Welcome to the second installment of “Retrospeculative TV,” our feature in which we look at classic SF shows as if they were new, in our attempt to draw attention to the shows that had a formative influence on ourselves and our genre. There are many shows that get overlooked or forgotten when the heavy-hitters like Next Generation-era Trek or the New Galactica, or Stargate go striding by, and that’s a shame. There are lots of really good series out there that have a lot to contribute, but are either ignored or - in the case of the Original Galactica - are openly maligned by Johnny Come Lately posers.
Of course a lot of these shows are pretty crappy, but that’s sort of fun too, isn’t it? Admit it. Sometimes it’s fun to watch people fail.
And so, now that we have a regular home for it, I’m going to resume my joint coverage of Macross and Robotech. For those of you late joining the party, a quick explanation: “Macross” was an anime show in Japan in the early 1980s which more-or-less gave rise to the whole dumb subgenre of mighty fighty transforming robots. Unlike the zillions of knockoffs, however, Macross was *good.* It had a strong emotional through line, unpredictable plot twists, and a heavily arc-driven plot, all very unusual for the day. It was extremely popular, and has spawned a movie, two spin-off series, a miniseries, and scads of specials. I’ve been attempting to cover all these in their subjective chronological order - following their internal timeline - rather than the order in which they were released. Thus I started off reviewing the prequel series, “Macross Zero” (Released in 2002) and followed that up with the original Macross (Released in 1981), which was made before, but comes after. Get it?
“Robotech” was an American attempt to re-package three unrelated Japanese cartoons for a US audience, and shoehorn them into a new chronology. “Macross” was one of these series, and in the process it was dumbed down a bit, re-written slightly, and re-edited to get rid of some more adult aspects of the show. “Robotech” was my first exposure to Macross twenty-five years ago. As far as I can tell, no one has ever done a side-by-side review/comparison of these shows, so I’m doing it here.
I apologize for the long delay since my last Robotech/Macross entry - back on August 12th, 2009 - but was sick a lot last year, I had a lot of other work to do, and despite my crazy insane love for both shows, basically in order to do this I have to watch the same episode from each series back to back, so it’s easy to get worn down pretty quickly. I’ll try to be more regular in the future, however.
For those of you who are new to our site, and would like to catch up on what I’ve done, check out here http://www.republibot.com/category/tags/macross .
An alien recon ship scouts Mars, and discovers the ruins of an abandoned human base there. It relays this back to the alien command ship. The Commander informs his information officer that he’s called in reinforcements to deal with the humans. The information officer is less than pleased when he learns it’s Khyron in charge of the forces, since he’s got a reckless reputation. True to form, Khyron’s ships slam into four ships from the fleet that’s already on site, and when Khyron checks in, he’s interrupted by one of his subordinates, who informs him he lost the bet - they crashed into four ships, Khyron thought they’d only hit three. The Alien Commander is greatly displeased at this.
Bretai - the Alien Commander - assigns Khyron to force the humans off their course to earth, and towards Mars, lure them into a trap, and kill ‘em all. Khyron happily agrees.
Meanwhile on the SDF-1 Macross, the Zentradi have been steadily attacking every day for three days. The losses have been pretty great, there have been no victories, the aliens are just hitting and running to whittle down the human’s forces, and to make matters worse, the command staff of the ship are lying to the 70,000 or so civilians on board, telling them things are much, much rosier than they actually are. In fact, they’re 16 degrees off their trajectory to earth, but the refugees are being told they’re still on their way.
A signal comes in from Mars. There was a base there abandoned in the wars of the early 21st Century, but it was pretty huge, and might still have useable supplies - the SDF-1 Macross is rapidly running out of ‘em - and since they’re off their course anyway, Mars isn’t really all that big a diversion. Captain Gloval orders the ship to the Red planet. Meanwhile, we get a flashback of a young Lisa Hayes and a guy named “Rieber” that she clearly had some lovey-dovey feelings for. He tells her that he’s joined the military, and has been assigned to Mars, where, presumably, he won’t have to do any fighting. He kisses her goodbye, and they never see each other again.
