Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Anime REVIEW: Macross 7

Macross 7

Macross 7. Those words alone are enough to make a certain section of Macross fans shudder. Despite the six-part Macross II: Lovers Again OVA arguably being the black sheep of the franchise, it’s undoubtedly Macross 7 that has the most mixed response amongst its English-speaking fans. But in its home country the success of Macross 7 cannot be understated, spawning a 49-episode television series, three OVAs, 12 home release minisodes, a five-part sequel OVA, a ton of albums, manga spin-offs and even a movie created solely as an advertisement for the Blu-ray remasters. So if Japan love Macross 7 that much, surely the show can’t be all that bad can it?

The Macross 7 FleetFire Bomber

In the year 2045, mankind has flown out into the stars in enormous colonisation fleets. One such fleet is the Macross 7, which is seven years into its journey to find a new home for its inhabitants. Captaining the fleet is ace pilot Maximillian Jenius, while his now-estranged wife Milia also works as the city’s mayor. The couple’s youngest daughter, Mylene Flare Jenius has been recruited as the new bassist/vocalist of Fire Bomber – a rock band comprised of vocalist/guitarist Nekki Basara, keyboardist Ray Lovelock and drummer Veffidas Feaze.

When Macross 7 is attacked by creatures identified as the Protodeviln, Basara rushes out into battle in his modified VF-19 Fire Valkyrie – determined not to fight, but to spread his music to the enemy. His actions frustrate the military pilots, including Diamond Force member Gamlin Kizaki, but it seems Basara’s music is the only thing that affects the otherwise unstoppable enemy.

Nekki BasaraGepelnitch

Coming off the backs of the likes of the Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Macross Plus it isn’t hard to see why Macross 7 is viewed so differently from its predecessors. It marks a point in the series where the power becomes literal as well as symbolic, which is something that is later carried through into both Frontier and Delta. This change also brings the song element to the forefront of the series, though the all-important mecha element is far from forgotten. However in the case of both Basara and later the other Sound Force Valkyries, it takes on a form that feels considerably more super robot in its approach. Many will boil this down to the bright colours, mecha with actual faces and the fact they shoot music rather than bullets/lasers, but also extends to their unorthodox control system and Basara’s general hot-blooded temperament. It’s definitely a different kind of Macross series, but this doesn’t immediately make it a bad one.

Basara can also be a difficult protagonist for many to come to grips with. Macross 7 is an interesting series in that it isn’t structured around the growth and development of its main character, but rather how the rest of the cast come to understand (or in many cases simply accept) his way of thinking. It may often be frustrating to watch Basara brush aside people’s criticisms simply because they “don’t get it”, but given the purely emotional resonance Basara is trying to convey it’s likely he can’t express it in words either. Nekki Basara is a puzzling, sometimes problematic character, but he’s a pacifist with a heart of gold who just wants to sing so hard that he moves mountains.

So instead Macross 7’s real strengths lie in its other characters and how they develop over the course of the series. Unfortunately its second lead Mylene is perhaps the most troublesome. Her character is largely based around her being a 14-year-old that both acts and strives to be more mature than she actually is, which results in the show uncomfortably split between portraying her as a na├»ve child and a sexy rock star. This struggle gets particularly unsettling in sequel OVA Macross Dynamite 7, where the most significant part of her storyline is dedicated to her being drugged and nearly raped by her new producer. Other that this Mylene is a mostly enjoyable character, working as a more relatable lead than Basara whilst also being the centrepiece of the staple love triangle. Like almost everything else Macross 7 tackles it a bit differently than its predecessors, centring it around Mylene’s conflicted feelings rather than a more soap-operary outward display. Rounding off Fire Bomber is its loveable leader Ray and the mostly silent Veffidas. What the pair lack in development they make up for in personality, Ray particularly as acts as the glue that holds the band together whilst integrating them into the military side of the plot.

