RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Macross: “Miss Macross” (Episode 9) and Robotech: “Miss Macross” (Episode 9)

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We pick up our story just a week after Minmei’s sixteenth birthday, and just two or three weeks at the most after the Battle of Mars. Exactly how long the SDF-1 Macross has been in space is unclear, but it’s been several months, long enough for people to settle into a more-or-less accepting daily routine. The series never says, but it’s probably going on half a year by the time we get to this week’s story

PLAY BY PLAY

Rick and Minmei sit in a coffee shop called “Variation” and look out over the city built in the belly of the spaceship. Rick is surprised to see there’s an artificial sky overhead now - holograms or whatever - that looks just like the real one, with moving clouds and all. They watch the simulated sunset through the window, and then Rick asks Minmei out. She declines, since he wants to go out on their busiest day at the restaurant. He accepts it in good grace.

Meanwhile, everyone is buzzing about the “Miss Macross” contest, a morale-booster cooked up by some publicity flack or another. It works, however. The contest will be televised live and everyone is all excited about it, to the point of distraction from their incredibly dangerous daily lives. Twenty eight of the most beautiful refugees on the ship - including a movie star who was trapped aboard when they escaped earth! - will be competing. Rick is less than impressed and more than jealous when he finds out Minmei is in it. She didn’t join of her own free will, however, the Mayor signed her up without even asking her first.

Coming to his senses, Rick gives Ben and Max the night off so they can go cheer for her, and takes both their shifts as the pilot on duty, in case anything goes wrong during the show. But what could go wrong? I mean, it’s not like they’ve been regularly attacked by implacable, inscrutable aliens for six month or anything, right? Rick abandons his post and goes to the show at the open air auditorium - well, as open-air as anything can be in a space ship.

Among the aliens, they receive transmissions from the SDF-1 - commercials for the pageant - and since they can’t make any sense out of them, they launch a recon ship with three Zentradi spies on board. They get close, and are detected by the SDF-1’s sensors, and they try to launch Rick, but can’t find him. Lisa goes on the PA calling for him. He checks in, lying that he was just eating dinner, and she chews him out and tells him to get to the Prometheus ASAP.

He does, and goes out in a fighter in Battloid mode, all tricked out with extra rocket launchers and heavy armor. Once away from the ship, he tries to watch the beauty contest, but Lisa keeps calling him and bugging him and interrupting the video feed. He gets engrossed in the show, isn’t watching what he’s doing, and nearly collides with the Zentradi recon vessel. They fire missiles at him, and he manages narrowly to escape them.

Meanwhile, the Zentradi spies are engrossed and stunned by the site of women in bathing suits, standing right next to men. We discover that Men and Women do not serve together on Zentradi ships, nor do they fraternize. The very thought of such a thing is utterly confounding to them, and they all discuss strange, smoky, tingly sensations they get from watching this, which is unlike they’ve ever had, or heard of before. They can’t take their eyes off of it, of course.

Minmei, meanwhile, has a run in with the movie star, who refuses to sign an autograph, and Roy alleges that the whole contest is a fix to boost the star’s career or something.

Rick, meanwhile, has collected his wits, and uses his boss new weapons to launch a massive counterattack on the horndog spies who are mesmerized by the TV. They’re startled to realize Rick’s even still alive, and they return fire. Rick returns their return fire, and crashes in through the front of their ship, while the three of them eject in an escape pod. Rick pokes around inside the ship for a moment, and sees that all the video monitors are set on the pageant. He looks at it for a second in confusion, and then the ship blows up. The spies report that they escaped, and took out the enemy fighter, but all their recordings were lost.

Rick drifts around unconscious in a crippled fighter.

Minmei wins the contest in an upset, defeating the movie star, much to the star’s obvious displeasure.

Rick wakes up to find Minmei won, and the closing narration informs us that Rick is aware Minmei is entering a world he can’t follow.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

First and foremost, this episode is funny as hell. The show’s always had a wry sense of humor, but this is the first full-on comedic one they’ve done. Which isn’t to say it’s all cheap gags and slapstick, because it’s not. It’s character-based humor, and there’s even one really dramatic pulse-pounding scene, but it’s mostly funny.

