Doom and Localization
Southern Cross is an anime series that was doomed from the start. It was originally supposed to be something like Aura Battler Dunbine which is an isekai fantasy series. The fact is that Aura Battler had to go back to Earth due to ratings. That means Tatsunoko, who worked on this completely, had to shuffle around a lot of their production. So since the beginning of this show’s history, it has been a huge mess. Then the ratings hit and it was canceled because it only ran for 23 episodes. Not even toy or model kit sales could save it, because there weren’t any. At the beginning, it really was a disaster.
Which is interesting because the western localization of Southern Cross, under the new label Robotech: The Masters, gave it new life. More people saw it in the west under that label with different ideas and other concepts, then anything else. That means that more toys and products came from it too. It literally was a second breath of fresh air for a series that was dead on arrival. Even Japanese fans of Southern Cross, apparently, bought those toys because there were no products from Japan at all. So, a good case of the Harmony Gold, 1980’s style of localizations by Harmony Gold. Can’t say that about everything.
Anyway, this post is, as mentioned, about the Japanese version.
The Main Story of Southern Cross
Set in the future of 2120 after Earth was made uninhabitable by a nuclear holocaust, Southern Cross is a series that takes place on a planet named Gloire. This is where some of the last bastions of humankind other than one other planet that is mentioned later on in the series. The very interesting thing about Gloire is that it is home to a humanoid species named the Zor. A species that just appeared recently. So this is a series that is a first contact situation completely going wrong. As in everything goes wrong and it’s a massive space war at the cost of so many lives on both sides.
The main crew that we follow in Southern Cross are the 15th Squad led by Jeanne Francaix. A 17 year old who runs into all sorts of trouble all the time. She enters as the commander of her squad in the first episode after leaving solitary confinement. Jeanne leads a squad of five important people (Bowie Emerson a young boy who doesn’t want to fight, the strict Andrezj Slawski, the genius Louise Ducasse, and the horny man Charles De L’Étoile who was dropped to buck private in the first episode, and a lot of other people who are just there to die and make it dramatic somehow.
Supposedly there are two other female officers that are main characters in the show somehow? Lana is a military police officer on Gloire that constantly is on Jeanne’s heels and always putting them into solitary confinement or causing trouble. So yeah, she is pretty prevalent throughout the show even though she never wears the armor/suit that she puts on in the opening. The other one’s name is Marie and she barely gets any characterization besides pushing away Charles and fighting. That’s about it for her and I feel like this alone shows some of the problems that will show in this series as it moves onward.
Death Missions and the First Half
To me, this series was pretty interesting in its first half. Possibly the most interesting because this was before the series expanded its cast to make it kind of lackluster. This is the part of the show where humanity doesn’t know anything about the Gloire armada of ships right over them. There is a lot of tension in every scene where one mission could be the last mission that each person could have been on. Especially Squad 15, its members slowly deteriorate as time goes on. There are people who have names which die off screen and you can feel the emotional weight behind every mission. This was when Southern Cross was the best for me.
Which might not be an opinion that a lot of people allowed, but it was cool to see so many sides of Jeanne other than the excitable commander who gets into trouble. It’s very interesting to see her 17 year old excitement of going into space completely ruined as she was frightened by how terrifying it was. That was just a simple mission just to send a message beyond the Zor fleet. Or the Zor battleship infiltration after it crashed. Not to mention that Jeanne might be boy crazy, but she does know when she gets set up. Or even her moments of kindness with Bowie when she tried to protect him by setting up Bowie to be in solitary confinement during a death mission.
I wish the rest of the show could have been a lot like this portion. The downtime, the group chemistry, Jeanne trying to navigate and survive the politics of the military that is against her. The pure threat of the Zor invasion that could happen if the Zor wanted to just wipe out humanity from Gloire. Especially since they had more ships and technology that is more advanced than anything the humans have on Gloire. This was the portion of the show where I heard this horrible reputation about it and I would see it and say “where did it go wrong?” I can’t say that it’s the best thing ever in those moments, but that was when Southern Cross was a solid show that just needed some spicing up to improve on. Some good mecha fights too of course.
2nd Half and Hating Siefriet
The second half feels like a dumping ground of ideas. There is a plot, the fight between the Zor and the Gloiriens. That is the central focus. The problem is that it feels like too much is happening in the first half that is either happening off screen or not much is happening there either. Large military maneuvers happen which Jeanne and Squad 15 are not even a part of major concerns lead by incompetent leaders who think the best idea is attacking the Zor with no plan at all. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing because our characters were not thrown into a blender to just die. The bad thing is that people who we were unattached to fought and died off screen just to maybe further the entire background of the plot and that by itself is bad.
