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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Do You Remember Macross? Part 2

The characters of Macross are what really make the series. I’m going to discuss for a moment characters that I really liked and characters I didn’t like. Actually I only really didn’t like one character… well you get my point.
First off we have three of the main stars involved in Macross’ famous love triangle: Hikaru Ichijyo, Misa Hayase and Lynn Minmay. Hikaru (called Rick Hunter in Robotech) is introduced as a civilian stunt pilot invited to the launch of the Macross by his friend and senpai (mentor) Major Roy Focker. He gets caught up in the events of the launch of the Macross and the Zentradi attack and ends up flying one of the Valkyrie variable fighters and rescues Minmay. The two of them end up trapped in the bowels of the ship for almost twelve days (it’s a BIG ship). This is where their relationship begins to take shape. Hell, you go get trapped in what is basically a dungeon with someone and see if you don’t develop a connection. Hikaru comes off during this as basically your average joe with a gift for piloting trying to do his best in a strange situation. Minmay is your average teenage girl who isn’t used to extreme situations. This is made apparent when she goes a little nutty and asks Hikaru to have a mock wedding with her because she would regret it if she died without getting married. She then tells him they should throw themselves out into space and die together. I guess I can’t really blame her, dying of hunger and thirst isn’t a fun way to go. Then again, what Minmay doesn’t know is that death by the vacuum of space isn’t really pleasant either. Fortunately for the budding love birds, the civilians of Macross City break through the ceiling and rescue them. These events then set up the romance between Hikaru and Minmay.
On the other hand, Hikaru’s first run-in with Misa is  hardly romantic. She first encounters him when he had become an accidental Valkyrie pilot and he refers to her as a ‘nagging old lady.’ Bad move. It initially seems like there is no way Misa and Hikaru would ever be compatible. She is the exact opposite of the sweet, girlish Minmay. Misa is a career military officer whose father is an Admiral with the UN Spacy (combination of the words space and navy). She takes a no-nonsense approach to operations and doesn’t appreciate it when Hikaru tries to ‘show off.’ If Misa had her way, Hikaru would never have become more than a grunt pilot. Things change when two separate incidents occur. First is the Miss Macross contest in which Minmay becomes the first winner, garnering fame and a chance to become the singer she’s always dreamed of. Yeah it might be a little weird to hold a beauty pageant in a warship but when you have 56,000 civilians onboard and an eight month trip back to Earth ahead of you, exceptions have to be made. The other incident is when Hikaru, Misa and Kakizaki are captured aboard a Zentradi battleship and interrogated by the Zentradi leaders. Forced to demonstrate the concept of romance, the two share a surprisingly passionate kiss. This then kicks the love triangle into high gear as Hikaru grows increasingly distant from Minmay as she becomes more and more famous and he learns to rely on Misa’s direction from the bridge during his many missions, especially after Roy dies. Oops, did I say that out loud? Oh well, more on that in a moment.
I liked Hikaru as a protagonist because he sort of comes off as the Luke Skywalker type of the series. He’s a seemingly ordinary guy at first who has a gift for piloting and then is swept up in events beyond his control. At first he’s a little immature and the many arguments he has with Misa over the TACnet is proof enough of that. But being a soldier starts to remove him from his childhood and forces him to start growing up, especially after he gets promoted to Lieutenant and is given two rookie pilots to deal with (these being Max Jenius and Kakizaki). After Roy’s death, Hikaru has to inherit Roy’s position as leader of Skull Squadron, the best Valkyrie unit on the ship. He also eventually is forced to come to terms with the fact that he and Minmay are from separate walks of life and can likely never be together.

Minmay for her part serves as a voice of inspiration and hope during the dark times of the war. It was said that series creator Shoji Kawamori based her concept and the concept of her songs and their effects on the crew of the Macross and the Zentradi, on the song Lili Marlene, from World War II. Soldiers and civilians on both sides of the conflict apparently cherished this particular song. However, Minmay is also na├»ve and doesn’t really understand what Hikaru and the other soldiers aboard the ship go through as her celebrity life insulates her from the horrors of war. Basically she understands what’s going on but isn’t affected by it directly too much. She also demonstrates the double-edged sword that is fame. Initially she revels in becoming a famous pop star but as time goes on, and especially after her cousin KaifunKaifun at this point. She tries to run away from that life and find happiness with Hikaru but belatedly comes to the realization that Hikaru discovered long ago: they just weren’t meant to be. In the end she decides that she will discover the meaning of her songs by herself now that she’s freed of all the emotional baggage that the love triangle and Kaifun dropped on her and remains friends with Hikaru and Misa.

