We’ve set out to go through the entire Macross franchise in chronological order here, and we just got through the first chapter: Macross Zero, a 5-episode miniseries which served as a prequel to the show that started it all, “Macross.” Whereas “Macross Zero” came out between 2002 and 2004, the original show came out in 1982/83.
Before we get going, though, I need to explain something to the six or seven people who don’t already know it: In Japan “Macross” was more or less the show that started the whole transforming-robots craze in the ‘80s. Americans ripped this off and created “The Transformers,” and had a huge hit on their hands. Other US studios started clamoring around to find comparable shows to air, and Harmony Gold out of Texas decided to simply dub “Macross” in to English. The snag was that there were only 36 episodes of the show, and to syndicate a cartoon in those days you had to have at least 65 episodes, minimum. Harmony Gold cleverly hit on the idea of taking two unrelated Japanese shows that had similar styles, and re-writing the story in the dubbing somewhat to tie them together Macross was tied together with a show called“Southern Cross” that was intended to have about sixty episodes, thus giving them more than they needed.
Unfortunately, “Southern Cross” proved screamingly unpopular in Japan, and was cancelled after only 23 episodes. Harmony Gold quickly scrambled to find another show with a similar reliance on transforming robots to make up the difference, and settled on a show called “Genesis Climber Mospedia.” They stuck fairly close to the original stories of all three series, but they introduced some overlapping characters, recurring themes, a new musical score, and fiddled with the whole thing to the extent that this aggregate story hung together, more or less.
When “Robotech” hit the air in 1985, it was like nothing else in Children’s programming: The story was an epic, covering three generations of characters in a series of overlapping, interlocked wars. There was a strong romantic through-line. People died, sometimes in very large numbers. It was just a freakin’ great show.
In 1985. I’m not sure how it holds up today.
The bottom line is that “Macross” and the first “Generation” of “Robotech” tell the same story, but aside from that point of intersection, both franchises diverge wildly. Lots of people who loved “Robotech” back in the day have never seen Macross, and vice versa. I’ve always been kind of interested in how the Harmony Gold people changed the story to make it fit their own needs, so my intention is to watch the same episode of both shows, and after the review I’ll list as many differences as I can spot between them.
PLAY BY PLAY
In the year 1999, an alien space ship crashes on a Polynesian island. Realizing the threat these heretofore unsuspected aliens represent, a World Government is established, but not everyone wants to be part of this new global state, and that leads fairly predictably to World War III. Most of this is explained to us by a briefly narrated montage. During the war, the World Government continued to study and repair the giant alien spacecraft.
In the year 2009, the ship is finally completed, and is preparing for it’s maiden voyage. A mid-sized city has grown up around it in the interim. Captain Gloval is preparing to give a speech while ace fighter pilot Roy Fokker is narrating an airshow for the throngs of spectators. A teenaged boy flies through the fighter formation, messing it up, annoying Roy. He and the kid know each other from way back. The kid lands and though they like each other, they’ve got some harsh words and some obvious hurt going back a ways. Roy had promised to return to the kid’s dad’s air circus after the war, but never did. The kid - obviously Japanese, and named Hikaru Ichijyo calls Roy a murderer for all the people he killed during the war. Roy’s hurt by this, but shakes it off and shows Hikaru one of the new fighters.
Meanwhile, in space a big alien ship jumps out of hyperspace, tracking the ship that crashed on earth a decade before. Unsure whether or not people as primitive as humans could have anything to take notice of, they send in a recon mission. On the island, the space ship comes to life, it’s bow unfolds, and it’s main gun goes off, blasting a valley through the mountainous side of the island, and destroying one of the alien ships in orbit. Convinced that the earth is harboring the ship they’re looking for, they launch an advanced squad to attack and retrieve the derelict.
Meanwhile, Roy goes to check on what the big boom was, and leaves Hikaru in the cockpit of a fighter, telling him just to stay there until he gets back. Captain Global is called to the bridge, and realizes that whomever built and abandoned this ship in the first place fitted it out as a booby trap set to go off if their enemies ever got close. And now they’ve been sucked in to the thick of a war with beings from another world. Swell. They launch all fighters, and prepare the ship for launch. In space, some of earth’s own warships attack the aliens. Despite their clearly inferior battle strategies, these humans possess some shockingly powerful explosives that take out a few of the alien ships. Annoyed, the aliens quickly destroy the human spacecraft, and then launch an attack on the island.
