Robotech, In Brief: The Sentinels

“If we are to avoid a second Robotech War we must make peaceful contact with the Robotech Masters and establish a relationship of mutual cooperation. That is the mission of the SDF-3.”

WHAT HAPPENS: An Alpha Fighter squadron led by Rick Hunter comes under attack from an unknown foe. When Rick is forced to abandon his fighter, Jack Baker breaks formation to rescue him, but is surrounded by Battlepods. They fire, and the world fades away; the simulation is over. While Max Sterling thinks Jack’s got a certain something, Rick dresses Jack down for endangering the squadron and failing to rescue him. At military headquarters in Monument City, Dr. Emil Lang and Exedore hold a press conference explaining the importance of the SDF-3’s mission to the homeworld of the Robotech Masters. General Leonard, however, insists that the SDF-3’s departure will leave Earth defenseless. Elsewhere in Monument, Lisa Hayes tries on her wedding gown. As she shows it off to Miriya Sterling and Jean Grant, Lynn Minmei unexpectedly arrives, hoping to help Lisa with her big day in any way she can. Meanwhile on the Masters’ homeworld of Tirol, the scientist Cabell and his apprentice Rem watch as a fleet of ships lands at a remote mining colony. They unleash a legion of cat-like machines, then rejoin their fellows in orbit. At the colony, a force of mechanical monstrosities march across the landscape. A pair of Tirolians blast a nearby cliff face, burying the machines, but are then pursued by a pack of the cat-like machines. One of the two manages to use his rocket boots to escape and lands on the debris below. The robotic beasts claw through the rubble and surround him. Back in his lab, Cabell studies an analysis of the newcomers and surmises that these are Invid weapons; he explains that these tactics are typical of the Invid, sending drones in advance to clear out any resistance before descending. Waves of cat-like Inorganics overrun the Tirolians’ few Bioroid defenders. In orbit, the Invid Regent arrives and is given a status report. He is also told his wife, the Regess, disapproves of this invasion.

T.R. Edwards original production cel, from my personal animation art collection.

T.R. Edwards original production cel, from my personal animation art collection.

On Earth, the leaders of the Expeditionary Force depart in a shuttle for the Factory Satellite. Onboard, Jonathan Wolff expresses his skepticism that crafting the SDF-3 in the image of a Zentraedi ship was a wise move. He worries that if the Masters see through it things could get hairy. Rick tells everyone that while he has his doubts about the mission it’s time to leave them behind. The shuttle passengers are welcomed to the Factory Satellite by Colonel Reinhardt, who introduces them to the nearly completed SDF-3. Exedore briefs the crew on the history of the Robotech Masters, while back on their homeworld, Cabell tells Rem that the Invid are after the Flower of Life. However, the Masters took the last of the Flowers with them years ago. They leave Cabell’s lab for the outlying areas where the Inorganics are prowling; Cabell wants one for study. One finds them and chases Cabell through the ruins. He finds shelter in a Bioroid troop transport, but the Inorganic smashes through its canopy. Suddenly, an Invid Shock Trooper topples it over. The Invid craft’s cockpit opens, revealing Rem; he found it abandoned just nearby. In orbit, the Regent is told that there’s no trace of the Flower of Life on Tirol. The Regess chides him for blundering in; she tells him sending spies would have been a wiser move. The Regent is quick to remind her that it was she who allowed Zor to steal the Flower of Life. She tires of the argument and returns to Optera, despite the Regent’s protests. Back on the Factory Satellite, Dr. Lang and Dr. Harry Penn observe a test of the Alpha and Beta Fighters. Max is piloting one docked pair, while the other is piloted by Karen Penn, Dr. Penn’s daughter. The Alphas separate from their color-matched Betas, switch to Battloid mode, then return to Fighter to dock with the opposite-colored Beta. Max’s maneuver goes smoothly, but there’s a problem with Karen’s link-up. She’s sent spiraling towards the Earth. Max switches to Guardian and grabs hold of her fighter, slowing it down. She regains control, and the two fighters return to the Factory. Her father tells her this proves she has no place as a pilot, but Max assures him that the Alpha was damaged from the start, and she handled herself like a true professional. Lang tells her he’s recommending her as a combat pilot aboard the SDF-3.

Jonathan Wolff original production cel, from my personal animation art collection.

Jonathan Wolff original production cel, from my personal animation art collection.

