In starting this retrospective on Robotech, one of the key things I wanted to focus on was what makes Robotech Robotech, rather than its source materials. In context of the animation, this is largely what the makers saw fit to rewrite while adapting in order to make the three series mesh better, but there was a wealth of expanded universe material that showed what the staff could do when given free creative reign.
Robotech II: The Sentinels (hereafter The Sentinels because I already typed the word “Robotech” too many times in the intro paragraph) was an ambitious project by Harmony Gold to expand the Robotech brand in a new, original direction, while providing additional connective fiber between the different generations. In short, it follows the original cast (of the Macross saga) along with some newcomers on an expedition to the homeworld of the Robotech Masters, who command the recently-defeated Zentraedi, in the hopes they can settle things with them and spare the already devastated Earth another wave of alien attacks. It explains where all of them disappeared to, along with laying some groundwork for the second (the Army of the Southern Cross taking over as Earth’s defenders) and third (mainly the new mech types) arcs. That’s the short version. The long version has more grinning teddy bears, poor HR recruiting decisions, slugfests with actual slugs, and ends decidedly bizarrely.
The titular Sentinels are a band of aliens that the Robotech Expeditionary Force allies with once arriving in the Masters’ former territory. The Invid, a race of hive-minded invertebrates have overrun much of the system thanks to the Masters’ stealing their main food source for fuel then defoliating the planet in a dick move of cosmic proportions. The Invid have splintered into two factions led by their two rulers; the Regis/Regess, the female who was seduced by Zor, a member of the Robotech Masters and is chiefly concerned with getting their Flower of Life back and evolving their race to the ultimate state; and the Regent, her warlike spouse who is content to stay a gigantic slug in a cape and go around conquering other planets. The Regent is a key adversary of the Sentinels, though arguably the more dangerous foe is one the humans brought along.
T.R. Edwards’ involvement in the REF fleet is probably the second dumbest thing they did other than adopting a dress code of super tight white bodysuits for all, appointing a fat racist supreme commander of Earth in their absence, and taking about 90% of their decent weaponry off into space. Granted, they were probably hard up for help, but all you need to do is look at Edwards to grok that he’s the villain. Even looking past the fact that he looks like the word “villain” wrapped in 80’s sci-fi apparel, it seems hard to buy a character trait like “obsessed with killing the man and woman in charge of the expedition for not saving him from the Grand Cannon base at the end of the Macross Saga” would slip through the net. I don’t even think it’s a spoiler to say this guy turns on the others. That’s probably a given. But dammit, he swings for the fences by creeping on Rick’s ex Minmei too.
Returning to the Sentinels, the alien races dreamt up are… interesting. The Haydonites are floating, presumably cybernetic beings from Haydon IV who possess advanced technology they share with the others but may-okay, are hiding a sinister secret agenda. The Praxians are space Amazons who reproduce via artificial insemination for the most part, and even outside of that only produce more females. Also they ride on robot pegasi. The Karbarrans are described as enormous and bear-like, and in some depictions do appear to just be bears in robes, however, the Robotech RPG materials make them look, well…
So, we have some questionable character designs on display. What does that mean for the robot part? This is Robotech, after all, and I wager many in for the ride are there for the robots and technology. Well, the Harmony Gods were smiling on this aspect for the most part. The REF uses many of the ships seen in Mospeada/New Generation, which is already great for me. I’ll save my gushing admiration for those specific designs for whenever I get to discussing the New Generation (probably in 2018 at the rate I write these days), but the Palladium sourcebooks especially introduce some pretty slick updates of the Destroids, those non-transformable cannon fodder bots everyone loves but would probably hesitate to actually drive given their survival rate. A lot more attention was given to the capital ships since there was a whole fleet to deal with this time out. Curiously, the actual design of the SDF-3 seems to be up in the air, though it’s pretty set that it doesn’t transform since the original fortress’s was devised to link the reactor to the main gun. (Back in Japan, Macross’ followups gave no shits about the technical explanation and went right on ahead making Super Dimensional Fortresses that not only turn into humanoid robots, but grip their main gun like a rifle and eventually airboard.) The alien races seem rather unrepresented on the combat machine front, though- the Praxian amazons have mecha-pegasi and chariots, and the Karbarrans are described as having more conventional fighter craft. The Invid forces, as main antagonists see a lot of new units, mainly the Inorganics, which as the name suggests are unpiloted ‘shells’ the Regent fills out his ranks with. They serve pretty nicely as cannon fodder units and have more variety than the conventional Invid, which, without going too in depth amount to ‘crab bot, bigger crab, bigger crab with bigger guns, etc.
The Sentinels occupies something of an odd place in the Robotech canon these days. It’s at once mediocre yet crucial as it accounts for the whereabouts of many important characters as well as existing to strengthen the loosely aggregated series together into an original expanded universe. As such, with the more recent resorting of the universe to go along with The Shadow Chronicles, the REF was definitely up to something off in Tirol space, and met at least some aliens, as the Haydonites are present in the the Shadow Chronicles movie, but by and large how much of the “old” Sentinels still actually happened is fuzzy. Some characters have been swapped out, however, most notably Max and Miriya’s second daughter Aurora being replaced with Maia Sterling. I can’t really argue with the replacement of a ‘mystical little girl’ with another tough action girl type, but it’s weird from the point of view of someone most familiar with the novels. Then again, I wonder how broad an audience “knows a cartoon show through its novelization” is. My default position again is to kind of fall back on the McKinney novels for what I consider Robotech, wth the RPG sourcebooks a close second source, and coincidentally both put together form a pretty solid side story. When all is said and done though, I don’t really consider the Sentinels portion of the franchise something that must be experienced. Between all the alternate versions and story retcons, it sort of falls under the category of interesting, but not essential. It’s still a bit more satisfying than the rushed narration and poorly spliced cross series scenes the cartoon used to bridge one show to the next, though. No knock against the narrator from the Robotech cartoon, of course. I could listen to that guy read the ingredients off every item in my pantry and still feel a little pumped.
