This essay is a critique of Robotech as a work of art similar to any art criticism or media criticism of a novel or painting. Furthermore, this critique views Robotech as a work of art through the lens of academic gender studies and female character analysis. This essay explores themes and symbolism in Robotech. This essay seeks to decode these symbols and imagery as they relate to Jungian archetypes and Freudian analysis.
This essay is 10 pages 6681 words in Microsoft Word and is divided into 7 parts posted 8/6/2019
1. The Tragic Incompatibility of Opposite Genders in Robotech
First, the iconic imagery of a full size Zentreadi holding a Minmei doll demands examination. Academic literary analysis, film critics, or anime scholars might speculate it demonstrates the male gender in awe of the female gender. Alternatively, it demonstrates the male gender’s frustration with its inability to connect and communicate with the female gender. Another piece of supporting evidence presents itself when Minmei wins the war by singing and dancing. This is symbolic of the true power of the female gender or weakness of the male gender as one female contains enough power to destroy an entire army of giant homicidal aliens. An adolescent male viewer in 1985 might identify with the giant Zentreadi holding the Minmei doll which may encapsulate the intimidating experience of approaching a female peer. Male adolescents may be fascinated with women but unsure of what to do with them. This imagery may have resonated with these viewers.
The iconic image of a Zentreadi clutching a Minmei doll bears some similarity to King Kong clutching Ann Darrow atop the Empire State Building. King Kong is symbolic of race, racism, and colonialism. King Kong may also symbolize extreme versions of the male libido, lust, and desire for possession. As Minmei tamed the Zentreadi, Ann Darrow tamed King Kong with her beauty. King Kong lost his instinct for self-preservation, and he was killed. Similarly, the Zentreadi were defeated. Music seems to soothe the savage beast and in this vein, Minmei’s singing seems to intoxicate the Zentreadi, Musica’s harp placates all the clones, and Lancer’s singing inspires humanity. Eve’s (Enhanced Video Emulation) singing provides propaganda for the government and Janice Em’s (Junctioned Artificial Neuro-Integrated Cybernetic Entity M-1) singing entertains the troops. In addition, the Empire State Building and the SDF-1 (Super Dimension Fortress-1) share a similar rigid shape. The SDF-1’s main gun builds up tension and shoots out a giant stream of laser fire in order to release this tension. The initial crash landing of the SDF-1 on planet Earth resembles a galactic fertilization event of two gametes combining in the womb of space. Zor was in fact clandestinely fertilizing several star systems with the Flowers of Life. When Khyron captures Minmei and puts her in a cage, his eventual demise warns male viewers against allowing their desires to run wild. Dolza almost killed Lisa in another King Kong-esque scene. King Kong and the Zentreadi are also tragic heroes. In some moments they inspire sympathy in the viewer. They are outcasts, they do not fit in, and they are misunderstood. The scene showing the rotting skeleton of a Zentreadi corpse in the wastelands holding a Minmei doll is tragic and encapsulates the flaws and miscommunications of the two genders.
On the theme of masculine desire for possession, the SDF-1, or mothership, may also be seen as feminine. The Masters are similar to a crime boss using their muscle, the Zentreadi, to retrieve a wayward concubine, the SDF-1. Likewise, the Regent chases the Regis. If the SDF-1 is seen as female, Khyron’s obsession with her eventually leads him to murdering her. This could be viewed as matricide if the protoculture matrix is seen as a womb which enabled the creation of Khyron or the Zentreadi themselves.
Further evidence to support incompatibility of the male and female gender occurs in Episode 36 when Azonia and Khyron’s union ends in martyrdom. This is symbolic of the futility of relationships. The estranged Regent and Regis also support a theme of incompatibility of opposite genders in Robotech. Additionally, Admiral Donald Hayes loses his wife and later gets toasted, Lisa loses Karl, Claudia loses Roy and eventually expires herself, and Scott loses Marlene. While these relationships can be viewed as successful, the shapings ultimately deem them incompatible. Minmei’s toxic relationships with Kyle, T. R. Edwards, and Jonathon Wolfe can also further support the theme of male and female incompatibility presented here.
