Ever since taking my first hit of anime with the Macek-brewed mashup that was Robotech, I’ve had a soft spot for transformable giant robots, idol singers and all the other goofy shit the Macross franchise encompasses. As long as I’ve been an anime fan I’ve been a fan of Macross, the Babylon 5 to Gundam’s Star Wars. While Macross had a huge presence among western fandom thanks to Carl Macek’s frankencartoon, Macross wasn’t as overexposed as the V-finned über-franchise, meaning that as a fan you valued each sequel you got and benefited from Shoji Kawamori’s habit of making each new part of Macross canon different and not continually treading over the same ground.
Which is exactly why after 14 years of doodling VF-1s in the margins of my school assignments and following the recent disappointments of Macross Zero and Macross Frontier, I find myself wondering if maybe I’m just not much of a fan anymore.
A tasteful contrast to Gundam, which was painfully overexposed and over-merchandised 10 years ago, Kawamori’s insistence that each new Macross sequel actually be a worthwhile project helped the franchise stay interesting and fresh without getting tired. When he came back to Macross in the mid 90s with Macross Plus and Macross 7, both were significant departures from the original TV series.
In a world where almost every new Gundam spinoff starts with the same discovery of a prototype Gundam and features a mask-wearing antagonist, the fact that Kawamori didn’t recycle the same tropes with every new spinoff was a huge benefit to the franchise. Imagine if every new Gundam series was as fresh and original as G Gundam or Gundam 0080, that’s kind of what Macross was.
As much as Macross 7 had its faults with pacing, filler episodes and ridiculous amounts of recycled animation; it was new, it was different, it didn’t take itself seriously and featured a protagonist who wasn’t the same emo cookie-cutter mecha pilot. Macross Plus was an irrelevant story about three jerks who couldn’t get over themselves with some Top Gun thrown in for good measure, but it was gorgeously produced and didn’t feature the same worn-out mecha cliches. Things got better with Macross 7 Dynamite, which had all the insanely great aspects of Macross 7 without all the crap.
But things went downhill with Macross Zero, which suffered from the same fate as most prequels: half-assed retconning and painful irrelevance. It would have been all well and good if it was actually enjoyable, but the story was over complicated and not nearly as polished as Macross Plus, with a conclusion that left just about everybody scratching their heads.
Things got worse in 2008 with Macross Frontier, the first new Macross production in four years. Despite a promising start, this third trimester abortion of a series quickly committed the ultimate sin of a Macross series: being painfully unoriginal. In a desperate bid to attract as many fans as possible, a second-rate hentai game character designer was hired to churn out terrible characters specifically designed to appeal to specific demographics. If the characters weren’t aiming for the yaoi doujinshi market (Alto, Michel and Luca), moé fans (Ranka) or giving older Macross fans someone to like (Michel and Ozma), they were just uninspired and downright ugly.
Macross Frontier’s obvious pandering to yaoi, moé, big tits and Macross fans was insulting. It felt like they had spent more time trying to appeal to the widest possible array of fans rather than trying to create an interesting story that could actually stand on its own. Don’t get me wrong, this play for fans has been amazingly successful as Frontier has made them heaps of money, but it’s creatively bankrupt and downright insulting. I could stand a main character with no personality traits other than being a moody bitch, or high school kids moonlighting as private military contractors, but an episode-long pantie chase gag is like having an anime series slap you in the face with its dick and tell you it thinks you’re an idiot. And if this wise-ass cartoon thinks I’m an idiot, why the fuck should I watch it?
The irony in all of this is that what was once Macross‘ saving grace, the vigilance of a series creator who wasn’t trying to drive his most famous creation into the ground, has ultimately become its downfall. As the Macross franchise remains in the sole hands of Kawamori and the guy continues his descent into uninspired mediocrity, it has nowhere to go but down, and there ain’t no gerwalk mode to stop it from slamming into the ground at 1000 miles an hour.
Consider the possibility that Do You Remember Love? might have been great because it was co-directed by Noboru Ishiguro (the same guy who directed the Macross TV series) and not so much because of the 22-year-old mecha designer riding shotgun, or that Macross Plus‘ polish might be more attributed to director Shinichiro Watanabe rather than “Chief Director” Kawamori. It makes you wonder how relevant Kawamori really is and just how interesting the series could be again if he wasn’t involved in the creative process.
None of this invalidates the fact that I still love the older Macross series. I’ll still rock out to Fire Bomber and I’ll still watch Macross Plus, but after the obligatory cash-in clipshow Frontier movies and whatever other garbage they churn out to milk this Frontier cashcow, I just can’t see myself getting excited about any new Macross productions. At least not until Kawamori finds whatever it was we used to think he had.