Ecocriticism: An Essay about Robotech and Nature

Note to Readers: Prior to reading this essay please be familiar with this website’s Research Proposal, Robotech Manifesto, Disclaimer, and Mission Statement posts.

This essay is an art critique or media criticism of Robotech utilizing the critical theory discipline of Ecocriticism. This essay proposes the natural environment is itself a major character of the Robotech saga. This essay examines how Robotech portrays nature and the environment.

This essay is 7 pages 3221 words in Microsoft Word posted 8/8/2019.

Lisa and Rick late for a picnic in a forest

Storytelling in the dramatic arts requires a protagonist and an antagonist and nature can play either role. Some examples of nature as an antagonist are tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, bears, sharks, disease, cold weather, hot weather, etc. Some examples of nature as a protagonist are bountiful farmland, plantations, estates, nature personified as the gods and goddesses of mythology, King Kong and Godzilla when defending humanity from monsters, sentient utopias as seen in the film Avatar, and collectives as seen in The Jungle Book or Tarzan. For the most part, Robotech portrays nature as a place of retreat and rejuvenation.

The Flower of Life

The story of Robotech begins with a young Tirolian named Zor and his interplanetary voyages in the pursuit of scientific discoveries. He discovers a flower named the Flower of Life on the planet Optera. In literature and art, nature can be portrayed in two ways. The first is wilderness, and it is a scary place filled with ghosts, spirits, danger, and the unknown. Alternatively, nature can be portrayed as pastoral or utopian. It is a place to find comfort and peace. Optera is in this latter category. The first crime against nature occurs when Zor discovers a bio-energy power source derived from the Flower of Life. This is symbolic of man’s perversion of nature to serve his own selfish needs. Mother Nature is shown to inflict a penalty for this crime against her. It can be said protoculture is a curse on all those who come into contact with it. Protoculture, and the scorned Regis in a secondary role, could be interpreted as an embodiment of a vengeful Mother Nature or Gaia herself (See the essay on Gender Studies and Female Character Analysis for a discussion of gender symbolism as Zor’s story can also represent a male crime against the female gender embodied by Mother Nature). Protoculture is interpreted by some as being sentient and working to achieve its own agenda. Zor’s masters become warped by the absolute power provided by protoculture, and Zor attempts to atone for his sins by seeding other worlds with the Flower of Life. In so doing he introduces a non-native species into foreign habitats. In the end, he sends the only functioning protoculture matrix to planet Earth. This event contaminates or pollutes Earth with protoculture. Zor was a vector and damages many ecosystems by introducing the non-native Flower of Life. By introducing this flower, a new environmental niche is created for the secondary non-native invasive species, the Invid. This multi-generational cascade of events illustrates the repercussions of tampering with the natural order. This illustrates the web of life or the tapestry of life and the fragility of ecosystems.

Lisa and Rick. Note the introduction of the natural world into a sterile environment.

Technology is portrayed as having a negative impact on the environment in Robotech. This is evidenced by the destructive impact of intergalactic war on several planets. When the SDF-1 folds to Pluto, it takes Macross Island with it. The SDF-1 becomes a surrogate Earth as the micronians travel home. Outer space is shown to be a harsh environment for micronian life and tuna. Evidence of the value of nature is shown when the SDF-1 utilizes robotechnology to provide its inhabitants with a false hologram sky. This is preferred over the cold steel bulkheads of the SDF-1. In addition, Lisa brings Rick pink flowers after she hospitalizes him. This demonstrates the importance of nature in healing as well as Claudia making pineapple salad for her boyfriend. Fresh fruit nourishes a warrior.

Burial mounds of spacecraft. Note the use of soil to contain toxins.

During the second Robotech war, the SDF-1, SDF-2, and Khyrons’s battlecruiser are all buried in mounds of earth to contain the radiation. Earth is seen as a protector and healer as the soil is used to absorb the humanoid made toxicity. The original Japanese Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross source material is based on a story of planet Earth being uninhabitable and humanity colonizing two planets in two other solar systems. This is in itself an allegory about pollution or nuclear war poisoning Earth. The Clone/Mordecai Comic also has a plot of select humans leaving the Milky Way Galaxy and heading for another to populate several different solar systems.

