The thing I most liked about Macross Delta 18’s role in the main plot was that it continued the idea that Windermere will be beaten via empirical investigation of their methods and weapons; while the series’ action is fantastical and supernatural the Macross setting is one where this absurdity is measurable and provable by experiment. After the in-setting events of Macross 7 and the (more relevant) findings in Macross Zero, the idea that the Protoculture’s greatest weapon is probably song-based is not unreasonable at all. There is not the need for a lengthy period of trying to find an explanation that is not song works, because not only is singing proven effective against the Var within the events of Delta from the off, Delta is set so far into the Macross timeline that Nekki Basara has become a legend (admittedly Delta has not directly cited Fire Bomber outside of Remember 16 playing at Messer’s funeral, but Walkure are a competent Jamming Birds and in the previous series chronologically, Frontier, characters were huge Fire Bomber fans).
So the characters inhabit a world where the response to a strange song-based weapon is “try singing it at” more than “try shooting it” (although the UNS’ plan to blow up the ruins on Ragna was simultaneously logical given what was known about the sector-wide ruin network, and absurdly callous given the people living there), so it makes sense within the absurd Macross logic that the idols are sent to Voldor to see what happens. What does happen is quite unusual. Both Walkure and Heinz end up singing, and the effects cause some kind of ageing or decay to Windermereans and some kind of trance for Hayate. Mikumo reaches out to Heinz via song (keeping with her Sharon Apple-esque appearances as giant mind-controlling images of women), and causes a sympathetic reaction with the Sigur Valens’ own protoculture amplifier. At the same time, Freyja (with visuals highly reminiscent of the end fight from Macross Frontier) finds her singing puts Hayate in a trance of combat prowess, a kind of benevolent Var where he is so in sync with a Windermerean singer that he is blinded by combat.
This in itself is interesting; the Var has been seen to make people fight violently and require determination to suppress; Messer’s fate was a kind of fight to retain sanity as he flew. It creates self-destructive, riotous outbreaks of violence – the very opposite of the state Hayate is put in by Freyja’s song. So, it is not unreasonable to consider a theory that the Freyja effect and Var are opposite sides of a Protoculture control “coin” – it can “buff” a soldier to fight amazingly, or cause widespread chaos, or even simply control entire armies once the whole network is up. It has been taken for granted by me that Windermere has researched and exploited the Var as a weapon (as dishonourable as it seems to some of the Knights) but the theory that they have either missed or ignored its full potential because it does not suit their goal of galactic subjugation is not one that the series had hinted at directly. Obviously from a metafictional perspective it is natural – the evil empire believes it fully understands the alien power it is toying with, but has overlooked some huge flaw in their plan and this is their undoing – but I will credit Delta for raising the spectre of that cliché at a dramatically appropriate moment. Developing this idea, the episode also touches on Mikumo’s inscrutable past; she seemingly has been experimented on, or created in a lab (which would explain her apparently supernatural abilities and sensitivity to Protoculture artefacts) – and she, in a lull in the concert, invokes Protoculture language. Again Delta rather feels like a hybrid of Macross 2 and 7; the empirical, systemic exploitation of the song effect and the gutsy, instinctual passion of pop stars.
That is one side of the episode, mixing mysticism, idols and galactic conquest; the other is a short scene that gives the viewer, arguably, what they want from a robot show. Hayate meets Cassim, one of the Aerial Knights, after he has run into Freyja on Voldor. Cassim and Freyja are talking, apparently perfectly civilly, because they lived close by to each other on Windermere. It is a simple reminder of two things at first – Freyja still has (naturally) memories of her home, and Windermere is an enemy faction with its own culture and national identity. That two Windermere nationals should talk about their local cuisine and their childhood friends is a stock but nicely executed human moment, and once Hayate is brought into the picture – initially hostile but calmed down forcibly by Cassim – he is given his humanised, noble ace as a counterpart. This is absolutely stock-in-trade for the genre. Cassim, the older, wiser officer disliked by his more blindly nationalistic subordinates is the series’ Ramba Ral or Kelly Layzner in a sense; paternal, dutiful etcetera. He meets the naïve boy who is learning the trade of war, they share stories and then return to duty probably to fight. Delta handles it a little more adroitly; Cassim is met having just been apparently sent away from the knights by Bogue for being insufficiently passionate, and shows a love of Windermere that is not a love of mind-controlling Voldorans or exploiting a small boy. Hayate has his own baggage, knowing his father was responsible for annoying the Windermereans and giving them a new casus belli. But as they talk there is an adeptly-presented moment of camaraderie that has been lacking from the series’ previous pilot interactions.
The White Knight fought Messer and Hayate, but never really engaged with them as a person; he was an enemy to beat. This set him apart from a character like Char, whose rivalry is one built on personality as well as skill. Similarly Messer’s opposition to noble one-on-one duels meant there was no time for a brotherhood in arms to build, and his end was a pure test of military skill leading to a cold-blooded execution. That Cassim has reached out to Hayate, and shared some of his personal reasons for acting as he does (“our lives are too short to walk alongisde Earthlings”), is the sort of expected space-opera or mecha characterisation that has been largely absent from Delta but is pleasantly welcome – a familiar genre touchstone in an over-the-top series.