ROBOBLOG III Archives

8.05.2010

DAY THIRTY-SIX: Force of Arms

Written September 14, 2010




(10) When people write about their favorite episodes of ROBOTECH, or the best-animated episodes of ROBOTECH, "Force of Arms" frequently comes up. This has never made any sense to me. Sure, there's a lot of amazing animation on display, and there are some really great and memorable moments, but a couple of things have always disappointed me about this episode. For one thing, it's not as even a "good animation episode" as, say, the first two. Certainly the MACROSS production staff was still bright eyed and bushy tailed when they did the first two episodes, while by now they've been ground down by deadlines, overwork, depression from the truly ugly episodes the Koreans have been cranking out, and the yo-yo of the episode count that forced them to speed on to this finale and then scramble to figure out what they're going to do for the next nine episodes. Even with this in mind, it's a little sad seeing stock footage in the middle of all the fantastic, mind-blowing new work they put into this.

The other thing is, it's just one long fight scene, capped off with a brilliant daring rescue. Thing is, if I'm gonna sit down and watch a final battle, I'd usually go with "To The Stars;" the emotional beats are better and more satisfying, and the sight of the SDF-1 rising out of the lake gets me all teary-eyed every time. Nothing in "Force of Arms" really hits me that way. Certainly this is just my opinion, but I have a little bit of trouble finding what beyond "stuff blows up good" brought so many people to theirs.


(9) The entire episode is full of iconic shots. I probably could have snapped at least five before this one, but you've certainly seen them all over and over again; when we were all kids putting together our little ROBOTECH shrines at Geocities, Fortunecity, Xoom, and the rest way back in the mid-1990s, this was the episode we screengrabbed the hell out of for our image galleries.

So Rick finally breaks down, walks right up to Minmei -- with Kyle standing right beside her, to boot -- and tells her he loves her. Ain't that a kick in the pants, Mister "oh yeah, I was just waiting for the right time to pop her the question?" And as Rick races for the flight deck to prepare for battle, Minmei naturally runs right after him, leaving Kyle standing around like the idiot he is.

During the gorgeous scenes of Destroids preparing for battle I believe I heard the Destroid Tomahawk referred to by its proper name for the first time in the entire series.

The sight of Exedore's mouth bobbing up and down as he walks next to Gloval is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about. There's some brilliant animation here -- the aforementioned sequence of Destroids preparing for battle -- and then there's stuff that shows just how worn down the staff was getting.


(8) Rick comes out and says what's been obvious since "Homecoming," that he and Minmei really have drifted into wholly different worlds and a real relationship just wouldn't work now. But, being the idiot he is, he takes things a step too far, offering the quip, "It's a pity so much time was wasted between us." It's very reminiscent of the argument he and Minmei had back in "Transformation," with the key similarity being that he says something so nasty right before a major catastrophe -- in this case, the near-destruction of planet Earth.

Amidst all the amazing depictions of hell coming to Earth, footage is reused from the very first episode of yellow jumpsuited RDF personnel getting blown up, as well as a somehow filtered and modified version of the shot of buildings toppling from the very first episode, followed by the shot of the crashing SDF-1 hitting Macross Island.

Footage reuse I don't mind: Minmei reminiscing about taking Rick around Yokohama, now that Yokohama has been wiped from the surface of the Earth. I suppose "To Be In Love" plays over it because, as it was the song Minmei sang for Rick below decks in the SDF-1, it will always be "their" song. We break right from the song in mid-note to Minmei sobbing. Just like that day below decks in the SDF-1, Minmei sobs that it's all over, but Rick -- a much more confident, much more assured Rick -- once again tells her to cheer up, that this isn't the end, and that she has something very important she has to do:

She has to sing for everyone.


(7) The plan: Minmei goes live on every radio frequency, singing her song for all the Zentraedi who have as of yet had no contact with Earth culture. It will breed chaos and confusion in the ranks of Dolza's Zentraedi forces, and will make them easier pickings for the joint forces of the SDF-1 and Breetai's fleet. It will also serve as a psychological benefit for their own forces, human and Zentraedi alike.

There's a really sweet moment where Rico, Konda, and Bron lend Minmei their support, telling her they know just how it is waiting to go into battle. It's the first time they've actually been able to speak with their idol, and she honestly and openly thanks them for their support.

