RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Macross: “The Longest Birthday” (Episode 8) AND: Robotech: “Sweet Sixteen” (Episode 8)

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There, see, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Only a week between reviews of this show. I should be able to keep up this not-at-all-breakneck pace for a couple more weeks, anyway. For those of you that are new, I’m simultaneously reviewing both “Macross,” a Japanese Anime from 1981, and “Robotech,” the somewhat bastardized American version of “Macross” from 1985. I’m generally using the American names for the characters because presumably our readers are more familiar with ‘em, and also they’re easier to type. My methodology for this comparison is watching both episodes back to back and noting the differences. It’s easy, but quite time consuming - essentially an hour of notes for a half-hour show - so it tends to fall by the wayside when other, more pressing stuff comes up, but I assure you that baring my own death (not terribly unlikely) or the complete collapse of the international economy (Which is slightly more likely), I *will* finish this. Eventually.

PLAY BY PLAY

It is now eight months since the Zentradi attacked earth, and the SDF-1 ended up near Pluto. They’ve been laboriously making their way back to earth all this time, hampered by continual hit-and-run attacks from the enemy. Bretai and Exidore discuss their options, and both express concern over what a loose cannon Khyron is. Khyron, meanwhile, is planning on “Accidentally” running into the humans during a training exercise.

On the SDF-1, Rick is trying to figure out what to get Minmei for her birthday, when he’s called to Headquarters where he thinks he’s getting called on the carpet for some kind of infraction or another, but in fact he’s being rewarded for conspicuous heroism in the battle of Mars. He’s given the “Titanium Medal,” and promoted to Lieutenant (Previously he was a sergeant). Roy gives him a pep talk, and assigns him two wingmen - Ben Dixon and Max Sterling - both of whom are inexperienced corporals just out of flight school. Rick is off to Minmei’s for the party, and lets his two new charges tag along. Max and Minmei seem to get along a little bit too well, and Rick is awkward about the whole thing, particularly when Minmei realizes he doesn’t have a present for her. Fortunately, Khyron picks that moment to attack, and Rick is saved by the alarm bell. (Really it’s more of a klaxon)

We get a fairly standard Robotech space battle, though there’s a bit more strategy this time out: Khyron has forces a fair distance from the SDF-1, and when the human fighters come out to engage, they’re too far away from the ship to respond quickly when his main force attacks it directly. Team Rick is off with everyone else fighting the diversionary force. Ben instantly makes a liability of himself, and shy Max instantly becomes an ace. Then a few fighters break through their line, and Rick, Ben, and Max chase them. As a result, they’re near the ship coincidentally when Khyron’s main force engages. Everyone fights as well as they can, but they’re getting pummeled. All the beg mecha gunbots come out on the hull to act as antiaircraft, but they’re having little effect. Ben’s plane gets crippled.

Rick and Khyron come to blows, “Hand” to “Hand” in their respective mighty fighty robots, and both loose an arm, both in a Mexican standoff, neither one daring to fire, neither one daring to move away.

Back in the Zentradi fleet, Bretai is outraged at Khyron’s disregarding of his authority, so he sends a recall signal that can’t possibly be ignored, there’s no way Khyron can pretend he didn’t hear it without openly lying. The battle pods leave.

Rick and his new friends go out to dinner and discuss their flying experiences. Ben is bandaged up but basically ok. Going back to the barracks, Rick realizes he hasn’t gotten anything for Minmei yet, so he races around town at night, but everything is closed. He paces outside her window, and eventually she looks out and sees him. He gives her his Titanium Medal as a present, and she loves it.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

Though they’ve been in space eight months, this episode can’t take place more than a week or two after the Marsbase Sarah battle, since Minmei had already sent out invitations to her birthday party in that one.

In some scenes, Rick is clearly living in the barracks on the base, but in the first scene he appears to be still living in his old room at Minmei’s place. I’m assuming this is an animation mistake, since the second half of the episode revolves around him *not* living down the hall from her, and it doesn’t make any sense if he’s still there.

Weird design on the Titanium Medal: The Medalion is on top, and the ribbon hangs down from that. This is the reverse of the way it’s normally done. For a bit, I thought maybe he had it on upside down, but, no, just wonky design is all. His lieutenant’s rank pin is a red chevron on a black background, and looks more like enlisted rank, or some kind of ROTC cadet rank than it does something officerial. And since when do they wear rank anyway? Everyone on this show has a randomly-colored uniform with randomly-colored trim, and no visible insignia of any kind. In any event, we never see the rank pin again after this ep.

