The core motivation of Alto, from the very beginning of the narrative, is to fly in a big sky. Growing up in the Frontier Colony all his life, he’s never seen a sky higher than two kilometers. This is so important to him, that he is perfectly willing to become a soldier (risking his own life, prepared to take others’ away) just for the opportunity to fly.
Sheryl made it happen for him, by requesting him to escort her to her would-be concert at Gallia IV. Sheryl did not enjoy the fruits of her labor, because:
- The Zentraedi malcontents staged a coup.
- Her health failed her.
- Ranka rescued everyone and saved the day by performing her own impromptu concert.
- Ranka ended up going on a date with Alto in the skies of Gallia IV.
It’s starting to really suck being Sheryl. But here we talk about Alto and his sky, and how Macross distinguishes between dogfights and battles in space and those within an atmosphere. It’s pretty cool.
The Macross franchise is celebrated for its well-animated dogfights; featuring arguably the best of its kind among mainstream shows. Here’s a quick list of my favorites:
- Macross Plus
- Macross Zero
- Macross Frontier
I actually rank them here; Macross Frontier is quite notable that it is a TV production (to distinguish budget and timetable production considerations). I rank Plus not only for my own nostalgia (for both the show itself, and for the hand-drawn style that it played a hand in ushering out) but also for the playfulness in the actual flying, particularly that of Isamu Alva Dyson’s.
Zero, on the other hand, has the fastest pace and the most thrilling aerial scenes done in very high quality. The commonality in these three, or at least what I like most about the dogfights in these three examples, are the best dogfights occur within an atmosphere. There’s something awesome about gravity, air resistance, and contrails.
The fact that the variable fighters are primarily based on late 20th century jet fighters make atmospheric dogfights provide ample versimilitude. I end up having a more powerful experience because it seems more real. After all, the jet fighter design is rather ridiculous for space travel and warfare (no matter how cool Star Wars is).
Star Wars wrecked the popular perception of how space fighters would move in space for a long time. The basic problem is, they move like airplanes.
There are two things about an airplane’s motion that the Star Wars fighters do, even though they shouldn’t have to. First, an airplane is always moving in the direction it is pointing. if you know Newton’s laws, you will ask, “moving relative to what?” Well, relative to the air that it’s moving through, of course! If they didn’t, they’d fall out of the sky, for they are aerodynamically designed to fly by pushing up off of the air. But there’s no air in space; the density of gas even in high earth orbit is lower than the density of gas in the hardest vacuum we can create in the lab on Earth. […]
The second thing Star Wars routinely gets wrong is that fighters in space do not have to bank. When an airplane turns, it banks.
In space, there is no air to bank off of! Once again, things work differently. First of all, these space fighters are all (approximately) in freefall. They’re either in deep space, or they’re in orbit about a planet, so there is (effectively) no gravity to fight. Second, without air, they can’t bank off of it. Want to go in a different direction? Point your engines in the direction such that the acceleration applied to your current velocity vector (relative to whatever you’re measuring your velocity relative to) will give you a velocity in the direction you want.
In Macross Frontier the space dogfight dynamics aren’t as crude as Star Wars. There is noticeably far less drag, and the fighters often rely on booster positioning to maneuver, especially in non-aircraft mode. However, valkyries still fly and bank as if they had air resistance to work with, despite the apparent lack of drag.
I spoke too soon. Episode 14 showed me this:
When Macross takes a fight within the atmosphere, drag and specifically gravity is highlighted if not exaggerated (at least as much as the exceptional banking done by Alto in the succeeding ep). One can tell the difference comparing the dogfight between Brera and Alto in episode 13 as opposed to say, Alto and Klan Klan’s mock dogfight in episode 05. At least, to me it seems there is a marked difference.
It’s almost a shame that there’s precious few fights in the atmosphere in Macross Frontier, but if you can appreciate this, then you can get into the head of our lead character Alto Saotome. Alto’s fundamental desire is that of a sky, not space, a sky. He is very different from say, Hachimaki from Planetes, who primarily values space travel.
It’s an interesting desire. For it to be realized he needs gravity. Flying in the air requires a gravitational force to not precisely escape, but to ‘borrow’ some freedom from. It’s almost how vacation leaves can only be appreciated by the employed. I cannot appreciate ‘free time’ back when I was in between jobs; at least not at the level I appreciate it now when I’m loaded with work.
The events in this episode, on top of the main narrative progression, depict how Brera, the Vajra and Grace O’Connor rob Alto of his sky. The Vajra, by abducting Ranka; Brera for getting in the way of Alto’s rescue attempt — making Alto’s flying a battle; and Grace for literally destroying the sky and the planet itself by issuing the Dimension Eater.
While it’s easy to say that Ranka is the one who lost out, or is the most at risk; being abducted and all, the personal and character-centric losses by Alto and Sheryl are the most profound in my mind.