ROBOTECH REWATCH 1: So Much For World Peace

robotech rewatchSo, Robotech. I’ve read and watched a lot of space opera over the years, but this cartoon is the one that first climbed inside my head. I’ve never watched the Japanese original, Macross. I have always meant to, but somehow never got around to it. Maybe after this rewatch is complete…?

I have read almost all of the Jack McKinney novelisations, multiple times. They’re really good. They are genuinely so much better than novelisations of an anime show dubbed into English should ever be expected to be. They fill in a lot of the blanks, extending the characterisation and backstory, and acknowledging the darker and more mature themes of the story more thoroughly than during the short episodes.

I was exactly the right age (about twelve I think?) when I first came across Robotech, and grew deeply attached. The combination of spaceships, politics and romance really appealed, and the serialised aspect hit all my most obsessive buttons.

“Robotech” is made up of three anime shows, dubbed into English and rewritten just enough to pretend they are all part of the same universe. I did not know this when I first watched. I didn’t know why each new series was so tantalisingly separate from the previous one, and where all the characters I liked had disappeared to. It bugged me for years, and only the books (and later, Wikipedia) helped me figure out how it all worked. In the mean time, I watched the later seasons closely, hungry for callbacks.

I tried introducing Raeli (now nine!) to the show a few years ago and she wasn’t interested. When the Musketeer Space milestone funded to kick off this Robotech rewatch, I gave it another go on the grounds that it would be much easier to watch that many episodes if my daughters were watching along with me.

We watched nearly 5 episodes in that first session. Raeli adores it. Watching it with a kid is great because it gives me that double perspective – the odd disconnect about a show that feels more adult than your brain tells you it should be.

Then there’s okay, the gender stuff (technical term). Robotech is weirdly progressive and regressive at the same time when it comes to gender stuff, largely because it’s a 1980’s show set in the future, and it’s hard to predict social change. Plus there’s a bunch of anime conventions and tropes that are themselves problematic from a gender point of view. I’ve always waved away gender stuff with Robotech in the past (I know, it seems unlikely, but I can do it sometimes), but I don’t think I can avoid it this time around because – well, if I’m watching it with Raeli, and it conveys a message about gender that alarms me, I’m going to point it out to her.

She’s used to that.

Each post will have one or two episodes, depending on how much there is to talk about. Thanks to the financial backers of Musketeer Space, who unlocked this rewatch as Bonus Extra Blog Content. If you like these posts, consider sponsoring Musketeer Space and its associated bloggery at my Patreon page for $1 a month.

"What are you trying to do, make a fool out of me?"

“What are you trying to do, make a fool out of me?”

Episode 1. Boobytrap, AKA So Much For World Peace, Here Come the Aliens to F**k You Up

In the year 1999, an abandoned alien battle fortress crash landed on Earth! Ten years later, a whole city has built up around the fortress on Macross Island, and humanity has developed a new form of technology – Robotech – based on the alien ship.

Humanity has also been enjoying a decade of world peace, thanks to their collective terror at the evidence that aliens exist. Yay humans! We knew you’d get it right eventually.

Of course, world peace can’t last forever. Where would be the fun in that?

It’s 2009, and the battle fortress (known as the SDF-1) has been fully restored and is ready to launch. They almost know what all the buttons do! Unfortunately, the day of celebration turns to chaos when the aliens come hunting their lost ship…

It is ridiculous how happy this music makes me. I loved this show so much, it actually gives me nostalgia chills to hear it. Other pieces of music that have this effect on me: the theme tune of Press Gang, the theme tune of Blake’s 7, and “Manic Monday” by the Bangles. True fact.

The credits of these early episodes on the DVDs are different to the ones I remember, though, which I put on my Friday links post yesterday. I remember wondering about all the characters who appear in the credits (Dana, the crew from the Invid Invasion, etc.) that I didn’t recognise.

