Southern Cross is best known to Western audiences as the middle third of the Robotech saga. I can barely remember Robotech from my childhood beyond the image of an upside down Minmay poster forever stuck in my mind, so I’ve created new Southern Cross memories.
The primary thought I have formulated is that this is anime that emphasises the role of women in military power, made before people realised that relying on feminine stereotypes was not an effective method of empowerment: it’s very much a “I’m just a girl after all” show.
It is also a series that emphasises that individual people are but small parts of the war machine, and it is a robot show that sees its robots as tools rather than heroes in their own right.
On top of that it’s a series that, in its first seven episodes, gives so little information that one feels an intense need to read supplementary material to have any idea what’s going on.
In the future, humans have colonised a planet and named it Glorie. Soon after having made it a truly habitable place, the people of Glorie find themselves under attack by a presumably alien race known as the Zor and unable to make contact with the rest of humanity.
The focus of the program lies on the shoulders of Jeanne Francaix, a seventeen year old girl and member of the 15th squadron of the Glorie army. She begins the series as a lower ranked officer, but her resourcefulness and quick wit in battle lead to a promotion to lieutenant and command of her unit.
The first paragraph there is barely revealed in the first few episodes: I had to glean that information from the book that came with the DVD. If you don’t know that much you’ll probably be as confused as I was by surprisingly good looking twenty-one year old robots waging war on each other. It’s the sort of slow boil that was popular in the eighties: the concept is that you give information to the audience on such a slow drip that they have to wait weeks to find out what their heroes are fighting for.
Due to the robot fights being anything but fantastic, the battles are exciting enough to sustain the show until the big guns are ready to be cracked out; it’s a show that does not glory in war and even features heavy deaths as a reality of the situation presented. Key members of the 15th squadron remain unscathed up to this point, but a large number of them have already been killed in action.
The killings are indicative of something in the program, and are not just a cheap ploy: they coincide with the plot going somewhere and the stakes raising considerably. The reason we’re given so little information about the Zor is because the people of Glorie know nothing about them beyond the fact that they have a tendency to rain fiery death upon innocent civilians and must be stopped. The pacing improves considerably once we’re given reason to care that people are dying.
Outside of battle, the willful civilian lives of the 15th squadron and their colleagues are shown in all of their glories: after all, Jeanne is just a girl. She frequently has arguments with seemingly the only other two women in the army, Marie and Lana, and they’re not just about discipline but about diets and dresses.
In one hilariously wrong episode ending, Jeanne launches a bold attack on the Zor so that she may get advanced pay to buy a dress. Upon buying the dress, Marie and Lana are furious as they wanted that dress for their own. They are the ultimate victors, as Jeanne accidentally rips the dress on her hover bike – which causes them to turn to the camera and wink.
What am I supposed to make of a headstrong anime heroine who devotes her time to the pursuit of food and fashion, who engages in petty mind games with her colleagues? I realise that anime to this day remains a sexist boys’ club, and this is hardly sexual objectification, but this particular brand of stereotyping is nothing short of bizarre.
The men of 15th squadron are all nice chaps, and it’s particularly fun to watch hardheaded Andrezj show his soft side each time he understands precisely where Jeanne’s coming from: for all of her feminine wiles, she truly is an excellent tactician.
They are brought into being by a cast that is headed by some people who work in the industry to this day, including my most beloved Tomizawa Michie and Doi Mika as Jeanne and Lana respectively. Tomizawa’s work is nothing special up to this point but, for all of its joys, Southern Cross has not really had call to be a vocal challenge.
One third into the series and the surface is barely being scratched. Southern Cross comes from the great mech war genre and does not immediately call its viewers to arms, but it has great potential to come around; it’s already worth it just to marvel at the outdated treatment of women. Maybe that’s just me.
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