If one were to describe a Macross series, there would be many recurring concepts: war, transforming fighter jets, idol singers, love triangles, culture. However, if one were to describe the feelings conveyed by each series, theywould be hard-pressed to find too many similarities. The original Super Dimensional Fortress Macross feels different from Macross Plus, which in turn has little in common with Macross 7 or Macross Zero thematically. They all exist in the same universe, but they could not be further from each other without turning into Gaogaigar and Betterman.
So it can be mighty confusing when I say that Macross Frontier, or at least the first half of it, feels like Macross.
Macross Frontier is the 25th anniversary celebration of Studio Nue’s Macross, and with it comes a return to the original in terms of pacing, characterization, and the specific balance of love and war and the way they intertwine. Nowhere is this more evident than in the main love triangle of Macross Frontier.
The “love triangle” has been a constant part of Macross since day one with Hikaru, Misa, and Minmay. Still, I have always found the original love triangle to be the best because it truly seemed like a battle for the heart, a battle whose landscape is transformed radically by war and the circumstances surrounding it. Macross Plus is less about developing love and more about resolving an existing one, Macross Zero’s is wrapped in its own lore, and Macross 7’s you can hardly call a love triangle when it involves a guy who likes a girl, a girl who kind of likes both, and a guy who doesn’t care. In every case, the romantic tension is lacking, a tension which I believe factors significantly into the success of the original.
Macross Frontier’s three main characters, Saotome Alto, Sheryl Nome, and Ranka Lee, recapture that tension. Saotome Alto is an amateur fighter pilot and former theatrical actor. Sheryl Nome, the “Galactic Fairy,” is by far the biggest music idol of the day. Ranka Lee is a young girl working at a Chinese restaurant who aspires to be a pop idol. Mankind’s encounter with the Vajra, a violent alien race so powerful it can easily avoid an Itano Circus, brings Alto, Sheryl, and Ranka together and ties their destinies together.
It all sounds very familiar, but I am in no way saying that Macross Frontier is treading old ground, or that it’s some sort of lazy throwback to time immaterial (the 1980s). Already from my small and deliberately basic description, there are some things which are new and refreshing, particularly in this current age of anime. Unlike previous series, the main characters are all involved in performance in very different ways. There’s also the fact that we have not one but two idols with many years of experience of difference between them, with Sheryl being both Ranka’s surrogate mother (Ranka herself losing her parents at an early age), and her conflicted rival for the affections of Alto. Just like in the original Macross, I cannot bring myself to hate either girl or Alto, and also like in the original, I cannot seem to decide who I want to side with at the moment. I like this feeling. It’s one I’ve enjoyed before, and yet it feels so new.
Macross has always used its continuity as merely a backdrop, unlike say, Robotech, which thrives on it. However, whereas the latest incarnation of Robotech is marred by this devotion to continuity, Macross Frontier’s many, many nods to the past, a live performance of My Boyfriend is a Pilot and a car radio playing Planet Dance being just two examples, fit right in without overwhelming the viewer with backstory. History lessons are welcomed, but are not absolutely necessary, so what you end up having is a series which is progress not for the sake of progress but for making something worth watching and worth remembering.
The suspense is so great I may deculture my pants.