So You Want To Watch Macross? Here's Where You Should Start

Over this last year, the Macross series has been celebrating its 30th anniversary with concerts, movies, and even a new PlayStation 3 game. But what exactly is Macross, and if you're looking to break into the series, where should you start?

To start with, what makes Macross "Macross" are three things: transforming fighter planes, a love triangle and an exploration of the power of music. Other than that, Macross as a franchise reinvents itself with each iteration. Each series is largely self-contained and character crossover is minimal (with the exception of Macross 7 which has three supporting characters from the original return). This means you can really start with any of the series and not feel lost.

So with that in mind, let's go through each of the five main series one by one, see what they are about, what their strong points are, and if they are a good place to start the franchise.

The Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Contains: The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (TV Series), Macross: Do You Remember Love? (Movie) and The Super Dimension Fortress Macross: Flash Back 2012 (OVA)

Synopsis: In the year 1999, an alien ship crashes on earth with no survivors. A city grows up around the ship (the SDF-1) as it is rebuilt and its technology is used to create transforming fighter planes and numerous other technological advancements. 10 years after the crash, the aliens come, looking to get their ship back. And when the aliens attack, the SDF-1 activates its space fold drives, accidentally teleporting the ship and surrounding city out to the edge of the solar system. Over time, the city is rebuilt inside the giant ship and the crew and 60,000 survivors begin their trip home as they are constantly hounded by the alien forces.

Good for people who like old-school anime and those who like to see a story from the beginning.

Not for people who hate old, hand-drawn animation, a slower-paced story and 1980s J-Pop.

Should I start with this one? Yes. Especially the movie Macross: Do You Remember Love? It is an abridged and fully reanimated version of the first story. It is also one of the most beautiful pieces of hand-drawn animation ever produced. If you watch it and like it, then you'll know if you want to watch the full 36-episode anime or move on to a different Macross series.

Macross Plus

Contains: Macross Plus (OVA) and Macross Plus: Movie Edition (Movie)

Synopsis: Macross Plus is the story of two rival test pilots competing to see whose transforming plane prototype will be picked up by the military for mass production. It also deals with the potential hazards of AI in the form of the singer Sharon Apple.

Good for people who like beautiful, hand-drawn animation and those who like J-pop techno music.

Not for people looking for a massive galactic space opera. This story is much smaller in scale.

Should I start with this one? No. In a lot of ways, Plus is the odd duck out as far as Macross goes. There is no alien threat poised on destroying the entire human race and it's set on a much smaller scale. But what it lacks in scale and story is more than made up for in sheer beauty. And as for which version -- OVA or movie -- to start with, either is fine.

Macross 7

Contains: Macross 7 (TV Series), Macross 7 The Movie: The Galaxy Is Calling Me! (Movie), Macross 7: Encore (OVA), Macross Dynamite 7 (OVA), and Macross FB7 (Movie)

Synopsis: Macross 7 is the story of a human colonisation fleet looking for a world to settle on that is attacked by a mysterious, soul-stealing enemy. It follows Basara, a man who believes that he can stop war through the power of music. Thus he interrupts battle after battle, shooting speakers into the mechs of friends and foes alike so as to sing at them -- hoping the power and messages of his songs will get them to stop fighting. Eventually, it falls upon him and the rest of his band to protect the fleet from the alien menace using the power of rock.

Good for people who love awesome J-rock and/or feel they must watch everything Macross.

Not for anyone else, really.

Should I start with this one? No. Macross 7 is a show that lacks direction in many ways and thus meanders aimlessly through its own story. The main character, Basara, is painfully one-dimensional and not all that entertaining to watch. The rest of the cast is decent, but if it weren't for the amazing soundtrack, this anime would be completely forgettable.

Macross Zero

Contains: Macross Zero (OVA)

Synopsis: As the name implies, Macross Zero is a prequel to the original Macross. It is set during the final human-only war on earth and shows the genesis of the franchise's famous transforming planes. It follows a pilot who crash lands on an island where the natives nurse him back to health. He then tries to protect the islanders from those hoping to steal mysterious alien artifacts hidden across the island.

Good for people who love Dances With Wolves, prequels, and mystical alien stories.

Not for people who want space battles and epic stakes.

Should I start with this one? No. While Zero is the first chronologically, it's more a side story than anything else. It is indeed cool to see the origin of the transforming fighter planes, but most of what makes it interesting are its subtle connections to the original story. So while it is worth a watch, if you start with it, you will miss most of its charm.

Macross Frontier

Contains: Macross Frontier (TV Series), Macross Frontier The Movie: The False Songstress (Movie), Macross Frontier The Movie: The Wings of Goodbye (Movie), and Macross FB7 (Movie)

Synopsis: Macross Frontier, like Macross 7, is the story of a colonisation fleet encountering a group of unknown aliens. However, instead of humanoids, these aliens are giant insects that seem to be attacking without rhyme or reason. The plot follows a kabuki star turned pilot, a popular singer visiting from a nearby fleet, and a young girl who seems to have an unknown connection with the aliens.

Good for modern anime fans, classic Macross fans, and anyone who likes the music of Yoko Kano (Ghost in the Shell: SAC, Cowboy Bebop) -- so pretty much anyone, really.

Not for people who dislike joy.

