What is Macross?
The Macross franchise is one of the most prolific in history. The stories bring battles, music, mecha, and epic romance to the screen. If you are new to Macross you will find something in the 36-year-old epic franchise. Energy, love, life, hope.
The Origin Story
The first installment of the Macross franchise was created by Shoji Kawamori and released in 1982 as Super Dimension Fortress Macross. The 80s, for those who are old enough to remember, had some interesting contrasts going on. The west was under the constant threat of nuclear annihilation and the east had the re-emergence of Japan as a major economic power. You would hear the phrase in the streets of suburban America “All the best stuff comes from Japan,” and the kids of the 80s believed it. We may not have been sophisticated enough at the time to recognize it but the idea of destruction and creation were two opposing, constant ideas. We were fighting a cold -- and sometimes hot -- war with the communists; at times the conflict took us to the brink of destruction. We were told tales of the Evil Empire at the same time looking to the future as innovation after innovation came out of the Japanese economic miracle. The Walkman, pocket calculator, Donkey Kong and the CD Player were all evidence that the future was so bright, we gotta wear shades. Shoji Kawamori’s post-apocalyptic tale of Earth’s destruction and subsequent rise as a galactic power fit in perfectly with the mood at the time.
The story of Macross in many ways mirrored Japan’s own story of destruction and how, after a great war, they had a rebirth of the nation’s spirit. A devastated country now looked to the future, spreading its culture and technology across the globe which was voraciously consumed by their former enemy as they became a shining example of prosperity and peace.
The Macross Timeline
Macross Zero (Aired 2002)
Macross Zero is a prequel to the original story Super Dimension Fortress Macross. The story takes place one year before the Zentradi attacked Earth. We see an Earth embroiled in a war between the U.N. and anti-U.N. factions as both sides adapt the technology from the SDF-1 into their war machines. At its heart, the story is a romance about a U.N. Spacy pilot, Shin Kudo, who is shot down and crash lands on the remote island of Mayan. He is taken in by the people who live there; a people that only use the most basic of technology. He builds a relationship with Mao Nome and her sister, Sara Nome, which turns into the ever-constant Macross love triangle. The pilot is forced to choose between returning and the peaceful life he could have on the island. We have two familiar names in this 2002 installment in Roy Focker from the original series (who is apparently Shin’s mentor) and the Nome girls that share a name with the idol Sheryl Nome in Macross Frontier.
Super Dimension Fortress Macross (Aired 1983)
A massive alien spaceship crashes on an island in the middle of the Pacific in 1999. The world is in shock at the revelation that we aren’t alone in the universe and a collective, yet calm, panic breaks out. Under the guidance of the U.N. Spacy (United Nations Space Agency) the world spends its resources reverse-engineering the technology and names the vessel Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, or SDF-1. The day of the launch, the planet comes under an all-out attack by the Zentradi. Hikaru Ichijyo, a stunt pilot invited to the ceremony by Roy Focker, the Commander of Air Group (CAG), was about to take a test flight in one of the Valkyrie fighters when the attack happens. As the SDF-1 begins to fight off the attack, Hikaru rescues a girl and the use of an experimental “fold system” for faster-than-light travel results in the SDF-1 and much of the surrounding island to reappear on the outer reaches of the solar system. The surviving civilian population, who had taken shelter in bunkers, are transferred to the ship along with whatever they could salvage from the city and they begin to rebuild the metropolis in the belly of the ¾-mile-long starship. The love and romance then begin as we see love triangles form between Hikaru and the second-in-command of the SDF-1, Misa Hayase, and the girl he rescued, a rising idol named Lynn Minmay. We see death and tragedy again and again as a war between humans and the Zentradi ignites. The Zentradi believe that the humans are their creators, the protoculture, and don’t understand anything about human cultures such as family, relationships, love, and music. A rift begins to develop in the Zentradi ranks between those who do not think they should destroy the protoculture because it conflicts with their own nature and those who think that the protoculture is something they should embrace as their birthright. The SDF-1 and their Zentradi allies then fight together, urged on by and in some ways enraptured by, the music. They are able to defeat the opposing Zentradi hardliners. The music, the greatest representation of the protoculture, leads to near paralytic confusion in the ranks of the Zentradi hardliners.
The story ends with the love triangle resolved and the Macross leading a colonizing mission to the stars in the hopes of preserving humanity by spreading the population across the galaxy.
Robotech a.k.a Macross Alternative (Aired 1985)
The Macross story got a slightly different treatment for American audiences; this is considered a separate timeline. The characters and much of the plot are similar but the story is a blend of three separate anime.
Macross: Do You Remember Love? (Aired 1984)
Do You Remember Love? is a film adaptation of the original Macross series. The story was supposed to be an alternative to the original timeline, but due to its popularity quickly became canon in the Macross universe. The name of the movie comes from the theme song sung by Lynn Minmay in during the final battle.
Macross Plus (Aired 1994)
The OVA series and movie take place around 30 years after the original story of the SDF-1 and the Zentradi war. The story follows estranged childhood friends Isamu and Guld as they reunite on the planet of Eden. The two young men become test pilots for the latest version of the Valkyrie Fighter. The two have a competitive streak and a strained love triangle with Myung Fang Lone, a mutual friend and the manager of the virtual idol Sharon Apple. The story comes to a head when the AI, Sharon Apple, develops a malevolent altitude and begins to seize control of the computer systems of the SDF-1 during a concert on Earth. The AI hypnotizes all the people that can hear her as part of her planned takeover. Isamu succeeds in destroying the computer and saving the day. The story is a quick revisiting of the Macross universe with a film that has adult themes, violence, dogfights, a warning about technology and of course the extreme power music has in this universe.
