Thursday, October 3, 2013

Macross Frontier





PLOT: At first glance Macross Frontier seems like the perfect series. It has mecha, cute girls, outer space, etc. I eagerly awaited watching this series weekly back in my anime club days. That is initially. The main idea of the series is that humankind is trying to find a hospitable place to live while fighting off aliens. Then on the side, there is a charming underdog story of a young girl trying to make it big as a pop singer. Somehow, somehow these two stories collide, and of course, with a love triangle. At the forefront we have the luxurious main character and fighter pilot, Alto Saotome. Throughout the series he finds himself time and time again running into both idol singer Sheryl Nome and up-and-coming singer Ranka Lee.

It's hard to say just what the main thread is. Every episode seems to feature one of the two girls giving some sort of concert, and Alto giving them moral support, only to end up having to fight off aliens who are attacking. The opposite is also true, when Alto is fighting aliens, the girls always seem to show up in some form or another and save the day by singing. The majority of the series is a tangled mess of singing, fighting, and flirting. I typically love musicals and integrated music in stories, but every time one of the two girls started singing I couldn't help but space out. Maybe it's because the whole thing is so illogical, but I could never seem to follow what was going on.

I just don't get how you weren't in love with the music for this series. It's so great! Maybe I just like J-pop too much, but I always got really excited for the concerts, especially when they coincided with battles.

PLOT: Macross Frontier, like other series in the Macross franchise, upgrades traditional sci-fi by including components of idol shows. There's a fleet of ships going through space that keeps running into Vajra and having to fight them off. This series mainly focuses on Alto Saotome, who becomes a fighter pilot and helps defend the fleet. However, the narrative also throws in idol singing by having Alto's love interests both be idol singers--and their songs also help defeat the Vajra. I don't remember the exact mechanics behind this, but it was pretty fun to watch, if completely ridiculous.

Macross Frontier moves between Alto and the two idol singers, Sheryl Nome and Ranka Lee, showing how everyone's lives are affected by the increasing Vajra attacks. There's also a major love triangle (hence the first opening's called "Triangler") to suck in everyone who's interested in romance. I found the narratives involving all of these characters to be pretty interesting, but the love triangle got too exaggerated at times, especially when it involved school life. If you're already balancing space battles and idol concerts, you don't have to cram in so much about school life.

Despite that, I still found Macross Frontier to be engaging and pretty well paced. There are enough battles and concerts to keep the show from getting boring, and the mysteries behind how Sheryl and Ranka tie into the Vajra attacks were intriguing enough that I didn't feel like the show was complete fluff. There are definitely moments where logic goes out the window, but that's pretty standard with sci-fi series anymore, and the overall ambiance of the show more than made up for it.

I wish anime would learn that you don't have to throw every idea into a series to have it be interesting to a large group of people. Macross Frontier just has too many things going on that don't mesh well together.

SETTING: Macross Frontier takes place in the Macross universe and follows preceding series as the latest installment. The year is 2059, 47 years after the original Macross story took place. A large fleet is making its way towards the "galactic center", or I should say the center of the Milky Way. On their way they run into the "Vajra", an alien race which begin to attack the various ships.

Nothing too revolutionary with the setting, after all it is a small part of an overall storyline. I haven't watched other Macross series, so I'm unable to say if the setting was used more artfully than usual. I do think the series managed to make the most of its location. I never felt like it was "just a sci-fi" series. However, the divided focus of space and concerts started to feel befuddling. I'm not sure if the musical side is supposed to draw me into the humanity of the group, or if it's there just to entertain, but either way I was left very disinterested.

SETTING: As you might guess from the plot summary, Macross Frontier has a lot of settings to balance and struggles with properly developing all of them. To my mind, the school gets an unnecessary amount of attention, especially since there are so many anime that take place at high school, but it's a trope for a reason. The spaceship everyone calls home is more interesting, as it's well developed and seems like a real possibility in the future. I'd have liked more information on the ships and how they work, but that was never this series' goal.

The idol concerts are the other main draw here, with two of the main characters singing all the time. The concerts eventually seemed shoehorned in, but they were always worth looking forward to. The costuming was fun, and the songs were great, making for a superbly entertaining experience. I can see these concerts looking pretty dated in a few more years, but when they came out, they were amazing.

Everything about the setting and plot is set to repeat. You get the same locations and actions over and over again with little changing each time. Also, as far as the setting goes, I don't see how the story capitalizes on location. This could very well just take place on earth or anywhere else.

CHARACTERS: Part of why I was so disinterested with Macross Frontier may have to do with the main trio of characters. Alto is so not my type. He's gorgeous and feminine, not really the sort of guy I want to watch kicking alien butt. What made matters worse was seeing him conflicted over picking between two girls. Seriously I could not care less about his romantic life.

I probably connected to Sheryl the most just because of her mature attitude. She's selfish, controlling, and entitled, but at least she knows what she wants and goes after it with conviction. That said, I still didn't really care for her, and there's nothing worse than watching a controlling manipulative woman try to wrangle in a boyfriend.

Then there is Ranka. It's hard to really call her a love rival to Sheryl when she acts more like a mascot character. Her hyper-active peppy attitude drove me crazy. I did enjoy watching her slowly make her way into stardom, but it seemed too simple to really count as character development.

Part of what I enjoyed about Sheryl and Ranka was being able to contrast their character development with Sheryl as the mature idol and Ranka as the beginner. Their characters went in some ways I wasn't expecting and shed light on how hard it is to be a pop idol.

