Lafiel

Lafiel is who I wanted Ranka to be and who I still want her to grow up as. Now I’m really into Crest of the Stars, though I only saw the anime franchise (Crest, Banner 1-3) last August (thanks to Mechafetish who graciously lent me his fansub copies). I haven’t read the novels, but I’ve frequented Abh Nation quite a number of times. I’m here to write about my ideal for the character Ranka Lee/Mei from the anime Macross Frontier.

Animanachronism did a really good post on the final episode of the first installment, which led to one of the most intelligent discussions in anime blogs. I remember going all over the web hunting down whatever writing the commenters had on the subject (very good stuff).

Animanachronism said,

Sneakily managing to be nearly as operatic as Macross, while pleasuring fans of more staid science fiction with its fascinating Plane Space battles and its examination of detail (like Abh humour), the * of the Stars series desperately needs more time; I group it with works like Char’s Counter Attack and Nanoha A’s, both of which seemed to me to be stories with wide scope, restricted by too short a telling.

I agree to an extent, in that I want more of the story. I want more anime. I don’t see it to be limited as to be flawed at all. I think it’s great the way it is. I disliked Char’s Counter Attack and have not seen Nanoha A, so I admit I may not fully see Animanachronism’s point.

Probably the best aspect of the series is its dialogue. It sounds/reads like theater, where a lot of the exposition also hinges on the dialogue. Soap operas are like this as well, but to me the quality of the lines evoke good theater rather than good soap opera. I find this particularly in how varied the situations are and yet the dialogue maintains is character and effectiveness.

Let me explain. The Banter between characters is awesome in this franchise, notably the exchanges between the various Admirals/Captains of the starships and their respective XOs. The leading example is Spoor’s picking on poor Kaselia in general (this happens in nearly all their exchanges). A close second would be Dusanyu mercilessly teasing Kenesh about her past with the Beebaus twins.

Nearly equally pleasurable are the negotiation and diplomatic exchanges carried by the Abh: The Empress making utter mincemeat of the delegates of the “other half” of humankind in the conversation when she declared war; Spoor dealing with the president who wanted her to play the part of the “Boogeyman Abh” so he can pacify his populace, as well as her exchanges with the numerically superior fleet commander in her bid to buy time for Lafiel; Debeusec (Lafiel’s father) bestowing diplomatic “privileges” on the Beebaus twins; and Lafiel and Soobash absolutely owning Jinto’s hostage takers.

No hotblooded rhetoric, just surgical and elegant. It’s such a delight to witness, and to me more interesting than the science fiction and action aspects of the franchise.

It’s quite unfair to compare the two franchises. Macross is more visual spectacle and certainly Macross Frontier is a love letter to us fans while the Stars franchise seems to be dedicated to keep its integrity to a source material which is serious, earnest, and played straight. Nonetheless I’ve juxtaposed them for the simple reason that I love the characters from both. And this post is all about Ranka and Lafiel. Lafiel I consider to be an ideal female lead, one of the damn best.

Frankly I don’t see how Ranka can do it. It’s unfair. I’m unfair. I just want her to be more than just adorable and far less annoying. I want her to do great things out of effort and work and less through Vajra magic. But let me be clear. I don’t want her to be like Lafiel for Alto’s sake. I don’t want her to be Lafiel to be “good enough” for Alto, or be “better” than Sheryl. I’ve waved my white flag and toast the Alto x Sheryl ship. May it superdimensionally cross paths with Myung and Isamu and Misa and Hikaru.

Can I ever be just more than moe?

Can I ever be more than just moe?

I don’t see Ranka as a moe blob, even after Crusader’s ruthless and effective deconstruction of the character and the (meta) narrative. I wanted to see so much potential. I wanted to see Ranka as a triumph, not an in-joke… a criticism of moe and loli.

This isn’t a complaint about the writing. I’m not asking the story to be changed in any way. I’m a very happy Macross Fan. This is just me being a fan and issuing a deluge of words on my favorite characters. With my intentions hopefully clear, here I go.

