Okay something a bit different in the Robotech Rewatch this week – I had FEELINGS to express once I got to the end of my Southern Cross rewatch, so I’ve written an essay about it.
Normal transmissions will resume next week!
Watching serialised television was an emotional minefield in the days before the internet. If you missed an episode, THAT WAS IT. It was gone, into the ether until such a time as a repeat showing flitted past your screens.
You just got used to the idea that there were bits you had missed. For a lot of shows, this didn’t matter, but it’s amazing how many kids shows in the 80’s actually did have a strong serialised thread running through them.
In some cases (like the ever-repeated Astro Boy) you could watch every single episode on a high repeat turnover and still miss stuff – I only discovered as an adult that the crucial ‘this explains Atlas and Livian’ episode was never actually screened in the English language dub.
When I discovered Robotech in my early teens, and fell in love with it, the current showing was about a third of the way through the Rick-Lisa-Minmei era, and it wasn’t long before I decided that I – Could – Not – Miss – Another – Episode. I don’t remember if it was screening before school, after school or on Saturdays, but I do know that I was hooked.
And also confused. Hooked and confused. Because I had no idea about Robotech being three separate (but similar) anime series stitched together by an English dub. When Rick and Lisa went off to space only for an entirely new cast to take over the show, I kept watching, hungry for every crumb of continuity, and often finding connections that weren’t there (like being convinced that Nova Satori was actually Dana’s mother Miriya for like, an embarrassing number of episodes).
Then, after Zor blew up the Invid Flower of Life and screwed up everything, it happened again. Dana and her crew were mysteriously missing in the next episode, it was years later and… oh, this again.
The arrival of character Scott Bernard or as I liked to call him, The Who Now? pretty much sealed my disconnection from the show. Because here was a character who claimed to know Admiral Hunter and all the other cool kids, was supposedly our connection to the lost SDF3 mission, but actually had nothing of any interest to share. Except that his dead girlfriend was voiced by the same actress who had voiced Lisa. (CONFUSING) And the SDF3 crew themselves never turned up. I kept waiting to find out what Dana and Nova and the rest of the 15th ATAC were up to, in this post-apocalyptic garden planet the Earth had now transformed into – surely they’d turn up at some point?
I know plenty of people who adore the Third Robotech War/Mospeada era of the show, and I wish I had those fond memories of it – I did sort of like many of the characters – but I couldn’t get attached, not after being burned twice. It’s like that thing they did in Doctor Who where they killed off two awesome, compelling versions of the companion Clara before we got to meet the “real” one and frankly I wasn’t going to invest any emotional energy in her after that.
A little while after my first watch-through of Robotech, I discovered the novelisations, and HELLO, this was what I had been waiting for. The books by Jack McKinney, which I bought in solid 3-in-1 omnibus paperback, gave me the show that I sort of thought it was supposed to be.
In particular, he fleshed out the romantic and personal relationships that were often drawn very lightly in the show with greater depth. He added a quite adult sensibility, reinterpreting some of the relationships (which is why part of me is almost certain that Lisa and Rick were doing the friends with benefits thing long before they actually sorted themselves out) and using one of my favourite narrative devices: quotes from fake history books as chapter headings.
What these books gave me most of all was those threads of continuity that I had been longing for. Connections were made between characters and their histories. I got my first hint of the Sentinels, the sequel series to the show that actually was supposed to draw all the characters together. I even, in the case of the First Generation crew, learned about the early days of the show’s narrative – how they all met, etc – from the episodes I had missed.
To this day, I am a continuity junkie, and while the support networks of shows like Doctor Who fed that obsession quite substantially (even before I got anywhere near the internet – novelisations and programme guides, anyone?) it was shows like Robotech that I discovered separate from any support network that I think cemented my obsessive, fact-collecting nature. Yes, Robotech, you broke me.
While I loved the 6 books of the First Generation and was mostly indifferent to the Third (seriously, I’ve just never forgiven them), it was the Southern Cross/Second Generation set of three books that really climbed into my heart. Dana, Angelo and the others became far more fleshed out characters than the show had given me, and I felt that they connected to the original much more completely. (It also didn’t hurt that Jack McKinney agreed with me that Zor was a tool and despite using Dana’s POV most of the time, did not romanticise their frankly weird and unbalanced relationship.
But like with Rick and Lisa, the books messed with my head and with my later viewings of the show. On my recent rewatch, I was surprised at how shallow Dana seemed to be, and how thin a lot of the plots were. I was genuinely shocked at how little screen time most of the relationships got, because I remembered there being so much more.
Then came the last episode – there was Zor, stupidly crashing a ship and creating the apocalypse he had tried to avert because seriously, the story of his life.
There was Dana, getting a mysterious vision of her long-lost sister, and a preciously rare reference to Max and Miriya.
The episode ended.
Where was my closure? Where was my epilogue with Dana getting her team together and asking them to come to the stars with her? WHERE WAS MY DANA/ANGIE KISS?
Oh, right. Those scenes never happened.
Damn it, show.
