If a recent Twitter post by the Internet’s Daryl Surat is anything to go by, modern anime fans don’t know about Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Do You Remember Love?. Not that you can blame them — as cynical as old-school evangelist as I may be, I fully understand why many fans of Macross Frontier have absolutely no interest in earlier Macross productions, no matter how often they may be referenced throughout Frontier.
Do You Remember Love? went into development shortly after production on the original 1982 Super Dimension Fortress Macross television series ended, directed by Noburo Ishiguro (Space Battleship Yamato, the original Macross) and Shoji Kawamori. With a substantial budget facilitated by the success of the show, the gorgeous, if ultimately flawed film saw theatrical release in the summer of 1984. While it is far from perfect, subject to not only the pitfalls common to television anime “rehash” films, but perhaps also due to Kawamori’s inexperience as a director, it remains as one of the most beautiful anime films ever made.
Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam pioneered the use of clip show movies, footage culled from television animation and released theatrically; a great scheme to drum up popularity and cash in on a successful series. The same strategy is commonly employed to this day using both recycled animation (Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann The Movie: Guren-hen) and entirely new animation (Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone). While the film didn’t pioneer creating entirely new animation to retell a televised story (see 1979’s Galaxy Express 999), Do You Remember Love? took advantage of the opportunity to take a drastic turn from the original, changing both the aesthetics and tone for a more stylized experience.
The original Super Dimension Fortress Macross television show is notable, to say the least. Not only was it an amazingly fresh piece of robot anime that felt years ahead of contemporaries like Fang of the Sun Dougram, but also helped usher in overseas Japanimation fandom as one third of the masterpiece Robotech. The production crew consisted almost entirely of young, inexperienced staffers inspired to get into animation after seeing Mobile Suit Gundam. While the film crew included many returning television series staff members, it also helped start the careers of a new group of fresh-faced animators, including one by the name of Hideaki Anno.
Unlike contemporary efforts like Anno’s Rebuild of Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, which consisted mostly of reanimated scenes taken shot-for-shot from the television series, Do You Remember Love? changed not only the designs and style of the series, but made substantial alterations to narrative as well. While the changes made for a more interesting viewing experience for fans, presenting something definitively new and different while remaining familiar, it still suffered from the biggest pitfall of the clip show movie — trying to cram the events of a full-length television series into a single film. The result, as you’d expect, is nearly incomprehensible to those unfamiliar with the Macross story. For fans it works wonderfully as an addendum to the TV series, but for anyone else the experience falls flat.
The film’s pacing, despite feeling cramped and rushed, often manages to feel tedious and boring simultaneously. There are far too many scenes where exquisitely-rendered but unmoving characters stare at each other with sparkly doe eyes. After the film’s exciting first act, the second act drops off, never mustering the same excitement as the opening or closing acts. Despite Ishiguro and Kawamori’s shared credit as co-directors, one wonders how much involvement the experienced Ishiguro had and how much was left in the hands of the 24-year-old, inexperienced Kawamori. In any case, it’s certainly easier and more plausible to write off these pacing issues as being the result of Kawamori’s inexperience, but perhaps we’ll never really know.
Despite these shortfalls, it is easily one of the best-looking animated films of the 1980s, behind only Akira and Studio Ghibli productions. While not as lushly animated as Otomo’s 1988 classic (and what is?), the detail put into each cel of Do You Remember Love? is staggering, capturing not just the incredible detail of Kawamori and Kazutaka Miyatake’s mechanical designs, but also the finesse and style of Haruhiko Mikimoto’s characters. Maybe for all three designers — definitely for Mikimoto — their work has never looked better in animation.
Using a dark color palette with lots of dark greens, browns and purples, Do You Remember Love? stands in stark contrast to its brightly colored television predecessor. It not only sets the film apart visually, but also accentuates the film’s darker mood against the more lighthearted original series. Macross has always carried with it some degree of silliness, although that silliness is largely absent in this film — no doubt a large reason why it, along with Macross Plus, remains so popular with Western fans, while Western opinion on Macross 7 isn’t nearly as positive.
Among die-hard Macross fans, Do You Remember Love? remains one of the most popular parts in the franchise. In fans’ eyes it no doubt makes up for the often dismal animation quality throughout the original television broadcast, and as fans they view it as part of a larger story and are more willing to excuse its shortcomings as a stand-alone film. Non-Macross fans are likely to be far less generous — once you get past the visual spectacle and take it out of the context of the whole Macross franchise, the film fails to stand on its own. It’s certainly worth watching just for its visual spectacle and its importance to Japanimation history, but still remains an inherently flawed work.