Uchuu Senkan Yamato 2199 – Episode Twenty One – Prison Planet 17
May 21, 2016 Leave a comment
While I adore Yamato 2199’s action scenes and episodes, and would argue that it offers some of the best examples of spaceship and plane combat in anime, I find the more reflective moments far more interesting. They present us with the opportunity to reflect on previous episodes, and watch as the crew of the Yamato deal with their current situation, and the ever present threat of destruction at the hands of Gamilas. Whereas the previous episode was a perfect example of the large scale ship warfare that Yamato 2199 does so well, this episode further delves into the complications within the Gamilas hegemony. The opening sequence depicting the Yamato preparing all those who have died for burial in space is perhaps the first real acknowledgement of their mission’s cost. Death has been an ever present theme within the series – the earth is dying, and the narrative makes it abundantly clear that without the Yamato missions success, Earth would ultimately become a dead planet, and what is eft of humanity would eventually destroy itself in riots and self-destruction. Furthermore, there have been numerous occasions when the Yamato has taken significant damage, likely resulting in injury and death. But, until now the series hasn’t stopped to reflect on all those losses, they were merely background to enhance the stories drama.
In many respects the crew of the Yamato, and their ability to pull together, and work for the common good in a time of need represents an excellent (and rather stereotypical) example of Japanese society, and an attitude towards collective work and success. Irrespective of their true feelings towards the dead and their current predicament, the crew must keep the Yamato moving, and complete the task assigned to them. Anybody who cannot do that is pushed to one side, so that they do not interrupt the work flow. As such, Kodai, who is more concerned about the kidnapping of Yuki, is quietly, but firmly given the opportunity to scout a potentially useful planet, and see if there are any hostile forces present. This serves two purposes – the Yamato does not run into unexpected enemy forces, and an individual, who, despite his rank, could potentially hinder, or even damage the repair effort is no longer on board. That he is joined by Yurisha, a princess of Iscander, and somebody who has immense power over the Yamato, as an official observer suggests that, while he may be potentially disruptive on-board, his mission, and his personal feelings are nevertheless important to the stories narrative.
Prison Planet 17, the setting for much of the episode offers another glimpse at the damage done by Gamilas, and introduces the cartoonishly evil prison warden who relieves his boredom by using prisoners for target practice. What is particularly interesting is the way Yuki is treated throughout the episode, suggesting that Iscanderns are viewed as something akin to deities by those from Gamilas. It is also fascinating to see how much resentment there is among the inmates towards Gamilas, and how easily those who disagree with Desler can just disappear. In this case, Admiral Ditz has been imprisoned, and is ultimately rescued by his own daughter Melda, suggesting that despite their love for Gamilas, there are plenty of individuals who despise their planets current state, and do not agree with Desler’s chosen direction. The episode also serves to demonstrate that, despite his pretty nasty attitude, and a willingness to take over the Yamato for his own aims, Ito deeply cares about the fate of earth. In fact, his dying wish is for Yurisha to help the Yamato fulfil its mission, and while that does not absolve him of his crimes, we at least get to see that Ito is not universally evil.
Ultimately this episode represents a brief respite, and a momentary glimpse at the complexities which underpin the Gamilas empire and society. What we see, even if only for a short period of time are deep-seated anxieties, anger, fear, and desire – a society that has been pushed in a dangerous, and ultimately destructive direction by the whims of its supreme leader. Furthermore, the episode also offers a fleeting glance at the realities which the Yamato must eventually face; that Iscander, their shining beacon of hope in the inky vastness of space, is the twin planet of their would be conquerors, Gamilas. As such, the episode represents a reflection on the series as a whole, and allows individual characters to come to terms with the current situation as they grow ever closer to their eventual goal. Indeed, Earth, despite its constant presence in the minds of the crew, is but a fleeting memory, and strange, alien worlds are now far closer than their original home. This is one reason I enjoy these sorts of episodes, since they can lend perspective to the Yamato’s struggle, and offer a chance to rest between one major battle and another.