Note: For the uninitiated, here’s a quick and dirty (and severely abriged) Macross-to-Robotech dictionary. Japanese terms to the left, with Harmony Gold’s names at the right .
Super Dimension Fortress Macross –> Robotech
Hikaru Ichijou –> Rick Hunter
Misa Hayase –> Lisa Hayes
Lynn Minmay –> Lynn Minmei
Lynn Kaifun –> Lynn Kyle
In case it wasn’t obvious from my previous post on the subject, I’ve been thinking a lot about Robotech lately, rewatching the entire series on DVD and consuming whatever additional material the internet machine can provide, including material from its source material. Among that is Macross Flashback 2012, the charming OVA featuring Lynn Minmay’s final concert before her departure from Earth in the SDF-2 Megaroad 01. It’s cheery and optimistic, and it presents some interesting contrasts between the approaches Tatsunoko/Studio Nue and Harmony Gold’s took to the character.
While Macross and Robotech both tell the same basic story, the come at it from different places, and both take different things from it. While determining these differences presents some difficulties when they both share the same footage (although not impossible—see “protoculture”) it becomes a bit clearer when you look at what each company produced afterwards, particularly as they relate to the character of Minmei.
For the bulk of both series, Minmei is characterized is the brave, cheerful, inspiring woman whose spirit proves to be greatest single factor in the transformation of the SDF-1’s civilian population from a collection of refugees to a vibrant community, and whose fame helps bridge civilizations and end the war between the human and the Zentraedi. Without firing a single shot, Minmei became as great a war hero as Max Sterling, Lisa Hayes, or Henry Gloval.
And then the world ended, and the population of Earth went from six billion to an estimated population of, unless you’re very optimistic, less than one million.
The last nine episodes of Macross / The Macross Saga cover what is known as the reconstruction era, an extended epilogue of sorts for either series showing humanity as it tries to pick up the pieces after Earth’s near total destruction. When we meet Minmei again, two years after the battle for Earth, we find out that her star has dimmed considerably in both her personal and professional lives. Touring across the various pockets of civilization to perform in pitifully small venues, her only companion her abusive cousin/manager Lynn Kyle / Kaifun, she begins to think of her career path as a mistake and begins nostalgically pining for a different time, when she was not a world-famous pop star and was much closer to her friend Rick Hunter / Hikaru Ichijou. When her depression reaches its nadir, she resolves not to sing again, and shows up on Rick’s doorstep to ask if she can crash while she figures things out; soon, after a battle with the Zentraedi remnants illustrates just how dangerous Rick’s job usually is, she asks him if he’d like for them to quit their jobs, and start over someplace else together.
Then, the final episode. The Zentraedi remnants organize one last assault on New Macross City, and Rick heads out to do his part in trying to stop them. Minmei’s suggestion becomes a demand, as she breaks down in tears and insisting that there’s no way he can leave her alone. It’s the most unsympathetic she ever gets in the series, and the one scene in which I say that she is unquestionably out of line: while there’s no problem with making suggestions, dismissing his opinions and demanding that he change regardless of what his actual feelings are—and in a stressful situation, to boot—is a completely assy move.
And yet, it’s not exactly out of the blue, given the way she’s treated. At this point in the series, she’s been expressing dissatisfaction with singing for months, and everyone–mostly Kyle, but also Rick—has been equally dismissive her feelings on the issue, saying that singing is her destiny: not one person tells her that her dissatisfaction is valid, and that she doesn’t need to sing if she doesn’t want to (note that she is single, has no dependents, and presumably has funds she could draw from—starting over is very much an option for her).
In any case, Rick (rightly, I feel, given the circumstances) ignores her demands, goes off to fight Khyron and the Zentraedi remnants, and by the time he returns to depressed pop star, she appears to have gotten over both of her major sources of unhappiness. She accepts that a romantic relationship with Rick is no longer possible and would not make anybody happy and, more importantly, declares that she will keep singing—that she had been merely lying to herself when she claimed otherwise. In short, she is back to her cheery self once more.
