Let’s Watch Macross Frontier
Why I’m Watching This:
Actually, my first contact with this anime was rather odd: I translated an Alto x Mikhail doujinshi. I remember having a lot of trouble with the references to the show and Macross in general, which were relatively plentiful considering that most of the dojinshi consisted of those two guys putting the inventiveness of the Kama Sutra to shame.
Anyway, the other day ghostlightning had a post on the hottest girls in recent anime and Sheryl Nome came on top. I was shocked, since I had assumed from the dojinshi that this was strictly a yaoi show [ok, that’s a joke, I’m stupid but not that stupid]. So I got curious and gave the first episode a watch…
Two episodes in I can say this totally rocks. My first reaction was: what sort of unearthly budget were these people working with?! And the sequences are so nicely timed it’s ridiculous. The first 2 minutes 30 seconds of this has more force and art in it than most series have in 26 episodes. Honestly. And I could go on, but let me just outline a few items that really impressed me.
1) The Handling of Alto’s Appearance
For some reason, probably deeply rooted in psychology and deserving of a post of its own, anime shows love to show guys that look like girls. Very often they totally botch it. Basically, the character designers want to make sure that this femininity comes through and so they go way too far and end up drawing a girl, slapping a necktie on her and calling her a guy. This is silly.
If you look at Alto he’s really not that different from many other guys in anime. Yes, he has long hair and so forth but if you just look at him and listen to him you’ll think he’s a guy and not a girl. But people like Mikhail and Ranka see him differently, and necessarily so. This is because anime character designs are necessarily abstractions of real people. You simply can’t draw a character with as many details as a human being has, so you have to cut corners. But anime characters see other anime characters in full detail. Visually speaking, to us Alto is an abstraction of a person, but to Ranka Alto is a real person in all its glorious detail. When Ranka sees Alto, she can grasp all sorts of features and nuances to which we are blind. We take her word (and Mikhail’s) for it, because they see Alto better than we ever could.
So instead of crossing the line and drawing a super girly Alto (or just as crassly, having him behave in a stereotypically womanly manner) the series conveys to us visually that he is an attractive, refined man and then lets other characters give testimony of just how much femininity he exudes (to his eternal aggravation). By the time the second episode rolls along we have imbibed this testimony and can “see” Alto better than before.
2) The Amazing Action Scenes
This is pretty self-explanatory. I’m not an expert on this stuff, but as far as I’m concerned the integration of CGI and regular animation here is as good as it gets. The use of the soundtrack is great, whether it be in symphonic bits, in the pop music from Sheryl or just the ambient sounds. I know the songs are a hallmark of the franchise, and that they’re supposed to unite people and everything, but it looks like the music can also be a harbinger for war. The interplay between sound and visuals is as effective as that between CGI and cel.
3) Starting Hardcore
I’m not even sure if Alto is aware of it, but by the end of the first episode he’s gone through an awful experience. I’m not talking about the devastation, or seeing a pilot (Guilliam) get squashed to bits, or even riding his first VF-25. I’m talking about causing somebody’s death. Guilliam was distracted by Alto, wasted time warning the lad and paid the ultimate price. You can argue the point, but the way I see it Alto is substantially responsible for that man’s death. This is a good way to start a show.
4) Unpredictability in Good Doses
In the second episode Alto is supposed to grab Ranka with the VF-25’s arms and put her in the cockpit. A series of teases ensues where we keep expecting him to succeed in this relatively simple task and yet he keeps failing. The sequence is over the top, but I found it quite thrilling. Then when another attack is under way and Alto demands a Valkyrie, we’re totally expecting the classic “all right, kid, show us what you’ve got”. Instead he gets a punch in the face. Nice, very nice.
The SMS reminds me a lot of the Space Defense Force in Galaxy Railways. From what I gather so far the SMS is structured around “shotai”, which gets translated here as “squadrons” or “teams” but happens to be the same exact word translated as “platoon” in Galaxy Railways. The leader with his hat is kind of similar, and there’s even a group of women operating the ship with maroon uniforms that can’t help but remind me of Spica Platoon. The deceased guy’s odd name Guilliam sounds to me eerily similar to Sirius Platoon’s Killian. That said, Galaxy Railways is one of the series I had in mind earlier, insofar as its second season went for a mind-numbing 13 episodes without any significant action. So far Macross Frontier is doing tons better in this key respect.
FINAL NOTE: Alto Saotome’s Name
I’m always on the lookout for cool names in anime, and here we have one that’s as nice as it’s straightforward. Saotome literally means a young maiden. Think back to Ranma ½ and how the main character there, who was supposed to be a guy but who was secretly half-girl, was also a Saotome.
Alto means “high” in Spanish, from the Latin “altus” ( English “altitude” has the same derivation). In Spanish one addresses a prince or princess as “Su Alteza”. Her Highness the Princess is what this name means, in essence!
PROGRAMMING NOTE: I saw the first episode of Last Exile and have solemnly decided not to follow that show. I’ve got one more post on Galaxy Railways 999 and then I’ll be taking a break from that series [it’s over 100 episodes long!!] So right now I’ll likely be blogging Guilty Crown, Persona 4 (unless it self-destructs, which is possible from the gossip one hears) and Macross Frontier.
IF YOU COMMENT NO SPOILERS PLEASE!!