Sunday, December 18, 2011

Opinions of Post-Macross Saga Zentraedi and Half-Zentraedi Characters: Robotech

I've changed since my early days in this dual fandom, but never enough to reject Robotech entirely. The reasons for this are complicated, and I don't entirely understand them. I know that objectively the old Robotech novels and comics suck, and nothing good about them was ever made that didn't derive from the three component series—but I keep coming back to them again and again, even when I cut all ties with Robotech fandom, and have rejected Tommy Yune's Robotech long ago. There are some small things I like in them, appealing moments arising from serendipity, as well as moments with potential. It's not about quality, per se.

Thus, when I discuss "Robotech" and Zentraedi (which I'll be spelling with that extra "e" for this part of the show), it is mostly dealing with characters from the obscure Robotech novels and comics--not canon anymore, but worth discussing. Robotech's portrayal of post-SDFM Zentraedi is more pessimistic than Macross, but there seems to be no real narrative thrust behind just kind of happens.

Therefore I don't attribute malevolence to the Robotech writers, rather just that they didn't think things through often enough. Furthermore, regardless of how I react to said plot points, because it is Robotech and not Macross, events carry less personal weight with me, good or bad.

For all these reasons, no matter how critical my writing below gets, none of it means I will break with Roboetch. The trends of Macross coincidentally manifest here, with most of the major new Zentraedi characters are female, as well as all of Miriya's children. Yet, somehow, there is less of a sense that female Zentraedi are being particularly prized, since there are large groups of mixed-sex Zentraedi everywhere, and the male characters still get attention. That doesn't make up for anything else, but it helps things.

Dana Sterling

I found Dana as unlikable a character as Robotech fans typically do. On reflection it was a colossal misfire to dub her as the Sterling daughter, since it leaves a need to explain how a teal bob became a blonde 'fro, and makes Max and Miriya look like deadbeats for leaving their daughter behind on Earth, or at least contradicts their willingness to bring their child into danger that other time. Of course, much of this could also have been solved by setting all Robotech characters and spinoffs entirely on Earth, an avoidance that came back to bite the production crew in the ass later. Alternatively, Dana didn't have to be their child at all, since the third part of Robotech lacks that generational link.

Furthermore, Robotech colossally misses the point when it comes to Dana's nature: she ought to be considered a normal person rather than a scientific wonder, since humans and Zentradi are genetically identical. Yet in the novels she remains a valuable piece of research, and very few children are born to the Zentradi for some reason. Some of this stemmed from the Robotech dub using Dana's heritage to explain the psychic experiences of her original Japanese counterpart, but the expanded universe took it too far.

Dana's perky, irreverent personality also gets on my nerves, but I will say it is actually a subtle and believable mix of her parents', which is more than most fictional children ever get. Her choice of different combat methods also helps to further distinguish her, which is important when writing children of pre-established characters.

Aurora Sterling

I do have a misplaced fondness for Robotech II: The Sentinels, but Aurora is a perfect example of the way that so much of it didn’t take into account the characters' personalities at any point, or created any truly viable new characters. Max and Miriya are unusually accepting of having produced a fragile psychic child, and Miriya even accepts being incapacitated by the draining gestation of Aurora, and even quits the military soon after her birth.

None of the potential cynical interpretations of this are ever followed up on, and it seems to entirely be the character's voluntary decision. Aurora herself is essentially a plot device, and a load of predictable messianic-child traits, including an unshakable personality and no flaws or nuance. No effort is made to give her uniqueness or distinction, and even her exact origins remain cloudy.

Maia Sterling

The bottom of the Sterling pack, since much less effort was put into making her even appear to be original. She is a pilot, just like her parents. Her mecha are trimmed in purple, a mix of her parents' red and blue mecha-- even her hair is purple (!). In short, Maia is the laziest kind of character-child, with almost no identity outside of her heritage.

Kazianna Hesh

It's so easy to think cynical thoughts about Kazianna Hesh and her creation, but they feel hollow to me. Somehow, after turning up my nose at every female Zentradi created by the actual people behind Macross, I love the one created for the Robotech novels first, and I still like her more than Veffidas. That is because of her character, not because she is the lover of Breetai.