Zor’s first contact with the Invid on Optera. Eternity Comics Robotech Genesis: The Legend of Zor May 1992 Issue 2 The Changing.

The Invid themselves are an allegory about genetic engineering. The title Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (GCM) may refer to a biblical evolution or progress. The Regis’ singular search for a perfect form is portrayed as maniacal as her race climbs the ladder of evolutionary progress. She is a god-like creator. She is tampering with natural evolution. Her activities destroy the entire planet of Praxis. The Invid are the original victims in Robotech. They were a protoplasmic lifeform living in symbiosis with planet Optera and the Flower of Life. After Zor’s meddling, the Regis arrives on planet Earth and eventually transcends to a higher plane of consciousness destroying the Neutron-S missiles as she transfigures. She leaves behind a cleaner world and in some timelines there is no protoculture left on Earth upon her exit. The Neutron-S missiles are an analogy for the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. The micronians were willing to eradicate all life on planet Earth to defeat the Invid. The exit of the Invid from Earth resolves two plots in Robotech. These being ridding the Earth of the Invid and ridding the Earth of protoculture. The Invid could represent an illness or plague on Earth and are eventually rejected by the Earth’s immune system. Earth is then returned to good health. The source material of GCM seems to show the Inbit as restoring the health of planet Earth and saving humanity from itself. This is briefly discussed in Article 3 of ADV Film’s GCM DVD liner notes. The Inbit eliminate nuclear power. This would be a moral of the Robotech fable as the Japanese creators had recent history of two nuclear weapons being used against their country in 1945, and perhaps Carl Macek nested a symbolic populist anti-nuclear agenda on top of this messaging. Likewise, the Japanese psyche may have manifested the Inbit as representing the Allied forces in World War II. The Allies occupied Japan after 1945, and Japan could not return to good health or sovereign statehood until the autonomous departure of the Allies in 1952 somewhat resembling the story arc of the Inbit. Interestingly, the Invid command center is located in the United States of America which draws a clear parallel between the Allies and the Invid as occupying forces. Lunk emphasizes the cathartic restorative theme when he decides to be a farmer in Episode 85.

At 02:14:05 of a presentation given by Carl Macek for the fifth anniversary of Robotech he stated the Regent and Regis represent the conflict between de-evolution and evolution with the Regis choosing evolution and change. Carl compared this conflict to the Cowboy versus Yankee Theory. Carl stated the Regent is the cowboy and the Regis is the Yankee, but he likely confused the terms. It is reasonable to see the Regis as representing the self-made new money Western Cowboy (nouveau riche) willing to achieve progress through war. The cowboys face the Pacific Ocean. The Regent would represent the old money Eastern Yankee establishment. The Yankees face the Atlantic Ocean. Thus, the Regent could be equated with President Kennedy or a Yankee. President Kennedy was assassinated by cowboy forces. The Regis could be equated with President Nixon or a cowboy. President Nixon was impeached by Yankee forces. Carl also stated the Regis chooses form over content.

New Macross City. Note the absence of nature.

The Japanese writers may have also intended the rain of death in the first Robotech war as an obvious metaphor or simple example of nuclear holocaust and radiation. Also, similar to Zor perverting nature and the Flower of Life, the United Earth Government (UEG) perverts the gravitational power of Mother Earth for the purposes of war and creates the Grand Cannon during the first Robotech war.

