Tactics are Sexy: The Battle of Saturn’s Rings, SDF-Macross

We Remember Love starts the 2009 with fireworks! This is a new post series co-hosted by We Remember Love Specials, on great battles in anime history. I am a big fan of military history, particularly breakdowns of great battles. Now I apply this fascination of mine to awesome anime battles.

ghostlightning_breetai_12-02

Why did the Zentraedi lose the Great Space War?

It wasn’t because of the “Minmei Defense”, the contamination of their warlike culture with J-Pop, or UN Spacy’s Variable Fighters, or even the combination of all the above.

The Zentraedi lost because Bodolle Zer (Dolza)  set an impossible mission for Vrlitwhai Kridanik (Britai) to complete. This was to capture the SDF-1 Macross. The Zentraedi war machine with its millions of warships are not built for capture operations, they are built for annihilation. Britai gave no indication of prior success in such missions, if such missions were ever undertaken by the Zentraedi.

Furthermore, I’ve found after reviewing a number of battles in the franchise, Macross is a comedy of errors of military strategy and tactics. Compared to the strategists in anime such as Tytania, Legend of the Galactic Heroes, the Crest of the Stars franchise, Code Geass and even Gundam, neither Capt. Global nor Commander Britai are comparable (strategy and tactical talent-wise) to the likes of:

  • Yang Wenli (Legend of the Galactic Heroes)
  • Lelouch Lamperouge (Code Geass)
  • Spoor Aron Sekpadao Letopanyu Penju (Beneej Spoor, Crest of the Stars)
  • Sumeragi Lee Noriega (Gundam 00)

There are more examples I can think of, but it’s already painful for me to acknowledge this as a Macross decultard. The resolution of the conflicts in Macross have far less to do with the abilities of its strategists and tactitians than with contingencies such as music, culture, and the vulnerabilities to such. Furthermore, the Macross franchise belongs fully to its pilots. And I do say, that Macross pilots are the best. Bring it on Char Aznble,  Mr. Bushido, Ali Al-Saarchez, Kozuki Kallen, and I’ll show you Isamu Dyson, Roy Focker, and -ahem-, Maximilian and Millya Jenius.

I digress.

The Battle of Saturn’s Rings is one of the early set-piece battles in the Great Space War. It’s more of a skirmish really, with Britai experiencing the difficulty of capturing the battleship of the alien miclones. The Daedalus Attack (or Macross Attack in Macross Frontier) made its debut, Lt. Misa Hayase’s flash of inspiration when the naive plan of Global failed due to the inability of the main gun to fire caused by the complications of the newly-developed pin-point barrier system.

Now go to the analysis proper. HASSHIN! GO HERE NAO!

After all that, tell me:

  1. Does Global’s plan to lure the Zentraedi in the Cassini Divide of Saturn’s Rings make sense to you?
  2. Does Britai’s approach to use Capt. Ziller’s ship by itself make any sense, given that he had at least 20 other ships at his disposal at the time?
  3. Does Britai’s decision to call for reinforcements (and to bring in Qamzin of all people!) make any sense given the tens of thousands of ships he had at his disposal within the solar system?

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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21 Responses to Tactics are Sexy: The Battle of Saturn’s Rings, SDF-Macross

  1. In before (?) comments about applying logic to anime, especially anime like Macross. Accepting the idea that it’s a fun exercise regardless, and remembering that I know very little about military history . . .

    1. Yes it does, but it’s more of a gamble than a plan. In the (highly unusual!) circumstances, I can’t see myself coming up with a better alternative. It’s a while since I watched the first half of SDF, so I can’t remember for sure, but wouldn’t there have been some time in the days/months preceding this battle for Global and his crew to test the Macross’s capabilities. Sure, that’s a risk, given that pushing buttons folded them out to Pluto in the first place, but hardly as big a risk as gambling an actual battle on equipment which you don’t fully understand. That, if anywhere, is where I would really fault Gobal: preparation.

    2. Not from a pragmatic point of view, no. Captain Ziller’s career would presumably benefit dramatically from a successful ship-to-ship duel. Favouritism on the part of his superiors, hoping to get him advancement, perhaps?

    3. No, unless again Britai wants to push Qamzin up the career ladder. (2) and (3) also suggest contempt for the Macross on the part of the Zentraedi.

