Prior to watching Rurouni Kenshin I was unaware that Ryosuke Takahashi, a producer of science-fiction anime I greatly respect, had worked on it. And yet, as I watch it, I can certainly see how his experience in working within a very different genre pays off and elevates Kenshin above what I initially expected. Kenshin is ultimately a fantastical period drama, set in an interesting and real period of history and adding supernatural elements to it. Yet on a fundamental level its setup is not significantly unlike Takahashi’s science-fiction works; it is a series, behind its visual comedy and comfortable, sometimes moralistic early episodes, about a confused post-war world and someone who is no less of a supersoldier and outsider than Eiji from Layzner or Chirico from VOTOMS.
It is impossible to talk in too much depth about the plot of Fafner of the Azure at only three episodes in; it is a series that, like Rahxephon, holds its secrets close and plays on the characters’ and audience’s different levels of knowledge for dramatic effect. At this point the viewer knows next to nothing about the enemy, or even about the status quo. Using implication and secrecy for dramatic effect is something an awful lot of anime tries to do, and with highly variable amounts of aptitude; I abandoned my weekly write-ups of Macross Delta because it became apparent that it had reached a kind of stasis of plot; very little happened to progress the story, and the progress of the characters in discovering mysteries was not interesting. Currently it is too early in Fafner to comment on this aspect in relation to the whole series, but there is something its third episode does which I feel stands out as taking the technique in a fruitful direction.
In my previous Macross Delta article I was highly critical of the series’ massive plot revelations, saying they felt hugely unsatisfying and shutting off potentially interesting thematic readings of the franchise as a whole. These were obviously contentious, but reading the very well-put rebuttal posted by a reader of this blog I re-evaluated my position and think my actual response is a more nuanced one. I still feel that episode 19’s revelations are not personally interesting to me, and are indeed in my opinion a little underwhelming as some great explanation of Macross. But I think this is a lot to do with how they were conveyed robbing them of gravity and wonder. I found myself thinking back to Do You Remember Love, which has a similarly immense moment of epiphany for Hikaru and Misa – the discovery of the song Ai, Oboeteimasu ka?, the discovery of the true nature of the Zentradi and the discovery of the ruined Earth. Those are equally earth-shaking discoveries, for sure.
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.
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).
Episodes 16-17 of Macross Delta combine advancement of the romantic plot (something that is proceeding nicely and adorably) with some subtle – and then not at all subtle – bombshells regarding the main conflict. These articles have not really discussed the love-story aspect of Delta too much; it feels gauche to dissect the very cute relationship between Hayate and Freyja, and as soon as one begins factoring Mirage in as the other wing of a love triangle I feel a distinct ennui at how Mirage is being handled as a character.
After an episode of Macross Delta focused on developing the interactions between the main cast under pressure, and establishing exactly how much of a back foot Chaos has been put on, the viewer is given an episode showing the true effects of the battle for Ragna on Windermere. They may have “won” but it was a much harder victory than initially expected, and the next – and most interesting question – is what will they do now they have won?
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 have recently got very into playing Horizon Wars, not only enjoying the rules but enjoying the freedom a highly customisable wargame gives to create interesting an unusual armies. When the Biowar expansion came out I felt there was only one thing to do – combine my love of super robots with my love of wargaming and make stats for a whole army of deadly monsters-of-the-week…
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.