DAY THREE: Countdown

(10) The thing I love about this episode, besides all the big iconic stuff that goes down throughout, is that it's clear throughout that the aliens have the upper hand, our heroes have no idea what they're doing, and bad stuff keeps on happening, relentlessly. Rick crashes his robot into Minmei's bedroom, the SDF-1 crew can't get their ship off the ground, Gloval's getting yelled at by his government superiors, the city's bombarded to hell, Minmei nearly gets killed twice (maybe three times if you count Rick's "expert" piloting through the Battlepod's legs, which causes her to lose consciousness and him to freak out over it) -- and no, I'm not gonna go for the easy joke that the bad thing is that Minmei didn't actually get killed. Mostly because it's not a bad thing. You have to remember, most of the people we like in ROBOTECH like Minmei, and if Minmei died it would make them sad. And really, they have more than enough to be sad about.

(9) Okay, so there's LOTS of things I love about this episode. Remember what I was saying about everything being introduced with a sense of awe and majesty in these first two episodes? The first appearance of the Zentraedi Regult Tactical Battlepod (and all its variants) is magnificent. In their first appearance they seem to be weird alien turrets hiding in the water, emerging only to kill those poor recon chopper guys. And my god, the music when they emerge from the water -- it works so well it almost seems to be scored to THAT SHOT, hitting the beats just as each one pops up. Hell yeah, music editor John Mortarotti. You the man.

This is somewhat homaged, though with nowhere near the shock, staging, or animation quality, in the SENTINELS animation when the Z1 Battlepods emerge from the water to surround Jack Baker's Alpha Fighter during his training scenario.

(8) Again, AWE AND MAJESTY. These are some giant f'ing robots, and they're scary, and nobody knows what to make of them. This is why despite the fact that I love some of stories Bill Spangler wrote for RETURN TO MACROSS in the mid-1990's (especially the early Academy Comics stuff drawn by Wes Abbott) it always set my teeth on edge that the inhabitants of Macross City were seeing all these Veritechs and Destroids running around fighting terrorists and being hijacked and all that jazz. Watch the way everyone scatters when Skull One swoops down for the first time. Craziness is going down, nobody knows what's going on, and HOLY CRAP, THAT ROBOT'S COMING TO GET THIS ROBOT! RUN AWAY!

Actually, looking at that screencap I grabbed it looks to me like the VF-1D is staring at these people and judging them. Any second now those head lasers are gonna come down ...

... which reminds me, I just LOVE that shot later on when Roy actually tags some Battlepods with the VF-1S's head lasers. He makes it look so effortless. It's awesome.

(Seriously, I've watched "Boobytrap" and "Countdown" more than any other episodes of ROBOTECH, and could easily watch them over and over, every single day of every single week 'til the end of my life and not get sick of them. There are very few things I could say that about. The original 1986 TRANSFORMERS movie is also on that short list. Also this past season premiere of DOCTOR WHO, "The Eleventh Hour." That's held up pretty well so far, though it only first aired back in April.)

(7) When Roy tells you a Veritech has fifty-seven controls ("to be exact"), believe him. When he offhandedly remarks that a Zentraedi is fifty feet tall, do not believe him. This is not his area of expertise. Do you hear me, 1980's ROBOTECH licensees? (No, of course not, because it is 2010 and I do not have a time machine handy.)

(6) One thing that's pretty darned obvious very quickly is that unlike its contemporaries (or even 1990's shows like the Saban-dubbed and distributed seasons of DRAGON BALL Z), ROBOTECH does not shirk from killing folks. The previous year's VOLTRON: DEFENDER OF THE UNIVERSE took great pains to refer to anything that got blown up as "robot ships" or robots or, in any case, something that's not alive. This did give us the very cool term "robeast," but at the same time it lessened the stakes because not even a nameless extra was going to die, and if one was in the original (very brutal) GO LION animation, it would be very clumsily sidestepped through editing and dumbed-down obvious "Nobody was killed, hey nobody was killed, did you know nobody was killed?" dialog. Homegrown Western animation, of course, was worse -- G.I. JOE and their blasted parachutes, and all that. ROBOTECH will have none of that. It makes sure you know that war sucks and people die. In this episode alone we see the bodies of the chopper pilots engulfed in flame, RDF personnel thrown back by gigantic explosions during the bombardment, and a Veritech pilot blasted at nearly point-blank range by a Battlepod's forward cannons. The only major, obvious violence trim in the episode is when Roy shoots the Zentraedi in the back right in front of Rick -- and that's only trimmed down because you see the shots come through the chest before he falls over. (This edit is preserved in REMASTERED, or at least in the cut of it that's up on YouTube; I just checked. Oh, and those sound effects in REMASTERED? They still suck. I'm sure you wanted me to remind you of that.) That's about the only time you'll see violence in ROBOTECH hacked out -- if a bullet or a laser penetrates a living thing on-camera. (See also the New Generation episode "The Genesis Pit," where Scott and Rand shoot up some dinosaurs. You'll see them firing, you'll see some long shots, but in the original MOSPEADA you saw the lasers cut holes in the dinosaurs. Nothin' doin' in ROBOTECH.)

