DAY FOURTEEN: First Contact

(10) Back when I used to engage in continuity discussions on message boards and forums, one of the things I always hated was people assuming ROBOTECH's narrator always knew what he was talking about. Case in point, in this episode's opening recap the narrator says Lisa "bravely volunteered" for the Cat's Eye mission when, in fact, she did no such thing. To be fair, I thought she did before I got to the scene yesterday, but when it came along, Gloval just told her to do it, she sort of smiled, started to say something, and then Gloval hilariously turned and went, "LisAAAAAAA!" ending the discussion right there. For a second it almost looked like she was going to try and argue, for crying out loud.

The narrator isn't perfect. ROBOTECH isn't perfect. Building an explanation for every last little glitch in the system is madness. But then, as I've seen being a part of on-line fandom for somewhere in the ballpark of a decade and a half, a lot of ROBOTECH fans are completely mad.

(9) "Commander Hayes! The missile's headed right at you! Watch out!"

That's your gun pod, Rick. But then, you're kind of busy fighting the most dangerous battle of your life so far, so I'll forgive a verbal slip.

The opening fight sequence isn't particularly well animated, or in fact animated much at all during certain stretches, but it's so cool and so well drawn that I've never particularly cared. Max nearly gets torn apart by a firing squad while Breetai throws Rick's VF-1J around like a rag doll, impales it on some spikes that just happen to be on the wall, crushes its head, and tears its chestplate off like it's nothing.

Max talks like he's blowing away Rick's abandoned VF-1J -- "How about some hot stuff, big guy!" -- but you don't actually see any fire from Max's -1A. That makes sense, he's got no gun pod (ran out of bullets in the previous episode), no missiles, and his laser nearly overheated when he and Ben were trying to use their head lasers to cut through one of the bulkheads to try and escape. Just another bit of babbling nonsense to fill some dead air; obviously the -1J had a self-destruct mechanism that followed from Rick's ejection.

Or maybe Max has INVISIBLE MIND LASERS. Yeah, that's gotta be it. After all, he suggested he did it, so that must be right!

(8) The Zentraedi run some non-invasive tests (no nasty alien probes) on their three prisoners, and Exedore gets to be the first to establish that humans and Zentraedi are not so different genetically.

Sleeping Ben asks not to be awakened until it's time to eat, the first time he falls prey to the stereotype of "the big guy is always hungry." Then again, in "Bursting Point" we see that this isn't just a ROBOTECH conceit.

Oh right, that's why I thought Lisa asked to go on this mission. It's not the narrator: it's Rick being a jerk, coming down on Lisa for taking the recon mission AND being a sexist idiot to boot. Thankfully, after watching Lisa and Rick argue for less than a minute, Breetai does the smart thing and tells Exedore to turn it off, because he can't stand to watch it any longer. Thank you, Breetai, neither could I. Exedore blames the bickering on the practice of males commingling with females, "an ancient practice long ago abandoned by the Zentraedi." See, Exedore says it, plain as day.

Exedore thinks the prisoners are a big enough deal to bring before Dolza, Supreme Commander of all Zentraedi forces for a thorough interrogation. While he gives Breetai this counsel after shutting off the transmission of the captive aliens, the narrator tells us they're going to be taken to Dolza before Rick and Lisa have come around. Gee, narrator, what OTHER plot points do you feel like spoiling ahead of time today?

It's kind of pathetic that Lisa just throws in the towel and tells Rick, "Oh, I'm just scared, what's going to happen to us now?" I choose to interpret what could be taken as Lisa being written as a weak woman as instead Lisa continuing to try and extend the olive branch to Rick, especially given the circumstances, where only by working together do they have even a ghost of a chance of surviving and possibly escaping.

"Lieutenant, Commander Hayes, I didn't miss lunch, did I?" Big guy is always hungry joke #2.

Much in the same way that Breetai found his way back into his ship in the previous episode, Max finds a gaping hole in the side of the ship to slip through, remarking that repairs don't seem to be on the enemy's list of priorities. This is important later. Things do not get fixed on Zentraedi ships, no. However, they do get cleaned up. Indeed, in the next episode we see a Zentraedi soldier with a little broom and a dustpan.

