Introduction: “Gattai Girls” is a series of posts dedicated to looking at giant robot anime featuring prominent female characters due to their relative rarity within that genre.
Here, “prominent” is primarily defined by two traits. First, the female character has to be either a main character (as opposed to a sidekick or support character), or she has to be in a role which distinguishes her. Second, the female character has to actually pilot a giant robot, preferably the main giant robot of the series she’s in.
For example, Aim for the Top! would qualify because of Noriko (main character, pilots the most important mecha of her show), while Vision of Escaflowne would not, because Hitomi does not engage in any combat despite being a main character, nor would Full Metal Panic! because the most prominent robot pilot, Melissa Mao, is not prominent enough.
The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross might be a mere footnote in anime history if not a confluence of factors. In Japan, it gains some notoriety by being the follow-up to Peruse in the Super Dimension franchise. In the United States, it was heavily edited into the second arc in the influential Robotech TV show, its characters transformed into completely different identities so as to bridge continuity with the previous Macross saga. Another feature, arguably more important in this day and age, is that Southern Cross is an action series that prominently features capable heroines in leading roles and does not diminish their strengths.
In the future year 2120, humanity has ventured out and colonized space. On the planet Gloire, its denizens enter into a war with a mysterious alien force known as the Zor. Central to this story is a feisty 17-year-old girl named Jeanne Fránçaix, member of the 15th Squad of the Southern Cross’s Alpha Tactics Armored Corps. As Jeanne and her allies fight (and break the rules) on a regular basis, they learn the truth of the Zor, as well as the beauty and ugliness of humankind.
Southern Cross is something of a meandering show, with the largest and most compelling narrative developments coming quite late into the series. Given its early cancellation (indicated by its unusual count of 23 episodes) and its consequential rushed ending, the series is certainly flawed. However, its portrayal of a young and energetic group of soldiers going through life try to enjoy it more than dread it—less Gundam and more Patlabor. No character embodies this environment more than Jeanne herself.
Jeanne possesses many features that could be deemed stereotypically female—boy-crazy, obsessed with fashion and shopping, and generally ruled by her emotions. Southern Cross also isn’t afraid to give her more than a few shower scenes to flaunt her to the audience. However, it’s important to note that she’ never really portrayed as a “weak” girl. Jeanne a capable soldier who ends up being a clever and shrewd commanding officer. She pays attention to the feelings of her comrades. And when it comes to one the major criteria for Gattai Girls—the requirement that the heroine actually pilot a giant robot and fight with it—Jeanne is practically second to none.
Neither Jeanne nor the other two major female characters, Marie Angel and Lana Isavia, ever end up becoming damsels. When they go into battle, they do so with great skill and as equals to the men with little underestimating of their abilities. Lana is less talented in this respect, but that’s also because her position is less combat-oriented. When the show later introduces another major female character, the Zor girl Musica, the fact that she’s more meek and waif-like is just one possible example of a girl, rather than the sole portrayal.
I’ve read that Dana Sterling, Jeanne’s counterpart in Robotech, has a significantly different personality. I’ve never watched the Robotech Masters portion of that series, so I can’t say how Dana fares as a Gattai Girl, but I imagine the basic core of a talented and tough heroine is still there. It would take some extreme cuts to make Jeanne/Dana anything but admirable.
Jeanne’s personality, and by extension the strengths of Southern Cross, can be best summed up by the following. In the film Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, there is a scene towards the end where the female character Laureline urges the hero Valerian to choose love over duty. However, it comes across as a bit incongruous in that context, as we see plenty of Laureline essentially working by the book as she fulfills her assignments as a soldier/agent. If Jeanne were in Laureline’s position while giving the same exact speech, it would make complete sense. Jeanne is driven by her passion, whether she shirks responsibility or embraces it.
We see Jeanne love. We see her lose. We see her lift friends up and take enemies down. For all the faults of Southern Cross, Jeanne transcends them. In many ways, she is far greater than the series from which she comes, but it’s also thanks to that world that we can see how strong she truly is.
Once I’d the chance to watch the Southern Cross anime “as itself,” it did begin growing on me quite a bit (although I don’t think I was ever outright disdainful of Robotech: Masters). A part of that, as you said said so well, did seem its female protagonists (although I’m a little conscious of how they aren’t backed up by any female background characters in the military…) Your “less Gundam and more Patlabor” comment does remind me of something Justin Sevakis said when he featured Southern Cross in the old “Buried Treasure” column on Anime News Network.
I’m a bit more uncertain about your reporting having read that Dana Sterling “has a significantly different personality.” It may well be that by this point Southern Cross comes more readily to my mind than Robotech: Masters, but the characters don’t seem that dissimilar to me. It’s unfortunately tempting to wonder if this had as much to do with general hostility towards Robotech as anything, although in my understanding of whatever enduring audience has stayed interested in the Americanized series they have a hard time with Dana’s personality, and its link to the Macross characters she was connected to only to seem much less “cool” than them. I can wonder about saying “there’s a lot of ‘anime’ to her, and you might need a broader familiarity to start with to really deal with it.” (With that said, I can think of one male character who changes quite a bit between Southern Cross and Robotech: Masters…)
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Thanks for the article! Yeah, Southern Cross is still fun despite being flawed. Having three female leads in a mecha show had a lot of potential, specially at its time of release but sadly Lana and Marie are mostly underdeveloped.