The scene where a dozen pilots cram into one cab is pretty funny. The scenes where Max and Minmei are flirting with each other was uncomfortable, I think because we kind of feel for Rick by this point, and fear his love might be unrequited. Of course the only thing worse than unrequited love is unreliable love, but more about that in the future.

Both Robotech and Macross had sprawling casts, and the two new guys introduced in this episode are pretty important. One of them even has an entire spinoff series built around him. Max is shy and smooth, and quickly turns out to be a demon in the cockpit. His blue hair and blue-tinted glasses are a visual pun: He’s The Blue Max, get it? Heh heh. That’s pretty funny. What? You don’t get it? Sheesh, if they don’t teach you kids about obscure military awards on the loosing side of a war that ended Ninety-Two years ago, what the hell *are* they teaching you? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pour_le_M%C3%A9rite and it was made famous by this movie here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Max Quite good if you get a chance to watch it.

Ben Dixon, meanwhile, is a loudmouthed oafish lout with boorish tendencies. He tends to overcompensate, and all his conversations are swimming in unearned bravado, but when it comes to a fight, he’s inept. He’s not a coward, mind you, just not as skilled as he says he is.

The Mayor makes one of his infrequent appearances in this episode, with some fatherly advice for Rick.

There’s a funny scene with Lisa when she learns Rick’s been promoted because he rescued her from Mars. She’s pretty upset about being the agency for his rise, given that she can’t stand him. She doesn’t seem depressed, however. I guess she’s recovered from her long-simmering case of Rieber Fever.

The whole subject of Minmei’s birthday party confuses me a bit, mainly because I was under the impression that they don’t celebrate birthdays in Japan. I’ve been given to understand that New Years Eve is basically a birthday party for the whole country. Granted, Minmei is Chinese, but this is a Japanese cartoon, isn’t it?

They’re having some problems with the animation in this ep. A lot of people look crosseyed in this ep at random intervals.

I want to point out that Minmei is sixteen, which means that in the eight months leading up to this, she’s been fifteen. Who the hell dresses a fifteen year old girl up in a dress like that? Yow! I should mention that it’s never specifically mentioned how old Rick is, but he generally seems to be between about seventeen and nineteen.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MACROSS AND ROBOTECH VERSIONS

This one is closer than most. The most conspicuous difference is a scene en rout to Minmei’s restaurant. Ben wants to go to a topless bar, and Rick refuses. Ben goes on a bit about how much he loves “That kind of place” and “That part of town,” and while staring at a sign for a bar called “The Black Cat” (Implying it’s full nude), he asks Rick if they can go to “The Fun House,” which is evidently another such place. Max chides him to Rick, saying that “It seems like he knows entirely too much about those kinds of places.”

This scene is entirely missing from the Robotech version, though perhaps as an in joke, in Robotech, the scene immediately after this cut has Ben talking about how “I’ve always been really popular with the ladies.” It’s strangely surprising that they’d have nude bars on the Macross. Not because Macross is a chaste kiddie series or anything - I mean, hell, we had a Minmei nude scene in episode three, and Roy called Rick a “Pudknocker” in one episode - but just because I can’t imagine a town of 70,000 refugees would have a sex industry. Everyone seems really busy simply trying to survive, you know? What, was there a stripper convention that just happened to be in town when the aliens attacked earth?

Max is surnamed “Jenius” in Macross, again an in-joke since the Japanese dialog has Rick and Ben talking about what a genius he is in the cockpit. Ben is name “Hayo Kakizaki” in Macross, so he’s supposed to be Japanese. He’s certainly a big fella to be Japanese, isn’t he? Wow.

In Macross, Max gets seven kills in this episode, and Rick gets four. In Robotech - for no discernable reason - Max gets eight kills, and Rick gets five.

In Macross, Khyron says they’re going to “Raise hell” when they attack the ship. There’s no profanity in Robotech, of course, but more curiously than that: Zentradi have no culture, no religion, no vices, no love, no nothing except the service and their desire to fight. So why would they have a “Hell?”

