Monday, 28 April 2008

NOTES: Macross History (Prelude to MacF 1-4 Review)

Oh come on, you knew it had to happen. Just look at the sidebar! Unfortunately, space permits a proper plot description for much of this. Check out The Anime Encyclopedia by Jonathan Clemens and Helen McCarthy or Wikipedia for details, as the articles are fairly in depth.

25 years ago (well, slightly over - starting Oct. 2002), the Super Dimensional Fortress Macross changed the face of animation. With its lush character designs (Haruhiko Mikimoto) and transforming robots (the Valkyrie series, based on the F-14 fighter, adapted by Shoji Kawamori), the series not only looked distinctive, but played out like a true drama as we see a love triangle ravaged by warfare, and the dominance of pop culture over military might as the power of song saves humanity, rather than simply whomever has the biggest guns. Spurred on by its western adaptation (Robotech) and its 1984 film remake, Do You Remember Love?, The Super Dimensional Fortress Macross engaged a generation of fans around the world and belongs on the shelves of musical-lovers worldwide (even if one has to buy a dodgy DVD to get a subtitled edition thanks to licensing difficulties).

Ten years later, the franchise returned in a two pronged attack: the direct to video Macross Plus and the direct to TV sequel, Macross 7.

Macross Plus is what most western fans view as the franchise's ultimate version: high budget animation, stylish pioneering CG, and a driving soundtrack by Yoko Kanno bring the Top Gun-esque storyline to the heights of what anime is capable of achieving (the adverts even showed a scene and a surprised narrator would ask "This is animation?"). Plus also deals with similar philosophical issues as the more acclaimed Ghost in the Shell (man vs. machine vs. living vs. technology in our lives), but in a far more entertaining way. Both the original 4-part OVA (Original Video Animation) series and the cinematic rework are no less than stunning.

Macross 7, meanwhile, is loathed by many outside of Japan, and unfairly so. Keeping in closer tone to the early episodes of its predecessor, 7 is a colourful, joyous series, drawing its influences from traditional super robot shows (monster attacks, is fended off, repeat) as anything in the Macross universe (though thankfully retaining Mikimoto as character designer, using his models from DYRL as a retcon across the franchise). It also features some of the best music in anime history, focusing as much on the protagonists' band striving for success as the combat at hand. If the viewer can come to terms with the Beatles in Space (with a stubborn John Lennon-esque piloting a Valkyrie) and singing during battle, (s)he will be richly rewarded as Macross 7's cast come to terms with the same issues plaguing the viewers over the course of the series. Unfortunately, the time requirement needed is more than many are willing to devote to an admittedly shaky start. Regardless, Macross 7 was a huge hit in Japan, spawning two direct to video episodes, a short film (paired with the Macross Plus screenings), and a sequel OVA, Macross Dynamite 7 which doubled as the 15th anniversary release.

Needless to say, expectations were high for the twentieth anniversary production, Macross Zero. Helmed by Shoji Kawamori (who had also directed Macross Plus and headed the creative team for 7), this five episode OVA took over a year to release and proved a disappointment on all fronts short of its breathtaking animation. Unfortunately, the story failed to be engaging, as what could have been a prequel explaining numerous plot questions establishing the original series turned into an excuse for Kawamori to continue the environmentalist rantings of his preceding work, Earth Girl Arjuna. As new questions emerged, Zero failed to satisfy and is almost as much of a dud as Macross 2 and raised doubts in the fans as to whether or not the man who had helmed one of the most beloved series in anime still had what it takes.*

So where does this leave us now? Kawamori is helming the 25th anniversary series, Macross Frontier, and his new studio Satelight is responsible for animations. Their prior work, Aquarion, failed to impress the RZ, but how will he find this new addition to the canon? A look at the first four episodes comes tomorrow...

*Macross 2? An infamous spinoff without any of the original creative team involved. As such, it's been retconned out of canon and isn't worth mentioning except to say that you'll miss nothing except a few jokes in 7 by not seeing it.

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