Let's begin an analysis of Super Dimension Fortress Macross in earnest, beginning with a broad overview of the plot.
Fair warning. In this analysis THERE WILL BE SPOILERS. If you haven't yet seen the series, you have been warned and this analysis is written with the assumption that the reader will proceed upon his or her own discretion. If you have seen the series, by all means, please continue reading.
The series opens with the crash-landing of an alien warship on South Ataria Island in a remote part of the western Pacific Ocean. Earth is in the midst of a world war but the appearance f this alien vessel quickly unites mankind under the auspices of a powerful United Nations, which forms the U.N. Spacy. Over ten years, the ship is rebuilt and remodeled, its technologies reverse-engineered, and is christened the Macross. To support the massive undertaking of repairing and examining the ship and its technologies (including a spacefolding FTL drive), an enormous city springs into existence surrounding the vessel and occupying most of the island.
|Left-to-right: Lynn Minmay, Ichijyo Hikaru, and Hayase Misa.|
What sets Macross apart from other "real robot" anime? Mobile Suit Gundam arguably has a sophisticated plot full of intrigue and illustrative of the horror of war (especially involving advanced robotic technology and futuristic weaponry). There are a great deal of similarities between the two, as well. Hikaru appears to be much like Amro--both are excellent pilots who become leaders. Both the Macross and the White Base are iconic vessels that serve as major targets for the enemy to capture or destroy.
|Mobile Suit Gundam|
The characters in Macross are multifaceted. It is difficult not to care about them and find oneself deeply engaged by the narrative. Actions have consequences. People live, love and die. They are beautifully, wonderfully flawed in the most human and believable ways. Characters have real motivations that go beyond simply winning the war. Unlike Mobile Suit Gundam, the characters of Macross have lives outside of the conflict.
The war against the Zentraedi is a catalyst for much of the drama but it is by no means a mere situational MacGuffin. It forces characters to analyze themselves and become more introspective. It provides a vehicle for experience. They change, grow, and develop as people. Kawamori Shoji invested a great deal of time and effort into creating these characters, their needs, desires, hopes, and motivations.
The narrative of the series is also challenging to the viewer. There is no clear-cut good-guy/bad-guy dynamic. Kawamori refuses to spoon-feed the viewer with a morality. Instead, he uses the themes to make the viewer think. One may not agree with the choices certain characters make. They mess up, fail, fall down and occasionally some don't climb back up. There is heroism and sacrifice, tragedy, foolishness and tunnel vision, blind ignorance, love, appreciation for beauty, loss, and triumph.
Ichijyo Hikaru is the hero of the tale. He starts out as a kid. Although he is an experienced air-show pilot he is unready to deal with the realities of air-combat and warfare. Nor is he prepared to pilot a transforming mech. He stands out as a protagonist because he, like us, is thrown into this conflict. The viewer can identify with him very quickly. He's not "the One," a Newtype, or the Kwizatz Haderach. He's just a kid who gets swept up by events far beyond his control. Hikaru is forced to adapt and grow in order to survive. His journey becomes our journey through the series and we experience the story, the love, the loss, and the lessons vicariously through him.
He stands in direct contrast to Amro in Mobile Suit Gundam. Amro is a Newtype, a sort of psychic whiz-kid at piloting robots. Amro's alter-ego is Char Aznable and the two engaged in one of the most legendary feuds in all of anime. Enraged at the destruction the Zeon forces are wreaking, he jumps into the cockpit of a Gundam, barely glances at the instructions and immediately starts piloting in a combat situation. He is entirely untrained and untested, yet he successfully defeats the enemy Zacks.
View the scene here.
Hikaru's first experience is quite the opposite. In fact, it's terrifying. Hikaru is absolutely overwhelmed. He ended up piloting a Valkyrie fighter entirely by accident and ends up escorted to safety by his mentor, Roy Focker. Even this escort barely rescues him and he is instructed to transform in order to avoid colliding with the Macross. He may have the skills and training to fly a plane but he is entirely incapable of piloting a bipedal robot, crashing into buildings and causing a lot of damage.
Amro is special by having an innate talent. Hikaru isn't special. He's entirely mundane. He's a human. The fact that he becomes an ace fighter pilot is not through virtue of being a Newtype like Amro but a result of hard work, training, courage, and willpower.
Next time, we'll take a look at the circumstances of war and its impact on Macross as a major theme.