Friendly Fire: Macross Frontier 09 (How many ongoing narrative plot points is effectively moved forward despite telling a side-story; it’s a feat indeed)

macross frontier 09 vf-25g sniping target

For the first time, the show employs a medias res-like device. The narrative is in the thick of the action: Alto calls for Michel to shoot the Large Type Vajra his VF-25F Messiah is grappling with. This is a Michel Blanc episode, the character who gave some impression of being Alto’s rival in flying.

I get the impression from fellow fans that the rivalry aspect is underdeveloped. And I agree to a certain extent. However, this episode in my view settles the rivalry so much so that it doesn’t ever come in to play again. Besides, Alto may have relationships with other males that evoke a rivalry aspect, but it’s quite pathetic because he always has his ass handed to him.

It’s quite remarkable in how this is rather out of place in the tradition of mecha pilot lead characters. Amuro fights his rival Char on equal terms. Kamille gets the better of Jerid many times. Isamu and Guld really get at it on equal terms. Alto just keeps getting his ass kicked. It’s a subversion I think, almost in-step with how he’s designed like a hawt trap, and is called ‘princess’ and is an actor who plays women parts (oyama) notable for delivering a rather legendary love scene. Yeah Alto is a strange one. And his histrionics is what sets up Michel’s story.

macross frontier 09 klan klan michel childhood friends

The episode’s narrative proper begins when Grace O’Connor apologizes to Alto for cutting into their class practice time to be used for shooting promotional videos of Sheryl who’s now a member of their pilots program. Michel cuts in and smarms up to Grace, who recognizes his name and brings up his dead sister. Cue flashback!

Actually no. The next scene Alto is nagging Michel for letting Sheryl into their group during a mission. What a pussy. “If you’re just doing this to flirt with Shery’s manager or some other half-assed crap like that, I’m gonna kill you!” Normally, I’d applaud such manly dialogue. But right now, Alto is all talk. Michel gets him back: “Look who’s talking! The princess who ran away from home to play ‘war.'” Amber-3 from NUNS ran into Vajra and is requesting backup though, so they go into the action in the middle of a wet towel slapping contest.

Alto turned the dogfight into a knife fight, and figures he’ll win it by himself. The team plan is to snipe the LTV while being held immobile by Alto’s VF-25F. Alto tries to tell Michel to leave it to him. Michel says, “Just leave it to me. I can take down anything in one shot, be it targets or girls.” These are good lines. It’s just that it’s very very difficult for me to feel GAR for these kids because they’re such bitchy pretty boys. And then quite cheesily, Michel suddenly out of all times remembers Grace giving her condolences for what happened to his sister. He hesitates, and misses the LTV and singes Alto’s battloid nearly taking its head off.

macross frontier 09 michel just leave it to me

In other matters, the Frontier government is holding council. President glass leads it, while notable attendees include Cathy Glass and Leon Mishima of the NUNS military, Jeffrey Wilder and Ozma Lee from the SMS. President Glass is talking about the resource impact of the Vajra attacks, notably how water is becoming scarce. I don’t understand why water exactly would be particularly hit (unless it’s the primary flame retardant used to put out the fires that hit large stretches of the city during the first Vajra attack). Still… but anyway I appreciate the gesture towards building a science fiction world that has a working ecology and economy (in this case, very closely linked). What is very important to note here, is how there is a spy monitor observing the meeting, and the voyeur is none other than Sheryl’s manager, Grace O’Connor herself!

We know that she has all sorts of cyber implants, being a citizen of Macross Galaxy where there are no taboos for such. But now we see her using them to hack into a supposedly secure and classified meeting. But for what purpose? It won’t be revealed yet.

Let’s pause for a moment for some Klanservice™

macross frontier 09 klan klan miclone to macronization loli formmacross frontier 09 klan klan miclone to macronization macro formmacross frontier 09 klan klan macronization chamberKlan Klan is a Zentradi, a race of giants. Members of this allied race mostly coexist and are even integrated with human society primarily through ‘miclonization’ which turns them into human size. Ranka Lee is part Zentraedi, Guld Bowman from Macross Plus is wholly Zentraedi. Klan is unique in that she turns into a freaking loli when in micloned form. I wasn’t kidding about Ms. Klanservice™.