2. The Effect of Romantic Love on Strong Female Characters in Robotech
Second, Robotech has strong female characters. Granted, from the modern point of view of the readers of this essay, Robotech’s female characters are manifested from 1980’s Japanese culture and Carl Macek’s 1980’s re-interpretation, but they are a breakthrough for female empowerment. Some examples are Lisa Hayes becomes Admiral, Minmei is a tool of the military, Miriya is an ace fighter pilot, Dana Sterling is a commanding officer, and Rook Bartley is a kind of anti-hero and fierce warrior. On the other hand, the Regis is a typical wicked witch villainess character which is a bit misogynist and stereotypical. The new Titan Comics are taking female empowerment to a whole new level. The re-imagined Minmei is assertive, Lisa is obviously captain, and Azonia and Miriya are amplified.
There are other patterns of female characters in Robotech. One of these patterns is Dana and Annie are tomboys. Miriya is a tomboy, but all Zentreadi females are tomboys. Lisa, Marie Crystal, and Nova Satori are shrews. Lisa’s tough exterior is eventually softened by Rick. Rick accomplishes what the bridge bunnies and Claudia all seem to fail at (As an aside, who first coined the term “bridge bunnies?”). Marie is almost softened by Sean Phillips. Nova is a little softened by Zor Prime. Rook is almost softened by Rand. Scott Bernard is uptight and Ariel softens him to a point. Minmei softens everyone… except Lisa. Miriya is softened by Max and Dana. This is all commentary on the transformative power of love. Additionally, the Zentreadi, Zor Prime, Musica, Ariel, Sera, and Janice Em of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles all become deserters and embrace love over their own sterile and aseptic cultures.
On the topic of love, Robotech also warns the viewer against toxic forms of love. Upon exposure to the micronian emotion love, the Zentreadi begin to argue and manifest greed as their passions are enflamed. The Regent and Regis are estranged due to her extramarital inter-species affair with Zor. This inspires the Invid to oppress the Regis and avenge the crimes committed against them. Scott seeks revenge for a lost love. The Masters are drunk with power and seem loveless. Minmei has abusive relationships with Kyle and T. R. Edwards. Minmei has a small romance with the married Jonathon Wolf. In the novels, Minmei eventually follows the typical rock star career arc of Britney Spears, Marilyn Monroe, and Whitney Houston. Minmei and Kyle are an animated version of Ike and Tina Turner. This is all commentary about the dangers inherent in love.
3. Romance in Robotech
Third, some recurring patterns in relationships or romantic interests exist in Robotech. The amorous couples all possess a romantic tension and the female is often the same archetype. The female is very confident and self-aware of her feminine powers. The female is in the position to allow physical intimacy at a time and place of her choosing while the male makes it very clear he is awaiting her consent. The formulaic couples alluded to are Rick and Minmei of the first Robotech war, Rick and Lisa of Robotech II: The Sentinels, Max and Miriya, Marie and Sean, Rook and Rand, Jack Baker and Karen Penn, and finally, Marcus Rush and Maia Sterling. Some of these couples may have unrequited, unconsummated, or platonic love. Some caveats are Miriya has no concept of love, but she does initially feel she can dominate Max in physical combat. Also, upon first viewing, the viewer likely projects their own world view onto Miriya and do not methodically disentangle the implications of her inexperience in these matters. Thus, the viewer initially incorrectly assumes Miriya is more knowledgeable about these aspects of life than the premise and logic would insist. Allowing for the assumptions of a first time viewer, Miriya does fit the pattern presented here. Another small exception to this pattern of archetypes is Minmei is initially completely unaware of her power over Rick. This is made clear in the original Japanese version of Episode 27. Minmei is shown to be innocent as she was unaware of the true depth of Rick’s feelings towards her until his confession of love to her. Episode 27 of Robotech leaves Minmei’s self-awareness vague and she does not definitively fit the pattern presented in this paragraph. Another caveat is Lisa of the first Robotech war is a bit insecure, but she does have rank over Rick. Later, in Robotech II: The Sentinels, Lisa is transformed into the female archetype referenced in this paragraph. Gnea, Bela, Musica, Miriya, and for the most part Minmei are all completely unaware of the feminine power they exert over the men around them. However, this lack of awareness possibly empowers these female characters as they are free of the emotional baggage such knowledge entails. For these characters, the freedom endowed by their lack of awareness paradoxically supports the pattern proposed at the beginning of this paragraph. While the three spies may not carnally desire Kim, Sammie, and Vanessa, the male Zentreadi do seem to be at a severe disadvantage when interacting with them as the spies transition from clandestine agents to defectors. Kim, Sammie, and Vanessa benefit from their lack of knowledge or false assumptions about the spies.
