No Messer, You Are The Demons

[gg]_Macross_Delta_-_09_[BD3DC4AE].mkv_snapshot_00.14_[2016.05.31_20.57.03]

I am increasingly of the opinion that Macross Delta is using past franchise entries as a kind of visual language to communicate a first impression of a scene, and then developing the ideas; a visual cue can create contextual (or metatextual) associations in a contextually-aware audience, and then the text itself can build tension through subversion or development of the concepts. For the moment the visual cues are largely those of Macross Plus; I mentioned in my previous article the way Mikumo’s song routines evoked Sharon Apple and Messer’s troubled past was framed in a tamer version of Guld’s flashbacks. This continues into episode 9, a focus episode for Messer which goes more fully both into the mechanism of Var and his issues with piloting.

One may as well begin with the visual framework used here; the episode begins with a flashback to him in a warzone with, bluntly put, blood on his hands. Later on there are scenes of Messer, eyes and veins bulging, in a head-to-head chase against a faster, skilled pilot – while Ghost drones beseige a Macross towering above a city. Is this as simple as being a direct 1:1 visual reference? No. The context is different, the story is different. There is no love triangle being hashed out in the skies by Hayate’s going off to save Freyja while Messer atones for his past crimes against Walkure by fighting Keith. The Macross under siege is not controlled by a killer supercomputer holding Mikumo or Mirage hostage. So to what end do the visual references exist? The answer is to paint a picture of what the viewer might expect Messer’s role in the story to be, and compare it to what is presented elsewhere.

Messer is a reserved, hardline pilot with barely suppressed rage issues who has a troubled relationship with a more carefree subordinate (who even does plane-hand motions). Delta wants you to see him as Guld 2.0, so it can undermine the competence and the anger. Episode 9 explains more of the mechanism of Var; people without “fold receptors” are susceptible to the effects of the illness, and go mad when they hear Heinz’ song. It is described as a heightening of the militaristic, violent impulse (completely the opposite of the effect Minmay’s song has on the warlike Zentradi). Indeed, the series has impressed upon the viewer that almost – if not all of – the notable Var cases are men. We have seen Messer consumed by rage, the Voldoran pilot, nameless grunts and male Zentradi (Meltrandi appearing largely absent from Delta). A disease affecting mostly militaristic men who pilot robots evokes something else to me – the plague that takes centre stage in Shinkon Gattai Godannar, and which is one of the more interesting plot arcs. That series has as its core robots that need loving relationships – no matter what kind (and they are atypically sexualised for the genre, with a classic husband-and-wife joined by very close siblings, a domme/sub dynamic and a homosexual couple) – to function. A late-series development is a disease that affects the male pilots by turning their hotblooded instincts into mad rage, and the way in which Delta is depicting Var is reminiscent of this.

What this episode focuses on is how Messer deals with his status as a time-bomb of illness; he is the character that has been presented as obsessed with not being a liability, and not letting others be one, and is suddenly shown as the biggest liability on the squad. Mirage may have her crises of confidence, and Hayate may be an idiot, but Messer may one day decide to kill his entire squadron – as is shown in a training combat when the Var overcomes him and he eliminates them all with no effort. As a result, when Hayate and Mirage confront him he becomes significantly less sympathetic; the character presented as the hardliner, as the one obsessed with the safety of others, is happy to fight knowing that at any moment he could lose his faculties. It is a frustrating inversion of the cliché of the dutiful, martyred pilot; when he insists that he is training his subordinates to kill him should he “turn” – and that he would “turn” and put them at risk because of his own misplaced sense of duty – it is hard not to be frustrated. At the start of the episode Kaname, the former leader of Walkure whose songs saved Messer initially, says “I’ve lost count of how many times you’ve saved us”, to which he replies “It’s my duty”.

His “duty” is a vast and hypocritical thing; it is a combination of indebtedness to Walkure, a personal rivalry with Keith (based, it seems, on his belief that the rest of Delta Squadron cannot kill him) and a desire to overcome Var and prove it can be suppressed. Indeed, it is shown come the end of the episode that his keeping flying is perceived as stupid by Arad and the captain of the Macross, but permitted because it offers an opportunity to research Var. It is as if – and this is an interesting inversion of the mentor figure – he cannot differentiate between duty and suicidal tendency. A whole mess of personal insecurities define his career – and suddenly the Guld parallels do not feel so unreasonable. Messer may not be as direct a ruiner of one woman’s life as Guld was to Myung, but he is absolutely someone whose repressed issues make him a danger to himself and others, who is pushing himself to the limit to prove something. His lectures to his squadron also thus gain an interesting angle; they are all warnings to not fall into the same self-destructive rut as he is in – he sees it as impossible that he should retire, because his absence (to him) would be more of a risk to the other pilots that his presence.

