July 05, 2009

Moral Cowardice and Courage can Look Very Similar

In 1974 a company in Japan called Office Academy put out a childrens show that focused on the crew of a space battleship on a desperate mission.  The show was called Space Battleship Yamato, 1979-80 it was picked up by an American company which dubbed and syndicated it under the title Starblazers. Unlike many shows brought over it was translated quite respectfully, if not entirely accurately and, in my opinion was one of the better sci-fi shows to air in the 1980's.

Thee were several changes made for the American after-school audience, Saki became "..water from a spring that once flowed fresh and clear...and will again if we succeed", the name of the ship was changed to ARGO, and some of the more graphic violence was excised.
With the glaring omission of  one line in season two* the changes were either of little consequence or arguably improved the story. This was a remarkable accomplishment, especially given the terrible record US companies had of dubbing foreign shows until recently, and the writers and voice actors for the American version deserve considerable credit.

One particular scene from episode one really hooked me on the show as a kid. It very much set the tone for the series. I recently encountered the Japanese version of episode 1, and though the action is almost identical the difference is glaring.

Compare and contrast the difference, between this scene in Starblazers and Yamato....and ask yourself, given the choices of course, speed and targeting, is there any difference in results?

A few Points:
For clarity, In Space Battleship Yamato, it is subsequently revealed that Missile Ship 17 is named Yukikaze, In Starblazers it is the Paladin.

In both cases the overall strategic and tactical situations are identical. Earth is under bombardment by the mass drivers of an alien force that has established an artillery outpost on Pluto. As an added bit of dramatic overkill, the space rocks are highly radioactive (and are called planet bombs). Admiral Okita (Capt. Avatar) has put together a scratch force built around the last surviving Earth BB and several escorts. The mission goal to destroy the enemy mass drivers and buy earth some time. The enemy is at least a couple of decades in advance of Earth technologically and has superior numbers as well. Earth vessels must close to point blank range to destroy enemy forces as their energy weapons have a short effective range...their most effective weapons are armor piercing nuclear tipped rockets..but those have an even shorter reach, thus it is critical to mission success that the force not be discovered until it is very close to its goal. The only Earth vessel with any major ability to fight while hurt is the BB. The escorts are very lacking in durability and redundancy.

Shortly before the clip begins the Earth forces encountered an enemy picket which called reinforcements that out number the Earth forces by 5 to one. With a quantitative and qualitative advantage all on one side, the cold equations of the N-square Law scarcely need to be consulted to determine the outcome. Though the Earth forces do, surprisingly, destroy some enemy ships, the battle is utterly hopeless.

At this point the two versions diverge....


relevant footage ends at 2:22

Star Blazers:

relevant footage ends at 2:11

My Take:
In both series, Okita/Avatar realizes that no strategic goal could be accomplished given the forces arrayed against them at Pluto. He  makes the perfectly sensible (and correct) decision to husband his remaining forces to fight at a later date rather than squander 490 lives and 2 very precious ships for no strategic (or even tactical) gain. In Yamato however, Mamorou Kodai then disobeys orders because his ego is bruised by the order to retreat and, in a fit of utter narcissism, leads the ship and 19 personnel under his command into oblivion. After the speech he gave, the American Military would have likely brought him back in irons had he been rescued. Kodai is certainly physically brave, but, while that is an important quality, it is no substitute for perspective, professionalism or the ability to follow orders. His moral cowardice causes him to waste his ship and the personnel entrusted to him to no good end.**

In Starblazers, Wildstar executes the same course changes Kodai did, fires weapons at the same targets with the same results and likewise loses his entire command. However his stated reason... "It's a simple matter of mathematics Captain. There are 470 people on your ship, 20 on mine." ...is not only correct from a humanitarian standpoint, it is tactically sound. The Battleship, however inadequate it may be, is a very hard to replace asset and 470 trained personnel are an invaluable resource. The destroyers JOB is to defend the capital ships. In his case the refusal to follow Avatars orders come off very much as a military professional who displays sufficient initiative to act upon information his command does not yet have..."...can't talk now! There are Gamilon ships approaching!". In contrast to the pointless sacrifice of Yukikaze, the Paladins last battle brought enough time for the Earth Battleship to escape. As an added bonus, the fact that Avatar and Orion were aboard made that have far reaching strategic implications...but that is only clear to fans of the show.

The final action of Paladin is reminiscent of Themopolae or the USS Johnston at Samar and is in the finest traditions of any military service. That of Yukikaze is more like the arrogance of Roland or the charge of the light brigade...but worse than either.

The "simple mathematics" line is in IMHO much better from a dramatic standpoint as well...

* As to the season 2 line in question:
** More damning still, is the implication, absent from the American version, that Kodai could have saved his ship and crew if he'd followed orders.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 04:28 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
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1 Just want to point out that the Charge of the Light Brigade was the result of a mistaken order, not some narcissistic desire for glory by the brigade's commander. Its my understanding though, that in the context of the Japanese military tradition, that the Yokikaze's captain's attitude was in line with pre-WWII attitudes. How else does one explain the actions of some of the Japanese military officers, for example, at Guadalcanal?

Anyways, just my two cents.

Posted by: Bill at Mon Jul 6 11:52:04 2009 (BtODw)

2 Yes, you are, of course, correct about the Light Brigade.
That was a debacle and a waste but not actually intentional.
This fictional example comes off as rather worse as it is a CO wasting the lives of his crew. It is, of course mitigated by being a cartoon.

Good observations regards Japanese actions in WW2.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Tue Jul 7 22:29:24 2009 (V5zw/)

3 Up to a certain extent I can understand the "shame" and "atonement" concepts that leads to suicide in the Japanese culture and the concept of "face" that is common in East Asia. But the Japanese Army esp. after their first coup seemed to go bat shit crazy in a lot of their actions. With the civilian population undergoing death by kinetic weapons, starvation,disease, two atomic bombings, and the Russian attack into Japanese held Manchuria, Part of the Army staff and the Imperial guard tried a coup to prevent the Emperor from surrendering. They were going to hold him prisoner. This was very much against orders and tradition. They wanted to "go down fighting." Oh well I don't understand women either.

Posted by: toad at Wed Jul 8 16:05:13 2009 (/ymBE)

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