Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Anime REVIEW: Macross Zero


After the phenomenally underwhelming Macross 7, it was up to Macross Zero, a five episode OVA series released in 2002 to coincide with the 15th anniversary of Macross in Japan, to boost my faith in the franchise up again for the last review (for now) of Macross. This mini series is instantly set apart from its predecessors as it is in fact a prequel to The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, giving some insight into happened before the war between humanity and the Zentradi began. Set in the year 2008, one year before the events of the original series, Zero depicts the final battles of the U.N. Wars between the U.N. Spacy and the Anti-UN forces, and is also set in the South Pacific, where the titular alien spaceship crash landed 9 years earlier. Amidst the violence, a U.N. Spacy pilot named Shin Kudo is attacked by a strange enemy aircraft that can transform itself into a robot. Crash landing on Mayan Island he learns that this remote island and its peaceful native inhabitants hold a great secret linking them to the alien space ship and would become the focus of the war, whether they like it or not. Shin eventually returns to his carrier fleet and joins the Skull Squadron, who also operate brand new transforming fighters, the VF-0 Phoenix. He trains and engages Anti-UN forces operating from a converted ballistic missile submarine as both sides fight to locate and control alien artifacts, with the peaceful and agrarian Mayan caught in the middle of the war.

Despite its stance as a prequel series, I would in no way recommend this as a jumping in point for anyone looking to get into the series. Key moments aren't exactly given any great detail, such as the crash landing of the SDF-1 taking up all of a minute at the beginning of the episode and then not really being mentioned again. The story and characters in Zero aren't really much to write home about, with Shin just filling the typical "pilot" role than every Macross series has (but less memorable), Sara Nome (Priestess of the Mayan Island) hostile and her younger sister Mao more outgoing and cheerful. As the story progresses you begin to understand why Sara is so hostile toward strangers and the violence of the outside world, but even this feels like it could have done with far more fleshing out. Even the infamous alcholic womaniser Roy Focker (from SDF) coming across as rather mundane. The staple Macross love triangle (this time between Shin, Sara and Mao) is horrendously underdeveloped, again leaving me wanting more and wondering if Zero would have been better off with more than just 5 episodes to make the characters that much more interesting.

While the story is ambitious and clever, tying in Mayan mythology to mysterious alien artifacts, it requires far more attention than the standard programme. Blink and miss just one subtitle and you may find yourself confused by the legends of the Mayan people and just how exactly this 'birdman' fits into the story (this happened to me several times, having to watch sequences several times just to get a basic understanding of them). Even as I write this now I'm not entirely sure on all of the mythology behind it. Zero also plays around a bit with details from the original series, with Focker's love interest Aries Turner researching the idea of humanity being created by a Protoculture. Now I always preferred the idea that humans had no concept of the Protoculture until it was explained to them by the Zentradi in the original series, so the mentioning of this so early in the Macross timeline fell a bit flat. Not only this, but the transition between episodes leaves alot to be desired, especially between the fourth and final episodes, where it felt like I'd missed out on an entire sequence!

Since I've covered one staple of a Macross series formula (the love triangle), its only fitting that I should address the second, the music. Well, I would if there was any. No pop idol or j-rock band (thank God) in Zero, here we have only a few (superficial to the plot) tribal-esque songs and an a few orchestral tracks. While I don't want to knock this because it is far more fitting to the tone of the series and the orchestral soundtrack is stunning (especially in the series' climax) for a Macross series this does feel a little disappointing.

But despite this there are some positives to Zero, these mainly being both the art and animation of the series. This is probably the best Macross has ever looked, and it is apparent from the get-go that the budget for this series must have been pretty high. The character design and scenery are marvellous, from the luscious bright colours of the Mayan island to the grimey greys of the military ships and the pale blues of the high altitudes. The Valkyries are given full CGI treatment (and after the zord-esque valks of Macross 7, it certainly is refreshing to see what I consider proper valkyries again) and have never looked better, even in the the newer Frontier I don't think they look this good. The jagged metal design of the anti-UN's SV-51s contrast really well with the UN Spacy's VF-0s. If you're looking for some eye popping air dogfights with fighter planes that turn into robots, then Macross Zero is certainly something you need to check out. The final battle with the alien 'birdman' is definitely one to take note of. Speaking of the series ending, it's very ambiguous, but if you're interested in the fate of the some of the characters it would go on to be very briefly discussed in Frontier, but apart from that it's anyone's guess really.

Naturally this series is ALOT better than Macross 7 and is definitely comes across the most ambitious, but due to its plot inconsistencies and overall dullness and confusing nature of the story it still manages to fall flat of other Macross stories. I mentioned earlier that Plus was Macross for a more mature audience, however I now withdraw that comment and suggest that perhaps this is what you should be watching. I have a feeling that this is one of those animes that will make more sense on multiple viewings, but from just the one viewing I found myself lost and disappointed. The aerial battles truly were a thing of beauty though, and these help save the series from being one to avoid. If you have a few hours spare and/or are interesting in watching mecha battles linked with Mayan myths, then Zero is certainly something you should look into.

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