Tuesday 5 December 2023

Movie REVIEW: Macross Delta the Movie: Zettai Live!!!!!!

Macross Delta the Movie: Zettai Live!!!!!!

Following the release of Macross Delta in 2016, the reign of Walküre truly began. Even in the absence of further fiction to go along with them, the franchise's first idol troupe continued to dominate through new album releases and live performances. While the compilation film Macross Delta the Movie: Passionate Walküre (recapping the series with some plot changes) was released in 2018, it wouldn't be until 2021 that Delta finally came to its conclusion. Macross Delta the Movie: Zetta Live!!!!!! is an all-new adventure that follows on from Passionate Walküre, featuring an all-new enemy as well as a rival idol group in the form of Yami_Q_Ray.

Welcome to Walküre worldIan Cromwell

After Roid Brehm's plot to unite the Children of Protoculture into a collective consciousness was thwarted, humans have entered an uneasy truce with Windermere. As Walküre and Delta Flight visit Freyja's home planet for a concert to celebrate the end of the war, Hayate declares his love for the group's most junior member - wishing for them to spend the rest of their lives together despite Windermerean's more limited lifespan.

But before she can fully process this, a new threat emerges in the form of Heimdall - an organisation who believe the enigmatic Lady M is controlling the galaxy by preventing the progress of certain technologies. Creating a dark copy of Walküre, Heimdall brings the galaxy to the brink of war before directly targeting Lady M. Teaming up with the legendary Maximillian Jenius, Delta Flight set out to put a stop to Heimdall's scheme. Meanwhile Walküre once helped save the galaxy with their music, but as each performance brings Freyja closer to death will this next one be her last?

Yami_Q_RayFreyja and Hayate

It's interesting how Macross movie adaptations tend to become the dominant canon. It kind of happened with Do You Remember Love? (although there it was more a case of aesthetic than storyline), it happened with the Macross Frontier movies and now the same has happened again with Macross Delta. Admittedly creator Shoji Kawamori plays quite loose with the word "canon", but it's interesting how the series often seem to act as trial runs for the more refined storylines we get with the movies. That said, Delta fans that skipped out on Passionate Walküre shouldn't find themselves too confused by the changes present in Zettai Live, with the film largely focussed on moving the story forward rather than referencing the past. Looking up the differences between the two versions of Delta's story certainly wouldn't hurt however.
As represented by Delta's triangular logo, the Macross franchise is made up of three distinct elements. Some might be more dominant than others depending on the entry, but all three are needed for it to truly feel like Macross. When it comes to Zettai Live, the romance element is undoubtedly at the forefront – focussing on the relationship between Hayate and Freyja in a way it hasn't really been done before. Whereas most Macross instalments culminate in the resolution of the love triangle and/or a declaration of love, as an epilogue to the main story Zettai Live opens with it – instead exploring how the relationship should proceed. Scenes of Hayate and Freyja are utterly adorable, and it is genuinely heart-warming to see how dedicated Hayate is despite the difficulties their relationship will face. Freyja has always been the focal point of Macross Delta and this film offers a fantastic, albeit bittersweet, conclusion to her storyline. Similarly Hayate was always likeable, but he's really elevated here both as a person and a pilot.

Hayate takes flightHayate and Freyja

The second point in the Macross triangle is the music, which is naturally covered through the powerhouse unit that is Walküre. With Freyja having a much greater focus it is true that the other members do take a bit more of backseat, but the film ensures that each one of them has a key role to play and/or moment in the spotlight. Mikumo feels a lot more grounded and humanised in her reaction to Freyja's condition, having come off as rather aloof in previous fiction. This also ties in nicely to her moving on from the revelations of being created from the Star Singer and moving on with her life as a member of Walküre. Kaname receives some closure to her relationship with Messer in a short but sweet scene, while Makina and Reina continue to be the most adorable couple imaginable. As the two most tech-savvy members of the group, they're also instrumental in the fight against Heimdall beyond singing as well. But most significantly the importance of Walküre here is them as a unit – particularly in their support of Freyja and of each other. The film features plenty of great musical sequences, ranging from brand new songs to old favourites from the series itself. While it does feature one obligatory CGI sequence, it's refreshing to see the rest remain 2D – blending much better with the rest of the film while also elevating that one 3D sequence as if it were actually part of their concert.

Technically Walküre aren't the only musical act that appear in the film either, with the creation of Yami_Q_Ray being a major element of the climax. Though technically both onscreen and off this is just a "dark" version of Walküre (with each singer also performing as their counterpart), it does provide an opportunity for the group to sing in a different style to what we're used to hearing. The use of AI in the film also has some interesting parallels to the real-life, with Yami_Q_Ray being the end product of someone taking Walküre and using their image (or more accurately sound) to for their own purposes.