So what was that time filled with? Siefriet, a bio human that Jeanne and others fought against, is now a double agent. That means that Jeanne automatically has some sort of attraction to him and there is a bit of a love triangle between him, Jeanne, and Lana. Why? Mainly to see if human interaction can help him recover memories. So good for this bland character that doesn’t have any sort of personality I suppose. Still don’t like him even if having his memory wiped is a good excuse for him to be that way. It doesn’t help this show in any interesting way at all because the love fight and it feels very empty. As in there are no feelings there other than some sense of surface level attraction. They are teenagers, sure, but it doesn’t make for good tv.
The final battle of Southern Cross is like Return of the Jedi where there are a lot of small battles all over the place. It is such a mess and unfocused in the worst way. There are battles in space and here is Jeanne and her squad on the land not getting involved until whatever the plot chooses the character, Siefriet, got them involved. He is such a horrible plot character who is designed as a shoujo pretty boy probably to get ratings and not much else. I just…I don’t have any good positive feelings towards it off there either. Then getting to the ending, which makes sense and is about humanity and the Zor living together, required a lot of BS that either does make sense and is too fast or is pointless BS that doesn’t make any sense at all.
The Mysteries of the Zor
Southern Cross could have been a lot more interesting if it allowed the exploration of the Zor people a lot more than what we’ve seen. For instance, a lot of the ideas and plots were at least mentioned or shown earlier in the show. There was actual pay off from Squad 15 breaking into the Zor spacecraft that crash landed on Gloire for a small amount of time. They wandered around with their mecha and on foot for a suicide mission and they saw a bit of how they lived, dressed, and Bowie fell in love with one of the Zor people, Musica, during their short encounter with each other. Same with the Zor ruins found on Gloire that were found previously in the show too. So the plot and ideas of Southern Cross are actually coherent and well planned surprisingly.
The problem to me is that the Zor aren’t given their time to actually flourish or become more interesting than knowing something about them. Which I suppose is a problem in the show itself because masses of people just feel like empty masses of people. Same for Gloiriens, same with Zorians. Learning how the Zor people exist in triplets was interesting for instance. It does cause drama for one character, Musica, as she breaks away from her triplet group because she discovers feelings. The fact that the Zor had areas where people who left their triplets are held in like a second class area of a city was wild. Same with their mental clarity facility and other things too. There is so much about that which I hoped to learn about for if Southern Cross had time.
To me, it feels like Southern Cross had a lot of ideas that it couldn’t fully push or express without it seeming like a Macross rip off. Quite possibly because it was. For instance, a part of Macross is about how culture affects the Zentradi who only know about combat. Macross has built up that sort of thing for a long time. The Zor kind of just had that occur. It makes sense for at least Musica to be absorbed by Glorian culture right? It doesn’t make sense for everyone else to suddenly dig into love just because Musica did when they barely encountered human beings at all. Or the flowers in the ruins which we know what they do and how they can change people or how they are a part of their culture, but it kind of feels half assed. There is too much going on.
Jeanne as a Character?
Jeanne is one of those characters that everything that I have read or watched has placed her as boy crazy and that’s it. My own issue is that Jeanne is one of those characters who is whatever the plot needs her to be. There is almost no consistency in how she is written. At least in the second half it feels that way. The first half characterized Jeanne as one of those characters who would rather go on dates and buy nice clothes but can lead people when the time hits. She was crazy about one man during the first half, but she wasn’t blindly in love enough that she didn’t forget the moment that he wanted to use her and she called him out on it. Jeanne felt multi faceted and complex because she was given the time to be all of those things believably.
The second half was too much stuff happening. Suddenly, her personality just becomes “I’m in love with Siefriet ” and almost nothing else. Mainly because Siefriet is now that plot, not the entire fight that is occurring between the Zor and Gloiriens we barely see in space. So she just becomes “I’m going to go on dates with Siefriet or get jealous when he isn’t dating me” the character. This literal Marty Sue Siefriet ruined the show and ruined Jeanne. She is such a nothing in the second half unless it is moments where she absolutely has to lead people into battle. That is why I feel like people remember her as boy crazy and nothing else there either. She could have at least been multi faceted, but not anymore.
