#02: HARD CHASE
ICONIC SCENE: “What’s more important, your hair or your life?”
STORY DATE: March 2059
BROADCAST DATE: April 10, 2008
1. During the battle, Ranka has her first flashback, to a Vajra destroying a spaceship. We’ll see that scene a lot.
And within minutes, the first “Itano Circus” is shown, as Ozma’s battroid fires a ton of missiles at the Vajra (I would’ve thought he’d used them all up last episode…). Now, Itano himself didn’t work on this series, but during the production of Macross Zero, he personally trained a lot of the animators who did end up working on it, and so his absence isn’t as keenly felt as it was in, say, Macross Seven.
That said, Itano really disliked Frontier, so maybe he regretted teaching them what he knew… (More about this later).
2. Mikhail turns up in his blue VF-25G, which makes him look even more like an avatar of Max. Which he is… up to a point. And he’s got his sniper rifle, which is one of the things Itano didn’t like about Frontier (although that was more to do with using the rifle in space. I’ll save that point for Episode 9).
3. Then we get the biggest homage of the episode, as Alto pulls Ranka into the cockpit in midair. It’s a little different, though, since Ranka is actually falling UP… towards a hole in the ceiling. It’s also slightly more realistic, since he has to jump out of the cockpit in his EX-Gear to save her (although it all happens in space, which might negate that touch of realism). Oh, and I quite like the self-healing glass they have on the Frontier.
Ranka seems to have gone a little wonky, calling Alto “brother” before snapping out of it and not knowing where she is. And wouldn’cha jes’ know it… ALTO’S GRABBING HER CHEST after she comes to and squirms around! HA-HA! Hijinx ensue (although she just screams instead the usual socking him one. Ranka’s a gentle soul).
A bit later, she says she’s a quarter Zentradi (there’s that pesky “25” showing up again… VF-25, Macross 25, 25 episodes, Macross QUARTER… Fold QUARTZ…).
4. The scene where Alto sees the destruction in the city and then throws up is deftly observed and well-done. And it affords us a glimpse of the rarely-seen “Destroid Work,” which is still based on the Cheyenne CGI model (as every destroid we see from now on will be, apparently).
5. Another reference by President Howard Glass to the Mysterious Mr. Birla. That will take a while to be revealed as well.
We also note that President Glass’s mushroom-headed assistant (Leon Mishima) seems rather shifty. In Frontier, bad haircut equals bad person, generally.
6. And then we get the scene that made Nanase my favorite character. She’s walking to school, and stops because (I think) a water droplet falls on her hand. She looks at her hand for an extremely long time and then looks up, and is shocked. First time I watched it, I was sure something was going to pounce on her and kill her, and I thought, “No, I don’t want her to die… she’s cute!” It turns out that it’s just a destroyed bridge, and she’s fine, but I decided, deliberately, then and there, that she would be my favorite character.
So, no, it’s the not the boobs, but it is equally shallow and ill-considered.
7. In the scene with Ranka and Ozma talking about Alto (whose name Ranka still doesn’t know), I want to point out that Megumi Nakajima (whose debut role Ranka was, and who won a very public audition to get the part) got a lot of flack from Japanese fans at the beginning of the series for “bad acting.” I dunno… I think they were maybe a little too accustomed to typical “anime voices”…? To me, she sounds completely natural and completely real… qualities that I note get ironed out of her performance as the series goes on. At the beginning of the series, she sounds like a teenage girl; at the end, she sounds like an anime character (you can REALLY tell the difference by comparing the early TV episodes to the first movie, where the scenes are identical, but the voices aren’t). Her voice is still good, and still cute, but I miss her more, er, authentic voice from the early episodes.
A lot of information gets compressed into this scene: Alto and Ranka have their blood checked because of contact with the Vajra, which leads to Ozma finding Alto. Ozma appears to be Ranka’s older brother, and Ozma and Lt. Catherine Glass (the President’s daughter and Misa look-a-like) clearly have a history together.
Ozma leaves with Alto, in his amazing 1993 Lancia Delta HF Integrale (where the hell did he get THAT…? If it’s an original, it must be PRICELESS), playing “Totsugeki Loveheart” on the stereo. It’ll turn out that Ozma has been a HUGE Fire Bomber fan since he was fourteen or fifteen. When they were, y’know, big. That’ll be important much later.
They go to the SMS hangar and view Gilliam’s personal effects (and hey! There’s Sheryl’s earring! Which NO ONE, including us and her, knows she’s lost yet!)
