Note: While I’m not going to make it a requirement to read my previous episodes 1-13 review, I’d still recommend it before reading this one. There’s also minor spoilers for the other Macross series, but that’s kind of inevitable if you’re already watching Frontier.
Macross Frontier is the newest series in the Macross franchise, celebrating the 25th anniversary one of the most fondly remembered anime series ever. While not the first sequel to Macross, it is also the one that, for better or worse, tries the hardest to translate the emotions of the original Macross through the lens of today’s anime.
The original 1982 Super Dimensional Fortress Macross asked its audience many things. What are you willing to do for peace? What potential does humanity have for growth? What role does culture play in understanding one another? Taking place in a time when the world had just recently discovered peace after years of war and turmoil, the people of Earth are confronted by an alien race of giants whose only purpose in life is to wage war. Though these “Zentradi” were superior to the humans in nearly every way, the one area in which they had no knowledge turned out be both their downfall and their redemption: culture. Introducing the Zentradi to concepts such as love and sorrow through the emotional singing of pop idol Lynn Minmay, in time the Zentradi began to co-exist with humans. Thanks to technology that allowed the Zentradi to shrink to human size (a process called miclonization), some even married across species and bore offspring.
Nearly 50 years later, the two races have integrated to the point that it would not surprise a person if most of their friends were at least part-Zentradi. In that time, the people of Earth have begun to actively colonize outer space, discovered the dangers of artificial intelligence, and encountered a species that was more spirit than flesh. The Macross Frontier is the 25th colonial Macross-class ship, entrusted to venture through the galaxy to find a planet with a hospitable environment on which humans could live. Amidst its travels, the Macross Frontier is attacked by a race known as the Vajra. Unlike the Zentradi who battled with the human race nearly five decades earlier, the Vajra are inhuman, insect-like creatures, with an unreadable hive mind. Reasoning with them is not an option.
Three people aboard the Macross Frontier hold special significance. One is Saotome Alto, a student and former actor whose feminine looks allowed him to pass for a female when performing. Due to the attack by the Vajra, he decides to become a pilot of a Valkyrie (the humanoid-into-jet transforming robot symbolic of the Macross franchse) to repel the threat. Another is Sheryl Nome, a famous pop idol originally from the Macross Galaxy colony who happens to be holding a concert when the Vajra invade. Stranded aboard the Frontier, Sheryl uses her talents to try and keep hope alive for the distraught inhabitants. Last is Ranka Lee, a girl with no memories of her childhood. Ranka is a huge fan of Sheryl, and is inspired by her to pursue a singing career of her own, though there may be more to Ranka’s singing than simply talent and enthusiasm. Alto, Sheryl, and Ranka all become friends but as time passes their feelings change, both towards each other and towards the battle against the Vajra.
Ranka’s older brother is a tough, no-nonsense Valkyrie pilot who tries to hide his job from Ranka to keep her from worrying. Alto’s fellow pilots include a mechanical wiz, Luca, and a ladies’ man, Michael, whose playboy tendencies infuriate his childhood friend, the Zentradi pilot Klan Klan. Klan Klan, herself a highly skilled pilot, suffers from the fact that miclonizing her also regresses her physical age, something which Michael pokes fun of her for mercilessly. Grace is Sheryl’s manager who also recognizes talent in Ranka. Nanase is Ranka’s friend and biggest supporter of her career, and also the target of Luca’s affection. These are among the many supporting characters of Macross Frontier. They intertwine with the primary characters and themes of the show while still making their personal stories feel important.
Macross Frontier’s character designs may lack the subtlety of Mikimoto’s (the original Macross character designer), but Ebata Risa and Takahashi Yuuichi clearly worked hard to tie visual design with personalit. They make it easy to recognize every character even if you barely remember them. I wouldn’t say they’re better than Mikimoto’s designs, but they at least reflect current concepts and conventions of character design without seeming stale in the process. The animation can go off-model every so often, but the same thing happens with pretty much every other Macross series. Macross Frontier also has some of the best use of CG ever in an anime TV series. Never before have 3-D graphics been so well-integrated into both the every-day environments as well as the epic, space-rending battles which so emphasize the significance and destruction of war.
Romance against the backdrop of war is the driving force behind the Macross franchise, and Macross Frontier is no exception, though it takes particular care to put everyone through periods of happiness followed by periods of duress, both mental and emotional, in order to reveal their true characters. How does humanity handle interacting with a race so unlike anything familiar that it is impossible to humanize them? How far can Alto run away from his past? How different are humans, really, from the Zentradi’s old ways? How does the confident Sheryl handle being shunted out of the public spotlight in favor of Ranka? Where do people stand in the struggle between freedom and security? Why does Ranka sing?
Whereas romance and war are the bones and muscles of Macross, music is the blood and nerves. Music is one of the most important aspects of the Macross franchise, so much so that Macross Frontier saw it fit to have two main characters as singers. Music is power. Music is what brought giants to their knees and peace after war, but Macross Frontier teaches us that even the benevolent power of music can be twisted in unexpected ways. The songs of Sheryl and Ranka perhaps say more about their characters than any lines of dialogue. Sheryl’s songs exude power and confidence with just a hint of vulnerability, while Ranka’s songs reflect the highs and lows of her emotions. Their songs are markedly different from the humble pop of Minmay, or the rocking ballads of Fire Bomber, toeing the line between human and inhuman, between authentic and manufactured, but ultimately leaving one with the sense that this is is new, that this is truly the music of 2047.
Macross Frontier is not just a modern Macross. It is not just a new Macross, nor is it simply the new Macross. From its music to its storytelling to its characters to its questions, Macross Frontier is New Macross. It is a series which carries on the francise’s 25-year-old spirit and accurately invokes this current age of anime and society.