Southern Cross Don't Need Men Around Anyhow

I watched a bit of Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross the other day. In the heyday of 1980s space-opera anime, it became the middle act of Robotech’s three-show splicing job, and that’s how most kids of the ’80s recall it. I, however, do not. I watched Robotech back when the Armed Forces Network aired it in Germany, but I only remember seeing the Macross part of the series, the one with Rick Hunter and Minmay and the jets that turned into robots and jet-robots. While that’s the most popular third of the show, you’d think I’d at least have some memory of the other two. But I don't, and so Southern Cross is pretty much new territory for me. At most, I recognize some of the more ridiculous sights from Robotech's intro, like the woman in the evening gown floating through laser fire.

Southern Cross is also part of my ongoing exploration of robot-filled anime from the 1980s. Over the past few years, I’ve checked out various well-regarded shows from the era: Ideon, Votoms, Layzner, Dunbine, L-Gaim, and a bunch of Gundams. Some are okay, if dated, but some of them are...well, terrible. They're poorly animated, awkwardly written, sexistly cast, badly paced, and just plain boring. Even Zeta Gundam. Wait, especially Zeta Gundam, which convinced me that Yoshiyuki Tomino, the esteemed co-creator of Gundam, cannot tell a remotely coherent story or grasp how actual human beings behave.

Mediocre shows are hardly unique to any anime era, and yet so many of these older mecha series are considered great beyond their historical context. While I could understand if anime fans liked them with loads of irony, I’ve seen them praised as legitimate classics far too often. 

There are several possible explanations for this. Perhaps fans watched these tepid mecha slogs back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when they lacked anything better in the way of semi-realistic space opera with big robots (which I find plausible, since we’ve all been entranced by dumb cartoons just because they dared to kill off characters). Perhaps fans just like them because they’re not as freakish and pedo-oriented as some modern anime shows (which I find hard to believe, since good is more than the absence of bad or, in this case, the absence of fetishy horrors). Or perhaps it’s proof that too many anime fans will watch, buy, and defend just about anything.

Anyway, Southern Cross has the same cheap look and jumbled storytelling as numerous other series of its era. It also backs some surprisingly dull robots and spaceships, considering it was partly designed to sell toys and models. Yet I find it interesting that Southern Cross is one of the few 1980s mecha anime where the three major characters are women. Our lead is the impulsive, self-spoiled, unjustly promoted pilot Jeanne Francaix, who’s constantly butting heads with her efficient rival Marie Angel and the exasperated, by-the-book officer Lana Isavia.

Surprisingly, there’s no male protagonist for them to surround during a war between aliens and an isolated human colony, and I wonder how hard it was for Southern Cross to avoid putting in a heroic, audience-identification leading man (Tomino, to his credit, tried to build mecha series around women, but he was apparently shot down by Sunrise). The show’s primarily about Jeanne, as she's usually pissing off her commanders, tracking a skilled (and handsome) enemy pilot, and driving her equally laid-back brigade into whatever battles she feels like fighting. Like Macross, Southern Cross is halfway to a comedy, a precursor to Nadesico, Captain Tylor, and other anime satires of the 1990s.

Unfortunately, Southern Cross is still a mecha show for toy-buying boys and geeks, so its three leads act the way that lazy ’80s anime writers thought women acted. When not piloting robots and flipping through fashion magazines, Jeanne takes baths and showers constantly, thus showing herself naked and proving that these Japanese cartoons are NOT KID STUFF. She also bickers with Lana and Marie over dresses and relationships, and all three of them are shoved toward love interests, often unrealistically, over the course of the story. That, however, wasn’t enough to save the show in the eyes of male viewers. It was canceled early, leaving the writers to hurriedly finish up a plot that was supposed to span almost twice as many episodes. Oh well.

And that’s Southern Cross. It doesn’t change my rapidly declining opinion of 1980s mecha anime, but at least it did something different.

Little Things: Duck Tales

You know what I like about Duck Tales for the NES?

When Uncle Scrooge ducks, his hat stays in the air for a split second before descending perfectly to his head. That's what I like about Duck Tales for the NES.