In particular, the scenes of Rick constantly getting interrupted by Lisa, and his rapidly escalating frustration about not being able to watch the show are pretty hilarious. This is contrasted by the odd innocence of the Zentradi spies, who can’t stop leering, and can’t even begin to understand why it’s happening. And then there’s Bretai and Exidore, who watch the commercials in confusion, and decide to investigate since it must be important, or else why would they bother to transmit it? The spies trying to figure out why Minmei is wearing a swimsuit is pretty funny, too: “It must be armor.” “Then why does it cover such a small area?” “I don’t know. Perhaps those are the only areas where she’s vulnerable?” “No, it must be some kind of ceremonial uniform.”

The scene where Minmei tells the judges that she doesn’t have a boyfriend, and Rick’s reaction, is pretty priceless, too.

Ok, I’m an American and a Republican, so I’m pretty sure the Metric System is a tool of the devil, or at the very least, a tool of the French, so I might be figuring this out wrong, but they flash Minmei’s measurements on the screen during the pageant - B 80, W 58, H 87. I assumed W and H were weight and height, but if my conversion is correct that means she’s only 2’10” tall and weighs something like 116 lbs. (Wow! Dense!) I’m assuming I got that wrong: I’m assuming it means she’s got 2’10” hips, 1’10” waist, and a 2’7” chest. That translates out - from top to bottom - to 30-22-34, which seems about right, and is suitably va-va-voom. She also mentions in the American version that she’s 5’2”.

The last three episodes take place within a week or two of each other, the first three episodes take place on the same day, the fourth episode takes place over the course of several weeks, but, an, there's months and months between the first batch of episodes and the current one. Evidently nothing of interest happened between Saturn and Mars, and evidently it took 'em a long time to get to Mars, given how established and business-as-usual all the refugees on the ship seem to be.

There’s a nice subtle bit in both version: When the Zentradi watch the commercial we’ve seen twice already, the vocal track is jibberish. Why? Because the Zentradi don’t speak English (or Japanese), so they can’t understand it. Thus, when they’re talking among themselves, they’re not speaking our language, it’s just that we’re listening in theirs.

This is, of course, the introduction of the spies, who’ll become pivotal characters later on in the series.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the sprawling cast this show is amassing, shall we? You’ve got:

1) Rick
2) Lisa
3) Roy
4) Claudia
5) Gloval
6) Max
7) Ben
8) Minmei
9) Bretai
10) Exidore
11) Khyron
12) Konda the spy
13) Rico the spy
14) The third spy who’s name I can’t remember now.

Which really is a lot of main characters, if you compare it to most shows from the period. In addition to this, you’ve got a ton of recurring minor characters like the Mayor, Minmei’s family, “Jason” (Who turns up again in this episode), the Bridge Bunnies, and so on. And we’re not even done yet, more are a-comin’. I have to say, I like the sprawling cast.

There’s a number of single-frame animation errors in this episode - the piping in Rick’s uniform disappears and reappears a lot, the racing stripe on the head of Rick’s fighter disappears then reappears, etc. Another odd error is that they keep using an establishing shot of the Ampitheater audience, as seen from the stage, behind the contestants. This works the first time they use it, but after that it makes no sense as the women in the shot are all fully dressed, while in the later scenes, the women are all in swimsuits.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE MACROSS AND ROBOTECH VERSIONS

In Macross, Rick looks at the artificial sky, and muses about how no one really seems to be all that interested in getting back to earth anymore. Minmei says that “After tomorrow we’ll have TV again, too” and explains that the Miss Macross contest is the inaugural broadcast (Not counting the commercials for the contest, apparently.) All this dialog is absent in the Robotech version.

In both versions, the first prize for winning is a “Fanliner” - a two-person pusher-prop plane with a ducted fan. It’s pretty sweet looking, really, though clearly of no use to people trapped on a space ship. Presumably this is why it’s been donated as a prize. In the Robotech version, they mention that it was built entirely on the ship. Macross says the plane is an “Ike Bakame” design, Robotech says it’s designed by “Idi Takimi.”