Macross 7 (Aired 1994)
This installment is story of the band Fire Bomber and the 37th Colonial Fleet on a colonization mission into deep space and their encounter with the Protodeviln. The Protodeviln engage the U.N. Spacy pilots and extract what they call Spiritia, leaving the pilots in a vegetative state. We eventually find out that the Protodeviln are actually humans that went missing on a deep space mission and were being controlled by an outside force. The role of music comes front and center as we find that when exposed to music the memories of the Protodevlin return and they cease their attacks. The members of Fire Bomber are each given modified Valkyries that broadcast their music and become an effective way to combat the Protodevlin raiders. It’s an adventure filled with kidnappings, relationships, dogfights, spirituality, exploding planets, and music to carry you through 52 episodes.
Macross Frontier (Aired 2008)
The Macross voyage into the stars continues as the Macross Frontier carries on the legacy of the SDF-1. On the Macross timeline, the story is set in 2059. That’s 47 years after the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross, 19 years after Macross Plus, and 14 years after the story of Macross 7. The Frontier and its habitat domes are searching for a habitable planet in the Milky Way galaxy. The story focuses on an actor-turned-pilot Alto Saotome, a super idol Sheryl Nome, and a rising star Ranka Lee. The romance between the three takes place with the backdrop of hostile alien attacks by the Vajra, a space-dwelling mechanoid-insect, and conspiracies within their own government. Macross Frontier is filled with music and the power of music, like in all Macross, is essential to the climactic battle at the end.
Macross Delta (Aired 2016)
Macross Delta is set eight years after the events of Macross Frontier in a remote part of the Milky Way galaxy called the Brísingr Globular Cluster. The population has been afflicted by Var syndrome. The syndrome that makes people go violently crazy is a side effect of bacteria left behind after the war with the Vajra in Macross Frontier. The Var syndrome does have a cure and a way to even be inoculated from its effects -- by listening to music. The music is performed by a team of talented idols, Walküre. The power of their voices resonates at specific frequencies to calm down those infected by the Var syndrome. The team often has to perform in war zones and is assisted by the Delta Flight, a team of experienced Valkyrie pilots. The Delta Flight supplement the singing with air shows and engage in combat when they have to. The relative peace of the cluster is broken when the Windermere Kingdom, was previously defeated by the New United Nations government, declares war on all the allied planets in the Brisingr Globular Cluster in an attempt to create the Star Wing Sector, an empire under the leadership of Windermere. The Windermere Ariel Knights, along with their kings’ ability to trigger the Var syndrome in almost anyone, are poised to take over the galaxy. The only thing standing in their way is Walkure and the flyers of Delta Platoon.
Macross Delta, like all the Macross incarnations, have both love and music. The romance in Delta is between a rookie pilot in Delta Platoon, Hayate Immelmann, and Windermere exile Freyja Wion, a member of Walkure. The two have to overcome the challenges of growing up fast in wartime. Freyja finds she needs a reason to keep singing after going to war with her own planet and Hayate has to overcome a what seems to be a terrible family legacy and become his own man. Will the galaxy listen to the voices of Walkure and turn from insanity or will the population become mindless slaves to the leaders on Windermere?
Idols and Music
Macross is idols. The moment Lynn Minmey’s song changed the course of an interplanetary war, the idea of what music was changed. The soundtrack of a program was no longer something that tracked in the background of the action. Now it had a direct effect on the action; it played a full role. The pilots hear Minmey’s song and are inspired, but the Zentradi hear her song and are confused. Fire Bomber’s music brings back memories in people who lost their humanity, and Ranka and Sheryl’s songs communicate with non-humanoid alien species. Walkure’s songs cure and prevent a terrible disease as well as boosting the abilities of Delta Platoon. The active role music takes in the series is not only entertaining but vital to the plot. The music may have changed with the decades but it is no less important.
The Valkyrie Fighter is iconic as far as anime mecha goes. The design of the original VF with its sweepback wings is a lot like the US Navy’s F-14 Tomcat. The Tomcat was the fighter made famous in the film Top Gun. The jet doesn’t just function as a badass tactical fighter but can transform to a human-shaped battloid for hand-to-hand combat with Zentradi giants. The Valkyrie can also transform into a surface-skimming jet with its legs extended like a bird of prey. You can tell that great care was put in the Valkyrie design so that every function makes sense. The vehicle has limits, too. For example, the ammo is finite, the fuel is finite, and the laws of aerodynamics apply to make the design so grounded, it feels real. The vectored thrust it was designed with in the early 80s is now employed in real life in the F-35. The fighter used by the Ariel Knights in Macross Delta seems to be based on the Saab-JAS 39 Gripen. You see several other convertible air and spacecraft, the most prominent being the SDF-1, and the subsequent Macross Class starships that transform into a massive battloid from a more standard ship shape.
Macross is a space opera. The merging of romance, adventure, and music in the series is meant to be epic. You have a story that follows a line of history from the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross to Macross Delta. The Jenius family is a perfect example of that line as a character related to Max and Milia Jenius from the original series appears in Macross 7 and Macross Delta. You find yourself trying to understand how the music will fit into the plot each time. You might even find yourself owning several of the albums put out by the various idol groups marketed by the studios behind the franchise. The Walkure albums even have a version of “Do You Remember Love?” that is worth listening to. The franchise is poised to continue with a new series for 2018 to coincide with its 35th anniversary. The title of the series hasn’t been released but is sure to involve great songs, love, and space battles.