The pendulum swings wildly in these four episodes, both in terms of mood and of production quality. SDFM has always had major problems with character designs going off-model (something that happens in TV editions all the way to Macross Frontier AND HOW) and these four episodes show it in its glorious hideousness. But also, almost on a per-episode basis the mood turns from incredible seriousness and tension to laugh-out-loud comedy of fishes out of the water.
It’s pretty brilliant how the Miclones are the one in enemy territory but the Zentraedi turn out to be the real big fish out of the water. More on this later. My live-watching with friends and acquaintances got cut after episode 11 after some serious downtime of my ISP, otherwise the experience continued to be incredible as the humor of SDFM carried through – generating more laughs than some dedicated comedies I’ve viewed under similar circumstances (Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt).
After episode 12, ALL the important elements of the show are put into play. It’s all resolution after this. But for now, let us enjoy the world Macross painstakingly built. We begin with episode eight, the iconinc “Miss Macross.”
Episode 09 “Miss Macross”
I’ve never seen other beauty pageants in anime. Perhaps they don’t exist. No, Martian Successor Nadesico episode 19 doesn’t count. It’s just “remonstrating love.” If there’s one very clear thing that distinguishes SDF Macross by this time is that it more than just ran away with the “civilian population making a semblance of peacetime life inside the belly of a warship” conceit. It staged a grand beauty pageant/talent show complete with its conspiracy sub-plots and the like.
What’s remarkable to me from a craft standpoint is how this set-piece so effectively pushes the plot forward. Here are three ways:
- Minmay’s show business career is launched in a big way.
- Hikaru and Misa’s bickering goes beyond protocol but actually involves the triangle ever so slightly: Misa is getting in the way between Hikaru and Minmay.
- The Zentraedi culture (and lack of it) is introduced.
These three things are important plot elements and it speaks well of a set-piece that can do all this seemingly effortlessly, though it used a whole lot of cutting in and out of the Miss Macross proceedings. I also suggest that Minmay won in part due to her charming clumsiness – the younger underdog whose talent is all possibility vs. the known, dominant quantity who is Jamis Merin.
Also, I enjoyed witnessing the reactions of the people I was watching the show with towards Misa using the public access to interrupt the entire Miss Macross proceedings to summon ONE LIEUTENANT to a payphone. NOW THAT’S HOW YOU KNOW THAT THE MILITARY IS RUNNING THINGS. Also, when SDFM does ever get remade, they really should have mobile phones in 2009… though it’ll produce lulz as it did in Gundam:
The fricking White Base had knobs the size of saucers and had a fricking HELM on it’s bridge, and the 2009 issued manga covering the One Year War has characters using touch-screen pocket devices LOL.
Episode 10 “Blind Game”
One thing that’s very easy to forget about Macross is how hopeless they really are. This isn’t the same despair as is the bread and butter of Space Runaway Ideon especially after Be Invoked. The presentation of Macross is far too lighthearted to evoke the same delicious mind-numbing despair. But consider what indeed happened during the Macross’ first communications with the UN Earth Government since the Macross folded to Pluto.
Despite the humanitarian risk of 50,000 noncombatants in the line of fire, the UN orders Macross to NOT approach the Earth and instead keep the aliens away from it.
This makes a lot of sense because it is indeed apparent that the Aliens are not interested in invasion, but are instead pursuing the ship itself. The UN do not have the technological and material strength to engage the Aliens even in a defensive battle, much less mount a rescue attempt of the 50,000 noncombatants in Mars orbit.
Presumably, the UN is developing a decisive weapon against the aliens, but what could it make that’ll protect the Earth against Britai’s fleet (currently at 25,000 vessels) now reinforced with Kamjin’s? There doesn’t seem to be any right answers here but the show isn’t as concerned with us pondering these questions anyway because ZOMG Misa is captured and Hikaru’s team has to rescue her!
The true highlight of this episode is Britai, who demonstrates here how the conceits of Macross as a robot anime make more sense than Gundam and most other shows. Britai takes on 3 battloids by himself, UNARMED, survives prolonged exposure to the vacuum of space ENTIRELY without a space suit/helmet NOTHING. Then attacks the same team of battloids WITH A BENT METAL PIPE… AND PWNS THEM.
