The best of Macross – Part 1
For all its quirks and eccentricities, Macross at its core is the living embodiment of the idiom ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’. While it would be easy to dismiss Macross Delta’s obvious spiral into pastel coloured ‘magic girl’ territory as a stain on the franchise’s stature, in reality it actually makes Macross a more loveable entity.
Sure, there are a few things to cringe about in some parts of Macross, particularly Macross Delta or Macross 7, but its ‘whole’ remains untainted by the individual components that make up its ‘parts’.
Macross is just, well, magical. It’s like Shōji Kawamori cracked the locks on the briefcase in Pulp Fiction and distributed its contents over the nearest piece of paper within throwing distance. The result? A deeply rich universe that blends music, complex characters, drama and amazing mecha into a singular Elizabethan inspired space opera.
My hope for this article is to show the world the best of the best, the finest elements of one of the most endearing science-fiction franchises ever conceived. Of course, these are just the opinions of a frumpy, rapidly ageing opinionated nerd and all discussion is welcome.
And openly encouraged.
So, here is the best of Macross.
Seventh Moon (Macross 7)
With animation that outshines the quality of the actual series that follows it, the Macross 7 opening theme and visuals are unmistakably awesome.
Now, if only Macross 7 as a whole was as good as its opening theme.
Honorable mention: Macross Frontier (Triangular)
VF-25F Messiah (Macross Frontier)
While a choice that would definitely enrage a lot of people, there are lots of reasons to crown the VF-25 as the best of the best. Taking away its completely fictitious operating specs, we can really only judge a Valkyrie on aesthetics alone.
It’s a clear departure from the modernized VF-19 and VF-11 aircraft that dominated Macross Plus and Macross 7, but it still retains the heart and soul of the original SDFM VF series, an important element in the 25th anniversary re-launch of the franchise.
It stands as a middle ground between the fundamental 80’s simplicity of the VF-1S and the hyper stylized excessiveness of the VF-27 or SV-51. In all, it just, ‘feels’ like a real aircraft. If a VF-25 variant was slowly rolled out of a Lockheed Martin aircraft hanger, I doubt very few heads would explode trying to wrap themselves around its otherworldly design.
Lastly, the VF-25 is to Macross Frontier as the VF-1A is to the original series – it is a character unto itself. The VF-1 series was the heart and soul of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, it is, along with Minmay, pop songs and a heartbreakingly wonderful love triangle, the core of everything Macross. It’s an element that seems forgotten in series such as Delta or Macross II. Delta’s VF-31 is completely interchangeable and doesn’t serve as an important protagonist, merely a tool or device. The VF-25 MAKES Frontier a much more palatable world – it’s not only the defining weapon that skirts the razor’s edge between Vajra victory and defeat, it’s also Alto’s escape from his flightless and skyless existence.
Honorable mention: VF-19
Ai oboete imasu ka (Macross: DYRL)
It’s hard to find a song that represents an entire anime franchise the same way that Mari Iijima’s Do you remember love represents Macross. Not only was it an epoch making ending to the story of the feature film DYRL, it also resonated so perfectly with tone of the narrative.
Minmay, heartbroken over losing the love of her life to another woman, channels every ounce of her sadness into singing a song that ultimately would save humanity from extinction. The victory over Boddole Zer’s fleet was perhaps the most important moment in the entire Macross timeline.
That moment, and this song, is the anchor that the rest of Macross universe is weighted to. There will be a million Walkure’s, Ranke Lee’s and Sheryl Nome’s scattered over a million iterations of future Macross series, but this song will always and forever roost over them all.
Honorable mention: Northern Cross (Macross Frontier)
Ranka Lee (Megumi Nakajima - Macross Frontier)
It’s easy to throw Minmay’s name in the ring for this title, but Minmay’s story arc doesn’t feel as tinged with tragedy or desperation as Ranka Lee’s. While clearly designed as a 25th anniversary modernization of Minmay’s character, Megumi Nakajima’s spin on the role is so unmistakably unique it’s hard to think of a more deserving singer.
