Seto Kaiba and I kicked off a discussion in the technology thread about something that I hadn't before realized I was very passionate about: Bruno J. Global, the captain of the SDF-1 Macross, and his exact rank during and after space war one. Seto's position is that Global's rank is Brigadier General. My position is that Global's rank is Commodore. He has stated that he has explicit evidence that his position is correct. Below I will attempt to refute this assertion (and will be quoting said thread), as respectfully and thoroughly as I can.
However first I must say that I have a huge amount of respect for Mr. Kaiba and his colossal, encyclopedic memory of Macross technology and minutia of all flavors. In this one instance, given my perhaps unique perspective on things, I believe I must passionately make my case, and its up to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself. Now I fully expect Mr. Kaiba to retort to all of my points in excruciating detail and I look forward to enjoying a healthy, civil discussion. Fair warning: This Essay is five pages long in open Office. Hey, why are you running for the door? Also, pasting this text from open Office got rid of all the double spaces after periods? After making 2 or 3 corrections I just said screw it.
Note: In this essay, I will sometimes throw around the slang term 'salt'. This is not the modern internet slang term, part of the name of one of my favorite subreddits, saltierthancrait. This term is the much older Naval slang, which denotes deployed experience, with subtle notes of world-weariness and badassery. Comes from the fact that sea spray deposits salt on the weather decks and flight decks. A 'salty' sailor is not (necessarily) a bitter one, but one with lots of deployments under their belt and generally a no-time-for-BS attitude.
PREFACE: My Background
An earlier draft had this bit down below, but I think it informs the rest of the essay better to have it here. I've been living in Japan with the United States Navy for over 5 years, including many underway periods. I now have a Japanese wife, and while I have yet to really attempt to learn the written side of the language, I can speak and comprehend it pretty good, well enough to get by certainly. I've worked alongside many different Japan Self Defense Force service members and 'normal' Japanese civilians and I'm also friends with several civilian Japanese superfans of the US military, not to mention being friends with several otaku and non-otaku young people.
PART 1: 'default translation army bias' – what do I mean by this?
In English, there is a proud tradition of having different rank names for the sea-based services (Navy, Coast Guard) than for the land based ones (Army, Air force, Marines). In some other languages, like Japanese, this is not the case. Japanese has just one set of officer rank names to refer to officers from all services (note: I'm talking about classic Imperial Japanese ranks, which are still to this day used IRL to refer to officers of non-Japanese militaries. The JSDF has new, wonky rank names that we won't get into here). If you've watched SDF Macross in it's native audio, you've heard these. Ichijo-CHUI, Hayase-TAII, Focker-SHOSA. Now, when translators, be they humans or bots, are faced with these words, unless they've been primed with the type of information I'm detailing here, they will almost assuredly default to army style without a second thought. THIS is the core issue here, and it effects much more than just Macross. This is what I mean by "default translation army bias". Most bot translators do it because they've been programmed that way, and most human translators do it because they haven't learned the significance of the difference. (Note that both native-English translators AND native-Japanese translators make this error all the time, this will come into play later.) Hopefully I can shed some light here. A chart, for reference (Japanese parsing mine, inserting a pic since pasting the text messed up my columns):
*: Commodore in English denotes a higher-ranking Captain in charge of other, lower ranking Captains (all being O-6 paygrade).
**: According to my research, O-10 has long, involved, different rank names in the different Imperial services, but that rank won't come up in this discussion.
As a bit of trivia, one area that gets these translations correct every time, is historical translations such as WW2. It is never contested that IJN high staff should be "General Nagumo" or "General Yamamoto", they are Admirals and everyone knows it. "But!" I hear you asking. "The Spacy doesn't have to be Naval-style!" No, it doesn't have to be, per-se. But in SDF Macross, I am arguing that it is, or perhaps that it should be. Please see parts 3, 4, and 6 below.
