One of the defining features of SDF Macross was not just that humanity was on the back foot militarily, but that it was playing with technology it did not understand and was as a result barely able to survive in space, let alone with constant enemy pursuit. This has been a theme that has received steadily less focus as the franchise progresses, and with good narrative reason; Macross as a long-form entity has been about humanity’s evolution from dabbler in space to colonising power, and about how lessons learned in one adventure are rarely applicable to subsequent encounters. It would not make sense, as human technology has gone from a retrofitted alien artefact to a slickly-manufactured fleet of super-technology ships, for there to be the same lack of understanding of how a Macross ship functions.
I do not believe it is unfair to say SDF Macross owes a debt to Space Battleship Yamato in its handling of a single ship versus an enemy armada. But, in as much as one can really discuss deconstruction and subversion within a genre of anime still very much in its infancy, Macross ran with Yamato‘s ideas in a more extreme and, if not realistic, dramatic direction. Macross is not realistic. But it does expound upon to more credible extremes the difficulties of maintaining a solo ship against overwhelming odds with no opportunity to resupply. As the Macross brings its civilians with it – and its themes are about peace and understanding – it has episodes focusing on supply shortages, the need to maintain a community etcetera. In Minmay and Kaifun (as loathsome and awkwardly written a character as he is) it provides a civilian perspective. It even – in service to the greater plot – reminds the audience how popular culture can help maintain morale in times of stress.
So how does this apply to Macross Delta? After all, while prior Macross series have had the pursuit element – with the Protodevlin chasing the 7 fleet, and the Vajra attacking the Frontier fleet, Delta has spent most of its time on planet Ragna with Chaos and Walkure striking out unsuccessfully against an enemy with all the advantages. It has taken half the series for the ship to take flight, and now there is the uncertainty, the technical difficulties and there is a justifiable reason for episode 14, which is an extended mixture of these scenes in SDF Macross and Do You Remember Love. The Elysion and the Ragnan fleet have had to perform an emergency launch as all hell breaks loose; the NUNS set off, effectively, a nuclear bomb underwater in a planet whose main population centres were coastal. Windermere had arrived with an unstoppable fleet and a mind-control device that could cause chaos among the population. A war which had been being slowly lost was very suddenly ended and so a sudden escape – which, as Makina and Reina identify, left the fleet damaged – is logical. Thus there can be the bottle episode that there was.
As an episode it was unremarkable in the grand scheme of space opera plots – the heroes get stuck somewhere inconvenient and ship is falling apart episodes are used in similarly-set shows from Yamato through to Battlestar Galactica – but was a refreshing change in action in a series that has been, if one is bluntly critical, almost circularly low-stakes. Windermere have been a credible threat but one with minimal force projection prior to the Sigur Valens’ launch, and at the same time the Elysion on its own is simultaneously the only ship to know how to circumvent Windermere’s forces and yet inadequate at fighting. I personally liked the cat-and-mouse nature of this “early war” scenario; Windermere’s steady escalation of the conflict and Chaos’ attempts to step up its own game made for an interesting character development arc for the inexperienced Hayate and Mirage, and also provided an arc of decline for Messer; he began as being depicted as good, and the drama came when it was revealed he was not good enough.
Now though Windermere has played its hand and the Elysion took off amidst a number of homages. The episode ended with a Macross ship’s transformation being used to perform a quick fix – similar to how the SDF-1 transformed to get its main gun back online. It had scenes with gravity failures and the boy and girl isolated in a damaged part of the ship (evoking both Hikaru and Minmay in Do You Remember Love but also a later episode of SDF where Hikaru and Misa are isolated when the ship transforms.) It was, ultimately, a feelgood episode; Windermere were not a threat (although a little was learned about them as the viewer sees them handing out the mind-controlling water and apples to survivors of the battle for Ragna, and later on the fallout from the king’s death was briefly covered) and although the ship was collapsing and running out of air it was all fixed at the last moment and there was time for some character comedy with Hayate and Mirage (in a scene incredibly reminiscent of Hikaru and Minmay at the end of the similar sequence in Do You Remember Love). It gave Walkure a chance to be the voice of reason and calm – Mikumo leading a singalong to maintain calm aboard the island ship, and Makina and Reina being the technical officers. Indeed, Makina and Reina are among the most interesting characters in Walkure; there is a lot to like about a couple who together are capable of helping keep a starship running and can perform electronic warfare for Chaos.
Before everything goes wrong there is a chance for a private conversation between Hayate, Mirage and Freyja which is itself interesting; Hayate talks a little about his father, who was apparently a pilot whose constant travelling gave him his wanderlust. This contextualises, in a way, his refreshingly straightforward approach to the military. He is from a military family, has grown up with the associated home environment, and so he has a fairly carefree and pragmatic approach to service. This, crucially, is not coldness or cruelty; he is still human, but he appreciates what must be done at times even if it is not pleasant. However, while this episode had a nice moment of development for Hayate it almost came at the expense of Mirage; she has yet to really move beyond “nervous and living in her family’s shadow” and her interactions with Hayate during this episode, while amusing, were reductive and still painted her as a figure of comic ineptitude and self-consciousness.
It is lazy more than anything – Mirage is allowed to develop as long as she is being led by someone else, and has yet to have really had an individual moment of development. It is all about her relationship with Hayate, her being put as Messer’s successor, and so on. It is apparently not the case that Delta is opposed to letting its women have their own development; while one aspect of Freyja’s journey is her feelings for Hayate, it is as much her Windermerean past and her showbusiness journey (the latter being a very women-centric affair, as Walkure is an all-female group). On the other hand Mirage interacts with a male-dominated military, and her personal journey by definition is based around interactions with men – yet the feeling, to me, is that she is being shown to be powerless without someone – Hayate, Arad, Chuck or the late Messer – to lead.