Ongoing Investigations: Case #104

I have happily been engrossed in the latest Professor Layton game the Unwound Future for the last week. The plot is the most fun and lively yet and we even get to learn a bit about Layton’s past and relationships plus see a (gasp) top hat-less Layton! This is also the most personal and emotional installment yet, which makes sense since it is the end of trilogy. Still I was pleased to see myself tearing up at the ending of the events. The puzzles were about the same difficulty level as the second game, which means that overall they are tricky but not overly hard. I still admit to missing the really challenging puzzles that appeared at the end of the first game. In this case even the end puzzles, worth a lot of picarts, were mostly harder versions of puzzles you had already conquered earlier in the game. But my true reason for playing the game is plot, plot, plot so I was indubitably pleased with how it came together. My only complaint is the constant hand holding that started with the second game and only seems to have escalated in the third. There is a journal that I can read if I forget anything, there is a mystery section that I can review, and when I turn on my continued game it reminds me of where I left off. Those things are all fine, what I don’t need is the game to prevent me from wandering and a plot recap every couple of chapters. These things don’t make the game less fun it just takes a bit of mystery solving out of it.

hisuiconProfessor Layton and the Unwound Future is a delightful capping off of the 1st Professor Layton trilogy. As with most the previous games we start with an odd event that spirals into a larger adventure with Layton discovering the grand conspiracy behind everything as he solves puzzles. I did notice some recycling of older puzzles beyond using some of the work horse types of puzzles that are in all three games. But they change them enough that they don’t feel like you are replaying an older game with a new story. I am never usually one to comment on voice acting but the new woman who does Flora is quite awful especially considering how good everyone else has been. I don’t know what circumstances prevented them from using the original Flora but they need to get rid of this lady and fast. The ending of the game was bombastic where is need to be and in contrast heartfelt, touching, and a bit melancholy where it needed to be as well. I will say the giant robot at the end of the Eternal Diva is much more inline with the series now that I played this game. I look forward to the adaption of the prequel trilogy as well as the Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney game.  With all the new material taking place before this trilogy one wonders when they will get to that letter and the end of this game.

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Macross Frontier, I’m not an adult, I’m a MAN!

Macross Frontier is the story of the love triangle between a tsundere Kabuki princess pilot, the greatest Asuka Langley Soryu impersonator of all time, and a girl with the universe’s greatest backpack, a cool cell phone, and living hair.

I want that backpack no joke! Just as much as I wanted a Guvava.

Macross Frontier starts 13 years after the events of Macross 7 and 40 years after the ending of the original Macross. Earth is still sending out colony fleets to settle new planets in hopes of spreading humans and Zentradi throughout the galaxy. On the Macross Frontier a pilot named Alto Saotome meets two girls before a concert that that will forever change his life. One is the insanely popular idol singer Sheryl Nome and the other is Ranka Lee the cute waitress at the local Chinese restaurant. What might have been nothing more than unimportant chance encounters become bonds off fate when a unknown alien force called the Vajra attacks the Frontier with living space ships. After Alto saves Ranka’s life he decides to join the SMS as a military pilot and Ranka decides to try to become an idol singer. This prompts Sheryl to becomes involved with both of their careers.

Alto has a desperate need to fly so much so that he abandons his family’s traditions, and his own personal success, in Kabuki theater, to do so. I found this endearing and admirable, something to really define you as a person. Alto is young and when he meets Ranka for the first time we see they both have dreams. This is a story about how a dream can lead down a very unexpected path. But throughout the series I felt Alto was rather underdeveloped, we learn little more than what I just mentioned about him. I also tended to swing wildly from episode to episode whether or not I liked Alto. I was really blown away at points by his stupidity. He does have a realization of what is most important that comes from moving out of youth but he still wasn’t a man by the end. He ended up being a somewhat of a side character in his own story.

Alto is a passionate soul that has come to repress his feelings over the years. He has passion for flying and for freedom it provides but most of the time he seems very subdued and straitlaced. Although Alto is the pilot of Macross Frontier’s love triangle his background in Kabuki theater gives him a unique insight into performing. Despite being the main character we don’t get a great deal of insight into Alto. He tends to be rather quiet unless promoted but outside forces. We mostly only see how he relates to other characters but rarely do we get insights into Alto himself.

Ranka is a super cute, optimistic, talented girl that is trying to make it as a singer. She really looks up to Sheryl since she is the biggest thing in the universe. This is just a random thought but if this wasn’t Macross, I think Ranka might have gone all single white female on Sheryl. Within the span of a couple episodes Sheryl overshadows Ranka’s entrance into the academy, basically steals her man, and gets her first television appearance canceled. However, things really start to shift in favor of Ranka as the story goes along. She certainly has a passion for singing, like when she gets up the nerve to sing in the middle of a mall. I felt her character slipping at some points nearing the end but her strong will shines through.

