THE GREAT MACROSS REWATCH 85 – PLUS VOL. 4

+ Ep.4

MACROSS PLUS
EPISODE 4

ICONIC SCENE: Ma-ku-ro no SHAAAARON o…

STORY DATE: April 2040

RELEASE DATE: June 25, 1995

1. For Japanese fans, the wait for the final episode of Plus was long enough… four months. And that release date must’ve been something of an event day, since, as a Sunday, it was also the date of the broadcast of Macross 7 Episode 36 AND the release of Macross 7 Vol. 5 on home video. I wonder what hardcore fans did? Scurry to the video store when they opened at ten o’clock AM to pick up the two laser discs, and try to get back home by eleven o’clock to see the new episode? Then watching the new episode while staring longingly at Plus Vol. 4 on the table next to them, wanting to pop it in immediately, but needing to wait until the new TV episode finished? Or sleeping in, watching Macross 7 on TV and THEN going over to the video store to get the new discs, hoping the small stock wouldn’t be sold out by the time they got there? Maybe just setting the VCR timer and then rushing off…? Or maybe they were just Plus fans who didn’t care about Seven, or Seven fans who didn’t care about Plus.

For western fans, it was a different story… we waited, and waited, and WAITED… Nearly eight months after Vol. 3, in Spring of 1996, Vol. 4 came out in the US. I got the subbed version (I like to think I wasn’t snobby about English dubs, but I was studying Japanese at the time, and needed all the exposure to the language I could get), so the “Big Issue” wasn’t immediately apparent to me. Even after I got the DVD, I didn’t watch the English version until I’d had it for years, and then only saw it because I’d heard rumblings on Macross World about it.

You see, the English and Japanese versions differ not only in the cast, but in the music and sound effects, as well. The Japanese version contains several new pieces of music that hadn’t been released on CD yet, and those were replaced in the English version by tracks from previous episodes, notably during Guld’s big revelation (which in Japanese used the new track “Dog Fight,” but in English was “Breakout” from the first soundtrack album). The central reasons for what happened seem shrouded in mystery on the Japanese side of things, but apparently when the English dub production staff got the film to work on, it was silent. No audio at all. Thus they had to create not just the dialogue track, but the music and sound effects tracks as well, and for music, could only rely on what had been previously released on CD. They did a great job of it, incidentally. It’s different, but it still works. And at the US Renditions panel at Macross World Con last year, we learned that Kawamori himself watched the English version and gave it a thumbs up, saying “Hollywood style!”

And if the story had ended there, it would be fine. However… Bandai Visual, in a VERY unusual move, had been releasing Macross Plus in Japan with the English dub and Japanese subtitles, as the “International Version.” Episodes 1 through 3 came out in quick succession in 1995 (I have no idea how well they sold, but I can’t imagine it could’ve been much), but Episode 4 didn’t seem to get released at all. At least, I never saw it around. However, it HAD been released (presumably in extremely small quantities) on laser disc in the year 2000…

Notice anything special about that year…? Not only is it five years AFTER the previous episodes, but it’s also when video tapes and LDs were rapidly being replaced by DVDs. As such, it was released at the tail end of a dying format, and the release vanished so thoroughly that it wasn’t until years later that it was confirmed that it had come out AT ALL. The “International Version” dub was also included on the various DVD sets in Japan, but thanks to region codes, most viewers outside of Japan didn’t see those. As such, it wasn’t until the blu-ray came out in 2012 (with the “International Version” audio included, in another unusual move by Bandai) that western fans finally got to see it… and learned that it wasn’t the same at all as the Manga Entertainment US version, but, instead, a newer dub apparently commissioned by Bandai Visual themselves. The cast was almost completely different (now featuring David Hayter as Isamu instead of Bryan Cranston), and the music and sound effects were the same as in the original Japanese version. As you can imagine, this led to many complaints among western fans. Now the complaints about the voice cast, I can understand completely, but there was an odd disconnect among fans who had never watched the Japanese version (just as I hadn’t watched the English version), didn’t realize that the Manga Entertainment dub had been done under compromised circumstances, and now demanded to know why THIS English dub CHANGED all the music and sound effects as well. Replies that the soundtrack had actually been RESTORED to its original version fell on mostly deaf ears. As loyal Robotech fans always say, the version you saw first is the default “better” version. And if you always heard “Breakout” during Guld’s memory-recovery, you don’t wanna hear “Dog Fight” instead, even if that piece was written specifically for that scene.