I’ll also take note of some continuity pr0n: Klan Klan is talking to her pixie squadron wing sisters. Nene in particular, is rather stressed about the increasing number of sorties and encounters they’re facing. Klan Klan puts things in perspective: They’re lucky that they’re fighting bugs. 49 years ago Zentraedi like Klan who joined the miclones had to fight their fellow Zentraedi. Klan here mentions that not everybody joined; but the bigger story is that the initial defection was only a fraction of the Bodolle Zer main fleet. SDF-Macross and Rebel Zentraedi joint forces had to fight and defeat the 1,000,000 capital ships-strong Zentraedi fleet. This too, is fanservice.

As the above service for oldfags happens, Alto is picking a fight with Michel; insulting his dead sister while he’s at it. Michel beats the crap out of him; knocking him down and getting a full-mount effortlessly as he delivers the ground-and-pound. Alto, this is… pathetic. Alto never got a shot in, and before the scene changed Michel must have landed at least 10 solid shots in the face.

macross frontier 09 michel luca alto ground and poundmacross frontier 09 alto 2 weeks until complete recovery

The root of Alto’s discontent with Michel is that he doesn’t think Michel is taking flying seriously. Alto takes flying very seriously. He thinks Michel’s skulky sniper kind of fighting, reflects his motivation to work only to earn money for dating girls. Alto thinks Michel should’ve just become a commercial spacecraft pilot. The back story is that Michel’s sister Jessica Blanc was a disgraced sniper in the NUNS military. To hear Klan Klan tell it,

After losing his parents at a young age, Michel was raised by his older sister, Jessica. They got along really well. We were childhood friends, Michel and I. Jessica was a good sniper. But on one mission, there was friendly fire. She shot her own comrade. He was her superior, and the man she had been having an affair with. It was horrible timing. Just before the mission, he had broken off the affair […] because of the suspicion that Jessica misfired intentionally, she was court-martialed. Then she ended her own life. Michel might have been searching all along for the truth behind that friendly fire.

This was actually presented to the viewer during the resumption of the narrative from what was shown prior to the OP. Alto, now knowing the story behind Michel’s angst shouted at him to surpass his sister, and snipe at the VF-27 that he’s grappling with, the same VF-27 that shot off his gun when he was rescuing Luca during the fight to rescue Macross Galaxy fleet’s Dulfim; the same one who just shot down Klan Klan’s Quadluun-rea.

Some images from the dogfight

macross frontier 09 vf-27 vs quedluun-reamacross frontier 09 vf-27 shot at by vf-25g while grappling with vf-25fThe VF-27 pretty much raeped Klan’s Quadluun-rea, but Alto’s VF-25F Super Messiah put up more of a fight; and in the end SMS combined arms tactics compensated for the vast tech disadvantage presented by this unit.

It wasn’t a clean hit, but it was enough to convince the pilot that his mission was under threat (to destroy a Vajra hive on an abandoned Guantanamo class carrier), considering that his VF-27 took some minor hits from Klan’s Quaedluun-rea and that Alto in his VF-25F shot his leg off. He deploys a large beam weapon and destroys the carrier in one shot before running away.

This is the first time in Macross history that such a powerful beam weapon is mounted on a VF, or a mono-piloted small craft. I’m not sure I like it, given how I hate variable damage output contingent to plot needs. Gundam is downright abusive of this, and Macross has begun to as well given the LTV beam cannon (see episode one where it destroyed a stealth cruiser in one shot, and at the same time didn’t punch a hole through Macross Frontier City when it fired at some tanks), and now the VF-27’s.

The episode ends with Michel visiting Jessica’s grave, still wondering about the real facts behind the friendly fire that damned her. We find Alto making nice, the rivalry doesn’t mean much now if it had ever really meant anything at all. What I find remarkable in this episode is how many narratives it progressed during what seems to be a back story interlude:

  • Macross Frontier’s concern over resources.
  • Grace O’Connor revealing a sinister visage.
  • Alto and Michel’s non-rivalry.
  • Michel and Klan’s romantic angle [you’ll really want to see these images (1) and (2)].
  • The ends behind Sheryl’s enrollment in Mihoshi Academy (propaganda for the continued search for teh missing Macross Galaxy fleet) [image ->].
  • Ranka’s career (a public promotion on the street; very lame) [image ->].
  • The continued presence of the VF-27 and its pilot (who shows up stalking Ranka) [image ->].