Misa, as I stated earlier is a consummate professional, but that mask hides an inner pain. Once she was carefree and in love but then her boyfriend Riber had to go off to Mars and get his stupid self killed. This causes Misa to close up emotionally and it’s only when Hikaru shows up that she begins to lose some of that shell… with a TON of poking and prodding from the other bridge officers, Claudia, Vanessa, Kim and Shammy. As a side-note, that’s another TV trope that’s not native to just anime but other sci-fi shows as well, the concept of the ‘bridge bunnies.’ Anyway, Misa begins to have more interaction with Hikaru as Minmay grows distant from him. They can understand each other as soldiers. I think where she truly began to care for Hikaru as more than just a friend was when she nearly killed him. No, seriously she actually did almost kill him. During a battle she is distracted by thoughts of her dead boyfriend and launches a missile strike at the wrong moment. The missiles end up hitting Hikaru’s Valkyrie which plunges into the ocean with Hikaru barely ejecting in time. Later she goes to the hospital and apologies profusely for accidentally shooting him down. As Doc Brown once said, “That’s the Florence Nightingale effect. It happens in hospitals when nurses fall in love with their patients.” I may be wrong but whatever. She’s also one damn strong-willed woman as she has to put up with so much garbage from Hikaru during the last arc of the series as he waffles back and forth between his hope that he and Minmay will work out and his newly-discovered love for Misa. I was actually kind of hoping that she would slap him when Hikaru blows off their first date to go talk to Minmay. Hey fellas, here’s a little relationship hint. When you just ditched a date with your current girlfriend to check up on the ex, don’t bring a scarf that the ex gave you when you try to make up with your girlfriend because it will be she who discovers yours and your ex’s initials surrounded by a heart on the inside lining. Yeah… Hikaru was a bit of a blockheaded idiot in those last few episodes. Misa does eventually forgive him and they realize that they love each other and happily ever after and blah blah blah. Oh and because Misa is so undeniably awesome, Admiral Global gives her command of the new colony ship Megaroad-01.

I feel at this point, having talked so much about romance, I need to mention Maximillian Jenius and Millia Fallyna (pronounced mill-ee-ah f-eye-yah-na) and the shortest romance in the history of television (possibly). As a bit of background, you should remember that Max was one of the new pilots that was assigned to Hikaru after he got promoted. The interesting thing about Max is that, while he’s actually a secondary character, he’s actually a better pilot than anyone else on the ship, including Hikaru. In fact, he’s so good that he draws a little unwanted attention. As previously mentioned, Zentradi males and females live separately but at one point commander Vrlitwhai calls in the Laplamiz Fleet, which consists of an entire force of these alien amazons (you think normal women can be scary? Try women that are twenty-five feet taller than you and know 101 ways to kill you with a knife.), particularly an ace pilot feared by all Zentradi, Millia Fallyna. To make a long story short, she ends up getting beat by an unknowing Max twice in combat, turns herself into a miclone (term for human-sized Zentradi), sneaks aboard the ship and then meets Max at an arcade. This leads to a rather hilarious scene in which, while she is totally focused on beating him at the flight simulator game they’re playing, Max is busy being entranced by her exotic green hair and mentally estimating her measurements. Ah fighter jocks, what are you gonna do?
After getting beat by Max a third time, she agrees to a date with him (having no concept of what a ‘date’ is) but is really plotting revenge. Cut to Max in the park at night waiting for his romantic rendezvous. Out comes Millia from the bushes, tosses him a knife, declares her identity as a Zentradi pilot and then charges him. This then leads to the most badly animated knife fight ever. Despite Millia’s superior strength, Max manages to disarm her, effectively beating her a third time. Having been thus defeated, Millia breaks down in tears and begs for Max to kill her so that she can retain some measure of honor. Instead, Max, being a hopeless romantic, sweeps her up into his arms and kisses her passionately. Literally five minutes later, show time, they are being married by Captain Global. No I’m not kidding, after the kiss, there’s one scene where Max introduces Millia to Hikaru, a scene where they’re getting permission from Captain Global and then, boom, we’re at the wedding.
Now I like this purely because if this was, say, an American series, the whole damn thing would have been spread out over one, two, possibly even three seasons of will-they-or-won’t-they? I have to admit that it is kind of abrupt that Millia goes from passionate hatred of Max to passionately in love with him in the space of a night, but it is unfortunately the result of Macross’ story getting compressed and uncompressed during production. Some aspects of the story, like Hikaru, Misa and Minmay’s love triangle, were more fully explored while Max and Millia had to be churned out in one episode. We do find out during one of the sequel series, Macross 7, that Max and Millia aren’t doing so well and one of their seven daughters, Mylene Flare Jenius, tries to get them back together.

