Why Southern Cross was Cancelled
By John Falco (@MercuryFalcon)
The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross is best known among anime fans as the series adapted into the second saga of the Robotech franchise. In Japan, Southern Cross is part of the “Super Dimension” series, a set of unrelated shows with emphasis on war, love, and transforming robots. Of the three shows that sport the “Super Dimension” moniker, the other two being The Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Super Dimension Century Orguss, Southern Cross was the least successful. Originally intended to run for 39 episodes, the network cut the series down to 23 halfway through its initial run due to low ratings. For years, fans blamed the series receiving a poor time slot for the lack of interest, however, on further investigation; Southern Cross suffered from a slew of production issues long before the first episode even premiered on Japanese TVs in April of 1984. From a hectic production cycle, to poor merchandising, and even just being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Southern Cross faced an onslaught of poor decisions and unfortunate circumstances that would earn the series its eventual infamy.
From the start of pre-production to its TV broadcast, issues plagued Southern Cross and the team working on it. Pre-production began with a concept from controversial artist Aki Uchiyama, known for his pornographic comics focusing on lolicon and diaper fetish material. Uchiyama devised a premise for a comedy set in the future that parodied historical figures. The main characters were three little girls, with Uchiyama basing the main girl, Jeanne, after Joan of Arc. Early in development, Tatsunoko began to feel uneasy about the premise and disliked the art Uchiyama had presented to them. The team decided that in order for the show to be successful, it would have to be closer in line with popular anime trends. This meant dropping the comedy aspect and aging the main characters up by ten years. Uchiyama was dropped from the production team and wasn’t credited in the final project.
However, his contributions are still apparent in the main character’s name remaining as Jeanne, the main cast all having European names, and the character design for Lana Isavia resembling a character from his comic “Abunai Chaidoru.” Following Uchiyama’s departure, the series was titled Science Fiction Sengoku Saga, and the setting was changed to a futuristic imagining of feudal Japan. The concept seemed to take cues from the sci-fi fantasy series Aura Battler Dunbine, which premiered in February of 1983 and ran until January of ‘84. Tatsunoko even hired Dunbine’s character designer, Tomonori Kogawa, to create and recontextualize character designs for the series. The design for the Garm armor, worn in the series by the Glorie Military Police, bears striking resemblance to samurai armor, most likely due to being designed during this stage in development. Unfortunately, just as production began to make headway, another issue arose. Dunbine’s medieval setting didn’t resonate with Japanese audiences when it first aired, which is why part way into the series the setting was changed to present day Earth. With that in mind, Tatsunoko’s sponsors were reluctant to invest in the Sengoku Saga project, forcing Tatsunoko to change the series from science-fantasy to pure science fiction.
With a fleeting three month production cycle, the staff struggled to finalize the story and characters in time for broadcast. Crucial changes were being made so late in development that several finished scripts still used the series’ preliminary title, The Super Dimension Cavalry Regulus. While viewers wouldn’t know about the outdated title on the scripts, several anime magazines including Animage, Animedia, and OUT magazine were given incorrect episode titles and inaccurate episode descriptions leading to confusion among new viewers. In an interview included in the This is Animation - Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross Special Guide, chief director Yasuo Hasegawa stated that one of the biggest issues prior to broadcast was the huge variety of settings they planned to feature in the show. This is an odd statement considering many episodes feel as though they run together due to the repetitive settings. The book Robotech Art 3 and the liner notes booklet included in the ADV Films DVD release of the series reveal that there were a variety of unused designs for vehicles, armor, and mecha. This included armor for soldiers belonging to arctic and aquatic divisions of the Southern Cross army, even though neither environments appear within the series. There were also jeep and tank designs that featured treads and wheels, even though almost all land-based vehicles in the finished product were hover vehicles. Fans have speculated that the abundance of hover vehicles was due to them being easier to animate in a short amount of time, but again this is only speculation.