There’s a few really interesting science fictional ideas in this first episode, and I especially like the central concept of Robotech: the social effect that a crashed alien space fortress has on humanity, and the technology they develop in response. It’s a clever idea, and leads to repeated use of one of my all time favourite tropes: That Button Doesn’t Do What You Think It Does.

Apart from Captain Gloval, the gruff Russian sea captain who is in charge of this mess, the bridge crew are all women. Claudia has been out all night with Commander Fokker, and Lisa disapproves! The girls are mostly very giggly and silly while doing a pretty hardcore job, which I raised an eyebrow or two about. (Note, I talked this out with Alisa in the episode of Galactic Suburbia that is going up tomorrow, and she assures me that all-female work environments are a lot like this, even in engineering – which made me rethink my kneejerk reaction)

I did wonder if Kim, Sami, Vanessa and Claudia might be playing some sort of elaborate practical joke on the military, as if women are only allowed to take on a high-impact job (they’re basically air traffic controllers in space, can you imagine anything more stressful?) if they behave like teenage bubble heads. But… why should we only take women in science fiction seriously if they act in traditionally male ways? It’s definitely food for thought.

Still, there’s a retro feel about the traditional femininity expressed by these girls, and I don’t just mean because the show was written in the 1980’s – they feel almost like WAF girls from a 1940’s period piece, or something out of a 1960’s bedroom farce.

I do kind of adore them all, even if they tease Lisa for taking her job seriously, and it’s worth noting that for the most part these women are shown as being super competent and hardworking even when playing with their hair and talking about boys.

Captain Gloval is already showing signs of space madness, I’ve got to say, even before they go out to space. He mutters to himself a lot, apparently narrating the long Russian novel that he wandered in from. Again, he’s a relic from a bygone age, possibly the nineteenth century. Or whenever it was that submarines first became fashionable.

My favourite bit of Episode 1 is still where Gloval puts his pipe in his mouth, and Sami pipes up with the regulations: “No smoking on the bridge, sir!” So that’s at least one social convention of the future that Robotech has successfully predicted. Nice one, Robotech.

It’s hard to tell at this point who the main character is supposed to be. Roy Fokker is the heroic military pilot who might possibly occupy that space… right up to the point that his “little brother” Rick Hunter breezes into his military display, showing off how he’s a better pilot than any of them.

Oh, Rick. You and your spiky hair and your civilian neck scarf and your ridiculous sense of entitlement. You have no idea what’s ahead of you, do you?

There’s a lot of plot packed into this first episode, despite it being super short. (A side note: my DVD includes the throws to ad breaks, which is lovely – the ABC used to do the same thing, despite not actually including ads) Breetai and Exedore of the Zentraedi turn up leading the force against the humans, which means we get to see the story from their point of view very early on. I feel almost as soppy about seeing them for the first time as I do Captain Gloval! Even this early in the story, we’re getting to eavesdrop on their machinations as well as the humans who we are obviously supposed to sympathise with. Or are we???

Another key element of Robotech is the combination of fun action adventure and simple animation (explosions are expressed as circles!) with mature themes and surprisingly sophisticated conversations – already in this first episode we’ve had a discussion of Claudia’s love life that feels quite adult, and the beginning of an ongoing debate between Roy and Rick about military service vs. pacifism.

I often felt that the novels developed many of these themes more seriously than in the series, but actually most of the material is pretty much here to start with.

The first few episodes are mostly going to be me squeeing about first meetings between characters – the most important one in this episode is probably when Rick Hunter “meets” Lisa Hayes across the telecom when she sends him (by accident) into battle, just because he happens to be sitting in a Robotech plane. Later, shocked at his complete incompetence (but not quite shocked enough to check his ID), she talks him through changing module from plane to Battloid, and he finds himself up against an alien ship in the streets of Macross City.

Lisa dealing with Rick’s continuing incompetence is a theme we shall return to.

ROBOTECH MUSIC MAKES ME FEEL PATRIOTIC AS A HUMAN.

"This used to be a fighter plane!"