Rick stops by Max and Miriya’s quarters to find out about the pilot exams, but is met by Miriya, who drags him in to see Lisa with her wedding dress. As the couple tease one another with military regulations, the Regent consults his scientist Tesla, who admits that there’s little of use on Tirol. The Regent believes that means they need to look closer. The two enter the chamber that holds the Invid’s Living Computer; it has formulated an attack strategy to finish things on Tirol. Still, Tesla believes if they found Zor’s flagship they would find the Flower of Life with less of a drain on resources. The Regent admits this may be true, but orders have already gone out for the final attack on Tirol. Back at the Factory Satellite, Vince Grant delivers Max’s list of pilot candidates for the mission and offers that he believes Edwards may be a problem in the future. Rick asks for proof, but Vince says he’s just got a bad feeling about him. Meanwhile, as Jack works on his pilot’s exam he’s given his invitation to Rick and Lisa’s wedding. Enclosed is an apology from Rick and a confirmation that he’ll be serving aboard the SDF-3. Max wonders what’s bothering Rick. Rick admits he’s worried about the enormity of his responsibilities. His self-pity is interrupted by Edwards, who’s heard that Rick’s been voicing concerns about his loyalty behind his back. Rick assures Edwards that he has full faith in him, but the moment he’s gone Rick grumbles that this is exactly what he’s talking about. Later, he tells Lisa that he’s worried that they’re leaving the Earth defenseless to chase a dream. He’s also worried that everything’s happening so fast, but Lisa reminds him that they’ve had nine years to prepare for the mission and the wedding. While Jack prepares for his final evaluation, Rem and Cabell’s experiments are interrupted by an alarm. The Invid are finally attacking the capital.

Invid Scout original production cel, from my personal animation art collection.

Invid Scout original production cel, from my personal animation art collection.

In the shadow of the SDF-3, Rick and Lisa’s big day is here; while Rick fumbles with his tie, Minmei tells her singing partner Janice how she and Rick were once “married” aboard the SDF-1. Over Tirol, additional Invid troop carriers arrive in beams of light and unleash swarms of Invid Scouts that tear apart the city’s defenses. Rem and Cabell abandon their lab for the catacombs below. With the stationary defenses in ruins, Bioroid defenders launch from the Royal Hall to engage the Invid. They fight valiantly, but are vastly outnumbered. As Invid Scouts fall to Bioroid blasters, Shock Troopers are deployed march down the Tiresian city streets, cutting down all resistance in their path. Tesla radios the Regent with confirmation that there is still no sign of the Flower of Life. The Regent gives the order to destroy the planet, but Tesla suggests interrogating the Tirolians. Invid speeders are launched, and the destruction of the capital proceeds. Survivors are rounded up, and the Invid Regent interrogates them. They tell him they know nothing of the Flower of Life and the Protoculture Factory. A Hive Guard rewards them for their honesty in the form of a time bomb. As Tirol falls beneath the Invid’s clawed heels, Lisa Hayes walks down the aisle, given away by Breetai. Rick and Lisa say the words, and Rick places the ring on Lisa’s finger. The chaplain pronounces them man and wife, and the two kiss. Minmei and Janice sing a ballad for the newlyweds, and as they dance they remember the friends who couldn’t be here today. Afterwards, Jonathan Wolff tries to introduce himself to Minmei and when Karen drops her fork, Jack tries to help her out and makes a nuisance of himself. Lisa tosses the bridal bouquet, and it lands right in Minmei’s arms.

Lisa Hayes & Rick Hunter original production cel, from my personal animation art collection.

On Optera, the Regess seeks to purge the influence of the Regent from her mind. She knows the path she must take: she must find Zor’s battle fortress. The Regess departs for Haydon V, where she will activate the Sensor Nebulae that will lead her to reclaiming the Flower of Life.