Okay, so we're looking at a seafoam and white dress with seafoam dots on the skirt and puffy yellow translucent sleeves. Even in the early 1980's, was that ever really fashionable? As a bonus, this was the dress Matchbox's action figure of Minmei was going to wear, but as we all know Matchbox never produced it. (I have a very strong memory of myself, with my parents, combing the figure racks of the Kay Bee toy store in Joplin, MO looking for it; there was a college-age guy right next to me doing the same.) Harmony Gold eventually did when they did their run of figures in the very early 1990's, and the results speak for themselves.

This is the first performance of "We Will Win," and I want to say it's the only time Minmei's version of the song goes out for the whole series. I guess I'll find out in the coming days, eh?


(6) Speaking of psychological attacks, seeing Minmei and Kyle kiss (again) sure does SOMETHING to Rick. Oh, and that first attack his Super Veritech does, the missile volley followed by going to Guardian? A fair chunk of that was from "Showdown," the first time the Super Veritech was deployed. However, given how some of that footage was sped up, it's not like they did a lot less work due to using that particular stock footage ...

Seeing the purple Nousjadeul-Ger Powered Armors (and I'm pretty sure this is the first time we've seen those particular mecha in the show), I'm surprised that wasn't one of the color schemes Matchbox, Harmony Gold, or Playmates used for the toy of that mecha. Perhaps Toynami might have done it, but unfortunately Playmates stored the old Matchbox molds improperly following their last use fifteen years ago and we'll never see those toys again. Shame, that; all those 7" figures held up pretty well.

Funny, I'm watching Max and Miriya do the back-to-back missile barrage thing and all I can think is how Rook and Rand will later do the same thing way, way later in "Hired Gun."

Rick takes out an entire Zentraedi battleship all on his lonesome, verbally pats himself on the back, then in typical fashion falls prey to a missile barrage that he manages to just barely block with his Super Veritech's arm guard missile launchers.


(5) The problem with the death of Admiral Hayes is that while he does tell Lisa she was right all along, his urgent insistence that she has to get herself out of there doesn't jibe at all with his almost tranquil, satisfied expression. To be fair to him, the Grand Cannon did work; it wiped out a whole swath of Zentraedi battleships, and the fact that it was proven to be operational after the initial Zentraedi bombardment helped energize the fighting spirit aboard the SDF-1. Certainly it didn't work to the extent that Admiral Hayes had hoped, but again, in all fairness, who'd have thought that the enemy they'd face would have such a massive war machine? Who could have imagined the scope of their foe from the stars? And more importantly, how in the hell do you prepare to face something like that?

One thing that's a little unfair about ROBOTECH is that the folks we like, the folks who are presented to us as "in the right" are the ones who are always talking about negotiations, making peace and not war. However, the enemies they face are so determined in their quest for conquest or destruction that there's no hope of negotiating with them. You can't reason with Dolza. You can't make peace with the Robotech Masters. In the end, all you can do is fight with all your strength and resolve, and pray your robots, lasers, and missiles are bigger and badder than theirs. The problem, though, is that because the people we like are always wrongheadedly talking about opening talks with enemies you can't talk your way around, the show winds up demonizing those who would make war -- pity poor Admiral Hayes, and worse, Supreme Commander Anatole Westphal (per Luceno's THE ZENTRAEDI REBELLION) Leonard.


(4) As he coasts through the Earth's atmosphere after suffering from that missile barrage, Rick thinks back to earlier that day, and we see that he finally, after twenty-three episodes, got that kiss he was denied back in "The Long Wait." Seeing that, it's pretty obvious that loose ends are being tied up, and the MACROSS staff wasn't exactly planning for the nine episode aftermath storyline. Sure, we're a ways away from truly resolving the love triangle, but if you look at other shows by the main MACROSS creative staff -- primarily shows directed and/or created by Shoji Kawamori -- it's not like resolving the love triangle was probably at the top of their agenda.

Consider that not one minute after we see Rick and Minmei professing their love for one another, Rick finds himself rushing headlong into the ruins of Alaska Base to rescue Lisa. Also consider, of course, that when he professed his love for Minmei, he was certain that Lisa was dead, along with everyone else on planet Earth.