I won’t accuse Frontier’s plot of being complex, but that’s a lot of narratives pushed forward or resolved. I didn’t appreciate this then, but I’m seeing it now, and whoa. I won’t say it’s stupendously done by way of excellence that marks the first arc of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina as one of the best examples of exposition in literature. But I do think that this episode is done with some the brilliant cheesiness that is very much part of the Macross franchise.

Further Reading

WTF is Klanservice™? [->]

We Remember Love’s Macross Frontier blog post series [->]

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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24 Responses to Friendly Fire: Macross Frontier 09 (How many ongoing narrative plot points is effectively moved forward despite telling a side-story; it’s a feat indeed)

  1. I kind of enjoyed how Alto was purposefully made to not be the usual mecha lead. Michel always showed him up, Ozma always showed him up. At best he was an above average pilot. The series as a whole seemed to have a lot of subversion of standard concepts, like the ‘troll on moe’ that Crusader wrote about back when the show originally aired. And I got a vibe that something in the Macross past was subverted in regards to the research with the Vajra that was conducted right before Frontier. Once I watch the older series I’ll probably get an idea of what they were talking about.

    I just have to say that Michel was easily my favorite character and that I loved his relationship and interactions with Klan Klan. If I ever start building Macross models my first two are going to have to be Michel’s VF-25 and Klan Klan’s Quaedluun-rea.

    The linked ‘WTF is Klanservice’ post was really interesting too, thanks for adding the link.

    • I think the closest comparable mecha anime lead character to Alto is Kamille Bidan. My friends and I make fun of Kamille a lot (not that we don’t like him) by going on “Kamille Mode” in the slices of our daily life.

      mechafetish: Yo ghostlightning, can I trade my regular fries for your curly fries?
      ghostlightning: WHY ARE WE KILLING EACH OTHER? IS THIS WHAT ADULTS ARE ABOUT?
      mechafetish: Uh, I’ll throw in a chicken nugget…
      ghostlightning: STOP FIGHTING KISAMA YATSU!

      Alto isn’t an inferior pilot. He’s a genius considering his age. Ozma is better because he’s more experienced and knows more tricks. Alto’s distinguishing trait is his recklessness. He dares things others are too smart, or too scared to do.

      Against the first LTV, Ozma pulled out his prog-knife too but it comes across as valor and not foolhardiness. Contrast with the frequency of Alto getting shot down. His victories are rather Pyhrric. He’s foolish enough to engage Brera in his VF-27 Lucifer, he’s foolish enough to charge into a Knight Class Vajra carrier. (His skulking inside which in episode 07 is a reference to “Metal Gear Max/Solid Sterling” in case you missed it).

      Is Alto’s skills comparable to Hikaru’s? I’d say yes, both are acrobats, entertainers. Hikaru is cautious where Alto is reckless, but I may give Alto an edge for dispatching the Kamjin clone where Hikaru couldn’t get anything more than a draw against Kamjin himself.

      However, the tech difference should be a big factor. Zentran mecha (your beloved Quadluun-rea) aren’t very different from circa 2009 while the VF-25F is incomparable to the VF-1J. In any case, I don’t think there’s a huge gap of ability between Hikaru and Alto (who would fight using a downgrade VF later on: another subversion).

      But in hand-to-hand combat, Alto is pathetic. Ugh.

      • LOL, I’ll have to use that ‘Kamille Mode’ sometime.

        I liked Alto a lot more than Kamille though, since Alto learns and grows up over the series while I didn’t feel that Kamille did as much. The other characters in Zeta were a lot more appealing to me. I also liked the Mk II Gundam more than the Zeta Gundam, which just drew my attention off of Camille further.

        Alto was a lot of fun as a main pilot character in the series because of the subversions mentioned. Good points on the recklessness vs caution in the two pilots, and how Alto paid the price for it whereas Hikaru (at least to the point I’m at) hasn’t.

