In the year 2059, the unified forces of mankind and Zentradi have continued their march through the stars, using warp fold technology to colonize an ever-increasing number of planets.
As the Macross Frontier fleet approaches the center of the universe, a new threat emerges in the form of the insectoid Vajra. As the military is rendered powerless to react by bureaucracy and reliance on obsolete weaponry, the defense of the Frontier is entrusted to the private security contractor SMS.
Among those caught in the crossfire are the aspiring young ex-kabuki actor pilot Alto Saotome, galactic superstar singer Sheryl Nome, and the young, cheerful quarter-Zentradi schoolgirl Ranka Lee. Between them lies the destiny of the Frontier, and possibly, of all mankind.
You have to admit that the entire concept of Macross is silly. As much as there is the constant eye-candy of mecha combat with transforming Valkyries, the real point of the main franchise has always been that "pop music will save us all." And, also, that Lynn Minmay is a bimbo.
But what if she wasn't? This is but one of the things explored in the series Macross Frontier, the first full television series worthy of the name since, well, the original. It is important to remember that the original Macross was a bonafide space opera, which twists and turns that bordered on the theatrical and ridiculous, yet somehow managed to keep us hooked, week after week, until a thrilling and exhausting finale. Yet its sequel, the utterly regrettable Macross 7, was a badly animated, unmitigated disaster, with some lame Protodeviln-of-the-week being driven off by Nekki Basara in his Valkyrie piloted by what would prophetically be revealed years later to be a Guitar Hero controller. Will this fall to that level?
Nope. Despair no longer -- Macross Frontier is damn cool.
Now, not everyone will agree on the decision to have a pretty-boy pilot (not that Rick Hunter / Hikaru Ichijo's hair made sense in a helmet either), but Alto Saotome's character is a neat twist on a common anime trope. It's like hearing the creators saying, "You want a pretty boy? We'll give you one!" Yes, he is a pretty, pretty princess, and hearing him get called that never ever gets tiring, somehow. At the same time, he is surprisingly not all that effeminate -- when the going gets tough, the boy shows serious cojones. Considering this role has a good chance of making or breaking Yuichi Nakamura's career, he does a rather good job as the aloof, standoffish, but very manly hero.
Of course, the real stars of Macross have always been the girls. This series has two, and if the title and lyrics of the opening song don't make it obvious to someone reading that this is going to be a love triangle (duh, Triangular?!?), then that person must be denser than a black hole.
Sheryl Nome is a superstar, poised and confident to the cusp of arrogance. Aya Endo (Miyuki from Lucky Star) does a great job of playing her as someone willing to do just about anything to keep her destiny in her hands, but still gracious enough to take the time to see others reach their own destinies. Sheryl's singing voice, May "May'n" Nakabayashi, is as good as you'd expect from the franchise. Sheryl never comes off as truly helpless; in fact, she is entirely the opposite. Yet behind that confidence is the faint vulnerability of someone who longs for a close relationship and sees that possibility in Alto. And, no, she isn't a bimbo.
Her unwitting competition is Ranka Lee, whom Alto rescues from certain death by Vajra (just like the good old days). A part-time worker at a Chinese restaurant, she is a quarter Zentradi, so her hair sometimes moves of its own volition when she's emotionally charged. (This is indeed far cuter than it sounds.) Though initially shy, she idolizes Sheryl and wants to become a superstar like her, which is precisely the road she ends up traveling (with Sheryl's help). Still, despite her admiration for Sheryl, she still pursues Alto as well. Though Ranka's background seems similar to Minmay's, she isn't a bimbo either. Ranka, in fact, is a total showstopper, voiced with an incredible amount of charm and maturity by first-time voice actress Megumi Nakajima, who is also Ranka's singing voice, and quite frankly, the most likely member of this cast to be a superstar in her own right.