Another interesting symbol is the Flower of Life itself. A flower is generally viewed as the female reproductive organ of a plant as seen in Georgia O’Keeffe paintings. In a sense, every female micronian has a flower of life and every male has a stamen producing pollen. Zor upsets the balance of the universe by tinkering with the Flower of Life as he likewise tinkered with the Regis. In fact, some claim protoculture is obtained by inhibiting mitosis or seed germination and collecting the energy from this tension. In micronians, this is referred to as the Hindu practice of tantric relations which is the slow build to a postponed climax which may never arrive and thus amplifies the experience. The entire Robotech saga is fueled by the tension of a flower or seed trying to reproduce. Thus, all the drama of Robotech surfs a wave of tension which will ultimately break in either climax or impotence. As Minmei conveys the awe inspiring power of a single female micronian, so too does the reproductive drive of the Flower of Life embody the driving tension of the entire series. Also of note is the addictive nature of protoculture and its mysterious allure which may be viewed as an allegory to the feminine mystique.
There is symbolism in Max and Miriya’s physical confrontation with knives. This is a sword fight and Max subdues Miriya through the prowess of his weapon. Miriya is disarmed of her weapon or male anatomical pseudo appendage and embraces her true female form. This may be commentary on orientation. Miriya leaves behind her all female Zentreadi society and embraces a new orientation. Later, their conjugal relations produce Dana. In the new Titan comics Issue 10 the imagery of sword fighting is re-contextualized and exaggerated in a new setting and timeline. Likewise, Musica has an instrument or tool and co-exists with her sisters in supposed harmony. However, she abandons her instrument and joins Bowie. This may also symbolize switching a character’s orientation.
On the subject of physical attraction, Robotech also alludes to the celibate ascetic. Captain Gloval seems to be celibate. Dr. Lang is also celibate and possibly slightly warped and misogynistic when he creates Janice Em. Janice Em is a gynoid which is a female android. Lisa, Claudia, and Scott all attempt to be celibate ascetics after losing loved ones. Perhaps even Rook, Marie, Nova, and Karen Penn are celibate ascetics. Miriya is celibate but initially so are all male and female Zentreadi. There is a subtle message suggesting increased productivity by channeling the libido into career ambition. At the end of the first Robotech war, the entire bridge crew is killed except for Lisa. Assuming the entire bridge crew are celibate, with the death of Roy, Claudia joins them as celibate, untouched, and pure. They are noble saints martyred for Lisa’s chance at true love.
On the topic of physical relations, the Zentreadi are asexual clones with isolated genders, the Masters are celibate immortals with populations of clones in same-sex triumvirate sibling groupings, and the Invid are a strange hive species with a single female Queen and the female Princesses Sera and Ariel. The Invid also seem asexual or only requiring a single fertilization of the Queen by the Regent. The role playing guidebook states there is no Invid reproduction but a simple manifestation of life from matter controlled by the Regis and Regent. Later, Tommy Yune turned the cyborg-esque Haydonites into villains. It can only be assumed the Haydonites do not partake in carnal relations. Apparently, Zor and the micronians are the only characters consummating their relationships.
On the subject of clones the first Robotech war depicts the Zentreadi as clones and their ability to be micronized or restored to full size. The second Robotech war portrays clones and dismembered body parts of clones. The Invid are protoplasmic. The Robotech comic Clone/Mordecai involves odd clones referred to as spleens. They seem to be subnormal clones created for organ harvesting. There is a vague Goth erotica underpinning the entire Clone comic series. The spleens almost seem to be fetishized gimps or submissives within a sadomasochistic framework while the main characters are the doms. The Invid also portray a sort of BDSM (bondage discipline/dominance sadomasochism/submissive). The Regent and Regis seem to enjoy abusing their subordinates. The new Titan comic veers into BDSM in disciplining Khyron with a spreader bar restraint illustrated in Issue 7. There seems to be a running theme professing the benefits of healthy physical manifestations of love in Robotech while the villains are warped in this capacity.
There is also a theme of cuckolding in Robotech. Nova cuckolds Dana and Annie cuckolds Lunk. Within the Rick-Minmei-Lisa love triangle, Minmei cuckolds Lisa and later Lisa cuckolds Minmei. Minmei also cuckolds Rick as she seemingly leads him on but won’t commit throughout the series and later cuckolds Rick with Lynn Kyle. Azonia is briefly cuckolded by Minmei. Max cuckolds all Zentreadi when he marries Miriya. Max is also the one who broke Breetai’s observation bubble which was a foreshadowing of Miriya’s deflowering. The Regis cuckolds the Regent, and in a way, Zor cuckolds his elders by sending the SDF-1 to Earth.
