Robotech, In Brief: Prelude to Battle

“I will not tolerate any delays! We have to come up with a new tactic, and quickly!”

“Certainly, Commander. I understand.”

“Good, because I want an end to this madness, and I’m holding you responsible. After all, you’re supposed to be the one with the brains around here.”

WHAT HAPPENS: The 15th Squadron and elements of the air forces are still doing battle with the Robotech Masters at the crash site of their flagship. Unfortunately, the Masters are maintaining a tight defense. General Emerson gives the order to withdraw so he can formulate a new strategy. As Commander Leonard pushes Emerson to think fast, Dana and Nova talk over drinks. They are interrupted by the arrival of a Military Police officer who has Bowie in custody; apparently he was found in a restricted area, in a bar on the outskirts of town. Bowie insists it was a music cafe. Dana assures Nova she’ll keep Bowie out of trouble, so Nova lets it slide. Shortly, the high command convenes. Emerson’s new plan is to send a recon group into the enemy ship to gather information about the Robotech Masters. Leonard approves the mission and recommends the 15th Squadron for the job. Emerson doesn’t want Bowie in there, but reluctantly tells Col. Rudolph to draw up the proposal. When Emerson has gone, Leonard tells Rudolph not to issue it as a proposal, but as a direct order. While Sean and Angelo initially groan about the task before them, Dana’s can-do attitude becomes infectious. The 15th stand ready for the mission ahead. Later, Bowie thanks Dana for getting him out of trouble with a fancy sundae. Dana urges him to relax and unwind before the battle by playing piano at the coffee house, but tells him not to get caught or they’ll both be in hot water. As night falls, Louie works the bugs out of his helmet-mounted camera for the mission and Angelo sits in the dark with a stiff drink. Dana stops in to talk to Angelo about the mission, when Nova arrives with Bowie in tow. This time he was caught in a brawl; someone told him a piano player wasn’t man enough to be a soldier. Dana tells him she’s proud of him, but when Nova says she’s putting Bowie away, Dana lets her. Angelo and Nova can’t believe what they’re hearing, but Dana tells her to take him away. All the way to the brig Bowie begs to talk to Dana again, but Nova’s having none of it. Morning comes, and the operation begins. As he watches the 15th on his monitor, Emerson is told that Bowie’s been locked up. Soon enough, Nova lets him out; his Hovertank speeds into formation as the 15th approaches the downed alien ship, much to Dana’s chagrin. She’s peeved that Emerson went over her head, but dismisses such thoughts as the battle begins. The Hovertanks and their air support pound away at the flagship until they’ve blown a hole in the hull. The Hovertanks switch to transport mode and speed on in to face the unknown.

THOUGHTS: This is more like it, an episode focusing more on characters than strafing runs, with nothing totally wonky to complain about. Bowie’s the primary focus, with General Emerson worrying about putting him in harm’s way as he begins spacing out on the battlefield and repeatedly visits off-limits piano bars to follow his true passion. It all sort of hangs together in the end, with the reluctant soldier standing up for himself and then wanting to prove himself in battle, only getting his chance due to the intervention of the person who didn’t want him out there in the first place. A shame the lines connecting these dots aren’t stronger; there’s nothing to indicate that Emerson knew Bowie wanted to join his comrades, so his last-minute reprieve could be seen as a weird about-face given that Bowie did, in fact, break the rules given him and earned his stay in solitary. It’s also a little odd that we never see Bowie at the piano bar. We get to see Dana indulging her sweet tooth, Sean trying to steal a kiss from his latest romance, Louie tinkering with his machines, and Angelo sitting in the dark with a glass of the hard stuff, but we never actually see Bowie doing his thing. Mind you, those are all great character moments, wonderfully played by the cast and well animated by the Southern Cross creative staff. Between the sight (or, in Bowie’s case, talk) of the members of the 15th all immersed in their particular elements and the scenes of Supreme Commander Leonard and Chief of Staff Emerson disagreeing on strategy, we’re finally entering territory that really feels to me like the iconic Robotech Masters-era setup. It really reminded me why I love the 15th ATAC and why, despite the rough start, I do so enjoy this era of Robotech.

FIRSTS OF NOTE: I think this is the first time we’ve heard Bowie talk about his passion for music, which figures into the next episode in a big way. In “Dana’s Story” he mentions that the military isn’t he life he wanted, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t talk about what he’d do instead. We’re also introduced to Col. Rudolph, one of Supreme Commander Leonard’s most trusted confidants.

DANA’S BRATTINESS/INSUBORDINATION LEVEL: The crap she pulls with Bowie earns her high marks, a lucky number seven. She tells Nova she’ll watch him, tells him to go do his thing but not get caught — yeah, like Nova won’t be snooping around his hangouts after Dana of all people asked her to trust the two of them — and then praises him for getting in a brawl and showing ’em how big a man he is while also letting him spend the night in solitary.

DOES BOWIE SULK? He’s starting to more closely resemble the more fully-formed Bowie we saw in the hobbled-together footage of “Dana’s Story,” the piano player-turned-reluctant warrior. When Dana hangs him out to dry he does an awful lot of whining; you get the feeling he’s been nagging Nova every step from the 15th’s barracks all the way to his cell, like a teacher’s pet protesting his first detention.