Welcome back to yet another journey through Space and Time aboard my retrospective UKAnifest TARDIS…by which I of course mean, I’m going to review another old Space Anime :-)
This time, we delve right back into the 90’s again for a series of OVAs that was often referred as Anime’s answer to Top Gun. It was also the Anime feature that had turned my moderate like of the genre into a full blow love affair!
This was Macross Plus, a space opera released in 1994 that managed to fuse the universe of the 1980’s sci-fi Macross series with truly excellent feature quality animation and a mind-blowing music score.
There is much to say and praise about this excellent OVA/Film, and I’m not certain that I’ll get it all down, but I’ll start by explaining the premise and it’s background.
In the universe of Macross, humanity has expanded out into the stars, thanks in part to the technology of the ‘Macross’ which was a gigantic mecha-shaped alien battle fortress that had crash landed on Earth in the distant future year of 1999.
Shortly after, humanity found itself at war with the Macross’ original owners, the mysterious Zentradi. During the course of their conflict, humanity learned two valuble things. 1) Fighter jets make awesome robots, and 2) getting girls to sing as ‘Idols’ was an effective weapon against the alien enemies.
These 2 lessons form the basis of a lot of Macross’ lore, and this carries over to Macross Plus, which was set after the war and during a time of relative peace. Humanity was happily colonising space and planting Earth-like cities onto wild alien planets, which weren’t too different to the homeworld.
One such planet was New Eden, where our story was mostly set. It is there that we are introduced to our 3 main characters, who were all friends from childhood.
First there is Isamu Dyson, a hotshot fighter pilot who had just been re-assigned from the fleet to be a test pilot on Eden, thanks in no small way to his reckless and unpredictable behaviour. Although a little too much at times, Isamu was a likeable rouge and was a strong lead for the film.
Next is Isamu’s on-again off-again love interest of the past and present; Myung Fang Lone. Myung was the producer of the mysterious and extremely famous AI-based Idol ‘Sharon Apple’. She balances out the film very well and very often adds to the lingering feeling of nostalgia that often flows under the surface of many of scenes set on New Eden. Like Isamu, she had also spent many years away from home.
Last but not least, is Guld Goa Bowman a half human half Zendrati man, who apart from also being Isamu & Myung’s childhood friend, was also the 3rd part of a subsequent love-triangle and is Isamu’s rival the flight testing facility.
Much of the story followed a bitter rivalry between the two guys while they fought to win both funding for their development team, and also Myung’s heart.
Running parallel to all of this was a cautionary tale of how not to recklessly mix robotics with human emotions. We learn fairly early in the story that Sharon Apple’s AI was not complete, and that the illusion of her emotions was exactly that. Her feelings were simply borrowed from Myung, who would literally plug herself into Sharon’s computer during performances. The result naturally being, that the torrent of Myung’s conflicting emotions about the guys are transferred over to the powerful Sharon Apple super-computer. You can probably guess the potential problems the result from that.
Beyond nearly ruining the whole plot for you, I think it’s time to talk about what makes Macross Plus a classic.
The story itself was your typical homecoming tale, with all that comes with digging up the past. It wasn’t extremely original, but it didn’t need to be. Macross Plus succeeds simply because it tells it’s story so very well. I’m convinced that this production team could probably take the story of your last trip to the supermarket, and turn it into a gripping epic! I suppose that I’m trying to say, is that there was skill and effort involved with this production, and it really shows.
The pacing, additional characters, script and overall ‘feel’ of the feature also puts it well above par. The Eden Colony very much comes to life and gives the impression of a very real place despite that being impossible. This is ‘suspension of disbelief’ at it’s very best.
Also, despite it being a part of the larger ‘Macross’ universe and mythos, Macross Plus made any knowledge of that universe unnecessary to get into the story and also enjoy it. I have actually seen the 1980’s Macross / Robotech series, but that wasn’t until many years after I had seen this feature! I consider this trick to be the mark of truly excellent writing, satisfying die-hard Macross fans and newcomers in equal measure!
Finally, I wish to mention the killer blow that made this feature so much better that many others. If you have ever seen Macross Plus, you will know that this was the music.
I have often felt that a good feature production, regardless of genre or origin, needs a quality music score to compliment it. All too often, especially in SciFi works, have I seen decent productions horribly cheapened by the use of stock music, or worse still, the score sounding like someone playing a cheap Casio keyboard with one of the filters on. No matter how brilliantly made a movie may have been, bad music can kill it stone dead.
Thus when I see an effort put into not only making the music, but also matching it with the tone and events of the feature, I enjoy it all that more. Macross Plus ticked off this requirement in the best of ways. The score was haunting, beautiful, exciting and soulful, all when it needed it to be. Much like in the original Macross series where they had used the music of idols as a weapon against the Zentrati, the film used music as weapon to grab our attention and successfully hold onto it.
It was all of this that had made me love the film and by extension the whole Anime genre, to which I was only a newcomer at the time. To this very day, Macross Plus has pride of place at the top of my favourite film list, and I expect it may stay there for quite some time to come.
If you have never seen Macross Plus, by all means seek it out. You don’t even need to see the original series, all you need to do it enjoy!
In my next review I will attempt to tackle that other 90’s Anime hit that is often bundled together in my mind with Macross Plus. By which I mean, the original 1995 production of Neon Genesis Evangelion.
Until then, keep reaching for the sky!