Let’s Talk About Love, Rock n’ Roll and Giant Robots: Macross II

After the completion of the 30-minute music video otherwise known as Flashback 2012, the guy behind most of what made Macross work, Shoji Kawamori, swore off doing sequels. Years later he would change his mind, but in the interim the owners of the Macross license felt like milking the lucrative transformable teats of the popular series. What resulted was Macross II: Lover’s Again, a 1992 follow-up OAV that was created with little to no input by the people responsible for the original Macross series. No longer part of the official continuity and disregarded by most fans, opinions on Macross II range from “not very good” to “murdered my family and will murder yours if you watch it.”

Macross II begins 80 years after the events in the original Macross; Earth has become complacent and unafraid thanks to the “Minmay Defense,” a holographic rock n’ roll laser light show in space that’s been defeating rogue Zentran fleets that happen to venture into the Earth sphere with the power of music.

We soon meet Hibiki, an up-and-coming reporter for SNN who longs for a hot news story like a new Zentran attack. Instead he’s forced to cover tabloid scandals like the comings and goings of UN Spacy’s teenage ace pilot Silvie Gina, although he soon gets his wish for a scoop as a new Zentran fleet appears outside of Earth’s defenses. Despite pissing off the military and almost getting fired, Hibiki manages to convince his boss to let him cover the Zentran attack in SNN’s unarmed news Valkyrie.

What should have been a quick battle hits a snag when the Minmay Defense fails to work against these new Zentran forces and the UN Spacy gets its ass kicked. It turns out these Zentrans are actually being controlled by the Marduk, a previously unknown alien race who use mind control on their Zentran warriors. Aside from some different looking mecha, these guys aren’t that different from the Zentrans seen in the original Macross. The only change is that since the Marduk use songs to motivate their warriors, Earth’s tried-and-true tactic of confusing enemies with music doesn’t work.

Given that we already have the transformable airplanes and alien invaders, the next requisite for a Macross title is a love triangle; fulfilled by the relationship between Hibiki, Silvie and Ishtar (a Marduk emulator). Early on Hibiki and Silvie can’t stand each other, but eventually warm up to each other just like the original Macross‘ Hikaru and Misa. The twist on this love triangle is that Ishtar is a member of the enemy forces, who’s singing helps compel the brainwashed Zentran warriors to fight. Hibiki finds her aboard a Marduk ship and brings her back to earth with him, shortly thereafter blowing her mind with earth culture (because she comes from a culture that knows only war). Unfortunately, unlike the triangles from other Macross series, Macross II‘s is half-hearted at best and it isn’t hard to figure out which girl Hibiki is going to end up with.

It’s worth noting that while Macross II is highly derivative of its Macross predecessors (mostly Macross: Do You Remember Love?), the story was penned by Sukehiro Tomita, who worked on the original Macross TV series, wrote the screen play for Do You Remember Love? and was on staff for Macross 7.

Despite its incredible familiarity, Macross II does manage to put a few interesting twists on the story. Hibiki isn’t a fighter ace and while he can fly a variable fighter, he doesn’t spend much time in it. As such, much of the plot unfolds from his viewpoint as a news reporter; being caught up in a war but not being able to do much about it. There’s a weak attempt to say something with this, touching on the subject of a government cover-up to keep the general populace from finding out that Earth is actually losing the war against the Marduk. Unfortunately, they don’t end up doing much with the idea and after a few episodes the sub-plot is forgotten.

The obligatory fighter ace comes in the form of Silvie, a prodigal pilot who’s a cross between Max Jenius and Misa Hayase. She’s an amazingly talented young pilot who happens to share a lot of the independence and strong female traits found in Misa. Despite originally hating Hibiki, she begins to warm up to him and by the time they hijack the SDF-1, they’re practically a couple. What this means for Nexx, the ace fighter pilot Sylvie was previously in a relationship with is never really explained, but Nexx gets to pilot top of the line prototypes and just about every female in the UN Spacy wants to fire his gunpod, so he’ll probably be okay.

Macross II‘s biggest fault might be that that it’s just too average. Take away the Macross name and it would hold up well against most OAVs from the early 1990s thanks to its decent production values, good designs and a competent story. When originally released it received an unenthusiastic response from fans and admittedly it isn’t hard to see why. A crew with little connection to the original production staff working on a sequel to a very popular series, their biggest mistake was probably playing it too conservatively and in the end they ended up with a product that was too similar to the original.

Considering that Macross Plus would be released less than two years after Macross II finished its six episode run, the backlash against it is easy to understand. Macross II‘s problem then isn’t that it’s an awful anime, it’s that it can’t compare to the other titles that share the Macross name.

That isn’t to say that Macross II isn’t without merit, even within a Macross context. The characters are well done and are comprised of some interesting twists on old cliches. The animation and music are both average for the time, the opening theme is catchy and some of battles are well done. Even without the talents Kawamori and Kazutaka Miyatake the mechanical designs impress and you could argue they’re better than most of the designs found in later Macross sequels. Mechanical design duties were handled by four different guys, most notably Kazumi Fujita (Zeta Gundam) and Koichi Ohata (MD Geist and other works of unappreciated genius). The original character designer for Macross, Haruhiko Mikimoto, returned to do character designs.

