THE GREAT MACROSS REWATCH 12 – FIRST CONTACT

Ep.11

SUPER DIMENSION FORTRESS MACROSS
EPISODE 11: FIRST CONTACT

ICONIC SCENE: “PROTOCULTURE!”

STORY DATE: October-November 2009

BROADCAST DATE: December 19, 1982

1. And here we are… the episode that very nearly killed the series. If you’ve just seen one of the US releases, you know it looks crappy, but it looks significantly better than it did when first broadcast. The animation wasn’t finished yet, so it was mostly a series of key frames with no in-betweening. That is, nothing actually MOVED. Some of the sequences (notably the falling gunpod almost crushing Misa) still haven’t been fixed, so just imagine the whole episode being like that, and you won’t be far off.

The original broadcast version is available as an extra on the Japanese DVD and blu-ray sets, and the fact that it still exists at all is thanks to Ryusuke Hikawa, the noted anime critic, who taped it off of TV at the time.

Anyway, the poor quality of the episode angered someone high-up (I’m not sure who, and I’m not sure how), and it was made clear that the staff needed to do better or else the show would get taken off the air.  The most significant result of this is that the staff decided that they needed to give something back to the long-suffering audience, and do the final episode (at least, at the time, it was going to be the final episode…) in movie-quality animation.

Another behind-the-scenes tidbit is that the storyboards were done by one “Eiji Kurokawa,” which is a pseudonym used by Kawamori, which lends a lot of authority to the Valk’s capabilities as it wrestles with Britai (I especially love the way Hikaru uses his thruster as a weapon). He also came up with the term “Protoculture” during the storyboard stage… the original script just said “culture,” and Kawamori figured it needed some punching-up.

2. We get some Zentradi alphabet in this episode, and I took the time to look the words up, letter by letter. The first words we see on the screen spell out what I *thought* was going to be “HANSEL AND GRETEL,” but turned out to be “HANSEF AND GROODY.” No clue, folks…

The next are “MACROSS WA TUKARERU” (“Macross is exhausting”).

3. This episode is also rather infamous for Hikaru’s rather dim views on gender equality. Of course, part of this is just a by-product of the time and place the series was made, but also, it’s interesting that the show doesn’t necessarily endorse his point of view. I mean, yes, next episode we get the “more feminine” Misa with her hair undone, which is meant to be the “real” her… but at the same time, she is a truly capable officer (as is everyone on the bridge crew… even Shammy, mostly), and at the end of the series, who gets chosen as the captain of the Megaroad? Not Hikaru, that’s for sure. So yeah, let’s let Hikaru have his rant. He’ll outgrow it, and his future wife will always outrank him.

Also, it’s worth noting that not two episodes ago, Hikaru kept getting distracted from his duty by a beauty contest, of all things.

4. Minmay’s friends here are, according to “My Fair Minmay,” her BFFs Seiko and Akina (named after the famous idol singers Seiko Matsuda and Akina Nakamori), although she calls Seiko “Riko” here. (Also… Focker smokes…?)

This is the point where “My Fair Minmay” splits completely off from the series, detailing the run-up to Minmay’s debut. It’s a lot more interesting than it sounds.

5. The idea of time dilation during a fold is brought up and then nowhere else until Frontier (where it will have more of an explanation). I think some people have calculated out how look a fold takes passed on Misa’s equation of one hour in fold space equalling ten hours of outside time, but Frontier’s “fold faults” make any calculations like that meaningless… but that’s for MUCH later.

6. As we go through the Minmay training montage, we hear the strains of “My Boyfriend is a Pilot” for the first time, and it always LOOKS like she’s about to start singing… but then it turns into the instrumental version with the flute playing the melody line (which, annoyingly, is not on any of the various Macross soundtracks. Neither is the instrumental “Zero-G Love”). Of course, a first time audience would never expect this, since the song hasn’t even been played yet…

About the songs… the lyricist is always listed as “Akane Asa,” which is a pseudonym. All the staff worked on the lyrics to the songs, because, as they said, it was was easier to do it themselves them to try to explain to someone else what they wanted. Unfortunately, this leads to generally not-very-good lyrics…

And as far as “My Boyfriend Is a Pilot” goes, the title was based on a popular ’70s hit by Megumi Asaoka called “My Boyfriend Is Left-Handed,” which is just as bouncy and light and effervescent as “My Boyfriend Is a Pilot” tries to be, but doesn’t QUITE get to.

