#21: Blue Aether
ICONIC SCENE: “The universe is overflowing with conflict, and in battle, one finds life.”
STORY DATE: 2059
BROADCAST DATE: August 28, 2008
1. So Leon takes over and Battle Frontier detaches from Island-1. And in one of the greatest scenes ever, Klan goes out to fight the Vajra with FAST Packs strapped to herself. This is most likely inspired by the old model kit of the “Valkyrie Lady”: a girl in a leotard that had the same pattern as Hikaru’s VF-1S, with Strike Armor on her arms, legs, and back. I had one, and built it back in the day, but the normal Testors glue that I was using never seemed to bond completely with the (very heavy and solid) plastic (or was it resin…?), and so her arms kept falling out of their sockets. I must have gotten it very early on, because the other two in the series were a “Gundam Mk. II Lady” and a “Zeta Gundam Lady,” and I saw those at the same time I got the Valkyrie Lady, but I wasn’t into Gundam yet, so I wasn’t interested. And yet I got into Zeta Gundam before the show had finished airing in March 1986. So yeah, probably late ’85 or VERY early ’86.
Anyway, I have no idea how Klan is actually CONTROLLING the boosters or the missiles launchers, but it’s such a resonant image that I don’t really want to carp about it.
2. Luca has come up with a pretty risky plan: Have Ranka sing to lure all the Vajra together in one area, then set off the Dimension Eater (named “Little Girl,” an obvious reference to “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima), destroying them. Alto is dead-set against using Ranka as bait, but Luca is absolutely right in saying that Frontier is already far too messed up to take much more damage.
3. Ranka is willing to do it (she doesn’t, y’know, look HAPPY about it, but she’ll do it) and Island-3 is chosen as the location. So yeah… that pleasant Zentradi mall and the nice hippocow pasture are appearing for the final time (I assume that all the Zentradi and hippocows were evacuated beforehand).
4. I note that the first half of this episode has a lot of close-ups of people’s determined eyes. Leon, Klan, Grace. I dunno, it just stood out to me.
5. So the plan goes off without a hitch, and once again Frontier is free of Vajra (mostly). But again, the fleet is in dire straits, not least because Leon is now in charge.
6. We see a bunch of scenes showing the damage to various parts of the ship, and there’s a touching bit with Klan holding Michel’s helmet, and we see a photograph of the two of them as children pasted inside it.
6. At the memorial service, Ranka refuses to sing. Now, according to the DVD booklet, this is a reference to Episode 29 of the original series, where Minmay likewise refused to sing (except that she didn’t refuse to sing there… they’re thinking of Episode 34. So, um… even the DVD booklet is not always flawless, I guess). But this scene is much more complex, I think. On the one hand, you can view Ranka as being irresponsible again, denying the citizens the hope that she brings to them. On the other, she’s no longer letting herself be used as a tool for Leon anymore. Now, that may just be a by-product, but on some level, Ranka knows that she’s being used for less-than-benevolent purposes (even though she certainly doesn’t know the ins and outs of the conspiracy), and the pain that she experiences whenever Vajra die HAS to be affecting her as well. I mean, seriously, when was the last time we saw Ranka genuinely HAPPY for any length of time? By my reckoning, she’s been pretty much miserable ever since Grace took over her management. She’s also been slowly getting her memories back (clearly, as we learn at the end of this episode, much more than we’ve glimpsed in her thoughts so far). So yeah. She doesn’t SAY much about it, except obliquely (that’s Ranka for ya), but to me it seems clear that although she doesn’t necessarily know what’s going on in the grand scheme of things, she can see enough of it that she’s extremely uncomfortable in her role as cheerleader in service of the “bad guys.”
7. Oh, and hey! She runs off and finds Ai-kun! Who is now almost as large as she is… and then he almost immediately molts his old skin, and stands revealed as one of the green, two-legged Vajra… surprising no one in the audience.
8. So Ranka tries to enlist Alto’s help, but she overestimates how much trust he’s going to put in her word. Again, like the refusing-to-sing scene earlier, this is one sequence that really raises the hackles of Ranka haters, as she, according to them, shows stunningly bad judgment in leaving the ship to “return Ai-kun to his friends” (as she says), especially since her singing is the only real weapon that Frontier has against the Vajra.
To me, it seems obvious that she knows what she’s doing, although she expresses herself badly. She definitely doesn’t know how to bring up the topic or explain the situation to Alto, trying to relax him first by asking him to teach her how to make paper airplanes. Then Ai-kun pops up and it’s basically all over. Alto’s gun is out, Ranka’s standing in the way, Brera leaps in to protect Ranka… there’s no way Alto’s going to listen now.
Ranka’s stated aim is not only to return Ai-kun (it seems to me that that would be a good “peace offering”), but to regain all her memories. She’s remembered enough to know that she’s tied to the Vajra, but exactly how MUCH she knows is still an open question. Me, giving her the benefit of a doubt, I think that she knows that she’s pretty inextricably linked with them, and perhaps even that she’s the primary cause of their attacks. And that once she regains the rest of her memories, she’ll learn how to stop them from attacking Frontier.
But no, she doesn’t tell all of this to Alto, because the situation gets too tense too quickly, and like I said last episode, he’s not a good listener.
(Once, I got into a discussion (argument) with a big Sheryl-fan/Ranka-hater about this. At one point, I asked, “Haven’t you ever been nervous and expressed yourself badly?” He replied, “No, never.” So good for him, I guess. I think the rest of us, however, CAN sympathize with her.)
Anyway, yeah, I understand that there are a lot of people who REALLY, REALLY hate Ranka, because of certain actions she takes. By my way of thinking, though, this scene shouldn’t be one of them.
