EPISODE 1: SPEAKER POD
ICONIC SCENE: FIRE!!
STORY DATE: March 2045
BROADCAST DATE: October 16, 1994
1. And here we are… the “eye of the needle” of Macross, as it were, that many western fans cannot pass through, and will frantically warn others not to even attempt… Let’s see how it goes…
So it’s nearly two months after Volume 1 of Plus came out (three months before Volume 2), and two weeks after “Macross Fastest Liftoff” aired, and the long-awaited first episode of Macross 7 finally arrives. Unlike the first series, which was aired in the (as I’ve said before) highly-unusual-for-anime Sunday two PM slot, this series ran in a much more standard time: Sundays at eleven AM, replacing a new iteration of the kid’s anime “Tama and Friends.” I do kinda wonder who tuned into the first episode… mostly kids? Mostly older Macross fans? What did each group think? I do know that most of the big Macross 7 fans I met during the 30th Anniversary events in 2012 were in their late twenties and early thirties, too young to have seen the original series when it aired. I’d guess that most of the older fans who tuned in had the same reaction I did when first seeing it… “What is this shit?”
And yeah, anyone looking for something like the first episode of Plus was bound to be disappointed. Obviously, concessions need to be made in animation quality for a TV series. While Plus was handled with incredible detail by Triangle Staff, Macross 7 was animated by Ashi Pro (who later changed their name to “Production Reed,” a reed being “ashi” in Japanese) with assistance (starting at Episode 8) from students at the Yoyogi Animation School… Yes, Macross 7 was a school project for some. And as VF5SS has said, “If it’s Ashi Pro, you don’t know if the series will be good or bad, but it is sure to be AWESOME.”
Of course, he was talking about Ashi Pro in the ’80s, when they were doing shows like Dorvack, Dancougar, and Machine Robo. By the ’90s, they were more known for NG Knight Ramune & 40, which I admit I haven’t seen. And it’s not like the animation for Macross 7 is BAD… it’s pretty consistently average, relying a lot on recycled footage, especially during the battle scenes.
Contrary to popular (?) belief, Kawamori did not work extensively on this series. He came up with the idea for it, and “supervised” it (whatever that means), but was much more preoccupied with Plus at the time. It was directed by Testuro Amino, who had also directed the Starship Troopers OVA (and the SD Gundam shorts), and Sukehiro Tomita (a scriptwriter for the SDF Macross TV, and the writer of both Do You Remember Love and Macross II) was put in charge of the scripts. Mikimoto of course did the original designs for the characters (which were streamlined for TV. Ditto Kawamori’s Valk designs), and Miyatake did the non-Valk mecha designs, so it’s got a pretty great staff behind it, and reunites all the designers from the original series.
2. Autobiography time: I read about Macross 7 in Animerica before it came out, and I always figured it would come out in the US after Plus wrapped up. I kept waiting and waiting, and nothing appeared. I got impatient, and started getting the soundtracks from Kinokuniya in Little Tokyo, as well as a small artbook (“Miss Macross 7,” which I should still have but can’t seem to find). At first, I honestly wasn’t thrilled with the music, divorced from its context, although it grew on me. I adored Mylene’s songs (on the Fire Bomber albums, that is… I had also picked up “Mylene Jenius Sings Lynn Minmay,” balked at the overproduced arrangements, and quickly realized that whoever was singing on that album was not the same person singing “My Friends” or “Sweet Fantasy.” It’d be a while before I got THAT riddle solved).
Finally, I got sick of waiting for the series to be released in the US, and went to one of the video rental shops in Little Tokyo. They had the whole series (except Encore, for some reason), so I rented the tapes one by one and started watching them with one of my friends. These were, of course, raw Japanese, no subs. My friend had a lot of goodwill towards the series at first, and then grew increasingly sick of it (even years later, he said he was still slightly resentful about it). Neither of us understood much Japanese, so a mysterious storyline was made even more mysterious. I persisted in the series, having read in Animerica that it got better as it went along, and by the end had a certain grudging respect for it. I also started buying Mikimoto’s manga, Macross 7 Trash (two volumes were out when I found them), hoping it would help me figure out what was going on, and realized that it had very little connection to the series.
A few years later, I stumbled across Central Anime’s fansubs at a con, and started getting copies of those, which made some things clearer. It was still a weird series, and I didn’t like it all that much, so I didn’t revisit it until I felt like doing a comprehensive Macross rewatch in 2002, in anticipation of Macross Zero. I liked Macross 7 better, that time around, but it wasn’t until my NEXT rewatch in 2008 that something clicked, and I started REALLY enjoying it. Whether this says more about me or about the show is, I guess, an open question. And I’m not sure how unshakable my enjoyment of the series is… when I watched it in 2008, I did a breezy three episodes per day, not really doing much with them besides passively watching. But as I learned with V Gundam when I did my (kinda/sorta ongoing) Gundam rewatch, things are very different when you have to sit down and WRITE about a show, episode by episode. I ended up truly frustrated and bored with V Gundam by the time I was done writing about, whereas I had previously enjoyed it when just watching it. So, this time, I could end up loving Macross 7 more, I could end up hating it. I have no idea, and isn’t that exciting?
