Macross II

I make no denials about it: the original Macross series is what got me into anime, at least in its Robotech incarnation. The first anime motion picture I ever saw was Macross '84: Do You Remember Love?, and it still ranks easily as one of my favorite films of all time. Of course, the original has aged, particularly in terms of its artwork, though the movie could have been released yesterday for its beauty. I have a great love for the characters of Hikaru Ichijo, Misa Hayase, Roy Fokker, and Lynn Minmei, and their legacy lives within these review pages you read right now.

For years, I have hoped to see a show with the Macross moniker that lived up to the potential and wonder that the initial program inspired. Unfortunately, Macross 2 is not it. A six-episode OVA series that was then edited into a movie for DVD (with no footage cut other than repeated opening and closing pieces), Macross 2 retains none of the characters from the original, as well as none of its humor or charm. It's very watchable, thanks to its brilliant artwork and enjoyable soundtrack, but it is a smear on a show I hold quite dear.

Macross 2 is set 80 years after the events in Macross '84 (which is slightly different from the television series, mainly in the final outcome of the Macross fortress itself). Cocksure paparazzi reporter Hibiki is interested in finding the big scoop that will send his career into the stratosphere, but his network doesn't believe he's ready for the big time. However, when an alien force shows up apparently ready for conquest of the Earth, Hibiki is sent with an experienced (and drunk) war correspondent to get the big scoop in his Valkyrie fighter.

In the course of events, Hibiki snatches up a young woman named Ishtar who sings during the battle for the enemy. It turns out that the Zentraedi, the villains of the first series, are under the power of the Marduk. The Marduk have developed only war tunes that will keep the Zentraedi under their control--but that's enough to render the Earth's song-based attack system worthless. With Hibiki's guidance, Ishtar experiences human culture with all of its greatness and frailty, and she wants to bring that back to the Marduk. However, the Emperor of the Marduk forces would rather destroy Earth utterly than to have his culture sullied by human emotion.

Of course, there's other stuff floating around in the mix too, namely a shapely pilot named Sylvie who has nothing but utter disdain for Hibiki's underhanded reporting tactics until she sees him growing through his coverage of the war. We also see Hibiki's realization that his network is at the mercy of the government's censorship, and so he leads a battle not only against the enemy but also against the freedom of the press. God bless, Macross City!

Despite my misgivings for much of this show, the artwork is nothing short of spectacular, particularly for an OVA series. It was easily repackaged as a movie because many feature length films don't look nearly as good as this looker. Haruhiko Mikimoto developed the character designs on the original show, but they were significantly adapted due to budgetary limitations. Here, his designs jump off the screen just like they do out of his paintings. Each individual looks absolutely wonderful. The same can (mostly) be said for the mechanical work--for my money, no other series has the corner on space battles like Macross shows with their trademark multiple missile explosions backdropping fierce laser fire as ships spar off. Thankfully, the show also retains the original's penchant for catchy pop confections as well as nice symphonic background music. Though no tune is as powerful as the centerpieces of the original, they are still worthwhile.

However, none of this makes up for the slapdash plotting and tedium of this banal remake. The writers slop together elements out of the original to make it a "Macross-style" program without ever realizing what made those elements work, which were the characters. We have the obligatory love triangle, which is forced, mishandled, and resolved poorly. We have the obligatory young brash idiot learning from the seasoned veteran who must die for our hero to learn his lesson. We have the obligatory idol stars, but unlike the charismatic diva Minmei, they are only window dressing. We have the plot of the original copied down to the whole "get captured on the enemy ship, fold out into neverneverspace, and come back with details of the whole enemy universe" concept that was farfetched even for the first show. Everything here is an obligation and nothing is a joy. Except for Ishtar, the characters are uniformly annoying.

And though I praised the space battles, they too are frustrating. They look stunning, but they serve no purpose. Most of the time, they are battles for the sake of battles. We have no real interest in what's going on in them. Although there is a weak attempt for the audience to connect with some of the Valkyrie pilots, we neither like nor dislike them. We know nothing about them. Without a group of heroes to cheer, the explosions have no meaning, no purpose, and certainly no dramatic tension.

I originally saw the first two episodes of this show back in its dub format, which was all that was available when it was first released in the US ten years ago. I was disappointed enough by the terrible dub that I hoped perhaps it was the reason I disliked it, and though I picked up the rest of the series, I never watched it. Now that I've seen the original Japanese version, I can safely say the flaws are there from the start. I would still advise anybody watching the show to watch the subtitled version, though, since the dub is nearly unviewable.

I will always love the original Macross, and I will likely always check out the sequels, prequels, and manga that bear its name. However, Macross 2 shows that even great franchises can bear bad fruit. It's not spoiled rotten, but Macross 2 is certainly overripe.

Macross 2 -- extremely brief nudity in the credit sequence, violence, profanity -- C