Friday, March 1, 2013

A Belated Reaction to a Summary of Macross: The Musicalture (or The Musiculture)

I've been sitting on this post for months now, because I was reluctant to write a review about something I was currently unable to see: a musical production that ran for a limited time only in Japan.

But Macross: The Musicalture sounded like such a fun thing, I decided to say fuck it and wrote a short reaction to the summary, a summary written by Tochiro of, which can be read here..and then sat on it for longer. But I'm here now.

 When I first heard there was going to be a musical based on the Macross anime franchise, I laughed. I laughed because the idea sounded terribly cheesy, and I expected result to be a floundering, awful, but hopefully hilarious adaptation of a previously-existing Macross story.

But when information started coming out, I realized that The Musicalture (or Musiculture—the logo suggests it could be spelled either way) was something entirely: an all-new Macross story, told in the musical format, and one with a lot of potential.

Now, it's true I've never been entirely happy with any new Macross production except for the Frontier movies. I've gotten over feeling apologetic for that, and now think of myself as simply waiting to be impressed again.

To me, Macross has been the franchise about breaking hearts. I got myself interested in the Zentradi, the race of warrior aliens who realize that the fakey space-Spartan lifestyle actually sucks and human culture is better. At first, all was good. But it seems like my favourite Zentradi always get treated poorly by the narrative, retconned into ugly forms with different personalities, or failing at life. Zentradi in general are squeezed into a set of narrow, derivative archetypes.

I enjoy other things about Macross, which let me like the two Macross Frontier movies, but the Zentradi are always going to be my keystone of interest in the franchise. I never had too high a standard for their portrayal, but only wanted them to be portrayed well, and couldn't get it.

"The Musicalture", while it has a human cast, too, sounds like the best Zentradi story I've read in a long time, one in which the Zentradi are actual characters, and not just a token Hot Female Zentradi and a bunch of tertiary characters.

This is even more surprising when part of the plot centers around internal Zentradi rebellion, a plot device that made sense in the original series, but its continued use sometimes makes it seem like the writers want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, to suggest the Zentradi/human alliance was a bad idea for both sides. However, The Musicalture goes and tries to make a good story out of this scenario, one that is clearly not cynical.

The faction this time is called Neo-Zentran (with some Unfortunate Implications in that name). Their leader is Vigo (not the Carpathian) Walgria. They are challenging the human mayor in an upcoming election, and getting coverage for doing so.

However, there turns out to be more to Vigo than it appears. He is trying to destroy the group from within, and believes the group should all know "culture" (almost used as a noun), and be taken down a peaceful path. Vigo wanted to destroy it at first, but realized that this way was better. Character development!

The introduction of the Miss Macross contest also makes sense, since it feels like part of a "legacy", rather than checking off boxes on a list of "Macross things to put in the production".

The Musicalture also has the obligatory Chinese restaurant, which pops up often in Macross because one of the first Macross heroines, Lynn Minmay, worked at one. There's beautiful girls in skimpy quipaos for the male viewers, but I don't really care. Only certain elements of repetitiveness in a franchise bother me, and Nyan Nyan is'nt one of them.

The gentle absurdity of most Macross stories also comes through, as the Zentradi rebels are sentenced to become "backup dancers", which is adorable.

And while we can assume already that generations of full Zentradi children exist, they are not often seen in the franchise, and it's nice to see Vigo and Daryl, who are siblings on top of that.

 And honestly, while others claim that the dynamics of characters replicate those of previous Macross characters, I honestly didn't notice. Which is not to say these dynamics are totally original, but at least you don't notice the similarities right away, and they still sound more distinct than other repetitions of Macross archetypes.

I did have a slight problem with the notion of how easy it was for hostile Zentradi groups to rise, implicitly easier than humans, but when the narrative portrays a Zentradi uprising as the product of actual characters, it's easier to accept.

I'm still happy over the existence of Sonia Dosel. Sonia is the grandchild of one of my favourite Macross characters, Rori/Loli Dosel (aka Rico). While earlier Macross plans suggest Rori completely failed at life despite how much that contradicted the tone of the series, the fact that he has a descendent who is a restaurant owner might suggest that bit of material has fallen by the wayside. Sonia doesn't make these things totally impossible, but it's nice to imagine that she does.

Descendents of previous characters are sometimes necessary to create the glue that holds a franchise together, but because Sonia is a grandchild, and descended from a tertiary character, it seems less like a cash grab and more like a neutral attempt to create continuity. Naturally, Sonia is her own distinct character, too.

Unfortunately I'm unable to see this production, because it was not released to DVD, and only played in Japan, naturally. All I have to go on are a summary and some clips. Even so, the summary alone gets my curiosity up. It's the kind of Macross story I was waiting to hear told. One that treats Zentradi more as actual characters, a living, breathing part of the Macross world, capable of being any kind of character.

There are virtually no giant robots in this story because of the medium, but I don't mind. I come for the mecha, but I always stay for the characters. The costumes are also a cheesy, but Macross is nothing without a little cheese.

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