Okay guys. I recently finished Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and I feel like I need to unburden myself. It was one of the most confusing anime-watching experiences I’ve yet encountered, and I need to sort through these feelings. It’s a weird sensation. Bear with me.
A little background on myself, as this is the first anime review I’ve publicized here. My experience with anime is minimal compared to most of my anime-watching friends. Until the beginning of this year, I hadn’t watched anime regularly in…oh, probably a good eight years or so. This year I dove in heard first to enjoy all the series that I never paid any attention to before. Macross was just one stop on a seemingly never-ending list of classic series that every serious anime fan should watch at least once (or so I’ve been led to believe).
Being a fan of the aesthetic of older anime, romances, and mecha (to a degree), Macross was a natural choice. Even ignoring its status as an ’80s staple, I was going to watch this sooner or later…then I watched Pwolf’s epic, breathtaking, nuclear bomb of a Macross tribute AMV for the first time in years and I decided: it was time for me to enter the Macross universe.
First thing, and let’s just get it out of the way now so that we don’t have to dwell on it later, the animation is…just…terrible. There’s no way for me, even as a fan of the ’80s anime style, to defend Macross in this respect. It’s not even a matter of being spoiled by modern animation; it’s just bad. The characters are all bland looking, the action sequences are static and look horribly contrived, mouth movements are lucky to sync up with spoken words at least half the time, the frame-rate seems to drop to horrendously noticeable lows at random points, and I can’t count the number of times there would be a shot of a character’s head against a moving background where the background would skip and repeat. It’s flat-out ugly, and if it weren’t for the occasional really cool girl-falling-into-a-plane scene, it would be all but unsalvageable.
The story does fare a little better. Taking place in the near future, a giant spaceship (the “Macross”) has crash-landed on Earth, with no clues as to it its owners or origins. Humans have studied it and advanced on account of the technology hidden within, and have learned how to operate it. And then, on the day it’s about to have its maiden voyage…ALIEN ATTACK! The Macross turns itself on and destroys an alien ship in orbit, all hell breaks loose, the Macross “folds” (warps) to the edge of the solar system, taking a chunk of the civilian population with it, and has to make its way back all while being pursued by the alien aggressors. There’s quite a bit more, and the story develops in some unexpected and interesting ways, but that’s the gist of it.
The foundation off of which the story develops is hardly bad; in fact, I really liked the way it started off and the way it developed. In a vacuum, the story can stand on its own and I enjoyed it quite a bit. Mixed with the poor animation though, it came across like a Saturday morning cartoon-turned-space opera. It’s an odd mix of goofy and epic, and while this gives it a certain charm, it also hinders it from developing into something grandiose and truly awesome (like I’m hoping Legend of the Galactic Heroes will be, when I get around to watching it).
The primary thing that gets in the way is the simple fact that the characters who populate the show are all complete, total, unreserved idiots, almost without exception. Lynn Minmay, for example, is the primary romantic interest in the show. Her naivete throughout the series is truly astounding, to the point where she willingly seeks out abuse and selfish neglect in the form of a romantic relationship with her cousin, something that apparently isn’t taboo in Japanese culture? Or maybe the ’80s were just a different time? I don’t know, I don’t get it, but in the name of plot development this builds angst and angst is good in romance shows, so why not?
Even my favorite character, Hayase Misa, turns into an empty-headed, swooning shell of a good character by the end, so blinded by her love interest that she somehow overlooks all the completely thoughtless, confounding acts of complete indifference he shows her throughout the series (which takes place over the course of something like 3+ years).
And then we have Ichijou Hikaru. This guy…this fricking guy. He’s single-minded to an embarrassing degree, pursuing a girl that couldn’t care less about him (and essentially says so on multiple, public occasions), ignoring his duties, his orders, and his peers in her name. He’s as dense and frustrating a character as they come, yet everyone seems to love him for reasons I cannot understand, despite my best attempts.
