While Macross Delta episode 19 provides numerous answers to the series’ mysteries, it does so in the least interesting way possible; an effective slideshow of revelations divided between Berger talking to Chaos and Roid talking to Keith. This technique of combining both the heroes and villains discussing what they know, and what they think they know, can work; one of the best episodes of Eureka Seven is an early one, just after a significant plot twist, where half the episode is the protagonist coming to terms with events and half is one of the junior lackeys of the villain trying to form a report to his superiors about the same events. That is an interesting episode not because it is expository, but because it provides two distinct takes on a set of events in a deeply personal way that both teach the viewer about the personalities of the speakers and how the different factions perceive their standing.
It is unfair to call Delta 19 a recap episode; in many ways it is the opposite of one, trying to recontextualise not only Delta but the entire Macross franchise based on new and untested theories. These theories are put forward both by Berger at Epsilon and Roid at Windermere – implying either that both parties have drawn the same conclusions, or one is feeding information to the other. As Epsilon has hitherto been portrayed as some kind of spiderlike organisation playing all factions, the latter seems logical and yet it is that that makes the episode so unremarkable and uninteresting. Seeing how two factions with diametrically opposed aims both interpret and work off the same propaganda (for it is difficult to believe Epsilon are offering an unedited version of the truth if they have a financial stake in the war) would be interesting. In the Eureka Seven example, seeing how Dominic tries to spin events in a way that suits the Federation’s aims, while the Gekkostate are trying to understand them makes the nature of the conflict – fear versus investigation – clear. In Delta one simply sees one version of events presented effectively via Powerpoint, with the implication that this information has been informing the events that have already been seen. Indeed, Berger, with his informative slideshow, is the expository deus ex machina, an apparently omniscient figure who appears mostly unchallenged and presents information that can be implied to be biased but is still very empirically delivered.
So what is on offer? Berger’s theory is a complete redefinition of Macross that undermines – if it is taken as a reasonable reading of the series – a lot of the most interesting readings of the franchise. This on the surface seems incredibly exciting – a series that has an episode so metatextual it is framing a critical reading of the franchise it is a part of as a scientific theory. I am almost reminded of Martian Successor Nadesico, a series about unhealthy relationships with mass media, framing its recap episode as fictional characters (fictional in that they are from an imaginary series which exists within the work’s setting) watching the series and discussing it. That is a neat metatextual trick which makes a memorable episode, it completely turns the series’ premise about the way we watch television and become fans of things on its head. Macross Delta simply tells you, the viewer, that within the fictional framework of Macross, everything you thought you knew about the franchise’s plot (and thus had based your readings of it off of) is probably wrong.
In an early article on Delta I talked about how the “culturing” of the Zentradi was readable both as soft power and conquest via cultural capital, but also as a story about adolescence; members of a strict society with a broken, outmoded hierachy discover riotous, exciting and sexy new pastimes and kick out against their “parents”, redefining what is acceptable and what is not. This is, admittedly, a reading purely applicable to SDF Macross since the other series variously have computers, hivemind bugs and space vampire demons as their antagonists, rather than strictly militaristic alien servitor races. But it fitted neatly with my belief that each Macross subtly redefines the core themes, applies the idea of singing being better than shooting (or rather “jaw jaw not war war”, so to speak) to a different problem. The Protodevlin wanted “anima spiritia” and found they could get it from Basara’s singing rather than human souls. The Vajra couldn’t communicate with humans but could with the “little queen,” Ranka. Sharon Apple is the notable reversal of the idea, being rather too good at capturing an audience and needing some tactically applied firepower to shut her up. The unifying theme is that guns alone will not solve most problems on a galactic scale.
What Berger proposes is that all of this has ever worked because music – an entire branch of human culture – is an ancient Protoculture mind-control code used to variously suppress, control and uplift their successor races. Berger explains singing lets people “put others under control while making them feel good about it”, and that it is “control… without killing.” Music is the controlling factor – not that the Zentradi simply had not experienced a life of mixed-sex association and pop culture, not that the Vajra responded to a method of communication that worked, not that Sharon was a dangerously out of control computer using some very odd technology. But it was because humans, as a Protoculture creation, have the “music code” in them so they can control and be controlled. I absolutely want this plot twist to be propaganda, to be some part of Berger’s grand scheme to get people doing something to the Protoculture ruins, because otherwise it is the sort of metatextual twist that feels to me like the creators saying “stop thinking about what this means, it was all just ancient aliens.”
This is a selfish, petulant response to a dully-presented recap episode of Macross Delta; close-reading of anime is never exactly of great utility as interesting as it can be, and being reminded that the author can just undermine everything you assumed about a franchise is something that can, certainly happen. But even accepting that everything I had ever written previously in these blog posts is not, per se, undermined (because the author is even if not dead, not the word of God), and that perhaps trying to read into these bits of pop-entertainment was over-analysing them, taking the critical aspect completely to one side, it is one hell of a disappointing conclusion to something that really defined Macross for me. It is the magician showing all the wires and hidden pockets in one fell swoop. Anything interesting or cool in Macross? Ancient aliens. Overexplaining is, in my mind, a bad thing. A lot of what I liked about Macross was it was a story about humans trying to understand, bit by bit, a universe that was always throwing up some new challenge that did not quite work like anything they had seen. If the twist of Delta episode 19 is the case, that mystery is rather diminished. Of course, though, it has been shown before that Berger cannot be trusted – and if this does turn out to be some cunning lie to get people working in one direction or another, it has certainly fooled me.