Ranka is super fun, super cute and supremely easy to root for but also has a moe vibe surrounding her. Up until the last few episodes they perform a careful balancing act between making Ranka an adorable moe character while still having her have moments of independence and strong character. She pulls it out in the end but I was worried there at points. I really enjoy her character because she is just instantly likable. You want her to see her become a star, you want her to find love with Alto, you want her to be happy. Due to a traumatic incident in her past Ranka has a good deal of amnesia about her early childhood. That could easily be the kiss of death into making her a bad character but they use it effectively and keep her an enjoyable heroine.

Sheryl is a loud, self-important, beauty who is the biggest pop singer in the galaxy. In any case I did not like her nor trust her from the moment she stepped on my screen. To me she always looks devious and no one can see it! Like when your friend is going out with a really manipulative girl, but everyone thinks she is great and wonderful. But you know the truth and no one will listen! She sometimes has the EXACTLY AS PLANNED face. We get to see brief glimpses into what really makes her tick, maybe that is really how all people can be seen. There are two major moments that stuck out in my mind pertaining to this, moments where I was excited and rooting for her. And it can’t be denied that her music is beautiful and powerful. And she does scream out “LISTEN TO MY SONG!” I just found these moments of awe too few and far between for me to actually like her.

Sheryl is my least favorite type of strong female character. The full throttle bitch. This means that she is constantly in everyone’s face and doing whatever she wants to get what she wants. I don’t mind characters being assertive and confident but I do mind them having having an overinflated sense of entitlement at the expense of those around them. They often try and give her alternating periods of softness and vulnerability but I feel it can’t redeem her utterly despicable default attitude. Plus while half of her softer moments are genuine and make the character more tolerable the other seem artificial and sometimes for nothing more than plot convenience. Don’t get me wrong I would never have them throw Sheryl out of the show. It’s fun to have a love rival that is realistic competition but fun to hate.

Brera is kind of a wild card. I was super curious about him when he first showed up. I had high hopes. He is important but he is completely underused which I think is a tragedy. They just turn him into this unmovable cock-block. Now on to someone who is as awesome as I thought he was going to be, Ozma. Ozma is big tribute to Roy Focker, and I don’t think we minded one bit. Him and Cathy (the tribute to Misa) were two of my favorite characters to see on my screen.

Well, Ozma is a Fire Bomber fan. He is therefore automatically awesome and that is mathematically provable. I’m sure both of us would sign up to buy the DVDs of Macross Frontier: Ozma Gaiden. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of Ozma and Cathy as they are awesome both individually and separately. You can keep your Michael Blanc and Klan Klan shrines. I’m a Ozma man. Brera on the other hand is merely there for me. I’m not anywhere as mean as the person who nicknamed him Kaifun Brera because you should never go there but I can’t say I feel any passion for him either.

One character stand out head and shoulders as creepiest person in Macross Frontier and that is Leon Mishima. This is a minor spoiler but it turns out he is not on the side of the angels. I don’t really feel bad saying that because everything this guy does screams he in not a good human being. In fact Narutaki and I have nicknamed him Creepy Kiss Guy after his first scene with Cathy Glass.

I shudder at the thought! How dare they engage Cathy to him. EWWWW! I actually found a screen shot of the kiss but I refuse to reproduce that terrible moment here. Most of the time he spent with Ranka was I afraid he was going to try and creepy kiss her, too. The bigger villain is a little harder to spot, but atleast has an interesting connection to Ranka and Sheryl. However they never really develop them beyond I’m-bad-because-I-am status. It was wasted potential, there was plenty of backstory to work with but instead Snidley Whiplash emerged.

While I always found Minmay to be a dumb bimbo who was selfish and emotionally manipulative, Sheryl is at least intelligent and cunning. So I can enjoy disliking her. I wanted her as a rival, she is a perfect rival. Sheryl and Ranka are very different people though I do think they come to together in a nice way as we learn about their pasts. The love triangle really keeps you guessing from beginning to end. This could account for a few moments that seem rather out of character. There are definitely scenes of dramatic BS that in the grand scheme of things make little sense. Though I can understand the need to desperately keep us on our toes and not have fans be lulled into a sense of security.

In episode eight, High School Queen, we see Sheryl visit Mihoshi Academy and cause an uproar. In this episode the homage to Asuka Langley Soryu is subtle but obvious if you look for it. The scene where Sheryl is talking to Alto by the pool while all the male students look on from behind a fence in a clear reproduction of almost the same scene from episode ten from Evangelion. Clearly it is to make reference to the similar personalities between the characters and to give a nudge and a wink to the fans of both franchises.

