Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reflections on Zentradi Fandom Part 2: The Major Players

I will describe my feelings on each major Zentradi character from that initial storyline. It was with the Robotech dub that I first formulated my opinions on the Zentradi, so to start with, I’ll be using the Robotech names.

Being a geek myself, it was probably inevitable that I would identify the most strongly with the Zentradi Exedore Formo, the odd-looking and slightly nerdy advisor/historian/archivist. By the tail end of the original series, Exedore seems to be displaying an increasing emotional range, expressing sadness over the two peoples’ inability to coexist, but also a sharp cynicism about the same fact.

Before that, Exedore was a cool-minded strategist, but also had his emotional moments, too. He could be dour, quirky, nebbish, sad, or even show a mean streak. Though a loyal follower of the main antagonist, he was not a smarmy sycophant, either.

These were all traits that captured my interest, and Exedore’s version of the Zentradi evolution was the easiest to relate to of all: a geek becoming aware of the wider world and slightly opening up, just like what I wanted to do. It wasn’t entirely through Minmei-obsessed comic-relief hedonism, but more subtle, even if Exedore had plenty of hilarious moments along the way. I also loved his character design: his garish colour scheme (red hair and reddish-purple skin against a purple, blue, and green uniform) and the expressive way he was drawn and animated, the latter helped by his large eyes and odd face.

My interest in Exedore might be analogous to the kinship most other geeks feel for Spock or other similar characters. Being largely ignorant of Star Trek, I can’t say how true that is, though pop-cultural osmosis hints to me that the two characters aren’t that alike at all: Exedore is much less stoic than Spock, sometimes to the point of being comic relief, and Exedore also doesn’t engage in any explicit struggles between “emotion” and “logic”. However, it is true that my interest in Exedore is not without precedent, as I have been fascinated with many other “nerdy” fictional characters and mythological figures in the past.

Exedore’s best role in either incarnation of the series was episode 26, “The Messenger” (known simply as “Messenger” in the original Macross, she said pedantically), in which he becomes the ambassador to humanity. He has some great sight gags in the episode (including one where he does an impression of Minmei’s singing to explain to the military what he’s talking about), but is not solely a comedic character.

In the same episode, Exedore also has a definite intelligence, a willingness to make peace, and a determination to stand in the face of an impossible goal: helping the humans defeat the four-million strong fleet of the Zentradi authority that is about to arrive. By showing Exedore’s capacities in various aspects, this episode began my proper interest in the character,  though I had liked him before.

Another good moment was in the episode “Khyron’s Revenge”, where Exedore is briefly shown as deeply saddened about the nature of the Zentradi as mere “toys of destruction”, though this part is portrayed more effectively in the Japanese version of the episode, called “Satan’s Dolls” (the epithet used against the Zentradi in the original script).

Soon enough, I became a total geek for a geek, possibly writing more about Exedore than anyone else ever had. He became the keystone of my interest in the Zentradi, and thus in the Macross series as a whole.

But just that initial connection with him and hint of his character development was not enough to grant Exedore the unexpectedly high level of attention I ended up paying to him. To become this way to me, Exedore had to have not only that character development, but also the sense of a completed character arc, which I later found in an equally unexpected place.

I also grew attached to Exedore’s commander, Breetai Tul, who might have ended up being merely the brawn to Exedore’s brains, but Breetai was a smart cookie himself, and a calmer, clear-headed character than the stereotype--“manly” but without being boastful or excessively concerned with his reputation.  He complemented Exedore nicely.

Out of all my favourite Zentradi, Breetai develops the least: his interactions with humans being the briefest, and he is the least flawed. But Breetai does appear to change in a minor way during the series, becoming more open and friendly, and so fits the ideal.

Rico, Bron, and Konda were a trio of comic-relief male Zentradi who volunteered to shrink down and became spies among human culture. Despite having little in the way of distinct personalities from each other, they also grew on me. I find them utterly cute when they first try to bumble their way through human culture, and I jokingly claim empathy with their bone-headed hedonism.

I never lost sight of their nature as clownish tertiary characters, but at the core of that comic relief and goofy Minmei fanboyism there was a genuine desire to move forward, even if it was only to satisfy their self-indulgence. They became the first Zentradi to be integrated into human culture.

