DAY SIXTEEN: Blue Wind
(10) "Blue Wind" is the final episode of the SDF-1's long return to Earth. It seems odd that the ship made it from Saturn to Mars between two episodes but the trip from Mars to Earth has taken five. I suppose the Zentraedi have been making a concerted effort to knock them off course, as they did when the ship made its side trip to Mars. As the episode opens, Azonia's ships have the SDF-1 cornered, preventing them from making it home.
(9) The next episode preview last time gave this episode a very "season finale" vibe -- "If he fails, his quest will end!" -- and it's even followed by a recap episode. However, there are still things just beginning in this episode, most notably the Zentraedi spies' exploration of the ship. The first thing they do is ditch the sackcloth outfits the Zentraedi military issued to them and find some proper human attire. Unfortunately for them, the only thing that fits Bron is a frilly light pink shirt and a salmon pink skirt, and of course the Zentraedi don't realize yet that this isn't gonna fly.
What I find interesting here is that in some ways the series gets more enlightened with every generation. Just as Rick chides Lisa for taking a mission that is "too hard" for a woman in "First Contact" while a generation later Dana Sterling is leading men and machines on the battlefield with great success, Bron winds up in a dress and finds himself the butt of jokes while Lancer cross-dresses and plays the part of a woman throughout the third generation and, well, the joke's on everyone around him!
(8) In her report Lisa claims the enemy has "no concept of human emotions," that they have been "groomed entirely for war." While the second half of the statement is true, in the first half she seems to be talking mostly about love and affection, not about the darker emotions, like hate and anger, or even fear. Yeah, wait a second -- how does she miss fear? I was going to say that she's only speaking from their limited exposure to their captors during the interrogation, where they were pretty much all business throughout and didn't betray much beyond a sort of frustrated urgency, but didn't both she and Rick see a kind of fear from their foes when they kissed? Didn't they seek to exploit that to craft their escape? Just like the talk of clones in the previous episode, Lisa's findings seem groomed somewhat to dovetail with ideas that will be raised when we meet the Robotech Masters during the second generation of ROBOTECH -- now THAT'S a society deprived of emotion!
I remember being aghast even the FIRST time I saw one of the military brass make the remark, "And were there any little green men?" back when I was a preteen. You are aboard a rebuilt alien battleship that turns into a giant robot and are at war with a race of space-giants who cruise around the cosmos in cucumber-shaped starships, and you're making cracks about little green men? Do you realize how absurd you look? In fact, all the ranking officers across from Lisa and the Vermilion Team act like total jerks throughout the debriefing. Rick later says they were only doing their job, but did they really have to do it so obnoxiously? I get the impression that they only give Gloval the respect he gets due to his rank and position; they're still incredulous when he tells them they're breaking through the enemy barricade to get the information Lisa has gathered to United Earth headquarters in person. ROBOTECH on the whole has little respect for high ranking military officials, with a few noteworthy exceptions, one of whom gets one step closer to that level of status in this episode, making it to 2nd Lt.
(7) When the spies enter Macross City, the place looks bigger and busier and more lit up than it usually does -- it looks like the bustling town of seventy thousand we're always told it is rather than the little "good old hometown" that it always seems to be in and around Minmei's aunt and uncle's Chinese restaurant. It actually gives off something of an urban vibe when the Zentraedi wander around its neon-lit streets, all the better to play up their mix of awe and confusion over the new sights and sounds they're experiencing.
"You can be sure there's some sort of sinister purpose at work here," Konda remarks about all the bright signs around them. Yes, Konda. That sinister purpose would be taking all your money. (Except you don't have any, yet.)
Rico, to his credit, catches on pretty quickly from his surroundings that Bron's wearing a "female uniform." He's starting to get the hang of this.
(6) Ben, so loud and boastful in "Sweet Sixteen," doesn't want to be put up on stage as a show pony. Stage fright, perhaps? Whatever it is, it turns right around after a peck on the cheek from Minmei. And boy has she gotten good with a crowd; she gives Rick a wink and a kiss, the crowd turns on her -- oh right, she's their dream girl, she's not supposed to be kissing some nobody flyboy -- and so she just goes ahead and gives Max and Ben kisses, too, which seems to make everything better. One guy gets it, he's special. The rest do, though, and the crowd is allowed to imagine that if they were up there, they could be on the receiving end as well. Clever girl!
Meanwhile, could the announcer for the ceremony be any cheesier? Lisa is "our #1 space heroine?" Really, that's the line you're going with? It makes me cringe to watch it. When Max and Ben are described as Rick and Lisa's "intrepid companions," I half expect to then hear, "each sold separately." I suppose half of the problem is hearing the ROBOTECH theme music in the background during the scene, making it feel like an ad for the show.
"My Time To Be A Star" performance number three, and once again, kind of inappropriate; I think it's THEIR time to be stars, Minmei, not yours! Rico, Konda, and Bron's reactions are fantastic. "This must be some kind of a tribal ceremony!" "I feel incredibly primitive!" "It's mass hypnosis!" But in the end, they approve of Minmei's song, swaying with the crowd.
(5) It seems only right that the first thing our heroes do after the ceremony is try and go right back to work -- nothing says "back to normal" like returning to the daily grind. While Lisa is welcomed with open arms by the bridge crew, Rick, Max, and Ben are greeted with an angry Roy Fokker, who yells at them repeatedly until they turn around and return to quarters. It's one of the few times in ROBOTECH that they couldn't tone down Roy's characterization in the animation, which sometimes could tend towards the somewhat stereotypical "loud, brash American" in the original Japanese show. On other occasions they could trim out a scene here or there to smooth things out, but this is a whole scene like that, and it just comes off as weird since, again, almost every scene like that has been trimmed away so far. Dan Woren's Roy Fokker has tended to be a much cooler customer, a little sly and mischievous at worst, not out-and-out loud and antagonistic. Not the kind of guy who would say to Rick and the others, "You're going to go home and relax, and that's an ORDER!"