The SDF-1 lands on the planet, and send out a whole bunch of fighters and trucks and lots of Destroids - two legged walking gun platforms - to pick up as many supplies as they can find. Lisa asks if she can go into the base and find the source of the alien transmission. Captain Gloval agrees.
The Zentradi plot is this: They’ve got ‘gravity mines’ that will cause the SDF-1 to stick to the ground while Zentradi forces overwhelm it. Fortuitously, the ship landed just outside the range of the mines, but once the Base seems empty, Gloval orders the ship in closer, right into the mined area. One of Khyron’s troopers gets a little overanxious and tries to attack on his own. Khyron shoots him down, (“How dare you! If I have to wait, then everyone else has to wait, too!”) but the explosion tips their hand to Gloval. As a result, the humans aren’t caught entirely flat-footed when the Zentradi come in. It’s a hopeless battle, however, there are “Thousands” of enemy battle pods, so the ship tries to lift off, but can’t because of the gravity mines. A quick groundscan shows the problem, but there’s no way they can attack the mines underground. Gloval hits on the idea of detonating the Marsbase’s generators, which should produce a shockwave big enough to disable the mines. Since Lisa is already in the base, he orders her to do it, and she rigs the power system to go blooey. As she’s running out of the base, emergency doors slam down, and she’s trapped. She’s right by Rieber’s room, however, so she lets herself in saying “Oh, Rieber, I finally made it to Mars.” She’s reading his books, waiting for the end to come when Rick is ordered to save her. He fights his way in, and grabs the protesting Lisa - she doesn’t want to be saved - and they get away just as the base explodes.
Khyron’s frorces take heavy losses from the explosion, and the SDF-1 escapes. On the flight deck on the ship in space, Lisa sadly watches the red planet - and her childhood love - slip away into the distance.
This is the episode that introduces Khyron, who’s thought to be reckless and undependable, but a brilliant George Patton-type strategist. He’ll figure prominently as the show progresses, and is actually a more complex character than he first appears.
The Marsbase is freakin’ huge! Easily the size of a large US Air Force base. When Lisa gets in the elevator, it clearly indicates eighty-five floors! This thing could easily hold a staff of tens of thousands.
The signal they get from Mars is pretty unintentionally funny when they display it‘s text on the screen. Here’s what it says, indicating the bits I couldn‘t read.:
Base - Salla
ISBN - [GIBBERISH]
First published in Great -
Brittain in 2000 by ardersbn
North -- 13 deg. C 50%
West --- 18 deg C 69%
South -- 20 deg C 70%
East --- 15 deg C 60%
If mice could swim they
Would float in the tide
And play with the fish - down
By the seaside. The cats on
The shore would quickly agree
Tab. Saki - Hiwatari
PM 1:00 From S à N
PM 2:20 From Wà N
PM 4:15 From Nà E
Clearly, they just needed to show some ‘western text’ on the screen, but they knew full well that most of their Japanese audience wouldn’t be able to make it out - who could have imagined obsessive fans like me in another country in another century? - so they just threw up random crud. It is funny, though.
In most SF shows involving war, you’ve got one big bad who does everything himself. In this one, interestingly and realistically, the supreme commander of the alien battle force is delegating authority in a believable fashion.
The humans take pretty heavy losses. Are they able to replace their fighters, or did they just happen to have like a thousand of ‘em on board when they left? If they can replace them, how? Presumably every plane lost equals one dead pilot. They’ve been in space for months now - how can it be that no one’s noticed the dead pilots by their absence? Granted, the command staff *are* clearly lying about it to the general public, but how long can that hold on for?
Minmei is barely in this episode. She is her typically flighty self who responds to Rick’s information about the misinformation the command staff are spewing with “No reason to get depressed,” and then hauls Rick off for a snack. She invites him to her birthday party, which makes him feel special until he realizes she invited every fighter pilot to the thing. Interestingly, she’s 15, and mentions that there’s a school on the ship that she goes to.
