MACROSS FRONTIER – Suggestions for Further Reading (and Listening!)

Frontier books

SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING (AND LISTENING!)
Okay, for Macross Zero, there is absolutely nothing. Books, drama albums, nothing. But before I get into the Frontier stuff specifically, there are a couple of surprises that the success of Macross Frontier yielded, in the form of two separate magazines:

Macross Chronicle
This one started first, in July 2008, while Frontier was still airing. It wasn’t published (initially, at least), by the publisher D’Agostini, but it follows a model they often use: each issue had an assortment of pages (a few about mecha, a few about characters, a few about other topics), in more-or-less random order. Your job, as the reader, is to gently pull the pages out of the magazine (they’re attached to the spine with relatively weak glue) and put them in order in the special Macross Chronicle binders (sold separately, of course). Since it’s all published out of order, it’s almost more like collecting trading cards than actually getting a magazine series, and it’s likewise supposed to activate one’s collector mentality and a desire to get ALL the pages. And for me, at least, it worked like a charm. If you DID collect all fifty issues that were released biweekly over the next two years (as I did), you’d be rewarded with five full binders… a 1,600-page Macross encyclopedia covering nearly every topic you could imagine. Each issue featured a few pieces of original art, including an invariably stunning Tenjin picture (by the way, all three headers that I’ve used for this blog come from Chronicle. None of them have been Tenjin pieces, though).

(I remember one guy on Macross World saying something like, “I only want to get one issue: which one gives you the most bang for your buck?” That’s an unanswerable question because, again, the assortment is so varied, and the collection is almost worthless as a resource unless you dive in and get ALL the issues.)

A few years later, D’Agostini would come out with a new edition of the magazine, plumped out to eighty issues, with thirty more Tenjin pictures and the addition of a complete episode guide and other original artwork. And I don’t doubt they’ll release it again, expanded to include Delta, sometime in the next decade or so.

The magazine isn’t perfect. I think they initially overestimated how much they could fit into fifty issues, which led to some pages never appearing (Wendy Ryder, for example). One thing that I think of as a flaw, though, YOU might think of as a virtue: it takes a very hard stance regarding what is “canonical” and what isn’t. Thus, Do You Remember Love is presented as an in-universe movie AND NOTHING ELSE, and both it and Macross II are separated from the rest of the pages. To me, as I’ve said before, the idea of canonicity in Macross is best viewed in very loose and ambiguous terms (TRUST ME! Your RPGs might suffer, but your mental health will be better for it!). Anyway, in the magazine, there’s a lot of (in my view) useless verbiage that’s there mostly to rationalize and harmonize the discrepancies between various Macross series. That’s a hopeless task, due to fail, but they do as good a job as can be done, I guess.

Now… as far as translations go, I worked on a few, but found it VERY rough going. Much as I would like to do the whole thing, I really doubt I ever will. However, Macross World member Sketchley has translated many portions of it, which you can view on his website. Likewise, the Macross Mecha Manual uses a lot of information from the magazine in its write-ups.

Macross Ace
This to me was a really interesting magazine that never lived up to its potential (although it came close occasionally). I’ve already talked about Shonen Ace, the anime-themed manga anthology magazine started by Kadokawa Publishing in 1994 (and home of Macross 7 Trash and the Macross Frontier adaptation, as well as things like Evangelion, Crossbone Gundam, and Escaflowne). In the year 2000, they tried an experiment: they had persuaded Yoshikazu Yasuhiko, character designer, animation director, and celebrated manga artist, to do his own adaptation of the first Mobile Suit Gundam series (for which of course he had been the character designer and animation director). He agreed on one big condition: each magazine installment would have to be around 100 pages long, which was much too long for Shonen Ace. So a new magazine was proposed: Gundam Ace, which would be mostly a showcase for Mobile Suit Gundam the Origin, and a central hub for Gundam-themed manga and news. They got Hiroyuki Kitazume (character designer for Zeta and Double Zeta) to write “Char’s Deleted Affair: Portrait of a Young Comet,” covering Char’s life between the end of First Gundam and the beginning of Zeta, and (starting in issue 3) Haruhiko Mikimoto to write “Ecole du Ceil,” a story beginning a couple of years before Zeta and then tying directly into it. Along with these three starring series, they also developed a stable of artists for shorter series and one-shots. The quality was high across the board (mostly), the tone of the different manga series was varied, and the magazine was a rousing success. The first year, it was released quarterly, the second year upped it to bimonthly, and in the third, it became monthly, where it stands currently.

