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.