EPISODE 32: JAMMING BIRDS
ICONIC SCENE: Feel free to snicker.
STORY DATE: November 2045
BROADCAST DATE: May 28, 1995
1. Okay, this is one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. Macross 7 has always taken swipes at the entertainment industry, but here’s where the satire turns especially nasty and biting. We start with a recruitment ad, saying, “You too can be a hero like Sound Force!” before saying that a new Sound Force-type group (teased last episode) named “Jamming Birds” will be formed.
That name, by the way, comes from the Basara half of Fire Bomber, Yoshiki Fukuyama’s band, Humming Bird. They made several really wonderful albums in the ’90s before breaking up. For Fire Bomber fans, I highly recommend 1995’s album, “1•2•3,” which contains alternate (and mostly better) versions of some of Fire Bomber’s songs, often with radically different lyrics and arrangements.
2. We get right into the Jamming Bird auditions, and it’s clear immediately that this all just hype and propaganda. At least until Dr. Chiba embarrasses everyone by asking the first applicant’s measurements (since, you know, body strength is a major part of singing powerfully). His long-winded explanation has to be cut off, because of ratings. Luckily for the TV station, it turns into a swimsuit competition after that, although Dr. Chiba’s line of questioning still comes off as creepy.
3. Max has doubts about the effectiveness of the Jamming Birds, to which Exsedol replies, “Even if it’s futile, at least it’s nice to look at young women in bathing suits.” He’s come a long way from the guy who was shocked by the girl in the bikini on the movie poster back in Episode 26 of the original Macross…
4. And then Milia comes out in a swimsuit and sings a little bit of “Banana Moon of Love.” It’s a pity she didn’t get chosen… the Jamming Birds would have better odds on survivability with someone like her on the team.
The audition takes another creepy turn as Bobby, from Episode 11, turns up to apply. He tells his inspiring story of having his spiritia drained, only to overcome that and return to the spotlight (conveniently omitting the fact that he was about to rape Mylene when it happened). Although it’s worth noting that Mylene mostly seems happy that he’s well, now. After his speech, there’s a shot of a crowd of women squealing over how handsome he is, and one of them is a dead ringer for Minmay: again, an in-joke, since Bobby is voiced by Arihiro Hase, who also played Hikaru.
5. One of the guys commanding Basara to work with training the Jamming Birds says that the whole purpose of singing at the enemy is to scatter and confuse them so that the Unified Forces can more easily destroy them… he sounds EXACTLY like a Robotech fan explaining why he hates the later Macross sequels…
Anyway, Basara walks out, and Colonel Burton (who will be a thorn in his side for a while) gets revenge by repossessing the Fire Valk.
6. In an impressive (but rather sparsely attended) ceremony, the Jamming Birds make their debut… and they’re awful. They come out in cheap-looking costumes and pose, singing “RIding in Your Valkyrie,” which was probably the most insipid song in Macross II, and even then, almost chanting it rather than singing it, using very thin vocals. I’m honestly impressed with the sound direction here. The song is pretty silly, but it’s not a bad pop song by any stretch; in fact, in Macross II, it sounded fine. And yet, this version sounds small, tinny, and completely terrible. As it’s meant to.
Oh, and hey… “Honey” is back, this time rubbing it in Akiko’s face that he’s managing the Jamming Birds. Yeah… good luck, man.
Oh, and Ray brings up the elephant in the room: that these kids could just be headed straight to their deaths.
7. I will give the Jamming Birds props for their two-seater VF-11s. They look pretty cool, with a nice blue-gray paint scheme.
However, as soon as they go into actual combat, they all start screaming and can’t sing. It’s kinda mean-spirited, but it’s also hilarious. And Bobby gets spiritia-drained again. Good.
Finally, two of them start singing, in shaky, small voices that are completely ineffective.
8. The gimmick this time is that Mylene deprograms the brainwashed soldier, but Gavil has a beam that reasserts the mind control. But Basara’s singing is too powerful for the sound canceling system or the mind control beam.
9. Basara keeps singing even after the enemy are gone. It’s been a subplot in this episode that Basara is getting frustrated because no one really seems to understand why he’s singing. I’ve seen a lot of people complain that Basara never grows or changes throughout the series, and in part, that’s true: the series is far more about the rest of the cast (and us) coming to understand his way of thinking. But he IS changing here. The frustration is not exactly new, but it’s much stronger now, and even Gavil notes that Basara’s singing is pure anger here. No, it’s not as dramatic as, say, Gamlin or Mylene’s development, but it’s there.
10. So when I was first watching this series, raw, back in ’96, this was one of the stand-out episodes for me. Again, the satire is pretty nasty and mean-spirited, but the Jamming Birds are so hysterically terrible that I couldn’t resist. You see stuff like this all the time in the music industry: get a powerful producer behind a group of bright-eyed young people, promise the group that they’ll be stars, and they’ll become really big even if they’re minimally talented. And sometimes it works. In the short term, at least. More often than not, it leaves the singers mired in failure while the producer cashes in and then runs off. It’s more trenchant for Japanese pop music, where a few large production companies really do control everything, and extremely overtly (since in the US, music companies at least have enough shame to PRETEND that they’re not factories that run on young people’s dreams and aspirations), but the phenomenon exists everywhere, and it’s always going to be relevant.
THIS EPISODE’S GAVIL-ISMS: “Perfection beauty,” “no beauty,” “destruction beauty,” “amplification beauty,” “no hint of beauty,” “ultimate beauty,” “anger beauty.”
FLOWER GIRL SIGHTING: In the crowd at the end, watching Gavil retreat on the city monitor.
EYECATCH: Jamming Birds (girls)/Jamming Birds (boys)