    Regarding the ‘Questionable Moves’ page, I’d point out that while the Zentraedi might overwhelm the Valkyrie squadrons with numbers, this ought to stil take time. If the Earthlings stay close to the Macross, there must be some limit to the number of Regults that can engage them at one time, simply because of limited physical space to move in. Though, as you point out, the Regult swarm is ‘maneagable’, and again this may be because of contempt for the Macross.

    Oh, and someone needs to make a Macross mod for Homeworld 2.

  2. Devon says:

    1. Yes, it does make sense. Considering that the rings are made of both ice and rocks, they make for a substantially important divide between the Macross and the main weapons of the Zentradi fleet. Even if it’s a minor barrier, the Zentradi GCBCs will lose power and punch over time if they have to pass through multiple objects.

    2. To be honest, no. I agree on your point. Why just use one ship when you can use your entire battle group to suppress the enemy who is very obviously weaker in terms of force composition and weaponry? While I understand that the main cannon is devastating, it’s only powerful when firing in a straight line. It’s a Gun Destroyer, not a fricken Colony Laser. However, one has to take into consideration that the Macross Main Cannon is, in fact, a continuously-firing beam weapon. If such is the case, then the ship is more than capable of turning on an X-axis and use a sweeping fire zone, thereby annihilating a good portion of any fleet.

    3. No. Considering the amount of ships he had, the Macross would’ve been devastated had he converged on their position. Furthermore, it’s absolutely retarded that he didn’t make use of the fold drives to drop on top of the Macross (who lacked this piece of machinery, as obvious to the Zentradi) and launch a full-scale surprise attack. As a strategy gamer, if I had been the Zentradi commander, I would have divided my fleet into four battle groups of five ships each and would have assaulted the Macross from multiple axes with the capitol-class warships while utilizing the massive number of Regults and Fighter Pods to overwhelm the Macross’ small-craft, boarded the ship with the Regults, and then systematically slaughtered the applicable civilian and military populace without a second thought.

  3. ghostlightning says:

    @ animanachronism

    Thanks for considering this as a fun exercise.

    1. I didn’t consider what other options are possible and here, I am remiss. I would suppose that I would use Saturn’s rings to shake off the Zentraedi, but not to force a decisive battle.

    2. I like that idea that Zeril (my bad for the typo) was a favorite, but given that Britai knew that the main gun exists – it’s hard to shake the idea that he sent Zeril to certain death.

    3. If the valkyries stay close to the Macross, they lose the advantage of mobility and agility imo, making them vulnerable to artillery fire as well.

    @ Devon

    1. I accept your point. I didn’t think of that. Macross will have the rings as a natural barrier, while being able to fire at will. The only thing that bugs me about this is that the Macross actually ‘popped out’ of the rings to attempt to fire, thereby exposing itself to bombardment/retaliation.

    2. As it turns out later in the anime, the gun is capable of some sustained fire, and can cover a cone shaped area to a degree, perhaps even turn on an x-axis. However, The Zentraedi need only to hold loose formations to negate the devastating capability.

    3. You called it. That would’ve been the most efficient strategy imo.

  4. Crusader says:

    1. Hiding in Saturn’s Rings provides a number of benefits, a place to hide for a while, force the numerically superior Zentradi Fleet to disperse their formations and break up their battle line in a bid to cover the entire ring system. As such, Global at least reduces the potential number of enemies he is facing. Instead of facing the full weight of the local Zentradi Fleet, Global might hope to face a smaller task force. Global has no idea of Zentradi fleet positions, but he does know that he is heavily out numbered. His Valkyries are superior to Zentradi units of comparable mass, fighting in dense terrain where numbers make less of a difference might give his largely green pilots a small edge where a Valkyrie has technical edge over a Regult. Publicly declaring that he hopes to wipe out the entire enemy fleet might have been a measure to ease the tensions within the civilian population. It doesn’t matter if the plan presented is good or even the plan he hopes to use, but in doing so he assures the civilian population that there is hope.

    He might not have wiped out the entire enemy fleet, but he could at least hope to have killed enough of it to give the Zentradi some pause. Global knows he’s basically on the run, so do his enemies, nevertheless there was a chance to give his pursuers a bloody nose to make them think twice, so he took it. Global at least forced Britai to re-evaluate the situation. Every ship Global kills is one less that is one less snapping at his heels. Even a small tactical victory can be ballooned into a major propaganda victory and morale booster.