As mentioned, the giant humanoid mecha in Macross exist because there are giant humanoids made of meat to fight. Of course, one has to justify why there should be giant alien humanoids, but then again the universe is a sufficiently large place for something like this to be imaginable. Anyway, Britai is so badass that he even gets the better of Max, who is you know, a Jenius (more on Max’s exploits in episode 12).
Episode 11 “First Contact”
What’s interesting about the title of this episode is how it turns out to be a more meaningful contact on the part of the Zentraedi than it is on the part of the humans. This is because the contact happened on Zentran “turf,” and thus the impact is felt mostly by them, through their leadership. After Britai continued his carnage of Hikaru’s battloid, the Zentrans got hold of Kakizaki, Hikaru, and Misa. Max luckily got sucked out of the ship, from which he’ll mount his stealth mission to rescue the rest. But first, the remarkable first conversations between the Miclones and the Zentraedi.
But even before that it’s a source of mirth to observe the reactions of Britai and Exsedol to Misa’s ineffectual rebuttals of Hikaru’s blatant chauvinism. What’s become clear is that the Zentraedi attackers are perhaps humanoid, but operate in a mono-gender social setup. They are shocked that both sexes can coexist, and observing them together is a physical difficulty for Britai who survived the vacuum of space.
The highlight of course is their discovery of how humans procreate, and the ‘culture shock’ of seeing Misa and Hikaru kissing. This was prompted, unbelievably, by the Supreme Commander Bodolle Zer’s demonstration of military might straight out of Star Wars Episode IV. It’s become clear however, that this cultural flashpoint is going to be an important plot element in the narrative. Even at this point the aliens are fascinated…
…as I was! Remember I first saw this at 7-8 years old. Though by then I’ve seen kissing scenes in media and sex is part of schoolyard talk (often hilariously erroneous in hindsight), I was just as clueless about sex and kissing as these Zentraedi. While I thought their reactions were silly, I couldn’t help but relate to them in some way. Now SDFM was never intended as sex ed, I’m SURE… but it’s interesting to consider that its viewers being children or adolescent male anime fans… are just as inexperienced with the opposite sex as these giants are.
The difference between the viewers then and now, is the latter’s access to a phenomenal well of pornography, which may not make them as operationally clueless as the Zentraedi, but in a way makes them even more sexually and/or socially retarded.
Episode 12 “Big Escape”
I’m going to do some meta here because it’s the best way to appreciate what Maximilian Jenius just did here:
In what was certainly the most complicated set of mecha-motions executed to date, Max Sterling [Jenius] had managed to clothe his Battloid in the uniform he had taken from the Zentraedi private. That he had succeeded so completely in wedding his mind to the mecha controls was justification enough for the many articles later devoted to the feat, but the fact that he had accomplished this within the confines of the utility closet was what ultimately led to his legendary status as a VT [VF] hero.
Jack McKinney. Robotech: Battle Cry chapter 15, p. 187
One thing about seeing Macross through Jack McKinney’s eyes is that you get this delicious editorializing on what’s awesome about Macross that the anime can’t do by itself. Max, by virtue of a joystick and a bunch of pedals, stripped a dead soldier’s uniform off and put the same uniform on his robot. Obviously, the Rule of Cool trope is very much in effect here, but McKinney’s prose lends a sense of verisimilitude to the feat.
Max spends some time playing Metal Gear Solid inside Britai’s flagship until the four prisoners eventually escape liberally using the Rule of Cool trope again: this time by virtue of three human-sized pilots being able to pilot a Regult in tandem designed for one giant pilot.
This episode introduces Lap Lamiz and Millya Fallnya – the first female Zentraedi characters, and Millya is the first Zentraedi ace pilot the Macross forces ever encountered. With this, the entire cast is complete, the setting fleshed out, the nature and motivations of the ‘heroes’ and ‘villains’ are laid out. Everyone’s capabilities are all demonstrated, if not foreshadowed. The love triangle is complete, deliciously how Misa and Hikaru got to kiss before Hikaru and Minmay did (averted during their rescue from the belly of the whale) It’s not quite complicated, as plotting goes, but the elements are very layered and culturally complex.
With everything in place, it’s going to be development and resolution the rest of the way. Macross did it in the space of a cour, right on schedule.