THE GREAT MACROSS REWATCH 104 – Wander

D7 Ep.1

MACROSS DYNAMITE SEVEN
EPISODE 1: Drifting -WONDER- (Dynamite 7 episodes each have two titles: one in Japanese and one in English. For episodes 2 and 3, the titles have the same meaning, but for 1 and 4, they’re different. Or – more probably – the English title of this episode is meant be “WANDER, ” and they just misspelled it.)

ICONIC SCENE: Basara at the controls.

STORY DATE: 2047

RELEASE DATE: December 18, 1997

1. So, over a year after Plus and Seven ended, the next Macross series debuted, as an OVA. This one was for the 15th Anniversary, and had the misfortune of arriving while everyone’s attention (mine included) was more focused on Evangelion than anything else. I mean, I was aware that it was coming out (probably from Animerica magazine, but maybe from Egan Loo’s Macross Compendium… in ’97, I still didn’t have internet access in my home, but my Mom’s office did, and so sometimes, on my days off, I would go over there and “surf the Information Superhighway” during her lunch break. The compendium was one of the first (and most useful) sites I found, although it didn’t have what I really wanted: episode synopses of Macross 7, since it would be a while before I found the fansubs, and even longer before I managed to get all of them).

Anyway, as I was saying, I was aware that it was coming out, but wasn’t really thrilled with the prospect of more Macross 7 (not, y’know, OPPOSED to it, really, just not so enthusiastic), especially when I found out that the story was supposed to be a thinly-veiled “save the whales” analogy. So I really didn’t seek it out, it was just something that I planned to get around to someday. And then, sometime in ’99 when I finally decided to give it a try, it turned out that the Japanese video rental store that I frequented had never ordered the fourth volume, so I guess I wasn’t alone in my indifference to the series. If I recall correctly, I rented the first three and copied them, but didn’t get around to watching them, except maybe the first episode (again, this would have been watching raw in Japanese, and I still wouldn’t have understood much of what anyone was saying). I think sometime later, I found Volume 4 for rent at another video store on Sawtelle, and I may have rented and copied it from there, or I may have just PLANNED to do so. I honestly can’t remember, and all my video tapes are packed away, so I can’t check. Anyway, by that point, DVD was rapidly replacing video tapes, and it wouldn’t be too much longer before I caved in and got a DVD player, which moved me away from the Japanese areas of Los Angeles, and more towards the Chinese areas of Alhambra and Monterey Park, exploring, for a while, the exciting, baffling, and often hilarious world of cheap Hong Kong bootleg DVD sets. To the best of my recollection, I didn’t actually watch all of Dynamite 7 until I did my first comprehensive Macross rewatch in 2003, by which point I would’ve had the Hong Kong DVD.

And I was pretty much as underwhelmed by it as I expected I would be, although I liked it much better when I watched it again sometime later.

But yeah, it’s a small, tightly-focused story, which is something that Macross 7 the series never was. As such, the “feel” of Dynamite 7 is completely different, even though it shares many of the same characters. And those characters are a little older, and a little different than they were in the show.

That said, I’ve never heard anyone who liked Macross 7 hate on Dynamite the way I have, say, heard fans of the SDF Macross TV series hating Do You Remember Love (it doesn’t happen often, but it happens), or fans of the Frontier series dismissing the movies (that happens more often). I think mostly, despite its differences, it’s just viewed as “more Macross 7,” and I’ve never seen anyone comparing it to the original, trying to decide “which is better.”

2. What’s immediately clear from the very first shot is that the art is much more detailed than in the show. We begin with a prologue where Basara, sitting in his room (which looks much more “ruined” here) watering his flower, which is NOT the same flower he picked up when Sivil was awakened, picking up his guitar, saying goodbye to Gubaba, and leaving. Then we get the opening.

A few things about that opening (which was done by Gonzo): it will be slightly different for each of the four episodes, it’s got a lot more CGI than the original did (but the CGI Fire Valk here looks noticeably worse than the Fire Valk in the series opening… especially starting in Episode 2, where it transforms to gerwalk), and whereas “Seventh Moon” really swings, “Dynamite Explosion” totally ROCKS.

And that’s something that’s true throughout. While I’m a little iffy on the Fire Bomber songs from the early part of the TV series (I think they’re good songs, just a little overproduced), the songs in Dynamite are pretty consistently awesome, rawer and harder than anything in the series. It’s how Fire Bomber ALWAYS should’ve sounded.

(And Yoshiki Fukuyama (Basara’s singing voice)’s 2005 self-cover album, “FUKUYAMA FIRE!!” is even better, with a raw power that’s missing from the earlier versions of the songs.)

