Five episodes into Macross Delta and I still have some reservations about its protagonist, but these are being challenged continually; my distaste is currently that he remains a very arrogant and almost petulant figure – as shown in his tirade to end episode 5, an almost Tomino-esque nonsense about how he wants to singlehandedly end the war against Windermere to once again be free to do as he pleases. The tone of it annoyed me, but in consideration it revealed less of a problem with Hayate himself (who excels as a character earlier in the episode) but with the whole story of Chaos and the Delta Squadron. Macross Delta has yet to really provide much of a good reason to relate to Delta Squadron as the military focus characters beyond they are the ones the camera focuses on.
This is not to say I would particularly want Delta to be something it is not, an in-depth scrutiny of military life, or some gritty war story about fighter-pilots (although Hayate’s carefreeness still evokes Macross Plus, the franchise’s purest – and perhaps most atypical – fighter jock melodrama, in a way I do not feel is fully earned). Delta, and much of Macross in general, is not a story about the day to day prosecution of a war. It is a story about the fighting that must be done until someone smarter or at the very least different can end it. A lot of the time the day-to-day military stuff – from the protagonist’s perspective – is a source of comedy and character drama, right from the very first series; Hikaru’s piloting is always second-fiddle to Roy Fokker and Max Jenius. Gamlin is a memorable character in Macross 7 because he is the serious foil to Basara (and who comes good in the end as a generally genial and noble character).
Where I feel Delta is failing is that the focal characters of Delta Squadron are not memorable in this way. There is Mirage, who admittedly does get a good scene this episode, and there is the even more straight-laced, cynical ace pilot whose job seems to be to torment Hayate and present the military as intractable with constant reminders of the seriousness of war. There are numerous problems here; firstly it is presenting a tediously cynical depiction of training in order to force drama between Hayate and Chaos, with methods of teaching that seem to be fictional conceits to make Hayate more of an idiot and present the military as an unfriendly, morale-free void. This obsession with being “serious” is a lazy trick of mecha anime more widely, and as a result feels very un-Macross. It is the larger-than-life figures, like the engineers, or the highly amusing Zentradi captain, who drive the most interesting lines of the military drama. Even SDF Macross managed to quite nicely mix the hardline (in the form of Misa) and the carefree (via Roy) in a development arc for Hikaru that had some moments of real pathos, particularly in the pineapple salad scene. What all this adds up to is the realisation that my annoyance at Hayate’s “I hate you soldiers”-esque rant at the end of episode 5 was not so much annoyance at Hayate but annoyance at the lazy writing of Delta Squadron that necessitated it.
So what did the episode do right? Two things. Firstly the scene between Freyja, Mirage and Hayate, and secondly the scenes on Windermere and their response among the crew of the Macross. The former sequence had Freyja and Hayate flee the press, eager to scapegoat Freyja as a Windermere spy, and discuss frankly their positions in this new and strange world. Mirage intervened, leaning on her own heritage as the granddaughter of Max Jenius to try and be the voice of reason. It was an almost metatextual dialogue that drove home both the series continuity and the predictions of the viewers; here we have a Macross story with a runaway “enemy” alien (or alien-like being) wanting to use her “powers” for good. Milia is to Ishtar is to Sivil is to Ranka is to Freyja, by this metric. Here we have the pilot boy who loves the sky and loves – in some indecisive way – the idol and the ace. Hikaru is to Isamu is to Alto is to Hayate. Hayate shuts this line of thought down. Max and Milia were the propaganda-figures, the war-winners, the celebrity ambassadors. There are associations there Mirage misses. Chiefly, they were not “told” to become the embodiment of culture. Hayate does not want Freyja used as a Milia for Windermere. This whole exchange is almost a rejection of heroism – in the sense of celebrity – in place of duty. It recontextualises Hayate’s tirade; he is not just, one can presume, moaning about his having to obey rules. He will serve so that the war can end, and that will be that. Freyja will sing as part of Walkure for reasons beyond being the pet Windermerean of the human fleet.
Just as interesting is what is learned about Windermere itself; it is a “failure” of the spread of “culture.” Its casus belli is the belief that its people have been hard done by by the NUNS treaties of integration. It is presented from the start as an isolationist state, fiercely opposed to cultural imperialism and fiercely protective of its traditions. As an aside, there are real parallels to Super Dimension Century Orguss in the Windermereans. Orguss had a race, the Emarns, who (like the Windermereans) had a form of tentacles, very short lifespans and a society wary of outsiders. This on its own would be an inconclusive space-opera coincidence, but Delta goes on to talk about a war against Windermere in the past resulting in the detonation of a dimensional bomb which sealed the planet away, encouraging its isolation. Orguss begins with the detonation of a dimesional bomb, bringing about the strange world of Emarn, Chiram and Mu.
Returning to the main point, the new war with Windermere is absolutely addressing my disquiet with the premise of Macross head-on – the subtle difference between a peaceful solution and cultural imperialism. The concern of the “enemy” is that their planet was victim to a human expansion that has lost its way and seeks to use “inclusion” and multiculturalism as a form of soft imperialism; what matters is accepting the export of “culture” more than anything. In response, they wage war with the same weapons as the “heroes” – they have a singer who can cause cultural changes with his song, they have heroic ace pilots (who are at this point given more, albeit superficial, characterisation and relatability than most of the heroes) and they have a just (or so it seems) reason to fight. This is a war of equals on every term; it is not one side having music plus guns and the other only having guns, it is both sides having music, guns and a desire to integrate others. It becomes even more interesting when it is revealed that while Windermere can control Var outbreaks with growing efficiency – subverting armies with song – they are not the only force causing them. It is being built up that the song controlling the Var is some kind of cultural leveller.
Delta is a show which is subtly clever behind its glitz and metatextuality. It is hinting at things and then questioning them – a discussion which does not simply venerate Max and Milia as the bringers of peace to be emulated, but which questions the cult around them, was excellent to me as a Macross fan not just because it was questioning franchise received wisdom (because Macross 7 had whole episodes on the breakdown of the Jenius Dream) but because it was using that to question to hero’s duty in robot anime in a way which military stuffed-shirts and petulant youths did not. The more one reads into Windermere’s motivations, the more they seem to address the concerns one might have with a superficial reading of what Macross stands for.