DAY TWELVE: Miss Macross

(10) This is one of my favorite episodes of The Macross Saga. It's a fairly straightforward episode, but there's a lot of big stuff in it, primarily the revelations we get about the Zentraedi and Minmei's rise to stardom. And I would be a fool to deny the appeal of Rick's sortie in the Armored Veritech, one of the all-time classic one-off mecha designs.

What I like most about it is the juxtaposition of the action and the pageant, Rick battling the enemy recon ship as Minmei chatters away about the most inane things in the background. There's something very appealingly offbeat about the entire sequence.

(9) When the episode opens, Rick and Minmei are at the coffee shop (or, if you read the window beside them, "coffe" shop) when Rick notices the false sky out there. I seem to recall Daley & Luceno, when adapting this story for the second ROBOTECH novel BATTLE CRY, name-checking EVE -- Enhanced Video Emulation -- several times when discussing the false sky of Macross City, planting the seed for eventually doing something with the character of Eve from MEGAZONE 23 PART 1/ROBOTECH THE MOVIE: THE UNTOLD STORY. Luceno would eventually get around to it in the hodge-podge of loose ends that was the twentieth ROBOTECH novel, THE MASTERS' GAMBIT.

The most damning cut in the entire episode occurs here. When Minmei talks to Rick about the people of Macross getting to experience sunsets, he says "Sunsets?!" At that point in the original MACROSS animation, Minmei looks out the window and sun indeed sets on Macross City, and the show lingers on that moment a while. The shot of Minmei there is the same one that's seen at the episode's close, bringing the episode full circle. But it's a quiet scene and a bit long, so out it goes.

(8) Let me see if I've got this straight. So according to "Transformation," Minmei was already entered into the Miss Macross pageant back on Earth, through the record label she auditioned with. Rick's wishes she hadn't entered it? Dude, that ship sailed before you two even MET.

Except, Minmei then remarks that Mayor Luan entered her without her even asking. Oh sure, there are ways to interpret all this that help it make a little more sense -- they're starting over again from scratch so everyone had to reenter, she wasn't going to, and then the mayor did it for her, for instance (due to his personal "Go Lynn Minmei, beacon of hope!" agenda as interpreted by Daley & Luceno in the novels). It still looks sloppy. Then again, ROBOTECH was produced at a breakneck pace from subpar script translations, so it's kind of a miracle that it's as coherent as it is. Right here we're entering a span of a few episodes that are a bit slipshod in their scripting, like the writers had to go with their guts when looking at the footage and the script translation, and sometimes their guts were off the mark. Not the end of the world, but you do wind up looking at what made it to the screen and go, "Wha-HUH?!"

Also: Ben and Max are talking about the pageant. Rick, according to Ben, has given them the day of the pageant off so they can cheer Minmei on. But when he's talking to Minmei about it, he grumbles and complains about her entering the contest. Halfway through the episode, I guess we find out why; he's scheduled for patrol duty, and apparently he really DID give Ben and Max the night off, because he's the only one who disembarks, taking off in that Armored Veritech to make up for his lack of wingmen. It still scans strangely, Ben and Max talking about Rick asking them to cheer for her and then. not a moment later we see him on the phone, telling Minmei he wishes she hadn't signed up for it.

So the Zentraedi intercept the constant broadcast of the ad for the pageant and Breetai decides it'd be worthwhile to send a Cyclops recon vessel out to get a better fix on the signal and record the broadcast to decipher. The pilots of this vessel are Zentraedi intelligence agents Rico, Konda, and Bron. As has been related hundreds of times in various MACROSS trivia listings, the three spies sent to intercept a broadcast of a beauty pageant were originally named Warera, Rori, and Konda, which strung together in Japanese translates to "We're pedophiles," or perhaps, "We have a lolita complex."

It always struck me as odd that the codename for the Zentraedi spies' mission was "Blue Wind" when the fourth episode after this was is ALSO called "Blue Wind" and has nothing to do with it.

(7) "How about THAT, ladies and gentlemen?"

It's always struck me as odd that the winner of the Miss Macross pageant is going to win an airplane. Then again, it's more practical aboard the SDF-1 than it would be almost anywhere else, since the place is positively crawling with young pilots who'd be more than willing to take the winner of the Miss Macross contest up for a spin.

I spent years wondering who Ikki Takemi is, if he was some actual famous guy or if he was just made up for the show. And then the AnimEigo MACROSS DVD set liner notes told me he was both: it's a screwy Japanese anagram for the name of mechanical designer Kazutaka Miyatake, the man who gave us the SDF-1, the Destroids, and the Zentraedi powered armors.

