The same as Narutaki I watched Robotech as as child. Oddly enough I remember discussing Robotech around the lunch table more than I remember watching Robotech itself. But my formal introduction to the Macross franchise proper was, like so many others of my generation, through Macross Plus. It was one of the first anime to stick out in my mind that knocked my socks off. Late one of my friend in college was a huge Yoko Kano fan. I also vividly remember her various pieces of Sharon Apple fan art on her dorm room wall. I fondly remember watching Macross Plus with her. When I made my transition from casual anime fan to a hardcore one, the first DVD I went out and rented was Macross Plus. In retrospect I realize that Macross Plus might have had more of a significant impact on my life than initially suspected.
Macross Plus was one of those shows everyone saw in the 90’s. It was short, well animated, and quite good. And it had a killer soundtrack. I have my VHS copies laying around somewhere. It even secured some peoples’ places in anime fandom and therefore it secured itself as a memorable title that will continue to be talked about.
Macross Plus starts with Isamu Alva Dyson being demoted to test pilot on the planet Eden for being a reckless cocky jerk that disobeys orders. From the way Isamu’s face lights up this is like punishing a child by sending him to Disney World. When Isamu gets to Eden he learns that the new Valkyrie he will be flying is competing for the same contract against another prototype Valkyrie piloted by his former childhood friend, Guld Goa Bowman. They have had a major falling in years past that sets them at each others’ throats making their competition about more than just who gets the contract. At the same time the third member of Isamu’s childhood love triangle, Myung Fang Lone, has come to Eden to oversee a concert for the pop idol, Sharon Apple, who she is representing. Sharon Apple is not a human but a virtual idol. The reunion of these three friends will bring specters of the past to the surface.
Isamu is the classic type A robot pilot. The fiery, slightly jerky, hot-head who constantly disobeys orders. He loves flying and being a pilot almost as much as he loves women. And boy does he love women. The first thing he does when he gets to Eden is start hitting on Lucy, the blonde woman who works on the project with him. Isamu lives his life like he flies; always with his balls to the wall. He needs danger in his life so he is always pushing himself to the limit. Isamu is the Roy Fokker type. He is also clearly still in love with Myung but realizes there is still a far distance between the two of them.
Isamu lives to fly, from his childhood flashbacks to his present self Isamu is desperate to be in the sky, it drives him. Something about that is very endearing to me. But when Isamu comes back to his home planet of Eden, things and emotions he hasn’t thought about in years start bubbling and clouding his view. By the end he is no longer so single-minded. I’m glad you brought up Lucy because I was just thinking about how her quick attachment to Isamu was a little sad. I found her quite relatable. Her moment near the end when she tells Isamu that no one owns him seemed genuinely like she was convincing herself to do what was right even though it was the exact opposite of what she wanted.
To counterbalance Isamu, we have Guld who is your classic type B robot pilot. The ice-cold perfectionist who has a hidden, fiery temper. Unlike Isamu, Guld maintains control at all times out of fear of pushing himself to the limit. He never lets himself get to close to the edge because he knows the Zentradi rage is waiting there for him. He clearly blames Isamu for the incident that broke up their friendship and he is in no mood for forgiveness. Like Isamu he is still in love with Myung.
Guld and Isamu are so different from each other when we meet them that it is almost impossible to believe they were ever best friends. But as the past starts to unfold you realize that the incident is what really caused their personalities to move in polar opposite directions. Guld’s hatred for Isamu is so great it blinds him to everything else. He becomes unhinged during his test flights, he can’t concentrate when he never had this problem before.
Myung is a woman who is very successful but has had to make several compromises to get to where she is today. These compromises have tainted what she has accomplished and seem to greatly sadden her. That she has been forced to keep several huge secrets buried within herself doesn’t help matters. Her whole life is a series of lies she has been forced to live. Myung wants to throw off these lies but she would be forced to hurt herself and others if she did so.
Myung is strong and successful woman who has had to put her own dream aside to get where she is. The people that knew her so well back when still recognize her dreams and in turn make her remember them as well. Her character is the one that actually cements the fact that Macross Plus is a more mature story about life a little further down the road.
