Tuesday 15 December 2009

Anime REVIEW: Macross Plus

After painfully enduring the 6 part OVA sequel to SDF Macross – Macross II: Lovers, Again, which was so bad that it doesn’t even deserve a review on this blog, I was sceptical about whether I was going to enjoy Macross Plus. I had seen this 4 part OVA series once before, and my vague memory it suggested that it wasn’t that great (although in its defence I did watch it on a 3+ hour bus journey to London) but given that I now had a good background knowledge of the Macross franchise and a determination to give all its iterations a fair viewing, it was time to give Macross Plus another chance.

Thankfully unlike the aforementioned Macross II this OVA was created by Studio Nue, the original creators of SDF Macross. Set 30 years after (2040 AD) the events we saw in SDF, it tells the story of loose cannon pilot Isamu Dyson, who is assigned to a test flight centre on the colony planet Eden as the test pilot for the prototype variable fighter, the YF-19. Competing with the YF-19 is the YF-21, piloted by the Zentradi mixed race Guld Goa Bowmann. Once friends and now rivals, the two compete in prototype trials. Meanwhile, virtual singer Sharon Apple has come to Eden to hold a concert. Her producer, Myung Fan Long, was a former friend of the two pilots. As the three try to resolve their strained relationships the truth about AI singer Sharon Apple is revealed, as she gains sentience, along with Myung’s emotions, and resolves to give Isamu the ultimate thrill.

This mini series is a whole lot darker than the original Macross, displaying a whole different form of love triangle with characters that share complicated relationships and a dark past. There’s no straight forward ‘goody goody’ protagonist present in Macross Plus, and I kind of like that. It gives the series a lot more depth and realism. The call backs to SDF Macross are very minimal, with no reference made to any of the characters, a Minmay song making a fleeting appearance in a filler karaoke moment and the titular fortress itself making an appearance in Plus’ climatic finale. This results in a series that feels like its part of the Macross universe, but distances itself from the older series enough to be enjoyed as a standalone piece.

Much like every other Macross series, it features a singer/idol in the form of the virtual Sharon Apple. However it differs in that Apple serves as the antagonist in the story rather than part of the love triangle, adding a nice little twist to the Macross formula which can seem so predictable at times. The singing isn’t quite as prominent either, serving only as background music or filler concert scenes for the most part. The lyrics aren’t even restricted to Japanese either, in fact most of the songs in Plus are in either English or French, with the only Japanese song being sung by Myung rather than Apple. Apple’s musical style edges more towards the techno side of pop rather than the happy pop songs present in SDF, a change that, while making the songs far less memorable (in my humble opinion of course), fits Plus’ darker overtones far better.
As usual the Valkyrie designs are wonderful, looking far more bulky and intimidating than the Skull Squadron ones seen in SDF and Do You Remember Love?. The art itself is a point of contention, as while the blend of hand drawn animation and CGI (which was groundbreaking at the time of its release) succeeds in looking fantastic, the more pointy and angular facial aspects of the human characters seem a bit too much at times. But that's a minor personal preference rather than a deterent I suppose.

Part one of Macross Plus feels a bit slow, which is natural given that it’s dedicated to establishing the characters and overall scenario, but it really picks up from then on. However if you'd rather watch this is one go, then it might be worth checking out the movie edition of Macross Plus. This version edits the 4 episodes into one movie, changing the order of certain events, removing some sequences and also adding some new ones. While some of the new sequences are very good (particuarly the conclusion of Guld's dogfight with the Apple controlled X9 in the final battle), the reorder of events does make things seem a little more jerky and at some points rushed. The OVA certainly has a much better flow to it. In reality there's not alot in it to give them different ratings though, you get pretty much the same experience whichever route you choose.

This certainly doesn’t have the magic that made SDF Macross special, but in its place Plus creates its own darker form of intrigue that makes it enjoyable and a worthy sequel to and part of the Macross franchise.

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