THE GREAT MACROSS REWATCH 138 – The False Diva

F Movie 1

MACROSS FRONTIER MOVIE
THE FALSE DIVA

ICONIC SCENE: ROCK THE GALAXY, RANKA!!

STORY DATE: 2059

RELEASE DATE: November 25, 2009

1. So, it’s now a little over a year since Macross Frontier ended its TV run, and it remains popular: the DVDs and BDs are selling well, new products are continuing to come out, there are two separate Macross-themed magazines (the encyclopedic “Macross Chronicle” and the manga anthology “Macross Ace”), there are several concerts, and then the movie that was promised at the end of the series arrives. Like Do You Remember Love, it’s a retelling, not a sequel, although it presumes that you’ve seen the series. I said for Do You Remember Love, “The movie is part of the same series, giving a different aspect to the story and augmenting it, not replacing it. It’s as if the staff is saying, ‘You liked that? Well, here’s some more, with a little twist.'” That goes for the Frontier movies as well, although more for the second one, since that one is completely new animation. This first one (undoubtedly released as soon as the staff could get it out there, as a stopgap while they were primarily hashing out the second movie) recycles plenty of scenes from the TV series. Still, as I said, it’s meant to be viewed IN ADDITION to the TV series, not INSTEAD of it.

Now, when this came out, I hadn’t yet moved to Japan (although I was definitely thinking hard about it), and I had already visited Tokyo earlier in the year (to see the Yoko Kanno concert and Evangelion 2.0… which had a trailer for “The False Diva” before it), so I didn’t get to see this until the DVD was released nearly a year later (this and the Macross 7 “movie” are still the only two Macross films that I haven’t seen in a theater). Hanging out sometime later with what would eventually become the Macross SpeakerPODcast Crew, but still before I’d seen the film, I was told by Adrian that it was much like a movie based on a Shonen Jump manga… that by the end, nothing really seemed to have happened. And that’s pretty much how it is. This film is all set-up, and even turns out to be mostly unnecessary. You could watch the series, skip this movie completely, and watch the second and you’d be just as far ahead, pretty much, minus some hints and foreshadowing.

(Oh, and for those who would call Kawamori “the George Lucas of anime” in that he’s only as good as his collaborators, but who prefer this movie to the series (naming no names, of course), I’ll note that he seems MUCH more “hands on” here, since he wrote the story, is the co-scriptwriter, and the sole director of this film. If you like the series better, then your point still stands, I guess.)

2. After a prologue with Alto floating in space in his EX-Gear, the movie settles into being almost exactly like the TV series (although I notice that the exterior shots of the Frontier Fleet are redone, and look better than the series did. There’s also a nicer shot of the city when Sheryl and Grace arrive), so it’s somewhat more shocking (to me, anyway) when it turns out Ranka is getting her concert tickets from Alto rather than Ozma (so yes, Alto and Ranka are “childhood friends” in this version, with all the baggage that implies in an anime).

Then Ranka goes on a delivery run and we start seeing the movie’s odd fascination with Segways. I don’t quite get it, really… I mean, they seemed rather passé, didn’t they, even in 2009? Once Weird Al put a reference to them in “White and Nerdy,” I think it was all over. It does make for a fun visual trip through the San Francisco area of the city, though.

As she delivers the food, it’s made clear that Klan is now a year or so younger than she was in the series, since she also has a Mihoshi High uniform on, rather than her collegiate outfit in the series.

And I’m not sure I buy that Ranka’s phone can morph into a starter’s baton.

3. Then we get one of the reasons this movie exists: Sheryl’s concert. It starts with a portentous English voice-over, adapting freely from the Gospel of John. I kinda dislike the references to Lynn Minmay, “Shalon” (later corrected on the blu-ray re-release) Apple, and Fire Bomber, as it makes it seem like the Macross musical universe is a very small one indeed (in this way, if in few others, I really love the “Miss DJ” drama album, which has Minmay singing Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Simon & Garfunkel songs, as well as making references to Seiko Matsuda and Akina Nakamori. It expands the Macross musical universe into OUR universe, and makes the Macross singers part of that tradition, rather than standing alone, completely isolated).

