#01: CLOSE ENCOUNTER
ICONIC SCENE: YAAAAAA!!
STORY DATE: March 2059
BROADCAST DATE: December 23, 2007 (Deculture Edition) + April 3, 2008 (Broadcast Version) + July 25, 2008 (Yack Deculture Edition)
1. Okay, there are three different versions of this episode, all available on the first DVD. I’ve watched all three again for this rewatch, but I’ll be damned if I’m doing a separate entry for each one. For those that care: I think the Deculture Edition has the best editing, but leaves out a key scene. The Broadcast Version has that scene, but cuts other stuff, which makes the episode confusing for anyone who hasn’t seen the previous version. As such, the Yack Deculture Edition (which contains EVERYTHING) is the preferred version, and is the one I’m covering specifically for this rewatch (somewhat anachronistically, since it didn’t come out until late the first DVD in July of 2008, after over half of Frontier had already been broadcast). If you’re given to fansubs, the Central Anime set (which is probably the best of them, despite some quibbles on my part) uses the Yack Deculture Edition only.
I note that the first Delta DVD/BD, which conceivably could have the same problem, only has the Preview Version (Mission 0.89) and the Final Version (Mission 01), skipping the one that was shown on April 3 (oh, you didn’t know that Frontier had EXACTLY the same broadcast dates that Delta does…? I didn’t either, until I started taking note of them).
2. The fold, and especially the defold, seem to show some effects we haven’t seen before (acceleration on the part of the spaceship, and the usual “double vision” (sometimes triple) of the fold extends only to people rather than the whole scene. It also looks like a “ghost” Sheryl is joining the real one’s body here). No explanation is given, but of course whatever a fold looks like changes greatly depending on which series you’re watching… Although I note that they mention the “charged particles” that were a danger to your skin (!) from the “Miss DJ” album.
And a gag manga (in the first Macross Ace issue, still a few months away) seems to indicate that people having weird dreams is part of the whole experience.
Sheryl’s first line: “Strawberry Pie.” This line is cute, but very little afterwards is (like when she charms the students with a smile and then immediately turns around and talks shit about them. Some commenters have said that she’s absolutely right in that Alto does indeed almost ruin her show, but I note that her complaint is NOT that they’ll mess up, but that their aerobatics will distract attention from her (Sheryl’s long-suffering and innocuous (apparently) manager apologizes with a bow).
Soon after, Sheryl sees her first-ever ocean. First hint that Sheryl’s ship might not be much like Frontier (and it’s amplified in the novelization, where she says, “Wow, it’s nothing like the holo-movies!”). To me, it looks more like a lake, but I didn’t grow up in space.
We learn pretty quickly that she’s a huge singing star, mostly based on the gravitas that Frontier gives to her arrival. And she will also turn out to have a pretty amazing wardrobe, although her stage outfits, racy at the time of this episode’s broadcast (especially the dominatrix captain’s outfit with the microphone whip) look pretty tame compared to what she wears (or, er, doesn’t wear) in the movie version (I’m thinking mostly of the “Black Bunny”).
And about Sheryl’s stage show, it’s very Sharon Apple, in that holograms are everywhere (even her clothes are holographic, just like the “Super Room” in Do You Remember Love… or Walküre’s sudden wardrobe shifts).
3. Immediately, we can see that although Frontier itself looks almost identical to City 7, there’s a HUGE difference in the ships surrounding it. These seem much more “natural.” Frontier is also much, MUCH larger than City 7, but we might not realize that yet. Thus, the city areas of Frontier are probably actually larger than City 7’s (which took up the entire ship) AND there’s more room for fields, forests, and bodies of water.
Next, we see… San Francisco. I haven’t really talked about it yet, but there’s a San Francisco scene in pretty much every Macross directed by Kawamori (from Do You Remember Love, to Macross Plus, to here, and even the ending of Macross Dynamite 7, which uses his personal film, even though he didn’t direct the series). Apparently he REALLY loves the city (I thought it was great, too, the last time I was there. Much too expensive, though, and I’ve lived in Tokyo). Weirdly for us on Earth, on Frontier, San Francisco seems connected to Shibuya, Tokyo. Basically, this is a fantasy version of earth, much more so than “Kalchoon Park” in Macross II. Frisco, Shibuya, and Shanghai, all within a train’s ride! Who wouldn’t want that…? Add Los Angeles (which is kinda there, in a way) and London, and I’m totally there, buddy!
Following that, we get a recap of Space War I. For those confused by the Do You Remember Love version of things shown here, I will politely refer back to Episode 11 of Macross 7.
