RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Macross: “First Contact” (Episode 11) AND: Robotech: “First Contact” (Episode 11)

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This is the last Macross episode I’ve got on hand, and since the Democrats are in the Oval Office again I don’t really have the money to buy any more. This’ll be the last Macross/Robotech review for a while, but I I’m really enjoying the comparison/contrast thing going on here, and I fully intend to return to it as soon as possible.

PLAY BY PLAY

Rick, Lisa, Ben, and Max are still in the middle of the fight on the Zentradi ship that the previous episode ended with. Bretai goes hand-to-hand with Rick in Battloid mode, basically beating the crap out of him and ripping Rick’s mighty-fighty robot to shreads. Max tries to help, but gets blown out in to space through a hull breach. Ben is still out cold from the beat down he got in the previous episode, so, after a genuinely impressive fight three of our four heroes are caught.

They’re put in a big machine for scientific analysis, and Exidor notes with some surprise that us humans are pretty much genetically and physiologically identical to the Zentradi, excepting the size difference, of course. He and Bretai decide to report in to Dolza, their superior, for further instructions.

The ship does a hyperspace fold, which the SDF-1 notices. Realizing that Lisa’s recon team is waaaaay overdue, and that the fold happened in the same section of space that the team was in, Captain Gloval realizes the entire mission crew is more-than-likely dead. Roy goes to tell Minmei the bad news. She utterly freaks out and runs away to be alone with her pain (Though the extent of her feelings for Rick have never been terribly clear in either show. Is she running away inconsolably here because she loved him, or is this the same kind of reaction she’d have if she saw an adorable puppy get run over by a truck?).

Meanwhile, back on the ship Lisa explains the vagaries of time while in a hyperspace fold (1 hour in fold space = 10 days of realtime passing in real space) and discussing their options. When they de-fold, they see hundreds of thousands of Zentradi battlewagons near an earth-like planet, with some flashing lights in the distance. Lisa snaps pictures of everything because the aliens didn’t notice her camera. They head towards them, and the lights resolve into a huge asteroid probably a hundred miles from end to end, which has been hollowed out and forms the Zentradi command headquarters. Bretai’s ship flies into the command asteroid, and takes up position inside the massive empty space within. Dolza contacts them and says he’s coming over to Bretai’s ship as the humans are too dangerous to be allowed into the command core.

The interrogation takes place with Dolza, Bretai, Exidor, Rico, Konda, and Bron seated around a conference table, and Rick, Lisa, and Ben *on* the table. The aliens ask the humans a whole bunch of questions, most of which they can’t answer, then blow up that planet we briefly saw earlier just to show off. Then things ultimately comes down to a deliberately awkward discussion of where babies come from. The aliens legitimately don’t know! Dolza demands to see this “Kissing” of which the humans speak, or else he’ll squish all of them (He’s basically King Kong sized, and the humans are basically Fay Wray sized). He’s already got Lisa in his hand, and commands Rick and Ben to kiss, and their aghast reaction is pretty funny. They refuse, of course, but before Dolza can kill ‘em all, Lisa volunteers. He sets her down, and she explains that they’re going to have to smooch.

“Well then do it with Ben,” Rick says.

Without changing her expression or turning her head, her eyes slide over to look at Ben, there’s a beat, they slide back to look at Rick in utter disgust and commands him to kiss her. It’s genuinely really funny in both versions of the show. She just is repulsed by Ben.

They kiss and the Zentradi get physically ill at the sight of it. The humans are taken away and stuck in a cell to ponder their fates. Dolza makes the first mention of “Protoculture” at this point.

Max, meanwhile, has found his way back on board the ship in Battleoid mode. He hides in a small room, and K.O.s a Zentradi who happens in. He takes the guy’s uniform, which just fits over the battleoid robot, and walks out. He can now pass for a Zentradi, provided no one looks too closely. He spies the other three being hauled off to a detention cell.

Back on the ship, Minmei is preparing for her debut. She makes peace with Rick being dead, and goes out to sing an entirely inappropriately upbeat number to close out the episode.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

It’s been inferred that the Zentradi we’ve seen are part of a larger fleet somewhere off in space. They’ve already received reinforcements once in the form of Khyron’s ground troops, but we never had any intimation of how *big* that fleet was until now: There are literally hundreds of thousands of alien ships zipping around the even-more-impressive command asteroid.