Lothos, who is probably lurking around here someone where, doesn’t watch Macross Frontier. But he is my Eva expert so I sent the episodes off to him and said “Just watch these and tell me if you noticing anything. I don’t want to say anything else to influence you.” He did just that and he came back with more than a couple of Evangelion references, he saw them right away. But I think you are supposed to. Homage is fun!

Macross Frontier is filled with winks, nudges, and references to other Macross series. We have Ozuma’s love of Fire Bomber and several references to Basara, Fire Bomber, Song Energy, and the Protodeviln. We have several references to Mao Nome and insights into what she has been doing since Macross Zero. There is movie that is made with the story of Macross Zero much like how Do You Remember Love is a movie about the original Macross series set in the Macross universe. At one point Alto saves Ranka using a Valkyrie in almost the exact same way Hikaru saves Minmay. The Zentradi warrior Tehmzin that instigates a rebellion in episode twelve is a clear homage to Kamjin in character design and philosophy. There are even some dread Pineapple Salad references.

Macross Frontier starts off with incredible looking battles sequences and great music, two things essential to the Macross franchise. And while the budget for the epic space frays stays high possibly as nice looking as Macross Zero, I feel that the character animation starts to get slop pretty early on. It then picks up quality at the end.

There are some real Yashigani scenes in this anime. They really seem to put the A team on the space battles so they look gorgeous. They are well choreographed and beautifully animated with the best CG. They seems to farm out the character animation to the B and C teams and in some episodes the Z team. There is a sequence so horrible in the TV broadcast of the 10th episode I can only assume that they will clean it up to something watchable on the DVD release. If nothing else Wataru will have another rarity for his video store.

I thought the music got better as the series continued. The first opening grew on me, I enjoyed all the insert songs, and the endings were always good. I loved the second opening song, but have little to say about the actual opening animation besides that I thought it was poor compared to the first. Some people think Yoko Kano to be overrated, but I always find her music to instill something in me. For someone who is not very musically inclined, I always remember her music and the way she portrays the moments in a series uniquely.

Like I mentioned in the Macross Plus article when you put Yoko Kanno together with Macross you have an unbeatable combination. The great thing is how artistically they dovetail the animation with the music, like when they use music to enhance a fight sequence. A perfect example is in episode four when they cut back and forth between Alto fighting in a training mission and Ranka singing My Boyfriend is a Pilot during the Miss Macross competition. Both sequences match up so well with each other that they harmonize into a great whole while still having a infectious sense of whimsy. Also despite how much I dislike Sheryl as a character her songs are quite catchy. I really liked Diamond Crevasse with it’s strong refrain in a otherwise soft reflective song. But I would be remiss to forget super cute Interstellar Flight is.

I would be lying if I said the last episode didn’t excite me. It was beautiful, suspenseful, melodramatic fun. The battle was stellar and the music was grand! And it was certainly better than the few episodes of lead up. But it didn’t hold up its end of the bargain in telling us what the heck was going on. It really should have been spread out over a few episodes and not crammed in these meager 30 minutes.

I feel the last third is the weakest for various spoilerific reasons but the finale while rushed is definitely enjoyable. I guess I was upset with parts near because of people making decisions and events seem to happen more for emotional impact that for common sense. The ending delivers even though I feel some people are going to be rather upset and others are going to demand more. It was a mixture of action and melodrama and definitely in the spirit of Macross. I would have been a little happier with the standard 26 episodes rather than 25 with content of 25 and 26 spread out over the two episodes. There was more than enough material for it and it could have given time for some set-up and revelations. I am eagerly waiting to see what the new Macross Frontier movie will be about. Will it be a Do You Remember Love style re-imagining of Macross Frontier or will be be a new story? Either way I am excited.

Top 5 most disappointing anime endings
5. Martian Successor Nadesico
4. Death Note
3. Mobile Suit Gundam Seed Destiny
2. Honey and Clover
1. Vision of Escaflowne

Macross Zero, Every man should throw away his life for a woman once in his life.

Macross Zero is a prequel to the entire Macross franchise. Macross Zero starts after a strange alien space craft lands on earth sparking a gigantic the UN Wars over those who feel humanity should rally under one world government and those fighting against a world government. Shin Kudo is a fighter pilot for the UN who is shot down by the enemy’s newest transformable fighter. Shin is found by the inhabitants of the Mayan islands who are unknowingly hiding a world shattering secret.

This rendition of Macross has more of spiritual/mystical and environmental feel to it than other incantations. It also really plays with the idea of colonization and how advancement can bring destruction to native peoples. This isn’t a new concept and has been explored in numerous mediums. Macross has always used the cultural differences as a conflict but never quite in this way. It has sort of that Pocahontas mythology feel to it.

Well, it was directed by Shoji Kawamori who is rather well known for doing Earth Girl Arjuna which had even more emphasis on mystical and environmental themes. I have never seen Earth Girl Arjuna, but I know it is a show that many people find very heavy handed with its ecological message. I felt that while there was a distinctly environmentalist theme to this series it was never too oppressive. That is not to say Macross Zero does not give off a tree hugging hippie vibe now and again but I never felt overwhelmed by it.

