There was little to say about episode 12 of Macross Delta that had not already been said about previous episodes; it simply reinforced the ideas of Windermere’s perverse ideology and Hayate’s development as a pilot in the wake of Messer’s death. It was ultimately a preparation episode for episode 13, the series’ midway climax – yet unlike the previous such example, the two-parter on Voldor which went some distance to explaining at least part of Windermere’s plan, it offered little to progress the plot. Indeed, even after episode 13’s closure of the mini-arcs created in 12, there are still mostly the same mysteries remaining; Mikumo’s role in the plot (and her apparent centrality to Walkure’s Var-curing power), Windermere’s endgame beyond apparently being able to control the minds of everyone in a space sector (which is a fairly strong position to be in) and the nature of the Sigur Valens and the Protoculture ruins all remain questions to be answered in the series’ upcoming episodes.
What episode 13 thus offered was not a significant progression of the plot, but small personal catharses; in my blog posts about Rahxephon and Eureka Seven I have discussed at length the importance of catharsis in action series. Action series – especially mecha anime – build up rivals and villains to be fought, characters whose innate superiority and talent drives the often inexperienced hero onward. If the youth-focused stories of robot anime can be taken as bildungsroman, of personal journey stories, then these notorious enemy aces and rivals are the milestones of character development; first they beat the hero to show his weakness, then he matches them, then he beats them. The moments of fighting back against the adversary are cathartic for the viewer; they show how far the hero has come, and offer respite from a series’ potential focus on endless defeat. Even if one wants to tell a story about the protagonists on the back foot, there must be some moments of victory to stop it wallowing in cynicism and depression.
This is what episode 13 of Delta offers, and it offers it well. There are two rivalries played out, and both end in a victory of sorts for the heroes. Hayate shoots down Keith in Messer’s plane, avenging his comrade. Ernest, the captain of the Elysion, kills his former protege turned archvillain Gramia, the king of Windermere. There is even a third sort of victory – Walkure successfully overcome Heinz’ Protoculture-empowered song long enough for the people of Ragna to escape. The status quo at the end of the episode is not really a good one for humanity – Windermere control the entire sector, the UNS’ plan to destroy the Protoculture ruins on Ragna in the end empowered Windermere still further and the future is one of promising to return to an occupied world rather than successfully defeating the enemy – yet it is one defined by small victories. The Sigur Valens, Gramia’s unstoppable flagship, is not all that unstoppable. The White Knight has a weakness, and can be downed. The potentially horrifying Var outbreak Heinz’ song causes in conjunction with Protoculture ruins was stopped dead by Freyja’s singing. The key parts of Windermere’s initial invincibility – Var, skilled pilots and (since recent episodes) invincible flagship – have all been damaged, and so can be destroyed.
The fight between Delta Squadron and Keith – for although it is Hayate that ultimately downs him, it is done with the help of his squadron – if anything reinforces Messer’s disdain for duels. Initially this may seem very un-mecha, the idea that hero and villain standing off is not cool. Mecha anime does not often work on “tactical realism” in this vein even when it is making passes as military verisimilitude, because it sells itself on a popular protagonist and a popular antagonist in overpowered machines. This is a key part of merchandising, and the superhero-esque aspect of the genre. Macross has largely avoided this in its history (with Plus, arguably the most “military” in focus, the exception with its focus on three single, overpowered aircraft), since its pilots tend to fly in squadrons of similar aircraft. Even the series’ most notable aces, Max and Milia, both began flying line machines. As a result, there is little to differentiate “named” pilots (the focus characters) from their comrades save skill and perhaps a neat colour scheme. Thus the idea that a skilled pilot in Macross would eschew a one-on-one duel in favour of close-formation squadron actions makes sense within the confines of the fiction, and within the genre more widely. Hayate’s plane is not appreciably better than Mirage’s or Chuck’s – and Keith’s is equally not better than Bogue’s. Because, however, Keith’s aircraft is better than any single member of Delta’s, it would take a level of piloting beyond that which Hayate has to go one-on-one with him. Thus Delta Squadron work together at first, and then it is only once the tables have turned – Keith no longer has Heinz’ song behind him, and Hayate has Freyja’s – there is the expected duel.
In this way the conflict central to Delta is put into interesting clarity. It is arguably a fight between two protagonists; both have their elite “named” squadron, both have their transforming superweapon and both have their singer. The flow of the battle in episode 13 shows this; it is not purely defined by the Macross’ attack, or the singing of either singer, or the fighters in the sky but the tides turn based on how each can work together. And it is in this the main difference shows; Windermere uses singing to attack its opponents, using the Var to render them unable to fight and then smashing them with superior firepower. Walkure uses its singing to simply protect its own forces and – it turns out – empower Hayate. If military force in Macross is based on your combination of songs and guns, songs used to support guns will do better than songs used as just another gun.
This is not to say the episode offers nothing for the plot; a new conspiracy emerges as the UNS’ failed efforts to destroy the Protoculture ruins instead summon some larger complex and it is implied they suspected this would happen, and Gramia’s death is not only catharsis for Ernest (whose relationship with the Windermerean king was a focus of the previous episode) but the creation of a new villain. But ultimately it is a moment of dramatic release; the characters cannot address the conspiracies yet, but it shows they are in a position to begin doing something about it.