Rick has really gotten better at combat. He takes out several Zentradi pods without breaking a sweat.
The Anti-Gravity engines are inexplicably back on board the ship, and are working now. Also, there’s one weird shot that I couldn’t quite make out in which it appeared the main gun/nose of the SDF-1 was capable of swiveling, but I could be wrong about that.
Misa’s suicidal depression is pretty shocking in this episode. She completely wants to die in the room of her lost love, all dark and tragic-like. She’s furious when Rick rescues her, and bemoans her being fated to sidestep fate.
So if the Marsbase was attacked by human forces in the past, why are there no signs of damage? Also, the interior of the base is still clearly pressurized, but Lisa wears a full spacesuit the entire time she’s there. I presume this is because either the air’s gone toxic - it has been abandoned for a long time - or maybe they’re just not sure the whole thing is still air-tight, and she might wander into a section with a hole in the wall or something.
As clever as the Zentradi plan was, it hinged on using gravity mines to disable the SDF-1’s anti-gravity generators. Both versions make it clear that they could have escaped without incident if they could have used their liftoff rockets, but these were damaged a few days before, and hadn’t been repaired yet.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE ROBOTECH AND MACROSS VERSIONS
In the reviews, I generally use the Americanized “Robotech” names, since that’s the version most of my readers are most familiar with. In most cases, the Robotech names were attempts to be close to the Japanese originals - “Rick” was originally “Hikaru;” “Lisa Hayes” was originally “Misa Hayase;” “Captain Gloval” was originally “Captain Global;” and “Roy Folker” was originally “Roy Fokker.” This last was changed slightly in English so as not to sound quite so dirty. The tradition continues in this episode, where “Marsebase Sarah” is called “Marsbase Salla” in the Japanese original.
There’s no narration in the Macross version of this episode, whereas the Robotech version has more narration than usual, all of it useless and expositional, telling us things we can plainly see for ourselves, or - worse yet - telling us what people are feeling, rather than letting us find out for ourselves.
Lisa/Misa’s relationship with Rieber (“Karl Rieber” in the Robotech version) is problematic. In the flashbacks, Lisa is obviously a heck of a lot younger, almost like an early-teen girl, and Rieber is clearly in his twenties or so. In both versions, he ships off to Mars, and dies there in an enemy attack on the base. There’s no indication of how long ago this happened more specifically than that, but in the Robotech version, we’re told “The Last War” ended when the SDF-1 crashed to earth ten years before, so that means the flashback had to have happened well more than a decade ago. That more-or-less tracks, but it also means that Lisa must be pushing thirty at the earliest, quite a bit older than teenaged Rick. Dirty old woman!
In the Macross version, the “Last War” was *Started* by the SDF-1 crashing to earth, driven by everyone’s desire to snatch the alien tech before the other guys get it. This war, then, started in 1999 and ended in Macross Zero, about a year before Macross takes place, call it 2008, give or take a few months either way. Riber’s reassignment to Mars - helped out by Misa’s dad - must take place fairly early in the war, but there clearly *is* a war going on, since he complains about all the fighting. So let’s say 2000 or 2001, in that version, eight or nine years earlier, which tracks better, and it makes Misa about 23 or 24, which also makes things less creepy with Hikaru. She could conceivably be younger than that - like 22. We get mixed signals about that.
In the flashbacks, Rieber is Lisa’s fiancé (Despite the fact that she’s clearly an early teen with a high, squeaky voice - dirty old man! No wonder Lisa’s dad wanted to get rid of you!), but in the Macross version, it seems to me like he’s just some guy that she’s got a massive-but-unrequited crush on. This makes more sense, and, again, is far, far less creepy. Of course I could be missing some Japanese subtlety here. It could easily be that he was a teen, and she was a slightly younger teen, and he joined the Army, and that’s that.