3. For starters, the CGI in the opening credits (done by Studio 4ºC) looks stunning, even today (much better than the VF-19 in the Dynamite 7 opening). In fact, the entire opening is insanely detailed and dynamic, so much so that that the animation in the show itself is a serious let-down (cf. Macross II and Masami Obari’s excellent opening titles). This first episode, of course, has the edited version of the OP, to preserve the surprise of Basara and his VF-19.
4. Why the opening narration shows “2001” instead of “1999,” I’ll never understand. Perhaps 1999 was getting too uncomfortably close by this point, twelve years after SDF Macross…? We get a quick sketch of the events of the first Macross series and beyond: Space War I, the New Unified Government (there it is AGAIN! Decades before Frontier!), the launching of the Megaroad-01, and the launching of the Macross 7 Fleet, bringing us to 2045. The music is, oddly, Yoko Kanno’s “National Anthem of Macross,” written for Plus, our first hint that this is a show without its own score. Any background music here is either instrumental Fire Bomber tracks, or is lifted from either Plus or II. It’s a pity they didn’t use any of Kentaro Haneda’s original score for SDF Macross or Do You Remember Love… I would’ve liked to hear “Dog Fighter” at some point (clearly they COULD have used it, but chose not to, since some pieces of it turn up on the “Macross 7 Docking Festival” drama album).
5. The opening concert scene displays a visual problem that will plague the entire series… no one actually looks like they’re playing their instruments. Mylene (and later, Basara) strum, but they aren’t making any chords, Veffidas seems to be hitting drums almost randomly, and Ray keeps tapping the same keys over and over (and who’s playing the harmonica…?).
Gubaba also has a very different voice than he’ll have in later episodes. Here, it sounds like a meow.
6. Art-wise, this episode looks really good, actually… probably because the recycled footage hasn’t been recycled yet. Although some of the shots get recycled two or three times in this episode alone…
7. The initial attack is pretty creepy, all things considered. We see what is clearly some kind of VF blow up a VF-11, then grab the escape pod. A thin green beam shoots out, and the 11 pilot gives a pretty painful-sounding scream. This happens several times before we discover that the pilots are still alive.
It’s an interesting choice. In the first Macross series, we learned a lot about the Zentradi very quickly, and pretty much always knew what Britai and Exsedol were doing and thinking. Here, although we meet Gigil (voiced by Tomohiro Nishimura, who also voices Jan (or “Yang”) Neumann in Plus) quickly enough, and Geperunitchi a little later, what the aliens want (and who they actually are) is kept secret for quite a while (maybe too long, but that’s another topic).
8. As the gig gets shut down, I’ve never understood why an explosion outside the ship would cause shockwaves inside it…
And then the big reveal, and the moment where a lot of people tune out. Basara gets in his VF-19 (which, remember was the FIRST version of the 19 that anyone ever saw. Plus Volume 2 wouldn’t come out for three more months) which is painted fire engine red, has a face, and a guitar for a control stick. Then he flies into battle, fires speaker pods at the enemy, and sings at them.
No two ways about it, it’s an alienating moment, more so because the other characters (especially but not limited to Mylene and Gamlin) react the same way the audience does. But that’s our clue: it’s MEANT to be alienating, the staff are TRYING for a WTF moment. And you might think, “Okay, this is Macross, the aliens are going to be hit with culture shock from this rockin’ tune, and that’s gonna be that,” but no. Basara’s song does absolutely no good. The aliens continue the operation, and Geperunitchi calls off the attack, not because of Basara, but because they’ve got enough data and need to analyze it. Basara affects nothing and is deliberately portrayed as more of a nuisance than a hero.
10. So yes, a puzzling first episode (“puzzle” is a word that going to come up a lot here, just as “creepy” will come up in the Macross Plus write-ups). Max and Exsedol are our only anchors here, and even they aren’t really holding things down too much. Questions abound. Who are the aliens? What do they want? What’s Basara trying to achieve? Why does he have a VF-19? Why does it have a face and a guitar? Who are all these new characters? I admire the ambition of the staff here, throwing us into a completely new world, giving us very little to cling to, and hoping that we’ll be intrigued enough to show up next time. At the very least, it promises to be a wild ride.
FLOWER GIRL SIGHTING: in the back of the crowd at the opening gig, trying to see over everyone in front of her. Then trying to give the bouquet to Basara as he runs past to get to his Valk.