After a mysterious spaceship crashes into Earth, humanity realizes that they are not alone. Fearing a potential threat from space, the world pushes aside their nationalism, conflicting interests, and cultural differences, unifying under the banner of the United Nations. The newly formed UN forces decide to repurpose the alien spacecraft, naming it SDF-1 Macross. Unfortunately, on the day of its maiden voyage, a fleet of spaceships belonging to a race of aliens known as Zentradi descend upon Earth, and the SDF-1 Macross, acting of its own accord, shoots down the incoming squadron, sparking an intergalactic war.
In an attempt to escape, the Macross tries to launch itself into the Moon's orbit, but the ship—as well as the city was in—is teleported to the far reaches of space. Caught up in the mess are Hikaru Ichijou, a free-spirited acrobatic pilot, and Minmay Lynn, an aspiring idol. Together, alongside Macross's bridge officer Misa Hayase, they experience an epic journey rife with grief and drama as they begin their trek back to Earth, facing with the cruelties of war along the way.
Aired just two years after the end of Mobile Suit Gundam, a show which defined the mecha/space genre in anime, Macross takes the 'humans attacked and on the run in a super ship' template and blazes forward a new path of its own.
Macross is the sexier version of Gundam, the carefree serenading romantic. There is an air of enthusiasm and happy-go-lucky charm to its characters that the Gundam franchise rarely ever allowed on its unlucky downtrodden crew. Whereas Gundam grinds Amuro and company through the emotional wringer from episode one, Macross lets Hikaru and gang regularly let off steam in the interior city
residing within the Macross itself.
This small city is the show's unique selling point. Whereas most other shows, that might have civilian refugees crammed aboard a ship, will ignore them except when they riot, Macross instead gives them equal focus. They spend so long on the ship that they are forced to adapt and eventually get accustomed to living in an artificial city that incidentally ended up in the bowels of the ship in the most amazing way possible.
Macross is filled with amazing action sequences. Amazing simply for the year it was aired in, the effort and skill of the animators to bring us visually excellent setpieces, featuring awesome-but-underused-in-anime fighter jets, is admirable indeed. The major highlight is an early scene involving a falling jet racing to catch up with a falling human, the camera revolving around the pair seamlessly. The scene is indicative of the ambition of the show.
Gundam is about technology. Whoever has the superior technology wins. Macross is about love. The quintessential emotion that can bring peoples of all race, colour and creed together. Of course these anime are about other things too, but these aspects are at the core.
Macross focuses on other things that mecha fans will have missed in Gundam, such as the affect of media and celebrity in wartime, the clash of two different cultures, and as mentioned before, the society that exists within a ship on the run.
Macross is probably more famous now for its music than its war hijinks, and this first series shows that it was all part of the master plan from the beginning rather than something that evolved later on in other parts of the franchise. The character of Minmay will probably annoy most viewers with her witless selfish ways, but she is the epitome of a teen idol and acts like one. Her cousin Kaifun is the one most deserving of your unbridled hatred, one of the biggest scumbags in all of anime! But anyway, back to Minmay. The role she plays in the story is important despite her ditzy manner, and alongside Hikaru, a main character in a mecha show who is more average and easier to relate to than most others. Although he does for some reason, get increasingly dumber as the show progresses.
Amazingly enough Hikaru is not the best pilot in the story either, and neither is one of the manliest characters in the anime medium: Roy Focker. A man who lives up to his name, let’s just leave it at that. Genre stereotypes are subtlely subverted in Macross. For example there’s a staple bespectacled genius character, Max, but he's not a cliché, he’s not unapproachable and coldly analytical. He actually has a normal personality and is even a hit with the ladies. Macross characters are a genuine treat, much like everything else with this show, always keeping you on your toes. And a disclaimer: half the cast ARENT killed off in the last episode, how refreshing! Not only do characters unexpectedly die in this show, they unexpectedly live too!
