Tuesday, March 20, 2012
The greatest giant robot anime franchise is without a doubt Gundam. However, in second is Macross. Gundam has had something like ten gazillion series and movies and whatevers, while Macross has had only about five. But the history of Macross is at least as storied, and it is a name that every true anime fan knows, or should know. "Macross Frontier" is the heir to that long legacy, which includes the super-classic anime "Robotech" and arguably the best anime movie of all time, the supremely fantastic "Macross Plus". Unlike Gundam, however, Macross is a lot lighter, typically. The giant robots transform from humanoid to fighter-form, that's a rule. There's a love triangle, that's another rule. Usually at some point during the series, some female character will sing a reality-defying Jpop ballad that will pacify the universe and spread love throughout the cosmos. Because love, as we all know, is the greatest weapon - if Obama were to drop a Love Bomb on Afghanistan, all our problems would be solved. But as you can see, Macross is a lot more idealistic than Gundam, the shows aren't going to end with every major character dead or insane. Instead, raw anime heroism will win the day, usually in an absurd twist of events.
"Macross Frontier" makes itself a great heir to that family of anime. I can say with nothing but 100% certainty that "Macross Frontier" is not as good as "Macross Plus", but honestly that's being cruel to a very fun show. As a matter of fact, "Macross Frontier" is usually the kind of anime that I hate, but we'll get into that confusion later. What is important that "Macross Frontier" was so good, that my waning interest in anime has been seriously resparked. And that is remarkable, I have to say.
First I'll start with a note: if you live outside of Japan, you cannot watch or buy "Macross Frontier" legally. You have to pirate it, there is no other option. This is because the entire Macross franchise is actually tied up in the most insane legal snarl in probably the entire history of anime. Its a tale so weird and utterly stupid that suddenly the cynical works of Hobbes and Machiavelli sound pretty damn reasonable - people are fucking stupid and if you let them be stupid, they'll cause trouble for everybody. So let me try to explain:
Back in the early 80s, the original "Super Dimension Fortress Macross" anime came in Japan and was a huge hit. This guy, Carl Macek decided that he wanted to try to bring the show over to America, which at the time was completely unheard of. Anime was just not a thing in the United States back then. Big West, the owners of Macross, had licensed a different studio, Tatsunoko Productions, to handle international release. So Macek and his company, Harmony Gold, talk with Tatsunoko, and get the rights to "Macross", and make "Robotech" out of it. "Robotech" is actually a really faithful adaptation of the original series... until its second and third seasons, when Macek mixed in some other other unrelated animes to fill up the sixty-five episodes required for syndication. "Robotech" was a hit in the US and was a big step to the growing popularity of anime through the 80s and 90s to its eventually explosion of popularity. That's all fine. The story is a happy one up to now.
However, Big West, Harmony Gold, and Tatsunoko Productions all now hold rights to Macross internationally, leading to a huge legal snarl of endless stupidity. What wound up happening is that Harmony Gold somehow ended up with pretty much full control over Macross in the West, giving them full veto power over any Macross materials to come here. If you wanted to license "Macross Frontier" in America, you'd have to go through Harmony West, who I guess want too much money. Harmony West have done fuck-all with their "Robotech" license in the last few decades by the way, so I'm going to declare them pricks. You know how "Macross Plus", that anime movie I so adore got into the states? Basically the lawyers at Harmony Gold weren't paying attention, and it just snuck by them. But as for the other anime series, "Macross Frontier", "Macross Zero", and "Macross 7", they're not going anywhere. They're stuck in Japan forever, basically.
Luckily, we have a way around that in the modern Internet. ARRRR, YE MATEYS. WE BE PIRATING THIS "MACROSS FRONTIER", IT BE THE FINEST PIRATE BOOTY I EVER LAY ME EYES UPON. SHIVER ME TIMBERS, SAYS I. Just go to Veoh or some other video site online, and watch every episode there. And if that makes me a bad person, I only have this to say: ARRR!!
And now to actually review "Macross Frontier":
The basic plot takes place some seventy eyars after the original "Macross" and a couple decades after "Macross Plus". The original threat, the Zentradi, a race of giants (thus explaining the need for giant robots), has learned to dance to the Jpop and are now our buddies. Humanity has taken to the stars, spreading outward in giant space convoys to find new planets to settle. The Macross Frontier is one of those great convoys, heading to the center of the galaxy to see what's out there*. This isn't a small venture, the Macross Frontier is pretty much a flying country, filled with thousands of people with huge spaceship islands full of life and an entire armada of advanced spaceships.