CHARACTERS: Considering how integral the love triangle is to this plot, your opinion on this show will hinge heavily on how much you like the main characters. I have to agree with Whitney that Alto's a pretty boring character who never makes up his mind enough about which girl he wants. He's kind of like Bella in Twilight, which is infuriating. Just pick one already!

Ranka is definitely my type, and I loooove her. She's the right amount of peppy and spunky and cute, plus her underdog idol storyline makes her easy to root for. She's not the kind of character who has a lot of substance, though, and most of her development in the show is really about her mother and her older brother.

Sheryl, on the other hand, is a mature balance to Ranka and changes a lot more as a character, bringing most of the depth to the main love triangle. I like her a lot for being sexually confident and knowing what she wants, even if she gets really catty. In the end, I liked her a lot more than I'd expected, which is mostly due to the difficulties she faces throughout the series.

Finally, though Whitney didn't mention it, Macross Frontier has a huge supporting cast. There are other members of the military, family members, classmates, and managers for the idols that I can think of off the top of my head. Ranka has a cute pet who keeps coming up, too. Everyone seems to know everyone else, meaning the military is tied up in everyone's lives, probably because of the size of the ship and its need for an active military. I found most of the side characters to be interesting, even though some of them could be stereotyped or used for fanservice. I wish several of them had seen more screen time, but that's just the way it goes with this kind of show.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Macross Frontier is beautiful. The characters are stunning as are all the little details in the backgrounds and scenery. This is one of those shows which is mesmerizing to watch. Which is probably the only reason I kept up with this series. While I loved watching the animation, it was very hard to follow the plot and to keep track of what was going on. I'm not sure if it was the transitions in particular, but the plot just never seemed clearly directed. The actions just always seemed quick paced and spontaneous.

The character designs just seem to be an unfortunate mark of the era the series was made in. Everyone just appears to be too girly for a mecha series. Not saying it should have been straight up stereotyped, but I never really saw a reason for the style changes that were used.

I wouldn't say everyone's too girly, but the character designs are all a little too simplified and plasticky looking in the same way as everything done by that guy behind Gundam Seed.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: Macross Frontier's animation hits that interesting place between being good and great. Technically, the show looks good and has a lot of movement and new animation, especially considering the number of high-budget battles and concerts. You can tell someone behind the storyboards wanted to come up with fun settings and camera angles for every episode. However, the animation stops short of actually being great, which is noticeable even in the opening animation. Instead of having the lip flaps match up with the singing, a lot of the time the characters look like they're badly lip syncing, and they tend to go off model pretty often. I'm surprised that a high-profile, high-budget show like this one has so many shortcuts in the animation, but I guess they had to cut money where they could.

The character designs are also markedly not great, though they work well enough that each character looks individual from everyone else. There's no flair or style to the show, so the character designs feel like someone was checking off boxes as they went. Yes, Ranka is still super cute and Sheryl is incredibly sexy, but they feel like they were built that way, which shouldn't happen with great character designs.

Essentially, they were designed for figurines and nothing else.

MUSIC: I will admit, I do like the soundtrack for Macross Frontier. I wasn't totally obsessed with it like Crystal, but I do enjoy listening to several of the songs and will revisit them from time to time.

Singing is a major part of the series. After all, song is the most powerful force against the Vajra. So the soundtrack for Macross Frontier is very carefully assembled to fit into the plot well. I do think they managed to make a lot of wonderful adaptations to each main song in order for it to fit in seamlessly with the action that was simultaneously going along with it. That said, I still find the whole singing/battle thing to be too weird.

MUSIC: I love Macross Frontier's soundtrack, perhaps to an embarrassing extent. Yoko Kanno wrote the music for this, and she brings in a fun variety of pop sounds to differentiate between Ranka and Sheryl and to illustrate how they've changed over the course of the series. This soundtrack definitely isn't as great as Kanno's work on Cowboy Bebop or Wolf's Rain, where the show has more to say through the music, but this is probably the best pop soundtrack you're going to find in recent anime. At times the lyrics can get hokey and the singing can get shrill (I'm looking at you, "Triangler"), but if you can get past that, there's some great music to be heard here.

OVERALL: I hate to say it, but I was not impressed with this series. I really wanted to like it, but I always seemed to find myself spacing out and never knowing what was going on. I felt no connection to the cast, and therefore didn't care what happened to them. Seriously, who cares about Alto?

I'm not sure how Macross fans feel, if this series fits into the universe well or not. I think it's safe to say that those who don't already know about Macross probably won't be interested in the slightest to this rendition. This series seemed pretty hyped up when it first came out, but I think that had more to do with the reputation behind the original and less to do with the actual quality of this series.

If you haven't watched this already, I wouldn't recommend going out of your way to see it. I suppose the only exception to that would be if you were trying to be a completionist and watch everything Macross related.

OVERALL: I adored this show when it came out, which is probably a combination of my eternal love for sci-fi dogfights, pop music, and Ranka's kind of cute. There's not much of substance to be had here, but if you're at all interested in seeing how pop idols can be mixed in with science fiction, check this out. It doesn't make the most sense, but I figure it isn't really supposed to, with such a silly premise and all. This show is just eye and ear candy, where you turn off your brain and enjoy how ridiculous it is.

If you're worried about not being familiar with past parts of the Macross franchise, don't be. There are some moments that reference the original Macross and Macross Zero, but those were cleared up for me by doing a little Internet research. I can't say this show has driven me to look into everything Macross related that's out there, but if more of it became available, I'd check it out because I had so much fun with this series. Just don't expect it to be something that it's not.


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