Monday, December 13, 2010

Thundering Badasses

Yes, I’m going to revisit the world of the Zentraedi/Zentradi again from time to time. I’ve said most of what I wanted to say, but there are always these little things that demand addressing….

When I hear the term “badass”, I think of a character that is more than simply competent and strong. I think of a character that is absolutely impervious, unshakeable, and does everything with a smile or a roar. Such characters can be fun, but dullness can also come from being so perfect. I prefer characters with some kind of twist, some kind of twinge, a chink in their armour, a flaw on their surface, though that does not mean these characters are weak.

This is partly why I disagree that the ideal state of the Zentradi of the Robotech and Macross universes is for them to be more uniformly “badass” than they might be in the official materails. Granted, I’m also not comfortable with Zentradi being comic relief as the later Macross series sometimes have them, but total “badassery” isn’t the answer.

(Most of this applies to the male Zentradi characters, by the way, due to the portrayals of female Zentradi characters being far more uniform)

I liked the original Zentradi characters from SDFM because they are actual characters rather than symbols to show how great humanity is, having a fair range of characterization even when only providing exposition and chasing down humans. The thought of a homogenized Zentradi characterization undermines the power of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, risks turning into another show about beating up the cold, scary enemy aliens. If a major plot point is that the Zentradi and humans can find common ground, let the Zentradi have goofy, ugly, nerdy, and comical members, as well as strong, powerful, and refined ones.

Yet during my experience in Macross and Robotech fandoms, I get the persistent impression that others felt their respective universes could do with harsher, darker Zentradi. For one thing, there has been expressed preference for the redesigned male Zentradi from the Macross film Do You Remember Love?, whose darker, more alien appearance better suits this need. These incarnations also participate in a reduced storyline, so there is less room for that pesky humanistic portrayal to get in their way, are stripped down to their very essence of threat and their most basic transformation.

Some might say that the integration of these Zentradi redesigns into the main continuity demonstrates that the staff of Macross also believed that their initial male Zentradi were not intimidating enough; however, none of us can know that for sure. (Nor would this mean the original designs are full-stop inadequate.)

Yet I do wonder if it’s true, and what role this desire might have played in the radical retconning of Exsedol Folmo. He has never been a badass character, but this version of the character, which I call “Neo-Exsedol”, might be more in line with viewers’ wishes for the Zentradi. By being a more detached, stoic character, Neo-Exsedol might suit a more aloof Zentradi mien, of which the desire for more “badassery” is also a part. Perhaps someone, god forbid, even found Classic Exsedol to be goofy.

This all could be why some of my favourite Zentradi are disliked by the Macross and Robotech fandoms. Take Warera, Rori, and Konda, characters who, while they have a significant role in the story, are the absolute antithesis of what viewers expect members of a warrior alien race to be. They are immature, hedonistic, and ultimately good-hearted, never seen in combat, are comic relief, and their most resolute actions are done in the name of retiring from war. Some viewers might feel cheated, that characters like this rise to prominence and dilute the menacing nature of the Zentradi.

On the Robotech front, I’ll admit that the Powers that Were are far more obvious about what they would like the Zentradi to be. While some of the novels offer emotional growth for the original Zentraedi characters, some of the comics, particularly the work of writer Bill Spangler, are interested in making the general Zentraedi into a more stereotypical “proud warrior race”, and imposing this interpretation upon the new Zentraedi created for these stories. This fed back into the Robotech novels when the “Lost Generation” series of mid-quels were published and used several Zentraedi details from the comics.

These works do so in several ways. One is in providing Zentraedi with a harsh and grating native language (different from Macross attempts at the same, whose cadence I prefer over the Robotech one, disregarding its ridiculous phrase “Yack Deculture”). Zentraedi in this part of the comics even possess the concepts of honourable death and trial by combat, rather than simply winning any way they could and eliminating trouble without ceremony, as seemed to be the case in the original Macross. When new Zentraedi characters appear in the Robotech expanded universe, they are nearly always fighters, whether as rebels, mercenaries, or soldiers, rather than taking any kind of other path.

Never underestimate the stupidity of Robotech, you might say, but I would have thought the idea that the Zentradi weren’t a “proud warrior race” was a self-evident one. In fact, an important part of the story is that Zentradi have no culture at all, not even to apply ritual, honour, or ceremony to their fighting.  They simply do it because they are told to. Some individual Zentradi take personal pride in their accomplishments, but they are not a race of economy-sized Klingons.

The later Macross material has an advantage here, given that it shows the non-warrior Zentradi that the original series promised, and never adding the kind of “warrior culture” bunk that the Robotech adaptations did.

There can be “badass” Zentradi. By a certain margin, I think Britai, Milia, and Kamujin qualify, though Britai is more restrained, Milia is eventually “tamed”, and Kamujin is too clumsy for them to quite fit that mould. Comical Zentradi characters, too, shouldn’t define the whole of the Zentradi race, and there can even be comical Zentradi without substance. The point is that these characters, or any other character type, shouldn’t be used to define what Zentradi “should” be.

There is no character about whom I can say they are not a “true” Zentradi because they don’t live up to an imagined ideal. Even when I consider a character like Klan Klang to be almost mind-meltingly ridiculous, I can’t say that she isn’t a “real” Zentradi. Yes, her being Zentradi might intensify my negative response towards her, but if she were a human character, I would also dislike her.

Overall, both universes seem guilty of trying to “badass-ify” the Zentradi by creating a more stereotypical image of what a “warrior” race should look and/or act like. Macross is better about this sort of thing, since it’s harder to tell if their alterations to the Zentradi were done because the writers also felt the Zentradi should be more distant and “badass”, and there are counteractions to it. But the Macross fandom itself is not devoid of a desire to see more menacing Zentradi. The older Roboetch novels and comics also make an effort to present Zentradi as more of a stereotypical “proud warrior race”, which feels extremely off but might be related to a desire to make them more “badass”. I would simply have preferred a well-rounded characterization.

1 comment:

  1. I would certainly welcome a post-Ranka Zentraedi. However, I would find it rather lame if such a Zentraedi would be less aggro than a miclone if in the military context.

    Outside the military, by all means be all you can be Zentradi /irony