Anyway, to get the point, it was popular enough that various limited-edition spin-off titles were occasionally released. In 2005, to coincide with the Zeta Gundam movie trilogy, three issues of “Zeta Gundam Ace” were released. Every time a new episode of Gundam Unicorn debuted, they would release an issue of “Gundam UC Ace.” For the Gundam 00 movie, we had “Gundam 00 Ace.” And in early 2009, right about the time that, in-universe, the Macross was due to launch, we got “Macross Ace,” which ostensibly was NOT a limited series like the other spin-offs. Clearly hoping to capture the same magic of Gundam the Origin, the flagship title was Haruhiko Mikimoto’s “Super Dimension Fortress Macross the First.” (This wasn’t the first time they had tried this. Following Gundam the Origin’s success were, in other Kadokawa magazines, “Ultraman the First” and “Kamen Rider the First,” followed by “Kamen Rider the Next.”) Ecole du Ceil, still continuing in Gundam Ace, was put on hiatus (where it stays, nearly eight years later), and Mikimoto went to work on the new Macross series. The other flagship titles were “Macross F: Secret Visions” which was drawn by the oddly-named “Noshi” (who would, with no explanation, after Issue 3 change his or her name to “okiura”), but plotted by Frontier’s scriptwriter, Hiroyuki Yoshino, and “Macross 7th Chord,” by Akira Kano. Various one-shots, gag manga, interviews, and articles filled the rest of the magazine.

It was released on a strange, thrice-yearly schedule, and while it seemed as though a lot of effort was being put into it at first, that kind of dwindled as the magazine continued. “Macross F: Secret Visions” disappeared after four chapters (enough for one collected book), although each issue CLAIMED that the series would return in the next, and new issues were filled with more and more gag manga one-shots. The magazine stuck around until the second Frontier movie debuted, and then quietly limped to a halt after a mere eight issues.

Which, naturally, seems like a real shame to me. While there’s obviously less ground that can be covered in Macross than there is in Gundam, it still seems like there’s enough to fill a small magazine. I was hoping for more side stories and gap-fillers (I mean, there’s almost thirty years between Flashback 2012 and Macross Plus that’s gone virgin territory, right?), but the regular manga serials remained few, and the quality generally wasn’t as high as it could’ve been (i.e. several rungs below an average issue of Gundam Ace).

Of the continuing series, the best are definitely “Macross the First” and Kikuya Megane’s beautiful adaptations of stories from “Nyan Dra,” the Macross F drama albums. “Macross F: Secret Visions” was well-drawn, but was mostly an exercise in getting Sheryl and Ranka nearly naked (even including a hot springs chapter). The fourth chapter introduced an interesting new character, a Zentradi girl who worships Sheryl, but the manga vanished after that. “Macross 7th Chord” was just bizarre (featuring a VF-9 controlled by piano), and ended mid-story (a hasty epilogue was tacked on to the compiled book of the series). Later issues had “Macross Plus: TAC Name,” a competent but not-very-interesting retelling of Plus, adding nothing new besides Sharon Apple wearing glasses in the final battle. The gag manga were hit-and-miss. Nearly every manga from the magazine has been collected in book form, so if you really want to know, they’re out there. And all of the issues of the magazine remain cheap. Gwyn got an entire set (his second or third) on Japanese Amazon for about ten cents (¥11). Not ten cents per issue, but ten cents TOTAL (plus shipping, of course).

Honestly, if they had just hung on one more year, they probably could’ve cashed in somewhat on the 30th Anniversary. But then again, maybe not. Anyway, even with the magazine cancelled, “Macross the First” was too good to lose, so it was shunted to ANOTHER new magazine, “Newtype Ace.” This one was monthly, so the chapters became shorter: twenty pages rather than ninety or so. “Macross Plus: TAC Name” also continued in the magazine, and “Macross 7th Chord” was initially announced, but never appeared. Later, they were joined by Kikuya Megane’s “Macross Fortissimo,” initially meant to be the story of what happened between the Macross Frontier movies, but instead becoming an alternate ending. The big draw of the magazine, though, wasn’t Macross (obviously) but rather Tiger and Bunny, and once enthusiasm for that began to fade, so did the magazine. It lasted fourteen issues. The Plus and Frontier manga had both managed to finish by that point, but Macross the First was left homeless AGAIN, eventually finding a place digitally on Kadokawa’s “Comic Walker” app. Six chapters were released before the manga went on hiatus. That was about a year ago, and it was announced last week that it’s finally back AGAIN, this time as part of the lineup of “Comic Newtype.”