    2. Britai is aware that even with 20 ships he can ill afford to risk more ships than he has to against the Macross Cannon. His mission is to capture not to annihilate his enemy, sending in one ship in at least ensures a more measured response to Macross’ capabilities. Britai might have been using Ziller as a recon element to gage their abilities. Ziller moving in to knife fight range accomplished one important thing closing distance. He can’t be sure why they have not fired the Macross Cannon yet, but why loiter within it’s firing arc at all? If he closes the distance perhaps the risk of using the Macross Cannon could be as detrimental to him as it would be to the miclones. Remember the Daedulus Attack had yet to be debuted so as far as Ziller would have known that Cannon was the biggest threat he faced. Even if Ziller was fragged the minute Global had the chance to, Britai would have only lost one ship instead of more. Given how it was a feint intended to lure them in, sending in Ziller as advanced recon or as the sacrificial lamb the the Macross Cannon makes some sense. Should Ziller succeed and if he needed help he could have called for it, unfortunately by the time Ziller knew he needed help it was already too late.

    Unlike the miclones the Zentradi could absorb such losses, and if Ziller was the price for some intelligence on Macross’s capabilities so be it. Keep in mind IIRC they did figure out what SDF-1 was capable of combat wise eventually even if it meant feeding units piece meal.

    3. Calling for reinforcements is always a good idea, after all more ships means more space is being patrolled and might mean faster mobilization of blocking forces. Calling in Kamijin also gave Britai at least one fall guy if things go bad (Supposing Macross bets blown to bits the blame could rest easily on “kill ‘em all” Kamijin and not “by the book” Britai). At the time Britai still had to worry about Supervision Army units, and if he needed cannon fodder, who better to use that the Kamijin Fleet given how no one likes them any way and they always want to fight no matter what?

    Furthermore if Britai was already suspecting that something was up putting Kamijin as a road block to his erstwhile commander might have been part of his contingency plans. After all it was because Britai called for reinforcements that he was able to muster more ships in the end than he would have had if he did not call out for reinforcements when he got the chance. As a commander it would have been strange had Britai not been clamoring for more of everything every time he had an excuse.

    @IKnight
    Ask some gentle/m/en comrades of yours I remember seeing a Macross Mod for Homeworld 2 before.

  5. animekritik says:

    Extremely interesting.

    On 1) It’s definitely a desperate move, but given the circumstances I see many generals opting for something along these lines. I haven’t seen the show, but Global’s comment “Once the enemy ship enters the firing range, fire the main gun” seems to imply that he’s trying out a Thermopylae strategy, whereby he positions himself so he can bottleneck the enemy and engage one (or a few) ships at a time. [How are these guys on ordinance?]

    2) I agree with Crusader. Even if only for recon purposes, Ziller’s use might definitely pay dividends. But maybe he should have had a small, agile escort of ships armed to the teeth to go with him?

    3) Calling for reinforcements is silly or wise partly depending on just how much backup the Zentraedi have. If they have a gazillion troops then why not? But if the transfer of ships exposes them elsewhere…

    This sounds like a great series of posts ghostlightning! But it reminds me still of how much must-see anime i haven’t seen!

  6. ghostlightning says:

    @ Crusader

    1. >>Publicly declaring that he hopes to wipe out the entire enemy fleet might have been a measure to ease the tensions within the civilian population. It doesn’t matter if the plan presented is good or even the plan he hopes to use, but in doing so he assures the civilian population that there is hope.

    I like this very much, because I can’t bring myself to believe that Global actually thought he can create a decisive victory over the Zentraedi. I should also have considered that he did not give any indication for Saturn to be a ‘last stand’.

    2. >>He can’t be sure why they have not fired the Macross Cannon yet, but why loiter within it’s firing arc at all? If he closes the distance perhaps the risk of using the Macross Cannon could be as detrimental to him as it would be to the miclones. Remember the Daedulus Attack had yet to be debuted so as far as Ziller would have known that Cannon was the biggest threat he faced.

    Arg. You’re a damn smart one. Okay it’s justified.