(5) I love the carefree look on Minmei's face when she goes back to, as she claims, get her diary lest someone read it while she's busy being evacuated. Four episodes later, of course, she claims that the letter on her bedroom table is what she went back to get -- the one Rick looks at and says is an acceptance letter for the Miss Macross pageant. (Squint at the footage and you'll see it's no such thing, but nice one trying to tie things together, ROBOTECH writing staff!) Do I get a No Prize if I say that she entered without telling her aunt and uncle so she cooked up the lame excuse that yes, it's her ... DIARY that she was going after? Hey, it would certainly explain how awkwardly the line plays, which seems to be a combination of a bad mouthful of dialog and some strange emphasis in Reba West's line reading.

On an unrelated note, notice in the above screengrab that Breetai's shirt is brown. Told you that would keep on happening ...

(4) One of the many abilities of a Veritech you only see in one episode (well, two; they appear again in the next episode, but never again IIRC): deploying those little manipulator arms that come out of those panels on Skull One when Roy's fixing Rick's Veritech. Why don't we see those more often? Let me rephrase that: why didn't the original writers of MACROSS come up with more excuses to use those? Those were cool and showcased the versatility of the Veritech Fighter. It's not just for running around and fighting giants. It can do fine detail work, too.

(3) Every time I watch Rick rescue Minmei in mid-air I am impressed anew that we don't see up Minmei's skirt and catch a glimpse of her panties. If this was being made today, you bet we would.

(2) Speaking of which -- hey, it's that shot that was ripped off/homaged in the final scene of MACROSS FRONTIER's first episode! You know, the one that ticked me off so much that I refused to watch the rest of that series! And then the cosmos added insult to injury by scheduling the regular broadcast premiere on my birthday that year. (The cosmos then made up for it two years later by scheduling the premiere of this past season of DOCTOR WHO on my birthday. Sadly, after what happened with FRONTIER I spent entirely too much time and energy worrying that this season of DOCTOR WHO was going to be similarly anger-inducing. Which it wasn't; it was, by and large, utterly brilliant.)

(1) Just as Rick gets the best excuse to find himself in a giant robot ever, the Zentraedi offer one of the best justifications for a giant robot ever -- the plane turns into a giant robot because every once in a while you have to be able to fight a giant dude man-to-man.

Or, as Roy demonstrates, shoot a half-dead lumbering, lurching giant dude in the back like a stone cold killer. Seeing that couldn't have helped Rick's state of mind here at all.

"Be with us for 'Space Fold,' the next exciting chapter in the saga of ROBOTECH!"

(0) This is kind of cool. Someone used the remastered ROBOTECH/MACROSS footage to put together a remastered version of the old ROBOTECH intro from Cartoon Network's Toonami block. I remember setting my VCR to catch all the episodes I didn't have on laserdisc or VHS -- and hell, every once in a while, just sitting down after school and watching the ones I DID have. I also remember being annoyed that they never aired New Gen, and all of us having conspiracy theories that CN wouldn't air it because Lancer dressed up like a woman.

(And can you believe that was twelve years ago now? And hell, nine since the series was originally released on DVD! How time flies!)

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  • That "Gundam" animation is pretty terrible. How is it, exactly, that "Macross" mecha wound up in "Gundam," anyway?

    By Blogger Shawn, at 03 July, 2010 11:00  

  • Y'know how you go to, say, Big Lots and you find cheap, badly made robot toys that are clearly cast from the same molds as proper, respectable toys (usually TRANSFORMERS or POWER RANGERS from two or three seasons ago) but are on garish, badly Photoshopped backer cards with robots from completely different shows on them? SPACE GUNDAM V is the cartoon equivalent to that. One show's robot (and flight helmet), one other show's name, and some ridiculous story tying them together. Somewhere around here I have a one dollar DVD of a similar show of similar vintage that uses the G1 TRANSFORMERS toy Inferno as its main robot and is similarly awesomely bad.

    By Blogger Captain JLS, at 05 July, 2010 00:25  

  • (10) Not to mention that had Minmei died, what would have happened to everyone else? Could Jan Morris have brought down the Zentraedi?

    (7) So how tall are Zentraedi, anyway?!?

    (6) The lack of parachutes was definitely one of the things that made me sit up and take notice of Robotech.

    (5) Someone might find your diary and read it? You're all in the shelters! WHO'S GONNA READ IT, the invading aliens?!? I like your no-prize explanation.

    By Blogger Fer, at 06 July, 2010 11:42  

  • Fer:

    Jan Morris wouldn't have been as strong a figure as a rallying point for the inhabitants of Macross City, nor would she have had QUITE the same effect on the Zentraedi; they still could have won the war, but the Zentraedi defections wouldn't have been quite as pervasive and morale among the RDF wouldn't have been anywhere near as high. Morris was a Hollywood outsider; Minmei was one of their own, and even the Zentraedi would have been able to tell the difference.

    Zentraedi are, IIRC, more on the order of thirty-five feet tall. Veritechs in Battloid are just about forty and are generally a hair taller than their alien giant adversaries. Breetai or Dolza might be fifty, but I think are just shy of that.

    By Blogger Captain JLS, at 07 July, 2010 02:17  

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