All of which has been a really long-winded way of getting us to…

Macross the First
Okay, first off, it LOOKS gorgeous. Mikimoto is still a great illustrator, and the designs have all been quite handsomely revised and updated (in other words, all the characters look like they’re ACTUALLY living in 2009, as opposed to the never-ending early-eighties look of the series). I get the distinct feeling, though, that Mikimoto himself only draws the characters, leaving (definitely) the mecha and (probably) the backgrounds to his assistants… so when you get to a chapter that’s nearly all battle scenes, there’s very little actual Mikimoto art in it. There are some interesting twists to the story (most dating back to the planning stages of the show, but left out of the actual production), but… look, we have six volumes of the manga (Volumes One through Three come from Macross Ace, Volumes Four and Five from Newtype Ace, and Volume Six from Comic Walker), and the story still hasn’t progressed very far. By Volume Five, they’ve left Mars and are gearing up for the Miss Macross Contest, when suddenly… the story goes into a flashback to a battle that took place before the Macross launched (Christmas Eve, 2008). Most of Volume Five and all of Volume Six covers this, and Volume Six ends with it still unresolved. In the upcoming Volume Seven, I hope the flashback finishes up and we (FINALLY!) get to Minmay’s debut.

Back in 2009, I was seriously PUMPED to translate this, especially after realizing that the dialogue from the first two issues in Macross Ace (the whole of the first volume) was about 75% taken directly from the TV series, which meant that most of it was already translated. Jasonc and The White Drew Carey from Macross World offered to do the Photoshop work, and we were good to go. However, as soon as I announced publicly that we were going to be working on it, everything turned VERY weird. First, I had some ethical concerns about a quick English translation turnaround (since even people who don’t speak Japanese will still often buy untranslated manga for the art… especially with something like this, where if you’ve seen the series, you know the story. And more about THAT in a bit), but also I think I had underestimated just HOW HUNGRY plenty of fans were for this manga, and how hungry others were to capitalize on that hunger.

Suddenly, I started getting messages about it from people (pretty much all from the Latin American fandom) hounding me; some polite, some rude, some threatening, some warning. One guy insulted me and then begged for my help IN THE SAME SENTENCE. The big thing that kept getting brought up was some scanlation group that wanted to take my translation and scans, translate it into Spanish, and then claim total credit for the whole thing… and they wanted to charge people to read it.

(Another scanlation of the manga was begun by Redshoulder, and you can read his account here and here. There are some definite parallels with my experience, and I have no doubt that the Spanish group he had trouble with was the same one circling around me. Indeed, if I had released our scanlation earlier, I’m sure it would’ve been ME having all the problems instead of him.)

Anyway, the situation had me a little spooked and annoyed, and I vacillated on whether to release the scanlation or not. I talked about this on Macross World, saying that, again, the dialogue (for the first two volumes, which were all that existed at that point) was mostly word-for-word from the show, and even with no Japanese language ability, anyone who had seen the series could understand the story. And then someone came in, saying how awful I was for saying that people should learn Japanese in order to read it. I pointed out that I hadn’t said anything of the kind. And then someone ELSE came in and jumped down my throat, agreeing with the first person, writing a huge post about how stupid and awful I was (I think the exact word he used was “asinine”) to say that people should learn fluent Japanese in order just to read a manga. When I replied that, again, that wasn’t at all what I was saying, he refused to budge, telling me that yes, that WAS what I had been saying (even though it clearly wasn’t). The following posters read his post, didn’t read my original post about it, and totally agreed with him, making a nice little dogpile on me for not translating the manga, even though I had already translated it.

At this point, my enthusiasm for the project went from “heavily dampened” to “virtually nonexistent.”

Anyway, since we had already finished Volume 1, I held on to it until a) the Redshoulder scanlation came out, and b) I saw Volume 1 in Book Off (the big used book chain in Japan) going for about a dollar (¥105). Figuring if it was that cheap, demand must not be high, so we weren’t cutting much into sales, and also figuring that our version was better than the other one (ours may be objectively better, or I may just THINK it’s better because it’s MY work… probably the latter), I went ahead and put it out. A few friends exhorted me to continue, and indeed, I had already started on Volume 2, but again, it’s all caused me nothing but headaches, and my enthusiasm is basically gone. I still have the text files, I still have a bookmark in Volume 2, and once or twice a year, I pick it up and translate a page or so before thinking that I’d rather do something else. I’m not asking for pity or even sympathy, just explaining why I was so gung-ho at first and so uninterested now, and why there’s only one volume finished, even though by rights I should have all six done by this point.