Should I start with this one? Yes. Macross Frontier walks the seemingly impossible tightrope of being both a great stand-alone story and an homage to everything that came before. If you want to get a sense of what Macross is, Frontier is a great place to start. It has everything -- a gripping story, interesting villains, awesome mecha, and incredible music. The latest series chronologically, Macross Frontier has only one downside: First-time Macross viewers will miss out on the many in-jokes and callbacks to past series. If you want to give it a try and 26 episodes seem too long, the two movies Macross Frontier The Movie: The False Songstress and Macross Frontier The Movie: The Wings of Goodbye retell the series' story -- though with more than a few major changes -- in just over four hours.


Comments

    Ok, so in Australia when it screened on tv, it was called robotech right?
    And from what i remember it was basically broken into 3 series, any chance of someone explaining to me what i need to watch to see it like that again?
    From memory, it was the series with rick and min-mei first against the zentradi, then the second series they showed was the robotech masters as the enemy, then the invid invasion as the third series. The third series was a lot more about transforming motorbikes and a transvestite singer?

    Am i even talking about the same cartoon?

      It was 3 different (and unrelated) series sliced together: Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada.

      A company called Harmony Gold re-worked them into a single storyline (Robotech) so that they could reach the minimum number of episodes to syndicate it in the US (i.e. sell it as a package to all the hundreds of regional television stations across the country, which is were most non-cable shows make their money).

      Last edited 14/03/13 8:59 am

      What you are talking about with Robotech, is the Amercianisation of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, plus 2 unrelated anime series called Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada.
      The first series of Robotech is just the first series of Macross (with some changes)
      I would recommend Macross over Robotech, but I personally don't have anything against Robotech (a lot of fans do), so watch that if it is what you want..

      Also, Carl Macek and Harmony Gold are the reason why we don't get any of the other Macross series brought over in english as they hold the license quite tightly in the US at least.

      Last edited 14/03/13 9:05 am

        Actually the bigger issue is music licensing. Macross is all about music and it would be awful to mess with the music in it, but they never licenced it for foreign release, so it makes it difficult to release it over seas. To date in Australia we have only had Macross and Macross Plus released (and Robotech gets a new release every couple of years).
        I would really like to give them my money for a propper Australian release of Zero, 7, and Frontier... but I doubt it'll happen.

          I didn't think the music licensing was as big an issue (except for Macross 7 and maybe now Frontier) as the Harmony Gold licensing issue.
          I would also throw my money at them for those 3. Especially 7 and Frontier.

      Explained with humour!
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Anime/Robotech?from=Main.Robotech

    I think to get the main idea of the story it is best to watch either the Macross series or Do You Remember Love, but I think Frontier (which is probably tied as my fave series with Plus) explains a lot of what you need to know.
    As much as I love Macross 7, I think they have it pretty right. If you love J-Rock you'll probably like Macross 7.
    Macross Zero is not only a prequel, I'm pretty sure it's also an alternate universe.

    Also, no love for Macross 2? It isn't the best, but it is far from bad. I'd probably say to watch that after Macross, Do You Remember Love or Frontier (makes more sense after the original though).

    Last edited 14/03/13 9:12 am

      I'm pretty sure Sheryl Nome's grandmother is Mao Nome in Macross Zero.

      Once you watch the original Macross, there is no going back. Its light years ahead of the Robotech version. The soundtrack for one is heaps better and then DYRL? just blows everything out of the water.
      I actually liked Macross 7 even though a lot of the action sequences were copy paste. Macross Frontier is down right awesome for the animation, the CG space battles and the music. The movies sound awesome in surround sound.

      I'm extremely annoyed that we don't get these released on Bluray here with the original dubs and extra annoyed that we don't have access to the multitude of games that have been released over the years.

      Screw you Harmony Gold. Seriously. In this day and age we still have to deal with stuff that was signed 30 years ago from a totally different world.

        I can't find any info on it, but I thought Roy Fokker died in Zero, which is a prequel. It's been a while since I watched it, so I might be wrong. Also, the technology seems much more advanced than even some of the later series.
        Agree that Macross and especially DYRL are better, but I have no problem with Robotech and the music is almost (but not quite) on par with the Japanese.
        I love Macross 7, but I think it would have been better at half the length. It is also quite cheesy in how Basara decides to fight the aliens, which puts a lot of people off. However the music is my favourite out of all of the series.

        I think I'd personally rate them:
        Plus/Frontier (these soundtracks would also tie second behind 7)
        Macross 7
        Dementional Fortress Macross/DYRL
        Zero
        Macross 2.

        But even 2 I quite enjoy so it's not saying any are bad. But you really should start with Macross/DYRL, then you can watch the rest however you want.

        Last edited 14/03/13 4:03 pm

        Oh, and Australia (and other parts of the world) could probably get the other Macross series if someone put the money and effort into it as the license is only for North America as far as I know. So it's an even bigger kick in the ass that we can't buy them.

    Start with SDF-1. The series is fantastic, easy to get into unlike Robotech with it's cornball voice acting. Macross is one of the best things to come out of Japan and it's a real shame how Harmony Gold treated the series. I strongly recommend any anime fans watch it.

    zero was boring - i fell asleep :(
    got the robotech series on dvd quite a few years ago when it first came out thinking that i could relive one of my favourite childhood series...i think i last only a couple of eps. its ok...in small doses :)

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