Rick gets to be the hopeless one when he remarks that Lisa's video camera isn't going to do them any good in the belly of the enemy ship. Back in "The Long Wait" he was so full of hope and enthusiasm. Then again, he was with Minmei, who he liked and who also was like an enthusiasm battery. This time he's with Lisa, who he keeps on bickering with and keeps being terribly dismissive towards. Of course, there is the added stress of being someone's captive this time, as opposed to just being completely lost and stranded.

When the Zentraedi fleet folds, Rick screams, "We have to get out of here!" Well, how do you plan to do that, genius?

(7) Okay, Roy Fokker smoking a cigarette just looks weird. I think it's the uniform. Smoking while wearing that iconic uniform seems wrong somehow. It's like if you suddenly saw He-Man lighting up, or watching those old cigarette commercials featuring Fred Flintstone. If he was sporting the trenchcoat look, it would probably seem less wrong. Roy Fokker, normal guy smoking would be one thing. But in his uniform in my warped little mind he's Roy Fokker, merchandisable action figure character.

(And yes, I freely admit that it's just all in my head. There's a lot of crossed wires in my head. I'm well aware of this.)

Speaking of wrong, doing the whole ineffectual comforting hands-on-shoulders thing while trying to hammer home the point that no, we don't think Rick is dead, don't worry ... Roy, I'm sorry, you're not very good at this. You should have known that doing that while doing the quiet voice thing and telling Minmei that they've lost contact with Rick was going to make her jump straight to the conclusion that he's dead. And worse, okay, selfish little Minmei ditches her friends? groupies? and runs straight through a guy as she cries her eyes out, but if she has a single reflective bone in her body she probably blames herself. Given that she made a beeline straight for the park, the place where she convinced Rick to join the military, I'm thinking I may be right.

(6) Lisa says it's been ten Earth days since the fold operation began. Does she have a setting on her watch to measure hyperspace travel time? Because if not, the watch is experiencing the same time-lag they are, and thus it would show time running at the same speed that they're experiencing it. Unless they've actually been sitting there for ten days, which I sincerely doubt.

Ben says Minmei's debut should have happened by now, giving Rick a reason to have a flashback to the last several days, or maybe weeks. In the middle of the flashback, Minmei mentions the song "My Boyfriend is a Pilot," which we all know is part of the Japanese MACROSS Minmay song catalog, but not one of the songs they recorded for ROBOTECH. I've always sort of wondered why not, since for instance we know Carl Macek asked Michael Bradley to specifically write the song "Lonely Soldier Boy" for The New Generation based on that one English-language lyric in the MOSPEADA theme song. It's right there in the script, so you'd think it would make sense to do it. Then again, she promptly tells Rick that she knows it sounds dumb, which makes me wonder if Minmei, in ROBOTECH, scrapped it or had it scrapped by her producers for being, well, dumb.

The weird thing about the flashback is that it makes it appear that things have gone a LOT farther with Minmei's new life as a celebrity than "Blind Game" suggested. In "Blind Game" Sammie and Kim only recognize Minmei as "the girl who won Miss Macross" and she's doing singing lessons with a guy at a piano. In the flashback here, though, we see photo shoots, TV appearances, producers, and it all overlaps with hanging out with Rick and talking to him on the phone, which you'd think would put it BEFORE the chat in "Blind Game." My only guess would be that the conversation that ends the flashback could have taken place between the "warning shot" and the recon mission, assuming there's about a day or so in-between for Rick to try and schedule something the next day before going out on the mission, with that phone call being the last time Rick talked to Minmei before leaving. That's really the only way it works in my mind. It still feels like a retcon filled with week-old regrets. "Oh crap, we didn't set all this up right, did we? Quick, throw in a flashback!"

(5) I laugh every time I hear Ben say, "It's some kind of electro-light force!" He just made that up on the spot, didn't he?

When as a kid you hear Dolza say, "We dare not take the risk of these aliens getting too close to our central core," you wonder what kind of thing Dolza's worried about them getting too close to. Is there some kind of amazing psuedo-scientific artifact he doesn't want them touching or contaminating? Is there something in there that, if they were exposed to it, would be ruined forever? Well, sort of -- as we see in both The Macross Saga and Robotech Masters, humanity and the culture that goes with it can spread like wildfire, or like a disease among the enforcers and citizens of the Robotech Empire. But when I first saw this, I just assumed they might mess up some tangible nifty thing, an actual Central Core with blinking lights and moving parts and stuff. (Kind of like the crazy 2001-style god computer at the end of ARMORED TROOPER VOTOMS, now that I think about it ...)