WalküreFreyja and Mirage

Walküre aren't the only ones coming off well in Zettai Live either, with the film also offering expansion and/or closure to some of the key members of Delta Flight too. After her side of the love triangle being sorely underdeveloped in the series and then outright forgotten in Passionate Walküre, Mirage gets some nice scenes with Freyja to reflect on her own love for Hayate – moving forward from it whilst also offering her former rival words of support. The film also sees some nice development for Arad, who gets to expand beyond his regular command of Delta Flight. While the role of other cast members might not be quite as expansive, little touches like Bogue joining Delta Flight create new dynamics whilst also reflecting the changed relationship with the Windermereans. Mirage and Arad's stories are also propelled by the appearance of two familiar faces – Maximillian Jenius and Exsedol Formo of SDF Macross and Macross 7 fame. While perhaps not the ones fans are champing at the bit to hear more about these fan favourites have been a big part in the development of Macross lore across multiple series, so having them reappear here where so many threads culminate just makes sense. With Max's origins as a pilot mirroring Mirage and his move into a command post mirroring Arad, he's a good springboard for the both of them whilst also having significance to Hayate and Freyja's own relationship.

There is one weak link in the chain though, and that's the film's villains. Whereas the main cast have all been well established by this point, Heimdall being comprised entirely of brand-new characters doesn’t grant them quite the same luxury in terms of development. Lead antagonist Ian Cromwell is a fairly generic villain, his motivation in wanting to stop Lady M not coming across as particularly personal. Though he's able to integrate himself into Delta's setting fairly well, it's the callbacks to Macross history in both his appearance and (extremely fleeting) backstory that do the heavy-lifting here rather than Cromwell himself. Ultimately though they serve a means to an end, providing a new conflict as a backdrop for the more personal drama to happen against. Macross conflicts have never been especially complicated, it's how the characters react to them and the relationships that are formed from it that make it interesting. While the characters that appear in Zettai Live will probably never be seen again, the emergence of both Heimdall and the shadowy Epsilon could have interesting implications for the future of Macross if the next series chooses to follow the breadcrumbs Delta has left.

Macross GigasionHayate's VF-31J

The final point of that Macross triangle are the Valkyries themselves, which is another area that Zettai Live seems to have refined to perfection. Whereas Passionate Walküre was more weighted toward the musical performances, Zettai Live brings them to the forefront of the action sequences to revive that perfect balance the franchise has always thrived on. Satelight certainly spared no expense when it came to delivering the fast-paced-space dogfights, with multiple battles fights taking place over the course of the film rather than just saving it all for one final spectacle. Macross has been comfortably using CGI for these scenes for many years now, and while they'll perhaps never quite match the sheer majesty of Do You Remember Love?'s visuals moments like the "Immelmann Dance" offer a certain fluidity that probably couldn't be attained as well any other way. As always the music pairs perfectly with these scenes, and Delta Flight's showdown against Heimdall's unmanned Sv-303 Vivasvats mirrors Walküre's own fight against their AI copies. Given the overwhelming success and prominence of Walküre it's easy to forget how integral the mecha element is to the Macross formula, but Zettai Live proves more than capable of delivering on the action in addition to its powerful character moments.

The appearance of Max and Exsedol naturally give Zettai Live some particularly close ties to Macross history, but much like the Delta series itself the plot also pulls from several different areas to highlight just how much of a continuity web Macross has become. Heimdall are driven by Lady M's control over dangerous technologies, most of proved themselves to be just that in previous instalments. Cromwell's use of AI is a direct reference to Sharon Apple from Macross Plus. Although Macross can sometimes be a bit alienating with its continuity nods, Zettai Live explains them in such a way that newcomers will easily be able to follow. One of the greater mysteries though is the identity of Lady M – a figurehead originally teased in the Macross Delta series with links to the Megaroad 01. Unsurprisingly Zettai Live continues to leave these plot threads dangling, but does so in a way that doesn't feel quite as frustrating as one would think. Whether we'll ever get answers is another matter entirely, but the way Zettai Live plays out at least suggests that they are out there and could continue to influence Macross for years to come.

Maximillian JeniusExsedol Formo

Despite its strong characters and even stronger music, Macross Delta was a somewhat flawed product that often struggled under the weight of its own storytelling. After Passionate Walküre streamlined it into something far more manageable, Macross Delta the Movie: Zettai Live!!!!!! has continued that momentum to create one of the best instalments of the franchise yet. Though its storyline may be relatively straightforward, it makes up for this with some incredible character development - pushing the romance aspect of the franchise further than ever before whilst offering closure to side characters that so desperately needed it. Delta continues to build upon the Macross mythos in new and exciting ways, but does so in a way that feels just as educational to newcomers as it does to longtime fans. For a series that has some very glaring issues, this is one hell of a finale. Walküre truly can't be stopped.


M said...

Nice to see more Macross reviews here. Can't wait to see when we will get more Macross content

Manpig said...

This film is genuinely a masterpiece. Not just as a conclusion for Delta but it's such a statement for the franchise as a whole that really leaves its mark. Max is so good in this film and the things it foreshadows for the future only excites me for the next entry.
Also obligatory, I cried, hard.