Just a quick explanation of the concept here for our new readers, or for those who kind of lost track after we put Macross in hiatus back in May:
1) This is the Republibot website, a Science Fiction website that does basically the same exact thing every other Science Fiction website does *EXCEPT* that we point out things in the reviews that we think may be of special interest, or of special offence to your average American conservative, no whack-jobs or racists need apply. Oh, and none of us have any tattoos. But other than that, we’re just like everyone else. Well, maybe a bit smarter…well, ok, maybe more than a bit, but aside from the “Hey, look at this!” and the “No tats” and the Ego thing, we’re the same. Well, really, now that I think of it, all SF sites have some ego going on, so maybe that’s not a difference….no, no, no, we genuinely *are* smarter than most of the site. I digress…
2) This column is called “Retrospeculative TV,” a weekly feature in which we look at old, mostly forgotten shows (Like “Man from Atlantis” and “Quark”) and better known old shows that have developed a negative reputation (Like “Space: 1999” and the original “Battlestar: Galactica”) and we explore their influence on subsequent SF. We do *Not* waste our time with major shows like Star Trek or Stargate, since (A) those are going concerns, and (B) they get plenty of coverage elsewhere already. (Including here, when new episodes run)
3) In this PARTICULAR case, we’re deviating from form a bit: “Macross” was a watershed Japanese SF show from 1982 that changed the genre forever, and “Robotech” was a watershed American SF show from 1985 that was built around a mutilated version of “Macross,” but still managed to be a pretty good watershed SF show that changed the genre forever. We are therefore reviewing the same episodes from both the “Macross” and “Robotech” versions to compare and contrast them, in addition to the other crap that we normally do. I’ve never seen anyone else do this. I’m sure someone has, but I’ve never come across it online in this accessible a format.
On to the review:
PLAY BY PLAY
Having escaped and made their way back to the SDF-1 in our previous episode, our heroes find that the ship has been completely surrounded by a blockade of Zentradi ships, which have been keeping them from making their way back to earth. Evidently, this stalemate has held for several months. While Lisa, Rick, Max and Ben are being debriefed by the seldom-seen department heads (All of whom appear to be jerks), the three Zentradi spies - Rico, Konda, and Bron - steal some civilian clothes, however they don’t know anything about fashion, so Bron ends up wearing a dress.
Based on Team Lisa’s report, they estimate that the main Zentradi fleet consists of between four and five million of ships, not counting a presumably horrifying number of support craft. The command staff pretty much refuse to believe this, though Gloval supports Lisa. Our heroes are given mandatory shipboard leave (As though there was an option to that last bit). The spies, meanwhile, attempt to blend in, but as one of them is a de facto drag queen, it doesn’t go well. They’re utterly befuddled by what they see.
Team Lisa is given a hero’s welcome in the New Macross Ampitheater. Minmei gives ‘em flowers, kisses, and sings a song. (Say, I thought this was supposed to be a reward, why all the horrible singing?) The crowd gets upset when she kisses Rick, so Minmei quickly kisses the other dudes, too. This has a strange effect on the spies in the crowd, and Rick is clearly saddened while watching Minmei sing. She has that effect on me too, for different reasons.
Lisa decides to spend her leave on the bridge, which she says is more relaxing. Lisa touches her command console in an overly affectionate manner, as though she’s missed it more than any of the people around here, which is probably true. An alert is sounded, to Rick, Ben, and Max drive to the flight deck. Roy, driving crazily in his jeep, cuts them off and sends them back to leave time.
Gloval decides to take Lisa’s theory that the Zentradi aren’t willing to destroy the SDF-1 at face value, and attempts to break the blockade around earth. All the alien ships keep their distance, under Azonia’s orders. Khyron, typically, can’t handle this, so he attacks. The SDF-1 does another transformation, and wails away at them with the main gun - one of the few times it ever works without a hitch. The spies are trapped in town during the transformation, which freaks ‘em out.
Azonia moves her ships to block Khyron’s forces, and the SDF-1 is able to get to earth in the confusion. They try to make it to Earth Defense Headquarters in Alaska, but engine malfunctions cause them to make an emergency splashdown in the pacific ocean.
The overjoyed civilians rush out on the decks of the SDF-1, overwhelmed with joy, as the ship is buzzed by a local earth squadron of fighters.
This is actually a darn good episode! We get the dramatic return to earth, the vindication of Lisa’s theories, the very clear indications of a power struggle in the Zentradi ranks that earth uses to its short-term advantage, and simultaneous indications of a struggle between the established old-guard earth officers who won’t listen, and the young bucks who know the score, but are doomed to little more than Cassandra status. It’s genuinely exciting, and genuinely kind of emotional when they make it home. Also, Rick’s realization that Minmei is beyond his reach, while simultaneously being overjoyed to see her is understated, but moving. (He seems to have known this was coming. He’s been on the ship a day or two, and didn’t go to see her yet). Likewise, Lisa’s casual-yet-growing concern for Rick in this situation was a nice touch.
There’s also some genuinely funny low comedy with the spies, and with Roy tear-assing around the ship like a maniac in his jeep, standing up and screaming at people and shaking his fist, leaving his terrified passengers to steer. Great stuff. Roys’ a maniac.
All the main characters seem uncomfortable in the spotlight, excepting Max, who clearly enjoys it, but not in an egotistical way (Such as I displayed in my introduction), more in a “Ah, I’m home. This is where I’m supposed to be” sense, like he’s finding his path. And he’s right: Max has a bright future ahead of him. He will, in no small part, save the human race not once but twice. And give birth to a new race. He’s an impressive guy, our mister Sterling, which is what makes me so impressed that he’s a minor character in this show. It’d be so easy for him to just take over the show at this point.
