In all of anime, there are few longstanding franchises with as much dedicated fandom as Macross (In fact, I’d wager to say there are two, and the other one has robots too).
There are even fewer that make their fans work as hard as Kawamori’s do. Having finally finished Macross 7, the first sequel and longest installment, I finally feel like I have a handle on Macross as a whole and what each chapter has done. The issues are all over the place, but the overall experience is a fun one. So what’s Kawamori’s problem?
Pretty much unavoidable spoilers of varying degrees will follow for SDF, Plus, Zero, 7, Dynamite 7, and Frontier.
To a degree, this is one of those technical concerns that I know is hard to get away from, but still irks me a little. SDF had plenty of excuses, the main one being its age. But M7’s animation is so horribly dated that it’s hard to believe it came out of the late 90s at all. Satelight certainly had occasional problems with Zero, but compared to the wildly inconsistent and often just-plain-horrible cardboard jumpiness of Frontier, it’s beautiful. OVAs and movies generally solve the problem — Do You Remember Love? might be the best-looking anime ever made — but it’s not just the animation itself.
It’s as if directors like Amino (and even Ishiguro) weren’t even trying during the TV series. Whether it’s the majesty of discovering the protoculture, the fist-pumping power of rock, or just a realistic feeling of being around fighter planes, the OVAs have plenty going for them in atmosphere and directing that just never seem to make it into the fun but workmanlike productions shown on TV.
Power to the Music
The story of a young girl going from Chinese restaurant waitress to pop idol to savior of the galaxy: Striking. The message that your enemy may not actually be your enemy but just doesn’t identify with you: Moving. But repeated retellings of that same story have lessened the impact. You know it’s going to happen. You know there’ll be a magnificent set piece in the end a la Do You Remember Love’s titular song performance. Those repeated stories (in M7 and Frontier) serve to make the stories more “Macross-like,” but Kawamori and his collaborators flourish more when they explore the core elements (love, planes, Protoculture) a little more deeply.
Pacing’s a bitch
Yeah, it takes a real masterful storyteller to weave a plot together that moves in all the right ways at all the right times. Apparently, one more masterful than Kawamori. I don’t expect something as long as Macross 7 to go without mindless filler episodes that don’t develop characters, push the plot, or even provide entertainment. But that thing had two arcs of about 4 episodes apiece that were really engrossing, and Dynamite 7’s stupid whales were still a million times better. Frontier’s story was so poorly paced and even more poorly weighted and emphasized that it actually got hard to follow a relatively simple plot at times.
The tendency of Macross stories is to draw their stories out — possibly for believability’s sake, if that makes any sense in the Macross world — and then suddenly resolve with what almost amounts to Deus Ex Machina at the last second. Kawamori and crew seem to write best, as with directing, in the shorter OVA format.
Lack of resolution
This isn’t something I normally complain about in anime. I’m not much of a shipper. But Macross’s love triangles have a tendency to dull at the edges and never resolve. You could argue the Guld-Isamu-Myung triangle did, but in truth that ship sailed long before the viewer got to witness any of it. With love being such a central theme, and recycling such a central technique, why can’t we re-experience, say, the ache of choosing love wisely over choosing the burning passion you thought you wanted? Well, you won’t get served such a satisfying dish at Mylene’s House of Waffle. I suppose there’s still hope for Alto in the coming Frontier OVA, but if Kawamori does have any troll blood in him, this is the part where it manifests — see the end of Dynamite 7 if you want in on his joke.
The Protoculture is an intriguing element of Macross that adds a little mystery and, more importantly, a common thread between the galaxy’s races. If the Protoculture created the Zentraedi and also Earth’s civilization, then what do we have to fight about? Powerful if idealistic stuff on a planet where most members of our own species can’t get along. But almost every subsequent installment blindly adds another de-mystifying chapter to the myth of the Protoculture, chafing me like Midichlorians in my Jedi pants.
The Protodeviln? OK, I’ll buy it, because if you’re going to build the Zentraedi you must have a serious enemy. Too bad all the Zentrans in the UN Spacey are no match for Grabil. Also, too bad they’re really hokey to be believable as sentient life’s original arch-enemy.
At least Macross Zero did more to help the situation than hurt, for the most part. By bringing the storyline back to pre-SDF launch, Kawamori helped us identify with the characters, and the sense of wonder than encountering the Protoculture must have instilled in Shin. Zero remains an amazing part of the series for this alone. But Grace O’Connor’s declarations about the race who came before our forefather in Frontier’s final episode just felt like another game of pin the tail on the Protoculture. There’s no need for that kind of retcon, let’s move on.
Kawamori is a big fucking hippie
How you feel about this is mixed, and really it may not really be that much of a problem. I suppose that a guy who keeps writing galactic love stories should really believe in love, but the hippie shit can seriously be a bit much. To me it seems like a very 1980s conservationist stance rather than anything truly progressive, but keep in mind it’s Japan. Maybe Dynamite 7’s message of “save the whales” is a little more than a bumper sticker over there, since whaling still actually goes on in Japan. And “no nukes” definitely means more to Japan than to the people who dropped a couple on them.
And just maybe the OVAs’ focus on nature is just to emphasize the fact that they’re planet-based rather than on a Macross station, but let’s get real: somebody here loves all the plants and cute little animals.
I find that as anime fans we have to overlook the shortcomings in the medium more often than we’re presented with stuff that lacks those shortcomings. So Macross isn’t special in that way.
It’s often terrible to its fans (though sometimes it’s the most generous anime around) and, like Star Wars, it’s helmed by a creator who isn’t always the best executor of his own ideas. So is it worth it? Does it make me feel good to call myself a Macross fan? Of course, a thousand times yes. The benefits are great, and they deserve their own post.
The rest of the world
Do you have a favorite like this? You know in your heart you could write a giant word-bomb about its faults, but still come back and love it at the end of the day? Are we Macross fans the biggest apologists in anime fandom?