From faint, but fond memories of episodes of Robotech caught ridiculously early on Saturday mornings to rediscovering the series on VHS in High School to playing the RPG in both High School and college, to only recently discovering that there was more to the Macross universe than just Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes, I’ve had a long, on again, off again love for Macross in all its incarnations. Macross is what got me into anime in the first place. That long lasting love was rewarded with Macross: Frontier.
Created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series, Macross: Frontier contains all the plot and story elements that one expects from this universe. Beyond the awesome jets turning into even more awesome robots and giant aliens there is also a love triangle and, in the end, the universe is saved by song. The only difference is that this series does it all better than any other series has, perhaps including the original.
The series follows the story of Alto Saotome, a student at the Pilot training academy who can best be described as a pretty boy. In fact, later in the series, it is revealed that he actually played women in classic Kabuki Theater, where all female roles are played by men or boys. This proves to be a problem as Alto is, apparently quite a skilled actor and performing is his family business. Despite his somewhat effeminate appearance, Alto is actually tough and likable, unlike some previous Macross characters (I’m looking at you, Nekki Basara.) Alto’s one dream is to fly in the open sky, a problem given that he’s on a colony ship that is moving through space.
His life changes irrevocably when he meets a young girl (she’s 16, but in true anime style, looks 14) named Ranka Lee and unknown aliens almost simultaneously attack. Ranka is cute and plucky and overall adorable (if you don’t fall in love with her after she sings the carrot song you obviously don’t have a soul and probably hate puppies.) Her dream is to be a famous singer in the vein of Lynn Minmay. Little does she realize the sacrifices and dangers that she’ll have to face to make that dream come true, and indeed, to survive at all.
The third leg in the all important and classic Macross love triangle is Sheryl Nome, who actually is a famous singer in the vein of Lynn Minmay. Sheryl appears vain and manipulative at first, but it doesn’t take long to discover that she’s got a frail, vulnerable side. It also doesn’t take long to discover that there are secrets about her that even she doesn’t realize. In the end, she is bound to Ranka by ties neither one is aware of and that have repercussions that affect everyone on the Frontier.
The love triangle in Macross: Frontier is easily the best in any incarnation of Macross. Unlike most Macross stories, you actually like both of the main character’s potential love interests and they actually like and respect each other. The main character is believably torn between the two of them, and it’s easy to understand why (I’m looking at you again, Nekki Basara.) It plays more like a Shakespearean romance than a teen fanboy fantasy. By the end of the series, the viewer is left not knowing who Alto is going to choose and rather than being disappointing, it’s surprisingly satisfying.
Beyond the three main characters, there is a host of interesting supporting cast members from Ozma Lee (Ranka’s adoptive brother and Alto’s boss) to Grace O’Connor (Sheryl’s manager.) In fact, many of the most interesting relationships don’t involve the main characters at all.
For example, there are not one, but two cases of unrequited love. The most heart wrenching one occurs between two of Alto’s copilots, Michael Blanc and Klein Clan. Klein is easily one of the most intriguing characters in the series. A full blooded Zentraedi, she is an adult woman (and hot) and this shows in her in her maclonized size but through a genetic abnormality her body is prepubescent when she’s miclonized. Since Michael is a miclonized Zentraedi, he is understandably reluctant to begin a romantic relationship with a woman who appears to be a child when they are appropriately scaled for each other. Nonetheless, their impossible love for each other becomes ever clearer as the series progresses.
Another compelling character is Brera, a boy who at first appears to be Alto’s rival for Ranka’s affections but who turns out to be much more. Throughout the series, Brera’s intentions and allegiance are in question and the truth does not come out until the end.
Brera is not the only character with unknown or conflicted goals and ideals. Unlike the original Macross, which was essentially a straightforward war series, Frontier includes a number of twists and a complex conspiracy that unfolds throughout the entire series. Still, the shows are easily accessible and the plot moves quickly. The viewer is sometimes left wondering exactly what’s going on, but is never confused. There are only a couple shows in the entire 25 episode run that feel like they’re there only to fill time and even these are entertaining.
The characters are well drawn and move impressively naturally. The mecha are well designed and not only just look cool, but look like they actually are advances over previous machines in the Macross line. The battle scenes are simply phenomenal. Exciting and dynamic, they have just enough tension to keep you on the edge of your seat. Overall, it’s another example of just how spectacularly far ahead of America Japanese animation is.
If you don’t watch another Macross series or movie, even the first one, watch Macross Frontier. It is everything that Macross promised to be 25 years ago and more.