Seasons recently mentioned wish fulfillment as an oft-cited criticism of anime in his recent review of Kokoro Connect, and in spite of my efforts to offer alternative solutions, I cannot for the life of me figure out any other explanation for Hikaru’s character. He’s dumb, oblivious, insensitive, insubordinate, and all other manner of undesirable qualities, and yet he still gets the girl(s), he still wins the day, everyone still loves him. What more could a viewer want in a wish fulfillment fantasy? Do whatever you want, flaunt all established social conventions, flippantly ignore every little hint thrown your way, and still end up on top, with people willing to sacrifice themselves for you. Where do I sign up?
None of this, though, even begins to compare to the sheer idiocy displayed by the show’s alien antagonists. The series’ main conflict takes place between humanity and the Zentradi, an alien race who have no “culture” of their own other than constant war. The number of ridiculous and unbelievable things that happen throughout this series is uncountable, but the inability of an alien force with literally tens of millions of warships to destroy a single, scrappy, cobbled-togther military force localized within a single ship trumps it all. The “resolution” to the conflict is also suitably ridiculous, although, admittedly, creative and unusual. As I’ve learned through reading about this series and others within the Macross universe, it is definitive of Macross in general. I guess I can’t complain too much in that respect, but come on, the Zentradi should have totally and utterly crushed humanity within the first five episodes.
So…it’s a show with a lot of problems, almost all of which cannot be ignored. But this is where I got confused, because I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience. In fact, most of the time, it was a series I looked forward to watching more of each day. It’s hard to say why, but a few key things keep popping up in my head whenever I think through this.
First, it is epic. There are aspects of the storytelling and characterization which get in the way of the anime expressing its scope to the fullest, but as I watched through the series I couldn’t escape the fact that the writers had ambition, and weren’t afraid to push a few creative boundaries to bring it all into focus. Even the most critical viewer would have to admit this, I think.
This kind of leads me to my next point: for the inner child in me, it has all the things I’d want to see — space battles, transforming mechs, violence — mixed with all the things I can appreciate as a 26 year-old — romance, drama, pseudoscience, and a slowly developing overarching plot to tie everything together. It really tends to hit on all cylinders at at least a few points, and when it does, the anime just hums beautifully. And I’ll allow that its pandering to my inner child earns it brownie points; I don’t care, that’s what this kind of series is supposed to do.
And it did, in fact, surprise me at a couple points. For the majority of the series, Macross stays pleasantly over-the-top in its presentation. I mentioned before that it can have a very “Saturday morning cartoon” feel to it; it tends to not take itself too seriously. As a viewer, watching through the show was often a tension-less experience. Macross likes to come across as pure fluff of the grandest kind: big and sprawling, yes — but never threatening.
Or so I thought, anyway. There was a good 2-3 episode stretch in the middle that completely caught me off-guard. This was the last anime that I expected to give me an emotional gut-punch, but the middle of the series left me reeling. Then, again, the end of the series’ main arc (which occurs on episode 27) was shocking and, in my opinion, quite underplayed by the series itself. There were several other single scenes peppered throughout the series that left an imprint in my head. For all its goofy, apparent nonchalance, Macross never forgets that it’s a series with a war at the center of it, and it does a pretty fantastic job of detailing those realities and horrors (when it feels like doing so, anyway).
More than any of these things, though, Macross just has a certain charisma, akin to sci-fi B movies, or kung-fu flicks, or really old radio programs. For all of the stuff that’s come along and done similar things better, sometimes you just want that aesthetic that is completely lost in the modern world. Macross is old and outdated in more than just its animation, but holy crap does it make me feel nostalgic. Having never watched Macross before, I don’t know what it is exactly I feel nostalgic for, but I love it.
And I hate it.
I…don’t know what I feel about it. It’s confusing and frustrating and as I sit here typing I’m getting antsy just trying to sort through it all and come up with a strong concluding remark. So I’ll leave you with this: It’s everything you’re probably expecting a mecha-space-opera cartoon from the ’80s to be. If you’re considering watching it, or if the term “mecha-space-opera” has piqued your interest, it’s too late, you’ve already made up your mind and nothing I say should dissuade you. For everyone else, you were never going to be interested in this to begin with.
Personal value: 8/10