Buried Treasure
Southern Cross

by Justin Sevakis, Feb 19th 2009

I can't speak for the rest of the ANN staff, but I avoid talking about Robotech whenever possible. It's not that the show is bad or anything (truthfully, I've never seen it), but rather that even the slightest mention of it seems to result in our forums being inundated with insane, kvetching middle-aged man-children for whom time stopped when the final episode aired.

I have not seen Robotech, simply because I did not watch it in its initial airing back in the 80s, and during my formative years as an otaku the prospect of renting a few random episodes here and there on VHS was not an appealing one. As I matured, the idea of first seeing the institutionally famous Macross series as a heavily modified and localized dub was even less appealing. At some point I was plied with the subtitled boxed sets of all three series that made up Robotech, and having such a conspicuous gap in my anime knowledge had bothered me for some years. So I decided to sit down and watch them.

I enjoyed all three, to an extent more than I expected to. All three series have their flaws, of course... Macross is overlong and has serious pacing problems -- and having seen the visually enthralling Macross: Do You Remember Love? movie edition years earlier, the original series had some trouble competing. Genesis Climber Mospeda, despite having some really lovable and memorable characters, occasionally suffered from bouts of extreme stupidity.

Of the three, I clearly enjoyed Southern Cross the most.

Jeanne is not a good military officer. She's a source of constant headaches for her superiors (she frequently abandons her duties to do girly-girl things like shopping), and doesn't really care to improve. Her complete disregard for rules, regulations, and the orders of her commanding officers land her in solitary confinement on a regular basis, a punishment about as effective as making a hyperactive kid face the corner for a few minutes.

The rest of her squadron, the infamous Squad 15, is no better. In fact, the only reason she is their commander is because the constantly-philandering Charles slept with a superior's girlfriend and got demoted away from the position. The rest of the squadron either hates her or is mildly indifferent, with the exception of the young and sensitive Bowie, a prodigy who'd rather be off playing the piano. The lot of them are engaged in a long-running war with the Zor, who once inhabited the planet Glorie that has since been colonized by humans. The Zor, despite being mostly human, are quite different in that their society only allows them to exist as triplets. They have highly advanced bio-weaponry, but have an unusual bond with the planet that could serve as their Achillies' Heel.

As Jeanne and her gang bumble their way through their assigned missions, she slowly happens upon a few key turning points during the war: the accidental recapture of a handsome young man named Seifried who was captured by the Zor, hypnotized, and forced to pilot their mecha against his own race (Jeanne falls instantly in love); and the covert exploration of the giant Zor battleship, during which young Bowie falls in love with one of them. At the same time, Jeanne herself finds herself at odds with fellow commanders Lana and Marie, both of whom are far more qualified than she is and razz her constantly about her ineptitude.

Like its brethren Macross and Orguss, Southern Cross's conceit is prone to some inherent silliness. It takes place in a ludicrously easygoing military and features dangerously unqualified teenagers in commanding roles seemingly less important than their personal drama. The particular team we follow also seems to be, at times, the only fleet in the entire military, featuring prominently in every major event of the war while still going largely unrecognized by the top brass. The entire set-up seems more inclined to let its characters be weird without worrying too much about how this world actually works. Rather than other mecha shows of the time period, the proceedings reminded me more of Irresponsible Captain Tylor. In the end, the show doesn't really attempt the sort of space opera bravado that was expected at the time.

Maybe for that reason, or due to its abrupt (and admittedly, unsatisfying) ending, Southern Cross is not really all that well-loved. Originally the series was intended to run 39 episodes (much like Macross and Orguss before it), but low ratings forced a cancellation after episode 23. Luckily, the writers got enough of an advance notice to be able to pull together a rushed conclusion, but the state in which things are left is less than satisfying. (One source of fan debate over the years was whether the conclusion was originally intended as a halfway point, or was simply rushed to its final destination.) Other detractors point to its characters as the reason for their dislike of the show.

I like it specifically because of its characters. Perhaps fans, used to having actual heroes in their mecha shows, were expecting to have a protagonist (or somebody) they could really get behind, but I saw Southern Cross as something of a sitcom; a precursor to shows like Patlabor. It's no fun to see competent people succeed all the time. I find it far more entertaining to see a rag-tag bunch of losers happen into a historically important spot almost despite themselves. Jeanne might be a bubblehead who'd be kicked out of any real army on her first day, but it's hard not to laugh when the guy she's trying to seduce regards her with confusion and disgust. Bowie, who figures heavily into the series, also adds a layer of earnestness: not only is he the innocent who might have a chance at pulling off something great, but he's also one of anime's extremely rare African-ancestry heroes.

One aspect of Southern Cross that's not immediately obvious was what a launching pad it was for several people who later became big names in the anime business. Character designer Hiroyuki Kitazume, whose distinctive line work I can usually spot a mile away, cut his teeth refining existing designs for the main characters and coming up with additional ones as the series went on, long before his work on Gundam: Char's Counterattack or Moldiver. Many of the voice actresses at the time were also unknowns, including then-idol singer Noriko Hidaka as Musica. Jeanne was also Michie "Sailor Mars" Tomizawa's first starring role.

Having watched all three series that made up both Robotech and the Super Dimensional trilogy, I can honestly say that I feel improved as an anime fan. They filled in gaps of my knowledge of anime history, and more importantly I feel like I understand why so many people on both continents fell in love with them. All three are worth watching, and Southern Cross was a pleasant surprise beyond my expectations. It's lightweight, but fun and perhaps a bit better aged than its siblings in either the Super Dimensional or the Robotech universes. It doesn't get the affection it deserves.

So now that my one column on a piece of Robotech is done, I think I'll steer clear of the forums for a while. (My sincerest of apologies to our moderators.) I can only imagine what poor Tommy Yune had to put up with for making the Shadow Chronicles.


Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
While I can't comment on its appearance in Robotech, I can say that Southern Cross has never been dubbed in its unmodified form. ADV released a very nice subtitled collection on DVD in 2003, and it was released last year in a box set with Genesis Climber Mospeada, but there's no telling if this thing is still in production now or if ADV has discontinued it given that company's current status. Regardless, the collection covered here can still be found online for less than its original $100 asking price. I did see a few up for sale that were suspiciously cheap, so I have to wonder if those might be bootlegs. Caveat emptor!

Screenshots ©1985 Harmony Gold U.S.A. Inc. & Tatsunoko Production Company Ltd..

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