Gattai Girls 6: The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Jeanne Fránçaix

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, preferrably 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.

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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 Fránçaix, Main Heroine

Jeanne possesses many features that could 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 shrewed 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.

Marie Angel

Lana Isavia

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.

 

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Robotech Fans Wish They Had Yamato 2199

I recently finished Space Battleship Yamato 2199, the outstanding remake of the original Space Battleship Yamato. It’s a series deserving of an elaborate, detailed review to explain all of the thing they did to update the series and why the work, but this isn’t that review. Maybe it’ll come in the future, but what I’d rather talk about is a small revelation I had after I finished the series: Yamato 2199 is basically what Robotech fans wish they got.

The long-standing Robotech fandom is notorious for an obsession with minutiae. Every little detail in the series is scrutinized. Things are renamed to sound more “high-tech.” Every mistake in script and animation in the source anime (Macross, Southern Cross, Mospeada) is either ignored, retconned, or mentally transformed into something which makes technical “sense.” A whole slew of supplementary material exists to explain in a satisfying way to an audience who enjoys harder science fiction some of the sillier moments that come from the original anime.

While Yamato 2199 doesn’t go quite that far, it does accomplish a lot to smooth over some of the narrative and hazy science fictional bumps which littered the original version. Case in point, the ridiculous-sounding device that the crew of the Yamato must travel to Iscandar to pick up to save the Earth, “Cosmo Cleaner-D,” is rechristened the “Cosmo Reverse System,” and is given a technical explanation as to how it’s supposed to work. Moments in the original Yamato which were more for dramatic flair than anything else keep the drama but also add sounder technical elements. Aspects of the show barely touched upon originally receive elaboration in Yamato 2199, and where the old series at times looked like it was still trying to find what it really wanted to do, the new series has the benefit of hindsight to cleanly and efficiently aim for its narrative and thematic goals.

As far as I can tell, what Robotech fans really want is just Robotech as it was back in the 1980s with minor adjustments, and this is what really makes Yamato 2199 the ideal template for Robotech fans. Yamato 2199 is about 90-95% the same as the original in tone and feel, even though it is updated for the modern era to take into account social developments in the past 40 years and the character designs are a little more modernized. It’s this formula which something like The Shadow Chronicles does not appear to achieve, though it also helps to have a substantially higher budget and cleaner animation like Yamato 2199 does, to accomplish its goals.

Robotech, Voltron, Nostalgia

When the Robotech/Voltron crossover comic was announced a few months ago, my immediate response was, “Why?” Of course the answer is “nostalgia grab,” but there’s something strange about both of these works and their continued presence in the geek public eye (and perhaps even beyond that). Unlike Transformers which not only has a huge variety of toys both old and new, as well as a long history of cartoons both from America and Japan (not to mention the live action films), both Robotech and Voltron do not really renew themselves, aside from the occasional thing like the The Shadow Chronicles or The Third Dimension.

Though this speaks more about the people I associate with, I can’t say I’ve ever talked to anyone, online or offline, who is hardcore into either Robotech or Voltron. I know that there’s a Robotech community of course (they even have an official site for it), though I have little interest in it. With Voltron, I know people who have fond memories of it, myself included, but the foundation that Voltron has in geek culture seems not only deeper than Robotech‘s but to the extent that, when you say cool giant robot with a signature finisher, Lion Voltron is just the default, or it shares that spot with the Megazord from Power Rangers. It’s like Voltron as a source of nostalgia goes so far beyond itself that the vague perception of it exceeds the influence of the actual anime. 

What’s funny about a show like Voltron and its emblematic presence in US geek culture as de facto super robot is that the process of dubbing and adaptation that turned the anime King of Beasts Golion and Armored Fleet Dairugger into Voltron: Defender of the Universe happened with different anime in different countries to similar effect. In the Philippines, Voltes V exploded with popularity. In France and Italy, UFO Robo Grendizer captured attention as Goldorak and Goldrake respectively (with success in the Middle East to boot). In Brazil, Gloizer X became O Pirata do Espaço, the country’s first real exposure to giant robots. While it’s possible say that this was all a matter of timing and that they’re all interchangeable in that respect, I do think that the specific properties of each show had a major impact on how each country perceived giant robots from that point forward (I’m less sure about Gloizer X so if any Brazilians want to help, feel free to leave a comment).

