Okay. Okay, okay. Before I go on and say what I feel about Zentradi characters created after SDFM, and thus depress myself, I have to point out that I enjoyed Macross Frontier: The Wings of Goodbye, which puts it next to Macross Zero as the only non-SDFM Macross I enjoyed, though never for lack of wishing there were more.
Wings of Goodbye was pretty to look at, and toned down many the things which put me off Macross Frontier. Furthermore, without any deep emotional investment in the original series, I wasn't bothered by seeing it stripped down to its bare bones, then sometimes choppily recapped through admittedly fantastic animation.
I was open to Macross Frontier, eager after the very pretty and very exciting first episode. Yet, it started to feel so…slick and so calculated, with this choking saccharine quality. So much didn't feel organic, but simply manufactured for a certain appeal. Yet there were story aspects that I thought I could have liked, under other circumstances, and The Wings of Goodbye made me remember some of those things.
Sheryl Nome, is one of those characters who leaves me wondering why I don't like her. She was pretty fanservicey, but again, it felt toned-down enough to be natural and tolerable. But more than that, I realized she was a very passionate character. Not obnoxious like Nekki Basara, just…she knows what she wants, is playful, smart, and focused, but it's not as a loudmouth Canon Stu/Sue. Cool, in short. She's not just here because a Macross casts "needs" an idol...it's a fundamental part of who she is. She's writing song lyrics on the prison wall with her own blood---now that's hardcore!
Her previous concert sequences are also impressively, wonderfully surreal. It starts with a wedding where Sheryl is both the bride and groom, and turns into Sheryl as a nurse, surrounded by giant test tubes, flasks, and…vines? And more holographic Sheryls grown in these huge test tubes. There's even a Pink Floyd moment where both bride-Sheryl and groom-Sheryl's heads turn into flowers and twine together. Between the weirdness, the flowers, and the cross-dressing, I was seeing some Utena here, and that can only be a good thing. I was never expecting an anime concert sequence to be this imaginative and exciting.
Alto Saotome, another character I thought could be a jackpot, is less bland than I remember him being in Macross Frontier proper. Sadly it's missing much of his conflict over transitioning from a Kabuki onnagata (performer playing female roles) to a pilot, which was a very Macross concept: a character moving beyond their pre-ordained role to get what they want.
He's about as passionate in Sheryl in his desires, which is part of the reason why, though I wasn't tremendously invested in the story, I was in favour of AltoxSheryl. (Though having them meet as children was pretty cheesy)
AltoxRAnka was merely the typical romantic pairing where the man only falls in love with the woman because of her fairy-like qualities, rather than anything they actually have in common. Sheryl asking Alto to stop flying thus seems entirely contradictory, when their mutual passions could be a source of their strength, and when she would balk at being asked to give up her own dreams. The story needs conflict, but….it doesn't work for me. It's also a callback to the original Macross.
Ranka was one of the things I disliked about Macross Frontier. I believe everything bad about moé despite never seeing a moé series, and so Ranka has always been pretty stomach-turning. Yet here, though Ranka was still pretty cutesy, she seemed…organic. Her sugary sweetness was brought to tolerable levels, and felt "natural" to the character rather than just going overboard to reach a demographic. Also, I liked her fairy tale-inspired concert sequence, especially the design of "dapper" Ranka with her pastel waistcoat and top hat. The concert's English catchphrase "Open Ranka!" still sounds like creepy innuendo, but it can't spoil the whole thing.
Naturally being a film adaptation, the roles of the secondary characters are truncated, some to the extent that they would seem pointless to a viewer who didn't know about the TV series (and even so...). Once again, this trimming actually works for me, because I see less of Michel and Klan Klang, and Michel doesn't die.
Not that I had any particularly strong feelings for Michel, but at least no one's trying to make a poignant character out of creepy fanservice character Klan Klang. In fact, we see so little of Klang here, that at least in this second film, her transformation to a childlike version of herself when micloned seems like a more neutral quirk, rather than a source of lolicon. Even seeing her in a bikini, one can imagine she's just short rather than childlike. I don't know what exactly makes the difference here, but it does...somehow.
I did miss Richard Birler, but he's just a C-lister for me, and nothing to get too upset over. Elmo Kridanik would be harder to get rid of, and I'm glad that he's there for a few scenes. I really thought they we going to kill Luca off, but I guess not. No big deal.
I can't think of anything else to say much about the secondary cast. Mishima was as graspingly evil as before, so that I cheered when his head was blown off, not being of the school of thought that it's wasteful to actually dislike characters so obviously designed to be disliked. It also struck me how much his hairstyle looks like it could belong to a Yu-Gi-Oh! character.
I was surprised that the film attempted to humanize Grace. It worked a bit better, mostly because it toned down that silly "cybernetics are evil" theme. I was surprised how much gore went into her destruction, and how creepy the "tank" holding her co-conspirators was, kind of techo-Lovecraft.
I must also add that Ai-Kun is still the cutest thing on six retractable legs, especially because he never moults. While it's still questionable that giant space bugs would start life as tiny marketing-friendly monsters, I can't deny the result is effective.
I did love the image of Macross Quarter in battroid mode "surfing" its way to the ground. While there are certain times when Macross takes its absurd aspects too far, this scene went down easy, because the franchise is, at best, a mixture of the absurd and poignant in the smoothest fashion.
Because I did not grow to like Alto enough, I wasn't bugged by the unexpected ending where he disappeared. The same with Sheryl in the hospital, though her fate was even less ambiguous. I, at least, feel safe in believing that both characters are likely to return at the end, because otherwise it would be too bleak.
Among the other plot points I don't miss are the high school angles, and the panty-chase, which I'm told have also disappeared from the first film. Joy of joys, instead of "Fastest Delivery" we have the prison scene, where Ranka stages a concert with some other characters who are dressed as Fire Bomber, in order to provide cover for Sheryl's rescue. It's that kind of blatant callback to earlier series that usually make me wince but here it was…unnecessary, but tolerable. It's not Fire Bomber that I had a problem with, after all, but Nekki-friggin-Basara, the frontman.
A purple-and-blue coloured Zentradi appears for a minute, watching Ranka from the prison crowd, and he's obviously meant to be Temujin, a one-shot antagonist from the original series who was an apparent clone of Kamjin Kravshera (Khyron) and acted almost exactly like the original character. Here, as just a random prisoner enjoying a concert who happens to look a bit like an older character, he's palatable.
In fact, I liked the whole removal of the "Fastest Delivery" episode. More on that before this, and after this, but I don't want to clog up this particular review. Suffice it to say, it's now not about Zentradi being disposable victims/comic relief in a way that makes no sense, but just mixed-race prisoners enjoying a concert, and that's good.
(Klan asking the Zentradi in the crowd to "stir up [their] blood" is probably only something a young whippersnapper like her could say--it'd be easy to think of modern Zentradi as having some special fighting quality when you've only seen them fight voluntarily and perhaps then with true passion. Silly girl.)
Although I only picked up this movie for the promise of cracked-out concert scenes (and boy, did it deliver!) I ended up enjoying it on a larger level as well. It still feels rather clunky, not fully surrendering itself to the pacing and stylistic conventions of a film, but I've enjoyed it more than I have anything Macross in a long time.
I think…I will try to watch the first one, too.