The common approaches to the fictional biography of Ranka Lee (Ranka Mei) involve either a dominant spotlight on her disposition and the resulting moé engendered both from viewers and characters within Macross Frontier; or a dressing down of her behavior in a manner of ethical tone of analysis, often driven by the shipping and love triangle dynamics. In both cases, a certain weakness of the narrative, the writing, is blamed. While I can agree to some extent with some of the ideas, this is not the point of interest here.
I’ve sometimes thought about how the characters in Macross Frontier would play out if they were in a seinen or josei show instead. It’s not such a far-fetched idea since I did enjoy Macross Plus as a teenager. One of the things I think would be interesting is a focus on Ranka’s background and her behavior as a result of it. There’s more to her than the rather weak amnesia angle.
What is there to our little Ranka? Let us inspect the elements of her background.
- She is part-Zentraedi
- The human part of her is East Asian (Chinese, probably)
- Part of the alien part of her is related or wholly of the Vajra (a non-humanoid life form!)
- She is orphaned at a very young age.
- She is adopted by a single adult male.
- The adoptive male set up the relationship as an older sibling, as opposed to a parent.
- She has reached young adulthood, approximately 10 years under the care of her adoptive ‘parent.’
Ranka is a fruity salad of species and ‘ethnicity’ raised in a non-standard family structure due in part to her parents’/mother’s death and unorthodox ‘older brother’ parent (Ozma Lee). This episode of Macross Frontier indulges much of the background of Ozma, fleshing out his relationships not only with Ranka, but also with his love interest Cathy Glass.
I’m looking at this background and at Ranka’s adolescence narrative in part through the work of lelangir, who wrote about the construction of (American) families via adoption (of Asian children), and the resulting discourse by these adoptees as a form of deviance — a social and self-critical differentiation from source and adoptive cultures.
His analysis used memoirs as the primary material. Ranka doesn’t have memoirs yet, but we are subject to her narrative as part of the whole of Macross Frontier, often privy to internal monologues in a way that memoir writers can never express (memories in real time). That said, Ranka never really spoke about her ethnicities (or species for that matter) nor made it an issue; but she were indeed in a more mature work, it’s possible that this could be a subject.
I cannot comment if the subject of multiple/dual ethnicities is an acceptable one in Japanese popular culture, but it is interesting to note that the actress and singer for Ranka, Nakajima Megumi is bi-ethnic: she is half-Filipino. Also interesting: last year the Japanese government granted full citizenship to Filipinos with a Japanese parent.
There is a significant number of Filipino kids with Japanese fathers here in the Philippines. My youngest brother is good friends with one, and that half-Japanese kid is very useful translating for when the pro Magic: the Gathering TCG players from Japan come over for the tour events and hang out with my brother and his crew of pro M:tG players. That kid was also very useful for translating Super Robot Wars α while my brother played it in real time.
These kids are most likely illegitimate, as their Japanese fathers are salarymen with families back home but had/have liaisons with Filipino women while posted here as expatriate workers. I won’t speculate on Nakajima Megumi’s background. I’m rather proud that she’s part-Filipina, while I don’t know how she personally feels about it. I can say though, that up until the turn of the millennium, Japan has been a steady employer of Filipino entertainers, most of them women. Here in the Philippines, these women have been derogatorily lableled Japayuki, in part due to their part-time or full-time tours as sex-workers in Japan.
The primary objective of this paper will be to investigate the case study of interracial adoptees, out of which two forms of deviance arise.
The first is more historical – it is concerned with how interracial adoptees have been labeled as different, and subsequently how they have viewed themselves as different. […]
The first form of deviance is easier than the second to theorize upon. Interracial adoptees have been the subject of psychological and psychiatric work for a good portion of the 20th century and has roots and relations to Freudian psychoanalysis and attachment theory. Thus, the condition of being an interracial adoptee follows some points of Conrad’s typology of medicalized deviance: (1) there is expert control over the psychology of interracial adoptees which disregards the voices of individual experience as invalid or nonscientific; and (2) the psychology results of interracial adoption are individualized. If an interracial adoptee is depressed or has a bad relation with the adoptive parents, the problem is not seen to be within the institution of adoption but in the adoptee or in the parents. Here arises the myths of “love conquers all” or “love is colorblind,” or similar aphorismic tropes.
