Before you can remember love, you have to feel it for the first time. Such was my motivation when, early in the year, I decided to watch as much of Macross as I could manage — which, in the end, meant pretty much all of it.
You may wonder, given my preferences, why I didn’t give Aria the number one spot again. After all, last year I had seen only the first season; this year I watched the latter two and read half the manga (that is, two volumes of Aqua and five of Aria). Surely I’m much better equipped now to praise the hell out of the thing. But, after the first season, Aria’s effect on my preferences, or on me as a fan, had already run its course. I was guaranteed to like the rest of it.
On the other hand, I did watch something this year with as profound an effect on my fan-hood as Aria had in 2008 — Macross. It’s hard to pin down precisely what it did for me, though. It probably did several things: it demonstrated the power of the franchise as both an artistic and marketing apparatus; it added to my foundation of Important Anime or Anime One Must See; it served as a gateway into older and longer shows; it was just pretty damn cool all around, equal parts humorous and serious, with its commingled themes of love, war, coming of age, and music. I can never claim to be one of those people who have been fans of Macross (perhaps by way of Robotech) practically forever, but I think I get what they’re on about, to some extent, when they profess their love of the franchise from on high. I rated none of the individual installments in the series higher than 9 on MAL, but if I could rate the whole thing cumulatively, it’d easily earn a 10. It’s about the combined experience, I think.
The SDF Macross opening isn’t my chosen moment, but it seemed an appropriate opener to this post insofar as it encapsulates all the things that make the series great. It’s got music as great as it is ridiculous, it’s got transforming plane-mecha and spacefaring capital ships, it’s got bridge bunnies and staid captains and even a hint of tenuous romance. It’s easily one of my favorite openings — how much better could it be? (Well, alright, a little, but not much.)
To choose one moment from all of Macross would be to slight its component parts, in a way. What I’ll do here, then, is choose a moment from each major installment in the franchise. Well, each installment except Macross Zero, which wasn’t bad, but left me vaguely dissatisfied. Maybe someday I’ll be able to remember love for that one, too.
SDF Macross: Pinpoint barrier + Daedalus = ?
I was tempted to write about the show’s ending here, but if I did it’d mostly be out of spite for Minmay, and she isn’t that bad — she’s a teenager, and much of what she does can be attributed to youth. So instead, I’ll write about the most awesome thing that has ever happened.
Just to clarify, the Macross itself is pretty much the most awesome thing that has ever happened. It’s a capital ship (check) that can transform into vaguely humanoid form (check) with smaller capital ships for arms (check). Of course, if you happen to find yourself vastly outnumbered by aliens you’ve accidentally pissed off and whose motivations you aren’t entirely sure of, there’s only one thing to do with all this. Executive officer (or something) Misa Hayase knows what that one thing is.
If that doesn’t simultaneously melt your face, blow your mind, and cream your jeans, I can’t imagine what would.
Macross Plus: Reversal
One of my complaints about Macross Zero is that it doesn’t feel much like Macross, and I suppose one could field the same complaint about Macross Plus. For my part, I think it’s great; it darkens and distorts the conventions of Macross without rendering them unrecognizable. Everything — the love triangle, the music (Yoko Kanno!), the pilots, everything — is more sinister somehow. Even the SDF-1 itself.
The powers that be tend to thwart our (anti-)heroes as often as they provide aid, if not more often, and the protagonists find themselves facing monumental odds with few allies. This becomes most chillingly clear when the Macross, damaged as it is by the events of the first show and some thirty years of weather, is commandeered and turned against Isamu Dyson, who, in the end, stands alone between it and Macross City (though the real conflict is much more local, you may know).
Under other circumstances, such a “resurrection” would’ve been fist-pumpingly epic. Here, it’s horrifying. Or, no, it’s probably both. That tendency to throw your emotions into disarray is what makes Macross Plus my favorite individual stretch of the franchise.
Macross 7: And still Basara sings
Macross 7 was first described to me as a show in which people fight space vampires with the power of their rock, and by God that’s what it is. If you happen to enjoy the “tangible power of rock” theme as it appears in, say, metal mythology or anything by Tenacious D, you’ll probably like Macross 7. It’s ridiculous, yeah, but it has a lot going for it — Nekki Basara is easily my favorite of Macross’s dense but skilled pilot protagonists, and Mylene Jenius is probably my favorite Minmay.
My moment of choice comes from the 27th episode, and, in a way, it marks the upturn of the show — not that it starts out terrible, but it is somewhat repetitive until about halfway through. In the previous episode, Basara launched a giant speaker into the enemy bridge…
…and rocked the commander so hard that his space-vampirism went wild and stole Basara’s voice. And yes, this is exactly as cool as it sounds, and by the time you’ve seen 26 episodes of Macross 7 it’ll seem perfectly reasonable.
The villainous Protodeviln strike again in episode 27, and the Macross 7 fleet’s most effective defense, Basara’s voice, remains out of commission. Now, in accordance with Macross 7 logic, there’s only one solution to a problem like this — namely, rock at it until it gets better. And that’s exactly what happens.
What’s the first thing Basara says when he gets his voice back? Nothing — he rock-screams a beam of song energy.
This is crazy and ridiculous and everything that makes Macross 7 great. And it is by no means the only scene of its kind; it’s simply the one I most remember.
Macross Frontier: Sheryl/Ranka
My kneejerk reaction to Macross Frontier is that it introduced into the franchise two things that Macross really could’ve done without — Alto Saotome and Ranka Lee. Now, let me qualify that — I don’t hate either character by any means. Ranka is fine, and Alto is…tolerable, anyway. In fact, I think Frontier does a fairly good job of making its characters feel like people. It’s more about what these characters represent. It’s strange seeing 21st-century moe in Macross (as opposed to late 20th-century moe, admittedly), and I’ve never liked the brooding emo kid protagonist mold into which Alto fits quite nicely. But again, this is just a kneejerk reaction, and I can’t fault Macross for changing with the times.
Now that I’m done being a curmudgeon, I’ll say that Frontier does have its high points. For one thing, the interaction between the show’s two pop idols is always enjoyable. And I’m fascinated by Sheryl Nome, or by how the show handled her — I was ready to hate her the moment I saw her, and before the end she had captured my heart in that way she’s so famous for. Generally fiction isn’t able to do that for me, and I keep on disliking those characters I peg as unsavory in the beginning, and so I have to give Frontier credit on that account.
The concerts are good (especially when they coincide with battles), and the many little interactions between Sheryl and Ranka are good, but my favorite scene with the two is this one — the pop-off. And for this, it’ll have to be video.
(Yes, the conversion process did something terrible to the subtitles — sorry about that.)
Check Alto out. He looks terrified — as if he doesn’t know what’s going on here! But then the Macross protagonist usually doesn’t, does he?
Oh, and for the record, Sheryl is great, but I still think Ranka is better for Alto. Or that Alto is better for Ranka. Either way, Alto/Ranka.
So! We’ve done My Neighbor Totoro, Hoshi no Samidare, Casshern Sins, Bokurano, Onani Master Kurosawa, Mahou Sensei Negima!, Yotsuba&!, Mushishi, Gunbuster and Diebuster, Toradora!, Aria –and here, at the pinnacle of my twelve moments of 2009, the venerable Macross. From where I’m sitting, it’s been a good year for anime and manga; I hope it’s been the same for you.