    3. & 4. This is where I think Britai didn’t have to ask for reinforcements yet. See Devon’s #4. While extreme short-distance folding/defolding maybe far-fetched, a skirmish/broken formation sniping at the Macross, plus waves upon waves of Regults would’ve been an available tactic to Britai.

    They could target the limbs, the main gun booms, etc. While they preferred it undamaged, a damaged and captured Macross is (or should be) preferable to further losses, and further mobilization.

    Having said that,

    >>Calling in Kamijin also gave Britai at least one fall guy if things go bad (Supposing Macross bets blown to bits the blame could rest easily on “kill ‘em all” Kamijin and not “by the book” Britai). At the time Britai still had to worry about Supervision Army units, and if he needed cannon fodder, who better to use that the Kamijin Fleet given how no one likes them any way and they always want to fight no matter what?

    Makes sense to me, and is quite interesting too. ^_^

    @ animekritik

    Very glad it’s worth your engagement!

    I fully endorse your viewing this, aside from my obvious fanboying. It is quite rewarding if you like space battles, mecha (!), and interesting characters. The music is top-notch j-pop, and makes everything (I mean it) better. It’s 36 episodes thereabouts. Stay away from Do You Remember Love? before you finish this. Watch that as a reward.

    I have finalized 2 more battles in this series: Code Geass R1: The Battle of Narita, and the battle for Earth in SDF Macross (millions of ships, yesss!).

  7. gloval says:

    Argh, this is one more reason for me to re-watch the series! I couldn’t say much to contribute to the discussion. Fortunately, the tactical points have already been discussed adequately.

    One main thing though, war is never solely about battles. There’s a saying that war is just politics with bloodshed. War involves culture, ideologies and all those stuff. Remember, Macross is more about music=culture=love winning the peace, and the mecha and all the awesome violence is there to primarily serve as the antithesis.

    And yeah, SDF Macross is a comedy of errors and doesn’t take itself seriously. I got to that conclusion based on earlier events: the bloopers surrounding the launch of SDF-1 all the way to its erroneous fold to Pluto’s orbit.

    One thing that raised my interest though is how the ship-scale tactical situation for SDF-1 can be compared to Thermopylae. Never thought about it that way, but yeah, the comparison seems valid. To capture the ship, the Zentradi will have to concentrate its forces over a small area and the numerical advantage no longer applies. As long as the SDF-1′s defenses can do its job, the enemy has no choice but line up in waves that will be continuously repulsed until SDF-1′s resources run out. To be more efficient, what the Zentradi needs is to find a way to bypass the defenses or find a chink in the armor. So sending in spies later was correct. It’s just that, as I’ve said, war is not just about battles, thus the espionage had other consequences.

    On the other hand, for the fleet-scale, SDF-1 is employing guerilla tactics with its surprise attack and disengage plan. Not too sure about this though, again, I better re-watch the series.

  8. ghostlightning says:

    @ gloval

    I re-watched this ep twice before writing this. Definetely worth it. I’m glad you see merit in my comedy of errors thesis. It’s in no way meant to disparage the show.

    History is filled with military blunders, and I find it actually refreshing to see them depicted subtly and so wholesale in this anime. Usually a show punishes blunders and the tacticians that make them via ignominous deaths, or extended bouts of melancholy. Here, these are taken as they happen, and no commander takes too much credit or blame for battle outcomes.

    Just look at Misa! After her brilliance here she wasn’t ‘developed’ into a tactician in the mold of Sumeragi. This too is because the franchise belongs to the pilots, and the pilot that counts belongs to Misa in the end.

  9. justhecuke says:

    1. Luring an enemy into a kill-zone always makes sense to me. I mean, the Macross knew that it was outweighed, outgunned, outnumbered, and outsupplied so any conventional method would have been crushed. They had to use a trap and their only real card to play was their main cannon. I would have done the same thing. Lay a trap, off one of their ships as a freebie, then run since the 20 or so ships cant cover all of Saturn and its rings and the Valkyries seem to be faster than the pods.

    2. It makes sense to only send in one ship. I mean, the Zentradi we’re convinced of their superiority, ship-wise, over the Macross. They knew the original ship, knew its capabilities, and knew that the humans had only a partial understanding of how things worked. Keeping that in mind, the Zentradi must have faced fleets having main guns that could fire consistently. They must have had a decent defense against it.