And then we get “Universal Bunny” (“universal” here, basically meaning “outer space,” just as it does in Gundam’s “Universal Century”), which really is bizarre and cool and a logical extension of the concerts in the series and from Macross Plus. I note that this scene would’ve been a total surprise to anyone who saw the movie in the first week or two, since it was not on the single that preceded the film (which was for the barely-heard-in-the-movie “Pink Monsoon”), nor was it performed at the Macross Crossover Live, a month previously.

(About “Pink Monsoon”… it’s supposed to be Sheryl’s first single, although (to me) it doesn’t sound like enough of a “debut hit” for that… Anyway, “What ’bout my star?” is her third single, and “Iteza Gogo Kuji Don’t Be Late” is her fifth single… have we heard her second and fourth singles and just don’t know it, or are they still (or never) to be revealed?)

(Oh, and in Macross Delta Episode 5, as Adrian pointed out, Freyja (in Hayate’s back seat) is doing the same dance moves that Sheryl does here… mostly.)

Oh, and the Sheryl “Loveslinger” cowgirl outfit (for “Welcome to My Fanclub’s Night”)is one of my favorites in all of Frontier. And of course it has booster rockets (excuse me, I mean a “gas jet cluster”) underneath the skirt, which will be used again in the following movie and in Delta.

4. Once the Vajra reach Island-1, the battle inside the ship plays out rather differently than it did in the show, by putting more emphasis on Sheryl. Unlike in the series, where Sheryl gets immediately whisked off stage and to safety by Cathy, here Alto has to rescue her. This scene is AWESOME, by the way. And then it cuts back to the TV footage and he has to rescue Ranka. Rough day for Alto!

And the battle plays out much as it did in the series, although they conflate this battle with the Episode 3 one, with Ozma getting badly injured and a headless Vajra still running amok, to be killed by a well-placed shot from Michel.

One other HUGE difference I notice is that while in the TV Episode 1, Gilliam was distracted from fighting the Vajra because Alto was getting in the way, that doesn’t happen here. Gilliam’s death in the show is at least partially (and I’d say mostly) attributable to Alto’s actions, but that’s not the case in the movie. Alto hangs back on the ground, completely unnoticed by Gilliam, until the unfortunate pilot is dead.

Also, the homage to Hikaru’s VF-1D from Episode 2 is gone, as are most of the homages that aren’t woven inextricably into the fabric of the plot. Frontier is no longer about referencing previous Macross shows (and, honestly, hasn’t been for a long time, no matter what bitter Robotech fans may say).

Oh, and we actually SEE Alto vomit, rather than just hearing him (lucky us!).

And then Sheryl gets nabbed by Brera, who’s her bodyguard in this version, and no longer dressed in his open-chest-and-torso ensemble, but in more clerical robes (which, honestly, look just as ridiculous. Brera, as I mentioned before, NEVER looks good, in the series OR in the movies). So yes… among the cast members here is Brera as a Cyborg Priest Ninja. Definitely a first for Macross, and probably for world cinema as a whole. The joke of course is that he takes her back to Grace using the shortest possible route… a sewer. Ah, the life of a star…

5. We are now nearly thirty minutes into the movie, and it’ll take a few more minutes to wrap this part up and move us into the next part. The movie as a whole is thirty seconds shy of being a full two hours, and you can almost set your watch by it: introductions and first battle: thirty minutes (a little under). Next plot developments: one hour. Second battle: thirty minutes. End. So yeah, we won’t be seeing much more of the Vajra attacks for a while.

But let me take a break here to point out just how well the TV footage meshes with the movie footage. Some of the more elaborate scenes are clearly done JUST for the movie, but for the most part they blend seamlessly (of course, a number of the “new” scenes actually ARE scenes from the series, just retouched with new characters or costumes added).

And again, in the aftermath of the battle, it’s clear that the audience is MEANT to be familiar with the TV series, since they waste no time bringing up the Galaxy Conspiracy or showing Grace as a “bad guy.” Again, the fun of movies like this, as far as I’m concerned, is NOT in recommending them to friends who haven’t seen the show, as many people argue over, but in seeing what gets tweaked and what surprises they have in store for the people who DID watch it (I’ll have more to say about this next time… and should’ve said something about it a while back).

