Introducing Mecha March 2023
Welcome everyone to this blog once again. I know that it’s February right now (and September when I am writing this), but it’s that time again. So officially, Mecha March is happening once again! We are going to celebrate different sorts of mecha series once again and this year has a much more definitive theme. Maybe you will get the idea for it from how I am talking about the Robotech: The Macross Saga? Yeah, SDF Macross is the original version of what became localized with that name in mind. With that hint out of the way, this year’s Mecha March focus is Localization. So that will be explored a little bit, but it’s still going to be about the shows.
So no, Harmony Gold’s Robotech is not the first localization that occurred from Japan to the United States. I feel like those honors would be Gigantor, Astroboy, and Speed Racer. But localization has been a huge topic when it comes to anime because it’s how people watched it. There was a time where series were edited from name changes to a lot more English lingo inserted into series to now where people want series as close to the original as possible. So, I want to explore at least some of that history even if it’s very nonlinear in how I do it. I never go through anything in a Newtonian way in the first place, so that shouldn’t be a surprise.
Just a side note, I just want to mention that I am not angry or upset about how series were localized in the past at all. It’s taken a while to get over that purist sort of mindset that I used to have. The thing is that the series had to move from Japanese to the rest of the world somehow and the way that it was handled in the past wasn’t perfect. But, it did get people interested in anime shows and I know a lot of lifelong anime fans that started with Robotech and just kept going. I’m glad that everything has changed since then, but the localization aspect had to start somewhere to get to where it is now.
The Influence of Macross
From a series perspective, Macross immediately had some impact on the market around it. From popularity, the show was expanded from 24 to 36 episodes. That means it started a new transforming robot craze and a lot of new shows at that time tried to be more like it. I say try because a majority of those shows failed at achieving the same success as Macross. All of that is immediate change, not long standing influence. Macross was such a good show that I feel like anime will be feeling its long, reaching arms for ever and ever.
It hasn’t been until very recently that I learned how big and influential Macross was in 1982. This is one of those cases where you wouldn’t know this at first. Especially since almost everyone working on the Macross that exploded after was a newbie back then. I’m sure we all know about how Hideaki Anno was an animator for Macross and about Shoji Kawammori’s designs. Two people that became huge later. Well, let’s talk about other people later involved in some part of the ova boom in the 1980’s.
Especially since the ova boom started from Megazone 23 being a huge success and a lot of people who worked on Megazone 23 worked on SDF Macross. We could talk about Toshiki Hirano, who was the character designer that eventually created Iczer 1, Dangaioh, and many other things that defined the 80’s in terms of anime. Or what about Ichiro Itano, known for the Itano circus, was a director and a really influential animator that pushed the line further. I am sure there are a lot of people that I didn’t mention yet or didn’t look up, but Macross really was the starting palace for so many people.
The Story of SDF Macross
I’ve really bounced around the Macross series from Plus to 7 to Delta to the Frontier movies to now but this is where it all started. If this series wasn’t as explosively popular in Japan in 1982, then none of that would happen. That is a testament to how much its exceptional storyline works with people on a macro level and just as strongly on a micro level. There are so many topics of exploration, conceptualization, analysis, and other things because SDF Macross really is a well done and sophisticated work of fiction and that’s why I love it so much. Ok, story time.
In 1999, a city-sized spacecraft crash landed on Earth. Ten years after its appearance, the U.N. Spacy supposedly reverse engineered it with all the knowledge of mankind and an entire city formed around it because it became a business and people pleasing event. Also, there was a large-scale war called the unification wars during that time too. So in 2009, a launch ceremony for the ship called the Macross. A ceremony that somehow had the race of space giants, the Zentradi, show up to witness it. A major incident happens and a war starts between Earth and the Zentradi people.
At the same time, our protagonist HIkaru Ichijyo shows up in his civilian airplane. A person who is a protege of the ace pilot Roy Focker who shot down a lot of enemy planes during the unification wars. Somehow, Hikarku gets caught in the battle and fights against the Zentradi in a VF-1 Valkyrie. He upsets the pilot handler Misa Hayase by insulting her, but also meets the idol to be Lyn Minmei who works at a Chinese restaurant. When the Macross is folded to the moon along with the city, the story starts with the Macross’ journey back to Earth where they must survive against the Zentradi out in space. Of course it gets crazier than that and it’s fantastic.
Macross Has Everything
SDF Macross is a story of the ultimate underdog in their duct taped together reverse engineered ship that has an entire city on it against the Zentradi fleet which is composed of millions of ships at least. Why won’t the Zentradi just destroy the ship? Human kind? Because of the culture. They constantly put the Macross in situations where it barely escapes to analyze them more. It is that epic and emotional science fiction story that you see only in the original battlestar galactica back then. It was 1982 after all. So it’s a really good sci-fi story with gigantic space battles, transforming robots, and alien technology with high stakes. A natural draw.
Then there is the human story. The real drama is caused by having tens of thousands of people stuck on a spaceship separated from their families on Earth. Already interesting, right? Then you put in the love story and the living breathing city that has its own 80’s culture. Hikaru Ichijyo lives his life as an eventual recruit that is in love with Lyn Minmey at first, but there is that good bit of drama as both of them get busy, gain responsibilities, and such so they can’t get connected with each other anymore. They aren’t the same people anymore. So Hikaru slowly talks more with Misa and there is that sort of love triangle that Macross is famous for going on.
