Let’s Talk About Love, Rock n’ Roll and Giant Robots: The Twilight of My Macross Fandom

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.


  1. It seems to me that you’re unable to see past what you’ve probably deemed as “unnecessary fanservice.”

    Unoriginal? Which Macross series has a love triangle with two different idols who have two very different paths as idols? How many Macross series have had a character like Grace? How do you complain about a moody main character that actually goes out and does something about it? How do you go about talking about the characters and fail to ever mention Sheryl Nome, one of the central characters of the series?

    And even if we look at the fanservice, what’s the difference between a Macross shower scene and Minmei’s shower scene? What’s the difference between some semi-exposed tits and Sivil’s Anima Spiritia Orgasm? Did you conveniently forget that Macross has had this sort of thing, or is it just the Wrong Kind of fanservice in your eyes?

  2. Saying that having two idols in the love triangle is original is like saying Zeta Gundam was original because it had two Gundams.

    Ultimately, it’s all just variations. Macross II had a main character who was a reporter and the love triangle involved an alien. Macross 7’s main character was a dude who liked rocking out in his special Valkyrie. Ultimately, none of Frontier’s characters really broke out of the mecha genre stereotypes or were actually interesting in the way that the characters in Plus and 7 were.

    The difference between Minmay’s shower scene and the constant moé shit that Frontier has is like the difference between tasteful b&w nude photography and Girls Gone Wild. Ultimately, it’s all just tits but it’s the mentality behind it that’s different.

    Whereas in the original it was one (1) shower scene thrown in for shits and giggles, moé and big-boob gags are packed into every episode of Frontier. The intention is different, the degree is different… it’s different.

  3. To be fair, Zeta Gundam was original because it had two Gundams, thus setting the precedent for PRETTIER MIDSEASON UPGRADE ROBOT.

    And while Macross Frontier is both vapid and unoriginal, I still have to give it props for being a better kind of vapid and unoriginal. If you had told me what Macross Frontier’s plot would be like before I watched it, I wouldn’t have watched it, because the cliches it engages in always end up terribly. But between the moe Ranka and big tits Sheryl, we actually get something resembling characterization for the love triangle. Sheryl and Ranka have complex, dynamic personalities that change as the series goes on–unheard of for something with moe and/or big tits. They’re character archetypes, but effort was made to get them to act like human beings.

  4. “At least not until Kawamori finds whatever it was we used to think he had.”

    Sean…I hate to sound like a major league a-hole, but what did you mean by this? Can you even define it?

    This isn’t meant as tearing a strip off you–as a Macross fan for many years I still have a spot for it (and the DYRL is still amazing, even after all of these years) and even enjoyed MACROSS ZERO. I have only seen half of MACROSS FRONTIER, and did like it, so I guess I did not come across the problems you’ve pointed out with the series.

    Perhaps it’s because the audience for MACROSS is a generation that is vastly different from the generation that saw the first MACROSS. Or maybe not, I don’t know.

  5. Maybe Macross works best when Kawamori and Mikimoto are both involved. I found Macross 2 (Mikimoto-only) to be so disappointing. I haven’t read Mikimoto’s Macross manga, so I can’t comment on that.

  6. Maybe you know this already Sean, but what the heck.

    Noboru Ishiguro is also known for directing what is arguably the greatest (yet underappreciated) sci-fi anime of all time : Legend of the Galactic Heroes.

    Macross Frontier was okay for me, but Kawamori can do better, and has done better, in the form of Vision of Escaflowne.

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