Part of the problem is Ranka’s weakness and vulnerability. Lafiel had her weakness moments as well, but these serve to humanize her and adds nothing but charm to her. Ranka was weak and earning her confidence. She was aided by many supporters (Bobby, Nanase, Alto, Elmo, and most notably Sheryl). Lafiel’s surrounded by people who were there to teach her (Lexshu, Spoor, even Samson) – only Jinto was a supporter in the way a character like Nanase was to Ranka.

Both are in the story to find themselves – though Ranka is looking to find her strength, while Lafiel is figuring out how strong she really is. The respective levels of maturity offer no comparison. Ranka behaves almost entirely like a child, while Lafiel already behaves like a leader. This gap only exacerbates my yearning to see a Ranka that is that strong. She is a leader by circumstance to the Vajra – as evidenced by them listening to her, or at least accepting her role as intermediary between their species at the end. But she will have a tough road establishing herself as a representative of the Vajra to humans, who must assuredly still carry ill feelings towards the alien space bugs who killed so many.

It is a different case with the Zentrans, who were present in the aftermath of the great space war and behaved like willing participants in the integrated society. The Vajra are completely alien, and non-humanoid. There’s no social interaction between individuals. While it’s very unlikely that the Vajra will return to war with humans, there’s no common civilization to build with each other as well. Ranka will be very much the alien in the human-settled Vajra homeworld where Frontier’s people will make a home.

Lafiel also is a link between two (human) races and societies. However, she represents the ruling class and is hated and feared for it. Jinto plays more of the Ranka role, and is integrated in Abh society as an Abh. At this point I am imagining a sequel scenario, where Ranka finds her place – much like Minmei (somehow) finds hers after Kamjin’s final attack on Macross. However I don’t mean the rape Jack McKinney did on the character throughout Sentinels and The End of the Circle books. I say this but I don’t dislike Robotech. I enjoyed it when it was there to be enjoyed. In any case, the Minmei story post Macross is not what I want for Ranka.

Do I see her as a starship captain? A VF pilot? Not really. Do I see her as an idol competing with Sheryl? Yes, but I want more, something different for her. Something like being part of a new expeditionary colony, where she can start fresh. There she can be the center of a new triangle.

Now the Macross Frontier movie may provide a denouement for Ranka and the rest, and I expect it to be satisfying in its fashion. But still I hopelessly want her to have what I call the Lafiel moments of win. And to me these are:

  • Her dinner with Clowal the Baron Febdash; she was clearly at a disadvantage, with only her birth and station protecting her. Her seething and controlled anger as she dealt with the Baron triumphantly and with such civility was awesome. Knowing it was more for Jinto’s sake than any perceived insult made it even better.
  • Her negotiation, assisted by Soobash with Jinto’s hostage takers. She gave no quarter, but hinted enough vulnerability that you wouldn’t blame her if she lost control of her feelings. Soobash sensed this and stepped in with the legend of Abh retribution that was so awesome the hostage takers lost all leverage.
  • During the search for Jinto, she understood why she needed to stay behind and let the search party do its job. She asked Samson how should she behave once Jinto arrives. An appreciation of Abh protocol and Lafiel and Jinto’s very understated devotion to each other allows one to fully experience the awesomeness of this exchange.

These are the kind of moments I wanted for Ranka. Granted Macross Frontier is not the same anime, with a different tone and feel than any installment of the Stars franchise. However, something like this is possible within the series. Sheryl’s moments with Alto approach this realm, Klan’s as well. Not that close really, but the earnestness was there and I’m grateful for it. Given that Lafiel is regarded as moe, why can’t Ranka be this way too?

Give me a timeskip, Macross Frontier movie! Give Ranka a chance to grow. Let her win some of the regard the citizens of Frontier had for her. I don’t need her to be the big star, or even get her career back. Her pop songs lack the superstar energy that Sheryl’s have in abundance anyway. Hers are the quiet and contemplative pieces that have been a kind of hallmark of Kanno’s music. Let her earn respect and regard with work and selflessness. Sheryl had her chance, and she can even keep her Alto. Ranka’s victory has to be beyond the triangle.

