Saturday, November 28, 2015

Macross Frontier

Macross Frontier is the last on my list of Macross franchise series to watch before Macross Delta comes out. I've already refreshed my memory on the original series, and then went through Macross Plus, Macross 7, and Macross Zero.
Frontier is the series that Macross 7 wanted to be, in my humble opinion. It's got a lot of the same elements recycled from the original series: spaceships hosting civilian populations, mysterious alien attacks, various fighter pilots and singers in love, etc. But instead of creating thoroughly annoying characters and focusing everything through them as Macross 7 did, Frontier leads with only moderately annoying characters and improves them as the story progresses.

I know that "only moderately annoying" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but it's all I can muster when the three lead characters are anime-stereotype teenage prodigies involved in an anime-stereotype love triangle. Through approximately the first third of the series, the character development feels like it was pulled out of the "how to make generic anime" handbook. The low point comes when all three end up attending the same school. A futuristic series filled with glamorous singing stars and high-tech aerial acrobatics couldn't come up with anything better than that...really?

OK, that was the bad stuff. In just about every other aspect, Frontier makes excellent space opera. Each of the main characters has enough depth to their backstory (such as Alto's conflicts with his father, or Ranka's relationship with her adoptive older brother Ozma) that they eventually moved beyond the stereotypes. There's an extensive cast of secondary characters as well, and the writers do a good job of developing them through minor sidelines in the story.

The alien Vajra make an excellent threat, both creepy and dangerous. They show up immediately and cause serious chaos. As you go through the series, the external threat is complemented by intrigue from within, adding depth beyond a faceless alien threat. Around the halfway point of the series, all kinds of complications arise, raising questions about the nature of the Vajra and where the real threat lies. By the time you get to the end, all the major aspects of the story are explained, at least within the limits of the space opera archetype (by which I mean logic is optional if it looks cool and/or expresses some character's emotion). It's all well executed and stayed interesting throughout.

Frontier's production values are great, too. The artwork is beautiful throughout, and the action scenes are very well executed. The music is well done, too, though I did get a little tired of hearing Aimo over and over. In part all of this is simply because it's fairly recent, released in 2008, but I've seen some shows from that time period that were pretty poorly done. This one had people at the helm that knew their work.

References to the rest of the Macross franchise are absolutely everywhere in Frontier. Some are meant to be obvious, like calling Ranka the "modern Lynn Minmay," or making a movie based on the events of Macross Zero. Others are more subtle, such as having Fire Bomber (the band from Macross 7) music playing in a few scenes. The dangers of AI/cyborg technology from Macross Plus have a pretty major impact on the big-picture story. And some bits are just there to mislead you, such as when Ozma is injured on a mission and passes out next to the love of his life...just like Roy Focker did in the original series, clearly meant to get fans thinking Ozma was about to die as well. (He doesn't...only a minor spoiler since they reveal that almost immediately afterward.) Frontier is watchable without any knowledge of the franchise...it explains things well enough...but a franchise newbie will miss a whole lot of subtleties and would likely be confused at times.

It starts off a bit slowly, but once you get about a third of the way through, Macross Frontier is a fast-moving and entertaining series. If you liked the original series at all, or space opera anime in general, then I highly recommend it.

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