One fine day, after he had joined a fighter squadron, it would dawn on the young pilot exactly how the losers in the great fraternal competition were now being left behind. Which is to say, not by instructors or other superiors or by failures at prescribed levels of competence, but by death. – Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff (1979)
Episode 3 of Macross Delta is indebted visually and thematically to my personal favourite of all Macross productions, Macross Plus. It remains, however, a somewhat weak episode for this. It cleaves closely to its inspirations in a way which simply does not fit what has been built up in the previous episodes. While the allusions to Macrosses II and 7 and Frontier have been equally evident, there has been a thematic framework – the marrying of soft and hard power, the militarisation of the non-military, etcetera, to ground this. It has built up Hayate and Freyja as outsiders inducted into what Tom Wolfe calls in his book The Right Stuff, which is in part about the business of fighter-piloting, “the ziggurat pyramid of flying”, unready but determined. An episode about Hayate’s training should have him, by this metric, the person working their way up. It does this, in a fashion, but undermines it in how else it depicts Hayate and for this to make sense one must understand Macross Plus.
Episode 2 of Macross Delta built on some of the ideas in episode 1 in a way that somewhat allayed my potential concerns about the direction of the series; I initially was worried that its depiction of a take on the Macross formula based on cultural industries being intertwined with military force would go unchallenged, or otherwise not be shown as fundamentally different to the series’ core conflict. In a comment on my previous article, Macross fan @ghostlightning pointed out I neglected to mention one of Delta’s strongest franchise homages – the Jamming Birds from Macross 7, an idol group created by and funded by the military to imitate the successful use of music by the resolutely anti-establishment rock band Fire Bomber. At the time of writing I had not thought of a good way of tying this into the article I wrote but now I see that there is an undeniable point of comparison.
Among the most interesting, and at the same time the most if not concerning but question-raising, aspects of the Macross franchise is the interplay between “culture” and war. In the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross “culture” was exactly that; artistic endeavour, leisure activity and consumer goods as pillars of cultural power exported to a warrior race (who one could read as savages should one wish, possessed only of the urge to conquer and destroy until a “civilised” species tames them) in order to uplift them. This is one of the things the TV series does significantly better than Do You Remember Love, the very good film retelling of the story; in Do You Remember Love, it is music – an alien song found in the ruins of a precursor race’s city – which divides the invading armies and allows mankind to decapitate their fleet and save the world. In SDF Macross it is a slower, less clear-cut process; the alien Zentradi are won over to mankind’s side in part through music but also through the simple experience of living a “human” life. Even after this the process of integration is gradual and fraught with resistance; while SDF Macross is flawed in its storytelling it raises a number of interesting questions and handles a large topic in a relatable way.
Episode 48 of Eureka Seven is arguably an episode-long opening to a final battle, the final clash between Nirvash and theEND, Holland and Talho and Jurgens’ last charge against Dewey’s fleet. All the ingredients, and all the visual language, of a truly epic battle are set forward. An immense enemy armada protecting a superweapon, heroic ace pilots going on against impossible odds, and the final showdown between the two experimental units – the two mecha that have fought each other to a standstill every time they have clashed. Yet as it progresses it is very clearly not an action climax in any traditional sense. The episode is the culmination of Anemone’s plot, of Dominic’s journey of moral awakening, and an intensely personal thing within an epic framework.
Recently there was some heated discussion online about a “new poetic form”, the “anchored terset.” Described in the literary media as “radically condensed” and coined by Lisa Matthews as part of the Northern Poetry Library’s celebration of National Libraries Day, the form comprises three words and a full stop. It is argued that such a condensed form is democratic and suited to social media; anyone may find the time to write three words. This was at the core of criticism of the form, and while much of the vitriol can be discounted there are fruitful lines of critical enquiry concerning the form. Poetry can be described as compressing or abbreviating complex ideas in concise ways which are then unpicked by the reader. Compressing an idea into three words that evoke the right associations to paint a picture or provoke thought is immensely challenging: it may be easy to write three words but picking the three best words is not easy.
One question that has not been frequently raised in all of Eureka Seven‘s discussion of religion and godlike planetary intelligences is the matter of an afterlife; it is by now proven as fact that a planetary intelligence exists, and that its intention towards humanity is, in a way, peaceful. It has reached out with a messianic figure twice now and found a proper counterpart for Eureka in Renton. It is faced with humans led by Dewey who believe themselves superior to the divine, who would seek to enforce mastery over it. At the end of episode 47, Dewey claims that mankind will not bow down to, or live in fear of, an “unknown creature.” If God is supposed to be inscrutable, incomprehensible and omnipotent, then the line between faith and fear is – from this perspective – blurred.
Both the greatest strength and potentially greatest weakness of G-Tekketsu is its laser-focus on masculinity and the “expectations” placed on men and women in a fiercely macho, dog-eat-dog society. It has failed to go anywhere fast so far with its story of Kudelia’s move from naivete to competence as an activist or political figure, with her still – some distance into the series now – bemoaning her lack of competence. Indeed, it has perhaps become even more reductive in how it presents its women. There is a narrative justification for this – this is a ship of sex-obsessed children in thrall to a salacious polygamist’s apparent living the manly dream, and the story is ostensibly about the demolition of their masculine ideals. Yet this inevitable demolition – and the foreshadowing does still suggest it is inevitable – has yet to come in any concrete way.
This article was written for the Reverse Thieves Anime Secret Santa project.
Your Lie in April opens in a way that suggests it will be a very unremarkable handling of well-worn themes in fiction about musicians; the iconoclastic performer whose playing style disgusts the Establishment and enthrals audiences, the retiring prodigy who has lost their confidence, etcetera. This is not to its detriment; it may not shake the boat in how it tells its story but it nevertheless, in episode 2’s scene of Kao playing her recital piece in a violin competition, depicts in a relatable way the thrill of hearing familiar music in unfamiliar settings. The “different” classical musician, the one who makes a stuffy musical canon fresh and new again, is a real-world phenomenon primarily of hype and PR; artists like Charlotte Church, Vanessa Mae et al come and go, each bringing their own easily hypeable angle to a musical genre that the media wishes to claim irrelevant.
The 1990 TV anime Brave Exkaiser was the first entry in the Brave franchise, and while it is a highly generic super-robot series it is interesting to view it as laying the groundwork for ideas that the subsequent franchise entries would build on. Tracking the ways in which these ideas develop provides a way of looking at the franchise as a whole that in some way serves to explain its often interesting approach to a super-robot story. Central to almost all entries (the notable exception being Brave Command Dagwon) is a focus – often humorous – at the relationship between a young boy and some number of robot friends. In some cases this is heavily brought to the fore – Brave Police J-Decker runs with the idea by having a whole stable of robots all with human companions and even – in a tongue-in-cheek fashion – love interests. Often the intent is not to make a serious statement about the nature of machines and humans, but the shift from the child hero piloting a robot to a child surrounded by robots and aliens is an interesting angle which is often used for endearing comedy.