(I can’t excuse myself altogether from this sentiment, I admit, since the “theatrical” version of Do You Remember Love, with the mono soundtrack and cut-to-black end credits will always be my preferred version of the film… but that really IS the original version of the film, at least, no matter WHAT Kawamori changes…)

So, anyway, yeah… the upshot of all of this is that there are two completely different English dubs of this episode, one with the “right” voices but “wrong” music, and one with the “wrong” voices but “right” music. Which, honestly, is another reason why I just stick with the Japanese version.

2. I guess it’s also worth pointing out that, as a HUGE Macross Plus fan, once I saw this episode, I was disappointed. After Episode 3, my expectations were sky-high, probably impossible to live up to. I enjoy Episode 4 a lot, and now think it’s excellent, but yeah… that first time, I thought, “Well, it was good, but…”

I’ll, uh, get into this in greater detail as we continue.

3. No recap, we launch right into Isamu defolding. Again, remember: he has no idea Myung is in danger, he just wants to show up the Ghost X-9. I really think Jan (Yang…?) has the best idea, by falling asleep and missing this part.

Seriously, the defense line around earth is awesome and terrifying… satellites! Space carriers! LASERS! And the fact that the only way in is for Isamu to shut everything down and just let gravity pull him in… well, if it were me in the 19, I’d be white-knuckling it the whole way down, especially when it starts spinning end over end.

And of course, this scene has one of the most quotable lines in the series: “Luck is one of my many skills.”

4. Okay, this is where I’m out of step with the Macross fandom at large (in the West). Just as everyone but me loves the VF-2SS, everyone but me also loves the song “Information High.” To me, the problem is that it doesn’t sound like Sharon. It sounds like generic ’90s techno. I honestly don’t know why everyone seems to think this song is great. The song has nothing to do with Yoko Kanno, (although I’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos saluting the genius of Yoko Kanno while posting it, even though she didn’t work on it at all), it has nothing to do with Sharon, it feels like it has been tossed in from some other project… WHY DOES EVERYONE LOVE IT SO?

(This isn’t a rhetorical question. If you can explain, please comment!)

5. Has Guld snapped? He’s very definitely trying to kill Isamu here. Although I guess I’m not sure how else he was meant to stop him from crashing the Ghost party…

Also, where are they? It’s been dark in Macross City for quite a while, but it seems like it’s only afternoon wherever the 19/21 dogfight is happening. I guess they landed in another time zone and have some distance to go before they get to Macross City. And while I’m nitpicking, I think the staff kinda forgot that Macross City is meant to be in Alaska (I think…). No one in the city seems dressed for an April night there.

And there’s the issue that EVERYONE points out about the city they destroy while fighting each other. Is it abandoned for some reason? I mean, I’m sure it’s a holiday (very few massive festive ceremonies happen on days that AREN’T holidays, after all, unless it’s the parade in “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” which apparently takes place on a school and work day), so the office buildings MIGHT be empty (although it looks like the lights are on in many of them…), but there’s no traffic on the street, even (well… there are cars, but none of them are moving)… When does that EVER happen? Isn’t there even a Starbucks in the area?

So yeah, I think all of us are hoping that there’s no one around, because of the thousands of injuries and fatalities this grudgematch would cost. Knowing Itano, though, I’m sure he was really enthusiastic about the idea of killing off so many innocent people at one go. This IS, after all, the guy who directed Megazone Part II AND Angel Cop. And added the decapitation scene to Do You Remember Love. I’m pretty sure he gets darn excited by mass death and destruction.

But really, none of this should matter, because the dogfight is AWESOME. Best Macross fight since Max and Milia in Do You Remember Love, which itself was the best since Max and Milia in Episode 18. As I’ve said before, as a combat director and choreographer, Ichiro Itano is peerless, and as much as I like the Macross shows he’s not involved with, his absence is always keenly felt. Frontier can come close, but it’s just not the same.