I’ve archived a lot of my teen favourite books over the years, putting them into plastic containers because I only have so many bookshelves. The Robotech books are – still shelved, waiting to be reread at a moment’s notice.
My Second Generation omnibus paperback is super creased and battered. I opened it up to discover that yes, the last chapter was an add-on epilogue. Dana’s mysterious vision extended to more information than we got in the show, enough for her to plot a mission to hijack a ship and rejoin her parents – and pretty much everyone was on board with joining her. Only Louis stayed behind, wanting to use his tech knowledge to help the world face the Invid.
Nova was still holding the baby, and making eyes at Dennis Brown (aww Dennis, you are barely in the show but I do love you), the other couples are all together, and everyone’s ready to follow Dana on one more zany, totally-against-military-protocol romp because if working under Supreme Commander Leonard has taught them anything, it’s that regulations are dumb.
Something blocked the low, orange rays of the sunset from her. Angelo Dante stood there, stretching and scratching, having ditched his own armour, wearing a pack made up of most of the usable things he had managed to scare up in the assault ship. The weight of didn’t seem to bother him. He was adjusting his rifle sling.
He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. “Lieutenant – Dana – you’re still callin’ the shots. I got ‘em ready; you move ‘em out.”
Before she knew it, she was on her feet, arms thrown around him. About her had spin the symmetries and vectors of the Second Robotech War; she alone had the powers of mind that would let a leader perform the job she had to do now. But her nineteenth birthday was still three weeks and three days away.
Angelo patted her back and spoke more softly than she had ever heard him. “There, there, now, ma’am: we can’t all be sergeants. But as officers go, I’ve seen worse than you. Dana, all we need is someone to show us the way.”
She knew he didn’t mean the way to Monument; the flames would do that. She surprised herself as much as him by pulling his head down to her and kissing Angelo Dante hard.
Then she let him go, took the sidearm from his belt and stalked off to the front of the disorderly mob while he was still recovering and turning to glower at the ATACs, who had seen what happened but kept discreet silence.
Yeah, I don’t care if they’re cartoon characters, I ship it. Though I find it VERY hard to believe that Sean Phillips was able to manage discreet silence at that point, come on.
Something I’ve never actually done (but always wanted to) is watch the original Macross series in translation – though actually the one I’m more interested in is the Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, AKA Dana’s series. I recently looked up the details to compare it to the Robotech version, and see if there were any other elements I was missing.
FUN FACTS ABOUT SUPER DIMENSION CAVALRY SOUTHERN CROSS:
1. It’s not actually set on Earth, but a human colony called Glorie
2. The triplicate aliens who turn up to wreak havoc are actually the nomadic former natives of the planet, known as the Zor.
3. Something that made me think happy Musketeer Space thoughts (because yes, my Dana D’Artagnan is named after the similarly impulsive but much blonder Dana Sterling) is the common use of French names among the crew: Dana is Jéanne Francaix and was born on the planet Liberté, while Sean is Charles De Etouard, named after the Parisian subway station, and Supreme Commander Leonard is Claude Leon. Also Louis = Louis.
4. Actually the whole ensemble are notably multi-racial Europeans, with Russian, German and English names as well, all written in Katakana. Angelo = Andrzej.
5. Emerson and Bowie are actually father and son, instead of that whole ‘awkward foster father’ situation – it’s an odd change, really. Why couldn’t Emerson have been Bowie’s father and still have Claudia be the aunt? Emerson could have married her sister. I guess then he couldn’t be Bowie Grant but come on, it’s not like they ever utilised that in the plot. Though to be honest I want to know more about all the other foster families who must have been involved in raising all those kids after the competent grown ups all went off into space… and yes, the books do at least explain that Dana lived with Emerson & Bowie, though they do not explain why they treat each other like they’re practically strangers.
6. Another really cute detail that makes my Musketeer Space heart happy is that the personal armour that the ATACs all wear is referred to as an ‘Arming Doublet.’
7. The final episode of the series was called ‘Genesis’ not ‘Catastrophe’ because of course, without the Invid implication, the whole explosion of the Flower of Life is a good rather than bad outcome. I guess Zor (or rather, Seifriet Weiße) is less of a tool in that version of reality? Though according to their TV Tropes page, the ending is pretty inscrutable, possibly because the show was cancelled suddenly.
8. Mary Angel/Marie Crystal is referred to as the Cosmo Amazon. Which I demand to be a cocktail name if it isn’t already! Also she was once the leader of a bikie gang.
9. The descriptions of the show, the credits etc. all make it pretty clear that Jeanne, Mary and Lana (Nova) are intended to be the three main characters, with the boys all playing support roles. I… really want to see this now, because I’ve a had a lingering sense of frustration that I was supposed to know a lot more about Marie Crystal and Nova, but they weren’t set up as protagonists in Robotech. So… have I been falling in love with the wrong story all along? Damn it, Robotech.
Okay. I’ve worked through all my feelings. And I promise to give the Third Robotech War a proper chance, this time, without simply hating it for not telling me what happened to Dana.
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