Wednesday 6 January 2016

First Impressions: Macross Delta - Preview Episode

Macross Delta

Is there a better way to kick off a new year than with a brand new Macross series? After a four year absence, the idol-infused sci-fi mecha franchise makes its grand return in 2016 with a brand new entry going by the name of Macross Delta. Creator Shōji Kawamori returns to handle chief writing, directorial and mecha designer duties, backed up director Kenji Yasusda and writer Toshizo Nemoto. Finally the series is produced jointly by Studio Nue and Satelight, which has been the case for all new Macross instalments since Macross Zero way back in 2004. Now technically Macross Delta isn't set to hit Japan until the Spring, however Kawamori and co spoiled Japanese audiences to a sneak preview of the series on New Year's Eve. This special preview featured a near-complete draft of the first episode, going by the designation of Mission 0.89 - Prologue on the Battlefield.

Set in the year 2067 (eight years after the events of Macross Frontier), humankind has established civilisations across the galaxy through cohabitation with the various alien races they've met on their journey through the cosmos. However these societies are now threatened by Var Syndrome - an illness which affects a person's minds and pushes them towards violent and destructive behaviour. Fighting back against the chaos caused by this are Walküre - a tactical sound unit comprised of four idols able to penetrate the illness with their trans-dimensional voices. Partnered with them are the Delta Squadron - a crack team of experienced Valkyrie pilots.

This first episode focuses on Walküre fan Freyja Wion, who is travelling to the planet Laguna to audition for the newest position in the group. After stowing away on a spaceship and accidentally ending up on the planet Al Shahal instead, she meets Hayate Immelman. After the two strike up a rather rocky friendship, they're caught in an Var Syndrome attack. Arriving on the scene are the Delta Squadron and Walküre, who do their best to calm the situation before strange new opponents arrive in Valkyries of their very own.

Over the years the musical side of the Macross franchise has taken many different forms. From the original pop idol Lynn Minmay, AI superstar Sharon Apple and rock band Fire Bomber to the duel idols of Frontier, the franchise has always tried to add a new twist to its musical shenanigans. This time around it tackles one of the biggest trends in current anime (and Japanese pop culture in general) as it goes full-on idol troupe. Many fans will already know that Kawamori helped bring the AKB48 anime AKB0048 to life back in 2012 and it seems he's taken a few ideas away from that experience, as Walküre join the fight here with dazzling displays of vocal superpowers. Its a change of pace that will likely deter some viewers, but at the same time feels like a natural progression of the sound units we've seen in previous Macross entries - most notably Macross 7 and the non-canon Macross II. If integrated well enough, it'll be interesting to see what these new kinds of action sequences can bring to the table.

Of course throwing Walküre into the mix hasn't gotten rid of the staple aerial battles, with Macross Delta boasting an impressive number of new Valkyries right from the get-go. While there isn't a whole lot to go off in terms of battroid (aka the robot mode) action in this preview episode, there are plenty of great aerial manoeuvres and gerwalk moments to keep the nostalgia flowing in long-time fans (not to mention the return of the Zentradi Regult walkers in a role more substantial than just a cameo). As has been the case since Macross Zero the mecha are rendered in CGI as opposed to 2D animation like the rest of the series, and this might be the biggest point of contention with this episode. Not because of the use of CGI in itself, but because it actually feels like a step down from the CGI seen in Frontier. Of course this could easily be down to the episode simply being incomplete (and as such proper judgement should really be held off until then), but it really does have a rough quality to it that doesn't gel with the smooth backgrounds or character design. Only time will tell on this one.

Character-wise there isn't a whole lot to go on here either, but its enough to give a good taste on our leads at the very least. To draw comparisons Freyja feels like a more headstrong Ranka Lee, while Hayate is a little harder to pin down - as someone who's far more aimless he's not quite like any Macross protagonist we've seen in recent times. The rest have very few lines between them so there isn't a whole lot to say, though having a brand new Jenius family member in the cast is bound to be exciting. As is the appearance of the Aerial Knights - an opposing force to the Delta Squadron who's aims are currently unknown. Finally its refreshing to see a wider variety of species in this episode rather than mostly humans with the odd Zentradi thrown in here and there. With this series taking place on planets rather than space colonies (another element that sets it apart in a good way) it's about time to see what else is out in the galaxy.

So Macross is finally back, and as always is likely to turn heads. The special preview of Macross Delta did highlight a few worries, but burst onto the scene with enough pomp and glamour that the hype is just as strong as ever. With confirmation at long last of when the full series will be airing, it seems the spring is going to be a very exciting fans for Macross fans.

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