As with almost all Macross Delta episodes the war plot and the character journey plot proceed with little interaction; they intersect when the war affects the characters, when the Aerial Knights do their thing and Walkure and Chaos Ragna have to fight them. There is not so much the sense of constant harassment and open war that one gets in, say, SDF Macross; Windermere has the upper hand, and remains on its fortified homeworld sending out raids to strengthen its position and challenge its enemies. This is, I think, something that makes the series good. It gives the series time to breathe, to allow for personal moments with an implied pressure but without the feeling that any diversion from the main conflict is frivolous or an impossibility.
By contrast consider how SDF Macross covered similar ground; the focus was on the civilians aboard the ship trying to carve out normality in a strange, stressful situation – being united by the frivolities of daily life like movies and pop music as much as those things would confound their enemies. Frontier attempted similar, with the constant harassment of the Vajra (lured, it transpired, in part by Ranka’s presence). Delta‘s ship has not really left the planet on which it is docked; its pilots and idols are a mostly reactive force sent out to launch tactical actions rather than strategic ones, against a foe with the strategic advantage. As a result the “fortified,” protected planet can proceed relatively normally – and there can be a normal, human response to Messer’s death. The main focus of the episode is not on the further insights into Windermere’s endgame that the viewer is given, but on the series of stages of coming to terms with the loss of a comrade that Hayate goes through.
The episode begins with a military funeral, and all involved saluting the loss of a comrade and good pilot. Then it proceeds into the formalities of a death in the squadron – the harsh numbers, the fact that Messer accounted for “37%” of the squadron’s combat strength and a replacement will need to be brought in. In these scenes one can perhaps turn to Wolfe, the harsh real-world exploder – in my mind – of the Macross ideal; “There are no accidents and no fatal flaws in the machines; there are only pilots with the wrong stuff.” Wolfe expounds upon the circular logic of pilots rationalising the loss of a comrade; blame is apportioned between so many people before landing, in part, on the pilot for not simply being better. One sees something of this in Delta; Chaos Ragna are incredulous at Keith’s marksmanship, his ability to snipe the pilot of a moving plane so accurately, and in turn the idea that Messer, the best of them, should be replaced because they themselves are not good enough without him is a harsh truth. Hayate – as he confesses come the end of the episode – is scared. The series of events he goes through turn that fear into determination to prove he has the right stuff.
What is interesting and refreshing is that this is not couched in the language of revenge; it is not a desire to go out and kill Keith and put right the wrong. It is a determination to be as good as Messer was, to fill the gap in Delta Squadron and prove oneself as a pilot. The lesson about rivalries, about duels, has been learned. Hayate has spent the first part of this series looking for direction and finding it, in a fashion, in military service. He has learned to obey orders, take criticism, to kill – and now how to mourn a lost comrade. Messer had an arguably unsentimental death, one that reinforced the powerlessness of the pilots in the face of a superior foe – the best of Delta was killed by someone simply better. As a result the lesson is as much that this war is one that humanity is close to losing as anything else.
The end of the episode is the point where these emotional threads come together; there have been all the stages of accepting a death, the highly formal, the cold and statistical and finally the departure from militarism, the cultural funeral. Here is the welcome departure from bravado and posturing and matters of the unstoppable Windermeran fleet and Keith, the unstoppable pilot. Here is Messer the person laid to rest; inextricably linked to Messer the ace pilot, but reframed as a friend and comrade rather than 37% of Delta Squadron’s strength. The future culture’s fictional religion is nothing interesting or new in its cultural pastiche, but that is not the significant part; what matters is that the characters are reminded of the “real” Messer, the man kept secret behind his persona. This is cliché stuff, I think, but it is the sort of sweet cliché that feels very Macross; his legacy is someone who wanted to protect and nurture his subordinates as pilots, but actively avoided affection because he knew of his illness and wanted them to be able to do what had to be done should he need to die.
So that is the main plot of the episode; both a reminder that the war is not close to being won, but also that the characters have a chance to breathe, to mourn and to develop. I have mentioned before that Delta is implying enough interesting things to mean its cleaving closely to tradition and cliché is forgiveable; it needs the familiar, cozy foundation to play with expectations elsewhere, primarily in Windermere. I think it almost fair to say that the human forces in Delta, and Macross more widely, are invariably tested in their blind confidence and comfort by enemies that do not play by the rules – and Windermere’s bizarre logic is just one example.
They want to annihilate humanity for apparently causing the large hole in their planet, but at the same time subjugate all the other species in Brisingr to show that they are truly the successors to and the superior of the Protoculture. Their use of precursor race technology – now embodied in the warship Sigur Valens – is a level of hubris beyond simply brutishly using it without understanding. They are methodically researching it, seeing it as an almost divinely given gift to use to its fullest extent. It feels to me an extension of – and an inversion of – the usual idea of digging too greedily and too deep, or playing with forces they do not understand. They do not have long to live, and want to conquer as efficiently as possible – so they dedicate their entire culture to the meticulous excavation of and ruthless use of Protoculture technology. It is self-destructive not because, apparently, they are mucking about (like the Solo Ship’s crew throwing the Ideon at problems) but because they are so utilitarian in their use of it they will happily kill Heinz to get the most from his singing.