Something which rings true for all viewers is when Dolza forces Lisa and Rick to kiss, Lisa allows herself to be intimate by convincing herself it is a military mission to kiss Rick. She had experienced emotional pain and loss with the death of Karl. Her coping mechanism was to throw herself into work in order to avoid the pain of loss. At Dolza’s interrogation she discovers a loophole in her own defense mechanism. She can indulge her physical desires without fear of rejection or creating a lasting connection. An alternate interpretation is Lisa truly is innocent, similar to the maddening whims of Minmei. However, love often requires serendipity and occurs when least expected. There is a certain element of fate or destiny (the shapings) involved. If the relationship ends poorly, each partner can deny blame or responsibility for initiating it. This phenomenon is similar to the game of Spin the Bottle. Dolza was a really big bottle. This innocence is also observed when Rick and Minmei are marooned inside the SDF-1 and when Rick and Lisa are enclosed by bulkheads after Minmei’s movie premiere during a transformation of the SDF-1. Rick and Minmei’s kiss is interrupted by their rescue. Rick and Lisa’s kiss is interrupted by the receding bulkheads revealing an exit. Prior to this scene Rick stumbled exiting the movie premier and softens his landing by placing both his hands on Lisa’s posterior. This recalls Rick in battloid mode stumbling into Minmei’s bedroom. These are all innocent actions by Rick and can be contrasted with Roy’s more deliberate romantic pursuits.
4. Gender in Robotech
Fourth, to make a scholarly study of gender studies in Robotech the character of Lancer or Yellow Dancer must be addressed. It is very unusual for a 1980s American children’s cartoon to portray a transvestite. Certain conservative Midwest television markets would likely not allow this to air in 2019 let alone 1985. Of course, this is not an American cartoon originally and it was later distributed internationally. Yellow Dancer is possibly modeled on the Japanese tradition of Kabuki theatre. This usually involves all male actors playing all parts and all genders in a theatrical production. Astoundingly, Lancer made it onto public airwaves during the conservative Republican Reagan administration. A more brief and comical scene displaying cross-dressing involves Bron mistakenly stealing women’s clothing as his disguise in Episode 13: Blue Wind.
The most obvious exploration of gender in Robotech is the Zentreadi culture itself. The two genders are completely segregated and even seem to despise each other. It is human nature for the audience to take things for granted. Thus, viewers take gender roles and all they entail for granted. The Zentreadi allow the viewers an opportunity for a thought experiment to contemplate gender in a vacuum. It is often helpful to isolate the subject of study from all variables. The Zentreadi provide this possibility and the two genders are shown to be equal in all respects. Through the Zentreadi, the viewer can discover again for the first time certain aspects of the human condition. These include kissing, marriage, pregnancy, child birth, and domestic bliss. It is truly profound for children’s animation to accomplish such noble artistic rhapsodies. The viewer lives vicariously through Dolza as he perspires over the power of a kiss. As Breetai is nauseated, he is observed voyeuristically. Society’s collective heart is warmed as Commander Reno is paralyzed with fear of an infant. Anime enthusiasts delight in seeing Miriya transformed by her love for Max and Dana. Of course, the Zentreadi genders do eventually warm to each other as seen with Azonia and Khyron and Breetai and Kaziana. On a side note, Azonia seems to be the only full size Zentreadi female on Earth, but one is shown in the audience in the Japanese version of Episode 34: Private Time. However, the comics, novels, and role playing games do insert more full size females on Earth. The Zentreadi’s social structure seems to imply equality of the two genders will only arise after the elimination of childbirth and motherhood.
Gender roles can loosely be observed in military positions. In the first Robotech war, the bridge is all female and the fighter pilots are males. While not necessarily co-ed, the Zentreadi do have female fighter pilots. The second Robotech war has co-ed mecha pilots, and Rook is a female mecha pilot in the third Robotech war.
The characters from the third Robotech war bear a resemblance to The Wizard of Oz or any motley crew type of film. In this story arc Scott Bernard assembles his team of misfits. His team is almost a human personified. The group becomes a super organism. Each member has certain strengths and weaknesses. Scott is logical and goal driven but tainted by revenge. Annie is fun and gregarious but absent minded. Lunk is protective but cowardly and ashamed. Rook is fierce with emotional baggage. Rand is youthful and trusting but proud or persecuted. Lancer is cool and suave but hiding behind a mask. Ariel is innocent and vulnerable with an internal conflict. Each may engender (no pun intended) a hyper-exaggerated gender specific trait. Each member of the group or each gender provides certain assets. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.
