Weekly Anime Classics Episode 9: Super Dimension Fortress Macross
So lets bust out the huge guns this week. I love Macross. So do a lot of people. I know among current fans that Frontier is still very popular, but Macross had to start somewhere, and with it being 30 Years Old, why not look at it.
Macross was the the title that put the now legendary Shoji Kawamori’s name on the anime map and with good reason. His love of complicated character relationships and realistic transformable mecha certainly set him apart and this series has great examples of both. Macross is noteworthy not only for starting a 30 year mecha anime franchise, but for being one of the first series to combine the themes of mecha anime and shoujo anime into one series. It is as much a dramatic space opera as it is a very personal soap opera and it excels at both.
Super Dimension Fortress Macross started as a spoof project. Kawamori, along with some other friends from a college Gundam Club wanted to make a series that would parody the mecha genre. Somewhere along the way though, that idea, titled Megaroad, became Macross and it was decided to play the story straight, though it wasn’t free from levity. Aside from Kawamori’s story ideas and mech designs the series also features the wonderful character designs of Haruhiko Mikimoto, who’s brilliance in terms of drawing people should never be understated. Along with a strong voice cast, this is a truly great staff.
Macross follows the crew of a space battleship that ten years earlier, in the far off future of 1999, crashed on Earth and was rebuilt by the native humans. After the United Nations has wiped out anyone not allied with them, (they kinda gloss over that bit…) they plan to use the ship, now dubbed Macross, to explore the universe and find out who built it, but when it and the island it crashed on come under attack from giant aliens, the crew of the Macross, along with hundreds of civilians are forced into space and must fight their way back to their homes, all the while surrounded by a race of aliens who have them outnumbered and outgunned.
In the middle of this is Hikaru Ichijo, a former air circus pilot who only went to the island in order to meet an old friend but when the aliens attack, he ends up not only discovering the UN’s new fighters, that are basically F-14s that turn into robots, but also meets a girl named Minmay, a Chinese girl who wants to become a professional singer. Spurred initially by his want to protect her, Hikaru joins the UN Spacy forces as a Valkyrie (robot-jet) pilot. After he does this he manages to end up on the bad side of a no-nonsense female officer. Little does he know, this is the beginning of a shockingly well handled love triangle that moves the story along almost more so than the sci-fi elements.
There’s a lot of character depth in the story, but part of what I think is great is how real the characters are. Hikaru himself is kinda a jerk. He’s not a perfect hero, and often he’s selfish and short-sighted, but he’s not a bad person. He’s just really dense. Misa, the officer I mentioned before, is also a very strong woman who, while occasionally vulnerable, only appears weak when her most painful memories are prodded at. The supporting cast are all generally strong too, but the real star of the series, in the minds of many, is Lynn Minmay.
Minmay has a HUGE character arc. She starts out the series as a selfish and very average teenage girl, but we still like her because she IS talented and she is willing to pursue her dreams. As she becomes a famous singer within the ship, she starts realizing she can’t always do what she wants to do for herself and must, at the most crucial point in the series she gives it her all for the betterment of life as we know it, but afterward she still doesn’t want her life as an idol to define her and runs from it. There’s so much to this character on her quest for maturity, but it all works so well. Minmay is an idol we want to cheer for, but we also want her to be happy and her joy and her success might not be the same thing. That’s heavy.
On a sillier note, while mech violence is a huge theme, so is pop music. The aliens of the series, the Zentreadi, are a race that has forsaken creative culture or anything beyond being war machines. They are cloned and they are even segregated by gender. Music, and by extension love, are so alien to the… aliens that they are completely repulsed by it. On a sterile, commercial level this was done to sell 80s J-pop, but on a story level, I believe it can and should be argued that the main theme of Macross is that culture and creativity can overcome war and violence. I feel that this is an interesting angel to explore and, furthermore, is a powerful theme that has not only carried over to Macross’s sequels and spinoff, but has also given me a lot of music I really enjoy. To this day Macross’s music is legendary.
