ICONIC SCENE: Bromance Part 1.
STORY DATE: 2040
RELEASE DATE: August 25, 1994
1. So soon after Macross II (which apparently was successful, but I think a lot of that success was due to overseas sales rather than the Japanese market) Kawamori came back with an idea he had about a variable fighter competition. Apparently, this was not originally a Macross story, but became one in order to secure funding. Before this, he had been dead-set against doing sequels, and I’m not sure entirely what changed his mind, although I’d imagine that the realization that Macross sequels were going to be made with or without him had to have been a factor.
But whatever the reason, Kawamori finally took to the idea of sequels, and embraced it to the fullest. For the first and only time, there were plans for THREE different Macross installments, all due at the around the same time: Macross Plus, Macross Seven, and Macross: Final Outpost Earth. That last one, of course, was the made-in-Hollywood live action movie that never got off the ground, although designs were made for it and a script was written (a brief shot of which can be seen in a documentary, with Minmay talking to “Richie Pirelli,” who is probably meant to be the Hikaru stand-in). I’d love to read the whole thing, but with the screenwriter having passed away years ago, and his widow also being quite elderly, I have no clue how to contact her to see if I can track down a copy.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about Macross Plus. It began life as movie, but it was decided to make an OVA first in order to build buzz for the eventual film. It was co-directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, written by Keiko Nobumoto, and had music composed by Yoko Kanno, all three of whom later worked extensively on Cowboy Bebop. The main studio involved in production was Triangle Staff, perhaps best known for the Venus Wars movie and Serial Experiments Lain, and they brought a highly-detailed style to the work. Character designs were, for the first time, handled not by Mikimoto, but by the single-named Masayuki, who later worked on Evangelion, directing (among other things) Death and Rebirth, and the first half of The End of Evangelion. He had also previously done the amazing Thundercats opening, which was SO good that there was no way the show could ever live up to it.
So yeah, it’s a great team assembled here, and Kawamori really wanted to push the boundaries for anime, beginning to incorporate a lot of this “computer graphics” animation that had been making a stir. It’s used sparingly but effectively in Plus (and Seven), and was apparently enormously expensive. I’ve heard that Plus was the most expensive OVA produced at that time. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but I wouldn’t doubt it. It looks spectacular from start to finish, and is amazingly refreshing after the drabness of Macross II.
2. For me, I was more or less out of anime by ’94. I was still going to comic shops, but was much more interested in Sandman and Cerebus and trying to get everything Alan Moore had ever written. I was still getting some manga (damned if I can remember what, though). Most of the places I’d gone to get anime stuff were gone (RIP Model Works and Book Village). However, a new store called Comics Factory had opened near PCC (it’s still there, but not in the same location. A nail salon is in its old place) and they had anime VHS tapes for rental. Occasionally, I would rent stuff, but nothing had really grabbed me. Now, by this point, anime in the US had become a big enough thing that there were several companies licensing and releasing stuff (mostly films and OVAs, rather than TV shows) in the west. The amateur magazine Animag had folded, and most of its editorial staff had moved on to the much-more-official Animerica Magazine, which I bought because my all-time favorite manga, Area 88, was being serialized in the back (or, really, middle) of the issues. Anyway, it was there that I read about Macross Plus and Seven first. Seven sounded slightly interesting (it’d be nice to see Max and Milia again), but Plus seemed to be another of those “set decades in the future of the series you liked, so no one you care about will show up” sequels that I was sick of. And anyway, I hadn’t even finished watching Macross II and no longer considered myself a Macross fan.
(I was, however, buying the Robotech Perfect Collection tapes from Streamline, which featured two episodes of the original Japanese series that made up Robotech, followed by the same two episodes of Robotech. It was then that I realized that I simply couldn’t watch Robotech anymore. The voice cast was fine, but the need to fill seemingly every available second with narration and dialogue made me want to tear my hair out.)
Anyway, one day I walked into Comics Factory, and the owner asked me, “Have you seen Macross Plus yet?” (The English dub of Volume 1 had just come out the week previously.) I replied that I wasn’t interested in it. He said, “Look, it’s really cool. Rent it, and if you don’t like it, I’ll refund your money.” I took him up on the offer and rented it. The next day, I returned it. Not only did I not ask for the refund, but I bought a copy of it as well. I was a Macross fan again.
3. It’s interesting to compare the beginning to Macross II. That series was very “TV-like” in that it had opening and ending titles (and even a commerical-break eyecatch!) and kept the episodes to the standard 25 minutes of a broadcast show. Plus is much more cinematic, with the moody and a cappella song “Voices” playing over a scene of three teenagers testing a homemade prop-plane. It’s a quiet, serene, and lovely moment for characters whose lives, we’ll find out, are anything but.
Then the title comes up, and we switch to the only war scene in the series. And it’s clear immediately that Ichiro Itano is back, directing the battle. VF-11s swooping around, picking off Zentradi battle suits in an asteroid field. Its excellent stuff, the most exciting battle scene we’ve had since Do You Remember Love. We also get a quick sketch of our main character, Isamu Dyson, as a really excellent pilot who’s basically handling the entire battle by himself. Yes, he rescues two of his comrades, but in daredevil ways that probably had them wetting themselves.
And of special note is that the VF-11’s gunpod is equipped with a bayonet, of all things. Shades of the knife that the VF-25 will be equipped with…
Honestly, in these opening scenes, he comes across as a brilliant pilot, but an unlikable jerk. He’s hotheaded, arrogant, doesn’t follow orders, and doesn’t listen to anybody.
