The Power of Song – Wish Fulfillment in Episode 5 of Macross Frontier

The climax of the scene – Ranka’s song has the Zentradi crowding to see what the fuss is about.

The defining moment of SDF Macross, and even more explicitly its film version Do You Remember Love is the moment where, on hearing music for the first time, the war-hungry Zentradi stop and listen. It marks the point in both stories where the narrative’s course changes and mankind stands a chance of winning. I mentioned in my article on The Wings of Goodbye how this is certainly a problematically imperialist kind of victory – one based on destruction of a way of life in favour of elevating the literal savage – but nevertheless, it has a certain power in how it is depicted and the juxtaposition in Do You Remember Love of utter discord in the enemy ranks as they are touched by the power of what the characters call “just a love song” is a great scene.

The scene is evoked in the sequel series Macross Frontier, and developed upon; no longer is singing a way of surviving as it was in Do You Remember Love, but it is back to how it “should be” – a way of relaxing, and of bringing people together in appreciation of art. The scene linked above forms the climax of episode 5, and is an interesting continuation of the defining moments of the original story. Central character Ranka, at this point in the story secondary in influence and estimation to the superstar pop idol Sheryl, decides to take her chances and sing her heart out in public. What follows is two minutes of pure wish fulfillment, absolute overblown idealism that nevertheless calls back to mind the dramatic climaxes mentioned above.

It proceeds in the usual idealised fame-fantasy fashion; Ranka begins to sing, and passers-by are so moved by her hitherto unnoticed talent they cannot help but stop and listen, and then join in themselves. It is clearly leading into a rags-to-riches story of the girl with no apparent future being picked up by being in the right place at the right time, but nevertheless the scene works. The gradual building of the music, notably one of Sheryl’s songs introduced earlier in the series, is a simple shorthand for showing the growing audience Ranka is getting and as the scene cuts to the protagonists looking on in awe what is set to happen is inevitable. The scene embodies the typical ideal of the young girl looking for fame – a chance to be heard by the right people, to for one moment share the glory that an idol enjoys. It even transcends the usual fantasy; Ranka already has an adoring audience and so when the scene shifts to an almost dreamlike, contextless starscape (and even when it simply cuts to a wide-angle shot of the starship she is currently travelling on) what is being suggested is that her fame is set to transcend simple popularity and work on a more universal level (this turns out to be quite true as the plot develops, and a mysterious cut to a dormant alien awakening foreshadows this development).

What makes this interesting though is it is not simply wish-fulfillment on a general, viewer-fantasy level – while it is a simple depiction of a commonly held dream for stardom coming true, it has a greater significance when considered in the context of its setting. A key part of the Macross franchise are the tight links between series that are always brought to the forefront, and the importance placed on continuity (even if this continuity is intentionally obscure). It is particularly notable that Ranka’s adoring fans here are Zentradi – the same warlike race that the pacification and suppression of which formed the crux of the original series’ plot. Again, the singing of a down-on-their-luck starlet causes them to stop and reconsider – in the original, it was Lynn Minmay who turned a potential massacre into a surgical strike to save the human race by singing. Now Ranka has no need to make the aliens drop their weapons or turn on their own kind – instead she simply has to make them pick up instruments themselves and join in creating music. In this way, the scene becomes in-setting fantasy – for the duration of that song, Ranka has become the Minmay of her generation, a solo singer in the midst of the Zentradi making them stop and listen.

By evoking the original story so strongly, this scene thus becomes more than a simple piece of cliched fantasy for the viewer – or rather the nature of the fantasy has changed. It still works as the usual Cinderella story, since that is a universal dream that anyone aspiring to success in any medium has. But it is the context, and the nature of the audience (and even the use of a completely contextless dream-sequence of Ranka set against space itself) that takes the scene above this. In the Macross setting anyone with a little luck can be a musical superstar; true worth as a singer is rated on how non-humans react to your song. The audience at Sheryl’s concerts earlier in the series were suggested to be humans, within the human-crewed main colony ship. Ranka sings to the alien, and touches them in the same way. By Macross standards, this makes her the superior singer. The fame-fantasy has become mixed with the desire to reach out and affect an entire species on a level beyond aesthetic appreciation (picking up, as I have said, some problematic ideas about the role of culture in conquest).

In conclusion, this scene requires foreknowledge of previous Macross series to be anything more than a simple piece of heartwarming cliché set to the tune of a solid piece of pop. However, in a franchise heavily based on this continuity, and ideas of how themes can be explored in different ways by placing different focuses on them, this use of a new context for an old story becomes interesting. The scene ends with one of the Zentradi choking out what for much of SDF Macross was their trademark epithet when faced with inscrutable human customs – deculture – now become an expression of joy rather than revulsion. That song still has the power to get once-powerful aliens to drop tools (be they guns or farming implements) and stand rapt to listen brings the Macross ideal full circle and sets up the future plot developments of the series implicitly.

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