        The miracle wonder noob pilot in most mecha series has always bothered me to a degree. I wonder if this could possibly have anything to do with why I liked 08th MS Team, 0080, and 0083 more than the original Gundam series? Macross has given us less god-like pilots from the beginning of the franchise, so I have a lot of respect for that. Though I’m probably more of a Gundam fanboy than a Macross one at present.

      • but Kamille’s a man’s name….AND HE’S A MAN!

        • Alto wins at life, he gets everything… maybe he lost a friend, sure. Kamille, a whole bunch of people he knows dies, and he had to kill way too many of Jerid’s girlfriends. Manly accomplishments, to be sure.

  2. Ryan A says:

    Oh Klan Klan XD Definitely see the mix of exposition points as being more complicated the average storytelling, but it worked pretty nicely. The line about Michel’s sister was a tad strong/over-focused imo, but it did build his character in a good way.

    I really never noticed that Alto wasn’t the superhero, but so true that he was basically an average guy [and obsessed with open skies]. That’s a rather nice touch, and I feel it brings out stronger identification.

    • In Macross (TV), the lead character isn’t the best pilot out there. He’s good, no doubt; but we end up seeing better flyers and fighters — which allows us to re-focus on other goals for the character instead of “he’s got to win against X this week!” The other goals being romantic ones, etc.

      This distinguished the franchise as being serious with its romance, as opposed to making it mere flavoring for the mecha action.

  3. maAkusutipen says:

    “This is the first time in Macross history that such a powerful beam weapon is mounted on a VF, or a mono-piloted small craft. I’m not sure I like it, given how I hate variable damage output contingent to plot needs. Gundam is downright abusive of this, and Macross has begun to as well given the LTV beam cannon (see episode one where it destroyed a stealth cruiser in one shot, and at the same time didn’t punch a hole through Macross Frontier City when it fired at some tanks), and now the VF-27’s.”

    wow you actually saw that! Such dedication to the material! You really know your stuff. Alsso applying things you do in college be applied in your interest is pure win! I really like reading your stuff. i have not been commenting lately because I have not touched Bakemonogatari at all. Maybe one of these days after finishing shoujo mangas! whawhahwa

    • Thank you!

      There are people who know a lot more about Macross but you’ll have a challenge finding a fan who just as nutty about it as me.

      I do notice these things because of the number of times I’ve seen the show. I don’t just love it, I really really really like and enjoy watching and rewatching the episodes.

      Bakemonogatari is lovely, you may just like it ^_^/

  4. Vendredi says:

    I liked this episode a great deal overall; it presents an inter-squadron rivalry in a way that feels significant but not overly obnoxious and forced. That, and any episode with the wonderful Queadlunn is a worthwhile one, heh.

    As for the variable output of the VF-27 beam cannon, well, there is something to be said about raw power but Macross so far hasn’t been too obnoxious with the beam spam – and it seems that scene has a lot of detail put into it – for one thing, Brera’s shot arcs towards the ship’s engines, so it’s possible that a penetrating hit was all that was needed to make the remaining power source in the engines go critical.

    After having watched Gundam 00 I have to agree – Macross has a real economy of storytelling in some ways – even off episodes develop the side characters, as opposed to Gundam’s rather haphazard pacing.

    • That’s not necessarily true. Macross 7 in particular had absolutely atrocious pacing where the story absolutely refuses to move for episodes at a time. That’s a show that could have easily been done in about half or even a quarter of the episodes.

      As for the general comment about beam cannons and such, it’s just the way the wind is blowing. That’s what mecha fans in Japan want nowadays for the most part is more powerful mecha with more powerful weapons and to keep taking it to the next level and scaling up the technology. So far the only major franchise I know hasn’t fallen victim to it is Votoms.

    • Kaio’s right about Macross 7 though, that show is just wrong in so many ways — not that I DON’T LOVE IT. I FREAKING LOVE IT.

      Okay, I’ll give your apologetics for Brera’s beam weapon the benefit of the doubt. After all, the VF-27 Lucifers did not rape the Frontier fleet with those guns in the big battle. I could chalk that out as a subtler form of plot-demanded variable damage, but it’s a tougher accusation to prove.