I can’t finish this section without mentioning the quintessential pilot of Macross, Roy Fokker. He’s exactly what you’d expect from a career fighter pilot: Loud, crude, rude and socially unacceptable… sort of. But that’s what makes you like him because he’s just basically a fun guy. He also is one of the most unexpected deaths in the series.
Normally, you’d expect an important character like Roy to not die, but if you’ve ever seen Star Wars, you should know that mentor characters either die or just really have it rough. Initially, it is implied that Roy and Hikaru grew up somewhat together and that Roy and Hikaru’s father taught the kid all he knows about flying. Roy is a little more absent as the war against the Zentradi heats up, but he’s always there to offer advice… especially on women. Roy himself has a relationship with one of the ship’s bridge officers, Claudia LaSalle, although it’s only mentioned briefly in episode 1 and doesn’t come up again until episode 18.
Speaking of episode 18, Roy is also one of the progenitors’ of the anime trope “pineapple salad” after the episode of the same name. To whit, don’t promise a character their favorite meal right before a battle, as it will inevitably lead to said character’s death. It’s actually very well done, if I do say so my self. The setting is that Hikaru is in the hospital after Misa’s accidental missile attack injured him. Roy has to watch over Hikaru’s pilots, Max and Kakizaki, in addition to his own as he goes into battle once more against the Zentradi. Previous to flying out, he’d had a conversation with Claudia about having a quiet dinner with her and she had promised him to make her famous family recipe pineapple salad as an extra incentive. At first it doesn’t seem that anything has gone wrong, although Roy’s plane gets shot up a lot during the battle. Cut to Roy and Claudia in her apartment, Claudia preparing the meal and Roy relaxing on a couch playing an acoustic guitar. The camera goes into a close up of Claudia with Roy out of the frame. She’s talking to him and all of a sudden we noticed that he’s stopped playing. Confused, she turns around, salad in hand, only to find Roy sprawled on the floor, back soaked in blood (remember that in the 80’s, blood would have been a big no-no in the States). Cue scream of horror and dishes crashing dramatically to the ground. Now, they string us out a little more by cutting to Hikaru’s hospital room, where’s he resting up and playing with a small model of a Fokker bi-plane that Roy had given him. Nothing seems to be especially wrong until Misa comes in. Something’s wrong, she has tears in her eyes. Hikaru asks her what’s wrong and she somberly tells him that Roy was heavily injured in battle but didn’t tell anyone and has died. Cut to a room where Roy lies in a bed, eyes closed, medics surrounding him and Claudia crying over him. Hikaru gets a deer-in-the-headlights look and the model plane falls out of his hand and breaks on the floor, symbolizing the last parts of Hikaru’s youth being shattered.
This also illustrates another theme in many animes that when a character has been in the background for a long while and is suddenly thrust in the spotlight, odds are very good that said character is about to die. Remember, this takes place exactly halfway through the series and you wouldn’t expect that a major supporting character like Roy would die so soon, but as I said, there is always a point where the mentor must step aside so that the apprentice can flourish. Roy doesn’t disappear entirely from the series. Hikaru becomes Skull leader and uses Roy’s old Valkyrie. In the last arc of the series, Claudia, in flashback, tells Hikaru the story of how she and Roy first met, trying to get him straight where Misa is concerned. And, of course, Roy will always live on to us Macross fans as Roy “I-can-still-fight-when-I’m-drunk” Fokker. Oh and he gets to appear in the OVA Macross Zero.

The other characters of Macross are also interesting enough to warrant mention. Captain Global is one of the quintessential sci-fi anime captains. He’s sort of a combination of Lord Nelson and Jean-luc Picard. He’s a proud, skilled military officer but he also lives by a strict code of honor that he expects people, even his superiors, to obey. He also has to put up with all the things that go wrong throughout the series, such as the Macross’ computers starting a war and the UN government abandoning the Macross and the civilians aboard her. Even the bridge bunnies Kim, Shammy and Vanessa provide a lot of character interactions. The one I always found funny was when Shammy is constantly reminding Captain Global that he can’t smoke his pipe on the bridge.

Lastly, the one character I truly despise in the entirety of the series is Minmay’s cousin Lynn Kaifun. Why? He’s a bloody peacenik, that’s why.
You know, I could write a whole other article about why this guy torques me off but that would be A) Weird and B) Non-productive. Let’s just say that he gets between Hikaru and Minmay, he dresses like he just walked out of Saturday Night Fever, his views against the military are out of place in the human/Zentradi war and, from a Western viewpoint, he’s a bit of a freak since he falls for his cousin Minmay. Oh and he totally disses Misa. Grrrr. Fortunately he turns out to be something of a lush and a hypocrite. In one episode, he inflames a crowd of mostly miclone Zentradi against Hikaru and his pilots, who are trying to safeguard a miclone chamber. Due to Kaifun’s speech, Hikaru and the others are forced to leave the chamber where it is and Quamzin’s rebels promptly steal it. Kaifun doesn’t seem to care much about that, making me think that he really didn’t care a damn about the chamber; he just wanted to get one up on Hikaru and the military. You can also tell that he’s using Minmay’s career as a way to advance his anti-military agenda. Unfortunately a little bit of that Asian misogyny creeps in and Minmay rarely stands up to him. Fortunately, he eventually gets fed up with Minmay (not her fault at all) and leaves. Me, I would have preferred that he’d had a battle pod or a Valkyrie fall on top of him and that the last episode he was in didn’t try to paint him in a positive light.