Taking place one year before the Zentraedi arrive on Earth, Macross Zero chronicles the final days of the war between the U.N. Spacy and anti-U.N. factions. After being shot down by the anti-U.N.'s newest fighter plane, ace pilot Shin Kudo finds himself on the remote island of Mayan, where technology is almost non-existent. While Shin stays on the island to heal his wounds, the tranqulity of the island is shattered by a battle that involves the UN's newest fighter - the VF-0.
When the original Super Dimensional Fortress Macross was released back in 1982, it became an immediate success for several reasons, the main ones being the story, the music, and the variable fighters. Unlike other mech shows, the Macross franchise focused more on human relationships than it did on war and combat, and because of this the series has been able to produce some truly excellent stories. The one thing that has long been missing though, is the story of what came before SDF Macross.
Macross Zero is set in the year 2008, and chronicles the final days of the conflict between U.N. Spacy and the Anti-U.N.
forces on Earth. The story takes place in the South Pacific, in an area where an alien spacecraft crashed nine years before, and both sides are looking for it with the hopes of gaining a technological edge.
Kudou Shin, a pilot with U.N. Spacy, is downed by an enemy aircraft with the ability to transform, and crashes onto a remote island. When he regains consciousness he finds that his injuries have been tended by the natives, a peaceful tribe who want no part in the conflict.
Macross Zero is a big departure for the franchise in terms of it's story, being at times more brutal and less forgiving than other outings. In almost every other Macross series, the enemy has invariably been alien, but here the enemy is other humans, and because of this there is a certain harshness to the tone of the series which is actually rather refreshing. The franchise has always had a slightly sugary aspect to it's stories, so it's nice to finally see a Macross tale that has some teeth, and that allows the characters to behave more like humans instead of an ideal. That's not to say that characters from other Macross series are bad, simply that they have a bit more realism to their personas and actions in Zero.
The OVA is extremely well scripted and paced, and although the story has an element of predictably to it (it's Macross after all, so some things will automatically be included ), there is a distinctly fresh feel to it because of the premise and plot. There are also a number of surprising elements that actually explain several aspects about the entire Macross universe, especially Frontier.
In all fairness, Zero could actually be considered as not simply a prequel, but also a re-envisioning of the entire Macross franchise. Granted there are the staple plot elements of variable fighters, music and love triangles in the OVA, however these actually play second fiddle to what is a truly gripping story.
As with any Macross series there is a certain standard to the quality of the art and animation, and Zero is no slouch in this department. The OVA is possibly the best looking of any Macross anime, and contains some truly remarkable designs and visual concepts. The colours are vibrant and bold, and Zero features some of the most fluid animation seen in the franchise. At times the animation is good enough to put even the mighty Frontier to shame, and nowhere is this highlighted more than in mech combat.
The character designs are one area where Zero truly deviates from other Macross series, with almost every character possessing a certain realism which even extends to items of clothing and jewellery. Blue hair may be a norm in anime, but the lack of it can change the whole feel of a show, sometimes for the better.
One thing that Macross is famous for is music, in particular, songs and singing. Zero is no exception to this, and while the general music is familiarly orchestral (and more than a little martial), the all important singing is very different to what Macross fans will be used to. The songs in Zero have a distinctly tribal tone that is brought about because of the importance of the native islanders to the entire Macross universe. The OVA, unlike other Macross series, actually downplays the popular music element that is prevalent within the franchise. Because of this, the singing has a far more peaceful and natural feel to it, something that also plays a part in Macross Frontier.
One thing I did like about Zero in particular was the quality and timing of it's sound effects. Although there are times when almost everything else is drowned out by explosions, the effects are generally very sharp and clean.
Voice actingis another big plus for the OVA, especially with regards to the lead roles. Suzumura Kenichi performs extremely well as the troubled Kudou Shin, whilst Kobayashi Sanae is truly excellent as the proud Sara Nome. The rest of the cast are equally good, and are able to give their respective characters a greater sense of purpose than I've seen in any other Macross series.
As for the characters themselves, there is really very little to complain about. The lead characters are all individuals to a tee, each with their own problems, goals and ideals. Possibly the most interesting aspect is the internal conflicts that Sara, Mao and Kudou struggle with which, at various points in the OVA, promote some surprising developments in their relationships with each other.
Because the story is set during a period of conflict there is a certain amount of predetermination with regards to their development, which is actually the main weakness of the series. The viewer can almost predict how a given character will react in certain situations. This is, however, an unfortunate necessity because of the length of the OVA. At only five episodes there simply isn't enough time to offer the majority of characters any substantial development. so any that does occur is normally on the formulaic side.