THOUGHTS: Comprised of animation produced for the first three episodes of Robotech II: The Sentinels (“A New Threat,” “The Inorganics,” and “Wedding Day”) combined with stock footage from the Robotech television series, used to smooth over transitions and pad the running time with flashbacks, the Sentinels feature is a mostly engaging consolation prize for fans disappointed that Rick and Lisa’s adventures didn’t continue into the planned sixty-five episode animated sequel that was intended to air in the fall of 1986. Some of the shuffling of footage is obvious: Jack Baker, for instance, was clearly aboard the Factory Satellite before the Macross Saga survivors and their colleagues, but because Macek wanted to open with the training sequence, he tried to edit around the fact. The landing of the shuttle betrays it; Jack watches it land when he should be on-board. Likewise, on second viewing Rem and Cabell are obviously in the ruined streets of Tiresia the morning after the invasion when they’re hunting an Inorganic. It’s the only way to explain the abandoned Invid Shock Trooper, after all. The invasion was supposed to happen in the first episode, but for the feature Macek decided to make it the climax alongside the wedding. I’ll be honest, visual storytelling blunders aside, I think it was the right decision; both the wedding and the battle for Tirol feature some of the strongest animation of the seventy-five minute running time and, combined with the cleverly reused footage from “The Invid Invasion” and “The Genesis Pit” that closes the feature, provide as satisfactory a stopping point as you can get short of seeing the SDF-3 launch.

I forget when it was first pointed out to me, but if you look at the Sentinels flightsuits they’re obviously modeled after the Macross movie designs, with different parts bulked up or shrunk down to avoid litigation. This is especially obvious if you freeze-frame Rick’s flightsuit in the Alpha simulation, where it’s colored exactly like Hikaru’s flightsuit in that movie. The other uniform designs are derived from the stylings of the Southern Cross, but given a more superheroic cut in line with Tatsunoko Productions’ bread and butter, hero shows like Gatchaman and Tekkaman. I’ve always been fond of Rick’s long uniform coat, but the basic uniform isn’t a great design, and it looks even worse on older and higher ranking officers like Edwards.

Things are better on the mecha design end, at least as far as I’m concerned. The Invid Inorganics are brilliant designs, scary with lots of sharp pointy bits. The briefly-seen Z1 Battlepods — reshaped Zentraedi Battlepods with arms — have always been oddball favorites of mine, and every time I watch Sentinels I wish I had toys of the Invid speeder bikes, manned by Hive Guard Enforcers, that appear in the final stretch of the Tirolian occupation. And then there’s the SDF-3 herself, radish rust red and psuedo-organic in a Zentraedi way without actually resembling a Zentraedi battle cruiser, despite Wolff and Exedore’s dialog. I can appreciate why the design was later changed for The Shadow Chronicles, but the old design had a lot of character and was another element that kept the Macross aesthetic in the design melting pot that is The Sentinels.

One place where the Sentinels movie falls down is the treatment of its cast of characters — and to be fair, these characters were supposed to be developed over sixty-five episodes, so shabby treatment in the first three isn’t an indication that this was going to be typical. Rick and Lisa are the best-served of the returning characters; they have leadership roles, though Rick’s given more focus on that front, and have their wedding coming up, so a lot of time is spent with them. They still feel familiar, thanks to similar character designs and the familiar vocal stylings of Tony Oliver and Melanie MacQueen. Max is shoehorned into a “best friend” role that seems off considering the last batch of Macross Saga episodes, though perhaps he and Rick have gotten close again since the destruction of the SDF-1. Cam Clarke has returned to the less high pitched version of Max’s voice, which matches this character design. Miriya loses the best thing about her, voice actress Edie Mirman. The new actress is missing the edge Mirman had that reminded you that, despite joining human society, she’s still a warrior, born and bred. Sentinels Miriya is a dull girly-girl best friend character, and is thus awful. Vince and Jean Grant get little to no characterization; Vince, whose character design strikes me as slightly racist, gets to have a bad feeling about Edwards, while Jean seems to be filling in for Claudia without any of the personality Iona Morris managed to infuse nearly every line reading with. T.R. Edwards is positioned as a foe for Rick, but does absolutely nothing. Jonathan Wolff offers some misgivings and wanders into Minmei’s orbit, but she moves along before he can make an impact. Jack Baker and Karen Penn are lined up as Rick and Lisa’s successors and get some good scenes; the wasted potential there actually hurts. Dr. Lang and Exedore provide exposition, while Breetai is turned into a joke with a dumb hat. Poor Lynn Minmei gets a strange singing partner and is defined by the fact that she didn’t get Rick at the end of The Macross Saga. She seems slightly washed up, which maybe points to her inability to manage her own career post-Kyle. I do like the way Dana and Bowie are handled, a pair of preteens whose sibling-style fighting suggests their close friendship in the Masters episodes.