During pre-production, producer and then Tatsunoko president Kenji Yoshida wanted as much work done in-house as possible. Yoshida hired a group called Ammonite, a subsidiary of Tatsunoko, to design the robots and vehicles for the series. The artists from Ammonite who were assigned to work on Southern Cross were mostly storyboard artists and key animators with little to no experience designing intricate transforming robots. As a result, the mecha designs in Southern Cross are among the most underwhelming and impractical of their time, or at least in the burgeoning real robot genre immersing the world of TV anime. While in transport mode, Jeanne’s Sparta hovertank lacks a canopy leaving the pilot completely exposed as it slowly traverses the battlefield. The tanks do eventually get canopies, but only after they are deployed in outer space. Once the Sparta transforms into robot mode, it properly conceals the pilot. Unfortunately, this transformation then reveals the robot’s unremarkable design with its black and gray rectangle of a body with a head that lacks any of the personality seen in other mecha designs of the time. As boring as the design for the Sparta is, the worst design in the series has to be for the Logan fighter plane piloted by Mary Angel. The Logan, despite taking the form of a fighter jet in flight mode, transforms into a robot best described as ‘what if a speedboat had arms and legs.’ The fatal error of the Logan’s design is the absence of a head, as it instead uses the nose and cockpit of the plane as its face, similar to the Gerwalk mode used by the Valkyries in Macross. However, in Gerwalk mode, the Valkyrie still operates much like a plane only utilizing its limbs for additional maneuverability and greater weapon access.
Halfway through the show, Mary upgrades to the Auroran, an actually quite interesting transformable attack helicopter reminiscent of the Switchblade from M.A.S.K. Similarly to Jeanne’s hovertank, the issue with the Auroran is in its practicality. I imagine if the series wasn’t cancelled, we would have seen the Auroran flying over the battlefields of Glorie. However, the only time we see the Auroran helicopter in series is during conflicts with the Zor in outer space, though they at least retract the helicopter blades in most of these battles. The Zor Bioroids are the only mecha design in the series that succeeds at being aesthetically pleasing and functionally practical. However, this is only because the design for the Bioroid borrows so heavily from Mobile Suit Gundam’s Zaku. Reinforcing the Gundam reference, the character Seifreit is even referred to by the nickname The Red Bioroid, due to his inexplicably quick mecha.
Despite all its faults and shortcomings, Southern Cross delivers on some interesting concepts and characters, albeit in a sloppy, poorly paced manner. Regardless, the show was a financial flop; a circumstance many assume was due to the show’s timeslot. However, another Tatsunoko show that also featured transforming robots, Genesis Climber Mospeada, was also slapped with a bad time slot and underperformed ratings wise. Unlike Southern Cross though, Mospeada completed its 25-episode run and even managed to get an OVA two years after it completed. When asked about Mospeada’s reception, producer Kyoutaro Kimura blamed the time slot, but also mentioned the lack of a home video release, which would help many mecha anime grow an underground following in the mid-to-late 80s. One could argue that if Southern Cross was released a year later, when anime took the Japanese video rental world by storm, the show could have garnered more attention, but there is a critical difference between the two shows: Mospeada boasted a quality toy line that pulled in decent sales. In fact, despite poor ratings, Mospeada’s straight-to-video special in 1985 was made possible due to the success of those toy sales. On the other hand, when asked about Southern Cross, a Japanese anime fan said that at the time the show was airing he never saw any toys and was unable to find any model kits in stores, with the exception of a few Hong Kong knock-offs. Model kit manufacturer Arii did make model kits of several characters wearing their battle armor including Jeanne, Lana, and Seifreit’s Red Bioroid, but these sold poorly resulting in a meager shelf life. The kit for Lana even touted the function to switch out her breastplate with a piece that resembles actual breasts, though the anatomy is less than perfect due to limitations in sculpting rounded pieces from plastic at the time.
