SUPER DIMENSION CAVALRY SOUTHERN CROSS
EPISODE 1: PRISONER
ICONIC SCENE: Our fearless leader.
BROADCAST DATE: April 15, 1984
1. For a long time, I wasn’t really sure if I would tackle this series. It debuted the week after Orguss ended, in the same time slot, and although it’s technically part of the “Super Dimension Series,” virtually none of the same staff worked on it. It was even less successful than Orguss was, and was canceled prematurely, ending the experiment in Sunday afternoon science fiction anime that had begun two years prior with the debut of Macross (and Rainbowman, but no one remembers that show). It wasn’t until I was tackling Orguss that my good friend Showapop asked if I was going to do Southern Cross. When I was noncommittal, he said, “You HAVE to! You have to complete the trilogy!” It’s not really a trilogy, but otherwise, he may be right…
Here’s a good article about the making of the series, including the reasons why it flopped. One quibble I’d make with it is the talk about the poor time slot. Again, the Sunday 2:00 PM time slot was unusual for anime, but it’s the same slot that Macross was successful in, and that Orguss wasn’t a COMPLETE disaster in.
But yeah, Southern Cross debuted and hit the dirt fairly quickly.
2. Unlucky the show may be, but it definitely doesn’t lack for ambition (although perhaps not quite as much as Orguss had). For starters, unlike the earth-centric Macross and Orguss, this is set on a different planet, called Glorie (misnamed “Gloire” in the ADV subtitles). It’s also set in the early 22nd century. The three “Super Dimension” shows are manifestly not set in the same universe, but I like that each one is set further in the future than the last.
3. Can you think of a robot anime before this one that had a female protagonist? I sure can’t. Even afterwards, it was more of an OVA thing (Gall Force, Iczer-One, Dangaio…) than a TV thing. In a way, it makes sense here… most if not all ‘70s and ‘80s robot anime was aimed at young boys, to try to get them to buy robot toys. But this Sunday 2:00 PM time slot (again) was for more of a broad family audience, so being able to feature heroes who weren’t all young, earnest teenage boys was presumably something they could do.
(EDIT: a friend, MicroBry, points out the existence of the 1976 series Gowappa 5 Godam, which is apparently the first mecha series to feature a female protagonist.)
Anyway, we meet our main character, Jeanne Françaix, as she’s getting brought out of the brig, to be replaced by her squadron leader, Charles (pronounced the French way: “Sharl”), who’s getting locked up for sleeping with a high-ranking officer’s wife. The immediate vibe we get is that this squad is something of a “Bad News Bears” type of team that needs to be whipped into shape.
4. Knowing this, when we meet the other members of the squad, it’s clear that they’ve been made for maximum quirkiness. Most important are Andrzej (the he-man woman-hater), Louis (the nerdy brainiac with glasses), and Bowie (the sensitive-but-impulsive artist). Bowie, you may notice, is voiced by Arihiro Hase, who played Hikaru in Macross and the kid in Episode 5 of Orguss, making him one of the few actors to be in all three series.
Andrjez mentions something about someplace called “Aluce Base” getting destroyed, which is our first hint that bad things are about to happen.
5. Flying away from the barracks, they take they “Flash Clapper” hover bikes on a fairly dangerous joyride through the city. The scenery seems desolate, but the city itself looks big and has a lot of highways.
Oh, also, there are also some rather odd allusions among the signs on the buildings… my favorites being “Ultra 7,” “Norman Rockwell” and “How are you?”
6. Anyway, they go to the outskirts and meet a squad from the Tactical Armored Space Corps, led by Marie Angel, who Jeanne calls “Cosmo Amazon,” and they all get into a brawl. Jeanne’s squad evades the military police, but Jeanne still gets ID’d, so she goes AWOL.
This is all still before the commercial break.
7. Right then, the show switches gears, and an unidentified ship is discovered approaching the planet. Jeanne is rearrested, and the armed forces are all put on standby. UNFORTUNATELY, one of the guys in charge is a belligerent jerk, who assumes (not, perhaps, wrongly) that the ship is alien, and that the aliens have destroyed Aluce Base… and he wants revenge.
The alien ship launches some troop carriers, and the aforementioned guy in charge loses it and fires a bunch of missiles without orders.
8. Rashly, as Jeanne is getting sentenced to three days in confinement, she escapes from the police and rejoins her squad. As robots that look suspiciously like Gundam’s Zakus come out of the alien landing craft, Jeanne’s 15th Squad get to their mecha, a land-based hovering craft called a “Spartas.” Like a Valkyrie or a Nikick, it’s got a three-mode transformation. Like the Orguss and the Nikick, it doesn’t look like much of anything when it’s not in its robot mode. A lot of people criticize the open cockpit design, but I think it looks fairly cool, and (like the samurai-style armor all the characters wear) seems to hearken back to when the show was meant to be a science-fiction-y retelling of Japan’s Warring States Period.
9. In the battle, there’s a red enemy robot that (surprise, surprise) is better and moves faster than the others. Jeanne tries to shoot it, but misses. Her shot hits the landing craft, and the enemy retreats.
The battle over, the brass hears that Jeanne led her squadron to victory and protected the city, so she gets promoted over Charles, who himself has been demoted to buck private.
In the shower, Jeanne keeps thinking of the red enemy robot. And then the camera pulls back from the world, and we see that there are plenty more alien motherships…
10. So (as I asked after the first episode of Orguss) what are we to make of this? If you were the hypothetical ten-year-old (now probably eleven) Japanese boy who watched Orguss, would you be compelled to watch this, too? Just from the first episode, it’s definitely not bad, although the mecha and world designs are clearly not by Studio Nue, and lack some of the flair that they bring to projects. The biggest impediment to enjoyment of the show, I’d say, is Jeanne herself, who shows competency in the battlefield but nowhere else (so far). The animation itself also lacks excitement, although there’s a good approximation of an Itano Circus when they fire missiles at the enemy robots. Still, it shows promise. We’ll see how it goes.
NUMBER OF SHOWER SCENES IN THE SHOW SO FAR: 1