Meanwhile, Hikaru is awakened by a woman in air traffic control yelling at him over his headset, telling him to get flying. He tries to explain he’s not a fighter pilot, but there’s some miscommunication, so he reluctantly takes off and ends up in the thick of it. He contacts Roy, who tries to protect him, but Hikaru’s plane takes a hit and tumbles out of control. There’s nothing Roy can do. The air traffic controller - Misa Hayase - yells at him to change course so he doesn’t hit the space ship, and finally realizes he’s a civilian. He explains that the controls are dead and he’s out of control. She tells him to pull lever “B” on the left hand side, which he does. The plane transforms in to a 40-foot-tall mighty fighty robot, and smashes through four or five buildings in town before finally coming to a stop.
Stunned, but happy to be alive, the battle rages all around him.
This is still a really great ‘first episode,’ as it sets up the whole thing, introduces character, and hit’s the ground running. There’s not much exposition here, and all of it is on a personal level. They’re talking about their lives, not abstract concepts of interstellar politics. People are just going on about their lives, with no concept of the world of hurt that’s about to come down on ‘em. I like that. I defy anyone to watch this, and not be interested to see what happens next.
Coming off the super-crisp and beautiful animation of Macross Zero, jumping to the cheap, semi-sloppy early-80s style in this show is, well, kind of a shock. It was considered really good in its day, however, and once you get used to it, it isn’t bad.
Visual Scale is already a problem in this series. We’re told that the derelict space ship is less than a mile long, yet it towers above the office buildings all around it. This would become a ludicrous problem later on in the show.
There’s some interesting fighter designs in this first episode that we never see again later - some blue fighters lifting off from the ground that are sort of wedge-shaped, and some space fighters Earth is using in orbit that have a narrow, almost helicoptery-looking wing on the top of ‘em.
These new fighters are superficially identical to the prototype ones in Macross Zero, but they can fly in space and are nuclear powered.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ROBOTECH AND MACROSS VERSIONS.
Quite a few.
Firstly, the music is completely different in both version. The opening title sequence is similar, but different for both shows, mainly in the second half when Harmony Gold spliced in scenes from the opening credits of Southern Cross and Mospedia.
The character names are a bit different, too:
Lisa Hayes in Robotech is Misa Hayase in Macross, and rather than being a nice southern girl from an old military Virginia family, she’s very clearly Japanese in the original version. She’s also said to be a “First Lieutenant” in the Japanese version, whereas she’s a Lt. Commander in Robotech, and quite a few years older by inference. It is a little unclear if “First Lieutenant” is her rank (In between Second Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander), or if they mean it in the sense of “The Captain’s Lieutenant, which would make her a bit more like an XO on an old time sailing ship. I’m interested to find out more about this as the ship goes on.
Claudia Grant from Robotech is Claudia LaSalle in Macross. There’s no mention of her kid brother Edgar LaSalle from Macross Zero, of course, but it’s interesting to suspect that Roy met Claudia through her brother. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think Claudia outranks Misa in this version of things, whereas in Macross the opposite was true.
Roy Fokker from Robotech is Roy Focker in Macross, his name obviously changed because of its accidental similarity to an English profanity. Curiously, in Robotech he’s a Lt. Commander, but in Macross he’s a Major. Same rank, different service. In Robotech it’s said that he shot down 108 planes during the wars. In Macross, it’s said he shot down 180! Wow! And I thought Robotech was using ridiculously inflated numbers!
Rick Hunter from Robotech is, as I’ve already said, Hikaru Ichijyo, and he’s clearly intended to be Japanese.
Captain Gloval from Robotech is Captain "Global" in Macross.
Lin Minmei has the same name.
The “Veritech” fighters from Robotech are called “Valkyries” in Macross. The model they’re flying in this show is the VF-01, the ones they flew in the previous miniseries were called “VF-zeroes.”
“Armor-1” is “ARMD-1” in the Macross version.
In Robotech, the alien derelict is named "The SDF-1" and it's crashlaned on "Macross Island." In Macross, however, the island is called "South Antaria" and the ship is called the "Macross" - "Macro" meaning "Really big" and "SS" being an abbreviation for "Space Ship."
There are plenty more substantial changes, too. Most notably, Hikaru and Roy are half brothers in Robotech, but they’re not at all related in Macross. The reason for this is fairly obvious: In Japan there’s a master/apprentice kind of relationship called “Senpai and Kohai.” The one who teaches a skill is called “Senpai,” which literally means “Big Brother,” and the one who learns is called “Kohai” or, literally, “Little Brother.” It’s a fairly solid relationship in their society, and even years after the teacher/student relationship has ended, it is common for Sempai and Kohai to remain close, and for Kohai to continue to show deference and respect to their Sempai. So what we’re supposed to get from this is that Roy was the guy who taught Rick how to fly. Unfortunately, the people who made Robotech were obviously working from a literal Japanese-to-English translation of the script, and didn’t recognize that all those “big brother” comments were an idiom. Thus, in Macross Zero, when a slightly younger, much less jaded Roy playfully calls Aires “Sempai,” he’s elliptically referring to her taking his virginity back in college. Yikes!