6. The next big change-up in the story happens while Ranka is singing “Aimo” to Alto at Griffith Park, and Sheryl shows up, also singing it. On the one hand, it’s mostly meant to telescope several different scenes from Episodes 2 and 3 together, but on the other, it promises radical changes to the plot of the series, and brings up its own mystery: how does Sheryl know “Aimo”?

The seriousness of the scene, though, is undercut a couple of minutes later, as Sheryl’s phone (placed, for some reason, probably a lewd one, between her breasts) starts ringing, and pops out of her blouse. The in-joke about her phone is that it’s shaped like a taiyaki, which is a Japanese (what would you call it? Confection…? Pastry…?)… it’s basically a sweet bean paste cake shaped like a fish. And May’n, Sheryl’s singing voice, is absolutely CRAZY about taiyaki, as anyone who follows her on Facebook will quickly learn.

(The guy who sang the Gatchaman ending theme (“Dareda? Dareda? Da-re-da-?”) had a big hit in 1976 with the song “Swim! Taiyaki-kun.)

 

Alto’s hazing is also different (and hilarious), involving a tear gas bomb.

After that, it falls more in line with Episode 5 of the series (skipping Episode 4 pretty much completely), although I notice that Aya Endo no longer says Sheryl’s line (echoing Minmay) “You don’t want to be with me?” in imitation of Mari Iijima’s way of saying it. Again, the homages are mostly cut from the film. And the vibrating phone scene is gone as well.

There’s a little hint of something that will become important in the next movie, though, where it it turns out that Alto visited Macross Galaxy when he was a child.

The visit to Island-3 is also different, involving the second Segway scene in the movie, as Sheryl and Alto ride over pastures and through a forest (and they fall off a cliff. A small one).

7. Another big difference is that Ozma and Cathy immediately (somewhat guided by Leon) jump to the idea that the Vajra are being controlled by Galaxy, which sets up the idea that Sheryl might be a spy (an idea that will get recycled in Delta).

And the bizarre subplot about Alto lying to Ranka about being in the mall with Sheryl is gone, since he sees Ranka there right as Sheryl’s leaving. So he knows that she knows that he’s been out with Sheryl. No use lying about it.

8. Okay, let’s say you’re working on the story for this movie. You know it’s more-or-less only going to cover the first seven episodes of the series, and thus, Ranka won’t become a star until the next movie. And yet, you need to throw in some songs for Megumi Nakajima to sing, especially some NEW songs. What do you do? Okay, give her the ending theme, sure. And while you’re at it, expand the number of promotions she does. Not just carrots this time, but plenty of other things, too! Problem solved!

The first is the most humiliating… the glowing natto. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever had natto (soybeans in fermented curd). It’s not too bad with soy sauce and onion (LOTS of soy sauce and LOTS of onion); the texture of the curd is sort of like melted mozzarella cheese (just, um, stickier and, uh, kinda brittle), but the part that turns many people off is the smell. It really is an awful, awful, dirty-sock smell. The first time I had it, I admit I gagged a bit. It doesn’t actually TASTE bad (or taste like anything, really… it’s like tofu that way), but the stink alone is pure nastiness. It’s one of those foods that your Japanese friends might give you as a challenge, and laugh at you for failing (not that, uh, I would know or anything…). There’s an untranslatable pun here, in that “neba-neba” means “sticky,” but also sounds like “never-never,” hence the line about “Neba-Neba Land.” And yes, the natto splattered all over Ranka’s face looks like, um… something else. Deliberately, I’m sure.

For my money, though, the best is the Dainam promotion in “Deep Akiba,” Frontier’s version of Akihabara, with plenty of model kits in the background (according to friends who saw it in the theater, Aquarion was among them, but that was replaced by the Macross Quarter for the DVD and all subsequent versions). And of course “Dainam” is an odd contraction of “BanDAI NAMco” (the fact that they use the same typeface is a dead giveaway).

And the Daruma Seminar probably deserves a bit of explanation, although you can easily look up “daruma” on Wikipedia, I guess. Basically, you get one before your exams start, and paint it in gradually as you finish each test. I’ve never actually seen a real daruma, unless the one that they put as a head on a three-foot or so model of the SDF-1’s body counts. Pretty much every official Macross event, that thing is there.

