This essay is a critique of Robotech as a work of art utilizing critical theory 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 18 pages 8726 words in Microsoft Word and is divided into 7 parts posted 8/6/2019.
1. The Tragic Incompatibility of Opposite Genders in Robotech
First, Episode 29 of Robotech opens and closes with the iconic and evocative imagery of a full size deceased Zentreadi holding a Minmei doll. This iconography 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 deceased 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 deceased 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 Ann Darrow tamed King Kong with her beauty, Minmei tamed the Zentreadi with beauty and music. 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) in Cruise Mode 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. In Cruiser Mode this laser fire may be viewed as a release of physical romantic tension. In the Storm Attack Mode configuration the main gun is repositioned above the upper appendages. Laser fire from this position may be viewed as a release of mental or emotional romantic 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 Flower 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 female. 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 murder 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 the incompatibility of the male and female genders 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, Dolza briefly replaces Breetai with Azonia, 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?”). Azonia is enchanted by Khyron. Marie is almost thawed by Sean Phillips. Nova is a little moderated by Zor Prime. Rook is almost relaxed by Rand. Scott Bernard is uptight, and Ariel mellows him to a point. Minmei subdues everyone… except Lisa. Miriya is melted 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.
Azonia and Khyron deserve some analysis. Their romance is likely the result of an out-of-universe need to create a story arc. Supporting evidence for this assertion is the original series in Japan was going to end at 26 episodes in what became Robotech’s Episode 27 showing the defeat of Dolza. Episodes 28 to 36 were not part of the initial plan or cohesive organic concept. It is open to interpretation if the Japanese writers were forcing situations and stretching and milking the plot to create content or were faithful to their artistic vision and following the natural consequences of the Post-episode 27 plot. It is possilbe the Japanese writers decided to setup another male villain and used Azonia to enable Khyron’s rise to power. However, the Japanese writers still managed to tease out Azonia’s own independence and possible role as the true mastermind when her internal dialogue mentions how easy it is to manipulate males in Episode 31. It may be lazy writing when there is a male and female character remaining on the leftovers pile of Post-episode 27 plot threads. The writers made them a doomed suicidal romantic couple to resolve their plot thread. It is lazy writing because it is easy to push a male and female character into a romantic relationship in the plot. Khyron’s rescue of Azonia in Episode 32 may be a plot device to empower Khyon as the dominant and powerful male villain. The writers were forced to show Azonia as weak so she was injured and Khyron had to rescue her. This is balanced with Rick always rescuing Lisa and Minmei. Also, Khyron’s emotional rescue of Azonia in Episode 32 helps the viewer empathize with this couple. This provides a greater emotional punch when they choose suicide giving another layer of bitter sweetness to Episode 36’s resolution and climax.
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 inflamed. 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 celebrity 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 micronian culture, 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. Another feminine foundation of Robotech is demonstrated by the fury of a woman scorned, namely the Regis, which propels 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. This iconic imagery from the first Robotech war is repeated in the second Robotech war when Musica has an instrument or tool and co-exists with her sisters in supposed harmony. She abandons her instrument and joins Bowie. This may also symbolize switching a character’s orientation. An interesting symbolism is portrayed as Bowie first meets Musica in a darkened room with her harp. Two Bioroid Terminators appear and the lights turn on. Bowie vanquishes this opposition. The now lit environment may symbolize Musica’s enlightenment. This parallels Max and Miriya as they also meet in the dark in a public park and later Max brings her into the light when he introduces her to Rick. The third Robotech war presents a variation on this theme. The theme is continued when Lancer must abandon his female persona in order to join Scott’s freedom fighters. However, Lancer’s alternate persona is later utilized to benefit the protagonists throughout the series.
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. This theme may have been present in the source material for Episodes 1 to 36 as it is somewhat reinforced in literature titled Macross Outside Story. This was published in Macross Perfect Memory in 1983. It contains a short story titled SDF Macross The Lost Two Years by Shoji Kawamori. It states the original Protoculture civilization experimented with allowing the Zentreadi to retain natural methods of reproduction, but it resulted in a 40% loss of combat effectiveness. Continuing this theme, 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. The bridge crew was willing to use their skills enabled by their celibacy to save Lisa.
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, the creative director for Harmony Gold USA Incorporated, turned the cyborg-esque Haydonites into villains. It can only be assumed the Haydonites do not partake in carnal relations. Apparently, Zor, the micronians, and some of the Sentinels 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 cuckqueans Dana and Annie cuckolds Lunk. Within the Rick-Minmei-Lisa love triangle, Minmei cuckqueans Lisa and later Lisa cuckqueans 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 cuckqueaned by Minmei. Miriya cuckolds all Zentreadi when she marries Max. 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 begins by coincidence and 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 at the time of this writing 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 theater. 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. Robotech was edited to meet the standards and practices of the flagship broadcaster NBC New York as reported by Tommy Yune in Episode 18 of the RoboSkull Cast podcast released 12/7/2017. 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 or integrated, 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. Lisa’s character arc eventually overcomes a sexist theme present throughout the first Robotech war. She is often doubted by her father and other superior officers. In Epiosde 11 Rick blatantly espouses a sexist personal ethos which Minmei and Lisa both eventually disprove by utilizing their own unique skill sets.
An interesting creative choice by the Japanese team responsible for the original material which was adapted into the first Robotech war was their decision for the main character, Rick, to not be the best pilot. Instead, Max, the secondary character was the best pilot. This was done to deliberately stray from the formulaic approach to anime. Rick and Max are also written with more sensitivity than Roy and Ben, characters which are not rewarded and do not fare well in the plot. A separate Japanese team responsible for the original material later adapted into the second Robotech war wrote Bowie as the most sensitive male in his squad and he romantically succeeds with Musica. A similar theme presents in the originally unrelated material which was adapted into the third Robotech war. Lancer seems most sensitive and feminine and he also finds romantic success. The male gender is often deconstructed into characters representing its component parts in each series. In the second Robotech war Angelo, Louie, Bowie, Sean, and Zor each seem to embody different aspects of the male gender. In the third Robotech war Scott, Lunk, Lancer, and Rand seem to repeat this pattern.
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. In the Staff Interviews from the liner notes of the Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (GCM) DVD, Yasuhiro Tomita explains a guiding concept for the series was for each character to have a different personal agenda within their journey to Reflex Point. These different agendas would conflict along the journey.
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. Robotech may benefit from a consistent theme regarding female strength of will. When the Regis transforms into pure mind-stuff and energy and departs from Earth, the energy takes three forms. These being a phoenix, a dragon, and a woman. The image of a female being of pure energy somewhat recalls Minmei’s ability to defeat Dolza’s armada providing bookends to the Robotech television show and connecting Episode 1 and 85. This feminine power runs consistently through the series as it links Lisa, Dana, Rook, and even the Regis herself as women possessing great power. Some timelines have suggested the Regis and the Invid become pure protoculture upon their exit from Earth. The image of this energy in the form of a woman and dragon somewhat defines all the protoculture powered mecha in this series as being powered by a female energy source possessing a dragon-like fierceness. The third form of this Invid collective life force is a phoenix. The avian nature of the phoenix recalls Minmei’s romantic elusiveness providing further thematic cohesiveness and bookends to the Robotech franchise.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung proposed a system of archetypes in his theory of analytical psychology. In the first Robotech war, Rick may represent the self. Rick’s unconscious female nature or anima might be represented by both Lisa and Minmei. Likewise, Miriya may be Max’s animus. At the end of Episode 36, using Jungian terminology, Rick achieves actualization through individuation as does Max. The characters of Robotech can be viewed as symbolizing the anima and animus. The successful union, mastery, and acceptance of these personality traits symbolized as male and female characters is portrayed as teamwork and romantic success.
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, Zor Prime, Rem, 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, impulsiveness, 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 professional and family life illustrated by the opposing extremes of Ben Dixon and Sue Graham. Lisa and Sue’s cameras may also continue the theme of male anatomical pseudo-appendages similar to Miriya’s knife and Musica’s cosmic harp as discussed in the third section (See 3 above) of this essay. Lisa’s camera breaks and she eventually achieves a romance with Rick. Sue refuses to relinquish her camera which is met with fatal consequences.
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 humanitarian organization 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. Episode 6 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, the alternative interpretation should also be considered. This being 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 and her 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. Society often expects women to play dumb, and Minmei navigates this societal expectation. 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 correct or incorrect 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, who also has a child, 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 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. The Robotech novels injected a further feminist perspective into the franchise by including fictional epigraphs including several from a book titled Post-Feminism and the Robotech Wars by Betty Greer.