The sudden dive into the flashback and the manga’s uncertain future (yes, Volume Seven is about to be serialized, but who knows what’ll happen after that?) additionally make it difficult to muster up the effort. As the series stands currently, it’s a double cliffhanger: the main story and the flashback are both unfinished. I’d like to know that it’s going to come to an actual finale before I work on it more.

(And, I might add, my ethical fears were, in the end, warranted, since sales were weak enough that not one but TWO magazines that carried the manga were canceled. If every hardcore Macross fan around the world had supported it, regardless of whether they could read Japanese or not, Macross Ace would probably still be cooking along. Just for the art alone, it was worth the price.)

As for the other Macross Ace manga series… Mm, yeah, I kinda want to translate them, but only in the sense that I want to translate EVERYTHING. I’m not really jazzed about any of them, except maybe for the Kikuya Megane ones. And not even them, too much.

Okay, that long and depressing tale finished, it’s on to…

Macross Frontier
1. Albums: Unlike the dizzying array of Macross 7 drama albums, Macross Frontier only has four (which is still about one too many). They were released as a series, “Nyan Dra” (standing, obviously, for “Nyan Nyan Drama”), monthly in early 2009 (the fourth one comes with a box to hold all of them in). The script quality varies track by track: the best ones are, I think, absolutely essential, and the worst ones are pretty stupid. I think the staff knew this, because each album contains one great story, one useless story, and one that’s somewhere in between (except for the fourth volume, where EVERY story is mediocre or dull). The best are usually written by Frontier’s scriptwriter, Hiroyuki Yoshino (one story per disc), and the best of those are (on Volume One) “Alto Meets Sky,” about 13-year-old Alto (weirdly still with Nakamura’s usual Alto voice) discovering his love of flying, and (on Volume Three) “Galaxy Memory,” about Sheryl growing up with Grace. These two feel the most “necessary,” and it’s not surprising that they’re among the stories adapted by Kikuya Megane for her manga version (although she throws things off a little by having Sheryl posters appear in the “Alto Meets Sky”… I can’t believe that Sheryl debuted four or five years prior to the start of Frontier… I get the feeling Ms. Megane just wanted to draw Sheryl, and damn the continuity). Of the non-Yoshino stories, generally they’re played for laughs, and the good ones are VERY funny. Additionally, there’s a “Super Dimension Duet” as a bonus track on each disc, but these are generally more interesting in concept than execution. Mostly, I think, the overcooked arrangements ruin the songs, although Bobby damn near steals “Totsugeki Loveheart.”

Apart from the albums, there are a few other fan club or promotional audio drama clips around. Much like the Macross 7 ones, these are usually thinly-veiled advertisements, although they can be pretty clever.

2. Novels and manga: now HERE’S where Frontier showed its muscle. The sheer amount of stuff is daunting once you see how much there is, and a little disheartening once you realize that a lot of it isn’t very good. First off, there are a whopping EIGHT novels, all by previously-unaffiliated author Ukyou Kodachi, who is now an official staff member (he wrote Macross the Ride, Macross 30, and he’s in charge of “continuity” for Delta, as well as the scriptwriter for Episode 8). The first four novels adapt the TV series, but with A LOT of added material, including cameo appearances from a number of characters from previous Macross shows (and even the games). The next two books are actually not novels but short story collections. In every issue of Macross Ace, Kodachi would write a story, generally Frontier-themed, although sometimes the lines get blurred a bit, like in the one or two about Alto’s father, as a young man, meeting Isamu. Additionally, he would also occasionally write Frontier stories for Kadokawa’s “light novel” magazine, “The Sneaker.” If you’ve read the Suzumiya Haruhi books, the short stories in, say, Book 3 were also originally published in The Sneaker (“Sneaker Literature,” you see, being the imprint for Kadokawa’s “light novel” division). So yeah, all those stories and a couple more are collected here. And finally, the next two novels adapt the movies. And more about Mr. Kodachi in a moment.

