Southern Cross is also part of my ongoing exploration of robot-filled anime from the 1980s. Over the past few years, I’ve checked out various well-regarded shows from the era: Ideon, Votoms, Layzner, Dunbine, L-Gaim, and a bunch of Gundams. Most of them are terrible. They’re poorly animated, awkwardly written, sexistly cast, badly paced, and just plain boring. Even Zeta Gundam. Wait, especially Zeta Gundam, which convinced me that Yoshiyuki Tomino, the esteemed co-creator of Gundam, is by any standard a terrible director who cannot tell a remotely interesting story or grasp how actual human beings behave.
Lousy animation and poor writing are hardly unique to anime from the 1980s, and yet so many of these older mecha series are considered great. While I could understand if anime fans liked them with loads of irony, I’ve seen them praised as legitimate classics far too often. There are several possible explanations for this. Perhaps fans watched these tepid mecha slogs back in the 1980s and early 1990s, when they lacked anything better in the way of semi-realistic space opera with big robots (which I find plausible, since we’ve all been entranced by dumb cartoons just because they dared to kill off characters). Perhaps fans just like them because they’re not as freakish and pedophile-oriented as some modern anime shows (which I find hard to believe, since good is more than the absence of bad or, in this case, the absence of fetishy horrors). Or perhaps it’s proof that too many anime fans will watch, buy, and defend just about anything.
Anyway, Southern Cross has the same cheap look and jumbled storytelling as other series of its era. It also backs some surprisingly dull robots and spaceships, considering it was partly designed to sell toys and models. Yet I find it interesting that Southern Cross is one of the few 1980s mecha anime where the three major characters are women. Our lead is the impulsive, self-spoiled, unjustly promoted pilot Jeanne Francaix, who’s constantly butting heads with her efficient rival Marie Angel and the exasperated, by-the-book officer Lana Isavia.
Surprisingly, there’s no male protagonist for them to surround during a war between aliens and an isolated human colony, and I wonder how hard it was for Southern Cross to avoid putting in a heroic, audience-identification leading man (Tomino, to his credit, tried to build mecha series around women, but he was shot down by Sunrise). The show’s primarily about Jeanne, as she's usually pissing off her commanders, tracking a skilled (and handsome) enemy pilot, and driving her equally laid-back brigade into whatever battles she feels like fighting. Like Macross, Southern Cross is halfway to a comedy, a precursor to Nadesico, Captain Tylor, and other anime satires of the 1990s.
Unfortunately, Southern Cross is still a mecha show for toy-buying boys and geeks, so its three leads act the way that lazy ’80s anime writers thought women acted. When not piloting robots and flipping through fashion magazines, Jeanne takes baths and showers constantly, thus showing herself naked and proving that these Japanese cartoons are NOT KID STUFF. She also bickers with Lana and Marie over dresses and relationships, and all three of them are shoved toward love interests, often unrealistically, over the course of the story. That, however, wasn’t enough to save the show in the eyes of male viewers. It was canceled early, leaving the writers to hurriedly finish up a plot that was supposed to span almost twice as many episodes. Oh well.
And that’s Southern Cross. It doesn’t change my rapidly declining opinion of 1980s mecha anime, but at least it did something different.