Continuing with a scholarly analysis of gender and female characters, the aliens of Robotech II: The Sentinels deserve scrutiny. They all seem to have dimorphic genders similar to humans. Of course, the Praxians are the exception here. Similar to the Zentreadi, they allow the viewer to re-examine one’s own gender and its pros and cons. The Praxians and the Zentreadi are an artistic device utilized to illuminate gender roles and possibly orientation. Even the cyborg-esque Haydonites have genders.
In the Palladium Role Playing Game Book Five titled Invid Invasion, the Masters defoliation of Optera psychically wounded the collective central Invid consciousness so deeply it split into two beings. These beings became the Regent and Regis. This is evidence of the binary gender traits of the psyche. The male Regent became obsessed with controlling an empire. The female Regis became obsessed with the physical form of her race, transcended to a higher plane of consciousness, and achieved oneness with all her children.
In Super Dimesnion Fortress Macross, veritechs were originally named valkyries. Valkyries are female beings from North Germanic mythology. They have many roles including choosing who will live and die in battle, hampering enemies, fighting as warriors, protecting men in battle, protecting families, bringing luck to youth, and being demons of the dead. In recent times, Valkyries are portrayed with Viking clothing and weapons. They are sometimes winged or on winged horses. Thus, the veritechs themselves may have something of a female nature.
5. Character Designs in Robotech
Fifth, the physical attributes of the characters in Robotech deserve examination. The alpha males are taller. Dolza is taller than Breetai, Breetai is taller than Exedore, and Exedore is the shortest of all Zentreadi males. Roy is taller than Rick. Emmerson is taller than Leonard. Ben is taller than Max, but Max is a wolf in sheep’s clothing… and aviator glasses. Captain Gloval is taller than everyone. The Mayor and Senator Alphonso Russo are short and plump embodying the corruption, greed, and gluttony of politics. Anatole Leonard is obese which signifies a gluttonous villain. Dolza, Leonard, and the Regis are also bald which is a stereotype for villains.
Minmei, Max, Sammy, Annie, Louie Nichols and Exedore are all small but mighty. Their innocent exteriors conceal incredible strengths. Max, Miriya, Scott, and Khyron have unnatural bright hair. Brightness of hair generally indicates brightness of mind. Max and Louie wear glasses which indicates physical weakness compensated by intellect and skill. Lazlo Zand wears goggles concealing his eyes. This signifies a villain or hidden agenda. Jonathon Wolfe wears sunglasses and his eyes are hidden. He betrays his fellow soldiers and has somewhat of an affair with Minmei. Most recently, Rick Hunter has enhanced vision in the new Titan Comics similar to Neo in The Matrix films. Breetai and T. R. Edwards have faceplates which signifies a villain. Exedore has a misshapen head. They are disfigured physically as well as spiritually. The Masters have wrinkles, furrowed brows, and hollow cheeks and look somewhat scarred.
Ben Dixon is gregarious like Annie, Dana, Sammy, and Minmei, but in contrast with these characters he pays the ultimate price. There is foreshadowing of Ben’s death in his obesity and appetite for life. His gluttony, impulsivity, and unbalanced desires have a fatal consequence instructing the viewer on the lesson of self-control. At the other end of the spectrum is a character with too much self-control. Sue Graham, while professional, is consumed by her mission and likewise pays a high price. Oddly, she was using a recording device reminiscent of Lisa recording her visit with Dolza. Sue also parallels Lisa in being so mission oriented as to lose one’s humanity. Whereas Lisa evolves and matures, Sue does not live long enough to learn this lesson or embody it. Robotech seems to preach a healthy balance between work and life illustrated by the opposing extremes of Ben Dixon and Sue Graham.