Timing was another factor that led to Southern Cross’s demise. The series began airing in April of 1984 and ended in September of that year. Less than three months after Southern Cross premiered its first episode, the film Macross: Do You Remember Love? hit Japanese theatres. Anticipation for the film’s release swelled among fans from the moment it was first announced following the end of the Macross TV series in 1983. In the days leading up to the release, fans even waited outside theatres in tents to get their tickets. As the eagerness of fans intensified, viewers tuning in to the TV broadcast of Southern Cross would often see two to three ads promoting Macross toys and model kits during each commercial break, vastly overshadowing the commercial for the Southern Cross character kits. At the same time, 1984 was a bad year for Japanese toy makers in general. It was during that year that Takatoku, a Japanese company known for producing transforming robot toys, fell into financial disarray. Despite the immense success the company felt with the revolutionary transforming Macross VF-15 Valkyrie toy in 1982, the company failed to recapture that success in their later releases. Macross’s sibling series Orguss failed to reach the heights of its predecessor, and Dorvack, a series created to showcase Takatoku’s latest line of transforming robot toys, failed miserably. In early 1984, in the wake of their slew of poor performing products, Takatoku hoped to regain footing with toys of the newly designed Valkyries appearing in the film Macross: Do You Remember Love. However, Takatoku went bankrupt before the film’s release, around the same time as the premiere of Southern Cross. Bandai purchased the rights to many of Takatoku’s designs, including the Macross Valkyrie. Surprisingly, Bandai actually agreed to sponsor Southern Cross and announced plans to produce a transforming robot toy of Jeanne’s hovertank. However, this toy never reached shelves as Bandai became so focused on selling Macross merchandise, there was no need to promote Southern Cross. If it isn’t clear how bad the merchandising was by the fact that a mecha anime aired without any toys or model kits of the main mecha, then consider this: when Southern Cross premiered in the US as the second Saga of the Robotech franchise, Matchbox produced their own line of Robotech transforming robot toys, which included Jeanne’s transforming hovertank. This led Japanese collectors to import the American toys, as they were the only ones in existence.
Another factor that diminished any potential fan base was the show’s, attempts to appeal to the widest demographic. Macross accomplished this by seamlessly blending romance, action, and sci-fi, with relatable characters and revolutionary mech designs. Southern Cross tries to reach all these same peaks in a manner similar to combining pizza and ice cream with similar results. Along with the three main characters being young women, the anti-hero Seifreit sports long, curly purple hair causing him to resemble a shojo manga heartthrob rather than a shell-shocked renegade. This led to younger male viewers ignoring the series, while at the same time, the show failed to entice female viewers as the romantic drama rarely delved deeper than physical attractions. It didn’t help that male and female viewers alike detested the main character Jeanne, who is portrayed as boy crazed, ditzy bimbo who openly admits she joined the military to find a rich husband and become a housewife. Along with plenty of scenes of war room chatter, almost every episode of Southern Cross for the first half of the series features a shower or bath scene in which the main character exposes her breasts and/or butt. The lyrics to both the show’s opening and ending themes even mention ‘showers’ in their lyrics, insinuating this was intentional. With this in mind, it’s perplexing that the majority of merchandise produced for the series was in the form of menko cards, collectible cards depicting characters from manga and anime, as well as a variety of different children’s coloring books and the now infamous officially licensed Southern Cross rain boots, which by all accounts only came in children’s sizes.
Despite claims of a poor time window undoing the series, further investigation shows that poor planning, poor marketing, poor timing, and poor quality were the greatest contributors to Southern Cross’s commercial failure. Much to the joy of the Japanese producers, the series was at least given a second life when it was adapted into the second saga of Robotech, Robotech: The Masters. Due to the lack of interest in the series in Japan, Harmony Gold, the company that produced Robotech, was able to license the unused designs for Robotech II: the Sentinels as well as Palladium Books’s Robotech RPG making use of the unused assets. Though it didn’t help spread awareness of the series, the song Dandy Cologne was stolen from the soundtrack by Korean film director Godfrey Ho and used as the theme song for the movie Ninja the Protector. Southern Cross was an underwhelming series brought down by a multitude of complications, but it is those very issues and circumstances that made the series fun to talk about over thirties years after its cancellation.