A while back I wrote an article about the very interesting character of Miria Jenius in the Macross franchise, and how the focus on her domestic life changes in intent as the meta-narrative progresses. Having now completed watching Macross 7, I feel a companion article on the character of her husband, Max, is in order. While Miria, always the comic figure throughout the series in which she features, tracks the death of the peacetime ideal and the crushing nature of expectations, Max offers a cynical look at the role of heroes in the atypical war stories that define Macross.
When considered from the viewer’s perspective, Max is a character who in most stories would be the protagonist; he is an unassuming outsider who with a bit of luck and a lot of innate skill becomes a war hero, works his way up the ranks to a command role where he pines for the front line and ultimately returns in heroic style for the final battle, in a custom aircraft that outclasses everyone else’s. Yet he is never more than a figure on the sidelines at whose antics the others react – and no-one seems to be able to comprehend how he does so well. His story begins in SDF Macross where, depending on which “version” of the plot is watched, he either encounters the Zentradi ace Miria as she is undercover on the starship Macross itself, or when she attacks his squadron just prior to the final battle.
The latter version of events, from the feature film Do You Remember Love, makes the story of his military progression a more predictable and credible one but his personal life less convincing; he bests an enemy ace in single combat (albeit through the mutual destruction of both parties’ machines), and after crashing on board Miria’s own ship is in the right place at the right time when a peace deal is struck to become a figurehead in his own way. The final battle of Do You Remember Love shows Max flying a Zentradi fighter, the Queadluun, while in SDF Macross it is Miria who ends up among humans and flying one of their own VF1 fighters. However, this completely sidelines his personal progression; no explanation is given as to why, come Macross 7, he is married to Miria since the only clue to anything beyond a professional relationship is a brief scene where they acknowledge each other. On the other hand, in SDF Macross, his military skill is less of a focus but more emphasis is given to how he woos Miria and eventually marries her.
So from this, Max is already a character whose achievements ring hollow to a viewer used to the more grounded aspects of the Macross story (Hikaru’s bad luck and indecision, Roy Fokker’s own ultimate failure) and who is confusing no matter what version of events is followed, and it is this ambiguity that makes his status within the story so interesting; were he the protagonist, there would be no mystery about him and at the same time he would simply be a boring infallible protagonist, but because there is that mystery, there is also doubt about how much of his progress is skill and how much is luck. Macross is always about the eventual success of the underdog, but Max’s progress is so rapid and meteoric that were he anything but a side character whose success provides a comic foil to the ineptitude and misadventure of others, it would be unconvincing. He can only shine in the shadows.
Come Macross 7, Max’s flame has burned so brightly it is now a burden; much as Miria’s comic alien character has become a cynical housewife and overbearing mother, Max’s amiable progress through the ranks like some futuristic Flashman has reached it’s apex; he is captain of a ship and commander of an entire fleet. However, he is still not the main character and still never given an actual chance to shine; the enemy he is pitted against cannot be beaten with regular weapons and so he cannot prevail in a command role, and now he has progressed naturalistically within the military so he cannot fly on the front lines. While he was the ace of SDF Macross, but never the focus of the story or the true hero (he receives minimal screen time after his duel with Miria in Do You Remember Love, effectively making the final battle Hikaru’s time to shine), now he is a more integral figure to the story he is still sidelined because the nature of the setting has changed.
Max is thus still unable to move outside of the periphery because of his luck and skill; everything he earns through these (his family and rank) proves useless and he is now stuck on the bridge of a ship unable to even have a proper family life or the military career he desires. Even his wife gets more chances to pilot – and actively defend the fleet that is supposedly his responsibility. Yet despite this, he is still “the Ace Max Jenius” – but an ace in a war where ace pilots like him are irrelevant. This irrelevance continues throughout the series up to the final battle, where his long-awaited return to piloting sees him fighting an enemy who can out-pilot him and supporting a pilot (in the figure of Basara) who can also outdo his achievements in raw talent. The whole focus of Macross 7 is on how Basara’s thickheaded pacifism and insistance on avoiding combat wins out, and so right from the off Max is a relic; even the comedy episode Fleet of the Strongest Women sees him and Miria, embodiments of the original series, lose while Basara prevails.
To conclude, Max is a great foil for Miria and a memorable figure in Macross 7 because of his irrelevance and her change in personality and between them they show how peripheral characters within a narrative can be more successful and accomplished than the protagonists they follow. His progress throughout the entire meta-narrative is based on a series of lucky breaks, unrecognised skill and conspicuous absence from the depiction of key battles to the viewer, supported by a reputation for being infallible that the viewer never really sees lived up to. It would be too simple, and ultimately unsatisfying, for Max to be a capable protagonist; his likeability and apparent dumb luck would rapidly pall. That he goes from being skilled but underappreciated to burdened by a reputation for success he never visibly lives up to yet personally troubled makes him even more likeable and engaging as a character.