Despite my usual contempt for any attempt by Robotech to create original characters (contempt for the execution, not the principle) I've convinced myself that Kazianna has a personality. She is determined, intelligent, bold, and a bit playful. Unlike Miriya, she was able to pursue her own goals and proceed on her own terms from start to finish, and unlike most of the other Robotech-only characters, she actually seems "alive".

I do still wish she had been developed more as a character, and that some of her actions had had greater explanation. Her name is also awkward-sounding, since her surname is exactly like a human one, and her given name sounds feminine to English-speaking ears, a tradition that Robotech barely ever averted when it came to female Zentradi, changing "Laplamiz" to "Azonia" and naming the female fleet advisor "Yaita", as well as "Kiyora" and "Vala" from some video games, and "Marla" from the novels.


Like Aurora, Drannin is another plot device, and he represents several flawed premises for the Robotech Zentraedi. For instance, it's heavily implied that he is the first biological full-Zentradi child. This is twenty years after the peace, so why would it take so damn long? It's never explained why, and it unintentionally suggests a bleak Zentraedi future. The novel never makes clear if he's simply the first giant-sized child or not, which would be more palatable.

Unlike Aurora, Drannin is apparently born without powers, but affected by the forces around him and develops psychic abilities, along with a bunch of other kids born aboard the SDF-3. He seems to be "grounded" unlike the aloof and mystical Aurora—yet Drannin doesn't seem to have any discernible personality. I want to go easy on Drannin, though; maybe it is only because he's Breetai's son, I don't know.

In that vein, though, I'm glad that Drannin wasn't played up as Breetai's "legacy". Sure, it's said once near the end that he's starting to look like Breetai, but that's about it. No bullshit about Breetai somehow being less than stone-cold dead just because he left a kid behind, or any need for Drannin to be like Breetai. He's just a kid like any other, albeit a giant kid who manifested psychic powers. However, this might only be because the novel ended with Drannin still young. Later series might have resorted to these cliches.

Breetai's Faction

What else do you call the handful of Zentraedi who went with the Robotech Expeditionary Force, and who may or may not operate under their own jurisdiction? Their exact legal status in comparison to the human members is never explored, which is another of the Robotech novels' flaws in world-building, despite them fleshing out the series backstory in other areas.

Except for Breetai and Kazianna, they're pretty much an undifferentiated clump. I was glad to see 'em having had enough with the megalomaniacal General Edwards and rebelling against him, and they as one take to Kazianna's son and mother-henning the later children that come.

However, though I once accepted it before actually thinking it through, the Zentraedi having a past life as giant miners on the planet Fantoma is a silly story point, and it's further disappointing that the Zentraedi (except Exedore and Miriya) are shuffled off to be miners for a good chunk of the early Sentinels comics and novels. There is a reason, but it's extremely contrived.

At the end of the Sentinels novels, only a small handful of Zentraedi are left, and they make a go of living on Fantoma, since they cannot be micronized again, due to their only having one chamber and it breaking down from multiple transformations, and now with no Protoculture to repair it. At least they didn't all die off, but it's unintentionally depressing when you think about it, especially because other novels show that there are no more Zentraedi left on Earth.

Seloy Deparra

It's good to see a female Zentradi character who is a genuine danger to humanity, which both series have lacked in since Laplamiz/Azonia, and she was obviously the second fiddle. Seloy is also fairly fleshed-out, with her anger at humanity small and personal, and her sentimentality a greater weakness, as she tries to bring Miriya back into her fold. However, her explaining her plans to Miriya, Bond villain-style, is hard to believe. Even if Seloy thought she could turn Miriya, she ought to have been smart enough not to give it all away that quickly.

Thankfully, her name is a break from the "Female Zentradi have names that end in 'a'" Robotech trend, but on the other hand, I am certain it's derived from some human term. The closest I've been able to find is Seloy-Oy, which is a glassware purchasing company based in Finland. The Zentraedi Rebellion implies that it's just the closest equivalent to what Seloy's name "actually" sounded like, but it's still not credible.