And then… the most commercial of the, um, commercials: the Family Mart ad. Now, again, I wasn’t in Japan at the time this movie came out, but Family Mart is seriously EVERYWHERE (even more now, since they bought up all the AM-PM locations a few years ago), and this jingle was actually getting played in Family Mart stores as a tie-in with the movie. And indeed, even now, Family Mart always has the Macross promotions, just as 7-11 always has the Gundam and One Piece promotions and Lawson’s always has Evangelion (Mini-Stop, which was the convenience store closest to my house, had, uh… Squid Girl). Anyway, I dunno… the product placement kind of annoys me here, and more so since it got used in the stores itself.

(That said, I love the guy in the car shouting “GODDAMMIT!” at Alto.)

And I do kinda wonder which exact Family Mart was used as the model for the one here. It’s much bigger than most of them. And… seeing the fried chicken near the cash register (the “Fami-Chicki”) makes me crave it a bit, even though the quality was widely variable. Most of the time, it tasted great, but occasionally you’d get a piece that was almost pure fat, and it was pretty gross.

To me, the weirdest thing about this decision to give Ranka a bunch of ad jingles instead of full songs was the way they got released. Instead of a regular soundtrack album for the movie, there were two mini-albums: “Universal Bunny” by Sheryl Nome Starring May’n, and “CM Ranka” (titled after the Yoko Kanno ad jingle albums, “CM Yoko”) by Ranka Lee=Megumi Nakajima. It maximizes profits this way of course, two twenty-minute CDs rather than a full soundtrack, but I do wish they’d done a full album instead, and put some of the unreleased orchestral tracks on it.

9. A couple of character notes here: first, Ranka seems much more perceptive here (and willing to SAY what she’s thinking), especially when telling Alto that he feels “far away” when talking about his family, than she does in the series. And Alto has much stronger (or, at least, again, much more VOCAL) gender identity issues than he did in the show. I’m sure most of this has to do with needing to simplify and telescope things for the movie (and in some cases to foreground the issues briefly, because they don’t have fifteen or twenty episodes to let them burble quietly in the background), but both of them seem better able to COMMUNICATE here than they did before. Almost as if they’ve matured a bit since the series. Again, as I keep insisting, I definitely think this movie is meant to be seen AFTER the show rather than INSTEAD of it. But ultimately, however you look at it, I think Ranka is clearer and more confident here, and Alto has more of a real personality. This is all to the good.

10. As they get further into the “Sheryl-might-be-a-spy” subplot, I love Michel’s list: “Mata Hari, Stephanie von Hohenlohe, Li Xianglan, Sharon Apple…” One of these things is NOT like the others…

I dunno… it adds an interesting complication to Sheryl’s solicitousness towards Alto (is she nice to him because she likes him, or because she’s trying to pry info out of him?), but it never really ends up going anywhere… in THIS movie, anyway.

And the scene with Alto and Michel hanging out near the fountain is clearly thrown in primarily to give a little thrill to the fujoshi (fangirls) who like to fantasize about them “getting together.” Of course, the next scene is Sheryl sitting in her spacious hotel room, wearing just a flimsy top and a pair of panties, which I for one find pretty gratifying, so I can’t really point fingers.

This brings up Sheryl’s new character wrinkle: that, ultimately, she’s lonely. I suppose we could infer it in the show, even though it’s never stated outright, but I don’t think so. This is a new trait given to the character.

(Oh, and two of the pictures Sheryl looks at are of young Ranka hanging with old Mao. Again I ask: is Mao still alive…? I hope so. It’s kinda sad to think of her getting killed on the research fleet by Vajra… I suppose if she WERE still alive, the Frontier government or SMS could contact her and she’d reveal everything, but it’s my hope that she’s still alive, but they just don’t know how to locate her. Yeah… that’s the ticket!)

And THEN, the next scene has Ai-kun jumping into Ranka’s sweater (and popping out of her skirt), so yeah… forget what I said about the fujoshi-bait earlier. The movie is trying hard to have something for EVERYONE.