Mylene JeniusGamlin Kizaki

The real pleasure however lies in the show’s other characters. Gamlin Kizaki might just be the best pilot character in the entire franchise, and his journey from a regimented military man into one of Basara’s biggest advocates is a fantastic piece of character development. While Basara courses through the series doing whatever he feels like and sees little repercussion for his actions, Gamlin experiences hardship after hardship yet never falters. The other strong character piece in the series is Gigil, the Protodeviln field commander who serves under their leader Gepelnitch. Like Gamlin Gigil starts out as actively opposing Basara (as well as the rest of Macross 7), but gradually changes the more he’s surrounded by it. His love for his comrade Sivil (whose own story would be also be excellent if she didn’t spend most of it either unconscious and flying away), brings forth some of the show’s strongest moments. It’s a shame that the majority of the other Protodeviln have a Saturday-morning cartoon villain air to them (either in appearance and/or mannerisms) that lessens their impact, but Gepelnitch himself remains a great overarching villain – mysterious, creepy and usually one step ahead of the heroes.

But there are problems, and they are the kind that can very easily break the show. The truth is that Macross 7 could have been a whole lot shorter and would have been much better off for it. The first 20 or so episodes do some nice things in outlining Fire Bomber’s rise to fame, but are incredibly repetitive and offer very little development to the wider story. Each episode follows the same format of Fire Bomber doing something, the Protodeviln attacking, Basara flying out and then driving them off with his songs. The introduction of Sivil progresses things a bit, but certainly not enough to justify all the episodes that surround it. Matters are made worse by just how much padding Macross 7 has. As well as relying on a wealth of stock footage (particularly for the Valkyrie scenes), each episode opens with an often lengthy introductory sequence that either explains some of the finer points of Macross lore or reiterates key information the series has covered so far. The worst the show ever gets is undoubtedly episode 39, which is made entirely from previously existing footage but attempts to be a unique episode – resulting a very messy 25 minutes that don’t add anything to the experience whatsoever. Admittedly the animation hasn’t aged that well either, but the new Blu-ray transfers have done absolute wonders for the show. It’s a remaster where you can really see the difference.

The Sound Force ValkyriesGamlin's VF-17 Nightmare

Get passed this initial chunk of the series though, and the rewards truly are great. Once the true plot of Macross 7 finally surfaces the series doesn’t skip a beat, providing satisfying moment after satisfying moment before one of the most fist-pumping anime finales you’ll see. Macross 7 is loud, bombastic and often very silly, but it has no qualms about being anything but this. If the Macross franchise as a whole is about the power of song, then Macross 7 takes this idea to its extreme in the most thrilling of ways. By the time those final credits role, you’ll truly believe that music can change your heart.

The other big problem Macross 7 has is the use of its music. Fire Bomber have an excellent range of songs for the choose to from, and although arguably the best stuff wouldn’t be recorded until long after the series was finished the TV show portion still had two album’s worth of material to work with. However it instead chooses to repeat the same few songs ad nauseum, to the point where the audience feels just as forced into hearing Basara’s songs as the characters themselves. “Planet Dance” fatigue is a very real thing – the song is played well over 30 times over the course of the series. By comparison, the next two most-played songs (“Totsugeki Love Heart” and “Holy Lonely Light”) are played roughly to 15-20 times each. None of these are bad songs by any means, but hearing them each and every episode gets old very quickly, especially as most of Planet Dance’s run is tied into those first 20-odd episodes. When things get a little more varied in the later episodes it gets a lot better, but by then the damage is done. Its undeniable that Planet Dance has a lot of importance in Macross 7 as Fire Bomber’s breakout single, but compared to some of the band’s other offerings it just doesn’t stack up. At least not enough to be heard two or three times an episode anyway that’s for sure.

Miria and MaxSivil

I’ll admit that when I first watched Macross 7 eight years ago I hated it. It’s taken several years of listening to Fire Bomber albums, reading different opinions on the series and (more recently) a heavy diet of Uta Macross: Smartphone Deculture for me to finally give it the rewatch it deserved – and now my opinion couldn’t be more different. On a technical level Macross 7 is a heavily flawed series, to the point where the repetitive nature of the first 20 or so episodes are enough to justifiably sour it for some people. But get past that and you get a series that feels wholly unique, filled with great characters and an energy that never lets up. It’s a series that encompasses both the highest highs and lowest lows, and unfortunately it’s the latter that come first. On a pure entertainment factor I would rate it a lot higher, but critically it’s impossible to look past those initial shortfalls. Either way Macross 7 is an interesting and highly underappreciated entry into the Macross canon, as well as one that a second chance can make all the difference for.

No comments: