EPISODE REVIEW: Macross: “Transformation” (Episode 5) AND Robotech: “Transformation” (Episode 5)

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It's a little tedious watching basically the same episodes back to back, but I'm really digging this project! It's fun revisiting old friends and adventures from a quarter century ago, and then comparing them to a less bowdlerized version.

PLAY BY PLAY:

Having rebuilt their home aboard the Macross, Minmei convinces her aunt and uncle to re-open it and ask the military for a ration allowance. The Mayor quickly agrees that getting back to a normal routine would be good for everyone, and no sooner have they set out the ‘open’ sign when a jeep load of soldiers show up. The soldiers quickly recognizer her as that girl that was living with a guy below decks for nearly two weeks, and then start needling her about whether the two of them got busy or not. Hikaru - living upstairs in the spare bedroom - overhears her describing him as “Just a friend” and gets depressed. He mopes off, giving Minmei the cold shoulder in the process.

Meanwhile, in Engineering, Captain Global and the Chief Engineer are discussing their options with the Main Gun. Since the Hyperspace Fold Engine pulled a Niven and disappeared two episodes back, they can no longer fire the gun, because the energy supply for it ran THROUGH the engine to the weapon itself. The engineer points out that the ship is modular and can change it’s physical layout, and if they do this, it should allow the gun to plug directly in to the energy supply without the Fold Engine in the middle, and hence it should work. Unfortunately, this would completely tear up the city that’s grown up in the unused portions of the ship. Global rejects the option as being too hard on the refugees.

Hikaru is poking around the wreckage of his racer, and Roy comes to cheer him up. He insults him a bit, then takes him on a tour of the ship and shows him the Prometheus, which is now attached to the side and conducting normal fighter operations. Hikaru is impressed, but resists when Roy tries to goad him in to joining the military as a pilot. He asks Roy about girls, instead, prompting Roy to laugh pretty hysterically at him. He tells him not to be too worried about Minmei changing overnight, because *She’s* the one who told Roy that Hikaru was depressed, and suggested he check up on the boy. Also, “Girls like her are fickle as hell, so make damn sure you don’t loose her to some other man.”

Hikaru feels better.

Back in orbit ‘round the Earth’s moon, the Aliens are finally getting around to reviewing reconnaissance footage from the battle of South Antaria Island, and they’re pretty shocked to discover us humans are a tiny lot, most barely six feet tall. The shorter alien mentions an old legend warning their kind not to have anything to do with the worlds of tiny creatures like us, so the fleet reluctantly heads away to press the attack on the Macross.

Hikaru and Minmei get to talking back at her place, and it turns out she ran back to the place during the attack to save a letter from “Orion Records” telling her she’s passed their phase one audition. It was that which necessitated Hikaru saving her in the first place. They go for a walk, and visit a new park overlooking the equally-new town. They get in to a not-quite-lovers spat about their nebulous relationship.

The aliens attack en masse close to the ship. The Macross launches fighters, but it’s a massive, massive onslaught. The aliens decide to goad the humans a bit more, and attack the ship directly - not death blows, but potentially crippling ones. Getting trounced, Global reluctantly decides to do the transformation, which causes all manner of higgledy piggaldy to break loose inside the new town while the ship changes shape. Buildings are crushed, raised, or lowered. Streets split open, or shrink out of existence. A large hole in one wall appears, sucking cars and things out in to space until another section slides in to place to shut off the breech. The park Minmei and Hikaru are in splits down the middle, and Minmei falls - again, damn that girl falls a lot! - hanging precariously hundreds of feet over the town. Hikaru saves her, barely.

The main gun fires, destroying the attacking alien force, and Hikaru decides he’s gonna’ join the military after all.

OBSERVATIONS

Internal dialog in both versions of the episode indicates this story takes place 13 days after the attack on South Antaria Island that began the war, and the morning after the last episode. That’s a lot of time compression for a cartoon, really, as we’re 5 episodes in, and 3 of those episodes took place within two hours of each other.

It’s been two weeks and the aliens are just now getting around to looking at the gun camera footage? Wow! They’re really not very interested in intel, are they? It’s also interesting that both versions of the episode mention they’ve lost a lot of old information from their distant past, and that both versions have the alien admiral making tactical decisions based on legends. Whoever these guys are, they’re going about this whole ‘war’ thing in a surprisingly half-assed fashion. I think this is deliberate on the part of the writers, actually, and we’ll find out more about it later on.

