This Week: Macross 7
Tomorrow marks one year of material dated to this anime blog. Except that means I technically have to do my proper anniversary post over the weekend, which meant I would still need to watch something to talk about for a normal Friday post beforehand.
The question then goes… what would I even watch or rewatch? Something in a genre I like sure, and ideally a work that could be taken as kind of celebratory in tone.
For those who do not completely creep around my occasionally self referential bits around here (or, you know, the FAQ page I guess, haha) my first anime in a technical sense was the Super Dimension Fortress Macross portion of the first Robotech arc.
I did not know what “anime” was at the time, or that Robotech was comprised of three entirely unrelated anime television series for broadcast in the United States. But it was a cool robot show with jet planes that could transform into mecha and could also transform into a half-plane-half-robot form. And the plot was the biggest and grandest thing I had ever seen in an animated series, continuing on with its weekly space opera as it was and events had serious consequences in the continuing war.
It was a very formative experience, and the kind of nice thing with tracking down the original series once years went by and I knew what Macross was is it got to be even better than I had ever remembered from the edited version. My scores for it on MAL are highly tempered in not giving them perfect scores, as it is the kind of thing where I am way too personally close to the material and I try to be aware of that.
The very unfortunate part of This Cool Thing I Like is many of the sequels have never seen the light of day in my country due to the titanic series of legal fights between Big West, Tatsunoko, Studio Nue, Harmony Gold, etc dating back to the original Robotech edits and intellectual property rights relating to the production of Macross. The series continues to truck out an entry now and again though, and in Macross 7’s case it was the first TV length followup to the original over a decade later. It would be even longer until I got to see it, tape trading and fansubs being slow as they were. Now here I am even later than that, to see how I feel about it now.
At its core, Macross as a franchise is about three things: the power of music, love triangles, and the transforming Valkyrie robot jetplanes. And Macross 7 has all that, but with a big twist on the execution. Unlike the more traditional space opera or science fiction military series with a higher degree of romance and pop songs of the original, this sequel is more hot blooded and comes armed with the power of Rawk Music. In essence, Macross 7 is to Macross what the battle tournament Mobile Fighter G Gundam is to Mobile Suit Gundam’s colony war.
The big difference there is Domon Kasshu in G Gundam gets in his robot and punches other robots in the face. Basara Nekki in Macross 7 uses his robot as a glorified speaker system for The Power of His Rawk Music. The guy with the big red robot in the intro, the designated hero of the series, is a massive pacifist. Hot blooded but hippie musician robot pilot and friends versus vampire space elves mecha fantasy action.
Conceptually, this is actually a really interesting approach, attempting to blend multiple aspects of the franchise into one. To have the musician and leading robot pilot and love triangle member as the same person . And, of course, it is not like anyone else on the battlefield on either side is obligated to stop shooting once he shows up in a firefight to start singing. But he likes to think he can make them listen to his songs, which is his entire driving force. It is easy to see why he frustrated a lot of fan community folks back in the day: he has the top of the line VF-19, but hates the idea of shooting.
As a musician, he will quit practices at will or begin playing on his own at incredibly inappropriate times. He is a very “I’m in this for the feel of the music maaaan” kind of guy. Right down to his John Lennon sunglasses that one kid you may have known just like this that one time probably wore. But it fits his character, and the relating frustrations and positive aspects he gives others as a result, so I think it is fine. But a lot of more otaku oriented folks, especially of the more serious science fiction background of the original Macross, I remember easily found him to be anathema.
And I can respect that, though I would say the whole lighter and freewheeling tone of this series does make the changes appropriate as a self contained vessel. It is trying to explore things in new ways, rather than provide more of the same, which has both its up and downsides.
Which does get to a matter you may have picked up on by this point: I have not actually talked about much of the plot of Macross 7, except in the broadest of terms.
This is really its biggest stumbling block, as most of the episodes do not move the plot along so much as they are character romps. One could perhaps carve a good 2/3rd’s of the series off, and not much narrative would be lost. If the series was airing now, and folks were trying to do weekly writeups around the aniblogging sphere, it would get nailed to the wall. It would not be seen as going anywhere fast with its ideas (and to be fair, it doesn’t), and its frequent use of stock footage would not help matters too much. They get creative with it at points, sure. But while the Macross 7th fleet’s elite Diamond Force has nice looking VF-17 Nightmare’s at the start, one can only have the same level of interest in watching them launch in the exact same way so many times to shoot at enemy forces who will often shoot back in the same ways you have already seen.
So the direct plot is too thin out for a series this long, and it has more stock on hand than your average can of bargain basement chicken noodle soup.
And yet, I do not think it is a bad show.
A lot of the firepower behind this comes from Fire Bomber, the central rock band of the series, being assembled as a group in real life and producing so much music for the series to use. As an example, here is a battle from episode eleven (I picked this one in particular for reasons that will be obvious to other Macross folks) of Planet Dance, then here is a live performance of the same song by Fire Bomber in concert just a few years ago.
If Yoshiki Fukuyama looks or sounds familiar, it is because he has also been with anime and video game song providers JAM Project for over a decade.
This is a series where Fire Bomber as the real life band has albums of things like an English language Fire Bomber cover band from the Macross 11 fleet claiming to be the real group, or albums of what the whole Galaxy Network Chart Top 10 is like in-universe. They very much liked their job, and even the most recent album still has new recordings.
The music, how it comes to be developed by the characters and then performed in show, in this series is way more forward and center stage than even in the original Macross was with pop music. Macross 7 is the “This Machine Kills Fascists” hippie guitar idea of Woody Guthrie slapped on a giant rock music blaring robot, with all of the positive hippie intent and potential “What is this going to actually do to help?” ideas therein.
I would not say it gets overly meditative on the matter, so folks drawn to something like Beck but not usually mecha shows should still consider staying away. But, taken as more of a light space fantasy (and boy does it get fantastical) than a more serious space opera and a series of adventure of the week episodes that turn into music videos, it has a charm to it.
I mean if you are really interested in watching some Reasonably Big Spoilers, here is the effective mid-series finale fight.
And I’m not feeding more than that, haha. It is this use of music and mecha on their difference scales and executions though that make the series feel worthwhile to me, as large and cumbersome as the entire endeavor can be. It does not marathon well, but would be far better on the side (and most episodes start with a The Story So Far recap for such viewers).
Which, given the Macross franchise use of love triangles, does feel strangely appropriate in its own right.
- Stronger at love triangles and the importance of music than Macross Zero
- Equipped with big new attempts to carve out a unique identity, unlike Macross II: Lovers Again
- Something I can not judge against Macross Frontier; that series came out during my 2006 – 2012 anime deadzone. Maybe I’ll watch that on some other occasion.
- Not as well paced and cleanly Hollywood evocative in its action as Macross Plus
- Lacking in handling grand scale at all levels at once (space war, romance, etc) compared to Super Dimension Fortress Macross
- Unable to match the absurd levels of passion poured into Macross: Do You Remember Love?
That feels about right.
Mothballs is a weekly write-up of already completed anime I have either removed from my backlog or have recently revisited. A crash space for my immediate thoughts and personal processing, these are not intended as full reviews.