Macross Delta Thoughts: You Got Your Magical Girl Idols in My Giant Robots!
After hem-hawing about for a few days, I finally sat down to watch this "special preview" of the first episode of Macross Delta. I'd checked about a few forums for comments and giggled at how people seemed absolutely dumbfoundead at the first episode of this newest entry in the Macross franchise, wondering if series creator Shoji Kawamori had finally lost it. I mean, magical girls in Macross? How absurd is that?
Well, to be honest...not as absurd as some fans might believe. Typically, when anime fans think of Macross, they think of the original, with the love triangle and the dogfighting. Though Lynn Minmei's songs are a major tool in breaking down the barriers between the cultures of humanity and the Zentraedi, it takes a backseat to the action and drama in the lives of hotshot pilots Max Jenius and Roy Focker. Either that, or they think of Macross Plus, where the songs are all from AI Sharon Apple, who loses her shit by the end and tries to kill everything. What they DON'T think of, is Macross 7.
Premiering over a decade after the original, Macross 7 is the first "true" televised sequel in the franchise. It's the forgotten middle child of the Macross franchise due to its unique placement in history. It can't ever be dubbed because Harmony Gold won't let the series come Stateside, and though it is subbed, it's "too old" for the majority of anime fans who are already calling Frontier a "classic" series. Anyway, in Macross 7, rocker Nekki Basara frequently flies out into the middle of battles between humanity and the alien Protodevlin in his VF-19, not to battle...but sing to the fighters in the hopes that his music can reach their hearts and minds. His ship contains no weaponry...and is piloted with an electric guitar.
Yes, these are all actual facts about the series and not things I pulled from a ridiculous fever dream of an anime parody. Sure, eventually he's joined in battle by the rest of his band after finding out that music has a beneficial effect to humans who have been attacked by the Protodevlin...but only AFTER over a dozen episodes of him flying off into the middle of multiple space dogfights, mindlessly blasting music into the airwaves of anyone with an open comm channel, with no proof he's doing anything other than making it difficult for his own people to communicate with each other.
By comparison, Delta seems not just sane, but a sign that the Macross universe is one the few with an properly adaptive military. The events of multiple series and Macross colonies have repeatedly shown the power music seems to have in their world. Music has often been capable of boosting morale of the soldiers, but here it's been shown to inspire compassion in enemy races (Macross), restore spiritual energy (Macross 7), and even grant control over some of the less intelligent races (Macross Frontier). Music has been so ludicrously effective at this point that's it's counterproductive not to immediately throw a singer at any alien-related problems that arise. Thus, Walkure: a militarized idol group backed by a talented squadron of Valkyrie pilots. Their music not only cures the mysterious new "Var" disease, but they can protect themselves and others against the threat the infected pose.
As far as the "magical girl" thing goes, it's just a new, more visually eye-catching way of doing the musical bits that the series is known for. The Walkure are basically a female Sentai team, or the Sailor Scouts as a pop group. But it's not "magic" in the conventional sense, but magic in a Clarke's Third Law sort of way. But they're using technology we've seen before--as recently as the first episode of Macross Frontier--just in new ways. For my part, I'm just happy the Walkure are actually being useful by working in conjunction with the military forces and not merely popping up like idiots and getting in the way.
If you can't tell, we're one episode in and I'm in love already. First episodes can be frustrating--they spend so much time hand-holding viewers through explanations of how the world works. Here Kawamori assumes that a Macross fan would already "get it", and any newbie will assume it's a wacky sci-fi anime with robots and singing, and just go with it. The result is an episode that focuses on introducing characters but keeps it's downtime low. There's a spunky girl who stowed away on a spaceship to avoid a boring fate of arranged marriage, an incredibly talented mech pilot who's lazy because he's never actually cared about anything in his life before, and a Jenius, another ace pilot in the long-fabled line of human-Zentradi hybrids who all somehow end up being ace pilots. This is probably as direct a connection to the original Macross as you're going to get--and its something that even Frontier didn't manage.
The core cast is likable, even though it's love triangle is a mix of Macross Frontier's Alto and Ranka and SDF Macross' Misa. There are some core differences though--unlike Alto, Hayate doesn't find joy in anything and one supposes he'll learn what matters to him over the course of the series. And Freyja, the stowaway turned would-be Walkure member, is probably going to be a bit more forceful in chasing after her dreams than Ranka was (though she put the work in, it often felt like opportunities were just handed to her from dumb luck). As for Mirage, the heir apparent to the Jenius line, we don't much about her other than that she's the one female member of the Valkyrie squadron working with idol group Walkure.
Speaking of, my own concern with this series it that there might be TOO many characters to focus on. Frontier kept its relevant characters fairly small: Alto and Skull Squadron, Ranka and Sheryl. There were others, but they didn't stand out enough to earn a spot as a featured character. From the looks of Delta though, there's the love triangle, Walkure, the Valkyrie squadron, and the mysterious group working against them to help the Var Syndrome spread (more on them later). That's a cast of well over a dozen, all of which demanding screentime over at least the next 25 episodes, and they all feel fairly distinctive to just let fade into the background. Delta has its work cut out fleshing out so many characters, knowing there's bound to be even more minor characters vying for screentime. (This whole paragraph might be my just trying to justify getting the leader of Walkure more time on-screen, as she reminds me of Sheryl for some reason.)
Finally, it's wonderful to see some actual humanoid opponents for this series. Once the Frontier cast learned the trick to controlling the Vajra, they were barely a threat at all. These new guys might not be giant, monstrous insects with massive destructive capabilities, but there's so much potential in going against opponents that can actually be reasoned with, like how they sometimes they refuse to see reason. Nevermind the possibilities of love sparking between members of the two groups (this IS Macross), the potential for espionage--the potential for complex human drama is much higher with a villain group like this.
Admittedly, Frontier's first episode had a larger impact on me. But that was for a variety of reasons that no longer apply. It was my first Macross, for one: I'd never seen Macross before, only the Bowlderized "Robotech" version that came Stateside. "Picking" anime rather than having them chosen for me by television channels like Cartoon Network and Sci-Fi was relatively new. And lastly, I love space opera and I'd never seen such a fully realized space opera television series with such beautiful animation. It was groundbreaking in a way that Delta simply can't be. But that doesn't mean I'm not interested--Frontier made Macross one of my favorite anime franchises, and Delta feels like going home. And even though very little is the same as it was, that's okay; I can't wait to see what's changed.