Super Dimensional Fortress MacrossApril 19, 2012
Growing up as child of the 1970’s and 1980’s, I was exposed to a lot of cool stuff that kids of today are now catching up on. Today’s generation of Anime and Manga fans have a catalog of material going back to the 1950’s, along with television series and movies that number in the thousands. I was fortunate enough to grow up watching two series that influenced me a lot as an artist. These two series were broadcast locally in syndication and had repeat airings. I would try and watch every episode whenever possible.
The shows are well known by their American titles- “Star Blazers” and “Robotech.” I am now referring them to their original Japanese names of “Space Battleship Yamato” and “Super Dimensional Fortress Macross.” Both series came out about five years apart in Japan, but both have a huge following here in the US and Japan. Both are war stories and space opera, but they both go beyond that with characters that are more than two dimensions.
“Super Dimensional Fortress Macross,” or “Macross,” is the brainchild of Shoji Kawamori, who helped create the series early on in his career. (See the previous blog on “The Vision of Escaflowne”) The story takes place at the turn of the millennium, where war had broken out across the planet. Technology had advanced enough to make a fighter aircraft morph into a humanoid shaped robot built for both aerial and surface combat. Little did anyone know how important this technological breakthrough would be.
The ongoing war stopped rather abruptly as a giant space craft of alien origin plummeted to Earth and crashed on a remote island in the South Pacific. Upon discovering the alien nature of the ship and the possibility of those same aliens coming to look for this seemingly lost ship, Earth unites in preparing for the possible invasion. In the next ten years, the ship is restored and outfitted to accommodate us humans.
On its inaugural launch, it brings the cast of characters together. Roy Focker, Commander of the flight group Skull Squadron, had invited his young friend Hikaru Ichijo to join the festivities. An accomplished stunt and racing pilot, Hikaru had learned flying from Roy at a young age before Roy was called into military service.
The celebration and festivities give way to a sudden invasion of alien space craft. The ship, Macross, had open fired with its massive cannon upon detecting the alien craft in orbit. The ship had automatically assumed combat status. The crew of the Macross, lead by Captain Grobal and his first officer, Misa Hayase, prepare for the incoming invasion.
Roy is summoned to duty, while Hikaru sits idly by in a trainer version of the Variable Fighter, which resembles an F-14 Tomcat. As the alien aircraft land, they deploy two legged ‘battle pods’ that start to invade the city built around the Macross. All pilots are called to defend the city and assist with evacuating the citizens. Hikaru is mistakenly drawn into combat and flies the aircraft he was sitting in. He is forced down and transforms his plane into the humanoid ‘battleroid’ form of his aircraft. His forced landing has him encounter the young Lynn Minmay, a Chinese girl who lives in Macross City. She and her family are evacuated as Hikaru and Roy meet.
The invading force nearly overtakes the city, as Hikaru saves Minmay from the invading forces. They are in turn saved by Roy as Hikaru experiences combat with the alien forces up close. He soon discovers why the new Variable Fighters were built and designed the way they were- it was to fight giant humanoid aliens.
As the Macross launches from a failed attempt at using the antigravity lift the ship comes with, the Macross uses rocket thrust to lift off from Macross City. In a desperate ploy against the enemy, the Macross enters a space fold, and warps out of harm’s way. The space fold however takes them to the edge of our Solar System, with Macross Island and City with it.
The crew of the Macross then rescues the civilians of Macross City and adds the city itself inside the massive ship. Hikaru and Minmay are lost in the shuffle as he tries to return Minmay to her family and are trapped in a different section of the ship. The young couple fall in love as Hikaru works to survive being stranded in a sealed off section of the ship.
After being rescued, he is recruited by Roy to become part of his fighter group to help protect the citizens of Macross City and safeguard their return to Earth. Here he meets his commanding officer Misa Hayase, who accidentally forced him into combat in Macross City.
The story resolves over 36 episodes and covers how Hikaru becomes an ace fighter pilot, Minmay becomes a singing idol and later lynch pin in stopping the alien forces, and how Misa sheds her tough as nails persona and falls for Hikaru. The journey from the outer edge of the Solar System back to Earth shows how our lead characters change from civilians to soldiers and how they interact in the given situation. They learn of the aliens, called Zentradi, who and what they are, and their connections to Earth.
The series depicts survival after the massive near destruction of Earth, as the remaining population and the citizens and crew of the Macross must come to terms with the aftermath. Both human and Zentradi must now work together to rebuild Earth. It gives closure to the series, giving the lead characters an optimistic ending.
This series saw notable changes as it was combined with two other unrelated series to form Robotech. Most of the main story was kept intact, with judicious editing done to tone down the violence, some nudity and sexual situations, and to connect it with the other two series. I was lucky enough to find the series in its original Japanese unedited, as well as see the series as Robotech.
My teenage mind was blown away by the aspect of the transforming plane. I was also drawn in by the conflict and how instead of it being a straight military run operation, there were moments where we see the humanity of the characters, and learn that the Zentradi, created a long time ago for war, are not so different from us. This is almost an allegory of the fading Cold War and Vietnam War that the US was wrapped up in for so long. The complex love triangle between Hikaru, Misa, and Minmay showed depth, as Minmay became a celebrity and tabloid fodder, while Misa, raised in a military family, is allowed to become more feminine and personable. Hikaru is also shown as being a thoughtful young man who thinks about things beyond being a soldier, duty, and what he can offer as a survivor and protector.
There are many characters in Macross that are multifaceted and not stereotypes of “bad alien, good alien.” The biggest shock was how they exposed the Zentradi to human culture and how foreign it was to them. A song was used to paralyze the invading Zentradi and stop them. This was a rather unexpected twist that was original and innovative at the time. Personally I thought it was a terrible plot device, but I got over myself.
Macross has become a phenomenon spawning many movies, series sequels, records, and a huge fan base on both sides of the Pacific. The latest series based on the Macross mythos, Macoss Frontier carries a lot of the same elements but with different plot points and storyline. When you boil it down to the basic elements, it shows that love can conquer all and help solve a lot of differences between people. It is that bridge that brings it all together.
The late Noboru Ishiguro had directed this and “Space Battleship Yamato.” His skills bought both series a lot of depth for portraying the human condition in combat situations. He did not sugarcoat it and kept it real. His works contributed to making the character real and emote. By making the characters and the situations mesh together and almost realistically depict what transpires make these works stand out.
Macross will always be part of my favored collection of anime, as it was among the influences that inspired me to become an artist. It is a war and survival story that has a lot of heart and love to it. It was sophisticated and above a lot of American produced animation shows with its story and depiction of war. It was beyond a lot of material on Saturday Morning. It and its many descendants must be watched.