NEXT TIME, ON THE NEVER-ENDING SAGA OF ROBOTECH: SOUTHERN CROSS
APPENDIX: MACROSS 7
While they weren’t produced side by side or anything, when it comes to bizarre sequels/side stories, I can’t help but think about Macross 7 whenever I delve into the Sentinels. In a way, it’s sort of a prime example of where the American and Japanese productions diverged (ignoring the fact that the American version’s ‘continuation’ is basically a mix tape of giant robot series.) From the exact same (literal!) launching point, of mankind preparing to explore the stars as the last fires of Space War I die down, we get two very different takes. In Robotech, things remain fairly grounded in standard space-faring and military drama. In Macross 7, fleets of mini-Macrosses towing space bubble cities across the cosmos and weaponized rock music become the norm. And (for me), there’s the rub.
I exaggerate a bit when I’m talking Macross 7 with friends, so I’ll get this out right off- I don’t hate the series. The part of me that gets off on over the top cheesy action appreciates it. But the part of me that likes… Macross… doesn’t. For an example in other anime, lots of people find Mobile Fighter G Gundam downright stupid, and as a spin-off of the show that many seem to think created the “Real Robot” subgenre, yeah, Gundam Fighter II: The World Warrior is kind of out of left field, but it’s also an alternate universe and ignorable if one chooses to. Macross 7 takes the musical element that played into the final battle of the original and exaggerates it to the point where a man sings and that allows him to breathe fire at a giant space devil, then makes it part of Continuity A. (Macross canon is kind of a clusterfuck of nested fiction within fiction) Other Macross sequels stick to emphasizing the importance of music in more subtle ways, even if it’s still reaching to have a race of space bugs succeptible to songs from just the right J-pop singer. That’s my second biggest problem with it, anyway- it just feels off within the larger universe. You could almost ignore it, except from then on, the style of colony ship shown in 7 remains consistent, and in Frontier, years later, Skull Leader Ozma just so happens to be a fan of Fire Bomber.
My main gripe is basically the main character, Nekki Basara. He’s played up as this talented, passionate musical genius with nigh-mystical singing powers, but he just comes off as a self absorbed asshole most of the time. He routinely interrupts military operations by flying into the middle of a firefight with the aliens and singing at them, then getting mopey when the enemy chooses to run from the maniac with the Guitar Hero joystick in his mech. Beyond that, he seems like a real pain for his bandmates, at least from the newcomer Mylene’s point of view (which the viewer sort of shares for exposition purposes.) He doesn’t even write normal sheet music for them to follow. In one of his greatest moments, he saves Mylene from a few toughs outside the concert venue, then proceeds to scream at her for making him hit them. He’s a pacifist, you see. Throughout the series, he exists more or less solely to sing his heart out, preferably at unwilling audiences. His mouth is WIDE OPEN for at least 75% of the total show’s run time, by my estimation, so it’s probably a good thing there aren’t a lot of flying insects when flying through space. The worst part of it all though, is the show more or less has the gall to make him in the right. He actually does turn out to be a special magical singing snowflake who can cure the victims of the enemy space energy vampires (did I mention they were fighting space vampires and devils?) and drive them off with his amazing Anima Spiritia powers.
Macross 7 also has the honor of probably being the lowest budgeted Macross series. I’m not sure if the production being alongside the stunning Macross Plus OAV was directly responsible, but the contrast between the two makes it even more aggravating. Animation is canned and recycled, background music is swiped from Macross II in many points (Hey, if Macross II is de-canonized, but music from it is in 7, does that mean Macross II is fiction-within-fiction for the people in Macross 7? Then again, only the viewer can hear it- is the Macross II OST canon while the show isn’t Or was someone just being lazy?) The character designs seem kind of even to me as well, since post Do You Remember Love, the “movie” Zentraedi designs sort of became the main universe ones, resulting in Exedore being a giant bulging head in a jar* and most others just being slightly off-hue humans with pointed ears.
To its credit though, Macross 7 did have its high points. Max and Milia’s down-turned relationship was pretty great in particular, with the former warrior woman in charge of the civilians of the colony while the formerly kind of shy and pleasant Max became stern and obsessed with making people stare at monitors as head of the 7th fleet’s military. There’s plenty of transforming plane porn for the mecha fans in the audience, ranging from Milia’s classic VF-1J, still in fine working order after all that time to the spanking new Excaliburs and Nightmares the main army uses. Even the enemy gets their own line of variable fighters. The heavy-armor package for the VF-11 is a pretty badass design in particular, and even though I joke about the practicality of it, the new battle fortress design is pretty sweet too. And yeah, I admit- Fire Bomber’s actual SONGS are fucking awesome. I just hate Basara the character. I can’t be alone in this because in the PSP games, Basara is the one friendly unit you’re allowed to lock onto and beat/shoot the shit out of if you feel like it. I guess you just take the good with the J-rocker screaming space kaiju into submission.
…and then there was the time he saved the space whales from space poachers.
*Yeah, I know the rest of his body is below the command bridge.