaturity, while also highlighting the deep level of hatred, fear, and perhaps even sadness within the crew as a whole. Similarly, when a distress signal is discovered, Shima’s immediate reaction is to help another sailor in distress (the idea of sailors and ships is a recurring theme within the series, whereby everything is often treated more as a naval expedition than one in space), which is still a diversion, but one to help, rather than to destroy.
Of course, as is the way with such stories, their argument is cut short by engine trouble, requiring the Yamato to make a detour to repair; as such they make their way to the origin of the distress signal anyway. In many respects these sorts of coincidences are simply a part of Yamato 2199’s genre; we just have to look at Star Trek, Stargate, or Farscape (to name but a few) to understand that coincidence is an important part of sci-fi, and a way to move the story forward. The disagreement between Kodai and Shima is also short lived – rather than a full blown argument, its better to look at it as a clash of ideologies that many of the crew may share. That they quickly make up, with a cheesy, if important fist-bump also serves to highlight another aspect of this anime – in keeping with its classic sci-fi leanings, Yamato 2199 has a lot of men being very manly, with full blown arguments between male officers serving to demonstrate their energy, emotions, and I suppose manliness. There are parallels here with classic Jidaigeki (period films), or Yakuza films, where men speak and act in a very particular way, but it is also in keeping with a particular approach to male characters in the 1960s and 1970s. The smiles of characters like Mori Yuki, and Niimi Kaoru are there to show us that rather than a proper argument, this is a case of young men expressing themselves, and because they are a particular kind of character, they can only truly do that with emotional responses.
The second part of the episode largely deals with an attack by Gamilas robot troops, feelings of loss, and a subtle shift in character dynamics. Kodai must finally come to terms with the loss of his older brother when they discover the distress signals origin, which happens to be the Yukikaze, his brother’s ship. By seeing the frozen hulk of a once proud ship, riddled with holes, and devoid of life, we are given a first hand view of the realities of space warfare. By discovering his brother’s gun, Kodai can finally put to rest certain demons, and acknowledge that his brother has died. It also serves as an opportunity for Kodai and Mori to get to know one another, and grow a little closer as they deal with marauding robots, and the realisation that as a crew they can only depend on one another to stay safe. It is a subtle shift, no major fireworks, but a number of more intimate moments when they help one another, and Kodai saves a briefly kidnapped Mori from robots. This may be the biggrest shift in the episode, but there are a number of other subtler moments with characters watching one another from a distance. The second larger change was the introduction of Yamamoto Akira, who is initially introduced as an accountant, but who clearly possess superb combat capabilities. Comedy was served up with Analyzer, the ships main sup-computer, a robot that has a number of similarities with the one in Lose in Space, and the ships nurse Harada Mikoto. Everything about these character introductions and interactions is actually quite subtle, even the humour, which is just enough to diffuse what could be a tense, even slightly dull scene.
Another little moment involved the Gamilas garrison on Pluto, and the knowledge that they are all ‘second-class Gamilans’, pointing to a tiered society, where those considered les important are shoved off to the ends of the universe. Their commander is a particularly unpleasant man, who clearly worms his way into various circles that serve to further his military career, while sending others to do the dirty work. It is a brief scene, but an interesting one that helps to add further complexity to Gamilas society, and move away from the idea that they are unholy evil bent on destruction and domination – although there are also clear fascist overtones in their uniforms, insignias and military structure. I should also point out the superb soundtrack, with music and sound effects often taking the place of dialogue to tell the story and convey feelings and emotions. As an audio-visual experience, episode four is wonderful, with haunting melodies, and little trills conveying the vast emptiness of space, and the sadness felt by those as they discover the last resting place of a battle ship and its brave crew.