Some time ago I mentioned the animated series Macross 7 in an article; a fun, absurd comedy series set in the far future about a rock group finding out they are destined to save humanity from an ancient alien civilisation. While much of its storyline is completely new, focusing on the adventures of the unwilling protagonist Basara, it remains part of a created “history” – a story which began with the original SDF Macross, and also comprises Macross Plus, prequel Macross Zero and second sequel Macross Frontier. As a result, characters recur across the different series entries, providing a clear chronological progression even if it is not always clear which “version” of events is authoritative.
Particularly interesting are the characters of Max Jenius and the alien Miria Falyna, introduced in the original series and returned to in 7 some years later. Their meeting in the original series as enemies – both the top aces of their respective forces – led to first a grudging respect and then true love in short order as Miria’s warlike species the Zentradi gradually learnt to embrace peace. This sub-plot is played out in more detail in the TV series, with the film reboot glossing over it, and is played for laughs. Miria’s consistent misunderstandings of human customs and domestic life are set against others of her species rejecting the society they have to live in after their surrender in a quite lengthy series of episodes detailing post-war reconstruction and naturalisation of the defeated Zentradi. Her and Max form the simple comic relief in a series that is almost a black comedy, focusing not on the war itself but on the private lives of a small group of pilots and officers – the suddenness of her surrender and engagement to Max is presented as the result of a series of ridiculous coincidences and contrivances but also the first cracks in the inhumanity of the aliens.
So SDF Macross ends with Max and Miria happily married, and the suggestion that humanity once again has a kind of hope – it has survived first contact with aliens, forced them into surrender from a position of military inferiority and then quite successfully imprinted its own cultural norms on another species. It is a total triumph of imperialism and the cargo cult dressed up as a heroic war story; scenes of Zentradi in a frenzy for pop music and cheap consumer goods are amusing in quite a cynical way. Macross 7 reintroduces them apparently still in this state – successful officers in the new united human/Zentradi fleet, on a mission to colonise new worlds. Indeed, the happy absurdity of Macross 7, where Basara is able to gatecrash a life-or-death battle for thrills in a stunt plane with nothing but exasperated complaints from the army in response, and a brightly-coloured world of cute alien pets and ridiculous outfits, suggests that there will be more of Miria as a source of comedy.
What instead is presented is a cynical spin on married life; both Max and Miria are married to their jobs – Max as captain of the fleet’s flagship and supreme commander of its forces, and Miria as mayor of one of the city-ships full of colonists accompanying the fleet – and they cannot communicate or live normally because of this. Furthermore, Miria has now become very much more human, but in a less desirable way – she is an overprotective, strict parent who has her daughter Mylene spied on and set up with desirable suitors from the age of 14. Whereas the couple were simple slapstick comedy in the more serious original series, in this lighter story they are now less favourably presented and the humour is more about family life and marriage. Their subplot is a mirror of that in SDF Macross – whereas initially it was about two warring species coming together, now it is about a warring couple reconciling with their child as the mediator.
What is more, both of these plots – and the characters themselves – have enough development, and enough focus, to be the protagonists. They are two ace pilots, one of whom goes into politics and the other into command, get married, raise a family, grow apart and are reconciled. Yet in both series, they remain on the periphery – the real story of SDF Macross is protagonist Hikaru sorting his life out and surviving the war with the Zentradi, while Macross 7 focuses on Basara’s journey. By keeping these interesting characters as side-characters, there is some mystery left in their lives – and they become more convincing because of it. As protagonists, with all the focus on their journey, there would be nothing left unknown. By limiting the viewer’s exposure to them, and retaining some of their role as comedy figures, the development that occurs is made more compelling – the misunderstandings and disagreements become plot devices in their own way. Furthermore, by featuring Mylene as a central character, and having the tensions she faces between loyalty to Basara and loyalty to her parents drive key points of conflict, Max and Miria are still central to the plot.
What is even more interesting about how Macross 7 uses this underlying cynicism in an absurd world is the implied reason for Max and Miria’s transformation; they are presented as being constantly in the spotlight first as the ambassadors for co-operation between human and Zentradi, and subsequently, by the time of Macross 7, the two highest authorities in a colony fleet. It seems entirely natural that faced with this stress, and with the unusual circumstances of their brief courtship, that the marriage would fail – and by the mid-point of Macross 7 they are staying together only out of duty to Mylene and to the colonists.
In conclusion, a real strength of the Macross franchise is its quite cynical view of science-fiction tropes and human relationships; the characters of Max and Miria are shown to be constant outsiders – first the awkward young lovers with the added burden of being ambassadors of a shaky peace, bumbling along in a post-war society, and subsequently a couple in an almost loveless marriage with the expectations of an entire fleet riding on their co-operation. In both cases they are a source of comedy – but similarly in both cases the comedy sits uneasily in relation to the overall tone of the story being told, necessitating their status as peripheral characters.