  5. 2DT says:

    It’s times like these I remember when Alto asked to be a pilot in the second episode and got punched in the face like a bitch. Always manages to bring a smile to my face.

    Seriously though, it’s a good point you make about Alto being forever the underdog. It actually deepens my appreciation for a character I previously didn’t like all that much, which feels like a personal first. Cheers.

    • It’s a subtle kind of being an underdog, and a rather obnoxious conceit: making a character so talented, attractive (and sought after), as popular as Alto an underdog. I’ll be surprised if ‘cool’ viewers who pick up on this aren’t incensed and outraged at the conceit.

      But indeed, he earns his victories. I like that. He also chalks up losses. I like that even more.

  6. DonKangolJones says:

    Episode 9 of Frontier was one of my favorite of the series. That’s probably because I’m a sucker for good, or at least sentimental, backstories. I suppose I could do without all the pretty boy angst, and maybe because I thought that whiny pettiness was so annoying that I didn’t pay much attention to how much was going on. Throughout the show the narrative does a good job of addressing many different characters & plot points without feeling disjointed or cluttered. This was probably the best example. It looks like a throwaway side story at first, but I appreciate the movement in story accomplished once ended.

    To your point about the variable output weaponry, I completely sympathize. In Gundam, it gets to the point where you wonder if these emotional teenagers should be using this weaponry on there own, or if they need a phone call from the president to use these things. But thanks to plot, take Gundam Wing for example, the weapons are only so dangerous depending on circumstances… and the pilots. I don’t blame you for not wanting Macross to go down this route.

    • It’s the plot contingency that bothers me the most. It really really bugs me for serious. Look man, Char sank 6 capital ships in the Battle of Loum with a fucking tommy gun for Chrissakes. And then in Zeta he plasters a Baund Doc 4 times with a beam weapon. NO EFFECT. NONE. FUCKING ZERO. This isn’t just a new problem with the newer shows… it’s been there since Tomino.

      • Gorilla says:

        Having watched Zeta recently for the first time, I observed this, too. I mean, in the original all you needed to do to sink a ship was close in it with the mobile suit and shoot a few rounds. In Zeta the Audhumla gets hit many times but still it continues flying. But,I think, in one of the latter episodes it is mentioned that ships in 0087 are better built than those of the one year war.
        After a point in Zeta you get used to it. The one thing that bothered me the most was the lack of military realism. So far Frontier(ep 18) is pretty “realistic” regarding this. Meaning that nobody launches when the captain DOESN’T GIVE ORDERS.

        • Oh man, I can talk ALL DAY about the military ‘organization’ in Gundam. In Gundam, everybody’s freelancing. I mean, Char pretty much did his own thing; and Amuro had his most infamous hissy fit stealing the fucking Gundam and burying it in a hole in the middle of nowhere.[->]

          Then in Zeta we have Jerid undermining the command of anybody he served under. But we need not look further from Katz fucking Kobayashi. I have no words.

          In Char’s Counterattack you had Quess turning the battlefield willy-nilly doing whatever she wanted when she wanted. Don’t get me started on Hathaway.

          This freelancing behavior within military organizations goes all the way to Turn A Gundam. It’s a Tomino staple.

          You reminded me of the Audhumla… I still have conniptions whenever I think about that, that AIRPLANE that was STILL FLYING even when it was LOSING PRESSURE… why? o why? IT’S BECAUSE IT HAD THE FREAKING MAZINKAISERGIANT PSYCOGUNDAM IMPALING IT FROM ITS MOTHERFUCKING SIDE.

          The freelancing in Macross is subtler, but it’s there. Hikaru took out the Armored Valkyrie out of spite when he was sent on patrol duty while he was watching Miss Macross live. In DYRL? he launched with Minmay in a training VF while in Saturn’s Rings. In Macross Frontier Alto was up in Michel’s face picking a dogfight, while engaged in a mission.

          It has nowhere near the kind of insubordination and freelancing that is a staple in Tomino Gundam, but it exists.

          If you’re looking for something more blatant (but ^9000 more suave), see the antics of Isamu Dyson in Macross Plus.

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