8. Sheryl realizes (see?) that she’s missing her earring (although there’s no indication that that’s what the problem is) and she asks her manager, Grace, for the footage from the previous night’s concert. When Grace says it’ll arrive the next day, Sheryl insists, “But you saw the whole thing, right?” We don’t hear Grace’s answer, but soon, Sheryl is watching the concert on the TV in her hotel room. On first watch, this might fly right past you, or it might make you wonder if the staff screwed up or something. But no, it makes perfect sense later on.
(Incidentally, the way that Sheryl discovers her earring is gone is clever, by watching a home shopping network whose hosts are selling earrings while they inadvertently echo Sheryl’s conversation.)
9. Ranka’s singing seems to awaken a Vajra hiding out on Frontier, which interrupts Alto’s account of how Gilliam died. And when Alto says he wants a Valkyrie, Ozma punches him pretty damn hard.
Meanwhile, Sheryl tries to ask Ranka for directions, and ends up listening to Ranka (who doesn’t recognize her) gush about how much she loves Sheryl. Sheryl seems to eat this up and even asks for more. I will note that Sheryl has a small role in this episode, and is pretty vain throughout most of it.
Finally, Ranka starts singing “Diamond Crevasse” (which, if you were watching this when first broadcast, as I did, is the first time you would’ve heard the song), and Sheryl joins in. Suddenly (GASP!) Ranka realizes who she’s been talking to! And then Alto walks in, and (DOUBLE GASP!) Sheryl confronts him! And then (TRIPLE GASP!) the Vajra appear RIGHT OUTSIDE THE OBSERVATION WINDOW!!
It’s a mysterious climax, since we still don’t even know what Sheryl wants with Alto. She does get to say one of her signature lines, though: “I don’t do this kind of service very often” (“service” in this context means “bonus” or “freebie,” as it always does in Japan. I didn’t really get it until I went to a bar once and the owner gave me a plate of peanuts, saying, “This is service.” After that, it made sense).
10. With the battle at the beginning of this episode, one could be forgiven for not realizing that the demographic for shows like this had shifted radically since the ’80s and ’90s. The anime landscape had completely changed since 1982, when Macross aired on the (as I always point out) unusual-for-anime 2:00 PM Sunday timeslot, or 1994, when Macross 7 aired in the (as I sometimes point out) much-more-usual-for-anime 11:00 AM Sunday slot. Generally, in those days, anime was either a Sunday morning thing, or an after-school thing (usually weekdays between five and seven PM). Not prime time, as many anime fans seem to think.
But no, thanks in part to parent protests against the violence in Evangelion in 1996 (especially Episode 19), any anime that was not expressly for children got stuck (post-’90s) in the after-midnight ghetto block. The audience was necessarily more limited, but the broadcast was cheaper and the creators could be freer in terms of content (and really, the broadcast was primarily used as an advertising tool for the DVDs and BDs, which is still where the anime studio will make most of its revenue… the broadcast TV series is almost like an advertisement for the DVD/BD version… Making virtually EVERY show an OVA series in a sense. Some series, like Yamato 2199, debut in movie theaters first. Same goal, there. It’s an advertisement for the home-video version). And so it was with Frontier, airing Thursdays at 25:25 (ha), that is, 1:25 AM. And the audience had changed. Rather than the young boys targeted by the original Macross, the wide swath of young people targeted by Seven, the young men targeted by Plus, and the somewhat-less-young men targeted by Zero, the primary audience NOW for late-night anime was young women in their teens and twenties (emphatically NOT “little girls,” as a few people have asserted). Now this development had been growing for quite a while (indeed, one of the most fervent anime fans I’ve ever met was a 21-year-old woman, back in ’98. She showed me Evangelion: Death and Rebirth for the first time (it wasn’t yet available on home video, but had been shown on cable TV once, a couple of months previously, and she taped it… making me, I think, one of the first people in the US to see it) and she introduced me to Cowboy Bebop well before it was released in English), and this change in audience would profoundly affect the types of shows being made, even more (and arguably MUCH more so) than the “moe boom,” despite what western fans have to say about that.
But yeah, as I said, the battle and chase scenes are pretty amazing, and the mysteries are developing nicely, even the ones we may not realize are mysteries yet.
ED: “Diamond Crevasse”
EYECATCH: Keitai-kun and Ranka.
NEXT EPISODE: “Song of Determination, ring throughout the galaxy!”