9. And Ranka’s final line to Alto here, “I loved you,” is of course exactly what Hikaru said to Minmay as he saluted her at the beginning of Episode 27, although honestly, this entire scene reminds me of something else…
Um, remember a while back when I mentioned Kawamori’s 1992 treatment for a live action Hollywood Macross movie…? And how in some ways it’s a precursor to Frontier…? Well, this scene is basically in there. I mean, it’s Minmay (“Maria”) protecting Kamujin from Hikaru (“Ace”), but it’s virtually identical, especially since the Zentradi in the movie treatment are no longer giant humans, but actual CREATURES. The only real difference is in the ending of the sequence. Hikaru’s Valkyrie fires on Kamujin and forces him out of an airlock, seemingly killing him. Minmay is distraught and calls Hikaru a murderer. So, basically what would’ve happened here, had Brera not turned up.
And the ending song, “Blue Aether,” has lyrics by Maaya Sakamoto, and she herself does a (great) version of it on her 2008 album, “Kazeyomi.”
10. And yeah, it was at about now that I began to learn how fierce the shipping wars were. Again, during this time, I had mostly stuck around on Macross World Forums, whose members are (generally) more interested in the mecha aspect of Macross than anything else (even though I’m obviously not, at least not to the same degree), so while there were definitely some people who preferred Sheryl and some who preferred Ranka, there were never any arguments about it.
On Animesuki, Random Curiosity, and THAT Animeblog, however, a war of words had started a while back and had by this point gotten exceedingly vicious. Never having been a member or viewer of those or similar sites, this was all new to me, and only came to my attention because it spilled over a little into Macross World Forums, as one Ranka fan joined solely to talk about why Ranka was great, and then a couple of Sheryl fans joined solely to tear that Ranka fan down. I waded into the controversy without realizing that it even WAS a controversy, and got jumped on by the Sheryl fans (their argument was that Ranka has never had to struggle and has had everything handed to her on a silver platter. I pointed out that she lost her entire family as well as her memory. One guy in particular, uh, didn’t like that). When I started discovering the conflict, starting here, the Sheryl fans outnumbered the Ranka fans by a huge margin, but a few of the Sheryl fans struck me as loud, insulting, narrow-minded, and just plain obnoxious. One of the reasonable ones (and, in their overall defense, there were many reasonable Sheryl fans) explained that the obnoxious ones were being obnoxious IN RESPONSE to the Ranka fans, but I never really saw any of that (then, at least. Later, I ran into one completely unreasonable Ranka fan who was probably worse than the worst Sheryl fans. But only one). The problem for me was that, for the unreasonable Sheryl fans, it was basically all or nothing: if you liked ANYTHING about Ranka, then you were THE PROBLEM.
The upshot of this being that I started defending Ranka’s actions far more than I otherwise would’ve.
So yeah, plenty of people call Ranka a traitor here, for leaving, but I think they’re not giving her enough (or any) credit. Simply put, as far I can tell, there are a number of people who simply despise Ranka and will always ascribe to her whatever motivations make her look bad. And there’s often no way for her to win with them: I remember Crusader (from THAT Animeblog), who was one of the big Ranka haters, saying after the series had finished that he REALLY, TRULY HOPED that the staff would improve her character for the movie. But when she WAS improved for the movie, he attacked it as feeling like Ranka propaganda (like it was “written by Brera,” in his words). See? No way to win.
Things reached TRULY insane proportions when one Latin fan (who amazingly gulled pretty much the ENTIRE FANDOM, myself included) fabricated hundreds of pages of fake interviews and notes, purporting to show that Kawamori was all for Ranka and the rest of the staff had to essentially wrest the show away from him to give Sheryl a fair shake (FULL DISCLOSURE: I spearheaded the effort to reveal that all of that had been faked, so I can’t really discuss this in a “detached” way. That said, I’m not sure how much detachment is needed. The guy was simply making up dozens of sources, behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and the like. Cleaning up his mess took a lot of effort, and ended up virtually destroying the website forum community that he had created. And it still crops up occasionally (have you heard that Sheryl was originally meant to be killed off early on in Frontier, but her sudden popularity saved her? If so, you’ve fallen for one of his lies). My interest in all of this, initially, was because I had already decided that I wanted to translate all the Macross novels and drama albums (actually, it was a little more complicated than that, but I’ll discuss that at a later time). And his notes mentioned PLENTY of novels and short stories that I couldn’t find on Amazon or Yahoo Auctions or Mandarake or ANYWHERE. I asked him about these books, and he was evasive (he initially said “novels.” Once I asked him about them, they became, well… not novels exactly, but PIECES of novels in various anime magazines). I asked Japanese Macross fans about these “novels,” and no one knew what I was talking about. Eventually, I began to suspect, with more and more certainty, that he was just making everything up. He ended up admitting as much, almost. At least, he said that his notes were never meant to be taken as anything more than rumors, despite the fact that he had, again, typed out whole interviews, and used as sources nonexistent books that he claimed to own.
So yeah, that was BY FAR the craziest caper, and, as I said, it’s still out there, occasionally polluting the fandom. But even apart from that, the Sheryl/Ranka War got pretty darn intense.
Anyway, as I hope I’ve made clear, I am definitely more of a Sheryl fan than a Ranka fan, but I do like Ranka as well.
ED: “Blue Aether”
NUMBER OF TIMES RANKA SAYS “ALTO-KUN” THIS EPISODE: 11
AND TOTAL: 82
EYECATCH: Nanase and Luca.
NEXT EPISODE: “Song of Lips, ring throughout the galaxy!”