Because Mari Ijima made a concert appearance at the Japan Festival in Arlington Heights this year, it seems like a good time to look at the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series. Although slightly less popular in Japan than other mainstays such as Mobile Suit Gundam, Macross attained a cult following in the U.S. due to its adaptation into Robotech. Robotech acted as a gateway series for viewers into anime. Although less known by current anime fans, it still maintains a strong following in Japan with new sequels being created currently.
Macross is one of the best known examples of the “Real Robot” sub-genre of robot anime. This genre depicts giant piloted machines in a more “realistic” setting that adheres more to our world’s physical laws and what was then current science. In the year 20XX, a mysterious giant object crashes to earth. This object is revealed as an alien ship possessing technology far more advanced than anything on Earth. Scientists predict that this ship is the first sign of alien contact. This contact takes the form of the Zentrati, which are giant humanoids that fly around in ships like the one that crashed to earth and engage in combat in giant suits. To prepare for invasion the government and military of Earth decide the best way to do this is to fuse earth and Zentrati technologies. Scientists decide to fuse the spaceship to an earth aircraft carrier creating a ship that transforms into a huge robot–the Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Another creation of the fusion of human and alien technology is merging jet fighters with leftover alien battle suits resulting in the principal robots used in the series known as Valkyries.
All of this is unknown to the protagonist of the series Hikaru Ichijyo. A chance meeting with a girl named Lynn Minmay, who works in a Chinese restaurant, at the island housing the Macross base changes their lives forever when they are attacked by the Zentradi. Hikaru is suddenly drafted into fighting by accidentally taking a Valkyrie. After a battle he is reacquainted with childhood friend Roy Focker both having worked together in their family’s aerial circus flying planes. Roy has since become a squad leader and acts Hikaru’s mentor throughout the series. Hikaru continues to learn and develop relationships particularly with officer Misa Hayase. However, Hikaru and Minmay also have feelings for each other leading to one of the Robotech’s other defining element: the love triangle.
Although Minmay seems to be a peripheral character she becomes pivotal in the series due to her decision to become an Idol singer. The Zentradi have no concept of culture or music and are intrigued by songs sung by Minmay to boost morale. These elements of science fiction and romance made the show a hit in Japan and offered a different take on what viewers in the U.S. knew about sci-fi TV. Minmay was voiced by Mari Iijima who also sang the songs. This move, although pivotal to the story, was done to reflect on the idol boom happening in Japan, where many young men were enamored and obsessed with young girls singing cheerful pop melodies. This might actually be one of the first times that U.S. viewers were exposed to idols making this an unusual example of cultural exchange.
The creators of the series are some of the most respected in anime. Director Noburo Ishiguro was a veteran who directed Space Battleship Yamato, known in the U.S. as Starblazers, which is another show about a reconstructed battleship. Mechanical Designer (and future Optimus Prime creator) Shoji Kawamori came to this series from his previous work on Super Robot series Tosho Daimos to help design the Valkyrie Fighters. Music Composer Kentaro Haneda created an effective score for the series and the songs by Lynn Minmay brilliantly complement the soundtrack.
Macross successfully merged exciting sci-fi with Japanese pop culture of the 1980’s. Because of this influence, Macross continues to be a mainstay of Japanese Animation entertaining fans old and new. Hopefully anime fans will be interested in viewing a classic.