(Weirdly, the song is left off of the first Macross soundtrack, to the consternation of many fans at the time. There are plenty of OTHER Minmay songs on it, though (none of which had shown up in the series at the time of the record’s release, though)…)

7. The reveal of the Zentradi mobile fortress is pretty amazing. We’ve spent the last ten episodes seeing just how massive the Zentradi battleships are, and here’s something that even even dwarfs them. I kinda prefer the DYRL cabbage-style fortress, but this is still stunning (again, the ART in this episode is top-notch… it’s the ANIMATION that’s wonky).

And then we meet the equally huge Supreme Commander Bodolzaa. And his interrogation proves deeply confusing to everyone, himself included. I really like this scene, We don’t know much about the Zentradi yet (although observant viewers could piece together a lot of it by now), but we still know a bit more than Misa does, so Bodolzaa’s questions make SOME kind of sense to us, up to a point. But then he shouts “PROTOCULTURE!!” and we’re just as befuddled as everyone else in the room (except, of course, being something approximating an English word, it’s probably less confusing for an English-speaking viewer than for the Japanese audience).

It’s interesting that, for a culture-less species, the Zentradi have sayings like, “The universe overflows with conflict, and it is in battle that one finds life.” Considering that they do NOTHING ELSE but fight, it seems like the equivalent of something like, “Breathing is wonderful pastime, and everyone should do it.” But let’s face it… as far as working out a completely consistent and completely “other” alien race, the creators here aren’t on par with, say, Arthur C. Clarke or Larry Niven. Of course, part of the ultimate point is that the Zentradi aren’t MEANT to be completely alien, but they still don’t completely hang together as a society when you really think about it. Still, they remain unique, despite plenty of Robotech writers trying to turn them into Klingons.

And it’s a good thing Kakizaki trailed off before he got into the further mechanics of “love,” or else Hikaru and Misa probably REALLY couldn’t have gone through with it (I’m assuming they’re both virgins, anyway… your first time is nerve-wracking enough without six giant aliens watching you intently…).

And then, the money shot, so to speak: Hikaru and Misa kiss, and Bodolzaa shouts “PROTOCULTURE!!” (Not the first time the word has shown up… he thought it to himself earlier on the way to Britai’s ship.)

Seriously, everything is pretty much decided here: having come into contact with the Protoculture, Bodolzaa realizes immediately that he will have to destroy them, or else die himself. And yet, he stays his hand… for now.

8. Max’s Valk in the Zentradi soldier disguise is one of those daffy bits in the story that are completely ridiculous, but so much fun that I don’t care. The Zentradi toilet is also priceless.

9. And then, Minmay’s debut, the first of MANY times we will hear “My Boyfriend Is a Pilot.” Again, it’s a shame the animation isn’t more fluid, because it really does capture the feel of watching an ’80s idol performing her latest hit. I’ll talk more about it later, but the effect of “idol culture” on Macross is completely part and parcel with its “anime generation” roots, and one of the main reasons why it’s an otaku touchstone. I don’t want to belabor the point now, I’ll get to it at length later. But I know there are plenty of people in the western fandom who complain with each new series that they don’t want any more singing in Macross, but I hope to demonstrate why that’s impossible (and it’s not JUST because of music sales).

10. It’s hard to describe the level of tension I felt when I first watched this episode as a kid, and it ended on ANOTHER cliffhanger. I mean, on the one hand, I knew it was a TV show, produced and scripted. But on the hand, it felt so very real. So much so that I was terrified that the characters would never make it back to the ship.  There’s a level of intensity that a child brings to stories that is really difficult to recapture, but which explains why so many movies and TV shows (some of them deeply mediocre or just outright bad) still seem like towering monuments of human achievement, even as we get older (unless we force ourselves to look at them through adult eyes, which isn’t always easy). I can’t tell you how many times my Mom would take me to a movie, and I would end up thinking it was the greatest thing ever, and she would hate it. Of course, later, I’d watch them again and realize that she’d been right all along, and I’d feel faintly embarrassed about liking it in the first place (notably, I *adored* Battlestar Galactica as a kid. I got the toys, the picture books, anything. I watched it every week. Between seasons of the new series, I went back and watched the old one again, and holy hell, was it ever a trudge. The special effects were the only good thing about it, and even they got reused every single episode. And I don’t even DARE revisit Knight Rider…).

The point I’m getting to it that as a kid, I would swallow pretty much anything that was loud and colorful and action-packed, but unless there’s something else about it to engage me later, I can’t stay into it. Macross, to me, is no longer the high-stakes, bold SF adventure that I saw as a kid, and I’m kinda sad about losing that visceral connection to it. Instead, what I see is a really fun series, made by enthusiastic semi-amateurs with talent to burn, that really was a huge part of creating what we think of when we think of “anime.” That’s still a big, fun, topic to research and think about, but I’m sorry I’ve lost the original connection.

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