--- Warning: Contains spoilers ---
Most series can be summed up in a few words, and regardless of their implications, some descriptions may throw you for a loop. When you hear the words triangles, music, missiles, more music and even more missiles, what is it that you think of? Most well-versed anime viewers should be thinking of the Macross franchise, as this can effectively sum up a great portion of what it's all about, ranging from the original series to the latest installment entitled Frontier.
Macross Frontier happens to be a fairly ordinary anime that in its simplicity, loses direction as it progresses, only to attempt to get back on track after wasting lots of time. When you break it down, at least half of the episodes are fillers, and a majority of the rest are short arcs that don't really connect and flow together to form a solid plot like any good series would. Since this is not an episodic series, this format begins to hurt itself in the long run, as only little bits of crucial information about the grand scheme of things are revealed throughout the series. This makes the progression of the main plot very slow and unnecessarily dragged out. It's not until the final third of the series that it decides to focus on what can be considered the main plot. Up until this point, the plot was nothing more than a simple "Defend the human race from unknown aliens", which is already weak in and of itself as it's really just a poor excuse for some mecha action, but it decided to take a sharp 180 and go down the oh so wonderful conspiracy route.
With this development that couldn't help but be expected many episodes prior, everything starts to become a giant mess. This was hinted to a few times throughout the beginning of the series, usually only for a very short time period in select episodes displaying things like undercover discussions or trades, so it's not like it came on unforeseen by the audience. If anything, it happened far too late, as the motives behind Grace and Leon who were originally working together are hardly delved into, and they simply play the bad-guy role because the series needed a better antagonist than random aliens. Both individuals having very grandiose goals of wanting to rule the universe, you can't help but wonder how they actually planned on executing this in the first place. It is only explained after Grace O'Connor, the great evil mastermind behind everything, had her plans proceed to completion without any hitch at all. Now, having full control over the Vajra, it's pretty safe to say she holds much more power than anyone else currently, yet, of course, is defeated by the power of... music (Catchy j-pop music at that). A lot of build up was wasted in favor of going this predictable route, and it is basically the equivalent of beating the bad guy through the power of friendship. At the very least, they tried to give some basis for this being possible with information from earlier episodes explaining the power of music within the Macross universe.
Seeing as this all happened in the span of a few episodes, it's safe to say that pacing became a huge issue, and solidified the fact that most of the other episodes were nothing more than "filler" and short arcs. They could have used this time to begin to develop the plot, but that wasn't the case. They may as well have cut out these episodes in favor of getting straight to the point, rather than extending the series unnecessarily. With the remaining episodes not being devoted to plot advancement, some character development should be expected in them, however, it's nowhere near as much as there should have been for how much time was devoted to this aspect. A majority of the remaining episodes used most of their time focused on the love triangle between the three main characters, but the events and developments that took place were usually undermined due to the indecisive and undeveloped protagonist of the series, Alto Saotome. He is also better known by some of the characters as Princess Alto, and for good reason.
And while it may not all necessarily be because of him, he is directly involved in many of the simple plot conveniences used to keep the love triangle from moving forward. Whether it be going out to fight against the Vajra during a crucial time when he was supposed to be with Ranka, or Ranka seeing him with Sheryl and then wallowing in her own sadness about it afterwards. However, with Alto being the resident princess of the series, it's not a far stretch to say he certainly can act like one at times. Ranging from his daddy issues leading to him running away from home to become a pilot, or how he likes to ignore any real problems that he faces, there's almost nothing about him that doesn't scream "Princess". He even has gorgeous flowing locks of hair to accentuate this. In fact, I have no doubt that some would start to question his manhood, as he practically ignores any advances from both Sheryl and Ranka, which goes back to him being largely at fault for the triangle never progressing. Any time it seems like he's made up his mind about who he wants to be with, the next episode has some bad news for you, as he basically does the equivalent of saying "Just kidding!", and begins to show what can be considered interest in the opposite girl. As for the whole "Princess" nickname and his daddy issues, they are touched on briefly, but it comes off as nothing more than the writers quickly throwing together some semblance of a back story so that they could pass him off as more than your average self-insert main character.