One thing that I do believe plays a role in how these series become more specific in their nostalgic output is the level of support the original works have in Japan. I visited France recently, and when I went into the comic stores I would regularly see displays of Grendizer merchandise. Whether it was the Super Robot Chogokin or the Soul of Chogokin or a chibi version, it was all straight from Japan, sitting prominently in the store. Grendizer has enough cultural presence in Japan that it can continue to get these toys and even a fairly stable presence in Super Robot Wars, whereas Golion has had to content itself with just one Nintendo DS appearance. In lieu of support from Japan, Voltron‘s had to carve its own place, and often times it’s not even from the company World Events which holds the Voltron license but from fans conjuring it up in their own minds. And while Robotech is an utter legal mess due to the way it stifles the presence of Macross in the US, if you put that aside part of Robotech‘s prolonged presence comes from the fact that its fans want new Robotech to constantly feel like old Robotech, whereas Macross changes according to the whims of its dark lord Kawamori Shouji.

Actually I wouldn’t mind at all if Voltron got a revival with a solid piece of fiction to support it which doesn’t rely too much on nostalgia. I know we got Voltron Force, but the less said about that the better.

Robotech Pens, Steaks, Etc.

What do you know, just as I think it’s over I have another anime-related dream. For now this is the last one, but who knows how the subconscious works?

So I’m standing there in some kind of nerd hobby store where the most prominent display is a giant banner welcoming fans of Robotech. And there the Robotechfans stood, gathered in the same area, talking about Mospeada or possibly Southern Cross, I don’t remember exactly, and which arc it correlates to.

A nice, roughly middle-aged lady asks if I speak Japanese and I respond in Japanese and we have a good laugh. I look for something to purchase, and I spot some Robotech-themed pens. I don’t know, apparently I really wanted to buy something Robotech-related. But I don’t pick them up quite yet.

I also spot some Nintendo keychains, grabbing a Wario one, and then decide to grab seven Robotech pens, only to realize that if I’m going to the steakhouse(?!) I’d better watch my wallet and not spend so much. I try to pare it down to get a 3 for $5 deal, but then realize I got rid of 1 too many and only have two pens left. But then I remember I have the Wario keychain and it all evens out, because apparently keychains are part of the deal.

The two Robotech pens are very “nice” in two distinctly different ways. One of them features Lisa Hayes and you can hardly tell it’s a Robotech pen. Why, for all we know that could be Misa instead. The other is very clearly a Robotech product, as the character designs look nothing like the show and it’s apparently merchandise for some novel or comic spinoff. It also has some generic tie-in name you’d expect from Robotech, like “Fortress Chronicles” or something equally generic.

I make my purchase, but then for some reason am given a Giratina keychain instead of the Wario one. I ask the clerk if I can exchange it and she says okay, but I have to give the Giratina box back. I think it’s odd, but agree to do this.

Then I realize I was in the store for so long that I cannot make it to the steakhouse. Resigned in defeat, I pass by a new Pokemon movie starring Mewtwo. Actually I’m not sure if it was supposed to be a movie or if I was actually seeing real Pokemon, but the creatures were being sucked into a chamber to fight Mewtwo (though at first I assumed it was Darkrai). The movie is in Japanese. Mewtwo, actually a victim in all of this, flies around and goes to the other side. A Geodude tries to Rock Throw Mewtwo but Mewtwo reflects the rocks back at Geodude and hits two other Pokemon in the process while also saying, “Tsutometa!” In the context of the dream it’s supposed to mean something like, “I see through you,” but in actual Japanese means, “I worked.” The movie is really, really well-animated and a joy to watch. Though I don’t know how it ends because that’s when I wake up.