4. New Edwards Test Flight center is, of course, essentially Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California. It’s worth noting that Kawamori and Itano visited Southern California (Fullerton) while preparing to make this series, to take flying lessons at Air Combat USA, which bills itself “the ORIGINAL civilian dog fighting school in the world.” Among other things, they were allowed to sit in the back of a couple of trainers and have a mock dogfight. At one point, Itano blacked out. Now, this can be extremely dangerous… he could’ve even died, but as he was sitting on the tarmac, the producer told him to immediately draw what it looked like to have a blackout, before he forgot.
The biggest effect of this trip (which is felt through all of the Macross series to follow) is a better sense of what it feels like to actually be inside a fighter plane, pulling tremendous Gs. Do You Remember Love fairs better than the TV series in this regard, but in Plus, some of the maneuvers look genuinely painful.
Takumi Yamazaki, the voice actor for Isamu was hoping that he, too, would get to go up in a fighter so he could bring more realism to his role, but the producers were cheap and sent him to a roller coaster at the amusement park built around Tokyo Dome (then called “Big Egg City,” now called “Tokyo Dome City”). He quickly got used to the g-forces, though, over the many times he rode the coaster.
5. Ah, and then we get the YF-21 (AKA Omega One), which is really a thing of beauty. Of course, the special thing about it is that it’s controlled by thought (the “Brain Direct Imaging” (or BDI) system). And, refreshingly, it doesn’t look much like any Valkyrie we’ve seen before, its battroid mode having a much more Zentradi-type look to it. It’s also pretty clearly inspired (as is the plot) by the YF-22 and YF-23 competition that had taken place a few years earlier. As such, even now, with it’s “stealth-y” look, it seems less dated than, say, the VF-1 (or, especially, the Macross II Valks).
My favorite part of this scene, though, is the incredibly clear and efficient way they show that the YF-21is controlled by the pilot’s brain rather than just explaining it. I’m not sure if I really buy the wings changing shape, though.
6. We see the YF-19 briefly on a display. I’m sorry, that doesn’t count as a first appearance.
We hear about what a beast the YF-19 is, with a reputation for injuring or even killing its pilots. In this way, it reminds me of a plot thread from the original Macross series that was dropped when the show was reduced to 26 episodes: the “Devil Machine No. 2,” which was likewise meant to be a fighter that was being tested, and which was extremely dangerous, with all of its test pilots dying.
Oh, and there’s a problem with the official subtitles here, where the designer of the YF-19 is “Yang” Neumann, when really, it should be “Jan.” I don’t know if it was deliberate on the translator’s part, or if they didn’t realize that “Jan” (pronounced, of course, “yan”) is a completely normal Scandinavian or German name. I’m either underestimating the translator’s intelligence, or the translator is underestimating the audience’s. (EDIT: I just got word that actually, the “Yang” spelling was REQUESTED by the Japanese side of the production. No clue as to why, but I apologize for sniping at the poor translator when they had nothing to do with the choice.)
7. After more scenes showcasing what a contentious jerk Isamu is (and an interlude of Guld, unusually, losing his cool), we get Sharon Apple and Myung both introduced in quick succession.
Sharon, of course, predates Hatsune Miku (and Kyoko Date and Aimi Eguchi, Miku’s ancestors) by quite a few years, a fact that has escaped no one’s attention. Least of all the Macross staff, who even turned it into a joke during the Macross Crossover Live 30 a few years ago.
Eventually, of course, Isamu, Guld, and Myung (and Lucy) all meet up and there’s a big confrontation… the first of many.
The confrontation itself, and Myung’s role in it, is pretty weird. Myung seems somewhat scared of Guld, and confrontational with Isamu. Guld clearly loves Myung and hates Isamu. And Isamu seems kinda smug and hostile towards both Myung and Guld, or at least EXTREMELY jealous that Guld was hugging Myung. It’s not clear yet WHY all this makes no sense, and we have no clue that it’ll make even LESS sense soon enough. More on this topic later.
8. A few things: Marj (Sharon’s manager) is voiced by Sho Hayami, who of course also voices Max. Lucy is voiced by a young Megumi Hayashibara. And the city they’re in is totally modeled on San Francisco. Isamu and Lucy even hang out at Fisherman’s Wharf.
9. Okay, NOW we get to the good stuff, and the YF-21 shows what it can do. Highlights of course involve FLYING STRAIGHT INTO A CLASSIC ITANO CIRCUS OF MISSILES, but going so fast that they don’t detonate. You can also see just how outclassed the VF-11 is here; even with two boosters and tons of skill, Isamu is struggling to keep up. I’ve heard people who really like the VF-11 say that they’re dismayed with the cannon fodder role it was given in Macross Seven, but really, it doesn’t fare much better here, five years earlier in story time.
(Oh, and the bombers that launch the drones? Piloted by full-size Zentradi, according to Macross Chronicle.)
Eventually, of course, Guld loses concentration, has a flashback, and his mind-link with the YF-21 is severed. Now, the flashback confused me as the series continued, because the first time I saw it, it seemed clear to me that Guld was the aggressor, even though we later learn that he doesn’t think he was. Was that meant to be a twist? Or did everyone realize that it probably wasn’t Isamu who attacked Myung…?
And, in the end, it seems kind of amazing that Isamu can easily walk away (with just a band-aid on his cheek) from the crash his VF-11 went through. They’ll change that for the movie, and rightly so.
By the way, both the ending theme and the “Bulgarian Voices”-inspired “Next Episode Preview” songs are amazing, but you knew that already. Speaking of the next episode previews, I have no clue why, on the Japanese remastered box set, they were removed from the episodes themselves and placed on the bonus disc instead.
10. This episode in particular has a creepy, ominous vibe to it. The music helps, but a lot of it is the visuals, too. Unlike Macross II, this one is in no way trying to recapture the mood of the original. It’s got a much more serious tone, and seems aimed at the boys who saw the first Macross series when they were young children but who are now in their twenties.
It worked like a charm on me, that’s for sure…