3. So, yeah, it’s a year or more after the TV series ended, and Basara is gone again (I’m guessing the opening is showing early parts of his journey from City 7) and he ends up at our primary locale for this series: the planet Zola. It’s an odd place. The natives appear to be another Protoculture-uplifted race (they’re similar but not identical to humans, not least because, like all Zola fauna, they’re marsupials. And have some sort of symbiotic relationship with furry snakes that they all have around their necks) and for some reason, they all have English names. Their technology is mostly about the level of mid-20th century earth, and there’s a definite craze for radio broadcasts among them, including a show that we hear many times in the background: “Zomeo and Zoliet” (and if you really feel like trying to piece together THAT story, all of the episodes are included on the album “Radio Fire!”). Basara ends up in a charming little seaside town, and immediately gets himself shot at by some would-be Valkyrie thieves, and then ACTUALLY shot (or rather, tased, kinda) by the police. It’s apparently not serious, because he soon gets up and starts singing… only to get knocked off the pier.

4. He ends up getting taken home by a young Zolan girl, Elma, who tells him about the space whales, which are often poached because parts of them can be used for fold engines (and yes, this idea will be recycled for Frontier). Then he passes out from the medicine she applies to his wound.

So yes, we’re not even ten minutes into this episode, and Basara has already been shot, knocked off a pier, and drugged. Then picked up by Elma’s father, a macronized guy named Graham. He’s kind of our Captain Ahab, obsessed with finding and killing “the white space whale,” since his wife died while trying to sing to it some years ago. In the meantime, he mostly frowns and glares a lot.

5. The cut back to the Macross 7 fleet is done in an interesting way, with Elma singing “Planet Dance” blending into Mylene’s “GO (Song of Freedom).” There’s some kind of connection it seems like the staff is making throughout the series between Mylene and Elma, but I confess I’m not sure I understand it.

We also see that a new Battle 7 is still under construction.

But yeah, the Fire Bomber concert sequence gives us a nice demonstration of how much better Dynamite 7’s production values are that the TV series’. There, it never looked like Fire Bomber were actually playing their instruments, and all of the concerts were in auditoriums with completely bare stages. Here, it’s clearly a big event, with all the screens, scaffolding, and lighting effects that a real concert would have. It’s not a holographic wonderland like Sharon Apple’s concerts (or Sheryl’s, or Ranka’s), but considering that part of Fire Bomber’s appeal is their sincerity and authenticity, that’s probably deliberate choice.

6. Basara goes off with Elma to get a guitar string to replace the one that broke when he fell from the pier, and, in a touch of realism in trying to find a certain something in a remote area, they don’t have his brand. But the music store employee fills him in on Graham, and his madness in the face of the whales.

And the guitar string problem turns out not to be a problem, when Basara peels off a strand of a space whale’s “whisker” (which Graham is using to sharpen his harpoon), and it sounds beautiful. That’s it: Basara completely restrings his guitar with whale-whisker strands, and decides he HAS to see the whales – nothing will stand in his way. He even improvises a song about it.

All that said: it find it difficult to believe that ANY guitarist would head out on a long journey without an extra supply of strings.

7. Some poachers come to steal Graham’s Valkyrie, but he drives them off pretty quickly. Then his right shoulder (he’s missing the arm) starts twitching, and that means the whales are here.

8. Both Graham and Basara launch, and both launches are pretty funny. Graham gets into his power armor (?), which looks like a deep-sea diving suit, and then boards what looks like a tiny boat… until it lifts out of the water, revealing a largish spaceship. Basara, for his part, gets into Elma’s mother’s beat-up old VT-1C, and STILL uses his guitar to control it. Not that he can, like, plug a guitar controller in or anything… no, he ACTUALLY hits the controls with his guitar to move them. First time I saw this, I honestly laughed out loud.

9. Everyone goes out into space, and it’s total chaos. Basara is singing (and how he expects the whale to hear him, when he has no speaker pods or sound boosters, is beyond me), the poachers get sidelined pretty quick, Graham actually lands on the whale and is going to town with his harpoons, the Zola Patrol is frantically trying to stop everybody… and then Basara’s VF blows up, ejecting him into space without a spacesuit.

10. I’m still kind of on the fence about this series. On the one hand, it looks REALLY good. The animation is excellent, for the most part, and the world of Zola is well-realized and unlike anything we’ve seen in Macross before. On the other hand, the story still seems too small-scale. And while the story developments are fun and often charming, there’s one plot point that comes up next episode that’s really tacky. A major part of the fun, I think, is the audience’s reunion with Basara (and seeing Basara just be Basara), but that’s a little more exciting if it’s been two years since you last saw him, not when you, y’know, start watching it literally the day after you finish the series.

FLOWER GIRL SIGHTING: Nowhere. See? I told you it was totally different.

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