What is great about Macross is that it doesn’t heap misery on its characters constantly, but when it does, the characters move on quickly. It never feels like a copout, they're still affected by the changes around them, whenever comrades die for example, but we're thankfully spared five episodes of them moping around like stroppy teens.
Instead we get a ship populated by a plucky group of women who belong more on a playground than the most important part of a warship. These women gossip away and yell out "yada!" when things don’t go their way. At one point the ship gets a new barrier system, called Pinpoint Barrier and it consists of a room somewhere in the ship operated by a couple women who have to roll balls around their table in order to move a mobile barrier around the ship's exterior to absorb enemy attacks. Yes, it really is as ridiculous as it sounds, you can only laugh at the image of cute girls rolling balls furiously in the middle of an attack, yelling "yada!"
Macross is entertainment through and through. It's not going for weighty philosophy, but at the same time, it decorates its carefree nature with worthy topics and doesn’t so much explore them as it acknowledges them. Midway through the show the ugliness of politics, discrimination and the sacrifices that must be made rears its head leading to dramatic, yet ultimately always uplifting stuff.
It's not perfect, the second arc towards the end of the show is a bit of an extended epilogue that may feel like it drags to some viewers, but I appreciate how it resolved dangling plot points and developed characters more than the entire first arc. The love triangle between Hikaru, Minmay and officer Hayase heats up and leads to an excellent climax, and it’s all the more beautiful because the anime doesn’t manipulate you into rooting for one person by making the other a complete bitch, you can see why Hikaru would want to be with either of them.
The art is the show's biggest flaw, it's not pretty. Character designs are fine, but sometimes their eyes go wonky and you wonder if the animators were high on something at the time. The animation itself though as mentioned earlier, constantly surprises you in random episodes with how seamless the 'camera' revolves around setpieces. Though in the second arc the animation suffers and sometimes resorts to US 80's cartoon level quality, but thankfully the attention to characterisation makes up for it.
The music is obviously awesome, and I'm not even talking about Minmay's pop ditties, but the actual score soundtrack is very memorable and funky.
I really loved the characters of Macross and their voice acting, it's a very different approach to the Gundam template when it could have been a simple rip-off. I want to give it 10 out of 10, but will show restraint as the antagonist race weren’t developed well, even if their origin was very interesting. Macross’s strength revolves around just a handful of characters who get ample characterisation and attention, and both a perfect ending to the series and perfect beginning to the franchise.
Story: The main story is split up into two main arcs (from 1-27, and 28-36). While the second arc might not seem very necessary to the story itself, it closes up the loose ends left behind from certain character relationships. The story is very fluid, pretty deep, and all around well-planned. It's unique, and I never found myself wondering, "Now why are they doing this again?" like in other animes. The anime has a starting point and an ending point, with very little fluff in the middle. Every episode has its purpose, and it's basically very well thought out.
Art: Now, it's an old(ish) anime, so
obviously the art won't be as good as some of the newer shows. However, all that aside, there is very few sequences that are reused (one being a Zentraedi ship being destroyed), and honestly, it's aged very well. The character designs are very nice, and the environments look very beautiful. But we all know that the main point here is the Mecha design. Both the VTs (good guys' mechas) and the enemy mechas look great. They're every guy's dream, and are more realistic, closer to what Earth's mechas might look like in the distant future; unlike other animes in the genre.
Sound: Once, again, we're listening to an older anime, but this show pulls no hits in this department. Very crisp humming accompany the fighters, the classic rumble of the vulcan gun, and an excellent voice-over give this anime a great sound score. But, if you know anything about Macross, you'll know that the three main points are the Mecha, the love triangles and the singing. This time around, we have Lynn Minmey to give us the occasional concert. Minmay is one of my favorite Macross singers, and every once in a while I find myself humming "My Boyfriend is a Pilot" (while substituting Boy for Girl...) I really like the songs, and they're a pivotal part in the show.
Character: I love the characters, and like I said above one of the main points of the storyline is the love triangles. It's a pretty good idea, but sometimes it gets really frustrating, and sometime you'll say, "Just make up your mind already!" the character relationships are necessary to the story, and make up a large part of the emotional element. My favorite characters are Roy, Hikaru, Gloval and Misa, and my only regret was I wanted more of Roy and Gloval and less of Max (but he's also necessary to the metplot).