When Claudia asks Lisa if the reason she didn't enter the contest was because she was afraid of the competition, her silent glare says everything that needs to be said.

(6) The end of Rick's high-tech binoculars is in the shape of the VF-1J's visor. Always thought that was kind of cool, but kind of funny, too.

Rick is ordered to call the bridge of the Prometheus, but when he steps into the phone booth Lisa, on the bridge of the SDF-1, seems to call HIM first. And look at him staring at the phone like he's never seen one before, or maybe like he's high.

Roy tells Rick to hurry it or he'll miss the finale, which always sounded to me like Roy's telling him to get out of the cab because the show's about to end, but contrary to the line delivery he's telling Rick to get out there, take care of the Zentraedi, and get back as soon as he can, or he's going to miss the end of the show.

Oh, and like so many bits of technology throughout The Macross Saga, the cab has those iconic dark screw shapes with the central background color (usually white) stripe.

(5) "--at Zenny's, for the best fast food in town! Now, back to the Miss Macross contest."

It is much easier to lie about having a bad connection when, at first, you legitimately DO have a bad connection. And the question is, does Rick turn his line to Lisa off more because he's sick of looking at and talking to Lisa, or more because he wants to get back to watching Minmei in the beauty pageant. Because it's obviously both, the question is just which is the stronger desire of the two. (I'm actually going to have to go with being sick of Lisa in this case. She interrupted his live viewing of the contest, yelled at him for not being on the Prometheus like he was supposed to be, and bitched at him for going out in the Armored Battloid. I think he would've tuned her out even if he couldn't pull in the Miss Macross contest.)

When we cut to the Zentraedi, our intelligence crew takes one look at the pageant and their immediate response is along the lines of, "There's a man standing next to a woman! What is this madness?!" Now, we later see Zentraedi men and women working in joint operations; the capsule containing Rico, Konda, and Bron is passed from the male fleet to the females for Miriya to deposit -- and even Miriya is known by name and reputation to the male Zentraedi. Likewise, Khyron has regular communications with both Azonia and Miriya. But short a few unnaturally deep-voiced women -- male "additional voices" that appear in all-female Zentraedi scenes -- not until Exedore comes to visit the SDF-1 in "The Messenger" and Miriya arrives at the conference room do we see a male and female Zentraedi in the same room together. (Out of so many frustrating moments in WildStorm's second ROBOTECH limited series, LOVE & WAR, probably the most frustrating was the scene where Azonia and Reno are both present at the Zentraedi cloning facility. Yeah, let's just throw away one of the most long-established rules of the ROBOTECH universe just to put two underused characters in the same room together. Let's do that.)

Obviously it's a control thing. Inhibit natural biological urges, increase focus on the task at hand, maintain perfect control of the reproductive process, don't let any pesky natural biology get in the way of maintaining the ultimate fighting force in the cosmos. The Robotech Masters created an entire race of warriors whose only lust was for their own ultimate goals: power and conquest. And in order to keep things that way, men to the right, ladies to the left, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

What's interesting about the Zentraedi compared to their smaller counterparts, the clone triumvirates of the Robotech Masters, is that the Zentraedi still have their emotions -- which is WHY they have to remain separated, lest the close contact actually allow some of the peskier of those emotions to kick in, as they ultimately do for Rico, Konda, Bron, and Miriya. The problem is, the Masters recognize that those emotions are necessary for an effective fighting force. The Zentraedi are much better warriors, by and large, than the Masters' Bioroids, and that's because they feel anger, fear, bloodlust, and desire. They don't just follow orders, they actually WANT to win. So you've just got to filter out the emotions you don't want around through a certain amount of programming and some very, very strict societal controls.

Hence, three weirdos watching a beauty pageant, agog.

(4) "I'm five foot two. My favorite color is blue, tee hee hee hee!"

Okay, let's be honest, Rick gets just what he deserves here. He's in a fully enclosed Battloid. He's got all his monitors switched to the beauty pageant to watch Minmei. He's supposed to be tracking an enemy unit that's in the area: Lisa TOLD him it's out there. So when his proximity alarm goes off and he nearly crashes into the Cyclops recon ship, it's his own damn fault. When it starts attacking him with missiles just as Minmei steps on stage in her cute one-piece, he's getting his just desserts.

