Warning: Geeky Stuff


Seriously.  If you’re not an anime-loving, sci-fi obsessed geek, don’t bother reading this blog.  You’ll just get fed up and leave.  I may only have a 37% geek tendency, but I know when I’m being annoying.

So, it’s been a while.  I seriously meant to get on here two weeks ago and review X-Men First Class, which I saw with some friends in Grand Rapids.  But I didn’t, so I’ll just provide a quick summary:  A good movie with interesting characters but an unoriginal theme–tolerance and diversity. 

Basically, love and accept the people who are different than you, even if they’re insanely powerful and could kill you with a thought.  Actually, especially if they can do that.  The movie requires several leaps in logic, among them the governments rather inexplicable face-heel-turn, but hey, this is a story about telepaths and flying insect-wing people.  The central story is really rather interesting, and the interaction between Charles (Professor X), and Erik (Magneto) is pretty incredible.  Michael Fassbender, the actor who plays Erik, is especially good.  The continuity with the other movies, particularly Wolverine, is a little messed, and I can’t quite see how the rumored sequel would fit in, but the movie itself is definitely worth watching.  Go see it.

So.  So much for that.

Went to a friend’s wedding yesterday.  Going to be doing a lot of that this summer, so it should be interesting to compare and contrast them all.  The lucky pair in this case were some people I’d known since third grade, it provided quite the trip down memory lane.  Amazing how some of these things work out sometimes.

Piece of good news.  Last blog post, when I complained about having to register for four courses, two beyond what the grad department would be paying for?  Apparently, the e-mail my adviser texted me, “U need to register 4 courses of 5000 level” meant “You need to register FOR courses,” not “You need to register FOUR courses.”  A great relief, and a difference of approximately 6000 dollars.  I really ought to learn how to read texting lingo better.  So.  I’m not going to be incurring massive levels of debt, and my potential income for grad school, if not quite in the black, is at least significantly less in the red.

So now, what am I actually reviewing this post, the oh-so-important story that somehow beat out the immensely popular and well-produced X-Men First Class?  That is a long, complicated, and somewhat revelatory story, so let me provide some background first.

When I was young and foolish, I had an instinctive hatred of anything popular or trendy.  I despised Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and thought baseball cards the most pointless collectible ever.  Then I would turn right around and express my love of Transformers and GI Joes, and bemoan how they didn’t make cartoons like they used to in the ‘good old days.’  This is when I was 7 or 8, understand. This went on and carried over onto the popular Pokemon series, and the art style it was drawn in.  I mocked the anime art style most violently.

My friends from college will realize why this is so amusing, as now that I am old and foolish, I have an odd obsession with said art style. 

So what happened?  Well, a number of things, but among them was a strange book I picked up while browsing through the City Library.  (Yes, I did that as a kid.  Sue me.)  The book was entitled Robotech: Art 1, and it was only after I was halfway through it when I realized that it was about an Americanized anime series.  By that point, it was far too late to turn back, and the book did much toward shifting my attitude toward anime.

As I found out later, Robotech was not so much an anime series as three separate, unrelated anime series, smashed together and edited to make the semblance of a cohesive storyline.  Goes without saying that this didn’t completely work, and even as a kid I recognized that the plot I was reading was very strange in points, having neither consistent villains nor heroes nor technology.  Apart from the voice acting, which is surprisingly decent, I’d almost consider it the worst example of ‘Westernizing’ a foreign TV series.

Almost, I say, because for all its flaws, the series introduced many Americans to the style and tone of anime and did a lot to cement its popularity in the West. It was a weekly kid-friendly cartoon show about giant robots.  What was not to love?  Plot-weak cartoons were nothing new then (or now, really), and the style of Robotech was close enough to Western animation for most people to deal with it.  And anime wasn’t the only thing Robotech popularized.

In all seriousness, if the Navy DID produce something like that, I would join in a heartbeat.  Forget the dislocated shoulder and glasses, I get to fly a giant robot!

Despite all this, Robotech actually ISN’T the series I’m reviewing.  Why?  Because the only part of Robotech that’s really worth discussing is the first of the three series that they crammed into it: Super Dimension Fortress Macross.  This is almost painfully obvious, the robots and characters from Macross are the only ones you ever see in Robotech promotional material.  And about a week ago, I finally got the chance to WATCH the original Macross series on Hulu.com (The dubbed version, unfortunately, which has worse voice acting than the Robotech adaptation, but keeps the dialogue and story intact).

Macross was actually intended to be a parody of the much more popular Gundam series, and includes things like a hero who crashes his plane a lot, aliens who are horrified by singing and kissing, and an inept crew manning a giant space battlecruiser (one of the earliest scenes in SDF: Macross has the Anti-Gravity modules ripping off the ship and floating into the sky).  But despite this, the series has a rather serious tone.  The mistakes made by the pilot and the spaceship’s crew serve simply to underline their humanity, and the alien’s shock at ‘culture’ comes from years of knowing nothing but war, which actually contributes to the story’s main theme of war and society.

Like many Japanese anime, Macross exults the martial tradition while downplaying the martial spirit.  The Zentraedi aliens are a society made completely of warriors–they don’t even know how to maintain their own ships, while the SDF: Macross contains not merely soldiers, but also an entire city’s worth of civilians, accidentally caught up in the ship’s initial hyperspace fold (in another hilarious mishap, the captain not merely activated the bubble-like fold too close to the city, but also misjudged the power, sending them all to the far side of Pluto).  So the series deals not only with the ideas of war and peace, but the more intricate ideas of how society and soldiers relate.  For instance, the first time the ship transforms into battle-robot mode, the city inside suffers tremendous damage from the massive upheaval and disruption.  War is shown as a difficult but necessary part of life.

The relation is underlined by the dilemna of the central hero Hikaru Ichigo (or Rick Hunter in the Robotech series), who is stuck in a love triangle between the singer Lyn Minmei (her singing makes the aliens stop fighting.  Seriously.) and the Military Commander Misa Hayase (Lisa Hayes).  Ichigo starts out as a civilian, but later becomes a soldier and a commanding officer, despite his tendency to crash his plane.  His relation to both women often reflects the themes of the story.  At one point he observes to Minmei that although they’re on the same ship, it’s as though they live in different worlds, and at another he asks Hayase if she knows anything outside of the military.

It’s interesting to contrast the original series with the Robotech adaptation.  In Robotech, the Part I finale ends with the SDF and the rogue alien ship blowing each other up, killing everyone on board except, conveniently, the central characters.  But in Macross, its only the alien ship that blows up, the SDF is merely very badly battered, and the crew, to all indication, survives.  So while the American adaptation presents war as a mutually destructive act, the Japanese original shows it as a struggle that does occasionally result in triumph. 

It’s a pity, in a way, that Macross is such a cool series, because it’s never going to get a decent sequel.  Because of the twisted licensing, the American owners of the Robotech franchise can forbid any sequels of Macross made by the Japanese, while the Japanese owners of Macross can forbid any sequels made by the Americans.  The Americans CAN make sequels based on the Robotech franchise, but only ones that come after the third of the mashed-together series.  It’s an odd example, of sorts, of the loss of culture that takes place during globalization, except here instead of a story being lost, we have a story dying.  This may be one of the few occasions I’m inclined to sympathize with Multi-Culturalism.

Anyway, its a fun series.  It’s not for everyone, being sci-fi, action, and above all, anime, but if you like all three it’s rather enjoyable.  I doubt you’ll have the chance to watch it, as it’s kinda obscure, but take a look if you do, just to get a feel for it.  It may possibly expand your horizons.

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