(If you don’t feel like pressing the link, here’s the crux: “‘Just as 2010: Odyssey Two was not a direct sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, so this book is not a linear sequel to 2010. They must all be considered as variations on the same theme, involving many of the same characters and situations, but not necessarily happening in the same universe. Developments since 1964 make total consistency impossible, as the later stories incorporate discoveries and events that had not even taken place when the earlier books were written.’ – Arthur C. Clarke, Author’s note from 2061: Odyssey Three.” It works the same for Macross, begun in 1982 and continuing on even now, as it did for the Space Odyssey series, begun in ’64 (apparently) and continuing until ’99.)
Although here, there’s also a “space map,” which MUST be figurative, rather than literal, since it shows a whole bunch of Megaroad ships leaving Earth at the same time, which simply can’t have happened. Including the SDF-3, here identified as the Megaroad-02, despite several other sources identifying the SDF-3 as Britai’s battleship, reclassified.
Although we do get a nice hint as to the overall plot, when the map shows the Macross Galaxy (021) very close to the Macross Frontier (025) Fleet.
4. Next, we get the gate of Mihoshi High School, which is pretty obviously modeled on Sather Gate from UC Berkeley. And we see Nanase, who is MAI WAIFU in 2059.
I, uh, will explain the Nanase connection next time. It’s not JUST boobs.
(As opposed to 2067, wherein MAI WAIFU is Makina. And where, yes, it’s primarily the boobs. Although the hair and the delight in seeing “Regult-chans” made it decisive.)
Incidentally, on a safer topic, I’m not sure if the structure of Mihoshi High is meant to be reminiscent of a Destroid Monster, or the Macross, or both. My guess is both, because of the twin booms (Macross) and the chicken legs (Monster).
And yes… Frontier, when first announced, was described as a “high school story.” This unnerved a lot of fans who were sick to death of “slice of life” school anime series. Ultimately, I think all that worry was needless… they don’t really do much with the school setting over the course of the series.
5. It’s painful in retrospect to see Alto folding his future lover’s face into a paper airplane, but I guess no one had any idea of that yet, least of all him (and the BGM during this scene is one of the best tracks in the entire series, “High School Life,” also used for the “next episode” previews, and available on the second soundtrack, “Nyan Tora”).
Yes, Alto likes making paper airplanes. And he’s a great pilot, to boot. And he and his compadres are all making the “Isamu YF-19” hand as they practice (which, I should point out, is something actual pilots in the real world do as well. I can do it with my left hand but not my right (so to speak)).
(Oh, and about Alto’s name – there’s a kanji reading given for for it: 有人 – ARU-TO, but I think at least part of it is that an “alto” is, of course, a deep-voiced female singer (as opposed to a soprano). And his surname, “Saotome,” comes not from Ranma, but most probably from Taichi Saotome, who is a Kabuki actor famed for performing female roles (and the name “Saotome” actually means “young girl,” as well, which is the joke in Ranma 1/2) who, as of the early 2000’s, was pretty sick of playing female roles. In Kabuki (as in, I hasten to add, western theater from the Ancient Greek era until the 18th Century (when “actress” basically came to mean “prostitute”)), women’s roles were (and, in Kabuki, ARE) performed by boys, since women were (and, again, in Kabuki, ARE) prohibited onstage. I want to emphasize this, since a lot of western Macross fans seem to want to label Alto a drag-queen or female impersonator or something like that, but it’s totally not the same thing. In Kabuki, tradition overrides all, and so while now we, in modern Western theater, may have not only Ophelias performed (finally!) by women, but even the occasional female Hamlet (it’s happened, in a few productions), in traditional Kabuki, there are no women. There are men who play the male roles, and boys who play the female roles. This shouldn’t be underestimated, since much of Alto’s inner conflict is his wanting to be a man, despite always being perceived as a woman (or a boy) by everyone around him (especially Mikhail). It’s a double chance for growth there, since, as I said, BOYS are the ones who play WOMEN. He’s tired of being a boy, and tired of being a woman. He wants to be a MAN. Why, given all that, does he still have long hair, tied with a pretty red ribbon…? That’s an open question. You should ask the fujoshi, I guess.)
Alto also wants to fly, in a REAL sky, not one that has a 2km limit. This is his genuine conflict (I’ve seen some fans refer to this as “whininess.” I think it’s “personality.” But that’s me).
Oh, and Alto and his friends are training in EX-Gears, which is a new body-armor as well as part of the VF-25 cockpit. Some Robotech fans seem to fancy that it’s like a “Cyclone,” but I don’t really see that… it doesn’t turn into a motorcycle, or really transform at all, except for the folding wings (which the “Cyclone” (Mospeada) doesn’t have).