It’s interesting to see how Azonia handles Khyron’s insubordination (By actually stopping him) versus how Bretail handled it (In general, much less effectively). It feels weird not having him and Exidore along. Khyron’s longsuffering sidekick - the name of whom escapes me - returns in this episode. We last saw him in “Bye Bye Mars.” He’ll return, though it’s not to his benefit.
We meet some new Bridge Bunnies in this episode, while Kim and the regulars are off shift. They’re clearly in awe of Lisa, given her recent exploit. Nice touch.
The bald elderly dude in the staff meeting is the ship’s never-seen-before-and-never-seen-again chief medical officer.
Colonel Meistroff first appears in this episode, in the Jerky Boys staff meeting. His exact function on the ship is unclear, however he appears to be the Executive Officer. And why have we never seen, nor heard of him before? Actually, unlike a lot of stuff on this show, it makes sense: Star Trek notwithstanding, the Captain and the XO and the Second Officer would have different shifts during which they controlled the ship. They’d seldom, if ever, be on the bridge at the same time.
Since she’s not XO, Claudia’s function would seem to be basically an Operations Officer. Lisa is, as we’ve always known, the Air Traffic and Air Combat Controller.
It’s pretty emotional when they finally get back to earth. The Bridge Bunnies are so overwhelmed that Gloval manages to light a pipe on the bridge without them complaining.
The spies seem more surprised by the transformation than they should be. They already know the ship changes shape. Added to which, presumably other Supervision Army ships could change shape, right? I mean, it didn’t start out as a human ship, we didn’t design it to be a mighty-fighty robot, right?
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MACROSS AND ROBOTECH VERSIONS
The Command Staff have been redubbed to be somewhat less jerky in the Robotech version, but they’re utter jackasses in the Japanese version.
The spies’ transvestite trials in tiny town play have been shortened (See what I did there?) in the Robotech version. In Macross, the scene is longer, showing them becoming overwhelmed by all the lights and storefronts in New Macross City. A lady bumps in to one of them, calling him a “pervert,” and they suddenly realize there are women in the crowds, rather than ships being crewed by entirely one gender, as in Zentradi society. (Though how could they not have known this? I mean, they *saw* Minmei on the ship previously, right? Perhaps they just thought all the chickies were kept below decks?) This throws them into a panic, then they discover Bron’s a drag queen. In the Robotech version, all the stuff up to Bron’s realization is cut.
Likewise, their reaction to Minmei’s song is pretty traumatic for them - simultaneously attractive and repulsive. In the Robotech version they’re able to assimilate it easier and faster.
In Macross, Minmei sings “My Boyfriend is a Pilot,” Robotech, she sings that irritating “This is my time to be a star” song. “Boyfriend” is a much better song for a number of reasons, partially because it’s (Mostly) in Japanese, but also because Mari Iijima can actually sing (And later went on to a significant Japanese singing career), whereas “Reba West” really can’t very well. And “Star” is just a stupidly vapid song. Sorry, “Reba,” no hard feelings. You did the best with what they handed you, but they kinda’ handed you a turd, you know?
Goofy, tedious narration over the transformation scene in the Robotech version. None in Macross.
Following their return our heroes were promoted: Rick is now a 1st Lieutenant, Ben and Max are now 2nd Lieutenants (Or so they’re called. The correct naval rank would be “Lieutenant J.G.”) and Lisa is now a Lt. Commander. This is detailed in the Macross version, but there’s only a brief mention that Lisa got promoted in Robotech.
In general, the dialog is a bit better in the Robotech version, for reasons we detailed last time out.
The biggest difference between the versions is obviously the nature of “Protoculture.” In the Macross version, the “Protoculture” is a long-lost galaxy-spanning humanoid civilization, from which the Zentradi and all other humanoids have descended. The Zentradi’s own standing orders tell them to avoid contact with “Micronian” (Normal sized) civilizations, though the orders are so old no one really knows why anymore. Tens of thousands of years old. The Zentradi suspect that we humans are the Protoculture, or remnants thereof, and are more-or-less hoping to gain the secrets of the forbearer civilization, which presumably will help them in their eternal war with everything. (Some of this is speculative, as they’ve never explicitly said what they want to get from us.)
In Robotech, “Protoculture” is a nebulously-defined Macguffin that is semi-alive, will evidently provide utterly stupid amounts of power, somehow makes mechanical transformation abilities possible, will pretty much make anything the plot requires possible, and makes a great stocking stuffer, too, come Christmas time. The closest comparison is “Melange” from Dune, I guess, in terms of import. The Zentradi suspect there is some kind of heap-big mojo relating to Protoculture on the SDF-1, and don’t want to risk destroying it.
If all this sounds a bit vague, it really is. Remember, the Robotech team was pretty much writing these episodes on the fly and making stuff up as they went along. I really don’t think they’d made up their minds as to what it really was at this point. They had 85 episodes to re-write and dub and score, and only six weeks to do it in, which comes out to about TWO EPISODES A DAY! If the story is a bit fuzzy at times, it’s worth remembering they had less than twelve hours for each one. I’d cut them a lot of slack, even if that wasn’t the case, but taking that into account, they really did a great job, even if it does slide into incoherence now and again during the “Robotech Masters” episodes.
WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?
Yes, I don’t see why not. Both versions have a lot of funny, exciting, well-told stuff going on, and it’s a lot of fun. There’s nothing to offend any of us, apart from some mild profanity in the Macross version. I suppose the cross-dressing might bother some SoCons, but it‘s obviously shown not to be acceptable behavior.
In fact, I’d recommend these episodes. Really, I’d recommend the whole of both series up to this point.
The Macross version of this episode is on Hulu, and can be watched free here http://www.hulu.com/watch/127299/super-dimension-fortress-macross-blue-wind