All right, the flip side: if Zentradi aren’t inherently dangerous to humans, what about the other way around? After all, the Zentradi are often described as being "defeated" by humanity. It's possible to view the Zentradi story as one of forced assimilation, akin to what real cultures have experienced, and therefore the Zentradi as victims. Or their story can be seen as one of emasculation of powerful warriors, domesticated by humankind.
But while the Zentradi story can be compared to such real assimilation in order to study where Macross stands in relation to the culture of 1980s Japan, the specifics of the event are not analogous to any kind of human-human cultural assimilation. In the case of the Zentradi, unlike real human civilizations, they had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
While "warrior races" are common in science fiction, the Zentradi are different from that norm. Fictional warrior cultures tend to have developed societies alongside their war-making, as well as codes of glory and honour. Zentradi, in contrast, have nothing but their military.
Again from Aaron Sketchley:
The entire society of the Zentraadi, who were originally Protoculture weapons, was a military organization that was controlled by strict military regulations. From the time that they were born, they were brainwashed and psychologically manipulated by the Protoculture in order to not take productive actions or do cultural things. Even after being separated from Protoculture control, only the uppermost individual of a main fleet knew of culture only as recorded knowledge, and the system didn't change. However, the Zentraadi who met mankind each awoke to culture due to the culture shock of such things as songs.
However, the Zentraadi weren't a completely uncultured race. The Zentraadi were created by the Protoculture as a combat race, and as such, they must be able to have a strong mutual understanding of each other in combat, so the Protocultures arranged a language and letters for them and gave it to the Zentraadi. As language and letters are things that establish the foundation of culture, one could say that the Zentraadi language and letters existed as the groundwork that received Earth's culture.
However, their language and culture is specialized in simplification, or military affairs, as the Zentraadi didn't create an advanced culture themselves (the language and letters are assumed to have been based on the Protoculture language and culture).
In reality, words that aren't directly related to military affairs don't exist in the Zentraadi language, such as "love", "marriage", or "mother". This is thought to have been caused by male and female Zentraadi living separately, and new Zentraadi being produced by cloning technology. (http://sketchleystats.webatu.com/Trans/MCRworldguide/10BZentraadi.php)
While Exsedol once said there was a Zentradi proverb that combat was life, later events of the series suggest these words were meant to be hollow ones, since the ideal of combat is soon discarded or shifted by the sympathetic Zentradi--those that remain in the military make a choice to serve the human military instead. This is presented as a positive thing, and Exsedol himself shows an interest in the human world.
The statements from Macross Chronicle paint a bleak picture of the Zentradi life, and these, along with the content of the TV series, makes it easy to define the Zentradi alliance as a net positive for their race, and something completely different from the assimilation of existing cultures.
The Zentradi knew nothing of love or sex, and their only rewards are a boost in rank or the thrill of killing; this is a life they have not chosen, but were simply slotted into. These characters were, in short, lacking many of the fundamental experiences that make life wonderful. They were slaves, some of whom make that choice to rebel because they have seen something genuinely better.
If a lot of Macross material refers to the Zentradi as being “defeated” by humanity, that’s only because it’s technically true: the Zentradi do abandon their goals due to a challenge by their enemies. It also sounds more dramatic than “defected”.
But the Zentradi never chose to support the cause they were born for, so it’s no loss for them to abandon it. And while the two sides fought, the engineer of this “defeat” was actually song, and it did this by accident and was also wilfully accepted by the enemy. It’s not an ordinary defeat, and so the use of the word “defeat” can’t be used to show why the alliance wasn’t meant to be a positive ending for the Zentradi.
There are also enemy Zentradi who get vanquished in the more traditional sense; the definition “‘Zentradi” includes both friends and enemies. “The Zentradi were defeated” doesn’t demean the alliance. For some of the Zentradi, it really is true. For others, it's technically true, but the details are more complex and it’s ultimately a good choice for them.
Furthermore, some view the pre-human contact Zentradi as embodying a machismo that gets destroyed when they fall for Minmay and are no longer badass warriors unbound by pansy interests like love and song. It's similar to the view of the character Kamjin Kravshera, who eventually finds himself concerned with the Zentradi's reputation despite being a hedonist himself. But whether it’s coming from a character or a real person, it’s untrue: Zentradi are strengthened, not emasculated, by human contact.
As has been said above, the Zentradi led a deprived, repressed existence. Yes, their armies had great physical and mechanical strength, but it’s hollow because there’s no glory in slavery. Physical strength is not enough to make a group of characters worth cheering on. They have to be "into" it, be dealing with something they chose, to become idealized figures.
Because of that, the Zentradi who allied with humanity are the real badasses. Even if they did so just in pursuit of pleasure, they were strong enough to resist Bodolza, and to stick with their new lives. It sounds trite, but the courage to resist a system is more laudable than just being able to blow shit up because one’s absent creators told you to.
To some, "self-destruction" refers not to the disassembly of any Zentradi defeat or emasculation, but to the deaths of many Zentradi soldiers at the hands of humanity and the allied Zentradi. It's the trope of making peace with the enemy, but the climax of the story still involving fighting those of the enemy that peace can’t be made with. It’s often considered a contradictory or hypocritical trope.