From their color schemes, we can tell that Alto (red) apparently equals Hikaru, Mikhail (I know “Michael” is official, but I don’t want to use that, because it would make it confusing later on) (blue) is Max, and Luca (green) is Kakizaki. Ozma (yellow and black) will later turn out to be Focker. Until they all switch roles, mostly.
6. Oh, hey! Nanase and Ranka (who we meet for the first time here) work at “Nyan Nyan,” Minmay’s old restaurant, which is now a huge chain (thanks to Yot-chan, as I said before, who took over the business from Minmay’s aunt and uncle and grew it exponentially. Again, this was first mentioned in the liner notes for the “Macross 7 Docking Festival” drama album, but not really capitalized upon (so to speak) until now.
And Ranka… what do we say about her? Just as Sheryl is the quintessential Shibuya girl (fashion-conscious, confident, and sexy), Ranka is the quintessential Akihabara girl (cute, non-threatening, and like a kid sister).
Oh, and I guess Ranka’s mobile hair needs some explanation (“Beware, beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair!”). According to Kawamori, it’s a recessive Zentradi trait where some people can move their hair at will.
No…? You don’t buy it?
I don’t really, either. Along with most viewers, I guess, because it gets completely de-emphasized as the show goes on. And never actually explained in the series itself. As it stands, it almost seems like some kind of goofy and very cartoony reaction thing, but no, there is an (admittedly inadequate) in-universe explanation.
I feel for her in her struggles to get to Sheryl’s concert, especially the overcrowded train. I thought of this scene while making my tortuous, torturous way to the Macross Crossover 30 Live concert (although LEAVING turned out to be the harder trek, even with Adrian showing us an easier way out).
(I like that such original Macross concepts as the roving vending machines and trash robots make their reappearance here.)
And then, BANG! she meets Alto and it’s love at first sight. I think most viewers were on her side at this point, but oh, how that would change…
(Also, doesn’t it seem a bit unusual that sprinklers in a park would go off in the late afternoon…? Don’t they usually save that for the wee hours of the night?)
But yeah, she’s obviously (and cutely) very into him, and she makes the rather forward move of telling him to visit her at work, and then performs the Nyan-Nyan jingle, which would become probably the first REAL Macross meme (preceded by the not-terribly-popular “This thing turns on a dime. Thrust-vectoring rules the sky! Macross Zero style!”). Not surprising that it’s totally authentically catchy… Yoko Kanno’s primary income comes from writing ad jingles, after all, and both of her “CM Yoko” CDs are highly worth owning. And later, we’ll see the Nyan-Nyan TV ad itself (present first in the broadcast version, four months after the Deculture Edition, and thus, after it had become a popular meme), featuring a cartoon mascot that looks (and SOUNDS) suspiciously like a caricature of Ms. Kanno herself. This version of the tune has never been released on any album.
(The fountain springing up, by the way, is where the commercial break for the Deculture Edition happened… much better placement than in the Broadcast Version and Yack Deculture Edition, I think, where it happens after the next scene of Valks launching.)
7. Meanwhile, the alien menace progresses through a few layers of defense, including a Valk vanguard and bunch of Ghosts. Then the VF-171 teams get sent out, and get destroyed.
8. Sheryl’s concert starts with the immortal Basara line, “Listen to my song!” but with the feminine pronoun “atashi” replacing the slangy male pronoun “ore.” “Atashi no uta o kiké” replacing “Ore no uta o kiké,” in other words).
Weirdly enough, Mikhail’s order to his team as Sheryl’s concert begins has never been properly transliterated in any fansub. The old ones had it as “Up toward the heavens!” and the Central Anime subs have it as “Vertical break!” But if you check the first volume of the manga, it’s right there in plain English (or katakana, at least): “Upward Air-Bloom!”
Anyway, Alto screws the whole thing up by knocking Sheryl off her perch. Although he kind of ends up with her earring (more about that later). This was the scene missing from the Deculture Edition, though it’s vital to the story.
9. S.M.S. gets introduced next, and this is something new for Macross: civilian contractors. Now, if you had been following the Iraq situation at the time, it would seem that the civilian contractors, like Blackwater, were kinda in a sort of gray area (essentially, my understanding of it, which may be flawed, is that our armed forces were there more or less to defend the contractors, who had, shall we say, much more leeway in what was legal or not for them to do, because they had less accountability. And, let’s face it, there AND here: a private army, answerable to no one but a wealthy private citizen who writes the checks? That sounds like a bad idea in general. If they came from the Middle East and were funded by an Islamic radical, they’d be called “terrorists,” right? But no… in Frontier (and in Delta), these are the GOOD guys, with the best pilots and equipment).
So yes, our heroes this time are, calling a spade a spade, mercenaries: civilians acting like the government forces, but not reporting to the government. The actual mercenary aspect doesn’t really get explored until we get to the first movie. And there, it’s AWESOME. But that’s for later.