And, as I’ve said before, I know Ai-kun pretty much just sounds like your average squeaky-toy, but I really like his voice.

Interestingly, Ranka is practicing “Seikan Hikou,” i.e. song-not-appearing-in-this-film.

11. And hey! Alto finding Sheryl’s earring gets a MUCH clearer explanation here (by which I mean there’s an explanation. Period. There wasn’t in the series).

So Sheryl’s waiting for him in Griffith Park, and Ranka shows up coincidentally. Honestly, although Sheryl tries to reassure Ranka by saying that she’s “only playing” with Alto, I’m not sure that I would be put much at ease by that, if I were in Ranka’s shoes. I mean, if some famous celebrity guy told me, “Oh, that girl you’ve got a crush on? Don’t worry, I’m just fooling around with her. It’s not serious. You can have her after I’m done,” I don’t think I’d be, y’know, PLEASED to hear that.

Oh, and Sheryl and Ranka singing “Aimo” together makes Ai-kun glow. Again, I remember one guy on Animesuki saying that if “Aimo” was in the movie, he was giving up on Macross entirely. This makes the third time it’s shown up in the movie, and we’re just a little over the halfway point. I assume he’s not reading this blog post. Although here, it does make it BLATANTLY OBVIOUS (because, AGAIN, the intended audience saw the series and thus already KNOWS) that Ai-kun is a Vajra baby.

And again, nothing really gets made of the Sheryl Spy subplot, except for the kind of incredible scene where Alto STRAIGHT UP SHOVES HER to get her away from Ranka. My jaw honestly dropped when I first saw that scene. I mean, it’s all a misunderstanding, but… DAMN!

(Of course, this leads into the climax by reinforcing Sheryl’s feelings of solitude.)

12. Grace is naked in the next scene. As I said, something for everyone…

Even, um, the Brera/Grace fans (does anyone “ship” them…?)

That “self-drying” thing she’s got is cool, though. A real time-saver.

13. And I wonder… Ozma asks Ranka, “Her singing or your life, which is more important?” Is that an homage to Hikaru’s famous question to Minmay back in Episode 2 of the original? Generally, the movies acknowledge that Frontier is its own thing by now, and eschew the homages that popped up in the series, but this MIGHT be one that slipped through…

And then we get to Sheryl’s “Revenge Live.” After I saw this movie, I knew that I wanted one of the light blue T-shirts with the Sheryl logo on it that they’re selling at the goods booth (and that all of her staff are wearing). Luckily, by the time I saw the DVD of this movie, I was living in Tokyo, and I found the shirt easily at Animate in Akihabara. I usually made a point of wearing it at any anime-related event I went to, so (according to Adrian) even Macross staff members think of me as “the foreign guy with the Sheryl shirt.” It’s not a bad legacy.

(The shirt’s getting a little worn-out now, though… I kinda want a second one. Otherwise I’ll have to be known as “the foreign guy who used to wear a Sheryl shirt but now wears a Walküre shirt”… provided, of course, that I soon get my hands on a Walküre shirt. HINT-HINT!)

ANYWAY, Alto touches the earring and suddenly receives Sheryl’s feelings, which finally tells him about her loneliness. And yeah… honestly, even given what we know about Fold Quartz, this seems a little far-fetched. I mean, it’s almost like he BECOMES Sheryl for a few moments there. But still… it’s the movie, needs to be compressed from the series, fans already know this stuff, yadda yadda yadda…

And then he comes out and tells her that she’s not alone, which is (as he knows) exactly what she wants to hear. So yeah… good for Alto!

And then… look, it almost feels like a parody: Alto and Sheryl have their tender moment, then Grace comes out, subverting it. And then Ozma and Cathy come out, subverting THAT. And they say that “Grace O’Connor” is a fake name (fixing an announced problem from the series… that she never changed her name, even when working covertly). Too many reversals and reveals in too short a time. I probably would’ve laughed if I’d seen this in the theater (and thus, it’s a good thing I didn’t, considering that ANY audience reaction whatsoever during films seems to be frowned upon in Japan).