Rick’s veritech is white with red trim. This is likely an allusion to the flag of Japan which embodies the land of the rising sun. Rick’s veritech may also borrow from Saint George’s Cross which later inspired the uniform of the Knights Templar and the flag of England. Saint George was a military saint. The mantle of the Knights Templar is white with a red cross. The white color symbolizes purity and chastity. The red cross symbolizes their willingness to suffer martyrdom. All these symbols and their implied qualities may be intended as characterization or foreshadowing for Rick. The red and white color scheme also bears resemblance to the symbol for the International Committee of the Red Cross. The positive connotations of the Red Cross may likewise inform Rick’s character. In the course of the series, Rick exchanges his veritech for Skull-One which portrays the skull and crossbones. These colors and emblems of Rick’s aircraft symbolize his maturation from youthful purity and innocence to battle-weary lethality. This episode also introduces the color scheme of Rick’s uniform which is red, white, and blue. This resembles the color scheme of Captain Gloval’s uniform and the SDF-1 possibly implying an interconnectedness among these elements. Lisa’s uniform is white implying neatness, chastity, and possibly a wedding dress. Lisa portrays the “Woman in White” trope. Minmei is often in red colored outfits implying romantic availability and moral ambiguity. Minmei portrays the “Lady in Red” trope. However, in Japanese culture the color red indicates good luck and happiness. Lisa and Minmei may also portray the “Red Oni, Blue Oni” trope as well as Max and Miriya.
The Regis also portrays the “Lady in Red” as well as the “Bald Woman” and “Bald of Evil” tropes. Baldness in women may be a sign of superior race, empowerment, individual enlightenment, mental development, and psychic powers.
In Robotech: The Movie there is a character named Eve. She is an artificial intelligence (A.I.) computer program manifested from the mother computer of the SDF-1. The name Eve is an omen causing the audience to unknowingly project all the qualities of the biblical Eve from the creation story of Adam and Eve onto this fictional A.I. Eve. The name Eve comes with emotional baggage and the viewers process this either consciously or subconsciously. Thus there is dramatic tension as the viewers assume she is a villain. The Robotech character Eve is in fact at the duplicitous whims of the Robotech Masters, the Robotech Defense Force, and civilian micronians.
The heroes and protagonists of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles all possess extreme buffness and buxomness implying good health and virility. The villainous Haydonites are featureless disembodied ghouls. Perhaps subconsciously, Tommy Yune chose the Haydonites as the next villain because they are featureless. This could be seen as symbolic of a hidden agenda or ulterior motive. The Haydonites are also a hive mind similar to the Invid. Group mind is a frequent characteristic of antagonists.
6. Contradictory Characters in Robotech
Sixth, there is often a contradiction in the portrayal of female characters in Robotech. Viewers or consumers of art respond to truth. Audiences respond to what they see reflected on-screen from the world around them. Thus, the success of this series speaks to Minmei’s realism and the accuracy of her character’s archetype. Minmei is a coquette or ingénue or at least very coy and innocent. While the earlier first and second sections of this essay (See 1 and 2 above) allude to Minmei’s strength, perhaps she is not a strong female character at all. If Minmei was a cookie cutter version of female empowerment or a heroine, the character would not resonate with the viewers. Instead, her flaws humanize her and make her real… like the viewers. People cannot escape their nature. Minmei is selfish and needs validation from her in-universe fans or seduction of men as seen with Rick and Jonathon Wolfe. She plays dumb and is non-threatening in order to gain access to levers of power. She only emasculates men or threatens men when it is her best course of action. Women must play dumb. Minmei plays the game. The Mimmei character raises several questions. Since Robotech was written in Japan, is Minmei a chauvinist 1980s Japanese man’s version of a strong female character? Or, is Minmei a true heroine? Is Minmei the result of misguided character design and writing? Is Minmei a lame attempt by a writer to create a female heroine? Is Minmei a misogynist’s dream? Or, is Minmei a roaring success? Is it possible the Japanese creators were misogynists with the best of intentions aspiring to create empowered modern female characters only to reveal their own chauvinistic world views? Is there an irony in Minmei being a war hero only because of her singing and dancing and thus sexuality? Did the Japanese creators succeed not because of their genius but in spite of it?
This is where the wisdom of the Japanese creators of what became Robotech materializes. Minmei is the Anti-Lisa and Lisa is the Anti-Minmei. They each have vulnerabilities. They each take separate paths to their goals. They each utilize different strategies. Neither is more right or more wrong than the other. Minmei weaponizes her femininity. This weaponization is eventually manifested literally. Lisa takes the path of academic and professional achievements. Lisa actively attempts to conceal and subjugate her femininity whereas Minmei exploits her own. Lisa’s flaws make her realistic just like Minmei’s flaws make her realistic. Minmei and Lisa each illuminate the other by comparison. The female gender is revealed in a study of compare and contrast between these two characters. Each character is set against the backdrop of the other. Later, it can be said Lisa is the more fully realized female. Lisa is married and has a child while Minmei has internal and external struggles. Robotech’s commentary on the female gender is a stunning achievement for a children’s cartoon.