PART 2: the current anti-space navy zeitgeist
Currently it seems like it's in vogue to hate on the term 'space navy'. If you're talking tactics or technology, that's fine and a different conversation. But in terms of how a ship is commanded and operated, I believe naval terms are entirely correct and justified. This anti-space navy zeitgeist usually comes along with realizations like "OMG space isn't an ocean, we have to remove all naval terms in space-based speculative fiction". However, I'd say SDF Macross pre-dates this zeitgeist by quite a wide margin. To quote Seto:
I'm sorry Seto, but this is BS. The AF jurisdiction thing might be true in OUR universe and in OUR present time. That holds no bearing on fictional universes, not the least being ones where a derelict alien warship crashes and the political implications are so far reaching that humanity establishes a for-realsies armed united nations for planetary defense, something that's 100% impossible IRL at the moment. Also Stargate came out in 1994, SDFM 1982. And why must the "space navy bias" be improper? Only in comparison to the current real-world space capsules, ISS, and satellites that make up any current real-world air force's space arms. I am arguing that your "space navy bias" is entirely proper and justified given how space navies (macross included) operate and are depicted in fiction (and who knows, potential one day we could have fleets of space warships IRL also, and "space navy" would be justified then too!). Ask yourself: is the UN spacy / NUNS appreciably that different from space navies depicted in most other contemporary works of fiction? That is, does it do something different than operate fleets of carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and fighters? (a few of those ship types not showing up till Plus and Frontier) It really doesn't. The UN Spacy isn't depicted with a Diamond-hard ( https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MohsScaleOfScienceFictionHardness ) approach to things like proper orbital mechanics and other realisms, or else they wouldn't have monodirectional artificial gravity and the ships would look more like the Hermes from The Martian. We'll get back into this in part 7 below.
PART 3: Seto's evidence
Quoting directly from the tech thread:
Hell, in the interest of good sportsmanship, I'll give you another piece of evidence against my own position: All the model kits with decals for pilot's name that say “MAJ FOCKER” or some such.
Now, here is my position: ALL of the above instances could have been, and I will argue, ARE instances of 'default translation army bias' at work. As I was saying in part 1, Japanese translators make this error probably more than English translators, since in their own cultural upbringing, the concept of different rank systems does not exist. I'm arguing that they are even more prone to automatic, push-button translation into army-style ranks than western translators, excepting IRL war historians. The odds that the creators of macross are trying to communicate something specifically to us, the gaijin audience, an audience they are almost explicitly not writing for, via these few bits and pieces of blink-and-you'll-miss-it or otherwise not-in-the-main-productions content, I would say is very very small. I am proposing that all 5 of these pieces of evidence could well be the result of the work of some scribe at studio nue or hasegawa wanting to put the rank of 'Chuii' or 'Shosa' into the production in English, and just went ahead with the initial, basic translation option they found. Until more blatant evidence that they want the UN Spacy to have army-style ranks comes forward, I'm sorry, but I won't be convinced. Effectively, Mr. Kaiba, I'm proposing that you're putting the cart before the horse with these examples, please see part 4 below. I do suppose the possibility exists that Kawamori himself ordered “General Global” to be spelled out in katakana, but I would peg that as very unlikely at present moment.
You could put my initial assertion another way here: Seto's assertion is that the creators of Macross have explicitly dictated that the UN Spacy is to have army-style ranks. My position is twofold: 1. I'm not at all convinced that is the case, to me the evidence points towards just another case of 'default translation army bias', and 2. The UN Spacy should absolutely use navy-style ranks, at the very least for it's starship captains.
PART 4: My evidence
On the subject of the creators of macross's wishes, let's hear from one of them! Thanks to Renato and the awesome folks at Deculture Shock / Speakerpodcast.
