Robotech, In Brief: Countdown

“What’s wrong, Sammie? I thought you wanted to go into space.”

“I do … I think.”

Read my 365 Days of Robotech write-up on “Countdown” from last summer here.

WHAT HAPPENS: As the crew of the space battlefortress SDF-1 struggle to lift off under orders from slimy Senator Russo, Rick Hunter makes a nuisance of himself, accidentally crashing his aircraft-turned-robot into the home of fifteen year-old Lynn Minmei. When Zentraedi invaders arrive on the shore of Macross Island, Veritech Skull Squadron Leader Roy Fokker gives Rick a quick rundown of the craft’s operations before ordering him to grab Minmei and take her to safety. During the rescue, Rick discovers that the invaders look nearly human — except five times larger! The SDF-1 finally manages to take off after going from untested alien technology to reliable human tech, but with Minmei unconscious and the day’s events so far taking their toll on him, Rick ignores Roy’s orders to follow him to safety.

THOUGHTS: Same song, second verse. “Boobytrap” and “Countdown” are two peas in a pod, identical in quality and animation style. Rare is the day where I watch one without the other. It’s such a shame that the animation quality drops off so sharply in the next episode; the first three episodes together make up one long story, the string of misfortunes that plagued the battlefortress SDF-1 on its maiden voyage.┬áIt’s funny how large a role error and misfortune play in these two episodes, beginning with the accidental firing of the main guns, Lisa’s error in ordering Rick up, his flailing run-in with Minmei’s house, the SDF-1 gravity control system tearing free of the ship — ending, so far, with Rick not looking where he’s going and crashing his plane right into an enemy craft. This long stretch of bad luck and bad decisions probably stems from the fact that in early drafts of the original Japanese series, Macross, it was intended to be a parody. Playing all this straight, though, makes for some great drama, and gives our untested heroes plenty of room to grow and learn over the course of the series. The one big addition this episode makes to our cast is the girl Rick makes a cute-but-bumbling impression on and nearly kills more than once, Lynn Minmei. I still find it amazing, watching this again, that not only does Rick nearly kill her by crashing his robot into her house, and later nearly drop her when the arm of his Guardian is shot off, and ultimately knocks her out when his Guardian crashes into another enemy craft, but if Roy hadn’t swooped in when he did, she would have been squashed flat. It’s enough to almost make you believe in the Robotech novelizations’ Shapings of the Protoculture.

FIRSTS OF NOTE: The first meeting of Rick Hunter and Lynn Minmei is kind of a big moment that ultimately lays down the groundwork for the experiences that will change their lives, and the lives of so many people they touch, forever. But we’ll get to that bigger ripple in another episode or so. The more immediate impact is made by the first moment we (and Rick Hunter) see a Zentraedi warrior standing before a human being, revealing the aliens’ massive stature; and the first appearance of their signature combat craft, the Regult Tactical Battlepod — one of the greatest grunt “bad guy” robot designs in robot animation history. Highly mobile, well-armed, but also believably disposable, the Regult is actually quite a dangerous piece of cannon fodder. It’s also such an alien design, its bulbous roundness and chicken legs so strikingly different from our heroes’ boxy, far more humanoid Battloids. It matches their more rounded, lumpy, pickle-like warships, which have a similarly wonderfully alien look about them.

RICK’S STATE OF MIND: Confused, stunned, and ultimately so overwhelmed by the past several hours that he just kind of shuts down.

DOES MINMEI SING? No. She does scream, though.