Music is not a foreign concept in war. Music is a cultural expression, and war is also part of a people’s culture. Songs and poetry often depicted great battles and the acts of heroes. It is easy to imagine that the performance of these pieces have a positive effect on an audience that most likely composing at least in part, the fighting force of that people.
Martial music (from Mars — the Roman god of war), is often played during marches, parades, and reviews. It celebrates the strength of the fighting force, which in turn emboldens it, fills it with pride, and other positive mental effects. In game terms, these ‘buff’ the fighters so that they’d fight better. In naval mythology however, sirens sing songs that drive mariners mad. In The Odyssey, the protagonist Odysseus had his sailors plug their ears so that the sirens won’t get to them.
Odysseus himself wanted to hear the call, so he had himself fastened to the mast so that he wouldn’t harm himself or others. The poet Homer didn’t (as far as I know) have a martial application of the siren’s call. But Rhodius in his Argonautica tells of Orpheus beating the sirens in a musical battle, ensuring the Argo’s safe passage.
In literature, my favorite example is from Tolkien’s Middle-Earth books; Finrod Felagund battling Sauron (yes, THAT GUY) in a battle of ‘songs of power.’ Luthien put Morgoth himself down with a song, so Beren could wrest a Silmaril from his iron crown.
These are awesome examples, but they don’t seem to be military engagements. Theoretically, a bard character in a role playing game could be powerful enough to affect enemies using musical ‘spells.’ But it took Macross to take this idea to ridiculous(ly entertaining) levels. While ultimately music (c/o Minmay) is a way to peace with the Zentraedi; no greater example other than Richard Bilrer, who was one of the first to be ‘cultured’ by Minmay and is now is a powerful ally of the human expeditionary fleet; it was significantly used to shock them during battle, making them easier to shoot.
This post is mostly about Macross Frontier‘s treatment of the trope, but here I present how the dynamic works: Someone sings, someone gets shot. However, it’s different across the different Macross shows. Observe:
I mean, we already know that the Vajra follow a hive structure and society, therefore we know that most of its workers and soldiers are incapable of sex. Only the Queen and specialized drones may engage in reproduction. So if you haven’t figured out why these Vajra are confused and horny, Ranka will explain it to you at the finale. In the mean time, what’s important is that the Vajra respond to the singing, in a way that makes them easier to shoot at.
There are several distinctions in Macross Frontier. It is notable how Ranka is deployed as a tactical weapon in the context of a conspiracy. She’s being manipulated, as opposed to Minmay who was compelled, and Basara who had his own ideas. It’s also interesting how Sheryl was a failed model for this project (set by Grace) — the failure being the lack of ability to affect fold waves at a high level and therefore affect the Vajra directly.
Even while oblivious to the manipulation by Leon and Grace, Ranka proceeds hesitantly towards this role. She is thrown by the currents of history, as opposed to shaping it with her will or by her voice. Her power level is at least the equal of Basara, but probably much higher, but her personality is the meekest of all the idols involved in such an attack.
Despite the meekness, weakness, and lack of self-agency; the narrative revolves around Ranka right now, playing notes of chaos and uncertainty. When Minmay did her ‘attack,’ she was already a star. Here Ranka’s participation becomes some kind of stepping stone, as if it were an incentive for her. Meanwhile, we have Sheryl fighting her worsening condition (I don’t think anyone believed she was getting better in the hospital), losing ground to Ranka in terms at almost every turn.
Then we have Alto, seemingly forced into another pointless rivalry (with Brera this time). Rivalries to me are between more or less evenly matched participants. Again Alto has his ass handed to him. Also, Brera keeps him away as if he were pursuing Ranka. Alto only wishes to protect her. It’s just moe.
Alto for the most part in this episode is an angry lump of confusion. It’s become difficult to distinguish where is obsession for protecting Ranka (a commitment he made as he decided to pilot a fighter), and where his disapproval of Brera begins. It’s not that he isn’t thoughtful — Ranka’s attraction to him is due in part to his thoughtfulness when she needed to hear something true. Well, youth. It’s like how some of the smoothest dudes I know lose their shit while driving Manila’s asshole infested roads. Aggression affects people of all ages, but it’s amplified during adolescence.
So yes, I’m not calling Alto a clueless angry, teen. This show avoids such characters in its cast. Even stronger than Alto is the defiant Sheryl, who never meekly resigns to the circumstances she’s given. She accepts the hand she’s dealt and plays it all out. Sure, she makes too much of an effort to show Alto that she’s not into him, but she throws herself at him anyway — not as a damsel in distress, but as someone who gave it all, and may need a hand part of the way.
She makes her way to the restricted Macross Quarter bridge, and wins permission to observe the battle. She knows her prestige and privilege is threatened, but she made use of it while it’s still there. Even Capt. Jeffrey Wilder acknowledges it. Sheryl wanted to see this operation, thinking that it could’ve been her role, and should’ve been asked first. But, this is not to say that she approves of it. Someone who writes her own songs may have a different set of scruples as to how her music is to be used.
I cannot stress this enough. The ultimate result of song, despite its tactical use, is that of bringing people together (Macross Plus notwithstanding). Richard Bilrer, as I’ve mentioned is most likely a veteran of the first Space War and was one of the Zentraedi exposed and ‘converted’ by Minmay. From a limited perspective of life that leads only to battle, he is now a person who pursues and shares his own dreams.
Who among the protagonists in the Macross franchise has ever dreamed this big? Outside of galactic monsters like the Protodevlin, only Grace O’Connor matches this kind of ambition. Bilrer makes for a subtle counterpoint to her: Grace has the idols, and Bilrer moves with the boyfriend who is a pilot. Very, very Zentraedi.
Macross: Do You Remember Love? had the most iconic delivery of this trope [->]