On the other hand, this is the sequence I was specifically referring to right at the start. Wonderfully drawn, well staged (if animated in a limited way), and surreal due to the high tension of a flustered Rick facing down these incoming missiles criss-crossed with Minmei chattering away in the background. And right as the missiles blow, Minmei breaks a heel. Great edit there from the original creative staff. I will say, part of me prefers the quiet tension of the original MACROSS audio in this sequence, but Minmei's dialog does make a strange scene even stranger.

The Zentraedi trying to make heads or tails of the broadcast is an all-time classic. "But why would they give her such skimpy armor, that can only protect such a small portion of her body." "How would I know, maybe those are the only parts of her that are vulnerable!" And of course it doesn't make any sense to them -- the very reason Breetai sent them out was because in his context the only sort of transmission that would be worth sending out would be one that would be purely informational, and consequently of vital military importance. They don't get the whole boys-just-want-to-look-at-pretty-girls thing.

(3) When Rico asks Konda if he's recording this, Konda says, "Yes, for posterity." No you're not, you're recording it for Breetai, so he can try and make heads or tails of what's going on inside the battlefortress.

I'm a big fan of what Daley & Luceno later did with Jan Morris after she loses the Miss Macross pageant, turning her into one of those washed-up actresses who gets involved in supernatural hokum and starts writing books about past lives and the like. It's one of the more apropos "Where are they now?" moves they pulled with a C-list character, far more amusing yet sensible than what they did with, say, Senator Russo.

Rick's missile volley was so wasteful and over-the-top you'd think he was piloting an Alpha Fighter.

(2) You can only wonder what's going on in Rick's head when he gets aboard the enemy recon ship, prepared to do battle with the crew, only to find it abandoned and its monitoring equipment tuned to the Miss Macross contest. Imagine what the brass had to have thought of his after action report the next day.

Rico, Konda, and Bron abandon ship, Rick gets pretty much blown up, and the bridge girls ... well, they do exactly what Rick did to Lisa, forget him completely and switch the beauty pageant back on -- except, oddly enough, for Lisa. While Claudia figures he's watching the contest, it's Lisa who assumes he isn't. More fool her, I guess, though at this point it's true; he's out cold, drifting in a busted-up Battloid.

Gotta love Roy's cynicism, and maybe in a more cynical place his reasoning would work, but Macross City is a place that loves its own, and after the whole trapped-in-the-hold thing with Rick and the reopening of the Chinese restaurant Minmei is herself a sort of minor celebrity and a beloved figure. And while for the first time it's mentioned in this episode that she originally hails from Yokohama, listen to her at any length and she'll mention at least once that Macross City is her hometown now. Jan Morris may be a star, but Minmei is one of them.

Mind you, there's also a part of me that wants to think every one of those electronic boxes has a fiver taped to it with a post-it note that says "VOTE FOR MINMEI" signed by Mayor Luan.

(1) Minmei gets crowned Miss Macross (the First Annual, according to the announcer; do they ever crown a successor, and if so, what does SHE go on to do?), but while that eats up her time even worse than the Chinese restaurant, it doesn't immediately transform her into what passes for a major celebrity in the bottle world of the SDF-1. The neat side effect of the following trilogy of episodes is that when Lisa and Rick's Vermilion Team leave she's still just a beauty pageant winner taking singing lessons; when they return, she has ascended to true stardom aboard-ship. Rick and Lisa go and have THEIR adventure that brings them together, and when they get back, Minmei has, to borrow Rick's earlier phrase, "changed completely." Though this won't happen overnight; it just SEEMS that way due to the vagaries of hyperspace travel over vast distances.

Rick being unable to be there for the realization of Minmei's dream should be a hint to the boy. This isn't going to work now. You thought she didn't have time for you before? HA. But as I said before, one look into her eyes and suddenly he's back below decks, the two of them as close as people can be while still keeping their shirts on. He hasn't quite worked out that this imperfect realization of his dream that he's living (which she pushed him into, AHEM) is completely incompatible with the more pure realization of her dream -- at least the first one -- that is to come.

"Be sure to tune in for 'Blind Game,' the next thrilling episode of ROBOTECH!"

(0) It's a playthrough of the "Miss Macross" stage of Sega's PlayStation 2 MACROSS video game (Japan only), complete with on-screen animation clips of Minmei on stage in the swimsuit competition while you're trying to fight the Zentraedi recon ship and dodge its missiles. The thing I always appreciated about this game was the fact that you could choose between the DO YOU REMEMBER LOVE storyline or the TV series storyline, though it is a little irksome that the uniform and mechanical designs don't change between the two -- yes, I do appreciate how much more work it would have been, it's just a bit annoying. At least the TV series stages still give you a Macross with "proper" aircraft carrier arms, though the movie style Macross looks a little odd with them.

