This is Mechafetish, and I too, remember love. I will be introducing myself in a later post, but for now I am a good friend of ghostlightning and co-conspirator in many things awesome. I will be posting here more and more.
I concede that ghostlightning made some sense in comparing the employment of the trope “Beyond the Impossible” in both shows. Indeed, TTGL in its use of “Beyond the Impossible” allowed the writers to fully explore one of the critical elements of Super Robot Anime. However, this trope is considerably more alien to the bounded universes often created for Real Robot Anime wherein the trappings of science, military organization and politics are used to maintain the audiences’ suspension of disbelief.
This Lady Went Beyond the Impossible... With Just Her Songs
As such, I contend that, in their application of “Beyond the Impossible” to Frontier whether intentionally or otherwise, the writers of Frontier failed to properly qualify its use with the critical elements of the Real Robot genre, and of Macross itself as a sub-genre.
In particular, I’m here to discuss an important failure on the part of Macross Frontier and of other Macross sequels: the employment of music.
That said, I would like to say first that I unequivocally love all the soundtracks of Macross. In fact, when both MF OST were released, ghostlightning and I engage in an arms race of faggotry as to who would listen to the songs more. Please don’t ask me how many times I listened to the Nyan Nyan Service Medley today.
This post does not talk about the quality of the music in the series at all, but rather, it discusses how Macross sequels have failed to tackle Music as being of value in and of itself. In fact, rather than use Music in an honest and forthright manner, writers for Macross’ sequels have used it as a camouflage for any form of applied phlebotinum they would like to apply to the series.
It is generally accepted that the “Love Triangle”, “Transformable Mecha” and “Music” are the three critical elements that dominate the Macross saga. Were it not for Macross Plus (which I will discuss later as a unique case), I would also not hesitate to add “Aliens” to this list. Clearly, the love triangle angle is the outlier here. It is a personal struggle which serves to humanize the characters and bring them closer to the viewer. Music and Transformable Mecha on the other hand, are weapons which the main characters use to defeat the enemy. In fact, Music tends to be the deadlier weapon of the two.
This being the case, it is interesting to note that Minmei of SDF Macross is the only songstress whose songs were really just music without having some sort of mystic power or applied phlebotinum characteristics. In Macross Zero, Sarah’s song had mystical properties to bestow life, move objects and control the “Bird Human” alien mecha featured in the series. In Macross 7, Basara’s song produces “Sound Energy” which is anathema to the series’ Protodevlin antagonists. And in Macross Frontier of course, you have the V-type Virus infected Ranka and later, Sheryl, who are able to influence and control the behaviour of the Vajra. In fact, in Frontier, Sheryl’s songs are useless against the Vajra until they receive the magical qualities bestowed by the advanced stages of her V-type infection.
There's Only One Badass Normal in this Pic
The reason for this will become clear very shortly, but first, I would like to draw you attention to one of my favourite elements in the original SDF Macross which was the credible clash of civilizations between human and Zentreadi. SDF Macross is the only Macross which did more than lay the groundwork for a giant smackdown between humans and aliens. Had this been the case, the humans would surely have been overwhelmed by the more numerous and better armed Zentreadi. What felt unique for me was how SDF Macross pitted the very human way of life with all its wrinkles and flaws against the military efficiency of Zentreadi civilization. Further, the way the writers chose to embody all the best things about human culture was through music.
I would like to qualify that this was made possible because the writers decided to flesh out certain critical aspects of Zentreadi culture, such as the segregation of males and females, their command structure, their inability to repair damage to their equipment, cloning, and other basic aspects of their society. It was a sincere effort on the part of the writers to create a credible “war-based” society as best they could. The care that was taken in the construction of Zentreadi society in fact echoes another of my favourite anime “Crest of the Stars”. The Abh are initially very similar to Zentreadi when we first encounter them, nothing more than ominous invaders. It is later on, when their society is exposed to us, when we begin to feel for the very alien characters. In the same way, the exposure to Zentreadi society in the episodes wherein the lead characters were captured, provided us with a clearer knowledge of the aliens and made them come alive as characters in their own right.
In addition, the aliens’ interaction with our own society served to cement them as a credible sentient species rather than just faceless mooks to be blown away by impossible cool mecha. I remember the story arc where the three Zentreadi spies infiltrated the SDF 1 and took back some human objects with them to the flagship. This sparked a rebellion that sounded the death knell for Zentreadi civilization. Their military way of life simply could not compete with the efficiency by which our own society delivers pleasure/amusement to its constituents.
The above underlines a single fact, the true weapon that the humans employed to defeat the Zentreadi was their culture. And while Music was most certainly critical in the humans’ victory, it was merely portrayed as the most moving and accessible aspect of a much deeper way of life.
Culture was More than Songs
I can surmise that this was an incidental but not critical element of that particular story, as evidenced in the fact that it did not receive serious treatment in any other Macross sequel. Something we could call accidental profundity. However, it was at this point that the reason for the subsequent inadequate treatment of music in the Macross sequels was made clear to me. It is a direct result of the failure of subsequent writers to create a credible enemy civilization against which human culture could clash. Without the clash of civilizations as an important qualifier, the idea of music as a weapon would be ridiculous, hence the need to give it some sort of magical properties in the story.
One of the complaints against Frontier was the lack of compelling villains. Although I love Grace Taisa, I am quite disappointed in the way the villains of the series as a whole were handled. For one, only a half-hearted attempt was made to explain the behaviour of the Vajra. Further, no compelling reason was given for their dramatic heel-face turn at the end of the last episode. They were just animals to be controlled by Grace’s network, or Ranka and Sheryl’s songs. This is clearly evidenced by the tug of war for control of the Vajra in the final battle. As such, Grace’s comment on how the Vajra were a super-dimensional species admired by even the Protoculture, rang hollow in my ears.
To be fair to the authors, the treatment of culture (and by extension, music) in SDF Macross was fresh, surprising, and not easily repeated. Unlike Gundam wherein the themes “War is Hell”, “Coming of Age” and “Evolved Humans” are easily recyclable, the treatment of Music as a critical element in the story must be different every time. Also, the creation of a viable alien society with every narrative would be extremely difficult. This presents quite a difficult set of challenges to meet in terms of creativity, and clearly one that subsequent Macross writers have failed to meet.
Going the way of “Beyond the Impossible” is cute, but is lacking. I wanted harder science fiction – not hard core, just at par with the original SDF Macross. I mentioned Macross Plus, a side story comparable to Stardust Memory from the Gundam franchise (just in terms of its insertion in the canon, and the development of prototype mecha). In Plus, the music is really just that, and the mind-control elements are technological in nature and not that far-fetched if the root technology is audiovisual hypnosis.
Macross 7, Frontier, and Zero (retroactively) imposed a mystical element in the music. This is really not that different from Jack McKinney’s shapings mumbo-jumbo in the later Robotech books. I really think it’s unnecessary. I would rather have liked to see real differences in culture, but not necessarily carbon copies of the Zentraedi. If not, would better exposition (in Frontier) have made a difference?
In future posts I’ll attempt to construct an alternative Macross Frontier story. I’m not here to say that what we’ll post here is better than Kawamori’s or that we’re better than him. We’ll just be rabid fans idealizing the story in our minds. We’re quite thankful for Mr. Kawamori for all the memories. And we want more.