“What Kawamori and I were very particular about, was that “Macross” be grounded in Navy themes. Even though it looks more like it’s about planes, I want people to realize that it is not just about the air force.” -Kazutaka Miyatake
Boom. For those who might not know, this man designed pretty much everything in SDF Macross that wasn't a VF-1 or regult, according to M3. This doesn't explicitly endorse naval-style ranks per-se, but keep this quote in mind when reading the rest of this essay especially parts 7 & 8, it all adds up.
Let's talk about inspirations. What inspiration has the UN Spacy and Macross as a whole taken from the US Navy? If you know what to look for, it's everywhere. The aircraft carriers, VF-84 Jolly Rogers inspiration for skull squadron, the fact that almost every variable fighter has Naval-style nose landing gear complete with catapult shuttle launch bars (The YF-21 / VF-22 doesn't, but strangely the SV-262 does). In Variable Fighter Master File, all UN Spacy and NUNS fighter squadrons are given navy-style nomenclatures, such as SVF-XXX, rather than Air Force style, which would be XXXth TFS or something. Also the uniforms, look at the color stripes for sleeve ranks (e.g, red stripes on Global's blue jacket), that is a naval uniform convention.
What inspiration has the UN Spacy taken from armies or air forces? The only things I can think of off the top of my head are Hikaru's training where he uses a pistol and rifle (but even that isn't necessarily non-naval), and Roy's Unification war flashback where he meets Claudia serving at an airbase inland (again, not necessarily non-naval, naval tactical squadrons have served expeditionary-style from land bases). Also New Edwards on Eden. I will admit my bias might be clouding my memory so I will leave an invitation here to add more.
At the same time, let's not pretend that all of Macross has always operated with 100% consistent comprehensions of what certain ranks even are. Have a gander at one of my favorite Macross protagonists: Saotome Alto. In episode 12, he introduces himself as Saotome Alto Jui, which means Warrant Officer (Jun'i according to google translate the n is silent). This demonstrates that whoever wrote this scene either a. had very little understanding of how ranks work or b. wanted to have SMS have a radically different approach to ranks for no discernable reason. I forget his exact age, but knowing how anime main character ages work, Alto can't be older than 20. A Warrant Officer (WO) is a rank that can only be what we call a “mustang”: someone who begins their military career as enlisted and then, through one of several assession programs, becomes an officer. There is always some minimum rank (and therefore minimum time served) that an enlisted person must achieve before they are eligible to apply to become a WO, in the USN that is E-7 but other services could be E-6 or even E-5 maybe, but you get the idea: no 20 year old could be a WO, they ain't nearly salty enough. To me, this scene reeks of something like a writer that wanted Alto to be the lowest ranking officer possible, and the only thing they knew about Warrants was that they were lower ranking than all the commissioned officers, and so stuck Alto with it. My point with all this is that, it's another example of ranks being just kind of thrown around in Macross with an MST3K mantra ( https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MST3KMantra ) about it all, which is absolutely fine, however don't expect me to just accept calling Global a colonel / general with this other stuff going on too.