Unfortunately for humans, the galaxy is not empty. There's a race of giant bugs called the Vajra that are attacking space convoys, obliterating millions of people. The Vajra are like the Bugs from "Starship Troopers", only that they're giant robot sized and follow typical Macross military tactics. So faced with this ridiculous threat, can human beings live on? Can the power of Jpop save us once again? Also, what evil threats are lurking within the Macross Frontier fleet itself?
Anyway, without further ado, the character breakdown. This a thing I love doing:
Alto Saotome is the main hero dude. He's a blue-haired typical anime protagonist in that he's unreasonably and preposterously beautiful for a male. But unlike every other anime series, which just kinda ignores this bizarre character design feature, "Macross Frontier" makes this into a running joke. Alto is known as "Princess", a name he really doesn't like. Beyond that, he's pretty much the typical anime protagonist. Dense when women are coming on to him, quick to fits of passionate anger, has daddy issues, and is a really good pilot. Actually, cross out that last one, because weirdly at no point during "Macross Frontier" does the blue Princess ever really show off particularly impressive flying skills. Isamu from "Macross Plus" could fly circles around this guy. I mean, he's a damn good flyer, but never to the point that his specific skills are needed to get through a situation. The other pilots in this show are probably better, and that's odd. Alto is also the fulcrum of the love triangle. I think at the end of the series he tries to pull of a three-way, so he gets points for that.
Sheryl Nome is my favorite character, and I'm guessing everybody else's favorite too. She's an intergalactic superstar, because in the future everybody listens to Japanese funk. Sheryl's existence in the love triangle is actually a bit of brilliance, because the writers realized that the fanbase were going to be two different types of fans. There would be the fans of the demure little quiet Japanese girl, and there would be fans of the proud assertive flirtatious woman. And since I'm on Team Asuka over Team Rei, guess where I went? Yup, Sheryl. If Alto is the Princess, Sheryl is the Queen. Possibly by going after Alto, Sheryl is breaking some child molestation law, but who cares? Sheryl, trying to be more than just a singer idol, also tries to be a pilot for a time, and fails spectacularly. Oh well, she's still cool. She and her romantic rival, Ranka, probably have more screentime and character development than Alto, which is fine because Alto is pretty flat in comparison. Sheryl's life goes through some pretty dark turns towards the second half of the series, and you feel bad for her.
Also, I'm not trying to spoil the show, but in interests in real-ness: Sheryl wins the love triangle. They try to keep it ambiguous, but Sheryl and Alto wind up living together by the last few episodes, so who are we kidding?
Ranka Lee is the demure quiet Japanese moe character. So usually I'd hate her guts, because that character type is just bizarre and disturbingly anti-feminist. But it really goes to the credit of "Macross Frontier"'s authors that Ranka came off well. She is the underdog in the love triangle and in singing compared to Sheryl, but they never really get to be rivals. In fact, Sheryl is nothing but supportive of Ranka the entire series, so Sheryl is never bitchy. Ranka unfortunately is just less interesting than her rival, who had a lot more depth and variety. Then Ranka never even tells Alto that she loves him, but I think he gets the point eventually. She needed to learn to be more assertive during the show, but never quite does. Oh, Ranka has amnesia, so that means automatically that she's going to have magic powers of some kind and a mysterious connection with the Bugs. Its a law.
Michael Blanc is Alto's main piloting rival and roommate. Despite how much he makes fun of Alto for being a Princess, Michael is also stupidly pretty, so he can't talk. He's supposedly a womanizer, but you don't really see much evidence of this. Michael has a unique problem in that his main love interest is a Zentradi with huge boobs. That's not so bad, but when she minimizes to regular human size, she turns into a little girl. So to avoid run-ins with Chris Hanson, they can never consummate their relationship.
Luca and Nananse are two other characters in Alto's high school. They exist, that's all you need to know.
Ozma Lee is Ranka's adopted big brother and the captain of the giant robot squads. Since he's the older pilot and grizzled veteran guy, that means he can't be the main hero. Though Ozma is a better pilot than Alto, getting at least one more scene of total badassness. He even beats Alto in a straight-up duel. Ozma's philosophy is pretty simple: if you can't kill them with a gun, use your knife, and if you can't use a knife, use your teeth! "I'm not an adult, I'm A MAN!!!" Ozma is awesome.