So what *IS* the main gun? In the Macross version it really freaks out the aliens who’d been unaware that such a thing existed. Since the Macross itself was originally a “Supervision Army Gunship,” it follows that the Main Gun is *not* a standard “Supervision Army” weapon, or else the aliens would have at least heard of it. So what is the thing, how did it get on the ship, and why is it so amazingly devastating?

For that matter, who are the Supervision Army, anyway? Why were they fighting the aliens? Clearly they’re of the same species, given the size of the doors and things on the Macross itself.

Curiously, Minmei’s letter is written in English. This is odd because (A) this is a Japanese cartoon and (B) it’s on screen for about two seconds. It’s not just random English words, either, it says - I paraphrase slightly - “Congratulations, you have passed the first phase audition for our ‘fresh-faced’ singer competition. Phase two will be held on [blah blah blah]. To repeat, you have been accepted for a second audition. Please be at [blah blah blah] on [blah blah date]. We thank you for your cooperation.” I don’t know why they went to all that trouble, nor why it isn’t written in Japanese…or Swahili for that matter. Why English?

Roy’s attitude to Hikaru is subtly different in this episode, and it’s obvious that he cares about him. It’s also obvious - though not specifically stated - that this is their first actual meeting since the accident. Even so, Roy’s attempts to manipulate the boy in to joining the military as a pilot are kind of a combination of self-serving (They did loose all the pilots on both carriers in the last episode) and ‘it’ll be good for him.’ Speaking of which, the mention of the pilot shortage last ep is a nice set up for that aspect of this one.

I never really understood why the transformation causes all the damage inside the town. If you watch the external scenes, really the only thing that’s happening is that the central torso is rotating around. It shouldn’t cause all the splitting and crushing and stuff. Any damage it does should be twisting, but we see none of that. And once again, I have to mention that the interior and exterior scale of the ship just don’t fit at all. It’s about 7/10ths of a mile long, about 1200 meters, but the interior space appears much bigger than that. I’m not sure if this is merely because it looks cool, or if it’s a deliberate gag. It gets extravagantly worse as the show continues.

This is the first major battle with the aliens since the accident, but dialog in the last episode indicates there must have been minor skirmishes in the intervening period.

One thing I really liked in the Macross version was that most of the people in the ship are doing things simply out of boredom - re-opening the restaurant, joining the military, what have you - they’ve already been out here for a long time and now that initial survival concerns are out of the way, they’ve really got nothing to do.

One thing I really like about both versions of Macross are how neither side - aliens nor humans - really know what they’re doing. They’re making stuff up as they go along because none of the training on either side was in any way sufficient to what’s going on. There’s a comedy-of-errors element that’s most apparent on the human side, but it’s obvious the aliens have some aspects of that as well. Eventually this will turn in to a dark comedy of errors…

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MACROSS AND ROBOTECH VERSIONS:

Both versions of this episode are very similar, much more so than the previous four. The differences are pretty insubstantial.

There’s 70,000 refugees in the Robotech version, 56,000 in Macross.

The Chief Engineer of the SDF-1 in Robotech is “Dr. Emil Lang,” who speaks with a German accent. In the Macross version of things, he’s never given a name and has no particularly foreign accent at all.

In the big battle in Robotech, Roy says “These guys are much better fighters up here than they were on the ground. I think we’re in for trouble.” This is a great line, but there’s no comparable part in the Macross original.

In Robotech, we’re told Minmei ran back to get ‘her diary’, and in this episode she contradicts that saying she ran back to get her ‘acceptance letter to the Miss Macross contest.’ In Macross, Minmei runs back home simply saying “I forgot something,” and here we’re told she passed her first audition for a recording contract. There’s no mention of a beauty pageant or anything like that in Macross.

In Robotech, non-behemoth people like us are called “Micronians.” In Macross they’re called “Miclones.” I prefer Micronians, myself.

In Robotech, Bretai and Exidore ponder why the SDF-1 hasn’t fired the main gun yet, and goad them in to doing so. In Macross those same two aliens - still unnamed, by the way - are simply ordering a more aggressive attack to test their enemy’s defenses, and they’re completely flabbergasted when the Main Gun goes off and takes out one of their flotillas. They hadn’t known such a thing existed, here or anywhere. (Though the Main Gun initially took out the alien recon patrol, I guess we’re supposed to assume the Aliens had no idea what it was that did that, and didn’t know it was the main gun. This isn’t much of a retcon, and it’s consistent with their overall MO.

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