“This used to be a fighter plane!”

Episode 2. Countdown [AKA: It’s All In How You Press The Buttons]

The alien continue to attack Macross Island, proving to be a superior force.

The untried bridge crew of the SDF1 display their competence and ability for Captain Gloval, despite no one really knowing what half the buttons do on this ship. Meanwhile, the Powers that Be try to convince Captain Gloval to take this baby into space on the grounds that they might all magically get better at knowing what the buttons do if they are further away from the Earth.

As plans go, it’s not… entirely the worst?

Down in the streets, Rick Hunter is still performing battle slapstick. Thanks to Lisa’s advice, he is no longer falling out of the sky, but he is trapped inside an unexpected robot…

ENTER MINMEI.

So at this point, she’s just an ordinary teenage girl with no pretensions of stardom. Or so we think. Previously spotted trying to drag her little brother cousin away from an overly pushy drinks machine, Minmei is now at home, minding her own business when an unexpected Robotech duel erupts in the street outside.

So, there’s meet-cute, right? That’s a thing. And then there’s Minmei and Rick, who would make baby penguins feel a bit sick. In this first encounter, despite him still being stuck inside a robot, they hurl cheerful banter at each other that almost counts as flirting, right up to the point that he loses control of his robot body and smashes the corner off her house. Oh, young love.

“I don’t even know what this thing is and I’m sure not qualified to pilot it!”
Rick Hunter, Aware of His Limitations Since 2009.

Back on the SDF-1, when Gloval and the crew try to get the ship in the air, the gravity pods take off without the ship, ripping holes in its paintwork as they go. Did I MENTION my favourite trope of all time?

“They’ll never let me hear the end of this.”
Captain Henry Gloval. Having a bad day.

As I expected, my daughters identify more closely with baby-voiced, super cute Minmei than any of the military women. (I’m going to attempt to be kinder to Minmei in this rewatch than I have been in the past – prepare for super human effort) Raeli, however, drew a line at Minmei’s ridiculous decision to go back for her diary during the evacuation on the grounds that someone might find it and read it, during the alien invasion.

“What do you want, lady, embarrassment or death?”
Raeli, Age 9

Jemima (Age 4 and a Half) noticed all on her own that the bridge crew (I am not going to call them the Bridge Bunnies, Robotech fan sites, not if you set me on fire) were all girls apart from Captain Gloval. When she asked me why, I told her it was probably because they were the best qualified.

There’s a lot of Rick and Minmei in this episode. At one point, he uses his giant robot hand to rescue her, King Kong style, then flubs it and drops her while flying through the air. He manages to transform back into plane shape, open his visor thing, and get her inside the ship, defying all the laws of gravity and physics. And good sense.

“That actually was kind of impressive.”
Raeli, Usually more Sarcastic Than This.

The big reveal in all of Rick’s crazy battle antics is that the giant robot-shaped creatures invading the earth actually contain… giant pilots! So that’s why they call us Micronians. And it also explains why the SDF1 has such high ceilings.

Speaking of SDF1, they attempt a second take off, and this time it works. They charge slowly up into space, not realising that they’ve left Rick and Minmei behind. To be fair, neither of them actually works for the military.

Yet.

Maintain communications on this channel! The Robotech Rewatch will return next week! Find out more about the Musketeer Space project and how you can support it here at Patreon. Or just check out Musketeer Space, a space opera web serial with swashbuckle and style, starting from Chapter 1.

Next Episode Minmei

2 replies on “ROBOTECH REWATCH 1: So Much For World Peace”

  1. […] Thomas Ford. Project Bond. Tansy: X-Men Days of Future Past, Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction, Robotech Rewatch Galactic Suburbia Scrapbook – is still a preorder which means if you go ahead and preorder, […]

  2. Juan Sanmiguel says:

    Nitpick. Jason is Minmei’s cousin. Strangely he disappears after the SDF space fold.

    Great review. I am going to post on my local anime club’s Facebook page.

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