Macross Review: Space Wars and the Power of Culture

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After about a week, I have finished watching the original Macross anime.  As a fan of Macross Frontier, I had high hopes for the original series, but ultimately I did not enjoy it nearly as much as Frontier.  While Macross was good in its own right, it was quite far from being a perfect series.

Macross focuses primarily on the conflict between the humans and the Zentraedi, an alien race of giants who know only how to fight.  The protagonist is a boy named Hikaru Ichijou, who is a skilled pilot but otherwise an average citizen.  However, upon the attack of the Zentraedi, Hikaru ends up joining the military to fight off the enemies.  In the midst of this, he meets a girl named Lynn Minmay and soon finds that he has feelings for her.  Minmay begins as another ordinary citizen but later becomes a famous singer and finds herself separating even further from Hikaru, causing even more problems.  With both romantic tensions and a dangerous war taking place, the Macross story follows a number of dramatic yet very different events that all tie together.

Macross utilizes many elements in its story, which certainly has had an influence on many later series of similar genres.  It is certainly good that it does not focus too heavily on any one area as there is a balance between the space action and the romantic events.  However, Macross’s plot in itself is very simplistic and as a story it is nothing complex or captivating.  At its core, Macross is essentially a sci-fi space wars series with love triangle drama in the middle of it all, but little more than that.  While those who enjoy such series will certainly be pleased with Macross, anybody who is expecting a deeper and more developed story might not get what they hope for.

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Rather than the story, which tends to be weak and lags often, the themes presented in Macross are of much more importance.  Macross often emphasizes the importance of culture and this is a driving theme as the series progresses.  Few series I have seen have focused so much on the sheer impact that culture, which in Macross connects primarily to music, has on the world or perhaps even the galaxy itself.  The exposition of the Zentraedi origins and lifestyle serves to develop this even further and is among the more interesting aspects of the series.  The clash between the different yet surprisingly similar humans and Zentraedi presents itself as an interesting contrast but also makes the viewer wonder whether the differences between the two are certainly as major as they seem upon first glance.  Such ideas are what I would deem to be the strongest area of Macross and perhaps the only aspects that keep it from feeling like a more generic series.  Regardless of them, however, the story still tends to be lacking and the themes are not given quite as much focus and development as they could have, as Macross often tends to favor the love drama and the space combat much more.

The characters in the series were far from fantastic, and this is one of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed this less than I have many other mecha series.  Hikaru is a decent protagonist but there is little that makes him outstanding and there have been multiple times where his actions have bothered me.  More than him, however, I found that I could not be attached to Minmay.  While Minmay is upbeat and quirky, she is typically very fickle and changes what she wants all the time.  This is often very problematic for Hikaru and adds a lot of unnecessary drama.  She tends to come off as naive and selfish and even though she is not an unlikable character, I found myself displeased by her actions many times during the series, especially during the times with Kaifun, her obnoxious pacifist cousin.  Kaifun was probably the worst character of the series, but understandably so because it is clear that he was meant to be the unlikable character that does nothing but cause trouble for the characters who matter.  Before I waste too much time ranting about the characters, I’ll stop by saying that development was quite underwhelming for most of the cast and the only person I can think of who really grew in a satisfying way throughout the entire series was Misa Hayase, Hikaru’s superior officer who warms up to him over time.  There were also various side characters, with Maximilian Jenius being one of the characters I liked best, but for the most part they were underdeveloped and did not stand out enough to leave a major impression.

It was nice to see the origins of Macross Frontier and if I rewatch it in the future, I might have a greater appreciation for it because of the references to the original that I can now understand.  However, as its own story, Macross was far from stellar and while it had some interesting themes, the execution was not perfect and the story’s pacing often felt too slow for me to be caught up in the events that took place.  Ultimately I would give Macross a 7/10.  For those who are fond of this genre, Macross is certainly a series worth seeing and if nothing else it is good to look at a series that would impact mecha of the decades ahead.  But of course, it is important to be careful about expecting too much.  Macross was good, but not great, and my enjoyment of Frontier may have led me to hope for too much from the original.

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