(Quick side note: Exedore remarks that the Zentraedi served the Masters as “mercenaries.” If we assume he’s using the word correctly and further assume that Sentinels is to be taken as a valid part of the whole of Robotech animation, this further suggests the autonomy that appears to be in effect in the episode “The Robotech Masters.” Why would your genetically engineered clone army be “mercenaries?” I would assume they’re “mercenaries” because they went to war with one another, nearly destroyed your entire empire in the crossfire, and then the victors — those still loyal to you — went and “renegotiated their contract,” since they’re still a force to be reckoned with. Go back over Gloval and Exedore’s discussion of Zentraedi history in “Khyron’s Revenge” to see how I came to that conclusion.)

Macek used to complain that the scenes with the returning characters felt very pedestrian. I would say that’s because they’re given nothing to do in these scenes, which would be a scripting problem, but I think that a lot of this animation was produced based on the Japanese scripts that were discarded when this footage arrived, and those were discarded BECAUSE the returning characters were being poorly served. The sequences where these characters truly feel alive are the two Alpha Fighter sequences and the wedding itself. Otherwise, it’s a lot of Rick moping and Lang and Exedore going on about the importance of the mission and the history of the Masters.

I’ve barely brought up the events on Tirol thus far; to be honest, they feel like an entirely different, unconnected show. Cabell and Rem aren’t well-developed characters, but they have their charms. It’s fun watching Rem getting flustered by the Pollinators, and Cabell’s best moment is probably when he’s marveling at the strength of the Inorganic Hellcat as it tries to kill him, typical absent-minded professor stuff. The Regent and Regess are interesting characters in their own rights, but their angry husband and wife double act is grating and diminishes the majesty that the Regess displays in the New Generation storyline. I’ve always thought the Sentinels Invid design, while less mysterious and inhuman than that of the original TV series, is a very good design, and I prefer the coats and slacks of the animation to the robes used throughout the Sentinels comic books. The pulsating, psuedo-organic look and sheen of their technology is a highlight of the feature. The entire occupation of Tirol is a treat, watching the iconic baddies of two generations of Robotech going toe-to-toe in glorious, gleaming high-end TV animation.

For all its faults, and they are many, the finished Robotech II: The Sentinels animation is something that makes me smile: a taste of what could have been, an opportunity to check in on some old friends who’ve gone and grown up on me, and a brief but tantalizing look at that wider Robotech cosmos that was only hinted at in the original eighty-five episodes.

FIRSTS OF NOTE: First chronological appearance of Anatole Leonard, Rolf Emerson, Bowie Grant, Jonathan Wolff, the Invid Regess, the Veritech Alpha and Beta Fighters, the Bioroids, and the Invid; first and only animated appearances of T.R. Edwards, his aide Benson, Jack Baker, Karen Penn, Dr. Harry Penn, Rem, Cabell, Col. Reinhardt, the Invid Regent, Tesla, the world of Fantoma and its moon Tirol, the Z1 Battlepods, and the Invid Inorganics; and first appearances of Vince and Jean Grant and the SDF-3, all three of which later appear, redesigned, in The Shadow Chronicles. This is also the first mention of the world which bears Haydon’s name in Robotech animation, though the Regess calls it Haydon V, contrary to every single print source.

RICK’S STATE OF MIND: Moody and nervous about the mission of the SDF-3 and his upcoming nuptials, and still uncomfortable with the burden of leadership on such a large scale.

DOES MINMEI SING? She and Janice sing “Together,” a ballad for Rick and Lisa’s wedding. A never-before-heard Minmei song, “The Way to Love” can be heard faintly when Jack’s receiving his invitation for the wedding, and “It’s You” echoes in the background as Minmei holds Lisa’s bouquet.


8 thoughts on “Robotech, In Brief: The Sentinels

  1. I don’t care what anyone says, I love The Sentinels. Always have. I love the designs, I love the music, I love the story, I love the music, did I mention I love the music? Still wishing for a complete Sentinels soundtrack someday… I don’t care what Tom Bateman says, I can dream. :)

    I agree, it has its flaws. In addition to the ones you mentioned, some of the comedic dialogue doesn’t make any sense:

    “Dana had never seen a clone before, you didn’t see her go to pieces.” Umm, her mom’s a clone.

    “If no one has ever been to the Fantoma system, how do they know what to vaccinate us against?” Now maybe this is my expansionist mind at work here, but I was under the impression that at the very least Exedore had been there.