I would be very remiss to ignore the vitally important Sharon Apple. Sharon Apple is behind many of the conflicts and secrets of Macross Plus so too much detail about her leads to spoiler country. What can be said is that Sharon Apple is a very special AI with an almost hypnotic charm. Her non-human intelligence and instantly adaptable appearance gives her exotic and alien beauty its allure. After Isamu attends one of her concerts she begins to set her sights on him. This adds a very dangerous extra element to our love triangle.
Well, Sharon Apple is our idol singer but she doesn’t end up being quite what you’d expect. Her concert looks more like a strange religious gathering than a pop show and her fans are vehemently devoted. She also isn’t the essential ingredient in the love triangle but nonetheless she has a role to play in it.
The reason all these people can’t get their life back on tract all stems back to the reason that dissolved their friendship. This leads to one of the most unique love triangles in Macross. The standard Macross love triangle is one guy or girl who meets two potential loves at around the same time and has to decide between the two. Macross Plus’s love triangle is about old loves coming back together and dealing with their past. In a way it’s a more mature love triangle. It’s not the innocent story of puppy love but a gritty love tinged with regret and loss. Only Misa’s story in the original Macross even comes close. Also the relationship between Isamu and Guld is just as important as the relationship between Myung and the both of them.
Misa was a fantastic element because she had a life, a past, and memories before the story told in Macross happens. The same can be found here, but with our entire triangle not just a part of it. All of these characters were somebody with mistakes, successes, and dreams that go far beyond the story we get to see told. This overall gives them a more real, fuller feel. You can surmise things about them and it helps you understand their motivations better. Macross Plus sets up a triangle with characters that aren’t pristine and pure coming out of the gate and therefore makes the love found here that much more complicated.
The animation in Macross Plus is top grade 90s OVA animation. From the aerial acrobatics of the test flights; to the mind-blowing Sharon Apple concerts; everything is simply covered in professional polish. I still remembered all the little details in the Sharon Apple concert even after not seeing the OVA for years. Some of the CG looks slightly dated now, but it was definitely top notch for its time. Macross Plus can still create the same visceral response it did back in the 90s. I think that Macross Plus succeeds so well because it is a it is a 4 episode OVA the story is very personal it can be tight within the four episodes while still giving a full story arc. Any more episode would have been filled with extraneous filler and might have weakened the over all story. These four episodes were just perfect as they were. It is worth noting that there are two versions of Macross Plus. There were originally four 40 minute OVAs. These were condensed into a 115 minute movie with some new footage. I have never seen the movie but I know there is a good mixture of people who prefer one version over the other.
The music in Macross Plus is different yet familiar, both new and old. It harnesses all the things music is supposed to. It isn’t just to entertain you it is there to move you, make you understand a character, and push the drama that much further. Music is never so important as it is in Macross and Yoko Kanno blows it out of the water in this rendition for the franchise. They did well to bring her talents back in Macross Frontier.
I could easily just state that Yoko Kanno did the soundtrack for this series and certain people would have to read no farther in this paragraph. To them this is the ultimate mixture of peanut butter and chocolate. Two things that are great on their own but divine when mixed together. For everyone else not in the know I suppose details are necessary. One of Yoko Kanno’s greatest talents is mixing a wide variety of musicals styles into all of her works while still matching each song to the scene as well as to the overall theme of the story. Voices has the tone of melancholy remembrance while Information High has pulse pounding beats, however, each song sets the scene. It’s as telling as any piece of dialog or animation. I would go as far as to say that no other Macross series has has such a perfect synchronization of music to animation.
Macross Plus at its heart is a much more personal story than any of the other iterations of the Macross franchise. Even the spectacular battle at the end boils down to personals conflicts between the members of our core love triangle. Usually a Macross series is about intergalactic war and the fate of humanity being one step from extinction. Here it is about three friends being forced back into each others’ lives after their friendship was torn asunder. Each of them has lost their way in life and is trying unsuccessfully to get their life back on track but can’t seem to do so. It just so happens that a good deal of military hardware ends up getting used to sort out these personal conflicts.