Note: Ghostlightning at We Remember Love wrote a series of articles about The Wings of Goodbye, which are well worth reading:
The two feature films The False Idol and The Wings of Goodbye form a two-part reboot of the most recent entry in the Macross franchise, Macross Frontier. While the first film comprised a quite faithful retelling of about the first seven episodes of the series, the second film made substantial changes in the remainder of the plot (19 25-minute episodes) in order to condense it within a two-hour running time. What these changes did was change the entire tone of the story and call into question why the viewer is watching it.
The Macross franchise has always had an uneasy and to me almost problematic approach to depicting alien contact and futuristic warfare, and that is its strength. The core premise of any given Macross media is to juxtapose human relationships and as a result a love story with some kind of large-scale space conflict, and ultimately find some kind of resolution of this war through a mixture of violent and nonviolent means. Music is central to the franchise, being used variously to embody alien energies anathema to a species, a physical embodiment of desire and rivalry through a computer program and, in the original series, a means of control through the imprinting of an occupiers’ culture on a vanquished enemy. In SDF Macross the human race goes from being on the defensive to becoming almost conquistadors; they beat down their inscrutable and primitive alien enemies by dazzling them with the benefits of “culture” and then beating the message home with nuclear weapons. Hardly, I would venture, an admirable piece of foreign policy but one which well-establishes the franchise’s “ideals”.
Nevertheless, by whichever means necessary, music, love and military might will in some way come together to force an accord between man and alien – be the aliens some ancient genocidal soldier-race, primitive, out-of-control cloned soldiers of a precursor civilisation or, as in Frontier, an insectoid hive mind reacting to a perceived threat. Much of The False Idol proceeds in fine Macross style with the revelation that an alien micro-organism within central character Ranka gives her some control over the alien insects the Vajra, and she at the crucial moment distracts them long enough for a decisive counterattack allowing the human fleet to annihilate the enemy. This lasts a way into The Wings of Goodbye, but then the illusion is shattered; when the humans win another stunning victory and smash a Vajra mothership, Ranka feels the pain. The revelation that this “control through music” is not a one-way thing, but an empathetic relationship, puts the first cracks in the neat “man versus bug” story that’s been built up. The second divergence comes when the apparent villains, ambitious humans clearly shown to be savvy among those inhabiting the setting of the created history, create machines which do exactly what Macross hinges on; forcing another race to humanity’s will. Without the human, empathetic element, the sinister nature of this idea of culture as a weapon is shown. SDF Macross sugared the pill of cultural imperialism with relatable characters and comedy. Remove that, and have mind-control devices enslaving an alien race, and the result is the same but it becomes evil in perception.
This plan, though, fails. The devices work precisely as intended but their creators are backstabbed and the Vajra are now in control of their own forces, but with the empathetic link with sympathetic humans severed. Song does not work any more. What began as almost fourth-wall breaking logic from the human characters has resulted in the enemy now eliminating their own weakness – but not completely. In the final battle, the heroes are unable to even kill their enemies because of what remains of the link between the species. Every kill causes pain to the protagonist. This sequence forces home the nature of what the viewer expected – they wanted a massacre, the bugs dazed and controlled by song and then annihilated systematically with superior firepower. Instead it is humanity who is on the back foot, their weapons useless. The hyped-up, gloriously shown YF29 is a paper tiger, its anti-Vajra technology unable to be used, and it ends up in a frantic fight against a mind-controlled human.
Even when the mind-control devices are broken, and the villain killed, the “pleasure” of genocide is avoided. The human fleet masses its largest weapons ready to completely obliterate the Vajra from their very home planet, but before the shots hit the human protagonist, Alto, supported by the two singers who were so central to the link between the species in the first place, negotiates peace. It is not a dominant peace, though; it is not the colonialism of SDF Macross where the enemy are subjugated – it is a hashed-out truce for mutual survival. Alto and the Vajra Queen leave the planet, followed by the remainder of the Vajra forces, on the condition that humanity fixes itself. They have been given a reprieve, and a chance to rebuild, as payment for showing mercy and stopping the genocide (or, as the initial plan held, the weaponisation of an army of mind-controlled bugs).
So the war story ends in anticlimactic style, all the posturing and big action setpieces ultimately useless. The love story does the same, and with it the music. The main love rivalry within the film has been between Ranka and the older, more famous singer Sheryl – and at the final moment before disappearing, Alto confesses his love to the latter. This is then never consummated or even properly reciprocated; Alto vanishes in order to save humanity, and Sheryl, terminally ill and close to death even before the fight began, falls into a coma. While there is closure, the resolution of the love triangle that the viewer has been watching for, it is completely empty. The Wings of Goodbye thus has a visually epic, over-the-top climax which builds into a total destruction of the viewer’s expectations of a Macross film. In doing this it really confirms the emptiness and insidiousness of the Macross “ideal” and is a rejection of the franchise as a whole. Humanity has, if not lost the war, merely bought itself time to improve and avoid another pointless war. The love story has ended with the man missing, presumed dead, one of his lovers dying and the third rejected and alone, for Ranka’s confession of love is ultimately turned down.
Yet the ending narration suggests that there is still hope – if not for the characters that the films have followed, but for the human race. The False Idol builds up the viewer’s expectations by showing what appears to be the triumph of what defines Macross – The Wings of Goodbye shows how this time, the only way to survive was to reject it.