Aired just two years after the end of Mobile Suit Gundam, a show which defined the mecha/space genre in anime, Macross takes the ‘humans attacked and on the run in a super ship’ template and blazes forward a new path of its own.
Macross is the sexier version of Gundam, the carefree serenading romantic. There is an air of enthusiasm and happy-go-lucky charm to its characters that the Gundam franchise rarely ever allowed on its unlucky downtrodden crew. Whereas Gundam grinds Amuro and company through the emotional wringer from episode one, Macross lets Hikaru and gang regularly let off steam in the interior city residing within the Macross itself.
This small city is the show’s unique selling point. Whereas most other shows, that might have civilian refugees crammed aboard a ship, will ignore them except when they riot, Macross instead gives them equal focus. They spend so long on the ship that they are forced to adapt and eventually get accustomed to living in an artificial city that incidentally ended up in the bowels of the ship in the most amazing way possible.
Macross is filled with amazing action sequences. Amazing simply for the year it was aired in, the effort and skill of the animators to bring us visually excellent setpieces, featuring awesome-but-underused-in-anime fighter jets, is admirable indeed. The major highlight is an early scene involving a falling jet racing to catch up with a falling human, the camera revolving around the pair seamlessly. The scene is indicative of the ambition of the show.
Gundam is about technology. Whoever has the superior technology wins. Macross is about love. The quintessential emotion that can bring peoples of all race, colour and creed together. Of course these anime are about other things too, but these aspects are at the core.
Macross focuses on other things that mecha fans will have missed in Gundam, such as the affect of media and celebrity in wartime, the clash of two different cultures, and as mentioned before, the society that exists within a ship on the run.
Macross is probably more famous now for its music than its war hijinks, and this first series shows that it was all part of the master plan from the beginning rather than something that evolved later on in other parts of the franchise. The character of Minmay will probably annoy most viewers with her witless selfish ways, but she is the epitome of a teen idol and acts like one. Her cousin Kaifun is the one most deserving of your unbridled hatred, one of the biggest scumbags in all of anime! But anyway, back to Minmay. The role she plays in the story is important despite her ditzy manner, and alongside Hikaru, a main character in a mecha show who is more average and easier to relate to than most others. Although he does for some reason, get increasingly dumber as the show progresses.
Amazingly enough Hikaru is not the best pilot in the story either, and neither is one of the manliest characters in the anime medium: Roy Focker. A man who lives up to his name, let’s just leave it at that. Genre stereotypes are subtlely subverted in Macross. For example there’s a staple bespectacled genius character, Max, but he’s not a cliché, he’s not unapproachable and coldly analytical. He actually has a normal personality and is even a hit with the ladies. Macross characters are a genuine treat, much like everything else with this show, always keeping you on your toes. And a disclaimer: half the cast ARENT killed off in the last episode, how refreshing! Not only do characters unexpectedly die in this show, they unexpectedly live too!
What is great about Macross is that it doesn’t heap misery on its characters constantly, but when it does, the characters move on quickly. It never feels like a copout, they’re still affected by the changes around them, whenever comrades die for example, but we’re thankfully spared five episodes of them moping around like stroppy teens.
Instead we get a ship populated by a plucky group of women who belong more on a playground than the most important part of a warship. These women gossip away and yell out “yada!” when things don’t go their way. At one point the ship gets a new barrier system, called Pinpoint Barrier and it consists of a room somewhere in the ship operated by a couple women who have to roll balls around their table in order to move a mobile barrier around the ship’s exterior to absorb enemy attacks. Yes, it really is as ridiculous as it sounds, you can only laugh at the image of cute girls rolling balls furiously in the middle of an attack, yelling “yada!”
Macross is entertainment through and through. It’s not going for weighty philosophy, but at the same time, it decorates its carefree nature with worthy topics and doesn’t so much explore them as it acknowledges them. Midway through the show the ugliness of politics, discrimination and the sacrifices that must be made rears its head leading to dramatic, yet ultimately always uplifting stuff.
It’s not perfect, the second arc towards the end of the show is a bit of an extended epilogue that may feel like it drags to some viewers, but I appreciate how it resolved dangling plot points and developed characters more than the entire first arc. The love triangle between Hikaru, Minmay and officer Hayase heats up and leads to an excellent climax, and it’s all the more beautiful because the anime doesn’t manipulate you into rooting for one person by making the other a complete bitch, you can see why Hikaru would want to be with either of them.
The art is the show’s biggest flaw, it’s not pretty. Character designs are fine, but sometimes their eyes go wonky and you wonder if the animators were high on something at the time. The animation itself though as mentioned earlier, constantly surprises you in random episodes with how seamless the ‘camera’ revolves around setpieces. Though in the second arc the animation suffers and sometimes resorts to US 80’s cartoon level quality, but thankfully the attention to characterisation makes up for it.
The music is obviously awesome, and I’m not even talking about Minmay’s pop ditties, but the actual score soundtrack is very memorable and funky.
I really loved the characters of Macross and their voice acting, it’s a very different approach to the Gundam template when it could have been a simple rip-off. I want to give it 10 out of 10, but will show restraint as the antagonist race weren’t developed well, even if their origin was very interesting. Macross’s strength revolves around just a handful of characters who get ample characterisation and attention, and both a perfect ending to the series and perfect beginning to the franchise.
Originally posted at myanimelist.net.