Oh, and Gilliam is TOTALLY the decoy-guy-who-will-get-killed. I’ll just get that out of the way now.
10. Honestly, this almost plays out like an Irwin Allen disaster movie… we meet everyone, living their lives normally, in the first half… and then ALIENS ATTACK in the second half.
Among the landmarks we see during the announcement of the attack is the “Shibuya 199 Building,” a total steal from the actual Shibuya 109 Building, a trendy department store. I will note that if you’re trying to get this exact shot of the real 109 building from the angle that we see in the series, your photo will be marred by sidewalk trees blocking the picture, unless you want to step out into the street, which I don’t advise doing. I speak from experience. It may be easier in winter, though, when the trees have no leaves.
11. (Look, I TRY to keep the TV episodes at ten points each, feature-length movies at twenty, clip shows at five, and clip movies at fifteen, but here, it just kept spilling over…) Ozma’s armored VF-25S is the first that shows up, and it’s great. The VF-25 itself is designed to look like a VF-1 that transforms like a VF-19. This has made for some complicated (and brittle) toys and model kits. There’s added novelty in that now the armored parts, for the first time, can also transform, rather than leaving the Armored Valk stuck in battroid mode, as every armored battroid we’ve seen before has been.
For the Vajra (named after one of the Twelve Heavenly Generals of Buddhist lore… “Vajra” is the Sanskrit reading, whereas the Japanese name is, weirdly enough, “Basara”), the red type will be our main antagonist throughout the series, while the tan ones never get explored, replaced soon (mostly) by the green, two-legged types. And more about THAT later. In this first episode, the Vajra can also launch what look like clusters of tentacles (as… what? Decoys?), an ability that will also vanish later on (with one exception). The Vajra cannon is also WAY more powerful here than it will be later, taking out entire capital ships with one shot (although there’s evidence that it can vary the strength of its blasts).
12. The Vajra get inside Frontier (“Island-1”) and focus on Ranka (for some reason…*hint, hint*). Alto, in his EX-Gear, tries to help out, but gets shot down. Then Gilliam in his VF-25 comes in, and yeah… it’s kind of Alto’s fault that Gilliam gets killed, since Gilliam is distracted by telling Alto to clear out.
And Gilliam’s death is probably the most gruesome Macross death since Guld’s. Thankfully, it takes place largely offscreen. You’d THINK this was one of the scenes that would’ve reassured the “Macross-needs-to-be-gritty-and-hardcore” crowd, but I remember at least one guy on Macross World Forums saying that the scene actually went too far. There’s no pleasing some people…
13. And then Alto gets into the VF-25 to rescue Ranka, and we get the first REALLY obvious homage in the series, as his gerwalk is posed exactly like Hikaru’s VF-1D in Episode 2 of the original show. I know that this jazzed up a lot of long-time Macross fans (myself included… another one who I know even cried at this point) and really angered at least one notable Robotech commentator (I have no idea why, even after reading his several blog posts about it).
14. Visually, this episode is great. I especially like the muted color palette (the color of the blood, for example, while looking nothing like REAL blood, works perfectly). The mecha scenes look fantastic, with the CGI models being even less distracting than they were in Macross Zero (which already did an excellent job with them). All in all, this looks like an OVA, rather than a TV series (although some of that quality would drop in future episodes).
15. So yeah, as I said, although I missed a lot on that first airing, due to it being shown after midnight and after my birthday party, I was totally thrilled with this episode. After I got back to the US in late January, I watched it over and over again, including seeing a couple of inadequate fansubs (my favorite for sheer absurdity being the one that mentions the “Brief-25” instead of “VF-25”). I embarked on my second comprehensive Macross Rewatch after that, watching about three episodes or a movie per day after work. It took me a little over two months, which led me, with a little too much optimism, to think that six months would be enough time to finish THIS rewatch before Delta premiered. No such luck, as we all know by now… although I think I’ll be done before the DVDs and blu-rays start getting released in July.
Anyway, yeah, Frontier felt like a major revelation for me: just enough taken from the original series to appeal to my old-school sensibilities, but enough different to keep me intrigued.
OP: None (Deculture Edition), “Triangler” (Broadcast Version and Yack Deculture Edition).
ED: “Do You Remember Love” (Deculture Edition), “Brera and Child Ranka Aimo” (Broadcast Version), “Diamond Crevasse” (Yack Deculture Edition).
EYECATCH: None (Deculture Edition), “Nyan-Nyan” ad (Broadcast Version and Yack Deculture Edition).
NEXT EPISODE: “Song of Pursuit, ring throughout the galaxy!”