    And yeah, Miriya’s new voice doesn’t work.

    But to me those flaws are minimal and overwhelmed by what I enjoyed, and the taste of what could have been always lingers. I always said if I’d won the lottery I’d pay to have the animation completed!

  2. …And just the sheer joy of seeing all the elements of the Robotech universe interacting with each other– young Dana and Bowie with Max and Miriya, Exedore interacting with Leonard (I don’t care if he looks completely different, the voice sold it), and as you pointed out getting to see the Invid and Bioroids fight it out. Well worth the wait.

    Okay, I think that’s all I have to say now. ;)

  3. …And I LOVED the idea of building up Jonathan Wolff, getting to see the hero that Scott idolized, seeing the good man he once was before he fell.

    Okay, NOW I’m done.

  4. The “Sentinels” animation is bittersweet, for sure. That small sample of what might’ve been.

    I wonder sometimes if this project had been finished and fully realized, if it would’ve improved the standing of the franchise over the last 25 years. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

  5. Fer: Other flaws that always jump out at me include Max mentioning to Rick that Jack reminds him of a “certain amateur pilot” he once knew, when Rick had already been promoted to Lt. and received the Titanium Medal when he first met Max, and Max telling Karen to extend her wingflaps to increase drag IN THE VACUUM OF SPACE. Weird that so many of these things center around Max. But yes, overall, I still find Sentinels to be a good time; I watched it a second time after writing this up, and probably could have done it a third without being sick of it.

    Shawn: Based on things I’ve been told over the years, I wonder if it would have built Robotech up or ended it forever. I’ve heard intriguing things about later stretches of the series, and I’ve heard TERRIBLE things about later stretches of the series. I’d still love to see those blasted scripts one day and be able to make that determination for myself. If I’m remembering this right, there’s a bit of staging in the next to last episode that would’ve been mind-blowingly bizarre for a daily syndicated cartoon in 1987 — unless it was somehow telegraphed, which is why I want to thumb through all this stuff personally. Guess I need to do what I’ve been threatening to do for the past ten years: hop on a plane and plant myself on their doorstep until they let me in. ^_^

  6. If my opinions about The Sentinels were looked at in terms of ratio, one would say I hated it: there’s so much to pick apart, so much that falls flat or is just plain stupid.

    Yet I’ve got a soft spot for it, one that’s not proportional or rational. Watching this “movie” feels a lot less natural than it used to, but the spark is still there.

    I can’t really explain why, thought a lot of of it goes with Sentinels Exedore. Yes, he’s not really “doing” much, but he captures the original character far better than the Macross retcon. Buckethead Breetai is still hideous, however, and his voice seems to be really poorly acted in this.

    There’s also a sense of potential boiling under the surface of this, even if it at times needs a better understanding of the personalities of the main characters.

  7. First, let me once again express my gratitude for your reviews. There was a lot of material to cover for this post, and the effort is greatly appreciated.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of the Sentinels story. But I realize there are many who are, so I will try to temper my criticism, especially since I don’t want my name to end up right next to Rick’s on Fer’s face-punch calendar.

    In fairness to the actual animation in question, I should say that my problems with the Sentinels storyline stem from the cheap contrivances employed to setup and execute the story (as well as the removal of story elements from the original animation to cover-up the more obvious conflicts with said contrivances) as it appears in the novelizations. But most of those problems are not readily apparent in the animated version. This may be because the animated version only just touches on part of the story (before the wheels come completely off) and is fairly vague about the composition of the REF and the events leading up to the SDF-3’s launch (which cause problems in the novels), but be that as it may, it would be unfair to judge the animation on how it may have evolved rather than how it actually is.

    So based only on what exists, I have to admit that the Sentinels animation is rather enjoyable. Some of the dialog is just plain bad/odd (but that can be said about most shows), but overall, it’s just nice to see some honest-to-God Robotech. The animation itself is quite good – excellent, really, in comparison to most other TV shows of the time and especially during the fall of Tirol. I do like the Invid mecha designs as well as their overall aesthetic theme. The music is great too. I had forgotten just how good until I re-watched it. There are a few tracks I don’t care for, but most of the additions are positive. And, it is also nice to see the characters from the two different generations interacting – with Leonard exemplifying the old saw that just because you are paranoid, it doesn’t mean they aren’t really out to get you.

Comments are closed.