PART 5: Cultural differences
I want to briefly also touch on cultural differences, and the difficulty of getting through them. As I said in the preface I have extensive experience dealing with the in-depth subtleties of American / Japanese cultural differences. My wife speaks perfect English and lived in America for a few years, but even then we still encounter big cultural differences that we just have to work through and teach each other about. These experiences, but also through my friendships with various Japanese civilians, fans, and servicemembers has given me perspective on the below:
This army / navy rank divide is not something the writers of Macross would ever likely care about or take effort to explain, because it has NO meaning to the standard Japanese viewpoint. "Hey this strange other language which we're not writing for (nor do we anticipate ever doing any business in, thanks HG) has this weird as hell system where the army and navy have different names for the same ranks, let's take the time and effort to establish a precedent in this other language". I'm saying I have not seen nearly enough evidence to conclude that this conversation happened. Yes, I know Macross canonically takes place mostly in English, that doesn't necessarily mean the creators though to specify army style ranks as a standard to follow. It doesn't necessarily mean the writers are writing for anything other than a Japanese audience alone. As I said in part 3, I think the Cat's eye thing was just a writer wanted to put Chuii in English on the show, and just ran with the first thing they found for a translation. Macross was not written for non-Japanese audiences. To the Japanese, Global is a Junsho is a Junsho. He was a Taisa or Chusa in the unification wars, and he's a Junsho in Space War 1. That's as far as that line of thinking needs to go for them. The writers of Macross were probably civilians themselves, I say this because of the fraction of the Japanese population that is serving in the SDF is much smaller than the fraction of Americans who are serving, so I think it's safe to assume they were civilians until shown otherwise (see footnote 1). When someone (possibly not even the head writer or director) put the detail that Isamu was a 1st Lt, or the (shudder) SDFN-04 General Global in Katakana, this distinction probably has almost zero significance to them, as it just translates back to Chuii and Junsho anyway. Given my personal, intimate experience with US and Japanese cultural differences, I sincerely doubt that these pieces of evidence were attempts to establish a precedent of army rank names for Ship's captains.
PART 6: Naval experience and culture (possibly the most important part):
Why do western navies have different rank names? I would argue that not only is it appropriate, it's justified as well:
First, on the subject of Captains (O-6s): The 'Head MoFo In Charge' of a naval vessel or a large space vehicle bristling with weapons (you might say, a ship), is probably going to be addressed as 'Captain' and in the previous thread Seto did not seem to refute this. This person is going to have total command of the vessel and total responsibility for many things, among them the lives of all the crew, the performance of the vehicle in battle, and ultimately even things which the skipper might depend on a Department Head (DH) for in totality, such as supplies, navigation, engineering, air wing control, weapons, security, etc. If the skipper does not trust that a particular DH is doing a satisfactory job at a discipline that the skipper has no experience with, it is still the skippers prerogative and duty to replace said DH. They also have total control of where exactly the vessel goes and sometimes whether to even follow the orders of the admirals above at all (as in, an unethical order). You might think I'm drifting a little off topic here, but I assure you, stay with me. All of these awesome responsibilities and near-sacred duties have a convenient package of language that instantly conveys a huge amount of concepts and meanings both large and subtle: the naval tradition and associated language. If you have to chose between having your ship captain be a naval rank, which is (for larger space capital ships, and for any naval vessel larger than a destroyer) conveniently also Captain, or some army / AF rank, such as colonel, it is very much easier and more direct to just go ahead and go with the naval tradition. If you go with having a colonel as ship captain, you are instantly going against the grain with the normal, expected ways of our own language, and I would argue, expectations of the crew under that colonel. Now, how are the typical responsibilities of a more 'normal' colonel different, and by extension, why have different rank systems for different services at all? This is why: No Army, Marine, or Air Force Colonel ever gets to (or is expected to) command a warship and all of the unique particular subtleties that come with that. I am not trying to crap on colonels at all here. But look at how they operate, and what exactly they command: Mass numbers of infantry, tanks, or wings of fighter aircraft, or bombers, helicopters, or some other such arrangement. None of these will ever be exactly like being solely responsible for the operation of a warship. This is mostly what I mean when I said, in the other thread, that calling your SHIP'S CAPTAIN by the rank of colonel was madness. If you'll permit me a bit of fun, it is also blasphemy, insanity, and dangerous blood magic from beyond Asshai Having a colonel in charge of a ship who's crew is not to refer to themselves with any naval terms is entirely unnatural, and as time went on, the crew would probably start looking and sounding more and more like a naval crew anyway. Yes, even the crew of a spaceship. There are real, valid reasons why you see space navies and terminology so often in speculative fiction, and they don't actually have to have anything to do with deep space being completely different from an ocean. It's about the operation and command of the vessels, not the environment those vessels are in.