Macross Zero is a surprisingly unique addition to the franchise, and one that will invariably cause some arguments among the more hardcore fanbase. For the average anime viewer though, it is an entertaining and sometimes thought provoking series that isn't afraid to try a new approach. The setting and time period, together with the more realistic tone of the story, also mean that it is more accessable to those who want to give the franchise a try.
Arguments notwithstanding, fans of the Macross franchise should be pleased with this addition, especially with regards to the recent Macross Frontier. Of all the Macross series' that have been released thus far, Frontier and Zero have the closest ties, not simply because of the infamous movie in Frontier, but also because it is suggested that Sheryl Nome is actually the granddaughter of Mao Nome, who we see as a young girl in Zero. There's also the "Birdman" link between the two series, and in all honesty fans of Macross Frontier should definitely watch Zero as it is not only a prequel to SDF Macross, but also the true beginning of Macross Frontier.
The Macross saga has it's detractors, and rightly so as there have been times when the franchise has simply not delivered.
Thankfully, Macross Zero isn't one of those occasions.
Simply put, Macross Zero is the crown jewel of the Macross franchise. It takes the franchise's staple set of features of songs, love triangles, and transformable fighter jets and produces not only a visually breathtaking experience, but its story also carries a healthy weight in depth and substance, making Macross Zero not only a feast for the eyes, but also a memorable tale as well.
The plot of Zero is noticeably more grounded than its predecessors. Instead of narrating conflict between humans and extraterrestrials, Zero's plot revolves around the war between the UN and Anti-UN forces, as well as the inhabitants of Mayan Island's struggle with
the introduction of the outside world, which they have mostly avoided until now. As a result, the story becomes much less detached from reality as other Macross series', and viewers are able to relate to themes such as globalization and the environment. Zero is able to provoke a number of thoughts on these themes without being preachy or detracting from the overall entertainment value. The romance element is amazingly well-developed for a short series such as this. It is convincing and touching without a heavy stench of melodrama.
Of course, the success in the romance department would not be possible without great characters. Zero's cast of main characters, like the romance, is also well developed. From Sara's inner struggle with the encroachment from the outside world, to Shin's exploration of the ways of the Mayan Islands, to the sheer Charisma of Roy Focker, the characters go beyond being merely caricatures, but rather breath life to the story as interesting and likable human beings, which makes the conflict and romance all the more engaging and satisfying. However one minor gripe on the subject of characters would be the lack of development for the antagonists. Though lightly alluded, the stories behind them are never revealed, therefore the antagonists of Zero exist solely to get in the way of the heroes. But for a five-episode series, this flaw is easily forgivable, given with the limited screen time.
The art and animation of Macross Zero are undoubtedly its strongest points. The character designs are clean, the background art is as detailed as it is beautiful, and the CG animations of the variable fighters are nothing short of breathtaking. Without feeling too out of place in a 2D anime, the 3D jets are superbly rendered. Trails of air adorn the fighters as they pull off amazingly choreographed dogfights. Missiles dance across the screen gorgeously in true Macross fashion, and the superb use of camera further heightens the exhilaration of the aerial combat. The attention to technical detail must also be noted in the movements of the thrusters, rudders, and the transformation sequence of the variable fighters. The sounds of Macross Zero compliments its visuals well with booming explosions during the fights and lovely singing during... well, the songs. However, in the department of background music, though certainly not bad, Zero did not offer any particularly memorable pieces for me.
Overall, Macross Zero is an incredible entertainment package that combines a great story, superb art, and mouth-watering mecha action no fan of the genre can resist. If you enjoy the Macross franchise or mehca series' in general, Macross Zero is without a question a must-watch. Even if you aren't, Macross Zero is still an amazing experience, and at only five episodes, it's a great investment for your time.
I can safely say that, after watching all five episodes in one sitting, Macross Zero is one of the best animated series in existence. It had everything, from a man coming to terms with the primitive way the people on the island he crashes on live to the most convincing (and understandable!) battle with a God-like entity to grace anime. The only flaw the series had was the slightly depressing and inconclusive ending. I wanted a happy ending; not one where all the couples end up unhappy and the fate of a certain somebody is left up in the air. (It always, ALWAYS gets to
me when characters fall in love during a story and don't get a happy ever after ending. Why am I such a sucker for romance!?)
The story of Macross Zero isn't hard to digest: A war is on-going between two halves of humanity. On one side is a pilot called Shin, a rookie who learned about war the hard way as a child and got involved in order to stop the fighting. During a battle he ends up getting his plane badly damaged, forcing him into an emergency eject. When he wakes up later, he finds himself wrapped in bandages and inside a strange hut with bird images around him. He soon discovers that the island he's found himself on is inhabited by primitive people, and the leader of these people, Sara, wants him to leave as soon as possible in order to avoid him bringing a curse on her people. However, with the war taking place near the island due to an ancient life-form having been discovered underwater close to it, things soon take a turn for the worse...