There is a subtext of compare and contrast in the presentations of Moon Base ALuCE (Advanced Lunar Chemical Engineering), Moon Base Luna (UEG), Mars Base (Robotech Expeditionary Force), Mars Base Sara (UEG), and Tirol relative to Earth. Earth is the implied preferential choice of residence for Earthlings. All the planets of the Sentinels also illustrate the advantages of Earth. Haydon IV is the absence of nature and is a bit dystopian. A compare and contrast is also observed in the species of Robotech. Earth is organic, and micronians are organic. Janice Em (Junctioned Artificial Neuro-Integrated Cybernetic Entity M-1) is an inorganic female android or gynoid. The Zentreadi and Robotech Masters seem inorganic. These beings seem artificial, manufactured, and cloned. The Robotech Masters are unable to travel the universe without the monopole ore mined on Fantoma. This demonstrates the consumption of natural resources required to conquer the universe. Similar to the Regis and her Genesis Pit experiments, the Masters created the Zentreadi to mine ore on Fantoma. They later re-purposed the Zentreadi for their military. The micronians have more recently crawled from the primordial ooze and retain savage emotional behavior which the viewers egocentrically find superior. The micronians and the species of the Sentinels all appear the most humane. They are all organisms derived from Darwinian natural selection. In direct contrast, the Masters, Zentreadi, and Invid are all able to bend evolution to their whims and are inhumane. Robotech affirms the reproductive wisdom of nature and the folly of humanoid intelligence in this regard.

Scott Bernard experiencing rain for the first time

The Zentreadi also allow the viewer to feel superior when the Zentreadi refer to the micronian’s pathetic sentimentality for planet Earth. The Zentreadi have long since cut all ties to terra firma and are a space faring species. Scott Bernard was born in outer space and thus has no familiarity with his home world Earth. This is seen as he experiences rain for the first time and is unsure as to what it is. He also becomes frightened of strange noises while alone at night in the forest and fires his weapon only to discover rabbits in a bush. In one scene Scott claims he cannot swim. This moment allows the viewer the chance to re-evaluate their ecosystem through the eyes of an interplanetary voyager seeing Earth as alien.

A battlepod. Note the animal like posture.

The mecha design in Robotech is also a commentary on nature. The Zentreadi ships all appear very organic. They are portrayed as whales swimming through space in a pod or school of fish. Reflex weaponry operates on reflex or instinct. The veritech’s battloid mode is obviously an anthropomorphized bipedal for hand to hand combat with giant Zentreadi. The Zentreadi battlepod has animal like posture similar to a horse or dog’s pasterns or a flamingo’s tarsus. An ostrich and road runner share the battlepod’s bipedal locomotion and gait. The SDF-1 is anthropomorphized as a human being with the addition of naval ships for upper appendages and the transformation to fire the main gun. It is symbolic of a giant human floating through space on their way back home. The mecha of all races are exoskeletons but for the Invid this is literally true in the majority of cases. The Invid are very insect-like or crab-like with hives, pincers, and claws. The Invid troop carriers are akin to giant clams. Obviously, the Invid Hellcat and Scorpion Assault Carrier are inspired by their namesakes. All of this imagery has touchstones and cues from the viewer’s reality. In the McKinney novels protoculture allows machinery and electronic hardware to appear alive and fluid, constantly reconfiguring itself. The novels also allow a neural link and synchronization of human thought and mechanical action creating an almost cyborg type entity. Mecha in Robotech blurs the line between the organic and the inorganic linking nature with machines.

There is a symbiosis between many of the Sentinels and their home worlds. The Karbarrans must touch their sekiton ore or flower peat to energize it. The Garudans can commune in a spirit world induced by the atmosphere. The Haydonites serve planet Haydon IV and can seemingly plug into it. The Spheresians can blend into the stone of their planet. Obviously, the Invid were telepathically linked to a central consciousness and possibly linked to the Flower of Life and Optera itself. This may all be a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with Earth. By default, these alien races seem to imply micronians share a similar unique bond with Earth. This may be evidenced by the emotional impact of the SDF-1 falling to Earth after destroying Dolza’s fortress in Episode 27. For the exhausted SDF-1, the spoils of war are the comfort and safety of Earth. The ultimate victory was the return home.

Inorganic sentries guarding the buried wrecks of the SDF-1, SDF-2, and Kyhron’s battlecruiser detected by the Robotech Masters in Epsiode 37. (This footage was taken from Episode 12 of SDCSC and carries no mystical significance in the original Japanese series.)