As far as O-5s go, I can't speak for typical army /AF style organizations, but in most navies the majority of your command organizations (by number, that is, destroyers, air squadrons, attack subs) are going to be headed by an O-5, with the XO as either an O-5 or O-4. The CO's immediate underlings (besides XO) are going to be called Department Heads and they will be O-4s. The CO's boss in the overarching command will be an O-6. This is true in carrier squadrons with CAG and in destroyer squadrons with the DESRON commodore. The army / AF system puts a lot of emphasis on the O-6, the navy system balances this out more with some emphasis on the O-5 skipper and their DHs. The CO is a Commander, and his or her DHs are Lieutenant Commanders. In an equivalent army/AF-style system, the air squadron's CO is a Lieutenant Colonel, and their DHs are Majors. Note that compared to the navy system, the 'Lieutenant-' modifier has moved from the O-4 to the O-5. This sorta leads to a nagging need to differentiate between the Lt Colonel, the skipper, and the "full bird colonel", his boss. This is not a problem that the Navy system has. (Coincidentally, this is also not a problem that the Japanese system has!) My point here is that if you ask a destroyer or aviation sailor, they will tell you that the Navy system is less clunky than the army system would be for their organizations. Perhaps there are many more tactical commands in the army / AF that are headed by O-4s or O-6s compared to the navy, I can't say for certain.
Now I'd like to address a fact that Seto also agreed with me on:
A Naval Officer worth his salt would never do this! More to the point, no Naval officer would ever be asked to do this. This is another artifact of the Japanese language blossoming forth. This issue never arose in the Japanese author's mind because this issue does not exist in the Japanese language. Here, Mr. Kaiba, you yourself are fully admitting that Bruno Global and Takashi Hayase were career naval officers and damn good submarine commanders. At that point in their careers, they would have been fully immersed in naval tradition and command environments for at least 18 years or so. In my line of slang, they'd be super salty, sh!7-hot, gucci and awesome navy skippers, the kind any sailor would gladly follow into hell. There is precisely zero chance any career naval officer like this would permit their rank to be changed to army-style in order to captain a spaceship. None. I'm not saying submarine commanders wouldn't jump at the chance to captain a spaceship, I'm saying if you asked them to change their rank to do it, they would laugh at you, keep their navy style rank, and go captain the spaceship anyway. Again, the reality is they really would not be asked to change their ranks to army-style. I have a lot of respect for colonels and generals in the other services, and trust me, they have a lot of respect for captains and admirals and their naval experience commanding ships. This request would be ridiculous even if the four-star flag officers in charge of the new spacy were army / AF. They wouldn't expect or ask a proud, decorated Naval officer to give up their pride and change his or her rank to "colonel" or "general" in order to captain a starship. At that point in a flag officer's career, they've been part of so many joint commands and made so many friends in all services that even biased army / AF dudes would know you just wouldn't ask that of a professional Naval officer. Please don't just gloss over or handwave this concern, dear reader, this point might not be obvious to someone who has never been personally at sea under the command of a trusted CO in the navy but I can assure you it is accurate. Look at NASA: The early astronauts were all test pilots, mostly active duty (with a few civilians also), and all the naval aviators retained their naval rank. They served side-by-side in the spacecraft with USAF and Marine officers doing the exact same jobs. Yes, I realize I might partially undermine my own argument here by saying that USAF and marine officers can command “diamond-hard” space capsules. But the important part there is that no one asked the naval officers to change their ranks.
As a convenient reference in my favor, check out Jessica Chastain's character in The Martian: She's a USN submarine officer who goes on to captain a spaceship. It seems Macross's writers weren't the only ones to realize that Sub skippers make good space skippers. Yes, she's probably called the 'Mission Commander' formally, but while the cast is on board the Hermes I'd argue she is that ship's captain.
Also, Italian does have different rank systems for Navy/CG and Army/AF. Off topic, but if you want to hear how badass an Italian coast guard captain can sound, here's a conversation one had with the cowardly skipper of the Costa Concordia: (warning language)
https://youtu.be/WX_08zcCmx8?t=21 “Do you want to go home, Schettino? It's dark and you want to go home?!?!”