Klan Klang is Michael's Kentradi love interest. She has the biggest boobs in the entire show, they're ridiculous. I mean seriously. Holy damn, girl. Remember, she's a giant too, so those tits are like the size of your house. Um... I seem to have lost my train of thought. Klan is Michael's love interest, but when she's giant they can't really have sex without going into Brobdingnag perversions, and when she's human-sized she's a loli, so they can't sex without going to jail. That sucks. You Japanese moe fans should realize how creepy you guys are.
Grace O'Connor is originally just the hot secretary of Sheryl, a hotter character, so you'd probably forget Grace exists. Don't do that. Can't say more without going into spoilers, but Grace is a big deal.
Brera Stern is a mysterious cyborg that flies a mysterious pink robot. Who is he? Can't tell you. His hair color inexplicably switches shades from green to blond in one episode.
"Macross Frontier" is divided into three major facets. You got the Bug War for you lovers of giant robots. You got the Jpop and rise to superstar plotline for you girls. And there's the love triangle for well... everybody with a heart. So I'll go write a paragraph for each, and then wrap this review up.
Love triangles are a brilliant, brilliant plot thread, and here's why: they turn the audience into active participants. Usually in a story the hot guy and the hot girl will get paired together, they fall in love, you just believe what the author tells you, hom hum. But in a love triangle you have to pick which of several scenarios you want to happen. Should Alto go with Ranka, the Japanese idolized girl? Or Sheryl, the woman for Western viewers? Now you can spend hours arguing on the Internet over which is better, and that's a good thing. People should be arguing about stories, that's what makes them interesting. There should be some audience input as to what they want to happen, they shouldn't just blindly sit there, and wait for the author to give it to them. Also, you can never really guess how a love triangle is going to get resolved, your favorite might win** or lose***. In this, one, not to spoil anything, my favorite wins. You can start a flamewar below about how Ranka is really Alto's true love, I'm ready for you. We'll do this thing. I'm a Team Jacob veteran, I've fought worse battles than this!
The Jpop is a major part of "Macross Frontier". Unfortunately, if you hate Jpop. this is not your series. Over the years of watching anime, I've become tolerant to acceptive of it. When I was a kid and Jpop came on I would run to hills and pray to God to save me from this invading force of evil girliness. Unfortunately that means that "Macross Frontier" is the girliest anime I've ever recommended. Curiously, "Macross Frontier" was composed by Yoko Kanno, but sadly she dropped all of her rock and jazz and classical influences to focus entirely on pure Jpop. You could spend your time crying over what could have been: this could have been "Cowboy Bebop 2", maybe. But then the songs really are pretty damn catchy. In fact, dangerously catchy. You need to dig this music out of your head with a fork, causing endless brain damage in the process.
One real negative I have for the music: Ranka and Sheryl sing in the same style. I really wish there were some variety in their music, because there's so much variety in their personality. Like, maybe make Sheryl a Janice Joplin-type, some classic rock to get through all this Jpop. They do come together really when singing like in this scene, so its a small thing.
Now for the best part: the giant robot action. ITS AWESOME! The fight scenes are so friggin fast and exciting. There's almost no repeated animation clips in the fight scenes, so it has the most fluid and entertaining robot battles I've seen since "Eureka Seven". "Macross Frontier" ultimately solves a lot more of its problems with Jpop than robots, but the robots are still there. When there is action, its fucking ACTION! Its incredible, I loved it. Heck, it might have been even better than "Eureka Seven" at a few times. My only problem was that the screen I was watching was too damn small and the resolution too low to fully see what was happening sometimes. But that's Harmony Gold's fault, those pricks.
So that was "Macross Frontier". I loved it. Unfortunately, its really not for everybody. The girly Jpop will scare away a lot of potential fans, but then again, they probably weren't right for Macross to begin with. Now all I have to do is review the movie sequel! That's next.
* So basically its everything humanity should be doing now, but won't because NASA is expensive. Cry me a river, there's a universe to win! NASA needs all the money!
** Ryoko x Tenchi wins in "Tenchi Universe", yay!
*** L x Light in "Death Note" never did work out, now did it? ;_;