Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Macross Frontier Brings Classic Feel, New Attitude

The story and universe of Macross is most likely better known as the Americanized title, Robotech. Piecing together three separate series together into one, it took certain liberties to make everything fit together. The first season, The Macross Saga is one of the most popular and more accurately represents the original Japanese version, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. While there have been various side stories, sequels, and continuations of both versions, Macross Frontier has been gaining a lot of hype and interest since it made its Japanese television debut earlier this year. The new series follows the same time line as the original Macross and commemorates its 25th anniversary with a twenty-five episode long season scheduled to wrap up at the end of this month. Frontier shares many of the same themes and elements as the first series while maintaining its own identity and providing strong points of its own.

Super Dimensional Fortress Macross follows the battle between humans and a race of giant war faring alien creatures called the Zentradi. As one of their spacecrafts crashes on Earth, the humans adapt the advanced technology for their own uses in preparation for a pending invasion. Creating advanced fighter jets that can transform into a Battloid robot mode and a fighter/robot hybrid called gerwalk, the new space force and the surrounding city soon get caught in a huge space war. The love triangle between fighter pilot Hikaru Ichijyo/Rick Hunter, idol singer Lynn Minmay, and military lieutenant Misa Hayase/Lisa Hayes becomes one of the central storylines as the war intensifies and the two separate cultures try to put their differences aside. Macross Frontier takes place after this series and its sequel, Macross 7. Much like the comparisons between the original Mobile Suit Gundam series and the recent production, Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, they both share many of the same themes, plot elements, archetypes, and other appropriate nods. Frontier also shares elements from the OVA sequel, Macross Plus as well as music by famed anime composer Yoko Kanno. The story follows the 25th colonial fleet, called the Macross Frontier. Many colonies and fleets explore the vastness of space as a new bio-mechanical alien race called the Vajra start making attacks. Like the original Macross, Frontier is a space opera featuring a complicated love triangle between characters inspired by Hikaru/Rick and Minmay.

The new alien Vajra attacking a Valkyrie variable fighter in gerwalk mode.

Alto Saotome is a high school student enrolled in the Mihoshi Academy pilot training course. Yearning to fly in real skies, he has a troubled past after leaving the famed family business of Kabuki theatre. His feminine features get him teased with the nickname 'princess', but acts normally with a slightly aloof attitude. He meets Ranka Lee, a young girl working at a Chinese restaurant that loves to sing and idolizes popular singer, Sheryl Nome. Sheryl is known across the galaxy and is finishing up her tour at Macross Frontier. The character dynamic between the three is immediately felt, with each seeming like an exaggerated version of their original Macross counterparts. While Alto is somewhat different from Hikaru/Rick, they both share some personality traits. Rather than rehashing the old love triangle, they instead separated the much-criticized Lynn Minmay into two separate characters. Ranka Lee captures the naive, innocent young girl that strived to find love and become a singer. Sheryl Nome exhibits that superstar status and fame while showing confidence and a little bit of arrogance. The character designs feel a little weak, especially in the three main characters. However, they soon evolve beyond their stereotypical trappings and show how much they have to offer. This new dynamic feels fresh and very distinct, not only showing their relationship with Alto but also their growing careers.

The animation itself looks very clean. The 2D animation/CGI hybrid can be seen here, taking a page from Macross Plus when it comes to overall aesthetics. Everything looks very fluid, from the cityscapes to the epic battles. You can see the futuristic influence present in military tools as well as everyday life. Story and individual plot elements share some similarities to the original Macross, but they feel new and are more like homage than copycatting. In true space opera fashion, there is plenty of political intrigue, amazing battles, strong characters, and mysteries abound. With the humans and Zentradi mostly living together in peace, this new alien Vajra race as well as the secret SMS independent military team add to most of the battles as reasoning and motivations are deciphered. Skull fighter team leader Ozma Lee shares many similarities to Macross's Roy Fokker, taking on that big brother role both in battle and civilian form. Even if you're not familiar with the Macross universe, Frontier stands well on its own and has a lot to like.

Michael Brun (left) and Klan Klan are both apart of the SMS military division.

The music was composed by Yoko Kanno, who is well known for working on Cowboy Bebop, Wolf's Rain, Ghost in the Shell, and Macross Plus. She definitely sets a tone no matter what the scene, each fitting well together. Her ability to make each score sound unique and different is amazing. But perhaps the most intriguing part is the the presence of two singers in the series. Sheryl Nome provides the strong, energetic songs with a concert-like feel. Ranka Lee takes things in the other direction, switching between fun, catchy, or more somber. Both singers are more or less friends than rivals, with Ranka and Sheryl even singing a duet version of "What 'bout my star?". While some scores can sort of fade into the background, Yoko Kanno's music is at the forefront.

With only a handful of episodes left to go, Macross Frontier is definitely proving its worth. It truly feels like a revitalization of the series, capturing the essence of the original Macross. The show stands well on its own, capable of being enjoyed without extensive knowledge of backstories or histories. With so much packed in so far, there's just about something for everyone to like.

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