The discussion of Minmei and Lisa as opposites explains the inevitability of the Janice Em character. With the resolution of the love triangle terminating with Rick and Lisa as a romantic couple, Minmei required a new Anti-Minmei and foil as Lisa’s character matured and grew past this plot element. Thus, Minmei’s character stays static and Janice Em takes up the role once filled by Lisa. The Janice Em character reflects back upon Lisa retroactively defining Lisa as a robotic patriotic perfectionist.
Besides the possible contradictions in Minmei’s fictional character design, other presumably strong female characters may actually be weak. Lisa Hayes starts out as a sort of prude or… sourpuss, and eventually she loosens up. In Lisa’s case it can be said the male gender embodied by Rick Hunter still dominates her as Max dominates Miriya. This is a motif referred to as the taming of the shrew. Claudia plays the typical sassy African American from an the point of view of an American audience. Sammy is a ditz. These are all standard female archetypes of fiction. If the media often portrays damsels in distress, Robotech seems to buck the trend with strong female characters as detailed in the second section (See 2 above) of this essay. However, Rick does rescue two damsels in distress. These being Minmei and Lisa. Bowie rescues Musica. In the end, Robotech embodies a patriarchal society which is a reflection of the real world the audience inhabits. Captain Gloval is the protagonist patriarch. Gloval’s governing body, The United Earth Government (UEG), is all male at Alaska Base and is antagonistic. Anatole Leonard is the antagonist patriarch in the second Robotech war. Scott Bernard is the protagonist patriarch in the third Robotech war. Finally, Robotech II: The Sentinels resolves Robotech’s internal struggle with gender by inevitably arriving at a presumed utopian future of a gender-equal co-command of Admirals Rick and Lisa Hunter.
Sammie sets the tone for a new generation of empowered women even though she appears so timid and child-like. She is likely the youngest of her comrades and she may represent a new generational demographic apart from the other members of the bridge crew. Granted, Sammie also benefits from her comrade’s considerateness when dealing with her lack of self-awareness. This is illustrated when she reminds Captain Gloval there is no smoking on the bridge. He submits to her assertiveness. Interestingly, this scene is framed with humor allowing the audience to categorize her as either feminist or patronizingly non-threatening. Many of Sammie’s scenes and dialogue can be construed as either subliminally subverting the audience’s patriarchal views or undermining the feminist movement itself.
There are also contradicting gender themes in Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles. Superficially, Janice Em and Ariel appear to be strong female characters, and yet, it can be argued their physical proportions and costumes appeal to a male viewer’s most primitive stimulation centers. These characters appeal to a viewer’s Lynn Kyle and T. R. Edwards nature but revolt one’s Captain Gloval and Max Sterling sensibilities. A colloquial term for Janice Em could be sexbot. Robotech succeeds when it depicts dramatized events demonstrating the highest ideals of humanity.
7. Kinship and the Absence of Maternal Love in Robotech
Seventh, there are no significant micronian mothers in Robotech. Rick is raised by Pop Hunter and Roy Fokker. Lisa is raised by Admiral Donald Hayes. Karen Penn is raised by Doctor Harry Penn. Minmei visits her parents in Yokohama but resides with her Aunt and Uncle aboard the SDF-1. Kyle returns to his parents aboard the SDF-1. Captain Gloval is a father figure to the bridge crew and the entire SDF-1 population. Rolf Emerson is a father figure to the 15th Alpha Tactical Armored Corps (ATAC). Scott Bernard is a father figure to his group of freedom fighters. Rook, Rand, and Annie are all semi-orphans. All the residents of the SDF-1 are rejected by the UEG and thus orphaned by their home planet. Cabell clones Rem from Zor, the Masters clone Zor Prime from Zor, and Zor himself is a father figure disseminating spores and fertilizing several different worlds. Haydon is the uber-patriarch of the known universe and the Masters, Dolza, Leonard, and the Regent are all patriarchs over their subordinates. Finally, after the creation and broadcast of the three original Japanese cartoons, Robotech II: The Sentinels portrays Jean Grant as Bowie Grant’s mother. However, Bowie is quickly left behind on Earth without his mother. The only moms presented in Robotech are aliens. Miriya is a mother in the first Robotech war. Ariel comes close to being a mother in the third Robotech war by demonstrating unconditional love for her comrades, and, for purposes of this discussion, the androgynous Zor Prime becomes a mother to the 15th ATAC and Earth in the second Robotech war. This raises several questions. Is the theme the inadequacy of paternal love? Is there a message of moms being foreign or alien to the viewers? Is a mother’s capacity for unconditional love only explained by her super human background? In summary, alien outsiders arrive as recent converts to micronian culture and fill the void in the character’s lives by providing a mother’s love. This may be a phenomenon referred to as the zeal of the convert. Furthermore, the alien achieves an idealized and divine version of motherhood through freedom from any emotional baggage or even past. The alien becomes more human than the humans thus providing a measuring stick by which the viewers can assess themselves. Of special note, the SDF-1 itself is the most iconic super-maternal image of the entire Robotech opera. In the first Robotech war the SDF-1 is pregnant with a civilian population it incubates, gestates, and delivers safely to its nest, planet Earth. Paralleling this, the gravid SDF-1 eventually releases spores and fertilizes all of Earth in the second Robotech war. In this light the protoculture matrix can be viewed as a type of womb containing regenerative and rejuvenative powers.