There is some look into culture itself. The Zentradi have no sense of culture because they only know war itself. Well, humans are humans. The very fact that the Macross has a civilian city on it means that there is 80’s culture in there. Arcades, kissing, romances, music, discos, idols, and movies. All things that the giant zentradi people just don’t understand. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but it is a look at a parasocial relationship from Lyn Minmey who is this big sort of culture provider through her music that the people on the Macross love and so do the Zentradi too. Also a look at the idol industry because of how overworked Lyn Minmey is.
Teenage Celebrities and Soldiers
One major thing that I need to constantly remind myself about Macross is that all the major characters are teenagers. Teenagers that are pushed into horrible situations shouldn’t be because of the situation they are in. Where else is the Macross going to get more people to fight the Zentradi then the teenagers on board? Same with the entertainment community itself. All of these people are locked in a box in space while some people are dedicating their lives to make sure it’s going. You know, even if it turns out to be a game for the Zentradi. It’s always serious for the human beings on board even if the civilians don’t know it yet.
Which is why Macross works in the situation it’s forced to be in. It’s so strange that a teenager like Hikaru Ichijyo is the lowest rank possible when he joins the military and quickly becomes someone who leads other people. Learning to pull the trigger took away so much from his life. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a person that has only started fighting. Hikaru has grown up in skill from when he crashed his Valkyrie in the beginning to where he can take on a lot of Zentradi battle pods without blinking. Skill in battle doesn’t mean that a person is ready for leading people yet and here he was just doing so much of that. Isn’t that screwed up?
That sort of nature is pushed towards Lyn Minmay who becomes an idol as a teenager and has her career completely blow up. Good for her but also, really terrible for her. On the Macross, she is pushed from one gig to another and never gets any honest sleep. There are episodes where she falls asleep easily on the sight of a bed OR is sick from being overworked. That puts her into the position of being the most popular person in the city of Macross but also the universe itself. Especially when Zentradi starts getting into her singing. This poor person that is the identity of the entire Macross is kept in a box to the point where she doesn’t understand anything going on. Yeah, this show really takes everything and pushes down really hard.
With all of that in mind, the show works hard to remind you constantly that they are still teenagers. How do we know that? Because of how much they are suck at interacting with each other. These are two people that assume the way the two think about each other from the beginning to the middle with real feelings actually appearing towards the end. It’s really believable for teenagers to be like that because they are all about themselves. That is the reason why Lyn Minmey is self centered and the entire community idolizing her doesn’t help. Meanwhile, that separation of Hikaru learning more of the truth of their situation with his responsibilities does eventually allow him to mature.
War and Culture
One of the major themes and/or concepts of SDF Macross is that war between culture and war itself. There are a bunch of binaries put into place to explore these things. The first one is obviously the Zentradi between Earth. The war and the culture. Then you see how the Zentradi can accept culture while the Earth itself can have war habits that the Zentradi would be familiar with. So that binary built into it right there becomes more of a yin yang scenario where both situations have a little bit of each other in them. I suppose it also helps that the DNA between both sides is almost the same because of what the Zentradi call protoculture. That mystery word that gets brought up quite a bit.
Then there is the love triangle itself that is an exploration of that. There is the culture represented by Lyn Minmay with the military side represented by Misa Hayase herself because she has been in the military due to her father for a long time. Hikaru has that starting relationship with Minmay but actually has a lot more of a relationship with Misa because they get to know each other over time. We also see a major growth from Misa where she decides to fly off into space to preserve humanity rather than help with killing so she matured. That is the direction Hikaru goes as Minmay pushes deeper and deeper into her past. Things change.
Macross Understands Isolation
The major part of Macross that no one ever seems to mention is that it understands what it means to be alone. I don’t just mean being locked away in a room for a few days trying to survive. Which did happen by the way because Minmei and Hikaru were locked away in a strange part of the Macross at the beginning of the show. A really big and emotional sort of storytelling that set up so many things, including their relationship, for the rest of the show. But that isn’t all. Macross understands what it means to be truly alone because they don’t know you.
How can a person be alone in a crowd? Or how can a pop idol be alone even if they are the most famous person that everyone knows? Simple, people only see you for the music and art that you bring into the world. Or just the attraction and value you bring on the outside and never try to look into who you are on the inside. That is the life of Lyn Minmei. No one talks to her or tries to understand what she is going through. She is only a tool. A prop that everyone unhealthy uses to create some sense of normalcy in the environment they are in.
So you can see why towards the end of the show when Lyn Minmei’s music isn’t hitting as hard as it used to that she doesn’t know what to do next or have anyone she can count on. Why? Even the jerk cousin she sticks around with left her, so she only has HIkaru to return to and attempt to bring back to the past with her. I didn’t like Minmei when I first watched Macross, but I really feel that there are so many layers to her character that make her so interesting and complicated. I think she gets so much undeserved hate for some reason.
