No he didn’t really say that. There are conceits in mecha anime action, conceits because they defy logic and common sense [->]; a lot of them are virtuous conceits because they contribute to the aesthetics and excitement of the show. Since the anime by enlarge exists to entertain, or perhaps uses entertainment to make people behave a certain way (i.e. buy merchandise [->]), these conceits are actually quite welcome.
I like them a lot, actually; and my favorite is what is called the Macross Missile Massacre; or as I prefer to call it, the “Itano Circus,” after Itano Ichiro¹ — the animator who developed and popularized the technique.
The “Itano Circus” was, next to the transforming mecha, one of the most spectacular things that swept me off my feet as a 7 year old watcing SDF Macross for the first time. I never knew what to call it back then. I had only learned about Itano Ichiro once I started reading about anime online which really wasn’t that long ago. However this was one of the very first things I found:
Macross Missile Massacre. Anime Magic. Infinite Salvo Lock-On. It’s called a lot of names (I just made up that third one), but the dizzying aerobatics and corkscrewing missile plumes that many equate with the entire anime artform came from one man. From the first Mobile Suit Gundam to the infamous Daicon video shorts, this air-circus style is so famous that the industry nicknamed it Itano Circus in honor of the man. And yet, if it weren’t for Macross, Ichiro Itano would still be hauling deliveries on the streets.
He’s come a long way from his Yokohama roots. Like almost every boy in Japan, he grows up wanting to be the shiny android Kikaider/Kikaida. Unlike any other kid, he imitates Kikaider’s rocket-equipped motorcycle by strapping about fifty toy rockets and a Zippo lighter to his motorbike’s front fenders. Just another proof that Japan produces more geniuses without those pesky child-safety laws.
Despite his initial Gundam glory within the industry, work slowdowns force Itano back on the road as a truck driver. However, Studio Nue remembers his amazing mecha choreography and lure him back. Except for event appearances like Sugoi-Con 2004, he’s been working non-stop ever since—from all three Megazone 23s and Royal Space Force: Wings of Honneamise to Gantz and the new, grittier Ultraman movie.
–From Egan Loo’s Macross Memories, 21 November 2004[->]
Reading about it just isn’t enough. Here’s a long compilation video of the phenomenon².
But how much of a conceit is it really? I grew up thinking that given that one missile has enough destructive capability to down the target, it’s grossly inefficient to fire one’s entire payload at it. The more I think about it, what’s more fanciful isn’t the launch of multiple missiles, it’s how the targets are able to escape them. Looking at what the ace pilots in Macross do:
1. They transform into Gerwalk or Battloid mode which should dramatically reduce their speed ergo allowing the missiles tailing them to catch up and blow them to bits.
2. After transforming they do a 180 degree turn and face towards the missiles. This should reduce their speed even further and perhaps even propel themselves onto the incoming missiles and blow themselves to bits.
So if what the pilots do to survive the “Itano Circus” are the actual fantasy elements in the anime, how legitimate is firing a swarm of missiles as a tactic? These are of course speculations, but this is an anime blog and and fanboy speculation is relevant to my interests! In any case, here are the more interesting ones I found³:
- Soviet volley missile launchers, starting from BM-13-16 and BM-8-48 (132mm / 82mm, second is number of rails) Katyusha  with variant launchers (e.g. aircraft-mounted◊) and ammo (e.g. rockets spreading several thermite elements[…]). Its descendants the 9K51 Grad  and the BM-30 Smerch — the first can fire 720 missiles at once when packed in a batallion of 18 launchers, while the second can fire a missile every 3 seconds or so. The historical Korean hwacha — which can be best described as a Schizo Tech Katyusha — also functioned in much the same way, a 15-16th century saturation artillery piece capable of firing up to 100 steel-tipped rockets or 200 singijeon (effectively fire arrows).
- The American closest equivalent is the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System. Each MLRS vehicle can launch 12 277mm rockets within sixty seconds. Each rocket can contain up to 644 submunitions. Total throw is therefore 7,728 bombs launched in under a minute per vehicle. MLRS batteries are colloquially known as ‘grid square erasers.’
Consider the 1960 U-2 incident during the Cold War (United States vs. Soviet Russia) [->]:
A US spy plane was shot down over Soviet airspace which ended up being quite a scandal for the US Government at the time. What’s interesting for us here is that the U-2 aircraft was shot down by what can be considered an “Itano Circus.”
Officially Gary Power’s U-2 and accidentally a pursuing MiG-19 (piloted by Sergei Safronov) were shot down with a salvo of fourteen SA-2 Guideline/S-75 Dvina missiles. Other versions of the event are:
- A Su-9 caught the U-2 in her slipstream, breaking off the wings. The missiles hit the aforementioned MiG-19.
- A first three-missile salvo destroyed the U-2. Other batteries were unsure about the success and thirteen more missiles were fired, hitting the MiG-19.
If these interpretations are accurate, then it isn’t like Itano invented the idea but rather he had the good sense in making it part of mechanized combat presentation in anime before anyone else could.
¹ Itano Ichiro’s Anime News Network profile (includes curriculum vitae). [->]
³ Further examples in various media, as well as some alleged real life examples including and in addition to the ones mentioned. [->]
Mech9 provides a guide on how to survive an Itano Circus (Mech9 2009/05)