The second form of deviance is more complex – it is almost a type of “meta” form. Considering the historical trajectory we have just outlined in brief, the discourse of adoptees intrinsically arises from marginalized zones, that is, from “outside” the moral boundaries of dominant ideology. Overall, there are many obfuscating narratives which frame the critical narratives of adoptee as ungrateful, problematic, dangerous to dominant institutions, and thus deviant. This has as much to do with the spaces out of which critical narratives arise as it does the actual message of these narratives. In sum, this second form of deviance is about the interaction between discourses competing for dominance or even legitimacy.
In the narrative of Macross Frontier, and during this episode, Ozma’s ‘parenting’ is glorified. Ranka is shown in this episode as a maturing and well-adjusted adolescent at the verge of professional success. Her attachment to Ozma shown at the end is a result of a somewhat rocky beginning, and is credited to the persistence of Ozma in becoming a good parent. Thy aphorismic tropes “love conquers all” or “love is ‘species’ blind” arise here.
Ozma never made an issue about Ranka’s race or species — doubly significant, since the Zentraedi is a genetically violent race who obliterated most of the human population back in 2010. Perhaps the violence done by Ozma (by plain indifference or neglect) is the non-involvement of anything Zentraedi in Ranka’s upbringing. Granted, the Zentrans never had much of a culture in the first place, and what culture they did have, Ozma was of two minds: he was a fighter and respected Zentrans as fighters (he flies with Klan Klan and her team, and probably has done so with others earlier in his career), but wouldn’t want Ranka to have anything to do with fighting.
Ranka, near the end, would have more to say about the Vajra than she would ever talk about as a Zentraedi, despite her friendly relations with the Zentraedi Enka singer at Folmo mall, despite having a Zentraedi manager (Elmo Kridanik, until Grace O’Connor stepped in), and working at Folmo mall selling Zentraedi (7-color) carrots to uninterested Zentreadi children.
Lelangir’s concern in his paper lies more in the development of ‘Imagined Communities’ by adoptee intellectuals, who begin to see themselves apart from both their adoptive culture and source culture. When these people write, they are constructing an ‘artificial’ community, culture, and consciousness with people of similar backgrounds. One imagines how these people are considered ‘other’ or different by members of both adoptive and source ethnicities and cultures. It is easy to imagine how these people can form complexes about belongingness. He continues,
We must first clarify something – we need to avoid conflating the manifest effects of the material conditions of the imagined community with an individual’s consciousness of the imagined community. In other words, just because someone experiences racism doesn’t mean they consciously imagine themselves as part of a larger community. Rather, skin color, as a physical state, opens up the very likely possibility of racism and thus a desire to feel normal, to be connected with others similar to yourself. Just the thought “are there others like me?” indicates that an adoptee understands herself in an abstract sense, that there is a possibility people exist who share qualities with herself, and that these qualities can be divorced from localized physical situations – in other words, they can be imagined to exist in other people, and therefore, when asking “are there others like me?” we are beginning to imagining ourselves vis-à-vis and within an imagined community of similar individuals.
In the unsurprisingly innocent narrative of Macross Frontier, racism is almost entirely absent on a social level. In a militaristic level, Temzin — the rebel Zentraedi commander in Gallia IV told Alto, “The universe is too small for both our species!” This statement, uttered before Alto killed him, affected our protagonist and informed his thinking about the Vajra. Richard Bilrer, the enigmatic sponsor of the SMS, left Alto with the impression that the Zentran-human allied and combined races are in competition with the Vajra for the fold quartz. Alto is left thinking in terms of ‘it’s either them or us.’