While it was Exedore I grew attached to first, Breetai and the three spies also got to me after a while, since these characters best embodied the ideals I saw in the Zentradi story. As to the other first-series Zentradi characters, my reactions to them were mixed, usually skewing towards the negative.

Khyron Kravshera was the anachronism I loved to hate, a drunken punk who refused to give in to cultural acclimation and continued to be a thorn in the other characters’ sides even after the alliance was established, becoming a rebel against humanity. With that, and his often-antagonistic relationship with Exedore and Breetai, of course Khyron ended up being one of my least favourite characters, although I understood the appeal that he might have had for the other rebellious Zentradi, and that he might have found a genuine cause to believe in.

Dolza, the ultimate lord of the Zentradi group (at least as far as Robotech went), was largely just a device to provide menace or exposition. He can only be disliked for his role in destroying things, and not as a character unto himself.

The Zentradi were sexually segregated, and the original fleet that came to Earth was all-male. Female Zentradi characters did not appear until the episode numbers hit the double digits, and the narrative did very little with them: there were really only two prominent female Zentradi characters, and unfortunately, neither were as interesting as the male ones.

There was Commander Azonia Lamiz, who provided some generic commander stuff, then inexplicably betrayed the human-friendly forces and sided with Khyron, whom she had had a previously hostile relationship with but had become his lover...for some reason. On later viewings, she also strikes me as narrow-minded and weak-willed, only following along with larger groups and being unable to control those under her command, with huge gaps in her own characterization. She was not a favourite, though by actually explaining her shifting alliances and her motivations, Azonia could have been a well-rounded and compelling character.

There was Miriya Parino, an arrogant pilot who was obsessed with being the best. When hearing of a human who could defeat her, she organized her missions around finding that one person. Max Sterling, whom she identified as her target, did indeed defeat her in combat, so Miriya threw aside her regular duties to instate herself as a human-sized spy and hunt Max down in the human ship’s internal city.

Max, taken with the mysterious woman’s beauty, has several encounters with her, and manages to defeat Miriya several more times. First it is during one-on-one combat at a video arcade, and the smitten Max uses the occasion to try to pick her up. When he arranges to meet her in a park, Miriya tries to kill him in single combat, only to be defeated by Max again. However, as Miriya collapses at his feet, Max proposes marriage and Miriya accepts, both of them instantly swept up in love and walking happily down the aisle the next day.

Miriya then becomes part of the human military instead of being “in the kitchen”, and the image of worlds united by two beautiful badasses fighting side by side is an appealing one. However, the fact of Miriya not having the same degree of control over what happened to her as the male characters did, and of falling in love with the man she had first felt destroyed her, made my skin crawl.

I could not accept this part of the story with the same happiness as the males’ character arcs , being that it seemed too close to the fantasy of the hero “taming” an aggressive woman, and of a woman needing to be told what her desires “really” were.  There were vague hints that Miriya was interested in Max beforehand, but they were fleeting and she never wavered in her quest--and at any rate, this still would be an attraction inspired by defeat. It all conflicted too strongly with my personal values for me to take it in the spirit it was intended.

Miriya is doubtless the series’ major Zentradi character and the most popular one in both franchises, but she lacked everything that drew me to her male counterparts, and I do not consider myself a fan of her, either.

Other viewers seem to be charmed by how much more attractive and grand the female Zentradi were in comparison to the males, but to me this only made them more boring. With Miriya and Azonia (and several nameless females who appear briefly and are only given a few lines), female Zentradi came off as “perfect” characters: generically strong and generically sexy without much in the way of interesting internal conflicts or acknowledged flaws. I saw flaws in them, certainly, but recognizing and dealing with those flaws was never a major part of their character arcs.

About their only redeeming quality was that initially the female Zentradi’s uniforms and equipment did not look stereotypically feminine or overtly sexualized, but even that token tidbit soon changed....

Ultimately, it was true: I was far more drawn to these second-tier “bad guys” than to anyone else in the series. When viewing the original Super Dimensional Macross, series, my core feelings about these aforementioned characters and their issues remained largely the same, though I  viewed SDFM as the superior presentation in terms of plot, dialogue, and characterization.

No comments:

Post a Comment