To recap: Bretai got thrown out into space, climbed back into the ship, attacked Ben and took out his ‘bot, then fought Rick and Max’s robots with his bare hands, beating Rick’s bot into submission - a legitimately cool fight - and literally ripping the thing apart. He catches Rick as he’s ejecting from the plane, then has a 40-foot robot blow up in his face. When his subordinates come to see if he’s ok, he shrugs it off: “I’m not built so weakly as you.” No, he absofraginlutely ain’t!

In both versions of the show the inference here is the same: The Zentradi are artificially constructed in a lab or factory or whatever, presumably with different designs for different jobs. The average soldiers all look pretty much alike because they’re the same model. Exidor is short and scrawny, but large-headed, much less aggressive, and much smarter than the others, so evidently he’s a “Science officer” model. Bretai, as a command model, is larger than the rest, and can clearly take a whole lot more punishment. Dolza is somewhat larger still, and is curiously pockmarked like he had acne at some point. Why that should be, I don’t know.

In both versions of the story, Dolza admits that the ancestors of the Zentradi weren’t human, but were for all intents and purposes identical. Over time and wars, most of the information relating to this original civilization was lost.

The scene where Dolza, Bretai, and Exidor attempt to figure out the totally unexpected reaction they had at seeing the humans kiss is interesting. They speculate as to why it happened, but don’t come to any solid conclusions, but both versions suspect (I’m going to assume correctly) that it’s some kind of remnant of their ancient pre-genetically engineered past.

I’m going to theorize on this for a bit here: Both versions of this episode make it very clear that the Zentradi are entirely a warrior race with no civilians, or even concepts of civilians, and that their genders are entirely segregated. They have no knowledge of sex, or basic reproduction, but they are essentially human even if they’ve been bred (Or engineered) and programmed only for war. It’s also fairly obvious (But never stated) that the Zentradi are a really ancient race, so things have been this way for literally as long as they have recorded history.

At the same time, it’s pretty clear that they haven’t changed the basic architecture of a humanoid body all that much. Bigger, stronger, probably healthier, intelligence and physical strength dictated by the needs of the job they’re born into, but they’re still basically human - one mouth, two arms, two legs, and since Bretai can recognize Lisa is female, presumably they still have two breasts where appropriate as well. If you’re leaving breasts on a genetically engineered species who don‘t give birth or have sex, then it stands to reason that the men folk still have their baton de joie as well. Now if that’s the case, then all the old plumbing and desires and subroutines pertaining to those desires must still be there, just suppressed by indoctrination and programming.

Then they come face to face with males and females living together, and it freaks them out. I’d say it gave them a heterosexual panic if there was any evidence of them being gay in the first place. In fact, they’re an entirely nonsexual species. But seeing us brings up some of the old, long-forgotten human reflexes. Seeing us kiss probably created such a strong reaction because it undoubtedly started a sexual reaction in them, and they have absolutely no framework with which to process such things.

So that’s my theory.

Interestingly, in both versions the humans are asked “Why did you choose to become tiny?”

During Minmei’s song, Roy and Claudia spend the first quiet moment together that we’ve seen.

When they’re reporting in to Dolza by videophone, Exidor looks unusually blue.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MACROSS AND ROBOTECH VERSIONS

The differences are comparatively slight, but at the same time this is where the philosophical underpinnings of both shows start to diverge conspicuously. It all revolves around the interrogation scene.

In Macross, the Zentradi are utterly mystified by the concept of a civilian. This is there in the Robotech version, too, but it’s not nearly so deep, and they accept the concept once it’s explained. In Macross, they just won’t let it go, and go on for some time talking about how impossible it is and “Admit Civilians don’t exist” and suchlike. In the Macross version, the Zentradi go on briefly about how dangerous space - and life itself - is, and how you simply can’t have members of any society who don’t fight because of that. They wipe out an earth like planet just to show off in both cases, but in the original it was to underscore their point about the chaotic nature of existence and the need for ‘total social mobilization’, if you will.