Macross has left a huge legacy. It has three official sequel series, one prequel and even an unofficial sequel. (Think about that…) This series even was adapted into a film that we will look at later. (spoilers, its one of my all-time favorites.) Not all of Macross’s legacy has been a happy one though. Mari Iijima, who play Minmay, wanted to use to show to boost her real singing career, but because of the popularity of the character, she has found herself unable to live outside Minmay’s shadow and while she has come to terms with it recently, she still doesn’t like that the attention she gets is spurred largely from this girl she played in the 80s. Macross was also the series used for the first season of the 80s American series Robotech. For better or worse, while the voice acting is good for the time, Robotech Americanized a lot of the character names and changed major plot points so that Macross could be connected to two other unrelated shows. The soundtrack was also completely cut which is a real shame. That said, I personally can’t hate Robotech. It was the reason I discovered Macross and anime in general. It is flawed, but I wouldn’t have this major source of entertainment in my life without it and that’s worth something.
Macross is currently out of print on US DVDs. The ending of the series is particularly hard to get a copy of and if you can get it, it will cost you a lot. The series is streaming on Hulu, but only with the dub recorded by ADV, that I’m not a huge fan of. Iijima reprises Minmay, but her accent is VERY pronounced. Which is made worse by the fact that while there are other Japanese characters, she is the ONLY one with an accent. The rest of the cast is just okay mostly. A lot of good actors, but not very good performances.
Still if you CAN see it you certainly should. Till next time, peace, love and doughnuts.
So this weekend was basically awesome. I met, danced with, was given a CD by, and smooched the lead singer of V is for Villains. I also met Chuck Huber and Nick Izumi, who was impressed by how much of my Astrid cosplay I made myself. Yes, the same Astrid cosplay that won me a judge’s choice award. I was given a little present for being adorable and got a hat from a mystery egg that I bought for a dollar. The raves were fantastic, I saw many amazing cosplayers and made some new friends, as well as getting to chill with two of my best and longest friends :) I got my picture taken so many times I lost count, and a few people even recognized my Grojband cosplay! There are so many other fantastic things that happened, and I am so glad I did this :) Already planning for next year!
So a couple weeks ago, we looked at the awesomeness that is Patlobor the Movie by Mamoru Oshii. This week we’re gonna look at a shining example of making a sequel that very well might be better than the first one. Lets look at the very powerful and incredibly stirring, Patlabor 2.
So when you make any sequel, one of the hardest parts, at least it seems, is making the characters age and mature the way real people do. Here’s a fact. You’re probably pretty different from who you were two years ago. Maybe not a completely different but still, you’ve changed. Everyone does. For various reasons, that’s a risk film producers don’t like taking, anime included. You know what risk anime produces like taking even less? Focusing on the older, mature and less spastic characters, instead of the young upstarts, but this is Mamoru Oshii we’re talking about, and with both of those choices, Patlabor 2 puts its best foot forward.
While we do get to check in on Izumi and Asuma, this film focuses mainly on veteran cop Shinobu Nagumo and the ever clever Inspector Gotoh. In other words if you’ve been looking for an anime about actual adults, especially one with a non-sexualized female protagonist, look no further. Set two years after the first film, we discover that the heroes of Section 2 have, for the most part, gone their separate ways. With Gotoh and Shinobu left to watch over the old station without the great team that we came to know and love. Things eventually do get dicey again though when a major metropolitan bridge is blown up and all of Tokyo plunges into terror. Who blew up the bridge? What was their goal? Before they can even find their bearings, Shinobu and Gotoh find themselves not only on the trail of a conspiracy that leads back to Shinobu’s past, but also try to work around the encroaching power of the military as the country descends into martial law. Whatever happens, everything is at stake and it will take the best Shinobu can offer and maybe one last mission for Section 2 to set things right.
This is one of the most legitimately tense films I’ve ever seen. If you’re here for robot action, you may be disappointed, but what you get instead is a truly frightening political drama. Because it focuses more on the situation and real world vehicles it feels more real. When martial law is established, the scenes are especially striking and there’s fantastic contrast between the people trying to peacefully live their lives as they walk by soldiers and heavily armored vehicles is especially something to behold. It scratches at something really creepy in your soul. Actually, all of the visuals in this film are really breath taking.
Shinobu and Gotoh are both great as leads. Gotoh has always been a very entertaining character, but it is very refreshing to get some development from Shinobu. She’s strong and brilliant, but still compassionate enough that she doesn’t come off as a caricature. She even gets to pilot her own labor in this film and proves she’s a senior member of the crew for a reason. When the real enemy, a college crush, is revealed, she is forced to face not just him, but her own feelings and this is done with subtlety and grace. It doesn’t make her weak or dumb like a more cliche anime might fall into. Without a doubt, this is Shinobu’s movie and she carries it well.