De-individuation is an easy way to justify acts of cruelty, and even murder of others. Atrocities against humans throughout history had been informed by ethnocentric and xenophobic perspectives. Ultimately, Macross Frontier opposes these, and promotes love and harmony throughout the universe. What would be more interesting however, is if the narrative went into the social level of race conflict. Everything about Ranka’s childhood is incredibly rosy.
That said, there’s really no reason for the Frontier colony to not be near-utopic. There are multiple generations of humans and Zentradi removed from the Great War. My grandfather raised me on stories of the Second World War wherein the Philippines was occupied by the Japanese, and Manila was the most destroyed city in the whole war next to Warsaw. I never felt any resentment towards the Japanese growing up, nor did anyone I know in my generation and succeeding ones.
After all, mostly human colonies have already been governed by Zentraedi heads of state, most notably the Macross 7 Expeditionary Fleet. City 7 was presided over by Mayor Millya Fallnya Jenius, the first Zentradi to integrate with humans and the first (and most prolific) breeder of mixed-race girls. She had her run-ins with Zentraedi malcontents during her term, but after that incident there were no documented cases of discontent or conflict from the Zentraedi until the Gallia IV incident.
Klan Klan distanced herself from this faction; noteworthy because Klan is more integrated into the mixed society compared to the archaic organization of those stationed (and killed) in Gallia IV.
But to return to lelangir’s methodology, which is to read autobiographical works of adoptees for their respective commentary on their individuality and difference from both their source and adoptive races and cultures, we run into two problems. One, Ranka’s narrative isn’t autobiographical — in the sense that it contains a lot of introspection; two, she never really talks about race or culture. She never makes an issue of it at all.
If anything, she is a product and player of a monoculture that stands in place of the ruined cultures of the earth after the devastating Zentraedi attack of 2010. This is the culture founded and represented by Minmay. It is the culture that allowed for the assimilation or integration of the Zentraedi into the monoculture. It is the culture of the pop idol.
It is a culture that has very little memory outside its own beginnings. It remembers ‘love’ for Minmay, and perhaps even for the story of the Bird Human, and via the in-universe film Do You Remember Love? — the Protoculture. Other than this, there is some memory of Japan (of course), China — though in the form of Chinatown (perhaps the Yokohama or San Francisco version), and the United States of America via the city of San Francisco (which is a pervasive design motif, never more prominent than in the design of Frontier City). Other than this, it’s Minmay all the way.
Pre-Space War race and ethnicity no longer seems to matter, and the Zentraedi race/species dynamic is barely an issue. We don’t find purist factions of humans against Zentraedi, and there seems to be no discrimination regarding employment and career opportunities. Mylene Jenius was the first half-Zentraedi idol singer — no one seems immune to her winsomeness, so Ranka Lee already had a precedent.
Later, in the end Ranka explains the Vajra ‘culture’ to Alto, and I surmise the rest of the colony. It is interesting to note that she never claims to be part of this culture — the way I could say I’m part Chinese, despite her arguably ‘royal’ status within Vajra society. She is certainly an interesting case of a de-cultured individual; that is, she never feels that she has to identify strongly with, or differentiate herself from any culture within the show.
If anything, (pop) music, as a form of love, is promoted by and through Ranka, as some form of totalizing monoculture across the galaxy. This is highlighted not only by the eventual end of Macross Frontier, but also in the previous episode when Ranka is obviously reluctant to lend her song (Aimo) as a weapon to make the Vajra easier to shoot down.
So where’s the deviance? Where’s the deviation? They exist on the meta level. Ranka’s discourse of ‘love conquers all’ via singing is the propagation of a monoculture to rule them all. All previous cultures are reduced to sources of proof for this love grand narrative. While there is an overt live and let live agenda, there is a totalizing effect that installs a Minmay hegemony over the galaxy.