Of course, just as in the original, the cast is really huge. It's an interesting ensemble, with Alto's high school friends Michael and Luca who also moonlight as mercenary fighter pilots, and Ranka's adopted older brother Ozma getting a fair amount of screentime. There's even a set of Meltrandi (female Zentradi) officers, including the scene-stealing blue-haired Klan Klein (Megumi "Winry Rockbell" Toyoguchi): a busty grown woman when giant (macronized), but a young girl when human-sized (micronized), a situation responsible for some of the best one-liners in the whole series. Another favorite of mine is openly gay former hairdresser turned badass battleship helmsman Bobby Margot, who really must be seen to be believed (an awesome supporting role for Kenta Miyake, who I just gave props to in the review for Koi Kaze).
Visually, there are times when Macross Frontier is absolutely phenomenal. The Frontier fleet doesn't just look like that in the opening credits, either, but pretty much all the time. Combat scenes are generally fast, furious, and truly worthy of the Macross name. The biggest slip-up I've noticed so far is a shockingly bad hand-to-hand combat sequence in episode ten, and sometimes the character animations can be rather crude, if only for comedic effect, such as when the micronized Klan Klien is going after Michael. Generally, the character designs are really rather good, with funny little touches here and there that keep things original. (Ranka's squishy green critter cellphone and Valkyrie backpack = epic.)
Now, this wouldn't be a Macross series without lots and lots of pop music. Frontier is not only blessed with two exceptional vocalists (May'n and Megumi Nakajima) but also a rather good opening theme, "Triangular", by Maaya Sakamoto. The background music is absolutely splendid, so it's really no surprise to see Yoko Kanno at the helm. Musical nods to the previous series are everywhere, from Ranka's adorable rendition of "My Boyfriend's a Pilot" to Ozma blaring Fire Bomber's "Totsugeki Love Heart" in his car. For that matter, Sheryl Nome's stage show owes a whole lot to Sharon Apple, though her songs don't seem to have quite the inventiveness or creativity. The most memorable song in the first half of the series is Ranka's perennial lullaby theme, "Aimo", which is the most haunting thing to come out of a Macross series since "Voices".
So now, we get back to the most important part of any anime: the plot and storytelling. Macross Frontier, like any good opera, relies on theatrics, ridiculous coincidences, and sometimes out-and-out B.S. that will leave the cerebral-minded viewer howling at the television. The threat of the Vajra doesn't come every episode, but when it does, it brings the same amount of dread as the Zentradi used to, back in the day. There's filler, sure, like the absolutely embarrassing eighth episode ("The One With The Panties"), but the original had that nonsense too (recap episodes, episodes entirely in Hayase Ichijo's imagination, et cetera). Yet, for each moment of dumb, there's moments of sheer anime genius: when Alto is being hazed by his fellow mercenary pilots and given a full facial makeover by Bobby Margot, or when Ranka begins singing to herself in a shopping mall, inspired by a paper plane thrown by Alto, and ends up at the center of a throng of adoring, cheering humans and Zentradi. Macross Frontier features precisely the sort of playfulness, mixed with the high drama of the space war, that made the original so much fun to watch when I was a kid.
In the words of my friend Anna back East, "It brings out the Macross fan in me that I never knew I had."
I can think of no greater testimonial than that.
If you can't forgive the occasional silliness of the genre, you may feel free to subtract a star. The rest of us will simply just enjoy the ride. Note that this rating may change if this series tanks toward the end, but this reviewer hopes not. This review will be updated to reflect viewing status as the series progresses. — Carlos Ross
Recommended Audience: Teens and up. This series harkens back to the original Macross, right down to onscreen deaths. The modern twist is Sheryl being even more fan-servicey than Macross 7's Mylene -- at least one of her outfits might have been lifted from Sorcerer Hunters.
Version(s) Viewed: Prerelease fansub
Review Status: Partial (10/25)
Macross Frontier © 2008 Big West / Macross F Production Committee / MBS
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