There’s something to be said that Ranka’ grand gestures: explaining the true nature of the Vajra, saving Sheryl from V-sickness, converting the Vajra into the kind of allies that sacrificed themselves to save Island 1… These didn’t redeem her in the eyes of the anime’s viewers. And I agree. These were too easy. They were the result of her discovery – but more like stumbling into them as a prisoner, and her powers and talents. She didn’t have to work and earn anything. She just did these things magically, and with Macross Quarter and Alto rescuing her.

Which makes a quiet denouement a perfect “good end” for Ranka. No need to make it bittersweet, the fact that Sheryl won should be enough cause for pining and wistfulness. Let her move on and grow her own strength. And maybe she can give us a Ranka moment of win.

About ghostlightning

I entered the anime blogging sphere as a lurker around Spring 2008. We Remember Love is my first anime blog. Click here if this is your first time to visit WRL.
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20 Responses to Lafiel

  1. Wow, this post makes me want to re-watch CotS. Seriously. I loved it too, even though there was the overwhelming desire to watch the Banner series afterwards (I think I’ll end up importing the R1 if Beez don’t release it over here soon). Lafiel is one of my favourite female sci-fi leads as well, but she has a serious advantage over Ranka: maturity.

    You’re absolutely right that Ranka acts like a child. She sets out with the best intentions but her emotional range is limited by the fact that she’s just a kid acting on her immediate feelings, and failing to understand the consequences of her actions. It’s a bit harsh that a naive little girl has to make so many tough decisions that affect so many people, but the bottom line is that she doesn’t have the foresight and life experience to make the right ones.

    Lafiel on the other hand has been trained from childhood for her course in life, and also has an instinctive knack of knowing the best thing to do or say in a given situation. She’s much more like and adult than Ranka is, so can find a way out of a bind much more easily, without relying on other people. Maybe it is unfair to expect a kid like Ranka to be as grown-up and responsible as Lafiel is, but from one Macross fanatic to another there’s no denying which of the two I have more respect for.

    My favourite Lafiel moments? That scene you mentioned where she bravely talked Febdash down was fantastic, and the whole dynamic between her an Jinto was such a refreshing change. There’s affection there I think, but crucially a mutual respect and trust that makes their relationship, as platonic and occasionally formal as it is, such a joy to watch.

    That’ll be my viewing for the weekend decided, then! Thanks for reminding me why it’s such a great series.

  2. I don’t think I see how Ranka can do it either, really. * of the Stars has always felt to me like it’s mostly Lafiel’s story, while Frontier had a much wider scope. You’re the expert, but my impression from the Macross I’ve seen (F, Zero, Plus, DYRL? and half of SDF) is that the franchise has never allowed one character to dominate its attention. There’s the emphasis on dialogue, too: you’re right that the dialogue in Stars is the quality you’d find in the theatre, and (call me prejudiced but) I suspect that dialogue is better for sculpting ‘moments of win’ than, well, music and mecha.

    That said, I see what you’re saying about the opportunity presented in the movie. Are we sure the triangle was wrapped up conclusively? I wasn’t really in the loop when Frontier‘s last episode arrived, so I don’t know if there was a consensus that Sheryl had really won.

    What I meant with the ‘needing more time’ point was, I think, picking up on the quotation from Martin before that: Stars has a setting and a set of secondary characters who deserve more exploration, and it’s frustrating that there isn’t time for that. I wouldn’t say I consider it a massive flaw, though – it’s still a great series – and perhaps if you expended it it would become too slow.

  3. ghostlightning says:

    @ concretebadger

    I’m glad you felt that way. When I first read Animanachronism’s post last June I haven’t seen any part of the franchise in full, though my friend was bugging me to watch it for years. It took me a bit more time but I marathoned the whole thing with the waifu. I certainly did not want to be left out from whatever caused that awesome discussion.

    @ animanachronism

    I got what you mean now. We were teased with Spoor, Dusanyu, Atosurya, and the Beebaus and yet none of these characters had “story arcs” in the same way Max and perhaps Mikhail have in the Macross Franchise. They were somewhat grunty plot movers the way Ozma and Cathy were used in Furo, or “local color”/”contrast for main characters” function type characters like Roy and Claudia from SDFM.

