Tuesday, September 15, 2009

10 Things to get you started on Macross

10 Things to get you started on MacrossWas having a discussion with a friend who loved anime and our topic touched on Macross Frontier. She had never watched any of the Macross series nor movies before but she heard that Macross Frontier was a great anime. A diehard fan like me would just love to get another one into our fold, our discussion however was cut short before I could continue with my discourse on the wonders of Macross.

I saw this little interruption as a fortuitous event, since I could have ample time to better arm myself with factoids to show her what Macross is all about without giving up much in terms of plot elements to spoil it for the first time fan that she was. I am not saying that this list is perfect, but for me this is what made Macross great and worth watching

The 10 Things to help you get started on Macross

10 Things to get you started on MacrossThe Creator - Shoji Kawamori, remember that name then imagine a legion of fans murmuring that in their sleep every night. And before going to sleep, some of them actually say a prayer to God to keep watch over him and to inspire him to create more Macross anime... and that nobody slips anymore juju in his drink, else he might end up making something like Macross 7 all over again.

Kawamori-sama is co-creator of the original Macross SDF-1 series and was responsible for designing the iconic mecha that captivated us with not 2, but 3 transformation states. But most importantly he was also the main creative and directorial force in the subsequent hit Macross sequels and prequels that ensured that the Macross franchise was more than just a one hit wonder... except of course for Macross 7 and its OVA's, but yeah that's just my personal opinion.

According to his profile at his production company:

He is one of the a few person who can handle story creation / composition, script / storyboard writing, mecha design, and directing all by himself in the current Japanese animation industry.

And the amazing thing about him was that he started Macross when he was still in his early twenties. At that age most of us were flipping burgers part time, while he can already boast that he was making and directing space opera's while designing transforming toys inbetween.

Timeline and Series - A good question to ask is what part of the franchise should I sink my teeth into first? If we follow the creation time line, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982, 36 episodes) came first then, Macross: The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984, movie retelling), The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Flash Back 2012 (1987, music videos telling the story), Macross Plus OVA(1994, 4 part OVA)- what no MacrossII?, Macross Plus Movie Edition (1995, movie retelling), Macross 7 and its OVA's (1994 to 1997, 49 episodes and 3 OVA's) , Macross Zero (2002, 4 part OVA) then Macross Frontier (2008, 25 episodes).

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross is the first series and what started it all but I would recommend following the plot time line for continuity. So it would be best to watch Macross Zero First, then The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Flash Back 2012, Macross Plus OVA, Macross Plus Movie Edition... then you can skip Macross 7 altogether least it turn you off for its premise and dragging storyline (49 episodes), all you have to remember is that there is a guy there named Basara Nekki and he plays in a band named Fire Bomber and that they did something great. Then head on down to the latest series, Macross Frontier, and prepare to get blown away!

After you've finished all that, then you can come back to watch Macross 7. Not much fans have high regard for Macross 7, if it weren't for the fact that Kawamori was behind it, I would have relegated it myself to its own alternate universe. I had a feeling that there was a heavy hand employed by the studio execs, hence the series seemed to have been designed for a specific demographic that old time Macross fans weren't much a part of. I myself just watched it so that I could fulfill my need for some continuity on the lives of Max and Milia Jenius as well as some history on the origins of the Protoculture.

Why I'm recommending to skip Macross II altogether is because Big West went ahead and made Macross II as a 10th year anniversary sequel without Shoji Kawamori onboard. With the launch of Macross Plus, Kawamori said that Macross II was set in an alternate universe and in effect officially taking it out of the franchise's timeline.

Robotech is not Macross : In the 80's Harmony Gold licensed 3 different Anime series (one of which was Macross SDF1) and combined them to produce a series known as Robotech which they marketed in the US. This combination was edited heavily for it to have its own plot line and ending goal so it's story differs slightly from that of the original Macross SDF-1.

I like to think that if it weren't for Robotech, the Macross Franchise wouldn't have had such as strong following overseas. Since they took the effort to translate the series into English. Also thanks to Harmony Gold and their trademark lawsuit with the creators of Macross, its very unlikely for US fans to see any new series from the Macross Franchise aired in public television. I think that is also one reason why some US fans hate Harmony Gold so much.

The Open Ended Ending : Something that fans will have to learn to deal with is that Japanese anime makers always like to leave each series open-ended, and Macross always follows this formula (maybe its a cultural thing with the Japanese?). Although the major plot is closed some of the minor plots which were central to the story are left hanging. The one question that fans will always end up asking in the end always begins with "What ever happened to?"

The Main Themes : Macross wouldn't be the great anime franchise that it is today without following its formula of: Mecha, Love Triangle, Music, Space Opera. Being a key part of the theme means that an ample amount of thought, creativity and work has been done on that aspect of the movie to make it stand out.