This film doesn’t have as much comedy as the previous Patlabor entries, but there are still some fun scenes to keep things from getting too heavy. The mech action that is in here is very limited, but this serves the story better and keeps the focus on the characters. (Although it is fun to see Labors with flak jackets.) Its a little sad that this, the last entry in the first Patlobor timeline, the TV series is a separate one, is not an ensemble piece. I do wish the other characters had more screen time, but with the limited run time you get from a movie, I think this was best.
No lie, you should definitely watch this movie. Its not for action lovers, but its a gorgeous political film that works on many levels. In fact, Oshii often called this film the precursor to Ghost in the Shell. Like the first one, there are multiple home releases for this movie and, also like the first movie, you can probably find the limited edition for cheap. I recommend picking it up as soon as you can.
Till next time, keep on spockin’ in the free world!
Weekly Anime Classics Vol. 8: Galaxy Express 999 The Movie
Hey team. You know what I need to do? I need to stop disappearing for two week intervals. I’ll try to make it up to you with one of my favorites though, so what’s better than looking at Leiji Matsumoto. Matsumoto is know for a lot of things, tall skinny leads, women who look the same, that bad ass Daft Punk movie, and things in space you don’t normally think belong there. Aside from that Daft Punk bit, this has all of those at their best.
Galaxy Express 999: The Movie is an adaptation of the long-running manga about a young man named Tetsuro Hoshino who desperately wishes to become a cyborg to escape the pain of having a living body. Young Tetsuro’s motivations are spurred further when Count Mecha, an aristocratic cyborg, guns down his mother for sport, leaving Tetsuro alone and desperate for revenge. By chance, he meets a mysterious and beautiful woman named Maetel who offers him the chance to ride the Space Train (I’m saying this completely literally) Galaxy Express 999 to find the planet that could turn Tetsuro into a machine and allow him to find revenge against the Count.
The film is made up of episodic set pieces across four planets, each one giving Tetsuro a chance to grow and giving the audience clues about Maetel’s identity. Needless to say, at the beginning Tetsuro just wants to become a machine and get revenge, he hasn’t really thought much beyond that, but as he meets new people and machines along his journey he starts realizing that there is a price to be paid for everything and knowing what you have to lose in order to gain something can save a person a lot of regret. Tetsuro’s journey is not just one through the stars, he also grows as a person and becomes a much more complete person by the end. Tetsuro has a very complete character arc that I honestly don’t feel like I see in most TV series.
Maetel is an incredibly iconic character. Leiji Matsumoto has never been the the best at drawing womem. All of his young women have the same basic body type and more often than not, outrageously long hair. Maetel has these physical features but she is so much more than this. Yes, part of it is her vintage travel outfit, but her real appeal is her understanding of Tetsuro’s situation and not only her sisterly care for him, but also the subtle pushes she give him to move his life forward. The rest of the supporting cast are quite interesting as well. The conductor is fun, even if he looks like a jawa in a suit and Claire, the machine woman, becomes quite sympathetic as the film moves forward. The legendary space pirates Captain Harlock and Queen Emeraldes also appear. Harlock’s part in the story has even been greatly expanded compared to the manga the movie is based on. (Also, fans of Harlock will be pleased to see how Tetsuro was absolutely pivotal in bringing about one of the most important parts of the Harlock mythos!)
This movie isn’t the first adaptation of the manga Galaxy Express 999, there was a TV series that came out a few years before, but the series, is very very long. This film gives you a chance to experience this story in a shorter time frame without sacrificing the huge scale of the story. Director Rintaro, who would go on to direct dozens of Matsumoto adaptations, takes full opportunity to tell the story with lavish animation for 1979 and keeps the look interesting throughout. The Japanese cast is also fantastic, especially Masako Nozawa (Goku from Dragonball) as Tetsuro and Makio Inoue’s return as Harlock. The 1996 english dub, recorded by Viz is also strikingly good. Especially Saffron Henderson, who also played Goku in Dragonball (and Gohan in Z, both in the Ocean Group Dub).
If you like space epics, character studies or just enjoy the works of Leiji Matsumoto, this is a must watch. I love this movie and a recommend picking up the DVD which was just recently re-released by Discotek Media. There’s was an English version produced by Roger Corman in 1980, but I don’t recommend it. 30 minutes of the film were removed and some names were changed. Please check this one out.