So that’s already a lot, and that’s BEFORE we get into the manga serials, which is where you can most easily see how Frontier’s fortunes changed as it became more popular (and who its audience really was). Before the TV series started airing properly, two manga series debuted. First was the official adaptation in Shonen Ace, by Hayato Aoki, which would run to five volumes when complete. Then there was a gag manga (I think…) called “Super Dimension Shrine Maiden Ranka,” by Yoshihiro Kuroiwa. This one didn’t last very long and was never reprinted in book form. I haven’t seen it, except for a very few excepts on Google Image Search. The Shonen Ace adaptation, though, is generally pretty good, despite some dodgy art. It follows the story of the TV series fairly faithfully, although it naturally compresses many events. It’s funny… when this series was ahead of the TV series (as it was for a while), there was a HUGE interest in the manga at Macross World, and someone was even translating the issues as they came out. As soon as the TV show overtook the manga, everyone stopped caring. Which is why you can only find the first five or six chapters translated into English. About midway through the TV series, a third manga serial, “Macross Frontier: Embrace, to the Ends of the Galaxy!” by Sorahiko Mizushima started up in Comp Ace, the computer-themed spin-off of Shonen Ace. If you thought Ranka was too “moe” in the series, you probably shouldn’t check out this manga. Even Sheryl looks like a cutesy little girl in it.

Anyway, yeah, that didn’t prove terribly popular, either, although there ended up being enough installments to collect into a book. So at this point, yes, Macross Ace had become the primary venue for Macross-themed manga, but not the only one. In “Newtype Romance,” which, as its name suggests, is aimed at fangirls, there was “S.M.S.☆Tale,” all about Alto, Michel, and Luca. As far as I can tell, there is virtually no plot, but if you want more Alto and Michel, it’s there for you. And in 2010, there was a big announcement that a manga about Sheryl would be appearing in the girl’s magazine, “Bessatsu Friend.” This ended up being “Sheryl – Kiss in the Galaxy,” with beautiful artwork by Kariko Koyama. I would highly recommend it on the artwork alone. And unfortunately, the artwork is the ONLY reason I can recommend it. It starts promisingly enough, showing Sheryl’s desperate childhood, and then… kinda falls apart. The characterization of Sheryl (and Ranka) is great, but any time the story remembers “Oh, hey… there’s a space war going on, isn’t there?” the writing gets really bad. It’s odd, because Kawamori is credited as the advisor for the series, but I assume that was just for publicity (like Tomino’s role in Crossbone Gundam… he came up the idea and then let the manga artist do all the work). In other words, the story doesn’t really feel like anything Kawamori would’ve done. Sheryl shippers seem to overlook the series’ flaws, though, because the finale at last gives them an unambiguous happy ending for Sheryl and Alto (and, um… Brera and Ranka. Disturbingly enough, they look ready to get married. To each other. All’s well that ends well, I guess). It ran initially for three volumes (which comprise the whole of the main story), followed sometime later by a fourth volume with a side story and a flashback. And again, the art is EXCELLENT. I really wanted to love the series, but I just couldn’t…

Anyway, I hope you notice the trend that Frontier manga started out being serialized in boy’s “otaku” magazines, but ended up in girls’ comics. Again (and I know a bunch of people don’t believe this), the audience had changed, from boys to young women (and, I must insist, emphatically NOT “little girls”).

Oh, there are also a couple of Frontier gag manga anthologies. Neither is terribly interesting.

What IS interesting, though is…

Macross the Ride
The was a feature in Dengeki Hobby magazine, a serialized novel (again by Ukyou Kodachi, who wrote all the Macross Frontier novels and is currently writing the Delta novels) which, let’s face it, really mostly exists so that model kit customizers can show off their work. It’s set on Macross Frontier, a year BEFORE the series starts, and is about air racers on “Island Reno” (it was written before the tragedy at the Reno Air Race). So yeah… everyone has heavily customized racing Valkyries, and every issue of Dengeki Hobby in the twelve issues that contain the story had plenty of photos of models of these customized Valks, with tips on how the kits were made. All of them are pretty great-looking, but I think my favorite is Chelsea Scarlet’s VF-19ACTIVE (which, looking at it now, bears a suspicious resemblance to a VF-31…). So the fact that the story is apparently actually INTERESTING, despite just being a framework to show off model kits, is kinda something. It’s high on my list to read and translate, but, uh… yeah, I won’t be getting to it soon.

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