It's worth noting here that while the art in this episode has been a little shaky, the comedy shots are pretty great throughout. Lots of amusing reaction shots, and the broader stuff really works this time out. It's not fantastically drawn, but it's certainly fun to watch. I'm not laughing out loud -- partly because I've seen this dozens of times -- but I'm definitely smiling. A shame even this quality is going to pass once the episode gets down to business.
(4) Already I miss Breetai. He would give no credit to Dolza. He would say, "I'm taking the ship intact! Destroy whatever else you like, but that ship cannot be damaged!" just as he did over and over. You would have a sense that he is in control of the situation, even if Khyron were prancing about causing mischief. Azonia, however, weakly says, "Dolza has given me no authority to destroy it, so we'll just follow and see what happens." Follow it and see what happens? That's your plan? That's not a plan. That's just putting a fancy dress on giving up. The Macross Saga has some great female characters, but unfortunately its female villains are not among them. It's worth noting that all her caped toady asks is, "What are your orders?" where Exedore would be offering suggestions and observations. Her domillan is pathetic.
When Khyron decides that he'll do whatever he wants, damn the consequences, Gloval orders Lisa to send out some air defense. Lisa orders up Vermilion and Ghost Squadrons. Now, Vermilion has been a Group and a Team, and now it's a Squadron. And she doesn't mention the Skull, but Roy hops into Skull One anyway. I guess he's subbing for Vermilion? Who knows. This stuff is just all over the place.
A lot of the transformation footage, with the exception of Rico, Konda, and Bron in the streets of a now more familiar-looking Macross City, is just wholesale lifted from the episode of the same name, including Sammie and Kim coordinating the transformation. They couldn't even bother to order up some new "talking to section block controller" animation.
And then, when Khyron pushes in his second wave, after his first has been fried by the main gun, SUDDENLY THE SDF-1 IS BACK IN CRUISER MODE. Ehh? Then we cut to footage from "Blitzkrieg" of the pinpoint barrier in action. We're nearing the big climax of the episode and all we're getting is continuity errors and reruns.
So Azonia's ships wind up blockading Khyron's ships instead of the SDF-1, then train their guns on the Boturu Fleet ships. I may have mentioned this before, but while Azonia is a step down from Breetai and doesn't come off particularly well as a leader, she is positively kneecapped by having to babysit Khyron during her entire stint pursuing the SDF-1. Khyron doesn't have the faintest clue what's on-board the SDF-1, and probably wouldn't care if he did know. All he knows is that the humans humiliated him on Mars, and for that they have to be destroyed. And every time he tries to destroy them, one of his superiors gets in his way. He is building up quite a head of resentment towards those above him and, furthermore, that damned Micronian ship. Reviewing these episodes from the start, I'm reminded exactly why Khyron does what he does in the final episode of The Macross Saga.
(2) The anticlimax of Azonia's blockade is almost made up for by the descent of the SDF-1, which despite some missteps manages to build some tension as stuff starts blowing up on the way down. It is a little distracting when the scene of Gloval putting on his hat and walking into the middle of the bridge from the end of "Transformation" occurs halfway through, and then we cut to a new shot of him sitting in his chair as the ship continues its drop through the atmosphere -- not so much because of the continuity error, though that is a distraction, but because in the middle of this building tension, I was suddenly pulled back to that earlier scene, with its dour mood and memorable shift in tone.
Lisa and Claudia's tears of joy look like they got coffee creamer in their eyes. And, as usual, when Gloval lights his pipe with a match, we hear a cigarette lighter sound effect.
(1) For such a major turning point in the series, this is a major letdown of an episode, and when you see how much footage was reused throughout and how many scenes look fairly poor, it's no wonder the MACROSS team went with a recap episode next time and a dream sequence episode that's expressly designed to reuse large chunks of footage from earlier episodes a few episodes later. All the stuff with the Zentraedi spies was pretty good, and Lisa's reunion with the bridge crew turned out well, but once the episode turned to the SDF-1's return to Earth, the whole thing fell apart, from Azonia and Khyron's ineffectuality to the disappointing lack of new action sequences and the wholesale reuse of battle footage from earlier episodes.
Thankfully, we're not due another poor animation episode until "Paradise Lost," which also happens to be extremely talky. Instead, as I said, we've got a recap and a pure half hour of nonsense, which at least gives us the joys of creepy Kyle-Breetai and Rick's magic bicycle. Those are things to look forward to, right?
TOMORROW: We leap back to the era of Aeon Lanack to see what happens when another traveler returns home, as the LEGEND OF ZOR continues with issue #3, "The Immuring."
(0) This is going to take a little explaining. It hails from the last SUPER ROBOT WARS tactical strategy game for the original Sony PlayStation, ALPHA GAIDEN. The Titans, the villains from ZETA GUNDAM, have seized control of the Macross and are holding Minmay prisoner there, and after Isamu and Guld from MACROSS PLUS have wiped out the Ghosts and Monster Destroids guarding it, now the joint hero robot forces are on their way to save the day. It may look a little crude now, but the first time I saw this I was totally blown away. It helps that just shy of ten years ago now my robot geekery exploded exponentially, so all those classic SHOGUN WARRIORS-era robots storming around the streets of MACROSS PLUS-era Macross City totally blew my little mecha-loving mind.