I had a friend once remark to me that Dolza's character design appeared unfinished. I guess that makes sense, since he's a large hairless man in a high-collared gown that goes down to his feet. There's not a lot of room for detail there, and in lineart he's not going to look particularly impressive.

I like how Dolza uses the term "reflex weapon" for the way he considers the act of putting males and females together as a sort of weapon against the Zentraedi. It makes a warped kind of sense: the feeling in the pit of the stomach is a kind of reflexive action. Also: males & females together --> culture --> Protoculture --> which, in ROBOTECH, powers reflex engines and weapons. Oh, and Dolza speaks that word for the first time in ROBOTECH: Protoculture.

(4) Max hiding his VF-1A in a Zentraedi bathroom and kicking a poor helpless guy in a big coat and a funny hat in the gut to keep his presence a secret and steal the big lug's clothes is one of the best things in all of ROBOTECH.

(3) The first thing Dolza asks of our heroes is, "Tell us what you know of Protoculture." Since the word has only just now appeared for the first time, they're all three very confused. Lisa quickly tells Dolza that she and her men won't answer their questions, holding their cards close to the vest, so Dolza offers a demonstration of the Zentraedi's power. While the Waltrips might have problems with Chekov's Gun, Ishiguro, Kawamori, and the rest of the MACROSS team don't; a fleet of Zentraedi ships surround a planet and bombard it until it's as cratered and lifeless as the moon. You don't think this might happen again sometime in the future, do you? And even after that, Lisa decides it's a good idea to get them angry, denying their power and insisting the SDF-1 could totally take them all. She gets grabbed by Dolza and nearly squeezed to death for her trouble.

The discussion that follows is another classic. Dolza asks how they become Micronians. Rick and Ben explain that they're born that way, born from their female parents. Ben brings love into the discussion, and Breetai asks how this love is expressed. Ben, I guess not wanting to get too graphic, mentions kissing, and Dolza asks for a demonstration, assuming in his logical Zentraedi warrior mind that this will clear up the whole thing. Rick and Ben won't do it with each other, of course, so Lisa offers to demonstrate. She tells Rick to kiss her. Rick's eyes nearly pop out of his head, and she assures him it's just to get the Zentraedi's reaction on her video camera. "Why don't you do it with Ben?" Without moving she glances over at Ben, then back to Rick. "Because I'd rather do it with you, Rick," she says, as though he's stupid for even asking the question.

(2) "Forgive me, Minmei ..."

I really do love the parallels the original Japanese team smartly set up between Rick and Lisa's experience trapped in Breetai's flagship and Rick and Minmei's experience trapped in the depths of the SDF-1. Rick blundering in and wrecking his plane, stuck on an alien ship with no way out for days, the girl keeping track of the time, the kiss being the girl's idea. Mind you, he had much better luck with the tuna fish than he had with Breetai. Anyway, I think the destiny of the love triangle is pretty much sealed in this moment, when Rick and Lisa, who just barely like each other, wind up for the sake of demonstration reaching a point that Rick and Minmei never did in the hold in the belly of the SDF-1. They put on a mighty convincing demonstration, though the soft lighting we see doesn't hurt things.

"This results from Protoculture?" Just like more than half the Protoculture references we see in the much later episode "Viva Miriya," this doesn't really make much sense in the ROBOTECH context of the word, though it's possible (borderline likely) that Dolza, as a Zentraedi, only barely has a working knowledge of Protoculture and just understands it to be the substance that powers their war machines. And considering he sees this kiss as some kind of psychological weapon, he may believe it, too, must be somehow powered by Protoculture. Regardless, rather than explore the matter further, he orders our heroes taken out of his sight. Is he worried about prolonged exposure?

So, here comes Dolza's Protoculture speech. It is either his honest understanding of Protoculture (unlikely if you take into account his time spent in the company of Zor per the Comico Graphic Novel) or the "official history" given to Zentraedi below a certain rank or status (much, much more likely). He explains that Protoculture is the "essence of Robotechnology, developed by our ancestors." Insofar as the Robotech Masters are the progenitors of the Zentraedi, this statement is true. "In the beginning, we were the same size as the Micronians, and we also lived together with females, as they do, in something that was called 'society.' But through the use of Protoculture we were able to evolve." Also more or less true, again, insofar as the Zentraedi are basically genetically modified and programmed Tirolians. That evolution was the creation of what we know as the Zentraedi people at the hands of Zor, per the explanation by the Robotech Masters mere moments before the commercial break in "Catastrophe."