    The triangle is not conclusive, but I read it in a way that it should be – in Sheryl’s favor. Crusader’s arguments won me over.

    As for dialogue as a better method for crafting moments of win – I distinguish the wins as the elegant wins, the kind Lafiel and Lelouch work with. Not better, different – and there will be times that I prefer these over BEYOND THE IMPOSSIBLE and things that make me go DECULTURE!

  4. Versus says:

    Congratulation on your own blog btw 🙂

    If you want more, Tokyopop did release the first three novels in English. It’s basically just the same storywise as Crest of the Stars, but still well worth it.

    I don’t think Ranka can be really compared to Lafiel, their personalities and ways of thinking are just too different. Ranka seemed to like being the dames in distress, while Lafiel on the other hand would rather stay behind – and most likely die – than being a burden (as she said on the planet).

    There a lots of small things that don’t match and I can’t even imagine some or most of them ever will (Lafiel’s “elegance” for example).

    I do admit Ranka was cute in the beginning and started to annoy me rather quickly, so when I heard Alto declaring “I will kill Ranka” I did kinda hope he would summon his guts and really do it. Think about it a few weeks later I was probably way too hard on her anyway, she is after all a kid and that’s the biggest difference between her and Lafiel. But maybe that’s the appeal both characters have in their own way. If Ranka would be mature, decisive and selfless would she still be Ranka ?

    Damn, I miss my Crest of Stars – now where did I put my DVDs …

  5. ghostlightning says:

    Thanks Versus! I think my friend has at least the first release. He was quite disappointed with the translation which scared me away.

    You know Alto killing Ranka would have been just as satisfying for me as well. But since she lived, I would like to see her grow. She would still be Ranka – though to be fair such great strides of growth don’t happen in a single season. I think Lelouch did a lot of growing to my satisfaction, but it took 2 seasons to do.

  6. Crusader says:

    What I would not give for more iterations of Crest of the Stars, sadly it seems to have been forgotten by Sunrise and as the years go by I don’t think I will ever see more of my Admiral Spoor again.

    In the end it was came pretty much down to upbringing, Lafiel knew that she had great responsibilities to live up to and rose to the challenge, Ranka was loved to the point that it smothered what little capability for independent action. Ranka took on responsibilities that she did not really live up to and at times it did not even seem like she was trying hard enough. Lafiel was aware that there were consequences tot eh decisions she made, but Ranka did not seem to conceive of any consequences when she did act.

    I agree that Lafiel was better able to stand out largely because the rest of the cast was given much less attention individually. Ranka was never going to dominate Macross, and in the end due to Sheryl taking on a life of her own (her growth was pretty much as surprise to them after the possibilities became apparent after episode 5 and they changed things accordingly), Ranka was over shadowed to the point that her last moment of rescue and reconciliation were cut to mere seconds. Lafiel was not competing with another female lead and because of that we notice her brilliance while in Ranka’s case it seems that towards the end the unintended Sheryl outshone her by some random chance of circumstance.

    Ranka was from the start supposed to be a continuation of Minmei, but in the end she lived up more to the SDF Macross incarnation than any of us would have wanted. In that regard once Sheryl was channeling Basra and DYRL Minmei they tide had basically shifted in the characterization department. Such a chance occurrence did not doom Lafiel as Crest of the Stars was for the most part faithful to the source material whereas Macross just flows forth from Kawamori’s stream of ideas which we have seen in Escaflowne, SDFM, and MF are mutable.

    In short one was born to a family that expected greatness and the other was born to family that taught her to aspire to greatness without giving her the needed tool set to succeed the first time. It would be great to see Ranka finally be a better person, but since there were no consequences she drew no lessons from that ordeal.

  7. ghostlightning says:

    Thanks for dropping by Crusader, I really appreciate it.

    I’m intrigued by your inferences regarding the plot and character developments in Furo. Were they really writing the show as they went along?

    I agree that Ranka was the Minmei, and she ended up too much being like her. I also am concerned because even though I disagree that there were no consequences to her mistakes… I think Klan would have a problem with that, as well as many citizens of Frontier, but that her not turning out to be a Vajra overlord and that the Vajra didn’t end up as the bad guys… making the battle within Frontier some kind of unfortunate misunderstanding somewhat makes her okay after it all.