Shin is a bit cocky (but only a little) and reckless, a popular choice. But this series is short so his personality develops rather quickly into something much more grounded. He is caught off guard, understandably, by this island of very primitive people. But he starts to see their way of life differently the more he stays. He has a quirky friendship with a girl, Mao, who really starts his education of the place he has crash landed. Her older sister Sara and him immediately clash and so starts a shaky relationship. Being closer to nature is definitely a big part of the story and Shin starts to understand the lands importance.

Shin is a mostly cocky and reckless guy when he is in the cockpit but is mostly sullen and withdrawn when he is outside his plane. He starts the series detached from everyone but slowly warms to certain people. When it start he goes out of his way to mention that he has no attachment to his fellow pilots including his copilot. As the series goes on we see that Shin is less emotionally guarded. I also think he loses a good deal of his cockiness after switching from a normal jet, which he was an ace at, to piloting a variable Valkyrie fighter that he is totally unfamiliar with.

Sara and Mao Nome, this last name may ring a bell with you if you have been watching Macross Frontier. Mao is spunky, carefree and also extremely curious what lies past the ocean surrounding her home. Whereas Sara resists the ideas of the outside world but she recognizes the violence that can come with progress. Each of these sisters move and shape Shin’s path a the series goes along. Mao breaks open his shell, children can really connect with adults on a different level sometimes and they aren’t so guarded. I saw that in their friendship. Sara helps Shin to realize that old ways and customs aren’t meaningless. They grow close and love blossoms.

Oh and Roy Focker is running around hitting on the ladies and being an awesome pilot for the UN as well. Although Macross Zero is a prequel, it could be more accurate to classify it as a side story that makes places before the original series. It shows us some back-story on Roy Fokker that had only been hinted at during the original Macross series while giving us a new story of some new characters.

I was really pleased to see Roy! His relationship with Aries Turner was actually a high point for me. He is flying around being the MAN and giving out advice on about the opposite sex. So I liked the cameo and I liked even better than it had some relevance.

Very unexpected music choices for a Macross series considering the production usually centers around selling the latest single. It has a tribal feel, nothing near the normal pop and rock songs the series is famous for. However, these songs tied in much more with the themes of the series.

This is the only pre-Minmay Macross so there was no way to work in My Boyfriend is a Pilot or any of the classic Macross songs. I am sure you were broken up about the lack of Planet Dance but somehow you found a way to trooper on. I think this Macross was supposed to have a fundamental almost primitive feel therefore they used a very tribal soundtrack.

The battles are top notch. Nice cuts and angles, fluid animation, suspense, and well done aerial views. This is also Macross’s first foray into the world of CG animation. I was pretty surprised but they did a nice job especially considering this OVA came out about 5 years ago. The robots looked sweet and the fights were a high part of the series.

According to rumor it is the most expensive OAV series ever made. When you sink that much money into something it darn well better look good. I did feel that the fight scenes were very well done and it generally looks like people spent a good deal on the animation all around. The fights are well choreographed and rather intense including the standard Macross Missile Massacre. I did note to myself that I was never worried about Roy because you know he has to live to see the original Macross.

Like I said the fights were cool, but I never really understood what the hell was happening. Was I supposed to care about those Anti-UN pilots? They did at least give some more backstory with Roy but it seemed glossed over and thrown in. The climatic battle that culminates was just off.

Macross Zero does tell a complete story but I have to issues with the pacing. First, there is almost no falling action to the story. You go from climax to end credits. I suppose it’s better than dragging out a long and uninteresting conclusion but I would have like to have a little more insight into what happened to the survivors. Secondly, the episodes often started right in the middle of some sort of event. While it makes every episode start on an interesting note, it also means you have to fill in the gaps yourself. Example, one episode ends with the characters looking for an artifact, the next episode begins with them having already found the item, it being stolen, and several characters being kidnapped all within the the first shot of the episode. I suppose this is partially due to the fact that they are trying to tell a complete story within five very expensive episodes. This means you are never bored with filler but also means they don’t let you digest everything.

I never felt the playfulness that can be seen in other parts of the franchise. Not all the renditions are Macross 7 for sure, but this one never connected with me that it was Macross. However, the series on its own was decent but not memorable. That being said, I think it has to be compared to Macross as a whole since it is riding on its name. If the series wasn’t called Macross it might have had a better reception minus the whole weird ending. But as a part of the franchise it sort falls flat as far as the story goes.

Top 5 Favorite Spirit Anime
5. Natsume Yuujinchou
4. Shonen Onmyouji
3. Kekkaishi
2. Mushi-shi
1. Spirited Away