Super Dimensional Fortress Macross
Macross Plus
Anime space--and soap--opera done right
Super Dimensional Fortress Macross
Japan, 1982

Macross Plus
Manga Entertainment
Directed by Shoji Kawamori and Shinichiro Watanabe
Japan, 1994
Super Dimensional Fortress Macross made its debut on Japanese television in 1982. Although it may seem unremarkable--little more than giant transforming robots whaling the tar out of each other--the series is legendary to anime fans in the East and West for very good reasons.

Set in the near future (actually, the series starts in 1999), Macross's key ingredients were interstellar war (with, yes, plenty of big robots blowing each other up); a central love triangle; and music, in the form of idol singer Lynn Minmay. (For the unitiated, Japanese idol singers are young pop stars of varying talent who often quickly achieve white-hot celebrity status before completely falling off the pop-culture map. The Spice Girls could be considered idol singers, but they've been famous a little too long.)

Oh, and those robots? Following in the footsteps of Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross's transforming robots (Valkyries) were actually standard-issue fighter planes, rather than the privilege of a single heroic figure. There was even a semi-plausible reason given for them: the enemy's sixty-foot robots weren't robots at all, they were powered armor for the alien Zentraedi, who were ten times our size.

The key to Macross's appeal was that the series placed the soap opera of young pilot Hikaru Ichijo's life--especially his relationship with Minmay and ranking officer Misa Hayase--at the forefront, using the war as a backdrop. The formula worked, and the show quickly became a hit, prompting the then-fledgling Studio Nue to create an additional nine episodes on top of the original 27.

As with most television series, the quality of the visuals could vary wildly, with the best efforts going to the most significant episodes. In particular, the first two episodes are masterpieces of design, direction, and pacing, using the "camera" in a way North American television animation has yet to match in the eighteen years since. In contrast, some of the later episodes feature some of the worst animation ever seen on TV. The story, however, works throughout, though it may test your threshold for melodrama.

There have been follow-ups to Macross; the summer of 1984 saw the theatrical release of Macross: Do You Remember Love?, a visually luscious two-hour adaptation of the series' events, and shortly thereafter was the Macross: Flashback 2012 OAV, which was essentially a collection of clips from the series and movie set to Minmay's music, along with footage of her, Hikaru, and Misa after the events of... the movie? The TV series? It wasn't made clear, but it certainly intimated that more was to come.

Macross II and Macross 7 came and went, but it was 1994's Macross Plus which really captured the spirit of the original show. In many ways, it even improved on it. Again, there's plenty of hi-tech transforming-fighter action, but the real story of this four-part OAV series is the triangle between childhood friends Isamu Dyson, Guld Goa Bowman, and Myung Fan Lone, who happen to find themselves on their home planet at the same time. Hotshot pilot Isamu, busted for reckless behavior in combat, finds himself as a test pilot for a new transforming fighter which might replace the UN Spacy's aging YF-19. Bowman is the test pilot for another fighter competing for the same spot. Both of them bear animosity toward each other for some reason involving Myung--and wouldn't you know it, she's back in town as the producer for Sharon Apple, the galaxy's hottest idol singer who happens to be entirely virtual.

Like its progenitor, Macross Plus features phenomenal animation work; however, without the deadlines and pressures of television animation, the entire series is a visual feast from start to finish. Directed by Macross veteran Shoji Kawamori, Macross Plus features vertigo-inducing aerial sequences; slower-paced, elegantly staged scenes between Isamu, Bowman, and Myung; and some of the most creatively applied computer animation to date. The music, too, veers away from the cheesy pop-synth of 1980s idol music and embraces more sophisticated arrangements, while the score, performed by the Israel Philharmonic, easily makes my top ten list of animation scores. In a nutshell, Macross Plus is anime--actually, animation--done right.

Originally printed in Parsec (Summer 2000)
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