While I appreciate that the Macross people liked Minmay enough to have the ending to her story be a happy one, the resolution here is not one I find terribly satisfying. For somebody whose depression had been portrayed as all-encompassing for so long, in a way I found rather realistic, seeing it get treated as something that can be switched on or off feels disappointing, cause from what I understand, it very rarely, if ever, works out that way. Not only that, her decision to return to singing, while perfectly valid in theory, feels like something contrived in order to give her something that resembles a happy ending. The fact that her chosen option is the same one everyone has been insisting she should choose for the past few episodes and that the alternate option—deciding not to sing anymore—is not considered as equally valid also makes me feel that the story is basically calling for conformism—once your path has been chosen, woe be it who tries to change it and all that.
It is at this point where Minmei and Minmay’s stories diverge. With Minmay and Macross, we have Flashback, which serves to reinforce the show’s resolution. Minmay is happy and excited for the opportunity to return to space with her friends. Robotech, on the other hand…
When initially conceived, one of the main purposes behind Robotech II: The Sentinels was to show just what happened to the heroes of The Macross Saga after they all left Earth between the first and second Robotech Wars. For fans of Rick, Lisa, Minmei, and the rest, it was a chance to see their favorite characters again; for Harmony Gold it was a chance to write their stories without having to conform to previously existing footage. While the proposed 65-episode interquel was never finished, Carl Macek’s plans for various characters have been well documented, and when it came to Minmei, who, like her Macross counterpart, also finds herself as part of humanity’s journey to the stars, this is what those had to say (*1):
An important icon during the First Robotech War, her unflagging spirit inspired the [Robotech Defense Force] to victory against the Zentraedi in the face of overwhelming odds. During the reconstruction following the war, Minmei tries to fit the pieces of her personal life back together. Unable to make a solid relationship with Rick Hunter, her first true love, Minmei falls back upon her “celebrity” in an attempt to erase her painful emotional failures.
A stupid, childish mistake causes Minmei to accompany the SDF-3 on its mission to Fantoma [The Robotech Master’s homeworld]. Desperate for a lasting relationship, she accepts the marriage proposal of Johnathan Wolfe. The decision is more out of vanity than true love. Fearful of becoming an old maid, Minmei jumps at the first real opportunity to experience love, like she sees in Rick and Lisa’s relationship.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d suspect they didn’t like the character.[/sarcasm] It’s just about the most unflattering description I’ve read about someone who isn’t being outright painted as a villain.
The Sentinels‘ material, unlike Flashback’s, imply that Minmei’s claims at the end of The Macross Saga should not be taken at face value; whatever her words, she is not okay with not having Rick, and this comes across in the completed The Sentinel footage (*2). While it at least doesn’t suggest that depression comes with a light switch, that’s just about the only good thing I can say about it. While it wouldn’t be quite true to say that Sentinels Minmei is a completely different person from Macross Saga Minmei—she was, at different points of the earlier series, childish, stupid, impulsive, selfish, unprofessional, and maybe even manipulative– the character bio acts as if this were all there was to her, which far from the truth–she has also been kind, brave, ambitious, inspiring, and determined. It also implies that she’s done absolutely no maturing in the eight years between series, which really, Harmony Gold?
What’s more, the implication here is that Minmei’s depression stems from her unrequited love for Rick, which is almost exactly backwards. Looking at The Macross Saga, I feel the text is clear that Minmei’s newfound longing for Rick is due to the fact that he serves as a sort of emotional life raft whenever things are bad for her, based on nostalgia for that last moment when things were at their lowest for them both, and they both helped keep each other’s spirits up (*3). Kind? Not particularly (*4), but I feel its clear that normally, She’s Just Not That Into Him.
However, that is not how we’re meant to see things in The Sentinels. We’re not told anything about her life, except that she’s “falling back on her ‘celebrity’”—whatever that means–and the only thing we learn in the movie about what she’s been doing in the eight years since we last saw her is that she has a friend and singing partner in Janice. Does this mean that things are okay? Is no news good news? Impossible to say. Much more important, in the creators eyes, is that she’s still pining over Rick. She does seem to be happy for Lisa, though. So there’s that.