Overall: I really loved this series, and it ranks up there with First Gundam. All the above elements make one of my favorites of all time.
The characters themselves are what really drive the show. Hikaru may be an ace, but deep down inside he’s still a kid that’s growing. He’s also discovering love as he is trying to be a man. Roy, his big brother figure, is well confident in his abilities and never second guesses anything. Hikaru will also develop as a pilot or soldier and he eventually has subordinates assigned to him. Max, one of his men is a very popular character amongst fans all over the world for his gentle personality and nerdy looks but yet death defying piloting skills in the stars. Minmei is slowly embracing
her fame as the ship’s idol and is torn apart that it keeps her from spending time with Hikaru who eventually develops a relationship with Misa.
Though Gundam was the first to utilize mechs as a military weapon, Macross uses the same concept but with a completely different approach. Rather than just huge robots, transforming fighter jets known as the Valkyries are introduced. In comparison to Gundam, I thought of the story driving the characters, but with Macross, it’s the characters that drive the story. I’m not saying either one is good or bad, but they each successfully approach this in their own respective rights. I’ll use an easy example. There is romance in both series. The romance is the Gundam series’ tends to be very secondary as well as the characters and the action tends to be more primary, while with Macross it’s the opposite. It’s more about the emotional situations and the action comes across as more secondary. I’d like to explain more but it’ll take time. Like I said, I’m not saying either one is good or bad. But I think it’s overall a good thing so it helps the series stay distinct able from each other.
The art and animation is pretty cool thanks to the creator Shojo Kawamori. This guy is just the man and a well respectable name in the world of robot anime. I wouldn’t say the animation was years ahead of its time, but it still stood out. The design of the Macross is very deep and complex and captivating. It had a great sense of size and the way they showed camera angles of it made you wonder how big it was and it was amazing that it was supposed to be the size of a city. When it turns into a mech, it looks really menacing and find it really interesting that something that is supposed to house civilians!!!
The Valkryie’s are pretty sweet themselves. I already explained that they transform. They can be fighter jets and they can transform into robots for hand to hand combat. Thanks to special customization, they are also used in space. The engineering of the transformation doesn’t look complex and I figure it makes an easy toy to transform. The battles are also pretty intense and fun. In comparison to Gundam where it has lazers and beam saber fights, the fights in Macross are also more “realistic.” The series limits itself to using more reality based weapons such as bullets and missles and out maneuvering your opponent with agility.
The bad guys, the Zentradi, have an interesting gimmick to them being giants. They tend to have really menacing and intimidating looks with the leaders having bald heads. Just makes them look like evil nazi guards or something.
The characters are good and have distinctiveness to their design. Minmei of course is stuck with the unrealistic purple color hair, but yet she is so cute. Misa has a more mature look to her that reflects on her plain personality. The captain Global looks like an old war house. Ichijo has a wild youth look to him but still has an innocent face. Max doesn’t really look intimidating and he looks nerdy but he can still kick ass and get the girl.
So even though it’s an oldie, you still got a goodie.
The Japanese version is pretty well casted. It has veteran seiyuu Akira Kamiya playing Roy Fokker. His dark voice gives a mature sounding to it since he is a role model to not only Hikaru, but to his men, but yet still has some lightness to it to reflect his laid back personality. Hikaru’s seiyuu Hase Arihiro, gave a very teenage sound to it and he captivated qualities where he’s trying to grow up and understand the world around him, and yet he has to fight in a war. Sho Hayami who plays Max brings unique traits to the character by being serious and yet having a mellow personality at the same time, while in comparison to his other roles like Burn from Dunbine and Zarbon from DBZ tend to be more serious. Mari Iijima who plays Minmei in both the Japanese and the newer dub is just excellent.
