Episode 2 of Macross Delta built on some of the ideas in episode 1 in a way that somewhat allayed my potential concerns about the direction of the series; I initially was worried that its depiction of a take on the Macross formula based on cultural industries being intertwined with military force would go unchallenged, or otherwise not be shown as fundamentally different to the series’ core conflict. In a comment on my previous article, Macross fan @ghostlightning pointed out I neglected to mention one of Delta’s strongest franchise homages – the Jamming Birds from Macross 7, an idol group created by and funded by the military to imitate the successful use of music by the resolutely anti-establishment rock band Fire Bomber. At the time of writing I had not thought of a good way of tying this into the article I wrote but now I see that there is an undeniable point of comparison.
The Jamming Birds are presented as a joke in-series; their music is bad, they cannot handle the stress of performing in a warzone and they are presented as a cynical manufactured rival (for Macross 7 is a struggling band narrative in as much as it is anything else). They are there to show it is not simply “singing” that matters, it is having the right attitude, the right spirit – and it is implied by their being contrasted with Basara and his band that it is an anti-establishment attitude, a bloody-minded determination to carry on no matter what, that helps. The establishment, the olds, don’t “get” pop music – which absolutely ties in, in a way, with the original idea of “culture” and cultural shift in SDF Macross. A whole alien race undergoes its rebellious teen phase as soon as it discovers music its “parents” don’t like. Put this way the cynical reading I alluded to in my previous article – of the “conversion” of the Zentradi as cultural imperialism, of soft power backed with weapons of mass destruction used to defang a culture that does not conform – is flipped on its head. The Zentradi society is wholly Establishment, it is a culture bred to obey rules, fight dissent and perpetuate literally discriminatory traditions. It takes pop music – the thing which social commenters have linked to social laxity time and again – to make the ordinary people kick out against their leaders and rebel by questioning rules. Put this way, Minmay is not a weapon but simply someone in the right place at the right time to start a social movement in a society that is learning how to rebel.
How, then, does this tie in to Delta? In Delta, Walkure is not a joke like its version in 7 and it is not an inefficient product of a failing military as it is in Macross II. It is a ruthlessly competitive, highly desirable pop product with a proven track record in saving lives bloodlessly. And yet at the same time, as Freyja’s “audition” for Walkure shows, it is a military operation through and through; it is not enough to go through the usual idol audition process (which on its own is stressful enough to tell stories such as The Idolmaster etcetera) to be in Walkure, one must be able to do all of that and face down alien and human warriors and insurgents, and to maintain the pop princess image in a warzone. The audition scenes were a very nice piece of contextual worldbuilding in this fashion; if one is to read Delta as the culmination of in-setting understanding of how the Macross world works, then any organisation like Walkure would have learned from the failures of the past (played for humour in the series) and created the most efficient process possible. Freyja’s final test is to see if she can sing in a surprise simulated Var attack – it is not enough to simply have stage talent because the setting has learned that simply singing on a stage is no longer enough. Yet the previous auditions have been overseen by a huge Zentradi officer who tries to act “normally” but still scares the applicants. The military is always watching, always present.
My other concern was to do with the presentation of the military as a social force and again Delta uses contextual clues in its second episode to challenge what in the first episode was a slickly produced, desirable spectacle. Hayate saw Walkure and the Delta Squadron working together to save the day, looking their best, being unstoppable. Now he is behind the scenes there and the visual cues are slightly different. A Macross battleship hovers over a paradise planet in a visual echo of Macross City from Plus or the end of Do You Remember Love – but it is an almost oppressive presence, a huge warship floating over everyone’s lives to which the idol applicants have to ascend to become part of Walkure. It might be there for protection but the visual imagery could as easily say blockade or invasion force. The military has rules and regulations, which Hayate’s easygoing life sets him against; his quirky heroism from episode 1 raises eyebrows elsewhere. This part is, of course, stock-in-trade for the mecha genre but it is dressed up in effective visual language. He gets his “talk” about what is means to be a soldier while standing on the edge of a flight deck high above the planet’s surface. He shows off his free-spiritedness and bravery by fooling around over a deadly drop. He imitates the mannerisms of Isamu Dyson, the Chuck Yeager-esque hero of Macross Plus, and angers Mirage with his perceived meddling and laid-backness.
It is this aspect of Delta – the fact it is showing off a wider variety of locales and using visual cues to show how the alien-human alliance that rules space presents itself – that very much allays my concerns. The visual cues of underlying sinister motives are there, and offset by new “outsider” attitudes. Freyja is an alien joining the idol group, and the same kind of alien as the Windermere Knights who attacked Walkure; their culture is alluded to as one fiercely resistant to change and resentful of cultural imperialism to the point where they have attempted to ban it. It is an inversion of the cultural exportation theme; Freyja is rebelling against Windermere and exporting culture back there with her own hands. It remains to be seen whether Hayate’s future as a pilot will go in any interesting direction (for if his love-hate relationship with Mirage proceeds unremarkably it will be another diverting but unambitious story of the quirky guy helping the stuck-up girl come out of her shell), but the seeds are definitely laid for a story that is challenging the spectacle it opened with.