I know it’s kind of obvious by how I mentioned idols and music, but Macross is technically a music anime. Lyn Minmey has some songs she likes to sing. Some of them are the prolific “My Boyfriend is a Pilot”. Something which stands the test of time. Then she has so many other things that just add so much mood to every situation that is going on at the right moment. It’s a very diegetic sort of feel to it that adds so much. A wonderful soundtrack of a show can create that on its own, but it’s something more to have those feelings inserted into you by a person who is living on the Macross through its troubled times.
But then there is the soundtrack itself that is astonishing. Kentaro Haneda created an OST that I don’t think many anime could match. At least back then because it feels so distinctive. Uses tracks that create the feeling of being caught in a windy breeze on a day or some fantastic elements that make the battle scenes so dynamic. Dogfighter is still one of my favorite anime songs on an OST ever because it is so creative and wonderful. Not to mention the classic opening and then the ending theme that is played over live action footage of a person thumbing through a photo album, but is just so amazing that I listen to it because it’s so good.
Great Side Characters
I feel so wrong or just generally bad for not talking about any of Macross’ side characters, because there are so many good ones worth mentioning that make the show feel so well rounded and lived it. Captain Global, the captain of the Macross, is such a wonderful captain. Claudia, Misa’s best friend on the bridge is also particularly good. She is dating Roy Focker who feels like the ace play boy at first, but has a lot of layers to him that make him so much better too. Or Max Jenius who is an infamously charismatic ace pilot. I can keep going with the bridge bunnies and mayors of cities. Macross has such a lively community.
I really do like a lot of the Zentradi characters too. Commander Britai with Chief Archivist Exadore are such an interesting combo that go on so many good dramatic turns throughout the entire show. The hot headed Kamujin is one not at first, but gains a lot of intrigue in the show’s last episodes that shows how the Zentradi have evolved since gaining some culture. Then I do have to mention Miriya, because she is the ace pilot that marries Max in a very quick moment. She is so much fun. Or the stowaways who are a lot of fun. Each character helps to flesh out the Zentradi from only being a race of warrior people to being more interesting and changeable people.
The Flaws of Macross
Kaifun. Lets just nip this bud right out the gate. Lyn Minmei’s cousin couldn’t suck anymore then he does. I think the show tried to throw him into everything a little too hard. Supposedly, Kaifun represents the antiwar portion because the show is displaying military things all over the place. Cool transforming jets and the transforming Macross into a giant ship. Here is the thing though, the show represents itself with all the death and Hikaru mentioning how he possibly won’t come back alive enough to carry how bad and serious the situation is. He is so intolerable and empty that it makes sense he just becomes a drunk abuser in the show’s last few episodes.
Then speaking of that, the show after episode 27 is kind of questionable at best. The idea of humankind and the Zentradi not having a perfect disney movie conclusion is interesting. Especially since we see that the originally planned ending of the show isn’t as glamorous as it could have been. It even shows how complex the Zentradi are now that they have culture and can wield it anyway that they want to. Plus the glorious days of Lyn Minmei have gone by now and she is struggling. Here is the thing, the show also had to reset a bit of HIkaru’s arc to make this happen and that is so frustrating because it’s half the arc. It’s bad stuff.
Next, there are some aspects of Macross that just haven’t aged well. Especially since it was made in 1982. For instance, the defined relationship in Macross in men and women only. It makes sense when you consider that it ties into a lot of the themes of Macross with the Zentradi not even having men and women on the same ship while human beings go on dates. That’s about it really. Future Macross series do change this and try to do some unique things with its characters, its universe, and so many other things there too. I’m glad that Macross is a franchise that does its best to stay with the times because it is a franchise centered on culture after all.
Lastly, SDF Macross from an animation standpoint is a complete production disaster. There are a lot of good looking moments where Valkyries would transform, the great Macross transformation and cannon firing sequences, and great space battles that show the weight and skill of pilots, and good character animation at moments from facial expressions to dancing. Then there are episodes that had horrible and off model animation, only key frames, missing aspects here and there, and so many other things for them too. It is such a disaster piece sometimes that it’s lucky it didn’t damage the entire show itself because it’s well written.
I Really Love SDF Macross
With all of those things in mind with the good and the bad, it’s still one of my favorite anime series of all time. Not in my top ten perhaps because ranking is hard when it comes to favorites, but it might be number 11 or 12. It’s almost impossible to call for me. I’ve watched this show at least 5 times by now and I see something new or interesting about it every time. Or maybe it’s because I’m latching onto its themes and ideas and trying to say a bit more because SDF Macross really is a show that has so much into it that I’m amazed that it works as well as it does. How often do you see series that combine so many tropes at once? Well, they were popular after Macross.
Just like the original Gundam series, SDF Macross is one of those landmark series that I can’t help but love and champion as much as I can to people. You know, despite this being the one series not getting any western release in the entire Macross franchise from a recent announcement, because it is the show that started it all. It’s one of those shows that I can’t help but recommend to people whenever you can get a chance to enjoy it. I say that in whatever form you get it from and wherever you can acquire it. It’s that special that it automatically transcends whatever you think it could be by just being more. Macross rules!