Having Alto bounce back and forth between who it seemed he was interested in clearly shows which characters are supposed to be the selling point of the series, and of course, I can only be talking about Ranka and Sheryl. Long winded fan boy name calling and debates aside for now, they both have their ups and downs as characters.
Ranka, who is easily the character who receives the most focus in the series, happens to be the one who receives the least development for all the time she spent on screen (Go figure). She manages to slowly get over her timid nature when it comes to singing, but only because of the encouragement Alto gives her throughout the series. Although this was good however, even with her having the most interaction with other characters and general screen time, she never developed a reason for singing past doing it for Alto's affection. Due to the fact that the time spent on her was poorly utilized, her development was hindered in the long run. This is made especially apparent when you see that a few of the side characters have more motivation for their actions than she does. For the sheer amount of focus the series gave her character, seeing them do nothing with it past the first few episodes was disappointing to say the least.
Sheryl, on the other hand, plays a much more interesting role in the series. Many pass her off as "Bitchy", "Overly arrogant" and many other demeaning terms from the moment she appears on screen, but she manages to easily become the best character in the cast. With her status established right from the beginning, it's not unfitting for her to act much like she runs the place. Providing a stark contrast from Ranka, Sheryl is confident and domineering to an extent, yet still caring of others, shown by her attitude towards Ranka and Alto. She eventually softens up a bit, mostly due to her feelings for Alto since he doesn't worship her like everyone else in the colonies. The struggle she goes through while falling from the top as Ranka took over is far more believable than anything Ranka or Alto went through. Having to cope with her fall from stardom, as well as her impending death due to a disease, she accepts these facts and still tries to move forward, doing the only thing she can do: sing. This made her far more endearing to the audience by the end of the series, as this shows her confidence wasn't simply based on her status as the Galactic Fairy, but her strength of will that was built up through living her old lifestyle of complete poverty. While she did remain mostly static, what she went through didn't feel contrived, much like the case was with Ranka.
But of course, like many other series, one of the biggest problems Macross Frontier presents is the ending. Again, I find myself questioning Alto's sexuality, as the ending provides zero closure for what is considered the main focus of the series: the love triangle between the three main characters. This is Macross, the plot is only there to help move the romance forward, and that's one thing Frontier severely failed at. Not only was Alto himself preventing it from taking a big step forward with his indecisiveness and constant character changes, the sheer amount of conveniences that kept the character's relationships from developing sure didn't help either. Like I mentioned, the filler episodes would mostly focus on the love triangle, but focusing on it is not the same as actually having it progress. Regardless of how much it actually progressed by the end, a conclusion is needed, and that's something the series never provided. While it was very heavily suggested that Sheryl "won" before the finale, the final moments of the series throw the entirety of the few episodes Alto was together with Sheryl right out the window, and has Ranka enter the competition once more.
As we all know, Alto has a major fascination for the sky, more so than for the two girls who fawned over him for the entire series. So what does he do? He doesn't clearly choose either girl, but instead chooses the mother fucking sky. Whether it was intentionally done this way so that the Sheryl and Ranka factions wouldn't destroy the world due to a simultaneous outburst of angry fan boys crying over the fact that their waifu "lost", or because they wanted to leave it up for interpretation, it doesn't change the fact that giving no closure severely impacts the series in a bad way. And when one of the main selling points of the Macross franchise is left untouched, it leaves nothing more than disappointment in the eyes of fans and newcomers alike. While making no decision on which girl the main character wants to be with may be a common occurrence in most harem series, it should not be the case when there is only a love triangle at hand. When ample time is given to devote to two characters and their interactions with the main character, going down this route is nothing more than a bad decision as it should be nearly impossible to get fans to feel satisfied with this kind of ending. It was a shame to see them use this kind of cheap exit strategy after putting forth the effort to develop the relationships in the series.
After all of this, there's nothing left but disappointment in the series. There may have been good j-pop, great action scenes, as well as throwbacks to previous entries in the franchise ranging from songs, to name drops and simple phrases, but that only adds to the enjoyment factor. And as most intelligent people will know, even that isn't enough to save a series which continually makes mistakes along the way. At the end of the day, Macross Frontier had a lot of potential, but unfortunately it was ruined by Alto who could not manage to keep the series flying smoothly.