"However, through a series of wars with the Micronians the secrets of Protoculture were lost."

This is where my head starts to hurt and I start to throw theories and speculation against the wall and hope one of the ideas sticks. The easy thing for me to say is that this is just propaganda to get Rico, Konda, and Bron fired up about the war against the SDF-1. The less easy, though more intriguing possibility is that the Micronians that Dolza is speaking of now are the enigmatic "Disciples of Zor" that the Robotech Masters bring up in the episode that bears their name. In that episode it sounds like the Masters and their Zentraedi have been fighting the war for Protoculture on two fronts: against the Invid, who they are hoping against hope will not reach the SDF-1 first, and against the DoZ, who it sounds like have previously been engaged in battle with the Zentraedi.

The thing that makes that option less easy is the fact that the TV series offers no details whatsoever on that front. The scant remarks match up alright, but the picture painted is hazy. In building side projects such as the Comico Graphic Novel and SENTINELS, this angle was forgotten by Macek and the other Harmony Gold writers in favor of the more simplified approach of having the Invid be the sole foe fighting the Zentraedi and Masters for control of the Protoculture and its Flowers of Life. Folks who've spent their time dissecting the series and throwing out all those comics and novels and unfinished animation projects and what-have-you have spun their own theories about the Disciples of Zor, but half the fun of an unfinished corner of a fictional universe is speculating for yourself, don't you think?

Dolza says they have "reason to believe" the secrets of Protoculture are aboard the SDF-1. Somehow I doubt the Robotech Masters gave Dolza all the details when the order came down to capture the SDF-1. On the one hand, they wouldn't want Dolza knowing what kind of a prize he'd be getting his hands on. On the other hand, that certainly would explain why he's perfectly willing to let it go up in flames when he feels the Micronian way of life has become a threat to that of his own people and has to be purged from the cosmos.

(1) Not only does Rick miss Minmei's debut, so do we; the performance at the end of the episode has the song promoted as her "latest hit," and it's only her debut on "this program." But not to worry, we'll be hearing plenty of this song, which in Daley & Luceno's novels is always referred to as "Stagefright," but on the ROBOTECH soundtrack CDs is entitled "My Time To Be A Star." It's cheesy, but it's not the worst thing in the world; it just gets tiresome after the sixth time being introduced as a new song when it's not.

Still, I think a ROBOTECH take on "My Boyfriend Is A Pilot" would have been a better fit here, seeing how her not-boyfriend who's a pilot is missing and we see Roy and Claudia staring out at the flight deck of the Prometheus, wondering and worrying about their missing friends.

"Be with us for 'The Big Escape,' the next thrilling episode of ROBOTECH!"

(0) The second part of the foul-mouthed, British accented MACROSS parody dub, where things get more absurd with talk of marbles and fish fingers. Breetai and Exedore are great, Gloval's quite good too, and Misa gets all the good deadpan lines. Even if you didn't think much of the first part, I'd recommend watching this one at least until the main gun fires. The bit where the ARMDs and their Lancer Space Cannons attack is worth watching too just for all the stereotypically British battle cries the actors shout. Funny stuff.

"Hey, grab me a sandwich, will ya?"

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  • I did grow sort of fond of the "let's try and fit all the dialogue in Robotech together!" viewpoint (even if it might have also fed the feeling that all the "official series followups," by letting the problematic bits sort of slide away, were "just being lazy")... but at the exact same time, I can also tell myself the peculiarities that might be explained away as "direct translation from the Japanese dialogue" are counterexamples against the accusations that Robotech was entirely a matter of "watching with the sound off" and reprehensible for that. Still, your comment that we seem to have a string of odd, underdone bits of writing in these particular episodes gives me a sort of "why didn't I ever think of that before - it just makes sense!" feeling.

    By Blogger Keith Palmer, at 14 July, 2010 10:14  


    I'm a lazy bitch: I tend to get annoyed when series leave major parts of the storyline unfinished or unexplained. When I *do* bother fanwanking, I'm constantly believing it is no substitute for The Word.

