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Macross Plus DVD Covers

Macross Plus DVD Covers

Macross Plus remains an impressive, even groundbreaking, OAV series from the mid-90s that now leaves a sour aftertaste.

Trigger Warning: discussion of sexual assault ahead.

The Setup

The first direct sequel to Super Dimension Fortress Macross is set on the colony planet of Eden as the UN Government tests candidate replacements for the VF-11 Thunderbolt variable fighters (aka Valkyries aka Veritechs for Robotech fans).

Isamu Dyson, Myung Fang Lone, and Guld Boa Bowman grew up together on Eden as the best of friends, and separated under mysterious circumstances in very bad blood.

Isamu’s assignment to the New Edwards base as the YF-19 test pilot, with Guld already assigned as the YF-21 test pilot revives the old conflict. This is only exacerbated by Myung’s return to Eden as the producer for the virturoid idol Sharon Apple[1].

This once united trio are shattered, broken, people inside: Guld and Isamu are more or less at each other’s throats, and Myung is fuel to the fire.

The Good

Even after all these years Macross Plus still looks good. The character designs are sharp and distinctive[2], the storyboarding (especially for the dogfights) is superb, and the lighting choices to capture mood are excellent. Some of the then groundbreaking CGI has aged badly, other sequences still work well, and overall this is one OAV series that has aged surprisingly gracefully.

As you’d expect with a series featuring a virturoid idol, the music needed to centre stage in Macross Plus. Fortunately this was one of Yoko Kanno’s early soundtracks, and possibly still remains one of her best. From the concert sequences to the background music, the Macross Plus soundtrack is simply superb and highly recommended as stand-alone music[3].

In terms of story, Macross Plus is essentially a movie in four tightly scripted acts. There is little to no fat in the story, and it quickly becomes a compelling tale. If you have all four episodes handy, you will probably watch them in a single sitting[4], especially given the tense endings to episodes 1 – 3.

The Bad

Oh dear.

Last chance to back out before I commence the discussion of sexual assault.

Ready?

The back story[5] to the separation is that Guld walked in on Isamu and Myung starting to get intimate and (presumably) snapping due to his Zentraedi heritage. It isn’t explicitly shown but it is strongly implied that Guld rapes (or attempts to) Myung, suppresses the memories, and blames Isamu for hurting Myung and “running away”.

Isamu and Myung go along with this. They may fight, or creepily reconcile, but Guld’s amnesia goes unchallenged right up until episode 4.

One of the biggest problems I have with this is Myung’s compliance with the lie Guld is telling himself. It looks awfully like victim blaming to me, and even worse self-victim blaming.

It’s what makes her “reconciliation” with Guld during the series really creepy if you’re re-watching the series[6].

The other big problem is that when Guld does remember[7], suddenly all is forgiven. Guld’s final scene of ramming the YF-21 into the unmanned Ghost X-9 drone is supposed to be a heroic sacrifice that frees Isamu to rescue Myung[8].

Mostly I found myself saying “good riddance” to Guld, the YF-21[9], and the Ghost X-9.

The Verdict

Macross Plus remains a ground breaking OAV, and a key part of the Superdimensional Fortress Macross franchise. It significantly darkens the tone of the franchise, and sets the foundation for a number of elements of the later Macross Frontier[10].

Much of the introduction of CGI to anime can be traced to Macross Plus, and in some respects it remains an exemplar of how to use CGI effectively within a story.

However the treatment of sexual assault is deeply disappointing[11], and definitely leaves a sour aftertaste to what remains an impressive OAV.

So, overall, my verdict would be is that Macross Plus is still worth watching, but that the unfortunate elements need to be acknowledged and appropriately criticised.

[1] It’s worth noting here that Macross Plus predated vocaloids like Hatsune Miku by at least 10 years.

[2] One aspect of 90’s character designs that I’d love to see make a comeback is noses. Characters with distinct, actual, noses.

[3] I have both in my collection, and yes I did just commit a Ghost in the Shell pun.

[4] As I did on Thursday night in lieu of a regular roleplaying session.

[5] Shown gradually in flashbacks.

[6] It is strongly implied that this “reconciliation” included, admittedly consensual this time, sex.

[7] During a dogfight with Isamu

[8] Noting that Myung, or her honest songs at least, also rescue Isamu.

[9] A variable fighter with a Brainwave Control System? No, just no.

[10] I hope to have a review of Macross Frontier up sometime this week.

[11] I’ll admit that I didn’t see it quite so critically 20 years ago.