For some reason, I like stories that involve a primitive race of people having to come to terms with the realities of the modern world, or the reverse. Macross Zero showed a primitive group being forced to experience the pain and suffering of war AND had the main character, to a certain extent at least, become one with nature. I haven't seen this type of story in anime before and that semi-original vibe allowed me to get even more out of the experience. Putting originality aside for a second, it's a good thing when mecha series are grounded in reality by a plot element because it prevents the story being too far-fetched and allows people to connect to the story and characters on a real world level.
Another impressive aspect of the show is its multiple love stories. Macross is well known for its blend of romance, singing and sci-fi, and Zero didn't let me down. The romance never came across as fake or forced, which surprised me a little given the short length of the story. The relationship between uptight Shin and primitive Sara was very touching, and it had a very funny beginning since Shin unknowingly threatened Sara with what the Mayan people think of as being equivalent to love letters. The other major relationship, between Aries and Roy Focker, wasn't quite so moving due to them having been together (and later splitting apart) prior to the start of Macross Zero, with the events of the story pulling them back together, but it had its moments and, like with the other relationship, their relationship created a fairly amusing scene or two.
As for the visuals, Zero looks fantastic. The art/animation is up to the standard I expected an OVA series of a huge franchise to be at, but the CG aerial battles blew me away. They were a little difficult to follow at times due to the frenzied pace aerial battles move at, but I never lost track of who was shooting at who. And, unlike with lower quality anime that features CG, the CG blended excellently with the animation.
The music was less impressive than the other aspects. There were a few decent songs here and there but, overall, nothing stood out as truly special. Off the top of my head, I can't even remember any of the BGM music right now, which is an indication of how much of the soundtrack caught my ears. I don't feel the soundtrack was bad (I'd be being far more critical if that were the case), I just felt it lacked something in comparison to everything else.
All in all, I loved the series. I enjoyed it so much that it got a rare 10/10 from me and has gone straight into my top five (edit: many months later, I changed my scoring system, and Zero got a 9/10 on my list.) For someone as critical as me to rate something 10/10, it has to be brilliant, and Macross Zero had every element an anime needs to be as close to perfection as humanly possible. It's hard for me to imagine a better blend of reality, mecha and a sci-fi 'God' story. If this series never gets released outside of Japan it'll be a crime - every (and I mean every!) anime fan should see it.
While this is a decent chapter in the Macross franchise, it does carry some major flaws that stuck out enough for me. But before I address my issues, I'll address what I did enjoy out of this OAV. The series does do a decent job at incorporating the tribal beliefs of the Mayan Island natives within the mythos of the series as the beliefs become strikingly similar to the Valkyrie mecha used within the franchise and dropping some hints about the Protoculture. In addition, Roy Focker is around to provide some serious and funny moments as he helps out series lead Shin and tries making
advances on scientist Aries Turner. After seeing Macross Frontier, I definitely took notice of the Nome sisters as pop idol Sheryl from Frontier is Mao's daughter.
In terms of visual presentation, this is easily the best-looking title in the Macross franchise I've seen to date. The series effectively blends in CG animation with the regular visuals to render the slick and highly-detailed Valkyrie fighters and battle planes used throughout Macross Zero. This work also went into creating the beautiful and lush island scenery seen throughout Mayan Island. This effort also went into the title's animation as aerial battles between UN Spacy and Anti-UN forces were very fluid and a sight to behold, mixing in some shots of the cockpit view as pilots were engaging one another in combat.
Where this series does falter for me however is with its music and characterization. The Macross franchise is most famous for mixing around mechas, music and love triangles into the storylines of their titles. My issue with the music has more to do with it being a similar issue I had with the original Macross. While the element is effectively conveyed within the storyline of Macross Zero shown through the Nome sisters' abilities, the overall soundtrack has nothing notable that sticks out as it makes use of new age and classical music.
The characterization for Macross Zero is perhaps the title's weakest area. There isn't enough fleshed out with the new characters and their motivations. Hints are dropped regarding the backgrounds of these characters yet Zero doesn't have the time to go into greater detail. As a result, this makes the love triangle element to the series involving Shin and the Nome sisters unconvincing due to the lack of proper buildup and tension.
Overall, Macross Zero proved to be a mixed bag for me within the Macross franchise. While sporting the best visuals I've seen from the franchise to date and making decent incorporation of its tribal elements into the Macross mythos, the weak characterization and unmemorable soundtrack does really hamper it a bit in my book.