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  • This episode stands out for me because it was the first part of Robotech I ever saw (I could only catch it when I was visiting my grandparents; they had cable)... although this much later on, pretty much all I have left is the impression the first part of the episode must have been sort of overwhelming with these two young people commenting how there's a sky out there, but I managed to hold on until the giant robot action at the end. (For a brief while, I couldn't remember the "Armoured" Veritech as distinct from the "Super" Veritech... although for some strange reason I was somehow sort of relieved to hear years later there was an Armoured Veritech or two in the background of some later episodes, and it hadn't been given up on after Rick had destroyed what the novel had left me convinced was the only prototype.)

    By Blogger Keith Palmer, at 12 July, 2010 09:33  

  • Original names or not, in both versions the future spy trio has struck me as surprisingly, and happily, *un*-sleazy when it came to their first encounters with human females. A modern retelling might not have been so fortunate, but in this case, I prefer their more low-key excitement. Their naming joke in Japanese is nothing but that, as they behave the same way in the Macross original (fanon, on the other hand....)

    At times, I don't know why I love Rico, Bron, and Konda as much as I do: they don't have very distinct characterizations, often seeming interchangable in terms of their perosnalities.

    They do, at least, move notably from the drone-like characters they seem here, to more amicable folk later on. There are signs of it however, with Rico's "This is going to hurt, isn't it?" look in that fish-eye closeup, which has a slight Looney Tunes feel.

    Oh, lord did I rage at Love and War for its casual chat between Azonia and Reno. Too, I wasn't happy with Palladium's attempt to explain away the male Zentraedi voices on female ships as not a scripting error, but indicative of some males being assigned to menial duties on female ships. How about, "No"?

    The delicate balance that must have been maintained in female and male Zentraedi (I refuse to use the "M" word) working easily together yet never keeping in contact should have been explored more. Palladium's suggestion that the two factions outright dislike each other seems counterproductive though.

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 12 July, 2010 15:39  

  • A.J.:

    The sad thing is, it's not even a scripting error; it's a CASTING error, probably made at three in the morning when they needed someone to read some nameless extra lines at the last minute and all the women had either gone home or were passed out in the hallway. And then nerds decide it's canon, like nose lasers. Some people don't get that sometimes an error is just an error.

    Re: the mutual dislike between male & female Zentraedi. Based on how badly both Khyron AND Breetai treat Azonia in their communications with her, you could make a case for it, but more likely this is just something Palladium picked up from some DO YOU REMEMBER LOVE material back in the 1980s -- and hey, back in the day, barely anyone here in the States seemed to differentiate between the two.

    By Blogger Captain JLS, at 12 July, 2010 22:13  

  • Of course, I totally meant to say "casting error". Yep. Uh-huh.

    Oddly, Palladium's little fanwank was from the *new* RPG books. You think they would know better by that point, but I guess not.

    And, eh, to me it would be a little too counterproductive if there were wide-scale antagonism between male and female Zentraedi whey they are fighting on the same side. You need them to be separate, but you need them to cooperate with each other, too. It would be some kind of weird balance, rather than, "Male and female Zentreadi are conditioned to dislike each other, full stop."

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 13 July, 2010 00:13  

  • (8) Maybe Mayor Luan entered Minmei in the Miss Macross contest before Launch Day? And all entires needed to be submitted via Orion Records. Yeah, that's it.

    (4) I also found it very telling that both sides in this battle would rather be watching the beauty pagent than fighting each other.

    (3) Jan Morris becoming the Shirley MacClean of the Robotech universe also worked great for me because that was where they introduced the concept of the Shapings. I remember thinking, Wow, Morris has really lost it. Then Lang mentions it in a note to Zand, and I was just shocked to think she had been right!

    (Comments) Man, that shows how much I paid attention to the Palladium stuff, I guess. Either I didn't notice that they treated the male & female Zentraedi that way, or I just knew they had it wrong and disregarded it.

    I don't mind some of the Macross backstory occasionally being used to fill in some holes or inconsistencies, but overall I think Robotech holds its own pretty well, and some things should just remain in the Macross universe.

    By Blogger Fer, at 13 July, 2010 21:26  

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