In the Staff Interviews from the liner notes of the GCM DVD, Yasuhiro Tomita states Minmei was based on a singer named Seiko Matsudo. He initially tried to differentiate GCM from Macross by creating Rook as a tough girl in the image of Akina Nakamori. However, when he saw the character designs for Lancer he applied the singing attribute to Lancer.
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 wardrobe design appeal to a male viewer’s most primitive stimulation centers. These characters appeal to a viewer’s Lynn Kyle and T. R. Edwards appetites 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). Dr. Lang becomes a father figure in the Sentinels comics and novels. Scott Bernard is a father figure to his group of freedom fighters. Rook, Rand, and Annie are all semi-orphans. Rook bizarrely drives right past her mother with no dialogue spoken between them. All the residents of the SDF-1 are rejected by the UEG and thus orphaned by their home planet. Jack Baker is an oprhan. 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. Cabell becomes a father figure to Rem. 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. Sera is implied to be an expecting mother in Robotech: Love Live Alive. 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 transforming Earth into a nursery in the second Robotech war. In this light the protoculture matrix can be viewed as a type of womb containing regenerative and rejuvenative powers.
Motherhood is likely a shorthand storytelling device to quickly convey an alien’s full embrace of human culture. The female alien mother has, by her very definition, been successfully penetrated by her newly encountered society. Impregnation provides an economic plot device with the added bonus of a large emotional impact upon the viewer. Pregnancy and childbirth is a natural climax. It conveys submission to a dominant culture. Thus, these characters maternal protectiveness, guardianship, and reproductive status may not be a celebration of motherhood but simply evidence of lazy storytelling.
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.
There may be a grand overarching story arc of Robotech concerning the villains as each villain may represent a member of a family. The villains of the first Robotech war are the Zentreadi which can be viewed as evil step-brothers or evil siblings to the micronians. Dolza could be a minor patriarch in the context of all 85 episodes. In the second Robotech war the plot progresses, and the micronian’s next villain is the Robotech Masters who represent a collective father figure. The Zentreadi and the micronians could be viewed as the children of the Robotech Masters. Then, the plot progresses and the protagonists encounter the ultimate climax and villain which is the Regis as the mother figure. The Regis a mother figure in the sense of her union with Zor, a Robotech Master, spawing this entire chain of events. The novels could be viewed as progressing further to the ultimate father figure of Haydon, but this may lack the emotional impact of a maternal conflict. The villains of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles may lack emotional impact as well as lack plot progression as the Haydonites do not seem to fit into this theory of villains. At first glance, the Haydonites are unrelated to the other villains in the context of the Zentreadi as children of the father-like Masters and the micronians encountering the mother-like Regis. However, if new animation were to be produced perhaps the Haydonites would eventually lead this plot progression to Haydon.
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 Dana (Jeanne Francaix) 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. Maia also embodies emotional pain in Episode 24: Catastrophe (Episode 60 in the larger Robotech arc) as Dana is ignorant of the fact she has a younger sister.
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.
A LiveJournal blog titled Spores, Molds, and Fungus by username Incisivis posted a few similar essays. The web address below links to an essay titled “A Better Breed of Bitch: Female Zentradi and the Assumption of Superiority.” It was posted on 11/21/2012. The link below was active as of 11/19/2019.
On 3/9/2009 the Spores, Molds, and Fungus blogger Incisivis also posted an article titled “I am Woman, Hear Me Bore.” The web address is posted below. The article examines the implications of the Miriya character. The link below was active as of 11/23/2019.
In addition, the Spores, Molds, and Fungus blogger Incisivis also posted an article titled “For the Ladies” on 5/31/2009. The article expresses gratitude Miriya and Azonia were the only female Zentreadi to transition to micronian society as if this had been explored in the animation it would have likely been misogynist. The link below was active as of 3/17/2020.
The December 2019 Titan Comic titled Robotech Remix Issue 2 released in November 2019 contains an article titled “Of Foot-Races and Veritech Fighters” written by Jennifer de Guzman. The article examines the implications of Max and Miriya’s relationship in comparison with the female character Atalanta from Greek mythology. Below is a link to her Twitter account @Jennifer_deG.