This anime helped jump-started her music career as well. She brought a high pitch sound to the voice that not only brings out a teenage girl, but brings a Chinese authenticity to her voice the same way Shampoo’s voice in the Japanese version also had where it was high pitched to indicate some sort of accent. Plus, her singing is just excellent and addicting with such songs like Xiao Bai Lo which was her biggest hit on the show. But outside of Min Mei’s songs which I will also talk about when I get around to reviewing the movie, Do You Remember Love, the opening and ending themes of Macross are excellent pieces of music themselves.
Like the opening theme simply also titled Macross is amazing in its own right. The singer sounds pretty old school with the tone of his voice and the opening trumpets sound something you’d hear in a military march and goes with to the aerial imagery when transitioned to all the fighting with faster paced music and singing. And the song Runner has a pretty mellow feel to it. And the background music in general tends to use a lot of trumpets in general and gives a military feel to it overall whenever in the midst of battle.
In comparison to Gundam, this anime brings a different kind of twist to the military centered mech genre. Like in Gundam, the series tended to be more about humans fighting each other, while in Macross it is more about aliens but there is more elaboration to that in relation to the origin of the Zentradi which would be a spoiler if I got around to that. The series is more light hearted and more drama based with the love triangles but a different kind of coming of age story in its own right. Not just for Hikaru, but for Minmei as well. The main cast all have their roles in the story and develop in their respective rights. Despite some changes when it became Robotech as an early gateway anime over 20 years ago, Golden Harmony still managed to keep its main themes in faith, but this overall great anime with a wonderful story with interesting art and excellent action with terrific acting and music.
SDF Macross is anime of epic proportions. It’s a story of war, of love, of adventure, and a dozen different concepts. But the biggest feat is that all these concepts actually blend these concepts in a way that actually work. While this sound fairly simple to do, it is not as easy as it sounds. Many anime try do this, but fail because of lackluster execution or lack of time. A good example of this would be Charlotte, where it tried to bite off more than can chew and put no effort in trying to blend its concept together in a natural way.
One element that
makes SDFM work is it great story and strong characters. It is an anime about mankind finding an abandon giant alien spaceship and rebuilding the ship that they rename the SDF-1 Macross. But things go arise and aliens hunting the ship, a war monging civilization of green giants called the Zentradi, choose this moment to investigate, and war breaks out between the two sides. And to make matters worse, the Macross, its crew, and 70,000 civilians get teleported to the outer rims of the solar system. So under Zentradi pursuit, the Macross and the people aboard it have to fight their way home.
A big part of the series is how different groups of people clashing and coming to understand with each other whether is alien vs human, soldier vs civilian, or even man vs woman. But the thing to tie all these groups of people together is culture. For example, the humans on earth and in the Macross are in fear of the Zentradi, believing is some desperate fight against an all powerful force. However, the Zentradi are deliberately holding back because they want to recover the Macross intact to recover the lost technology that its hold and are curious of the actions of the Macross human crew. Later in the series, the humans learn that the Zentradi clear they have no concept of a life beyond warfare, and the contact with the Macross has a powerful and divisive effect on them. Seeing the Zentradi trying to understand or adapt to human life is some of the most interesting and endearing parts of the show. It’s something Macross keeps coming back to, the idea that is there is more to life than fighting.
The cast is comprised of strong but understandable characters. We have Hikaru Ichijo, how is a brash kid who learns to be a man, Minmay, who grows from a girl, to an idol, to a heroine, and Misa Hayase, who is a hard ass commander who learns becomes a caring friend. All the characters have strong character interactions with each other. You’ll watch even the second tier characters grow, mature, and die throughout of the series.
Is Macross a perfect show, not by a long shot. On technical level, it haven’t age very well. There is a lot of still frames and awkward scenes. And the series kinda lossses its energy after the humans defeat the Zendari and the series of event that happened afterwards is rather unnecessary.
Despite it shortcomings, SDF Macross is a series that I would recommend to almost anyone. It is an extremely well made show and people will most likely find something they like about the show, whether it is the romance, war drama, action, mecha, etcetera.
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