And then comes THE GREATEST PART IN THIS WHOLE MOVIE, as Sheryl hires SMS personally to deal with the Vajra attack on Macross Galaxy. Seriously, this is like if Mariah Carey had hired Blackwater to stop 9/11 (as I’m sure she did in some alternate universe somewhere). There’s also a really great illustration from the 2010 Macross F calendar showing Sheryl receiving the bill.

14. We’re pretty much at the final act now. Sheryl’s concert starts, the Macross Quarter goes off to rescue Galaxy, and Alto has the brand-new Tornado Pack added to his Valk. It’s kind of like the Strike Pack in that it has two cannons on it, as well as a lot more missiles than the regular Super Pack. Unlike the Strike Pack, the cannons can actually swivel around (I assume this is controlled automatically…). Oddly, Alto’s Tornado Pack is really the only new mecha here, unlike, say, Do You Remember Love, which featured a number of new designs and paint schemes for the enthusiastic collector to drool over (and buy toys and kits of). That is, unless you count the new Vajra mothership and the “Hound Vajra” that shows up a little later. Not that they’ve ever made products of those.

A lot of Sheryl’s concert footage is lifted directly from the series, although the backdrop, a huge, industrial-looking boat, is entirely new (and looks great). Although I notice there’s one shot where she’s standing on the rocky plateau from Episode 1. I’m not sure if this is a mistake or not. The concert plays out much as it did in Episode 7… at first. Even some of Sheryl and Ranka’s dialogue is the same. The difference is when the Vajra “hear” Sheryl (and Ranka) singing through the earring that Alto has, they fold directly to Frontier.

And then it turns into something kind of new for Frontier: an aerial battle (as opposed to the usual street-level battle) inside Island-1. There’s a very specific reason for this: Kawamori regretted that there weren’t more atmospheric battles in Frontier (after all, most of them happen in space) and really wanted to have more. And compare to Delta which, so far at least, is nearly ALL atmospheric battles.

And in a MASSIVE change from the show, Ranka gets her memories back NOW, realizes that the Vajra are after her, and really takes charge of the situation, accompanied by a surprisingly fierce battle cry. That said, running down a pier might not have been the best idea, but I’m not sure she had much of a choice. Anyway, she gets captured, but at least it’s more or less intentional on her part. She seems quite willing to sacrifice herself to save the Fleet.

And Sheryl starts singing “Obelisk,” one of the best of the songs written for the movie.

And then SMS finally gets back, and everyone gets a little bit of time in the spotlight. Canaria’s Monster now has a bit of Sheryl nose art on it (“Fury Belle”) instead of the Ranka “Call Up Monster Girl” art it had in the later episodes of the series. And Michel gets a fake-out death scene. Which… on the one hand, it seems like it could be an appropriate (if early) time to kill him off. On the other, he’s a really popular character, so you’d kinda figure they would want him around for the second movie. And indeed, he’s fine.

So all ends happily, if a little inconclusively. I mean, I’m sure Sheryl feeling alone wasn’t really the plot thread that was put forth as the one to wrap up here, but that’s what we get. Sheryl knows she’s not alone. Yay. She’ll learn it again later.

And, uh… not EVERYTHING shown in the preview for the second movie (at the end of the credits here) actually happens in it.

15. On the whole, I don’t find a whole lot to complain about. The first half-hour is great, the last half-hour is excellent, the middle hour is… all right. But I can’t shake the feeling that as good as parts of this movie are, as a whole, it all feels unnecessary. Like, as I said, they were buying time to work on the second film, which is the REAL one. But that may just be me with hindsight, looking back. Overall, it’s not bad, with some really wonderful moments, and if you desire “some more, with a little twist,” then I think it’s fine. But it feels more like an appetizer instead of a full meal.

NUMBER OF TIMES RANKA SAYS “ALTO-KUN” THIS EPISODE: I’ll be honest… I lost count. And I don’t feel like watching the movie again to find out. If you wish to do so, be my guest.

AND TOTAL: 88+some amount.

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One thought on “THE GREAT MACROSS REWATCH 138 – The False Diva

  1. I just want to say thanks for this Rewatch series of yours – it is really a good reading material and too bad I didn’t find it sooner (or when I started my rewatch) 😀

    Like

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