And the scene is again boosted tremendously by the music. As I said above, I sympathize with people who only watched the Manga Entertainment dub, but “Dog Fight” is one of the standout pieces in an already standout score. It works absolutely brilliantly here.

I flat-out love the build-up to Guld’s revelation, as the argument between two ace pilots flying the galaxy’s most advanced fighters gets pettier and pettier, devolving into resentments left over from junior high, all while they are using everything they have to try to kill each other. Plus is not generally known for its sense of humor, but this is all pretty funny.

However… then we get to the revelation itself. Again, I always suspected Guld because, first, of his anger-management issues, and second, because of the terror on Myung’s face when he puts his hands on her shoulders back in Episode 1. So to find out that yes, it really WAS all his fault seemed like a failed twist to me. I also suspect that he was asking the wrong person for forgiveness, and that Isamu lets the whole thing go much too easily. Isamu is not the REAL wronged person here.

Now, I really don’t want to go too deeply into this, first since I haven’t read the novelization (which apparently goes more into detail), but more importantly because it’s really fucking ugly and disturbing. And as I said in Episode 2, it makes Myung’s decisions make no sense at all. Whether he raped her or not (and I’m EXTREMELY inclined to think he didn’t), she would mostly likely avoid any contact with him, and the idea that she would actually sleep him is preposterous. Maybe she’s just the forgiving type, but this is going WAY too far.

6. Sharon’s omnipotence continues, and again, it seems more “magical” to me than anything in the preview episode of Delta. Hypnotizing everyone into a Sharon-worshipping stupor, I can accept… somehow being able to program security guards into going after Myung, though, is pushing it (and there’s always those snake-like electrical cables… it’s MAGIC, I tell ya!).

Still, it gives Myung her chance to be an action heroine, and she grabs it and runs with it. Literally.

And when she confronts Sharon, we learn that there really isn’t any Sharon, there’s just a kind of Jungian shadow-self of Myung. That is, Sharon is doing everything that Myung would LIKE to do, but is too repressed to. And “everything that Myung would like to do,” it turns out, includes giving Isamu the thrill of his life.

Now, I’m guessing that Sharon really doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions… those consequences, after all, are the reason Myung won’t do these things. So I’m not sure if Sharon realizes that she could actually KILL Isamu. Like, forever. She can plan, she can anticipate, but in a very real sense, I’m not sure she sees that there’s a future, and that a particular moment will not last.

7. Anyway, bullshit writing about suppressed memories and rape/not-rape or not, Isamu and Guld patch things up just in time to join forces against Sharon and the Ghost. Of course, Guld tells Isamu to go after Myung, basically giving up on trying to get together with her. But Sharon has another surprise for Isamu… the Macross. I have to admit, it always gets me when we see the anti-gravity system start up and the ship start to rise. Again, and I’m sure it’s also partially the “Bulgarian Voices”-influenced music (previously used in the “next episode” teasers), the scene is imbued with a sense of awe and wonder (and, as always, that incredible DETAIL) that’s missing from the analogous scene in Macross II.

Of course, Macross II also doesn’t have a guy JUMPING OFF THE SHIP TO HIS DEATH some 1500 meters below…

And the first time I watched it, once the Macross started up, my first thought was “Oh, shit! The main cannon’s gonna fire!”… which it never actually does here. Missed opportunity… (Can you begin to see why I was disappointed…?)

8. Back with Guld, he’s clearly losing to the Ghost. I know he doesn’t have much of a choice, but I’m assuming that he basically WANTS to die. I mean, his entire purpose was wrapped up in the idea of himself as Myung’s protector, and with that stripped away, there’s really nothing left for him. That said, I always forget how tame his last run is here in the OVA as opposed to the Movie Edition.

9. So that’s the Isamu-Myung-Guld love triangle wrapped up (more permanently than most Macross love triangles), which leaves us only the Myung-Isamu-Sharon triangle to deal with (or, more accurately, Myung-Isamu-Shadow Myung…). And it plays out much the same way as you might imagine. Sharon hypnotizes Jan (Yang?) into trying to kill Isamu, then gets to Isamu himself, before the spell is broken by the power of Myung’s REAL song (and love). Isamu downs the Macross, destroys Sharon, and saves the day.

There are still a lot of questions hanging in the air, but we haven’t reached our final word on Plus, so I’ll save those for the Movie Edition.