In Macross, Dolza (Who’s actually named “Boldoza” in this verison, but I’m generally going with the Robotech names because it’s easier) explains that once upon a time there was this thing called the “Protoculture” from which all other cultures - including the Zentradi - derived. Conversely, in Robotech, “Protoculture” is an ill-defined lost technology that they suspect the humans have, and they want to get it back from them.

Macross Dolza mentions that they don’t really know much about this “Protoculture,” but that every fleet that has come into contact with it becomes ineffective and ultimately unable to fight. He says this as if it’s a serious problem, like a scary disease. Robotech Dolza doesn’t mention any of this.

“Reflex Weaponry” is also mentioned here, though it’s unclear exactly what they’re talking about. “Reflex” is used as a replacement word for “Nuclear” in Robotech, but not really in Macross insofar as I’ve noticed. The way he said it almost made it sound like it was a weapon that caused adverse reactions - like the nausea reflex the Zentradi experienced - but I’m not sure.

In the Macross version, the Zentradi mention something called “The Supervision Army,” and thing the humans are in league with them. The humans, of course, know nothing about them, but it was this group that crashed the Macross on earth, and rigged it with a boobytrap. There’s no mention of this whatsoever in the Robotech version.

In Macross, they make it very clear that Max was hiding in an alien toilet. This has been cut out in the Robotech version.

Everyone knows how squeamish 1980s censors were about death in cartoons. Interestingly, in the Macross original no one actually says that Lisa et al are dead, just MIA. I naturally assumed that’d be the case in Robotech as well, but no: as soon as Roy tells Minmei Rick is missing she just explodes into a very surprising “He’s killed? You mean he’s dead?” and won’t calm down.

I think this actually works slightly better - more emotional - in the Robotech version than the Macross one, though the actual on-screen action is the same. Also, I think Rick’s terrified wailing when Bretai is beating him down is more effective than his counterpart’s “How do you stop this monster?” line from Macross.

Conversely, when Bretai shows up again and starts measuring out the pain, Max says “I’ll stop this big bruiser” or something goofy and calm like that, but in the original version, Max is really shrill and shrieking “He just got blown out into space! He’s supposed to be dead!” and is really really freaked out and beside himself. That works much, much, much better than the Robotech version.

There’s a short scene of Roy driving to tell Minmei about Rick that’s missing from Robotech. Also Minmei’s performance at the end has been re-cut somewhat. Initially I couldn’t figure out the reason for those changes, but eventually I figured out that the English song (“Stagefright”) is a considerably longer than the Japanese song it replaces (“My Boyfriend is a Pilot”), so they needed to make room for it.

Roy is a much nicer guy in Robotech than in Macross. In Macross he’s been teasing Rick badly, going on endlessly about how he’s going to steal Minmei away from Rick and have all kinds of screaming dinosaur sex with her, just to make Rick mad. He’s also seen several times hitting on her when he knows Rick is watching, which infuriates him. Tonight, however, all that is gone: he’s the one to tells Minmei what happened, and all his jackass affectations are absent. He’s trying to be supportive, and he’s obviously pretty upset himself. It’s a very nice touch.

Rick is really a sexist jerk in Macross. He picks a fight with Lisa and says “Why can’t women stay home and cook food and look cute?” “What? Is that all you think women are good for?” “Nah, you sing too…” and boom, they’re off to the races. A vastly, vastly, vastly more mild version of this there in Robotech, when Rick wonders about the wisdom of women in combat, then he immediately takes it down a notch by saying “I’m sorry to be such a bring down, Lisa, and I didn’t mean you personally.” It’s wussified. In Macross, Rick also flat out blames Lisa for the death of her pilot, but he doesn’t in Robotech.

One last *massive* difference 'twixt the versions: In Robotech, Dolza is the leader of all the Zentradi, and the fleet we see is all the Zentradi there are. In Macross, Dolza's fleet is merely one of at least 117 OTHER identical ones!

And I think that’s pretty much it, kids. I leave you all in the lurch now, but we’ll pick this up again as soon as I can.

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