PART 7: It's a freakin' Space Navy (Occam's razor)
I guess I take a Doylist perspective of a space navy. Look at the various space navies of Star Trek, Star Wars, Halo, and Mass Effect. Are these contested as space navies by their fandoms? Pretty much no. Now look at the UN Spacy and NUNS. How are they significantly different in makeup and deployment from other show's space navies? Pretty much, they're not, on a zoomed out scale. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck... UN Spacy looks like a spacy navy. UN Spacy quacks like a space navy. I've always thought of it as a space navy (and in fact for the longest time thought UN SPACY was just a contraction of UN SPACE NAVY). And that's OK! Using all these space navy tropes isn't wrong. They convey useful (and I argue, realistic) information immediately to the audience.
So, look at Starfleet, the Imperial / Rebel navies, the UNSC, and the Alliance Navy. Those fandoms will pretty much tell you, even when not explicitly named as such, they're space navies. How is the Macross universe appreciably different from those universes (Doylist wise) in terms of capital ship makeup and deployment? Now, I am not saying that I don't appreciate the unique aspects of the UN Spacy that we all love (such as variable fighters) which separates them from space navies in these other works. All I'm saying is, these other fandoms aren't in denial that their thing which looks like a space navy and quacks like a space navy is, effectively, a space navy.
Seto, if I may, I think you're such an expert in the minutia of Macross that you're not seeing the bigger picture, that you can't see the forest for the trees here. You might be able to prove (I'm still not convinced) that in-universe it's not a space navy. But from the zoomed out, Doylist 30,000' view, it's absolutely a space navy. Metaphorically, take 3 steps back, and squint a little bit: SDF Macross is a space opera. SDF Macross is a space opera in which two space navies duke it out. In space. Then culture and singers get involved.
PART 8: Death of the Author
Now, I must admit something that I suspect some of you might be guessing: Even if Kawamori came out and said tomorrow that the UN Spacy always had colonels commanding ships, I would have to begrudgingly concede the point with macross works going forward, but I would still argue that naval ranks are a valid interpretation of the past works, when you consider default army translation bias. Similar to part 7 above, when I look at Bruno J. Global, I see a man with “Naval Officer” positively soaked to the bone and evident in everything about him. When I look at his uniform, his appearance, his behavior, actions and words, I see a kindred spirit, a Professional Navy Officer chosen to command a space destroyer based on his successful submarine career and then chosen to command the flagship of the UN Spacy based on him being the only candidate with successful space combat experience.
At the end of the day though, this little exercise we're doing is mostly academic. The vast majority of both macross creators and macross fans (that is, the Japanese) will probably never know or care about this distinction.
Sigh. I wish I could wield the 'point of view gun' from the Hitchhiker's Guide movie and convey instantly my deep understanding and perspective (from having been to sea many times on USN ships) on the awesome concept of ship's captain and everything that goes with it. Casually insisting that a ship's captain, be it sea or space, should be a Colonel or General... I struggle to convey my repulsed reaction to this assertion. Yes, even given the essay I've just written, I don't feel like it's enough. Everyone can make their own interpretations of any work of fiction. But to me, Macross is a story with navy-style captains helming their spaceships and it always will be.
In posting this, i don't know if I'll convince that many people. But, like the ending text to Metroid Fusion, I have to hope I'll convince at least one. So it's worth it.
Footnote 1: Backing up my assumption: quick calculations based on figures from Wikipedia for US and Japan pop and total numbers of active and reserve military:
JSDF: 310,457 active and reserve
USDOD: 2,169,193 active and reserve
Japan total pop: 126,440,000 (2018 census)
US total pop: 327,167,434 (2018 census)
Japan percentage: 0.2455370136
US percentage: 0.663022286