And yeah, because she appears in something written by Bill Spangler, she uses that ridiculous Robotech-Zentraedi language, a harsh, grating tongue that seems to be trying to ape Klingon speech, despite Zentraedi being the opposite of Klingons in some ways. I know I said I hate "Yack Deculture" and all its derivatives, but honestly, beyond that, the cadence of the Macross Zentradi language is much more appealing, and more consistent with the names of ships and characters.

Assorted Malcontents

They have names, many names, but they are pretty much interchangeable. The concept of the Malcontent Uprisings is still something that feels like it needed to happen, the final burst from the pressure cooker of post-Rain of Death Zentraedi unrest. I don't like the author trying to justify these events as the product an ingrained killing urge rather than individual psychological issues leading to mob mentality, more specifically even than Macross Plus does. Notably, though Michael Ling's comic art is terrible, the character designs feel like they could be Macross Zentraedi, with weird 80s hair and faces that run the gamut from normal to cartoonishy freakish.

Hosq and Hosq's Son

I have wiped most of the Hosq comics from my mind already, since they're poorly written and poorly drawn, even by the standards of the Robotech comics. They're a story about a male Zentraedi (whose name doesn't sound Zentraedi at all) and his half-human son, who fall in with a rebel faction. It's a flat and dull story, with inexplicable references to the Japanese Macross shoehorned in...all but for one fascinating notion. Hosq once led an independent Zentraedi settlement, which is an idea I would love to see explored. Just in a comic that doesn't suck.

The Zentraedi Colony of T'sencha

This is an obscure one, from the Robotech: Clone Special. It depicts a colony of crashed Zentraedi who have transformed themselves into a more humanlike mode of existence, with clear romantic attachments between some, and a micronized Zentraedi couple with a baby. I thought that was pretty cute, and though the art style is crude, as with the Malcontent comics, the Zentraedi characters feel like they could be Macross-saga Zentraedi designs.

I didn't like their chanting cargo-cult reaction when the comic's protagonist shows up, and again the Zentraedi are just window-dressing. The otherwise Zentraedi-free Clone series are some of my favourite Robotech comics: they're borderline original fiction with Robotech stuff spackled on, but they're also enjoyably esoteric, and are a lot more competent than the norm.

The Factory Satellite Remnants

Now this is just stupid. If it were treated with any seriousness, it would be horrifying, but as it is, it's thrown in completely from left field, and so is hard to rage about. Basically, when the Robotech novels were finished, author Brian Luceno, one half of the "Jack McKinney" writing duo, wrote a series of "midquel" novels trying to fill in gaps in the novel's timeline. I've read two of these books, and they feel too gritty and awkward to fit with the original books, although The Zentraedi Rebellion, like its original comic, had potential in terms of what it deals with.

However, I refer to Before the Invid Storm, in which a minor plot point is that all Zentraedi have re-located to the Factory Satellite, to live in what becomes squalor, and refuse aid from below. The males die first, and the females then in a kamikaze attack on incoming aliens. The only exceptions were the three ex-spies, Bron, Rico, and Konda, who choose to live on Earth, but died soon after of an inconsistently-explained illness.

This is all not explained. I don't see any necessity for it. From a writing perspective, why have a race be saved, only to internally self-destruct, and thus invalidate the entire plotline? Furthermore, what reason is there to try to eliminate the Zentraedi, when a benefit of the novels is supposed to be allowing all the elements from the three anime to exist in the first place?


Once again, I haven't found every Zentradi character there is to find. In Robotech's case, there are still some video games that I have avoided, and some comics I haven't read, and at this point, don't plan to read.


Robotech is worse in a lot of ways, with its Zentraedi-related flaws easier to argue. The lives of Zentradi in general are obviously better in Macross. Yet Robotech did manage to create a few decent Zentradi characters, and there is less of a sharp gender divide, though one that is still there.

Yet the honest truth is that, whatever Robotech does with the Zentradi, it feels like, on some level, none of it "matters". That these portrayals are somehow "fake" and can't be counted as a strike against Zentradi representation, not of any large concern. Even what I like about them I still recognize as less "honest". Yet they're not going to go anywhere.

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