The Macross series (released as the first generation of Robotech in the West) is one of the staples of 1980s anime. While other 80s anime like Gundam and Transformers have remained strong in the Western public consciousness due to the continuous, worldwide release of their respective sequels, Macross' sequels have stayed almost exclusively in Japan (due to international licensing issues).
The last Macross series, Macross Frontier, was produced in 2008 as part of the 25th anniversary of the original series. It proved to be an unexpected hit that was so popular it spawned two movies -- Macross Frontier: The False Songstress and Macross Frontier: The Wings of Goodbye -- retelling the story of the series with a few new twists.
Last weekend, as part of the 30th anniversary of Macross, both Macross Frontier movies returned to the cinemas -- alongside the original series movie Do You Remember Love -- for a limited number of all-night screenings in Tokyo. But seeing these movies back-to-back this way made me wonder: Were the two Macross Frontier movies a worthy addition to the Macross franchise, or were they little more than a cash-in on an already popular anime?
[*Note: From this point on, when I mention Macross Frontier I will be referring to the movies as a collective whole and not the anime TV series.]
Good -- A Space Opera With A Love Triangle
Macross Frontier is a classic style space opera: a human fleet is searching for an earth-like world to colonise, but along the way, they encounter a hostile, alien race. The story follows a Kabuki star turned fighter pilot, the galaxy's most popular pop-idol and an ordinary high school girl who dreams of becoming a singer as their lives intertwine in the middle of this new war. What comes out of this are two films full of transforming fighter jets, epic space battles, and top notch concerts -- bolstered by a love triangle between the three lead characters. There is truly something here for everyone.
Good -- A Classic Anime Sequel That Stands On Its Own
One of the best things about the Macross franchise as a whole is that each series is largely independent of any other. So while past events and characters are occasionally seen or mentioned, knowledge of past series is never needed to enjoy these Macross Frontier movies. Therefore whether a longtime fan or someone who has never heard of Macross before, these movies are a great jumping-on point.
Good -- Beautiful Battles
Macross Frontier is truly a beautiful piece of animation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the fast and fluid fighter jet dogfights. Quick camera movements, transforming planes, and hundreds of missiles make battle beautiful even as heroes and villains continuously die. The climax of the second film may be one of the most stunning sequences ever put to animation, showing a dogfight among the clouds at dawn.
Good -- Prepare To Have Your Socks Rocked Clean Off
As a story partially focusing on pop-stars, the other main component of these films is the music. Written by Yoko Kanno -- composer of Cowboy Bebop, The Vision of Escaflowne, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, among others -- the score includes everything from catchy pop hits to somber love themes. Music is so important to Macross Frontier that there are several scenes just showing the characters putting on concerts. These scenes are amazing and show what the next generation of stage performance will be -- should we ever get holographic technology working. They are a visual treat as well as an aural one.
Bad -- Flash Overrides Substance
The weakest part of these movies is that sometimes they go a bit too far for the sake of a cool idea. The most egregious example involves a jailbreak from the fleet's prison, Alcatraz. That's right, the space colony (itself based on the cities of San Francisco and Shibuya) not only has a brick-by-brick recreation of a 130-year-old prison but also uses it actively to house its criminal population. More than that, the security is the same as it was when the real Alcatraz closed in the 1970s -- despite a century of technological advancements -- which frankly makes everyone involved in designing and manning the prison look like idiots. But even worse, midway through the escape attempt, the escapee stops to sing a song -- literally stops on a stage to sing while the army is closing in and gassing the rioting prisoners.
Another example of flash over substance involves a character being shot several times and coughing up blood (implying he is lung shot). But in the next scene, he has apparently walked it off. Coughing up blood is dramatic, sure, but it's dramatic because it means certain death. When something like that is just shrugged off, it becomes nothing more than a cheap emotional ploy.
Macross, as a franchise, is known for three things: transforming planes, love triangles, and great music. Macross Frontier: The False Songstress and Macross Frontier: The Wings of Goodbye deliver all three things in great quality -- and these movies are just down right beautiful to boot. Yes, sometimes things go a bit too far and come off a bit silly, but if you can suspend disbelief all the way through, you'll have the time of your life.