In the case of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the allied Zentradi and humans respond immediately and violently to Bodolza’s forces coming to destroy all of them. One could argue that this was justified because of the swiftness of Bodolza’s retaliation. The alliance has no choice but to respond equally swiftly. On the other hand, humanity could be condemned for not even trying to open negotiations.
Yet if Macross isn’t a totally sunny series, humanity might have had no time to do anything else but defend themselves. It might be the consequence of telling a story where nothing is totally perfect. But again, that lack of perfection doesn’t mean the positive aspects are invalid.
As long as some portion of the Zentradi benefitted from the alliance, the moral contradictions of Space War 1 don’t meant that the Zentradi/human alliance was meant to be self-destructive.
This is also true when you bring up the fact of Macross’s background, where it’s said that most contact between spacefaring humans and new Zentradi after the first war usually did not end in a Zentradi awakening. Circumstances could be better, but it is not all bad.
To view the Zentradi/human alliance as dangerous and self-destructive is to only look at the story in the most simplistic way. It is to assume that the presence of conflict automatically means the entire event was worthless. It is to believe that a series would squander all its time establishing sympathy for characters, and then yanking it away in the most clumsy manner possible.
At this point, I want to mention the Robotech universe, including the non-canon material published in the 1990s. This was where my interest in the Zentradi started, and so I’ve always got to mention it.
The novels and comics present a much more downbeat view of the Zentradi than the Macross universe does, though without the guts to mess with the canon Zentradi. Instead, they create numerous original characters to advance their cynical viewpoint.
The friendly Zentradi are whittled down into a small faction that settles into a nice space colony on the planet Fantoma after a life fraught with post-war infighting--they are also mostly unable to reproduce with humans, a fact that contradicts previous material.
The most shocking conceit was that after the internal wars died down, the last of the Zentradi who live on Earth retire to the decrepit Factory Satellite and wait around to die off, refusing aid or contact from Earth: the best they can do is fight the incoming Invid invasion by sacrificing the satellite and themselves.
These things happen in the novels The Malcontent Uprisings, The Master’s Gambit and Before the Invid Storm, three midquel novels which are much more nihilistic and violent than the rest of the book series, and not only in regards to the Zentradi.
The novels were penned by two authors, Brian Daley and James Luceno, under the psuedonym Jack McKinney. Brian Daley died before the series finished, and James Luceno penned the three midquel novels alone, and larger portions of the books near the end of the original run. I’ve often wondered if the most extreme pessimism in the collaborative novels is due to Luceno, and this interview with him (http://www.megascifi.com/Q_A_WITH_JAMES_LUCENO.html) seems to confirm it:
JIM: The appeal for me, at any rate, was that the Zentraedi were an engineered, “vat-grown” race, created not only for exploration and, ultimately, warfare, but also one deprived of the ability to access a full range of emotions. As against, say, STAR TREK Vulcans, who had trained themselves to suppress or sublimate emotions, the Zentraedi were closer to cyborgs; until, of course, contact with humanity both provided at least some of them with a sense of what they might have been and doomed them as a race. This facet, more than the Imperative, is what made them interesting as characters, coming slowly unglued by music, interpersonal contact, and love. If only every “villain” was so easily seduced and redeemed.
In my original notes about the Zentraedi—jotted down sometime while I was working on the Malcontent Uprisings—I found the following quote, lifted from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game:
"If one of us [one race or another] has to be destroyed, let’s make damn sure we’re the ones alive at the end. Our genes won’t let us decide any other way. Nature [emphasis, mine] can’t evolve a species that hasn’t a will to survive. Individuals might be bred to sacrifice themselves, but the race as a whole can never decide to cease to exist.”
Say what one will about the dubbing quality of Robotech, there is nothing in it that changes the ultimate story of the Zentradi or undermines its benefit for both sides. Describing the Zentradi as “becoming unglued” and “doomed as a race” is a complete reversal of what actually happened. He seems to view the Zentradi alliance with Earth as another stage in their race’s defeat, and not their freedom. That the Zentradi only “might have been” a full people.
Since there are Robotech creations, they involve other authors interpreting Macross, and have little more authority than fan interpretations. But it doesn’t mean that Robotech initially presented the Zentradi story on pessimistic terms. The dub of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, whatever its other issues, presented the Zentradi story as positively as the original did. It was only later authors that twisted things.
Those Zentradi characters lucky enough to ally with humanity became a real people with human contact. Others, sadly, were only shown the initial shock of human emotions because they were approaching enemies, but that shock was only a pathway to a new life.
Overall, as long as the human/Zentradi alliance remains a part of future Macross series, and as long as we have good Zentradi and part-Zentradi characters on the side of humanity, the alliance can’t be something that should have been avoided. Not only because the earth would have been otherwise destroyed, but because the Zentradi would also have never been able to experience their own humanity.
That’s what makes the Zentradi one of my all-time favourite fictional races (though that doesn’t mean I like all the individual characters equally). It’s a feel-good story without falling into simplistic sappiness, with the value of art and freedom being paramount, but also a bit of comic relief.