When the aliens enter our system in Robotech, they eventually identify the SDF-1 as “Zor’s Battlefortress.” In Macross, the aliens identify it as the renegade “Supervision Army” cruiser they’ve been looking for.
In Robotech, when the Earth Space Forces attack the aliens in orbit, they comment on how the resistance is heavy, but unsophisticated. “Very heavy resistance, Sir.” “Yes, but why are they using such primitive weaponry?” In the Macross version of this same scene, the aliens are stunned that the humans have “The lost Reaction technology,” and realize they need to tread carefully. Interestingly, it’s pretty obvious that what they’re talking about here are fairly standard nuclear weapons. So the aliens don’t have Nukes, but they’ve got starships, eh? Interesting.
In Robotech, Captain Gloval gives a kind of wussy, rambly speech about how Boobytracks are “The oldest trick in military history.” In Macross, he gives a much more detailed explanation of how the Nazis made extensive use of boobytraps during the closing stages of World War II in order to hamper and/or slow the Allied advance. I can’t figure why they would have changed this, unless in 1985 mention of the Axis would have been somehow considered inappropriate for kids. If so, I can’t imagine why. Weird proto-political correctness there.
In Robotech, Gloval says “I’d hoped I’d never live to see this day. After we’ve finally established peace on our planet, we go to war with hostile aliens.” In Macross he says, “Just yesterday I was at a high level conference where it was decided that if this ship ever met aliens, we were not to initiate hostilities under any circumstances. Ironic. Launch Fighters.” Again, I don’t know why they changed it, the original line is much much better than the American one.
There’s also an earlier scene on the bridge where the girls talk about the previous night, and Misa complains about Claudia being out until 4AM with Roy. Claudia dismissively says that Roy can drink infinite amounts of booze without it having any effect on him, and that he flies with hangovers all the time, it doesn’t bother him at all. When Misa expresses displeasure over this, Claudia jokingly agrees that Roy is more trouble than he’s worth and if Misa wants him, she can have him. This sets the rest of the bridge bunnies to ragging on Misa about how she has no interest in men, only the ship. In Robotech, there’s a vastly watered down version of this scene with all references to sex and drinking removed, for obvious reasons, but the substituted dialog is kind of clunky, and I feel cheated for having missed this dialog all these years: “Whadya’ know! Misa does like men after all!” “But she’s so mean!”
A number of scenes are cut out, of course. There’s a number of scenes of people getting blown up by alien bombardment that obviously weren’t kid-friendly, so those got chopped. There’s a leering shot of Minmei walking away from Roy that got chopped, though there’s nothing even remotely dirty about it. Curiously, there’s a scene of an alien cruiser launching fighters that got chopped for some reason, I can’t figure why.
Another one I can't figure is a very breif flashback of younger versions of Roy and Hikaru flying biplanes in the flying circus. No idea why they'd cut this.
Hikaru mentions that his dad died - evidently recently - while stunt-flying. I always wondered why "Rick" never went to visit his dad when he got back to earth, now I know.
There was a surprising amount of profanity, almost all of it from Roy, but there’s a few scattered “What the hell?” kind of comments here and there. Obviously that got chopped. There’s also a great line from Roy that didn’t make it in to Robotech. When the siren sounds, he says “Another war? Well, it *has* been two years….” This is interesting from a continuity point of view, since Macross Zero was just a year prior to this. I’m sure the Japanese are as obsessive about timelines as Trekies are, so the timing can’t have been an accident. This makes me wonder if the Anti-UN forces in “Zero” might have simply been non-pacified holdouts still operating long after their side had surrendered. That kind of thing happens, you know. Confederate General Standhope Wattie held out for four months after Lee surrendered. The CSS Alabama managed to keep operating for two solid years after the South surrendered. I wonder if the Anti-UN Carrier was in a similar state.
There's a big difference in naration, too: In the Robotech version of things there's entirely too much exposition by the narator that covers the opening three minutes or so. In Macross, we open cold - which is much more effective - and then there's a very brief explanation of the alien crash, WWIII, and now ten years later...
Finally, the closing credits were different: A ballady kind of song plays while a live-action hand flips through a prop photo album full of drawn “Photographs” of Minmei.
This was kind of fun. I’m looking forward to doing Episode 2!