I blogged about how I’m part
of the Robotech generation of anime
fans. It was the series that really brought anime to my attention as a kid. And
even though I became a full-fledged fan of Japanese animation about ten years after viewing the
series, it made an impression on me. One of the anime series of the 1990s that
helped pull me into fandom (after Rally and the Gunsmith Cats worked their magic) was a sequel to the Robotech saga. Of course Robotech was the American name for the
series, in Japan it was known as Super
Dimension Fortress: Macross.
Isamu Dyson (Lee Stone) is a
young cocky mecha pilot. He has all the skills to make him great, but a
reckless attitude that endangers others when he shows off. Because he’s a bit of
an ass, his superiors decide to transfer him to New Edwards on the planet Eden,
to be a test pilot for the experimental mecha they are working on. Isamu knows
his ego is writing checks his body can’t cash, but he doesn’t care, and heads
off for his new assignment with glee.
Little does he know that his
old rival Guld Goa Bowman (Richard George) is also a test pilot at New Edwards.
The two renew their dislike for each other, and Colonel Millard (Beau
Billingslea) uses it to his advantage, forcing the two to compete with each
other to determine which experimental fighter will be the best fit for the
To further complicate
matters, Isamu and Guld both had a childhood crush on the same girl, Myung Fang
Lone (Anne Sherman). She’s also returned to Eden as the manager of the hottest
idol singer in the galaxy. The singer is named Sharon Apple (Melora Harte), but
she is no ordinary idol. She’s actually a computer system that is linked to
Myung. Her emotional programming gets a boost from her human counterpart, and
the computer creates the perfect image and songs for the spectators – creating
the ultimate in entertainment.
These four personalities are
going to collide in a battle of egos, history and technology. And don’t count
Sharon out, just because she doesn’t have a body, doesn’t mean she won’t play
for keeps, and leave nothing but pieces in her wake.
- Some amazing animation for
- Wonderful score and songs by
- Develops an interesting
corner of the Macross universe
- Those looking for pure
action will be annoyed by the human drama that takes center stage
- Someone watched Top Gun a few times before writing the
- Does not follow any of the
characters or events from the television series
Judged on its own merits, Macross Plus is an entertaining series.
The impressive animation showcases some amazing battle sequences and the virtual
realities of Sharon Apple. Kanno’s songs are a wonderful mix of mysterious,
beautiful, and poppy. It’s solid entertainment,
and was certainly a showcase series of its time.
This was one of those
Original Animated Video (OAV) series that I remember taking forever to get a
full release. For some reason the first two episodes were widely available on
VHS, but episode three was hard to get a hold of, and the final episode took
forever to get released in North America, nearly a year after the third episode
of memory serves. But anime fans were patient and while we were waiting we
could spin through the epic saga of Record
of Lodoss War or Tenchi Muyo again.
It’s funny to think back on those crazy VHS only days and remember how rare
some of this stuff was, and how excited we were about these shows. Now that
anime has saturated the world of entertainment, I wondered how well a glorified
version of Top Gun was going to hold
up with my memories.
|The Macross Plus logo opens each episode. In the|
mid 90s this CG image was the cat's pajamas!
To tell you the truth Macross Plus was still very entertaining.
I didn’t remember it being so focused on the love triangle. I didn’t remember
the animation being so good (especially during the flying and battle
sequences). And now that I’ve seen the entirety of the original Macross series (sure it was in Robotech
form, but it counts), a lot of neat parallels became more
As a whole Macross Plus has some impressive
animation. They’ve taken the overall designs of the fighter planes, outfits and
general tech of the original Macross series
and pushed it forward a bit. You still recognize this as the same universe, but
it everything looks a bit cleaner and a bit shinier. The two specialized
fighters transform (of course), and the animators have a field day putting the
two fighters into various situations where they can switch modes and continue
battling. Each episode contains at least one fighter test sequence, but the
finale episode has the biggest and most elaborate fight scene in the series. As
far as 90s transforming mecha action, it is hard to top that battle scene.
|Guld's fighter prepares for it's next test run at|
I have seen some folks take
issue with the character design. In an act of rebellion, the characters defy
the tiny nose convention of most anime, and go for some serious nasal action. I
actually liked this look; it certainly makes the series stand apart from its
peers in the visual department. The same look would be used in one of the best
series of the decade, Vision of
Escaflowne, which boasted many of the same creative team. To me it’s a nice
glimpse of a time when unique character design was more prevalent in anime.
But the most interesting
character, and interesting use of animation in Macross Plus is Sharon Apple. Her computer design is obviously
inspired by HAL from 2001: A Space
Odyssey. But her virtual self has three distinct looks and personalities.
There are two concerts with Sharon and the animators go all out letting the
virtual idol assume all three variations of her personality, create holographic
backgrounds and a dazzling array of visual flourishes. These concerts scenes are
some of the best utilization of CG and integrating it into the hand drawn
visuals in the series. Since the whole thing is a virtual concert the
incongruous styles don’t detract much. The last episode, where Sharon unleashes
her final scheme, gives her plenty of time to shine. My favorite moment is when
she appears as a towering goddess looming over Macross welcoming her slaves… I
mean fans, to embrace her. There are some wonderful and iconic visuals in this
final episode, and Sharon’s fans are sure to pick that one as their favorite.
|Sharon Apple's first concert on planet Eden is|
a smashing success.