Which raises the question: why, exactly, is this the tack Harmony Gold chose to take with the character? Did they not like her? Would her story serve to present a larger thematic point? Did they seriously not see her capable of her story having another ending? Or is this simply the best story they could come up with?
I just don’t get the point. Sure, the original conclusion to Minmei’s story wasn’t perfect, but it showed that the character had gone from point A to point B, and had grown stronger for it. Why couldn’t that have been kept? Why was it necessary to return to a well with such sub-standard water? It’s not like there’s no stories you can’t tell about a pop-star turned peace symbol. She could serve as a point of view character—the Pioneer mission as seen through civilian eyes. You can have her become even more involved in diplomacy. Or if they reeeally want to make her story one about depression, then they could have actually about a person dealing with depression, instead of just saying “isn’t this person silly for not getting over her crush?”
What makes me suspect that this is a case of the creators not liking the character is that Minmei does not have a monopoly on immaturity, self-centeredness, etc–the main three all display these qualities in somewhat equal measure. However, she’s the only one to have it made an integral part of her character.
My theory is that it has something to do with the fact that Minmei is an entertainer, and the animosity towards her–whether intentional or not–is a subtler version of the animosity that they often seem to draw–especially if they’re women. Take Britney Spears, for example: given the amount of vitrol spent on her, one would think she’d made a career out of blinding puppies or manipulating LIBOR, but no: as sins go, her worst one would be making life choices other people don’t like. And yet, certain people would argue that this is enough to inherently make her a lesser class of people, instead of merely human, and fallible. (*5) Rick and Lisa, on the other hand, are part of the military—a (masculine-coded) profession that is seen as respectable, necessary, and serious, which, to some, overrides every sort of human failing they may have. Both are often dehumanized and turned into monoliths, but one is turned into a generally nicer monolith than the other, and this, I feel, is partly why the far-from-perfect Minmei is defined by her flaws and the far-from-perfect Rick and Lisa are defined by their virtues.
Both Macross and its American adaptation subvert that narrative, though. Through pure force of personality, Minmei is able to keep a city together, and arguably does far more to bring about the end of the war than any number of Veritechs could have done on their own. If Harmony Gold’s reasoning is indeed that entertainers are somehow lesser—and given “celebrity” and the de-emphasizing of music in their original work, one could make the case that it is–they’ve missed the point rather stupendously, which would be horribly disappointing. I much prefer thinking of Harmony Gold as a company that Gets It, so evidence that shows otherwise makes me sad.
Like I said earlier, The Sentinels as an animation project never got off the ground. While the various planned plot points were adapted into novels and comic books, they were all taken away from the canon when Harmony Gold rebooted part of the Franchise in 2001. Minmei, however, still doesn’t get a lot of love. In Robotech: Prelude to the Shadow Chronicles, her sole role is that of damsel in distress: she is kidnapped at the beginning of the story, where she spends a year until she is rescued off-panel. Franchise creative director Tommy Yune has also declared that her story is, for all intents and purposes, over. And perhaps that’s for the best. If they don’t know what to do with her, perhaps its best to leave her in character limbo. At least there I can imagine that she’s successfully managed to pick up the pieces of her life and has found her own happiness. Whether that means she continues singing or finds another career—whether it means finding somebody she loves or that she’s happy being single—well, they all work. Life is only what we choose to make it, after all, and I feel Minmei is perfectly happy of making her own happiness, if they let her.
(*1) Taken from Sentinels Minmei’s character bio included in the Robotech: The Complete Collection DVD set.
(*2) Although The Sentinels as a series was never completed, Harmony Gold re-edited the completed footage into a movie, chronicling the events of the first three episodes.
(*4) Although it’s worth noting that outside her bouts with depression, Minmei is almost always a better friend to Rick than Rick is a better friend to Minmei; Minmei isn’t looking for anything other than friendship and Rick has more than a few Nice Guy tendencies.
(*5) Which isn’t to say they’re free from criticism. Were Spears to suddenly espouse misogynistic statements, I believe those should be attacked. However, there’s a difference between stuff like that and stuff like her appearance, which harms no one and is yet brought up far more often.