    Plus, the Zentradi seem like an honorable warrior race who crave battle. What fun is there in a 20 vs. 1 Macross-stomp? In games, against a pathetically weak opponent, I tend to play around with them. It makes sense that the Zentradi would do the same.

    3. Calling for reinforcements makes sense. I think that it’s at this point that he realizes that the Miclones haven’t merely gained a haphazard knowledge of Macross technology but have actually created something entirely new and very effective. To the Zentradi, who can’t even maintain their own ships, the Macross and the Miclones became that much more important to capture and analyze.

    On your tactical analysis:
    It seems to me that the Zentradi use lasers. If they do, then it makes sense why they would want to close distance since lasers lose power over distance. The Zentradi could compound their firepower advantage and be able to quickly disable the Macross. Then, they would disengage and wait for the Macross to surrender or just board it. This is assuming that the Zentradi ship has superior firepower, which i dont think is a bad assumption since it was sent in by itself to take it down.

    Also, no one could have predicted that the Macross was going to melee the Zentradi ship. I mean, c’mon, its a Crowning Moment of Awesome for a reason. Realistically, the Zentradi ship could have just blasted off the Macross’s joints, defenses, and engines with ease. I refuse to believe that you could have a weapon so horrible at doing what it’s designed to do.

    You said that the Macross disengaging after it shoots the anti-Valkyrie force was not inspiring because destroying one ship wouldn’t level the playing field that much. This confuses me since hit-and-run against a superior force is the best option. Then again, it would be even less inspiring to have a Captain who decides to not use a good trap when he has the chance to.

    I don’t think Global intended to use the cannon to wipe out the entire pursuit fleet. It seems to me that he just wanted to lure in some forces, destroy them, then use the hole he created to escape. I mean, Saturn is huge and destroying even one ship would greatly reduce their ability to block the Macross assuming they spread out to cover all routes of escape.

    But, since the pursuit fleet was all bunched up, the Macross could’ve just kept Saturn between them and the Zentradi until they put enough distance between them that the Macross was out of sensor range.

    I guess using Saturn as a slingshot to outrun the Zentradi would also work but I assume that this wasn’t used because the Zentradi’s position could intercept such a plan.

    Swarming with overkill levels of superior numbers isn’t a good idea because it makes it that much easier for collisions and friendly fire making it more of a stress on your pilots and a shooting gallery for the enemy. Point-defense and even large guns could be used against the swarm since they don’t have to worry about aiming to hit stuff.

  10. taleweaver says:

    Wow. An amazing and incisive post. Made me rewatch that battle sequence over again.

    It was refreshing to see an anime battle that didn’t have an uber-strategist like Sumeragi Lee Noriega or Lelouch Lamperouge.

    I guess in the end the Zentraedis were still in awe of the Macross hence the very conservative choice of tactics.

  11. ghostlightning says:

    @ justhecuke

    1. Okay.

    2. No. The Zentraedi way is to overwhelm with numbers. The reaction by Britai after Zeril’s death (to get MOAR reinforcements) confirms this. 20:1 is not overwhelming enough for his comfort.

    3. Yes, I can get your reasoning, but you also contradict yourself (re: proud warrior race not wanting to win enjoying uneven odds claim).

    The distance closed is still unnecessarily risky imo. Remember, if you really think about it, destroyng all Valkyries is the best way to render the Macross defenseless. The main gun is quite useless agains Regult swarms at close combat.

    @ taleweaver

    WAAAAAAY conservative. Well, Bodolle Zer only attacked when he had a 1,000,000 to 250,000 (?) advantage. Chess matches are fun too (Code Geass, Gundam 00), but different opacity of the cloud of war makes for interesting viewing variety.

    Very glad you enjoyed the post. You wanna do some Gundam battles with me?

  12. Pontifus says:

    Furthermore, the Macross franchise belongs fully to its pilots.

    I’m inclined to say that this is the point. The commanders of Macross are unprepared for the situations in which they find themselves, or are possibly just plain incompetent compared to the likes of other animated generals, so the pilots can steal the show. Even Misa is a pilot, as far as I’m concerned, in the sense that she pilots the Macross (though I thought that she was the XO and Claudia was the pilot, technically…I don’t remember them making that very clear). Of course, saying that story element x is in place for no other reason than to justify or enable story element y is cheating, so I’ll just try to answer your questions in whatever way my hopelessly pacifistic mind allows.