As I mentioned the series
does use a bit of computer animation. Since this was the mid-90s some of it
looks a bit primitive now. When it is used for holographic displays or during
the virtual concerts it’s fine. But there are a few moments where it is used
for the fighters, and they just don’t look too good over hand drawn backgrounds
or characters. This was an issue with anime of the period, before computers
really took over the coloring and consistency of the animation. Some series
worked it in better than others, and for me Macross Plus wasn’t as jarring as something like Blue Submarine No. 6.
|Isamu is riding the highway to the danger zone when|
he trash talks to Guld.
And speaking of the concerts
and music, well you knew I had to mention it at some point. Yoko Kanno’s work
on Macross Plus is what really
brought her to the attention of many anime fans as well as being her real
breakout piece. She composed the score; an eclectic mix of styles ranging from
classical inspirations like Stravinsky and Prokofiev, to film composer styles
similar to Ennio Morricone, John Williams and even Bill Conti’s work on The Right Stuff. The score is primarily
orchestral and performed with energy by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Of course the pop songs
performed by Sharon Apple are the highlight, with Kanno using several different
artists to perform for the virtual idol and provide a wide spread of styles and
flavors. The main theme for the series has to be the song Voices. This was a song the character Myung sung in her youth, but
has turned her back on. It appears several times as other characters mention
it. There’s a great orchestral version of the song, an a cappella version, and
a full ballad version of the song. It is one of Kanno’s best songs and well
worth checking out.
|Myung is Sharon Apple's "manager" in more ways|
Since this was an early
anime release, it was made when anime companies were experimenting with
translating the J-pop into English. The English dub for Macross Plus features an English version of Voices, performed by Michelle Flynn. She does a fine job and her
vocal style is very similar to Akino Arai. The rest of the English dub is
pretty hit and miss. It’s kind of odd, because many of these performers would
go on to do some great work for future projects like Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in
the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. But here, there are some very stilted deliveries,
flat performances and some odd acting choices. There are a few comical (not
intentional) moments. The script isn’t terribly complicated, so you can go with
Japanese with subtitles for this one. Of the cast, I think Lee Stone (which was
a pseudonym for actor Bryan Cranston of Breaking
Bad fame) as Isamu does the best job channeling his inner Tom Cruise.
So the script to Macross Plus is the major weak point.
It is Top Gun with a virtual idol
mixed in with transforming fighter planes. But while the Tom Cruise flick
focused on how awesome the jets were and how awesome Tom Cruise was, Macross Plus goes for a soapy route.
The love triangle is played to the hilt, with Guld, Isamu and Myung all
fighting their inner demons, their mixed up past and their desires. It actually
gives the three characters a bit more dimension that Maverick and Iceman ever
really got. But it also lays it on a bit thick at times. Both Guld and Isamu
are some of the most unprofessional pilots I’ve ever seen, even for test
pilots. Myung fares a bit better, with her desires being channeled into Sharon
Apple, who takes those desires and actualizes them.
|One of the images that always comes to mind|
when I think of this series.
Sharon Apple takes the
whole thing to a new level, she’s a newborn whose entire psyche is based on a
damaged woman’s. She has nearly godlike powers and doesn’t feel she needs to
hold back when trying to achieve her ultimate goal – to provide Isamu with the
ultimate experience. In other words, try her darnedest to kill him in front of
Myung. You know how those virtual idols are.
There is an interesting theme about technology running through the whole series. Both of the new mecha fighters are cutting edge weapons. The one Isamu is piloting is faster and more maneuverable than the current design. But it still relies on a pilot to get the job done. The other fighter that Guld is flying is tied directly to his brain. He doesn't actually have controls in front of him, but uses his mind as the interface. It can react as as quickly as Guld can think. But as the series continues we learn of another fighter the Macross government is working on, one with an advanced AI that doesn't require a pilot at all. This "Ghost Fighter" becomes a nemesis for the Guld and Isamu. And it mirrors Sharon Apple, an advanced AI who wants to take over Myung's duties to "her men". Of course Sharon takes control of the Ghost Fighter and that turns into the grand battle in the final episode. While the story isn’t anything
terribly new, there is enough of it to flesh out four episodes each running
about 40 minutes or so, and to give us some wonderful animated sequences.
|A rescue attempt is about go horribly wrong.|
Directors Shoji Kawamori and
Shinichiro Watanabe do a great job keeping the story trucking along for that
entire series. There is a nice balance of action, drama and eye candy in each
episode. The only episode that bogs down a little bit is the third one. It is mostly
set up for the final episode. This episode is the most soapy of the episodes in
Macross Plus, and it is light on
action. But the fourth episode more than makes up for it pushing the action to
11 and having Sharon Apple take center stage. Watanabe would go on to work on Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo ( both featuring music by Yoko Kanno). Kawamori
would continue work in the Macross universe as well as create the fantasy saga Vision of Escaflowne and Aquarion (both also featuring music by Yoko
Kanno). As you can see Macross Plus served
as a springboard to several careers. In that way it a milestone for Japanese
animation. But it is also a entertaining series worth checking out. Just make
sure that Sharon Apple doesn’t come out of your screen and start singing… you’ll
be in real trouble .
|This cityscape is familiar to all fans of the Macross|
(and Robotech) series.
But wait! Where is Sharon Apple in this review? I suspect she needed a rogues' gallery of her own.
|"I'll be waiting to give you the Ultimate experience." |