Ranka’s character design speaks volumes about Macross Frontier’s racial diversity (Ranka is ¼ Zentradi, hence the green hair) and she’s also a conduit that allows the audience to relive genuinely authentic Macross moments such as the Miss Macross contest and Minmay’s original song catalogue (My boyfriend is a pilot & Do you remember love).
But most importantly of all, we actually gave a shit about Ranka Lee. Frontier was the first love triangle since SDFM that felt so genuinely real that when it all began to fall apart for Ranka, we actually cared. It made songs like Aimo seem far more impactful and emotional.
While Mari Iijima’s Minmay is definitely the queen of Macross, in the long run Ranka Lee will be the singer that touched us the most.
Honorable mention: Lynn Minmay (Mari Iijima – Super Dimension Fortress Macross)
Max vs Milia (Super Dimension Fortress Macross)
Being a show based around pilots and aircraft, a sizeable portion of building the story arc around antagonists is focussed on good guy vs bad guy showdowns. There are some great ones, like Isamu and Guld’s YF-19 vs YF-21 showdown, but I don’t think there are any more iconic than Max and Milia’s slog in the bowels of Macross city.
You see, the Macross Plus showdown was inevitable – the series was anchored around a competitive vehicle competition, a competition we saw play out constantly in front of our eyes as the series developed. There was no spontaneity, like the third act of a Hollywood superhero movie we knew exactly that we were headed to a showdown of epic proportions. It was a showdown however that had no impact to the narrative whatsoever – it was simply a vehicle for Isamu and Guld to vent their decade long frustration’s upon one another and ultimately find peace in each other’s existence.
For Max and Milia, the showdown between two ace pilots and their eventual unification changed the entire dynamic of the Macross universe. It was more than just a side story, it was a turning point in Zentradi/Human relations and definitively proved that Earth’s greatest weapon against alien invasion was our own culture.
Plus, it’s just a really rad battle scene.
Honorable mention: Isamu vs Guld (Macross Plus)
Macross Plus (1994)
I don’t know what else to say, it’s just the best. It exceeds everything you think that a Macross series is and should be. It has all the main elements that make every Macross series great (a love triangle, amazing mecha and an amazing soundtrack) and features a maturity that goes beyond every series that has come before it, or since.
There’s also a kind of genius to its simplicity – There’s no marauding alien invasion force or inter-dimensional antagonist, instead Macross Plus follows the exploits of two rival design teams and their hot-headed test pilots as they compete for a lucrative military supply contract. When an old romantic acquaintance suddenly appears, the rivalry for her affections boils over and spills out of their private lives and onto the testing ground.
It’s just, awesome.
As an OVA of only 4 episodes it might be a little unfair to compare it to the 20-something episode long sagas like SDFM, Frontier or Delta that may wane in the middle due to their length, but walking away from Macross Plus you’re left with a sense of having watched something greater than a four episode mini-series.
Co-Directed by Shōji Kawamori and Shinichirō Watanabe (Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo), it’s completely left of center in comparison to other Macross series and OVA’s like Macross Zero or Dynamite 7. It’s richer in blacks, yellows and earthier tones than the series that followed, it uses early CGI exceptionally well and it has that early to mid 90’s ‘gloss’ that makes classic cell drawn anime series so aesthetically pleasing.
In all, it just ‘feels’ different. It’s devoid of the idol-style fan service that Frontier or Delta eagerly bathes themselves in, swapping quirky Oom-pah sound bites in moments of brevity with deep orchestral mood music or haunting synthesized vox.
It’s the pinnacle of Macross and it was meticulously planned and orchestrated by a dream team of creators and visual artists. It will be difficult to best, especially with the franchise moving towards more lucrative forms of anime fan service.
Macross Plus makes me want to be a pilot.
That’s the highest praise you can give for any air combat anime series.
- Andrew Archer