Minmei and Max are a bit more overt in their flirting in Macross, and evidently slightly more serious about it too. Ben is openly ogling the girl. In one scene, Max is seated, and Minmei is leaning over the back of his chair in a somewhat suggestive (But not at all dirty) pose, a typical girl move signifying her interest is physical by staying close to him and touching him ‘accidentally’ now and again. This whole thing is pulled back and calmed down quite a bit in the Robotech version, presumably because it’s a bit too lovey dovey for kids, or perhaps because it makes Minmei and Max look bad, what with Rick being *right there* and all. The breif shot of her leaning on the back of Max’s chair is entirely cut out.

The awards ceremony is kind of neat, with Rick thinking he’s getting in trouble, then gradually realizing - well after the ceremony begins - that he’s actually done a good job, and then he just grins away like an idiot because of the recognition.

There’s a great bit immediately following the ceremony, with Rick striding down the hall with his medal on. Roy calls him into his quarters, and tells him to take the medal off, since “It’s tacky to go strutting around with it on.” Rick immediately realizes the truth of it, and takes it off, a bit embarrassed. When Roy gives him his rank, he tells him there’s some rules and regulations and a lot of personal notes that he - Roy - wrote up for Rick on the subject of command that he’s done to be helpful. When he introduces Rick to Ben and Max, he does so in a way that makes Rick seem much more experienced and confident than he actually is, so that his new subordinates will be a bit in awe of him. This is an extremely cool example of the Senpai/Kohai relationship. Roy is the Senpai or Mentor, and Rick is the Kohai or Protégé, which is - in some circumstances - a life long relationship. Roy taught Rick how to fly in the years before the show started, and now he’s teaching him how to lead. It’s a surprisingly touching scene, with none of Roy’s normal sarcastic humor or bravado.

This is all missing in the Robotech version, of course. I mean, the scene is there, but the sensibility has been lost.

Minmei’s restaurant is unnamed in Robotech, but in the Japanese version we discover it’s called “Nyan-Nyan.” this becomes a franchise in the future.

Both episodes are narrated, but the content is much different, and there’s far more narration in Robotech than in Macross, most of it rather pointless since it’s describing things we can see with our own eyes at the time. Interestingly, the narrator pronounces “Sarah” oddly when speaking of the Marsbase: “Sah-Rah” he says.

As I said above, this episode couldn’t have taken place much after the previous one, but in Robotech, the dialog in the award ceremony makes it seem like it’s months later. Man, you’ve got to book early for a birthday in that restaurant, even if you own the restaurant…

The Callsign for the SDF-1 in Robotech is “Gunsight One.” That’s just cool.

The computer in Roy’s quarters looks like an old Commodore Pet on steroids. Check it out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodore_pet

Odd dialog involving the medal in Robotech. Rather than tell Rick to take the damn thing off, he tells him to “Pin the rank on next to your medal,” and of course both of ‘em are missing in the next scene.

Speaking of which, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but the voice acting is much, much better in Robotech than in the ADV dub of Macross. For instance, Misa Hayase’s voice is just shrill and bitchy, whereas her Robotech equivalent - Lisa Hayes - is more in control, less of a nagger, and she’s got that cute little very slight southern accent as well.

Minmei comes across better in the Macross version than the Robotech version. In Macross she’s initially annoyed at Rick for not bringing her a gift, and rushing off when the air raid sounds, but she eventually realizes that’s just the life of the military, and she accepts it because she likes him - putting the moves on Max notwithstanding - and in the end when he gives her his medal, she’s genuinely enthused. In the Robotech version, it’s all about getting a gift, and not the person. She’s just petulant and greedy, and spoiled.

There’s a scene in the Macross version where they try to get Rick to sing, which is kinda’ funny because he’s so embarrassed. In the Macross version, he takes Ben and Max along to impress Minmei with how important he is. In Robotech, he just lets them tag along for no good reason.

In the Robotech version, we get *two* conversations between Bretai and Exidore about how the SDF-1 can not be damaged, and must be captured intact. There are no such conversations in the Macross version of this episode.

Finally, there’s a big difference in the matter of Khyron’s recall by Bretai. We see a rainbow beam of light shoot out of the nose of Bretai’s command ship, and spread slowly, and all the Zentradi forces come back. In the Macross version, this is called a broad signal, and Bretai’s subordinates question it as possibly being “Excessive.” Bretai states that with this, there’s no way Khyron can claim he didn’t get the message. I presume, then, that it’s just a visible light signal to be used in the event normal communications are disrupted. In the Macross version, we’re told this is a “Manual Override,” which forces Khyron’s troops to disengage and retreat against their will. Frankly, I prefer the Macross version of this scene, it’s got a bit more emotional impact.

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