You saw what I said about Khyron's claim that he's fleeing for "anywhere in the universe but here" back in "The Messenger," right? Well, here he is, watching Minmei -- who apparently has had a change of wardrobe to what would be a more flattering dress if it weren't so damned orange -- and muttering to himself, "Pretty thing." He decides in all the confusion of battle to go hunt down Breetai, but since we don't see any more of Khyron for the rest of the episode and we see Breetai again in "Viva Miriya" (and later in THE SENTINELS), obviously he fails, as he always does.

We briefly see that Destroid that was kitbashed into not-quite-an-Orguss shortly thereafter; that same footage, flipped horizontally, appears again in "To The Stars."


(3) From the Department of Obvious Callbacks: Lisa, sitting in Rick's lap, wearing his flight helmet. Hmm, where have we seen that before?

I actually own an animation cel from the black & white sequence where Lisa runs into Rick's arms. I still remember the day the owner of the anime store back in my old hometown said to me, "Yeah, I just got in this MACROSS cel, it's really weird. It's all black and white," and my eyes widened and I told him, "I KNOW WHERE THAT'S FROM, BRING IT DOWN!" and I snapped it up, either right then and there, or I told him to put it on hold so I could go grab the money to get it, I forget which. Funny thing is, I'm certain I first saw that sequence in SENTINELS; it wasn't until a few more years after I got the SENTINELS movie on VHS that I finally got the FHE tape with "Force of Arms" and "Reconstruction Blues."

Now remember every time you watch Rick and Lisa cheerfully escape in this sequence, as "We Will Win" plays triumphantly in the background, that in one of those exploding corridors he's flying down, there's a wounded T.R. Edwards clutching Doctor Lang's dead sister Janice, reaching out, cursing that yellow and black-trimmed VF-1S and its pilot for not saving him.


(2) It's sad, I almost forgot that they still have to win the war here. I guess I figured, oh, Rick saved Lisa, the important work's done.

On the one hand, boo-hiss on the reuse of the Daedalus attack footage from "Blitzkrieg." (Though honestly, with all the character and emotional callbacks to other episodes, I'm starting to think the footage reuse is more than just a way to avoid creating new animation; almost that it's SUPPOSED to remind you of the earlier episodes while you watch this one, to deliver a stronger emotional payload.) On the other hand, nice job matching the color and movement going from that shot to Minmei on stage, with the background behind her moving in much the same way.

"What are they doing, they'll destroy us both!" That's what you think, Dolza. Remember that barrier reaction you were so impressed by? What do you think will happen if that barrier system absorbs the impact from an explosion of THIS magnitude?


(1) Rick Hunter has a penchant for saying terrible things. I think by now Lisa has decided that's part of his charm. When Lisa suggests that maybe they're the only survivors, he figures that wouldn't be so bad, because at least each of them wouldn't be alone; she actually laughs at that. I have a very strong feeling Rick didn't have a lot of friends growing up -- throughout the series, the idea of being alone, possibly forever, with one close friend comes up and doesn't seem to bother him much. The fact that the other person is a very pretty girl probably doesn't hurt, of course ...

But no, they're not the only survivors of the Robotech War; the SDF-1, its crew, and most of our friends in Macross City have managed to survive, though the ship looks to be in astoundingly rough shape. It sinks waist-deep into a crater, from which it will not rise again until this generation's end.

And now, with the war over, it's time to rebuild.

"Don't miss 'Reconstruction Blues,' the next dramatic chapter in the saga of ROBOTECH."


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5 Comments:

  • Naturally, as the series' climax, this is a really good episode.

    What I enjoy about it is that it continues, in the grand Macross tradition, to focus more on characters than battle, though there is plenty of that. Rick, the main character, ends up falling out of the fray, but it is the rescue the woman he loves, showing where the substance of Macross truly is.

    I really wish some writers understood the value of singling out the main characters, though: inserting Edwards' vendetta against Rick just cripples the dramatic nature of the original scene. There is more impact if Lisa was well and truly the only one alive.

    Some take "We Will Win" as proof that Robotech is all about empty militarism and beating up enemy aliens, but I've always found the song to be rather hopeful. A few of the lyrics suggest breaking free from constraint, which dovetails nicely with the Zentraedi's experience.

    I'll make the obligatory comment about bad Minmei dub songs: here I only have the Michael Bradley version on my iTunes, but the intent is the same.

    Konda is, for a few frames at the end of the dressing room scene, coloured like Kyle: ick.

    Exedore's REF uniform has also been slightly changed, which is less noticeable than Minmei's dress, but those bygone animation errors seem so odd.