    I'm trying to say something about the main characters, but almost all I can think about is how much of an idiot Rick seems, and how irritating Ben can get.

    Lisa, however, I really like. I would hope that no one, nowhere, intended Lisa's sudden fear, and her kinder talk towards Rick in later episodes, to prove that she "really is a woman" rather than just developing her character, but that's probably wishful thinking.

    I was one of the viewers who reached for the mute button whenever Minmei sang, and to an extent still do.

    Notice the way Rico, Bron, and Konda are portrayed at the table: they have flat acting and booming voices, seeming imposing and distant. It might just be from the human's viewpoint, but it shows the characters evolving slightly.

    It's always a little sad to hear Konda ask, "What is this thing, 'mothers'?" It's SUCH a cliche line, but Robotech makes it "real" somehow.

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 14 July, 2010 11:17  

  • Okay... disclaimer... TOTALLY FANON here... I make no claim of ANY dialouge in Robotech that supports this at all. Any. So please, don't shoot me.

    In creating a game for the Robotech RPG... (As alot of my stories seem to start...) I tried to find a way to incorporate the idea of fold lag into my game. See, Macross Frontier has a part where they discuss fold lag and it got me thinking of trying to create a simple equation to quickly and easily caculate fold range and time dialation. I'll copy pasta it here... be warned, wall of text incoming!

    --- begin copy pasta---
    As it stands, the current quick algorithm used by Stellar Navigation Officers is:
    Distance (in Light Years) x 6 = Travel Time in Minutes by Ship Chronometers.

    However, due to Space-time Displacement, the time experience in the ship is skewed in comparison to what is called Galactic Standard Value, the passage of time in non-folded space. The quick algorithm for determining that is:
    Distance (in Light Years) x 6 = Travel Time in Hours according to the GSV.

     As an example, a trip of 20 LYs from Point A to Point B takes 2 hours through Space Folding. The effect of Space Folding creates a time dilation of 5 days according to the GSV.

    --- end copy pasta ---

    So. as the closest thing to ship's TAO and likely navigator... Lisa likely has some sense of fold operation and time-space displacement. She would likely be assuming that the Zentraedi ship uses a fold system similar to the SDF-1's and is simply making her best guess as to how long real-space time has passed.

    Agian, this is all my personal FANON pieced together from Macross Frontier, Robotech, and entirely too much free time to dedicate to fantasy space travel techniques.

    But I thought it might serve as a somewhat good excuse for this line of dialouge.

    By Blogger Tolarin_Skylar, at 14 July, 2010 15:04  

  • You bring up an interesting point about Robotech. I think part of my love for the series is due to the ambiguity. I like trying to put all the pieces together, even if they don’t always fit. As a previous commenter on another thread mentioned, the problem with prequels is that they often conflict with own ideas about how those previously unexplored events should have occurred. Ironically, I’d probably find this level of ambiguity annoying in any other series, but for Robotech, I think I embrace it in part to the nostalgic feeling of wonder that the ambiguity preserves.

    I like the idea of the Disciples of Zor as the primary (earlier) antagonist to the Masters/Zentraedi. The Invid (in the animation) never came across (to me) as a credible threat to the Masters (at least prior to the loss of the SDF-1 and the Zentraedi armada) – not when the Zentraedi had millions of ships and the Invid had basically no long-range anti-ship capability. Based only on what we see in animation, the Regis’ forces could have been easily curb-stomped by just a few hundred REF vessels (if the REF ever decided to fight intelligently); it’s hard to imagine they could have previously represented a threat to a force 3 to 4 orders of magnitude larger.

    By Blogger Niff, at 14 July, 2010 17:22  

  • (6) I always figured Lisa was doing along the lines of what Niff said... looking at her watch so she could do the math. "Okay, it's been 10 hours since this fold started, and if one hour of fold time equals one day in regular space..." That kind of thing.

    As to Minmei's being farther along in her career, the photo shoots and such may be something that Rick had access to since he knew Minmei, but the results of the photo shoots hadn't been published yet, so the bridge bunnies (& Macross City in general) haven't had as much exposure to Minmei. There has to be some production time involved before her big media push.

    (2) Ooooh, I LOVE your theory that the Micronians in question were the Disciples of Zor. Very awesome connection. That makes the most sense out of an otherwise very messy explanation.

    By Blogger Fer, at 15 July, 2010 11:43  

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