    1. It’s probably as good as any other plan they could’ve come up with. I don’t remember how much they knew at this point — they must have known that the Zentraedi had enough firepower to obliterate the Macross whenever they felt inclined to do so, but was Global aware that the Zentraedi wanted the Macross intact? If not, if there was general acceptance of the fact that they could all be dead tomorrow, I figure Global’s plans were born more of desperation than logic, simply because of the situation. And I’m also willing to cut Global a break simply because the UN had no prior experience with space combat on the scale seen in Macross (their orbital operations and Unification War battles on Mars couldn’t compare, I assume), and therefore couldn’t have possibly been equipped to train Global all that well.

    2. I can’t say why Britai chose the specific ship he chose, but it makes sense that he’d be reluctant to go after the Macross in full force, as his superiors wouldn’t be thrilled if he accidentally wrecked the thing. Granted, they probably aren’t pleased at the resources Britai wastes in his failed attempts to capture the Macross, either.

    3. This didn’t make a lot of sense to me, but Britai does seem to be one to play it safe — an excuse rendered inadequate in part or whole due to it being Kamjin’s fleet he brings in. I’m going to cop out here and say that Crusader’s explanation seems to work.

  13. ghostlightning says:

    @ Pontifus

    SO GLAD you’ve taken to the super dimensional ways of Macross. I believe you’ve seen more Macross than me at this point given that you’ve progressed more in Macross 7 which I’ve put on hold in the mean time due to @#!$@%!^#!! LOGH.

    In any case, I think Claudia was the helmsman. I should know this because I took my ROTC as part of the Navy but this was in 1994-1995 so my memory fails me. If Claudia was indeed the helmsman, she’d be more pilot than Misa.

    Cathy Glass = Misa Hayase
    Bobby Margot = Claudia La Salle

    In the bridge of the Macross Quarter, they gave Bobby an actual helm to steer.

    1. I agree with your assessment of the collective lack of competence/experience. There was no way to set Global up for success.

    2. His caution was validated once he captured some miclones and showed them to Bodolle Zer, who did not repudiate his conservative strategy. Still, it’s suspiciously a x element exists for y element phenomenon.

    3. Yeah, Crusader’s explanation makes the most sense here.

  14. Pontifus says:

    Yeah, helmsman, that’s what I mean — for someone who professes an obsession with capital ships, I know far too little about them and their terminology.

    I’m willing to lump Misa in with all the show’s paragons of pilotry primarily because, as executive officer or whatever her job title may be, she coordinates the ship’s actions, which, in a sense, consolidates all crewmembers through their efforts into a kind of over-pilot — though I’m most certainly making this up as I go. Also, she invents the Dedalus attack, but that may simply mean that, despite appearances, she’s the most gar (garest?) character in the show.

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  17. tman2000 says:

    The second series of SB Yamato was pretty lame, but there was a scene in Saturn’s rings that represented a shining moment in the ‘comet empire’ story. It was just cool and dangerous and exciting.

    But the Macross episode was pretty epic too. Perhaps its the beauty combine with ethereal nature of ragtag roughin’ it against deadly foes in the celestial realm. Something about two worlds being one. Fantastic truly!

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  19. donkangoljones says:

    I’ll give you this, I’m 11 episodes in and I’m definitely not impressed with either commander. At least when it comes to strategy. As for tactics, I’ll give Global credit for attempting a basic ambush. What he did may have been terribly obvious, if you knew what the Macross was supposed to be capable of. Have the enemy chase you into familiar (relatively, not like they’d ever been to Saturn before) territory; hide; lure the enemy into firing range; blast your cannon & murder them moon men! He just screwed up by relying on something he didn’t really understand.

    As for the Zentradi & Capt. Britai… ugh! I don’t know how Britai has kept his position up until this point. How does a commander with superior numbers, soldiers and equipment consistently lose? They brag over and over again about how superior they, but by human definition they’re incompetent. Perhaps I should be grateful that they’re interested in humans enough to sacrifice so much of their forces. I certainly get the impression that if they would stop being so enticed by the Macross have been over in 5-6 episodes.

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