    This is not good. It’s not okay, and she needs to understand this. And by understand I don’t want to see a brooding montage and some emo histrionics. I want to see some steely grit, something beyond singing – because the behavior I’m imagining is beyond the range of her songs. Maybe she can work at a hospice, or serve food to the refugees. I want to see her get her hands dirty… only then I want to see her support group get behind her (Nanase, Luca, Sheryl, Alto and the rest). Then she can sing a song of stillness and power.

  8. TheBigN says:

    What intrigued you in comparing Lafiel to Ranka, rather than, say Lafiel to Sheryl. It does seem like the easier choice to make, though I’m not sure it’s the better one. 😛

  9. ghostlightning says:

    @ TheBigN

    Seriously? It’s because I’m a big Ranka fan. When my friend the living Mechafetish alerted me to Macross Frontier last December it was love at first sight for both of us: he was for Sheryl, me for Ranka. There’s nothing objective about it. My intention for this post was to show that there is a kind of Ranka that is possible (if not plausible or probable) that can be written. I want her legacy to be different.

    It’s not that I dislike Sheryl, I think she’s one of the best if not the best characters in all of Macross. I keep mentioning Crusader’s posts but that’s where I really got my Macross kicks the whole year. He’s a big Sheryl fan.

    Sheryl would have had a good, sheltered childhood save for whatever happened that turned her into a street urchin in Macross Galaxy. Since Grace brought her in she trained and worked her way into a form that makes full use of her talents.

    In some ways she’s beyond Lafiel, though perhaps this is due to her flamboyance which is her own psychological defense mechanism more than a sample of her maturity. Sheryl showed grit and resolve in the face of her trials, and the anime showed her to us naked with pain. The * of the Stars franchise, even if it was truly Lafiel’s narrative, never let us that close.

    * of the Stars would give us Lafiel’s vulnerability through her intimate interactions with others. As with the example with Samson stated above, it was used to tremendous effect.

    Sheryl is not moe. Even in her most distressful, you don’t feel invited to be the strong one and take care of her. This is not a bad thing at all. With Sheryl you feel like you need to be equals – if you can’t equal her strength she wouldn’t be talking to you (hence I believe the utter lack of interactions between her and Luca). And if you were equal to her strength, she would treat you that way (assuming a level of relationship is reached).

    Lafiel will almost never be able to talk plainly with anyone given the strong behavioral limitations bestowed by her rank. This is why her intimacy with Jinto is so precious. She doesn’t treat Jinto as an equal because he isn’t. But I can’t help but feel that Lafiel’s hopes and dreams are in that Jinto becomes that strong, and in part these are fulfilled in Banner 2 and 3. Lafiel inspired Jinto to be strong. Who did Sheryl inspire? Not Alto, I believe. Alto gave Sheryl his strength. Alto found himself and made others strong.

    Yikes, I think I ended up nearly writing a whole post in the comments section! I don’t mind, obviously I love talking about anime and these girls in particular.

  10. Pingback: Someone shows some character: Kitamura Yuusaku of Toradora! « We Remember Love

  11. Roland says:

    Crest of the Stars is an ABSOLUTELY good Anime. Morioka-sensei is good. 😀

    I love watching the series which I also happen to have the NA American DVDs. I love the English Voiceovers, most especially the voice of Lafiel! ~kyaaaaaaaaaaa

    😀

  12. ghostlightning says:

    @ Roland

    It’s rare for me to find dubs that I like, maybe because in dubs I don’t feel that the voices I hear are the voices of the characters themselves. This bias of mine applies to all audiovisual media. But I am curious since you find it so impressive.

    Did you get them here in the Philippines?

  13. Roland says:

    Nope, I managed to have my friend (who spent sometime in the US) bought it in the states, Amazon shipping is expensive.

    But I guess, I’ll have to use Amazon again to buy Anime DVDs from there..

