ROBOTECH REWATCH 34: Death By Ditzy Teenager

Robotech will be rewatched after these messages!

Don’t do this at home, kids. Taking unapproved road trips while working for the military may be hazardous to your health.

EPISODE 38 – False Start

It starts with gossip in the break room – Tactical Armoured Squadron 15’s Commander Sean Phillips has been put in solitary confinement for making a pass at a superior officer and they all have their doubts about his replacement: newly minted, baby-faced Second Lieutenant Dana Sterling who also happens to be the only girl in the squadron.

Dana is delighted with her new command (she pronounces them cute but dull) and decides to take everyone out on a recon patrol as a drill, despite the reservations of Corporal Angelo Dante.

Last episode’s attack on Moon Base Luna, it turns out, was by a group of aliens calling themselves the Robotech Masters, and everyone is supposed to be on high alert. Dana dismisses the concerns of ‘Angie’ and challenges him by suggesting he is uncomfortable taking orders from a woman.

(No, Dana, he’s uncomfortable taking orders from a maniac)

After a long joyride, Dana leads the 15th to a base where Lieutenant Marie Crystal is in command, and requests some lemonade for their dry throats. Crystal is entirely unimpressed with Dana’s antics, and their respective squads get into a rumble. In desperate trouble after knocking over a police robot, Dana goes on the run on her hover bike.

Nova Satori of the Military Police - totally not Dana's mum even if you squint.

Nova Satori of the Military Police – totally not Dana’s mum even if you squint.

The MPs, led by the blue-haired Nova Satori, finds Dana on the street and drags her off to prison. So not a great start for the daughter of the legendary Robotech heroes.

And yes, on my first viewing I totally convinced myself, based largely on the hair colour and position of authority, that this was actually Miriya, Dana’s mother. Don’t ask me why, except that I was obviously REALLY hoping to see Miriya and figure out where she fit into this brave new post-apocalyptic world.

Even in the brig, Dana doesn’t take the situation entirely seriously, asking for a shower, clean clothes and possibly a manicure.

After being thoroughly lectured, she begs for a second chance, knowing that her squad may be needed to deal with the current threat of the Robotech Masters. She is finally let out on a week’s probation, which seems pretty mild – and on her way out, she passes Sean, who is equally unfazed by his own incarceration. He’s due out in another day or so.

The 15th are miserable that there’s finally a proper battle going on and they’re missing out because both their officers are in jail. Bowie even asks why the obviously competent Corporal Dante can’t take them out, but Dante defends the chain of command. We also meet Louis, the science geek, who claims to be ‘too busy’ to die in battle today.

To their surprise, Dana turns up and leads them out.

‘Dying under the command of a ditzy teenager isn’t the way I wanted to go out’
Angelo Dante, already long-suffering. Oh, Angie, it’s never gonna get any better for you.

Hover tank action, finally! The 15th (also known as the Eagles?) are ground support in their Robotech vehicles, and they fight to defend the Robotech supply line. Despite being under pressure (and only putting their helmets on at the last minute) they turn out to be very effective in the field.

Brigadier General Rolf Emerson, on reviewing the successful results of the day’s battle, is pleased to hear how well the 15th acquitted themselves and seems to be particularly fond of Dana. (cough, I already spoilered the whole foster daughter thing last episode, sorry about that)

Nova Satori brings Sean to the 15th’s break room and he is his usual, nonchalant self, all mouth and bravado. To everyone’s shock, including his own, Satori announces that their former commander has been busted to Private.

Dana is alarmed at this sign of ruthlessness and prepares to accept her own punishment – only to hear she herself has been promoted and will be leading the 15th on a permanent basis.

She promptly uses this as an excuse to hassle Sean, which seems fair enough, really.

In case anyone was worrying that we weren’t going to get an unexpected nude shot of a lady showering this season, fear not! We are promptly shown a full frontal of Dana, and there’s even a plot excuse for it – more than Minmei’s infamous ‘leaky pipe’ shower, anyway. While showering and having the camera pan lasciviously over her animated curves, Dana has a hallucination of alien Robotech ships, and it’s not the first time – but what does it mean?

[bet you half a dollar if we get another clip show, this shower scene will be repeated, and repeated, and repeated…]

I find it fascinating that after the Macross saga, which was pretty much about the romanticisation of competence and excellence in the field, even from the youngest protagonists (okay, apart from that one time the entire fleet stopped paying attention to the war because the Miss Macross pageant was on TV, and that other time Lisa totally shot Rick out of the sky because she was daydreaming and, um, never mind), the Southern Cross is all about chaos and teenage hormones.

Sean and Dana between them represent pretty much the worst features you would want in commanders – both have a very casual approach to responsibility. I thought I was going to have to hold back quite a bit of feminist outrage when I got to this part of the story, because a good part of it is about how the one girl in the squadron acts like a brainless schoolgirl most of the time.

But. But.

As Angelo says, Dana is totally a ditzy teenager. But when it comes down to it, despite all her dramas and impulsive mistake stuff ups, she is also shown to be really good at her actual job in the field, right off the bat – that is, really good at leading a squad of fellow teens in Hovertanks to fight tactically and defensively against aliens with way more battle experience.

It certainly helps me feel better about the fact that our female protagonist is being shown up for her flighty ways to have Dana balanced out by her predecessor Sean, who is WAY WORSE than her.

This show was made in the 80’s so there’s a lot of casual minimising of Sean’s behaviour, with characters eye-rolling about him as a ‘teen Romeo’ who can’t keep it in his pants, but looking at the story with a modern eye, this is about how the commander of a squadron is hauled up for sexual harassment, and not only demoted really dramatically, but put straight back into his own squadron with a female commander.

INTERESTING move, Robotech.

It does feel bizarrely progressive that we have three female officers front and centre in this story: Dana, Marie and Nova, each with their own arenas of expertise (Tactical Armoured Corps, Tactical Space Corps, Military Police), but each of them are entirely surrounded by teams of men. It’s like the show loved the idea of having women in charge, but didn’t think at all about having any of the random troops be female too.

It’s a little unfortunate that Dana is so far shown as in conflict with Marie and Nova – no female friends for her! Thanks to Dana being the protagonist, however, her various face offs with the other women in command to at least allow the episode to pass the Bechdel test with flying colours.

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