In either case, Lisa/Misa joined the military in hopes of getting assigned to Mars.
Though they’ve never quite come out and said it in Macross, Misa is clearly a junior officer, and I think Claudia is the ship’s Executive officer. Misa appears to be essentially an air traffic controller. In Robotech, Lisa is the exec, and it’s never quite clear what Claudia does.
In the Macross version, Hikaru still calls Misa “The Old Lady.” This is pretty funny, since she’s probably only five or six years older than him, and of course it’s insulting.
In the Macross version, Roy taunts Hikaru by telling him Minmei invited the whole air wing to her party, including him, and then laughs in a deliberately lascivious way, as part of the running gag about how Roy’s going to steal her from the younger pilot. Curiously, the animation of this sequence has been completely cut from the Robotech version, instead showing us a static shot of a cockpit display, with much less randy dialog. I get changing the dialog, of course, but why cut the animation?
Several other scenes appear to be re-edited slightly, for no good reason. There’s an establishing shot of the inside of a restaurant that’s missing in Robotech, Exidore’s rant in the beginning of the ep has been trimmed down, and so on.
I’ve said before that the ADV voice acting is quite inferior to the Robotech dubbing, even if the Robotech version is less true to the source material. This time out, I’m going to go one better and say that the rewritten dialog in Robotech is actually quite a bit better than the Japanese original in most cases. Exidore is far less spastic than he is in the Japanese version, and Gloval is much more calm and in charge than his Japanese counterpart, Global, is. In Global’s on the edge of panic. In essence, I’d say Gloval is a better captain than Global is. When it appears that Lisa can’t handle the mission to sabotage the generator, he says “We’ll have to go with a suicide mission. Get me Commander Folker.“ This shows how serious the situation is, though the Japanese version is much more mild, and, it must be said, rather sexist. I love the James Mason kind of voice Gregory Snegoff plays Khyron with.
Of course some of the Japanese scenes play better. In Macross, Roy is obviously concerned about how Hikaru is getting worn down by all the killing, and he assigns him to rescue Misa because “It’s saving a life for a change.” This one line reveals volumes. In the Robotech version, it’s clunky and less insightful. There’s an odd discontinuity in the Robotech version, also, when Gloval says Marsbase Sarah was attacked, and the survivors were evacuated to earth, but then later on in the same episode he says no one survived the attack on the base.
Robotech says Sarah is the only Marsbase. Macross says there were several.
Kyron is the Robotech name for “Kenji Crusher.” Same character, but in Macross he’s known as “Kenji the Ally-Killer” and in the Robotech version he’s called “Kyron the Backstabber,” which I think is a bit catchier. In either version, he’s got a checkered past, though Exidor’s rundown of his crimes is far more destructive in Macross. In Robotech, Exidore merely says that Kyron *almost* did those things. The trooper Khyron shoots down is *clearly* dead in the Macross version, but still alive in the Robotech version.
In the Macross version, they mention bottles of booze. This doesn’t track with the Zentradi’s total lack of vice and pleasure as we’ll see later on in the series.
In the Macross version, the rambling discussion of where Khyron is from does a nice job of implying the Zentradi have a much, much larger force, of which they’re only a tiny part. This foreshadowing is mostly missing in Robotech.
Finally, the most severe difference between the two series is this "Reflex" stuff. Robotech uses "Reflex weaponry," Sarah base was powered by a "Reflex Furnace," etc. This was obviously put in to quell PC parents who didn't want to have their beliefs questioned about nuclear weapons/power equalling the end of the world. Macross makes no bones about the fact that they're using Nukes of one form or another all over the place. In fact, when Lisa gets shut in as Sarah is about to explode, the Macross version has a recording playing over the PA that says something like "Reactor malfunction, alpha wave count rising, initiating containment measures" whereas in the Robotech version there's no explanation whatsoever, she just gets shut in.
And that’s about it. I hope to have Episode 8 up soon. Thanks for all your patience, and again, I apologize for the five-month delay between updates on this series.