    The question on everyone's minds is if the series could have ended here. I'm always torn on the issue, since the last batch of episodes have several problems, but also some good character moments and some loose ends tied up. At the very least, you'd hate to think of Minmei living with Kyle for the rest of their lives, eh?

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 14 September, 2010 17:29  

  • I have to admit, Force of Arms tops my list of favorite episodes, and it is for exactly the superficial reasons you dismissed above ;) Of course, I tend to favor the action/space oriented episodes anyway (with the notable exception of Ghost Town), and since Force of Arms probably has the most spaceship on spaceship action of any episode – maybe even of all anime – its only natural it comes out on top for me. But again, that’s just how I roll.

    Even factoring out the abundant recycled animation, I think this also may be the best animated episode as well (the other reason it tops my list). I do agree that the first two episodes were very slick, and Booby Trap is one of my other favorites partly for that reason, but Force of Arms has some very complex action and unlike in Booby Trap where the Zentraedi ships were often mat paintings, a lot of the ships are fully animated. Consider the first shot of the Zentraedi Monitor opening up with enough detail that we can see the hinge mechanism; the shot of Zentraedi ships disintegrating by the hundreds as the Grand Cannon sweeps the sky; and the destruction on Earth (other than the reused shots).

    On top of all that, we get a cameo appearance from Captain Harlock, or at least his ship anyway.

    I really like your point concerning the fairness of the depictions of some of the more military-minded folks verses those who talk of negotiations. As much as war should be avoided, negotiations with aliens who you can not assume (with any certainty) to hold, or even possess the ability to comprehend, similar values as your own, makes such a task incredible risky.

    The situation kind of reminds me of that line from General Emerson in The Invid Connection when he is talking with the Robotech Masters and then blurts out at the end of his speech “We must prevent war.” This is after he has already been taken prisoner, after he has lost his flagship and over half the Southern Cross fleet in half a dozen major offensives over the past year, and after the destruction and invasion of several cities the capture of hundreds of civilians? Yeah, it is a good thing it isn’t too late to prevent war. I really like Emerson, but his seemingly prudent nature is sometimes taken to hilarious extremes.

    By Blogger Niff, at 24 September, 2010 17:16  

  • I have to admit, Force of Arms tops my list of favorite episodes, and it is for exactly the superficial reasons you dismissed above ;) Of course, I tend to favor the action/space oriented episodes anyway (with the notable exception of Ghost Town), and since Force of Arms probably has the most spaceship on spaceship action of any episode – maybe even of all anime – its only natural it comes out on top for me. But again, that’s just how I roll.

    Even factoring out the abundant recycled animation, I think this also may be the best animated episode as well (the other reason it tops my list). I do agree that the first two episodes were very slick, and Booby Trap is one of my other favorites partly for that reason, but Force of Arms has some very complex action and unlike in Booby Trap where the Zentraedi ships were often mat paintings, a lot of the ships are fully animated. Consider the first shot of the Zentraedi Monitor opening up with enough detail that we can see the hinge mechanism; the shot of Zentraedi ships disintegrating by the hundreds as the Grand Cannon sweeps the sky; and the destruction on Earth (other than the reused shots).

    On top of all that, we get a cameo appearance from Captain Harlock, or at least his ship anyway.

    I really like your point concerning the fairness of the depictions of some of the more military-minded folks verses those who talk of negotiations. As much as war should be avoided, negotiations with aliens who you can not assume (with any certainty) to hold, or even possess the ability to comprehend, similar values as your own, makes such a task incredible risky.

    The situation kind of reminds me of that line from General Emerson in The Invid Connection when he is talking with the Robotech Masters and then blurts out at the end of his speech “We must prevent war.” This is after he has already been taken prisoner, after he has lost his flagship and over half the Southern Cross fleet in half a dozen major offensives over the past year, and after the destruction and invasion of several cities the capture of hundreds of civilians? Yeah, it is a good thing it isn’t too late to prevent war. I really like Emerson, but his seemingly prudent nature is sometimes taken to hilarious extremes.

    By Blogger Niff, at 24 September, 2010 17:17  

  • well keep in mind what really defeated the zentraedi was marrying them, offering asylum and singing songs at them

    By Blogger James, at 26 September, 2010 13:29  

  • Gah, sorry for the double posts. I kept getting errors :/

    By Blogger Niff, at 26 September, 2010 21:56  

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