I mentioned before that I wanted to see the Delta squadron get development to the extent Windermere and the Aerial Knights did; in this look into Messer’s frustrating, hard-to-like mindset they do. He is an interesting and frustrating undermining of the self-sacrificing mentor, someone well aware they are a liability but who will not stop fighting. By all accounts his “noble” behaviour, his attachment to Kaname’s song to keep him sane and keep the “beast” within him suppressed before he hurts someone should paint him as an edgy antihero – but this is Macross, hardly the place for this behaviour. If anything, this episode is setting him up for a fall, which will likely be the act of development the other pilots need.

Advertisements

13 comments

  1. ghostlightning

    Great post. I love how you invoke Macross Plus and how interesting the references and inversions are. I was disgusted with D during the previous 2 episodes due to the cast doing Scooby Doo field work, but now it feels like a proper Macross episode with love triangle hijinks thrown in.

    • r042

      Thanks!

      It’s interesting to me how the show is using references – Messer is setting himself up as someone who can’t wait to be a heroic sacrifice, it almost feels.

    • pzkpfwcrusader

      You know during the halcyon days of Macross Frontier I don’t recall that much outrage when Ozma and Cathy were playing detectives while going on a date. Maybe Grace, Leon, and Roid can form a support group to deal with meddling kids. It wasn’t unprecedented but hey the Maki Maki x Rei Rei folks got what they wanted.

      • ghostlightning

        It’s not, but Cathy and Ozma’s case feels different. It feels organic. And they weren’t meddling kids (they were meddlesome adults). I think that counts lol.

        • PzKpfwCrusader

          But Ozma is not an adult…

          Cathy is well…at whatever age that doesn’t give EX-Gear laps.

          Still I agree on the point that it’s not organic, but I think that given no Yoko Kanno they are going for musical quantity.

  2. Felipe

    Hi. I’ve just discovered your blog and I’m really enjoying your Delta posts (I’m a big Macross fan). Good work and keep them coming!

  3. pzkpfwcrusader

    Excellent post. Macross likes to be self referential to the point of excess but I do like how they are bringing the love for Macros Plus.

    The one thing I disagree with though is that given that the NUNS/NUG troops were specifically targeted by Windemere it’s kind of a stretch to paint it as some moral failing. Given that ~60% of cases were military and ~40% civilian it’s entirely possible that Var alters neutral patterns to allow the aggression to come forth regardless of the victim’s general disposition. Given how Windemere exerts near total control in most recent cases, the victim’s wants don’t enter into it.

    I know that Messer is the most loathed Delta pilot amongst fans, but every military and DT instructor I’ve had takes a similar tack for teaching. Just because Messer has next to no affection for Hayate doesn’t mean he’s a jerk ass 24/7. Whether or not Messer wants to be dueling Keith is immaterial because Keith had already decided to Arch him anyways. Other than Arad there’s little right now to suggest that Chuck, Mirage, or Hayate can take on Keith. More over right now it’s 6 vs. 5, it’s going to get worse if it’s 6 vs. 4.

    I am not sure sitting this one out is even feasible. Windermere wants to take it’s war all the way to Earth so it’s not like he can hide forever given that Heinz’s song reaches across time and space. Up until now Messer has been able to function and it made sense to stay near Walkure if Kaname is the only one who can keep him in check until there is a cure. Messer had no idea that his symptoms would kick in without the Song of the Wind just like everyone else. Even if he gave up flying he’s still a danger to others given how Windemere likes to use it’s puppets.

    Barring suicide or indefinite solitary detention with heavy security there’s no escape. Right now all we know is that he feels indebted, and I don’t think there’s enough to suggest that Messer is trying to prove anything. There’s no cure, and as long as Kaname lives he has hope. During the fire brigade concert phase it never was an issue, so defending his savoir was a low risk venture. He’s only recently become a liability at a time when the nature of Var is only starting to come to light.

    Lastly given how once upon a time we had some blow hard using a guitar for flight controls singing to space whales well… I think it’s a losing proposition to declare what is and is not permissible in Macross. Kawamori is driving the bus, all we can do is hold on for the ride even if we go careening off a cliff.

    • r042

      All fair points – not having had the experience of military training I can’t talk authoritatively save from a critical perspective of the military SF genre, so a different perspective is welcome!

  4. megaroad1

    Good read.
    I’m looking forward to this “fall” of Messer’s. The series desperately needs the dogfights between Walkure and the Knights to be kicked up a dramatic notch.
    I find the potential of a triangle between Kaname, Messer and Arad pretty compelling. I think Frontier missed a chance when it didn’t explore and develop the Ozma, Cathy and Leon triangle more.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s