  14. yaku says:

    What I basically got from this is that Ranka should have had more character development. One of the things I hated about MF is how much screen time Alto x Sheryl (mostly Sheryl’s side) while Ranka was little more than a plot device. I like Ranka because she had the most potential to grow up (she does act like a teen, not a child) but was left to fill the damsel in distress role and got man-handled by everyone.

    In all honesty I had alarms going off telling me she would get the short end of the stick since the beginning of the series, and Kawamori really delivered my predictions. Forget about a love triangle, Sheryl was the most favoured character in character design and development out of the three (in fact I consider her a Mary Sue), Ranka never got a chance.

  15. ghostlightning says:

    @ Yaku

    While I wanted Ranka to have been written differently, I don’t begrudge anything towards Sheryl. I do believe that she’s one of the best characters in the franchise ever. I only wish Ranka could have been one too.

    I also disagree that Sheryl is a Mary Sue. As I understand the trope, Sheryl would have to get everything she wanted without merit (or at least without her own effort to get them). She worked her ass off and whenever she resolved a moment of uncertainty she committed to it. This is why I’m so embarrassed for Ranka when she had the cheek to deliver a Bright Slap to Sheryl in the finale. That was just awful.

    I’m hoping that Ranka’s story gets continued in some form in whatever media the producers release in the future.

  16. cuchlann says:

    OH GOD DELICIOUS LAFIEL!!! How did I not know about this post? Lafiel is easily one of my favorite characters.

    I had the same feelings you did, but went in a different direction — I, too, disliked how vague and hemming Ranka was, but I just saw it as her character. It’s why I never liked her all that much. I don’t dislike her, she’s just not very interesting to me. Maybe if the movie does give her a level of Vocal Badass (a paragon tier, I believe) I’ll like her more.

    • ghostlightning says:

      Thanks for finding this old post, one of my favorites – since it was so fun to write.

      Ranka’s stock with me fell sharply after watching Macross 7. Pontifus will agree with me that Mylene Jenius will out-cute if not out-moe Ranka – such ridiculous winsomeness, without being annoying or useless despite being younger by a year (14).

      She plays a mean bass in Fire Bomber’s rhythm section AND she pilots a variable fighter (it’s in her blood).

      Mylene had something that Ranka could’ve benefited from: pluckiness.

      She’s still no Lafiel though. There aren’t enough posts about * of the Stars. Go write something!

      • cuchlann says:

        Maybe I will. I need to get this thesis stuff done first (yes, I *shouldn’t* be browsing ani-blogs right now, you’re right), and then I have to do another Marimite post. But I’ll put the idea in the queue (along with that Soul Eater post I’ve meant to do for months now…)

  17. Pingback: Baron Febdash is showing a bit of character… « We Remember Love

  18. Vanossa says:

    How I wish…

    Ranka’s growth was disappointing. Her only real value in the story appeared to be moe and to be a plot device when she could have been more. The love triangle doesn’t bother me. A young girl and a mature young woman are vying the heart of a Macross hero, seems a no-brainer who would be the endgame pairing here. But the fact she failed in epic proportions as songtress of hope made me as mad as her inverse fans.

    Instead, we got this rare jewel called Sheryl Nome, who despite of everything, shone through.

    One of the worse things they could have done was to try to make them foils of each others. Narrative wise, this is why their fans compared them. When Sheryl was portrayed in less flattering light, it was for less serious and more typical teenage crap. “Ohh mean Sheryl kissed Alto in front of shy Ranka” or “LOOK WHAT A WITCH (to not say anything else) ruined Ranka’s SUPER BIRTHDAY SURPRISE”. And that’s what people argue… of Sheryl’s bad points. While Ranka’s faults caused BIG and negative consequence in the plot, characters and stories. Her refusal and emoness when she sang, her reckless choice of leaving without asking assistance from Ozma, etc. At this point, they made Sheryl, not a typical love martyr victim, but a heroine with big girl songtress panties.

    If they ditched the foil-narrative, then perhaps we would have gotten to see Ranka shine. Sheryl was on top, Ranka down in the beginning, then Ranka ascended and Sheryl suffered a downfall, but Sheryl recovered and Ranka fell… Of course it’s difficult to present two singers without making a comparison (Misa and Minmay didn’t have this issue, because they had different roles).

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