Following Kawamori’s return to the Macross franchise prior to the pre-production of Macross 7 and Macross Plus (which was originally developed as a non-Macross project), he sat down and drew out an official continuity for the series. The great irony of this is that Kawamori often tends to ignore continuity and prefers to change things as he sees fit, but for the time being he was trying to straighten out the Macross canon. Since leaving Macross, an OAV series (Macross II) and a number of video games had been made and these were all relegated to an “alternate dimension” to make way for his own productions.

But just because it isn’t in the official continuity doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. It’s worth viewing as an interesting “what if” for the Macross series, a look at what it might have become had Kawamori not taken up the mantle again. For fans just getting into Macross through Macross Frontier it’s as much of a required viewing as any other Macross title. Macross II is as close to the original Macross series as any Macross sequel has come (although not necessarily in a good way) and if nothing else deserves to be recognized alongside the rest of the series. For people still not convinced: you can do a lot worse than than this for a few hours of giant robots shooting up aliens and hey– it’s still better than Macross Zero.

6 Comments

  1. I liked Macross Zero better than Macross 2. But I think 2 is solid, I wouldn’t tell anyone not to see it. I tell everyone to not see Macross 7 though.. That is just Macross crossed with teletubies, part of a campaign to create a lamer generation of kids. Kids who can’t cope with reality and have serious gender confusion issues.

  2. Trying to decide whether or not Macross II is worse than Macross Zero is sort of like trying to decide whether or not lung cancer is worse than brain cancer.

    But as much as it pains me to even faintly praise it for anything, I say Macross Zero wins over Macross II due to the fact that the Ichiro Itano-directed action sequences are still awesome. It’s everything else around them that’s the problem since it’s so darned BAD. Macross II has a few interesting ship designs (I’m thinking mainly of that one red ship near the end, or maybe it was pink), but other than that it’s pretty much “just there,” as you noted.

    The question to ask yourself is “which is worse: being absolutely awful with small portions that are really awesome, or being average throughout?” The net effect is still ultimately the same, but in my book, I say the latter is worse. What I dig primarily about Macross is its unique mecha action scenes, and for its numerous deal-breaking flaws Zero at least got that part right.

    God. I can’t believe I just wrote slightly good things about Macross Zero. For what it’s worth, I own neither II nor Zero, but I do have the old US Renditions CD Soundtrack of Macross II.

  3. I think it’s amusing that more than any other part of the post, people latch onto the Macross Zero comment. I’ll admit it was probably a cop out to throw that in at the end, but for the record I don’t really like Macross II very much either.

    In a perfect world I’ll never watch either of them again, but I will say of the two, Macross II is far more interesting to me.

    Not because of what it consists of, but because of it’s very literal take on the idea of Macross (compared to the later Kawamori works which, if nothing else, weren’t rehashed ideas). I find it interesting because of the story behind it and what might have come from it had Kawamori gotten involved in Macross again, but that’s not to say I particularly enjoyed watching it.

    As for the absolutely awful vs average question; at least I can understand why Macross II was average (Japanese fear of being original with sequels, playing it safe, lack of creativity). Macross Zero had money, talent and Kawamori… so why was it garbage? At least in this case, that to me is worse.

  4. Frankly, I liked Macross II, a lot !
    And I still watch it from time to time. The story is not very original, but frankly, Macross Frontier is not very original too, and I have not been impressed by it.
    My only concern was about the lack of respect of the first Macross saga, and maybe some story about the origins of the zentraedi will be good, but no, today it didn’t interess anyone. That was that I liked in Macross II, if not a direct plot line, at last a real continuity in the storyline.

  5. All the Macross series in one way or another all share a same common trait. The power of song and human culture being able to transcend all conflict and misunderstanding unifies all the Macross series into a category: “Pacifist futuristic sci-fi anime”.

    After listening to some Macross Zero and Plus soundtrack music…. i lost interest immediately.

    Ai oboeteimasuka is definitely worthwhile to watch. A more suitable alternative if you don’t want to plough through all 39 or so episodes of the first series.

    Macross 7 and Dynamite…. were kind of cheesy and for losers who exaggerate the concept of the power of song.

    Macross Frontier being a “Generation Z Macross anime series” seems too exaggerated and unrealistic which disappointed me a bit but still worth watching if you like hardcore CGI of the 21st century.

    And now last but not least Macross ll. Everyone says this is a mediocre series, but for me the simplicity and average nature of the series is what makes it the most enjoyable. The “averageness” of the series is what ultimately allows us to fully endorse ourselves in the concepts and thematic references of a Macross anime series.

    Personally I would give this a five star rating.

    I enjoyed pretty much all of the sound tracks.

    My favorites are: Mou Ichido Love you
    Yakusoku
    200 million years?

  6. @Agent ONE:

    “Kids who can’t cope with reality and have serious gender confusion issues.”

    Sounds more like kids who can’t accept Macross 7 as part of the continuity even though Kawamori stated so, and tell others not to watch it.

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