Macross makes it pretty clear that Gloval’s rank is “Commodore.” In Robotech, he’s just a Captain.

The movie star is called “Jamice Marin” in Macross - and that’s not a typo, by they way, it’s “Jamice” and not “Janice.” In Robotech she’s named “Jan Morris.”

Minmei is said to be from Yokohama in this one, and she makes a mention of her cousin Kyle in the Macross version, but there’s no mention of him in Robotech yet. Kyle will become an important (But damn confounding) character later in the show’s run.

FAN SEVICE: There’s a buttshot of Minmei’s suit riding up, so she grabs it and tugs it back down. I should mention, in a non-fan-service kind of way, that it’s a very modest suit.

The Macross version, obviously, has a some mild profanity, and a lot of sexy talk, such as Max and Ben discussing Minmei’s tight, hot little body, and the pageant narrator talking about how the women will be judged based on their muscle tone and firmness. There’s also a funny scene where Lisa mentions Gloval is quite handsome, and Claudia fires off a bon mott about the “Dirty look in his eyes.”

This last scene actually plays out better in the Robotech version than in the Macross one, with completely different dialog: Claudia ribs Lisa about joining the contest, and Lisa just stares at her, without saying a word, until Claudia shuts up and goes back to work. In the Macross version, there’s some dialog between them which comes to nothing, but here they simply removed Lisa’s half, and it plays so much funnier that way.

Now, generally, I tend to favor the Robotech versions of these things. Firstly, it’s what I’m more familiar with, but also the voice cast is better and the voice actors are given more direction. Lisa, for instance, in the Macross dub I’m watching is horribly shrill, whereas in Robotech, she’s got a lot more nuance, she’s not just a one-note battleaxe. Also, the Robotech writers generally know what’s coming up - I’m not convinced the Macross writers really did when they were making this stuff - so while the Robotech writers frequently stray from the established dialog, their substitutions seem a bit more polished than the original dialog in some cases.

While that’s generally true, man, the Macross version of this is way the hell funnier than the Robotech one. Again, the voice cast isn’t nearly as good as in Robotech, but in this case playing closer to the original script re-establishes the comic timing that’s mostly absent in the Robotech version. In that show, this is merely a cornball episode that’s a bit embarrassing here and there. In Macross, as I already said, it’s pretty hilarious. In particular, the scene when Rick realizes the aliens have been watching the beauty pageant themselves is weird and creepy-funny, and then the ship explodes, all of which have a nice offputting timing to them that underscores how damn weird it is that aliens are watching a swimsuit competition. In Robotech, this just plays out as goofy.

There’s some voiceover dialog in Robotech that’s completely superfluous, and absent in the Macross version. Most of it when Rick is getting ready to take his fighter out.

In the Robotech version, Claudia describes Minmei as “Hot.” Stick that in your crack pipe and smoke it, Paris Hilton! I know you claim you came up with that, but clearly you didn’t. Robotech is from 1985, bay-bee! Ha! Take that!

In the “Well, I guess they were on a budget” category, the Pageant in Macross opens with a nice vaguely latin number, whereas it opens with an instrumental version of Minmei’s “Time to be a star” song, which, of course, she hasn’t written yet.

There’s a great scene in the Macross version which is considerably less great in Robotech: When Rick blunders into the Zentradi recon ship, he’s watching the show on TV, then realizes with a panic what’s happening, and hit’s the throttle and grabs the stick, while the spies shoot missiles at him. The instant he realizes what’s going on, all noise and dialog stop, excepting a whiney drill-like chord playing incessantly and without changes in the background. We get a really tense minute or so of Rick dancing with the missiles, terrified, trying to survive, and we get a great sense of how scary and touch-and-go all this is, and it’s even more shocking given the overall silly nature of this episode. Just like a mountain seems bigger if it’s in the middle of a plain, so a fright seems far scarier if it’s dropped in the middle of a comedy. The sound comes back after Rick’s out of danger, but its absence shows how everything else dropped from his mind, how primal the whole scene was.

In the Robotech version, we get the same scene, but with the normal Robotech fight music, and Minmei blathering in the background about how tall she is, so obviously none of it has the same effect it did in the original, and that’s sad. It really is.

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