Concluding Thoughts on Southern Cross
On an art and animation front, I feel like Southern Cross isn’t bad. I don’t think that Southern Cross isn’t the most well animated show to come from the mid 80’s, but it is very clean and consistent. Especially when comparing it to something like Macross that couldn’t be anymore inconsistent then it is, that’s a good thing. I also really dig all of the character designs and the very cool leftover suits of armor piloting suits that could only be compared to Ronin Warriors battle suits. The mecha designs are kind of questionable because the transforming tanks to humanoid units are kind of horribly designed and not well thought out at all. Kind of a sticking point to me because it lessens the enjoyment of those battle scenes for me.
For my general thoughts on Southern Cross itself, it’s a fine show. Somewhere between ok and good for me. It is worth watching because it’s twenty three episodes in length itself and is just a decent space mecha anime series. Kind of unique because it doesn’t take place on Earth at all and that can add its own intrigue of learning about Gloire and its culture. It feels like a hodge podged piece of work, but one that shows where anime culture was at that time. Especially with all of those ideas and well placed things for it there too. It is still a very watchable piece of media whether it’s just Southern Cross or a part of the Robotech saga where the show does take place on Earth for that series’ plot and ideas.
Of the three sections of Robotech, the Southern Cross portion is the weakest. I’ve seen Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross as well, and it’s a series that had a lot of promise at its start, but becomes rushed by the end. My guess is that around the halfway point, the staff was seeing the ratings and figured the series could potentially get cancelled, so the writers started cramming in as much of the concepts and characters that were going to be introduced later in the series as they could. I’d like to think that we would have gotten more development for these concepts and characters if the series had been able to have its full slate of episodes. It does kind of make you wonder what could have been if the situation for this series had been different.
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Yeah, I’m with you. I would have liked to see where the series could have gone if it had more time to explore a lot of its ideas better.
Sounds like the first half was pretty good and had a lot of potential! Too bad the second half kind of faltered. I wonder how an anime studio might clean it up if this series was rebooted? Maybe the writers would delete Siegfriet all together?
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Maybe or they could have so much more time to flesh him and other character interactions around him. I think that would have helped the show quite a bit.
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And so. Every time a studio or publisher tries to jam somethings together to form an incoherent universe, like The Asylum, or whoever wants to be the next MCU creator? The Estate of Carl Robotech Macek scoffs and says Been There, Done That!… Also thanks Carl for your half blanking of the Dirty Pair decades ago with Streamline. Still won’t forgive you for that.
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That’s the thing and no one seems to have learned from anything by it because people keep throwing together these universes that are way too messy and all over the place.
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Well if it makes you feel any better? Everyone is doing it! After all we have the FirstResponderVerse of Chicago PD/Fire/Med… I thought the real kinda sorta shared universe of Adam-12 & Emergency! was meta enough and that’s like decades old… Yes I’m that old.
Some series… Star Trek, DC or MARVEL, it just works. And… Well… The seldom spoken of thing that is the Micro Shared Universe. Things like every Doctor Who, Kamen Rider, Ultraman and Super Sentai all coexisting together in a shared universe unto themselves. It’s ok… Until it’s not. Seriously was Action Figure Ultraman Taro in 2012 to 3014’s Ultraman Ginga supposed to celebrate Taro’s 40th?!? I feel insulted for my Birth Sign Ultraman!!
I first experienced Southern Cross as Robotech: Masters, but didn’t have its full story until I read the Robotech novelizations… but where Carl Macek modestly claimed (in a book called “Robotech Art 3”) he’d improved Southern Cross in its conversion, the authors of the Robotech novelizations claimed (in an interview in a fan magazine called “Protoculture Addicts”) they’d improved Robotech: Masters (by explaining the flightiness of Jeanne/”Dana Sterling” as a result of psychic powers and a mad scientist trying in interpolated scenes to take them from her…) The novelizations themselves have been controversial to certain fans over the years.
Anyway, when I did have the chance to see Southern Cross as itself I was willing to be positive about it and suppose it cleared up certain foggy areas to Robotech: Masters, and I’ve watched it more than once. It could even be the messiness of the story lets my imagination roam a bit (including sorting out certain motivations for more than one character, particularly in the final episodes.) There was a column called “Buried Treasure” on Anime News Network some years ago that proposed taking note of comedic elements in Southern Cross.
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I do see a lot of stories with messy sorts of executions that allow you to make whatever you want out of it. I do that all the time and I feel like that is where a lot of fanfiction comes from.