The Praxians go beyond demonstrating the inadequacy of paternal love and illustrate the utter uselessness of it. Meanwhile, Zor singlehandedly disorders and upsets the entire Tzuptum System, Valivarre System, the Local Group, and the micronians. Dolza and later the Masters each fail their own respective cultures. The Regent fails his race while his wife transcends to a new plane of consciousness. Finally, Admiral Donald Hayes asks his daughter to betray her friends and responsibilities when he condones the SDF-1’s assignment as a decoy in a play for time. For his flawed paternal advice he is incinerated in the Grand Cannon in an act of cosmic justice allowing Captain Gloval to ascend to his place as Lisa’s true father figure while Claudia becomes a sort of maternal figure for Lisa.
Not only does Robotech detail the inadequacy of paternal love, but it warns against bad moms. The Regis is a controlling, unavailable, self-involved mother.
Another weaker interpretation could see Captain Gloval as husband to a polygamous harem on the bridge but it seems more likely the bridge crew would be his brood of daughters. The bridge crew are all mothers or sisters to the mecha pilots. In a way, the mecha are all attached back to the SDF-1 mothership via an umbilicus of communication.
In regards to themes related to family, the three original Japanese cartoons are all loosely connected by Tatsunoku Productions, country of origin, culture of origin, and chronological proximity of creation. To form Robotech and fit these three series together, Carl Macek created artificial contrivances to merge them as one. In the case of familial love, Carl Macek exerted a large impact on any lessons, intended or unintended by the Japanese, when he created genealogies between characters from different shows. Therefore, in the case of kinship, a note of caution should be heeded as well as discernment between the Japanese audience’s impressions and the international audience’s impressions when searching for social commentary within Robotech in an analysis such as this. The three Japanese cartoons suggest the importance of family. Max and Miriya and Lisa and Rick’s romances are the beginnings of two families. The 15th ATAC squad forms their own family, and Scott Bernard forms his own family of resistance fighters. However, Carl Macek re-characterized Jeanne Francaix (Dana) as the daughter of Max and Miriya and made Bowie the son of Vince and Jean. This artificial creation to establish continuity within the series almost reverses the implied message of the importance of family as the parents choose to leave their children behind. Maia Sterling of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is serving a tour of duty on Moon Base ALuCE (Advanced Lunar Chemical Engineering) away from most of her family on the SDF-3 in the Omicron Sector.
There is a theme of adoption or mixed families in Robotech as well. Bowie and Dana are under Emerson’s guardianship, and Miriya, Zor Prime, and Ariel are each aliens adopted into a human group. As stated previously, the SDF-1 bridge crew and maybe the entire SDF-1 population, the 15th ATAC, Scott’s freedom fighters, and the Sentinels all form family bonds stronger than their un-relatedness would predict. Minmei’s living situation with her Aunt and Uncle gives her a sense of vulnerability and of being a misfit. She is fortuitously paired with Rick who himself was simply visiting his friend Roy. Lisa is also orphaned after the rain of death. The SDF-1 adopts the entire population of Macross Island. Minmei is adopted as Macross City’s collective daughter. Later, the population of Earth adopts all the Zentreadi. In summation, Robotech espouses love, friendship, mutual respect, inclusiveness, teamwork, compassion, understanding, empathy, and cooperation as the sources of humanity’s resiliency and strength in the face of adversity.