10. As I said at the outset, when I first watched this, I was a little disappointed in light of my massive expectations. Looking at it now, it feels like an unassailable classic, marred somewhat by the handling of the sexual assault subplot (cf. Wings of Honneamise), but not irreparably.

And even with the ending of Myung’s song winning the day, it still feels like an outlier for Macross. I mean, every Macross series has its own tone and its own personality – there’s no such thing as a cookie-cutter Macross series – but even Macross Zero isn’t anywhere near as macho as this series.  Which is interesting because it’s the only Macross series that doesn’t involve a war. And there’s been some backlash against it (a very little bit… I’ve seen several people call it “boring” over the past couple of years, which I find insane; there is not a single boring frame in this show. Other young’uns have called it “shallow,” and yeah… I can kinda see that), but generally, it stands (in the West, at least) as one of the grand classics of anime, and rightly so.

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6 thoughts on “THE GREAT MACROSS REWATCH 85 – PLUS VOL. 4

  1. As the resident MacrossWorld Electronic Music aficionado/DJ I can try to explain the allure for Information High. First off, I don’t particularly like it. Though it does have some pretty interesting production for an Acid House/Techno track and I like the little 303 Acid Stabs (but I like them in EVERYTHING.)

    I do have a question, do you consider any “Techno” to be “non-generic?”

    Anyway I’d say it’s probably two very large components of Western Culture coming together at once. The Anime and Electronic music crowds really cross-bred in the 90’s. Pretty much if you were trying to be counter culture you were going to do two things, watch stuff that wasn’t from your own culture and listen to music that wasn’t on the radio. Anime and Electronic really came together at this time. I know all of my friends and myself were like this, then again this is from the perspective of a guy from Albuquerque New Mexico where we didn’t have clubs or radio shows and raves were extremely rare unlike in LA, San Francisco, Philadelphia and New York. It’s what we did in our little desert town.

    But an even bigger component, I’d wager the more likely reason; What two movies were released the summer of ’95 that had BIG electronic soundtracks? Mortal Kombat and Hackers. Both full of Techno and Acid House that sound just like Information High.

    I personally find it funny how big all of it got considering in the electronic music world that style was passe by ’95 and the scenes were moving on to different styles. On the other hand we in Albuquerque didn’t have a clue either. But even in Frontier (and Japanese pop in general) they’re STILL aping the sounds of the mid-nineties with their pop music today. So much Drum and Bass and Happy Hardcore in their productions still.

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    1. I hear ya (but for me, getting into music they don’t play on the radio meant listening to anything and everything released on the 4AD label). And yes, to me, ALL techno sounds “generic,” which I guess means I should explore techno more.

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      1. It’s like wine. If you aren’t familiar with it, it all kind of tastes the same, with exceptions for the broad categories (like, you recognize that Chardonnay and Pinot Grigiot are different). If you drink a lot and get to recognize what defines a particular thing, you can start to understand the subtle differences between this or that product.

        And this isn’t some snobby “oh you have to UNDERSTAND this, you SLACK-JAWED PHILISTINE”. It’s entirely ok to just enjoy wine (or techno) without needing to be a superman who knows everything about it.

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  2. 1st of all. Love what you’re doing with this blog. Kudos-

    One question: I wonder why it is that you’re inclined to agree with the “young uns” that say Macross Plus is shallow? While the Isamu/Guld/Myung triangle could have been better written, i think the story is quite effective by virtue of being more ‘show’ than ‘tell. It’s effective and leaves it up to the viewer to make up his mind on what really happened.

    It seems to me that in modern anime, the ‘depth’ of a show is measured by how verbose it is (hence the love of all things Monogatari, Urobuchi etc, etc). Many of those shows will age terribly in my opinion.

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    1. I don’t think it’s shallow, really… I ended up being a lot harsher on the series during this rewatch than I actually feel.

      That said, the Myung/Guld issue is one I’m going to be exploring A LOT more when I get to the Movie Edition, and is one of the main reasons I’m eagerly anticipating getting to the novelization.

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  3. I never got the idea that the reveal of “guld hit myung” was supposed to be a reveal to the audience; I thought it was more a reveal to guld himself, a breakthrough of a suppressed memory.

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