The use of mechanical robots by humans and aliens in realistic battle scenes gives it its "Wow" factor. The Love Triangle is there to add personal conflict and to highlight the human drama. Then there is the theme of music being a powerful force that can change the outcome of any dire situation. Lastly space opera, because of course it is set in space with sweeping shots of large fleets of space ships crossing vast distances and battling aliens.

There is also the common "coming of age" theme that most anime series like to have as a corner stone in their plot and most Macross series have this except for Macross Plus which replaced it with more of a "getting some closure and forgiveness" theme.

I would have like to have said that "a long journey in a capital ship" is a central theme to the Franchise except that Macross Zero and Macross Plus did not employ these. But there is nothing that incites a feeling of romanticism more than the feeling of desperation and loneliness while crossing vast amounts of space, which I feel also helps greatly to add to the story. Ok Macross Plus might not have had that, but looking at the poster of Macross Plus below gives me the same effect.

10 Things to get you started on Macross: Macross Plus Poster

The Mecha : Macross will always be known for having great mecha designs, pioneering of which is the 1 ship = 3 configurations. The main creative force behind that of course is Shoji Kawamori, who did most of the mechanical designs for the Macross Variable Fighters (VF). And its no surprise too that because of that Kawamori-sama always gets enlisted to design the mecha for other anime franchise, video games and even true to life stuff (version of the Aibo and the robot version of a Nissan Dualis)

I always judge how great a mecha design is by the amount of force that I have to exert on my wallet to prevent me from impulse buying it and I say that recently I've had to bow down to this force.

The Music : I remember having my spine tingled by the opening sequence of Macross Plus when Yoko Kanno's "Voices" came on for the first time. This also marked for me as the time that the quality of the composition of music had taken center stage during the production process of the Macross Franchise.

Though not all the music composed for Macross turned out to be that jaw dropping, it is still treated as a major pillar of the plot, that is because as mentioned above, music is considered as a central theme of the series.

That is also the reason why the creators also go out of their way to get good artists to sing their songs for them. Macross has also been known to have created the very first pop sensation to come from an anime series. This was Mari Iijima who voiced Lynn Minmay in the original Macross Series. They have recently replicated this feat with Megumi Nakajima who won a nationwide casting call to be the voice of Ranka Lee in the series that celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Macross Franchise, titled Macross Frontier.

Probably the most famous and loved of these composers is Yoko Kanno, who was responsible for making the great soundtrack for Macross Plus and Macross Frontier. Her work has raised both Macross Plus and Macross Frontier to cinematic marvels of sound, story and visuals. I can't help but compare the musical score she brought to Macross Frontier as similar to the artistry that Alan Menken brought to the popular Disney animations of the nineties (Little Mermaid, Alladin, Beauty and the Beast).

The Aliens : The major antagonist in each of the series are usually aliens, except for the case of Macross Zero and Macross Plus. The battle with aliens also sets the stage for the epic space battles that we see through out each series. Also it gives us the proper venue to witness the Macross Missile Massacre. Encounters with an alien race also gives weight to the premise on why music is such a powerful force in the universe.

An alien race however that is common in all the series are the Protoculture. They are an ancient humanoid race that had warp capabilities, nuclear weapons and other advanced technology. Not to be confused with the Protoculture of Robotech which was defined as an energy source derived from the Flower of Life.

Most importantly about the Protoculture: that a ship, crash landing on earth, ladened with their technology, is what set off all the fireworks and of course, laid down the foundation of the Macross' storyline.

The Homages : Macross is a franchise that likes to look back at its past and pay its respect to it in the form of homages. These scenes have always been a source of entertainment and a mental exercise of sorts for me as I try to spot these easter eggs in the series modeled after events in past episodes of Macross.

These homages can usually be as obvious as a character in the past being referenced in the current series, or as a scene recreated from a scene in the previous series. It can be subtle, like a character bearing resemblence or behaving similarly to a previous character, or a character's VF "colors" being used by another character.

You can easily spot these scenes if you watch the series according to the plot timelines mentioned above.

The Movies and Retelling : If you're starting out you will probably wonder why some anime creators like to create a movie of the series afterwards with basically the same plot, albeit compressed into a 2 hour or less movie format. This is known in anime circles as a "retelling", basically the creators usually do this because they want to retell the story as they would have wanted it to come out or to add something new to the ending a bit.

Great huh? it sure does screw up the plotline sometimes. Yup it sure does, but its the price we pay in exchange for usually a new song, new action sequence or new plotlines. I personally don't mind it and just pick for myself which was the better ending.

In the Macross Universe there are only two movies ever made that were considered retellings and these were Macross: Do You Remember Love? (DYRL), which retold the story of the first series. The second was Macross Plus Movie Edition. The difference however with DYRL was that it was referred to as an actual movie that was shown in the Macross Universe. Unlike Macross Plus Movie Edition which was a blatant retelling of the OVA.

Owari (Finished):

Basically that's it. Though not perfect, I hope I didn't spoil it much for you and that you enjoy your experience in diving into the wonderful anime series known as Macross.