Robotech: More Like Anime Than You Think

Robotech over the years has gotten about equal amounts support and derision from anime fans. It introduced viewers to permanent character deaths and a dramatic serial space opera, but also obscured parts of the message of the original Macross and had a few edits here and there, though not nearly as much as what had come before it.

One of the bigger criticisms of the whole franchise is that in order for it to remain cohesive it requires a “god of the gaps,” or something to explain why these disparate parts of the story and universe actually fit together. I’ve made fun of Robotech for that reason before as well. But then I thought about this idea of just filling in blank after blank with whatever you could find, and it reminded me a whole lot of another giant robot franchise: Gundam.

Question: Have you ever heard of Johnny Ridden?

If your answer is “no,” that is perfectly normal. But if your answer is “yes,” then you are a fairly hardcore Gundam fan, or you’ve just seen the name appear on Gundam models and scratched your head wondering just who this person is.

To make a long story short, Johnny Ridden is a character who, like Char Aznable, was a Zeon ace in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. He got his own custom colors, his own nickname (Crimson Lightning), and he fought at many crucial points in the war. The only thing is, he never appears on-screen in any of the episodes or movies. You are just supposed to assume he’s around. Also, he loves Kycilia Zabi. I don’t think even her own father can say that!

Basically Johnny Ridden was designed after the series was over to help promote the line of Mobile Suit Variations, or robot designs which take existing models and recolor them in order to sell them off as “new.” If you’re into video games, it’s pretty much the same thing as a “palette swap.”  It’s just like how a Wizard is stronger than a Magician in Dragon Warrior because it’s yellow. And the big thing is, Mobile Suit Variations worked. They sold, they made Bandai money. And now? Johnny Ridden makes appearances in games and has comics in which he actually appears, and it all has to do with how much people want to explore the gaps in the world of Gundam and how easy it was for Bandai to make this all possible.

When you look at what Robotech did, it almost pales in comparison.

They’re Like Robots, Except Giant!

Much like my attempt at compiling “Non-Japanese” magical girl shows, I’ve recently started a Youtube playlist consisting of “Non-Japanese” giant robot shows. My definition of “Non-Japanese” here is somewhat lenient, as I’ve also included anime which were heavily adapted for foreign audiences, as well as shows animated in Japan for foreign audiences. Something like Voltron which was based on Golion and Dairugger XV but then got additional episodes made due to the popularity of Voltron counts as both. Parodies are okay as well, as evidenced by The X-Treme Adventures of Brandon and Mallory.

I’m taking suggestions, so if anyone knows any series/movies/whatever besides the ones I have already, please chime in. Please keep in mind that they must be lean more towards the “robot” side and less towards the “powered suit” side, though I understand that such a line is blurry at best. To give you an idea of where the line is, I do not consider The Centurions or Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors to be giant robot series. Dino-Riders is on the fence, but if you can convince me that a T-Rex in advanced techno armor is not that different from an Evangelion, then I might include it as well. But most likely not.

Like ROBOTECH? Then You’ll Love THE OMEGA SKIES

It’s the exciting new series that has the animation critics calling it even better than Voltron and Macron-1…combined!

The Omega Skies centers around a boy destined for greatness. This boy, Renton Thurston, is a fan of the latest craze on the planet, SKY SURFING! Sky surfing is so popular that not only do people do it, but robots as well! However, what he couldn’t predict was that his love of Sky Surfing would lead him to meet a mysterious girl named Eureka!

Not only that, but she’s friends with the most out-there rebel and Sky Surfing pro, Holland!

Joining Holland and Eureka on their custom-made radical airship, the “Gecko,” Renton’s life is transformed as he too realizes he has the potential for greatness, especially when the alien menace, the Coraelians arrive! Action-packed fights explode everywhere the Sky Surfers go!

But just when you think the story’s over, there’s more! Don’t look below this line if you don’t want to ruin the big events in The Omega Skies!

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