Robotech also proposes nature extends beyond the surly bonds of Earth and encompasses the entire known universe. Furthermore, Robotech moves beyond nature alone and comments on the physical structure of the universe itself. The ships travel by folding space. Haydon may be Father Time as he always was, is now, and forever shall be. Each planet in Robotech may have its own unique Mother Nature. There are also Children of the Shadow, Disciples of Zor, and the shapings. These could all be allegories for sprites, nymphs, fairies, and naiads personifying nature and mysticism. Haydon aspires to transcend the universe and the Regis seems to have transfigured her substance if not wholly transcended to another place and time, universe, or plane of existence. The imagery of inorganic sentries appearing in Episode 37 is an invention created during Robotech’s adaptation from Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross (SDCSC). This footage was taken from Episode 12 of SDCSC and shows the reflection of beings from the Zor race (adapted as Robotech Masters) on a video monitor display screen as they watch the playback of espionage footage. Episode 12 of SDCSC was adapted to become Episode 49 of Robotech and this same scene remains in that adaptation. Thus, it can be viewed in its original context in Episode 12 of SDCSC and Episode 49 of Robotech.

The term protoculture itself implies aspects of anthropology. In the original Japanese Super Dimension Fortress Macross it is a literal translation meaning the first culture or prototype. The term was redefined in Robotech as a fuel source. Anthropology is also referenced as the Masters are likely an older, technologically advanced population of micronians. The Masters are a later stage of micronian evolution. Micronians are a primitive past stage of Masters somehow isolated and marooned on Earth. The Zentreadi are disposable genetically engineered clones of the Masters. Thus, micronians became Masters who created the Zentreadi from their own flesh. They are all the same homo sapien species. The Masters, Zentreadi, and micronians share a common ancestor. SDCSC was prematurely cancelled in Japan during its broadcast run. Never addressed in the series, but revealed in English for the first time with the release of the ADV DVD box set, in a section entitled “Southern Cross Keyword” of a booklet, in the section about the Zor race, it states, “They are, in truth, the mutant descendants of Earthlings, who were transported to Gloire [sic] due to a distortion in space-time and merged with the sentient life form, The Zor, in the Eridanus System, adapting to that land due to this mixture of blood.”

Protoculture in Robotech also provides commentary for the dangers of addiction on a biological organism. The Invid are almost portrayed as being in constant euphoria in their original state on Optera. Throughout the series as portrayed in the McKinney novels, many characters ingest petals of the Flower of Life for insights into the future which generally come with a consequence. The Masters themselves were simply addicted to power. Many Zentreadi in the comic books, Dana Sterling, and her siblings are able to access varying levels of telepathy similar to a shaman or witch doctor.

In conclusion, Robotech seems to embody an environmental agenda through symbolism, imagery, plot, and direct dialogue of the characters. Progress is shown to not be inherently positive or beneficial. For all the technological advancements generated by the Flower of Life, the characters are left to ponder if their past natural original state was counterintuitively the more advanced existence. Was the entire journey of the Flower of Life a folly? Progressing through the plot elements of Episodes 1 to 85 from Zor to Optera to protoculture to the Regis’ transfiguration, the original state was returned to as the micronians end up right back where they started from. The micronians are almost an Invid surrogate or doppelganger. As the Invid were once in harmony on Optera and strive to return to that primitive state, so the Regis returns the micronians to their pre-protoculture way of life and now relatively harmonious existence with Earth. At this point in micronian history, global war seems quaint and passé. The story arc of the micronians over episodes 1 to 85 and the Invid over episodes 61 to 85 are allegories for Adam and Eve. Earth and especially Optera were utopian Gardens of Eden until the Regis befriended Zor and the micronians discovered protoculture. An underlying theme may be the human animal, while a product of nature, is tragically flawed and destroys its habitat with technology and war. Hominid intelligence may be the primary flaw. The zenith of Invid culture may have been its once primitive and isolated state prior to outside contact. In this sense, the Invid may be symbolic of the Japanese creators of Robotech’s source material as Japan is a homogeneous island nation. The Invid and the Japanese live in peace on their territory and outside influence is disruptive. Robotech suggests the natural world is a concept of great importance and is more than just a place, location, setting, or background. Earth is home, and… there’s no place like home.

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