Macross Frontier 18: Optimal

Let me bring Leibniz into the discussion:

“It follows from the supreme perfection of God that he has chosen the best possible plan in producing the universe, a plan which combines the greatest variety together with the greatest order; with situation, place, and time arranged in the best way possible; with the greatest effect produced by the simplest means; with the most power, the most knowledge, the greatest happiness and goodness in created things which the universe could allow” (section 10 of Principles of Nature and of Grace, Based on Reason, tr. by Leroy E. Loemker).

Studying Leibniz for the umpteenth time I feel as if I’m finally able to go past the Voltairean critique and actually understand the man.  But this is not about me, it’s about Frontier!!  Notice that Leibniz’s description of God’s choice is really similar to a fiction writer’s.  It’s no wonder Tolkien called what he did sub-creation.  Substitute Kawamori for God there and you get a description of what Macross Frontier is aiming for.  I don’t think that Kawamori wants either Ranka, or Sheryl, or Alto, or Ozma or whomever to suffer needlessly.  It’s just that logic indicates that in order to maximize the goodness and happiness of the show some suffering will be had.  Of course in fiction this happiness usually belongs to the consumers (readers, viewers), but I’ve found that when authors develop a long-running franchise they care as much about the characters’ happiness as the consumers’.  I see this in Tolkien and in Matsumoto, and I imagine it’s there in Kawamori too.

Think about is this way.  Sheryl was led by Grace [how theologically warped!] to fame and glory.  Does the dark realization in this episode wipe out the joys Sheryl had along the way?  Surely not.  And Sheryl is still on course to regain happiness later on, and this happiness will be greater because of all the misery.  At the same time, consider that Sheryl’s fall provided a space for Ranka to blossom.  If Sheryl had not fallen to some extent then Ranka would probably have not risen as high as she did…and if Sheryl had not risen before her then Ranka might not have even begun singing in the first place, since it’s clear Sheryl has served as an inspiration.

Say Sheryl dies before the series is over.  (I hope she doesn’t but bear with me!!).  The Sheryl fan, who has a narrow view of things, will look on it as a tragedy and damn the world for it.  But Leibniz would argue that God (or Kawamori) is looking at things from the widest perspective possible, and that Sheryl’s life will not have been in vain but will have played a key role in generating the best possible world (or TV series).

Now, you might argue, as everyone who’s confronted Leibniz invariably does, that if God was omnipotent then he could have arranged things so that everyone would be happy all the time period.  Leibniz’s response is simply to say that God doesn’t go against Logic.  If Sheryl’s maximum happiness would be to become the greatest idol of all time (or marry Alto, say), and Ranka’s is the same, then some disappointment must take place.  God arranges things so that the best result possible (that is, in accordance with Logic) ensues.  This includes Judas in our world and it includes Grace in Macross Frontier, along with all the people on the Frontier colony who have benefited from both idols’ songs in a manner which we couldn’t even begin to calculate, poor limited beings that we are..

There’s another key point that Leibniz makes over and over, and I think it’s really applicable to this show as well as to anime in general, in how to determine whether a series is done well or not.  Leibniz says that people always have free will.  God doesn’t make anyone do anything ever.  HOWEVER, God does choose who will be born, and he has foreknowledge of how each person will act, and chooses accordingly from an infinite array of possible people.  Then he puts people in the world and lets them do their thing.

I think the strong shows are those where the writer/s choose the best characters and let them act the way they do, just like God in Leibniz’s system does.  It’s a matter of sitting down and thinking really hard about what kind of characters (personality, motivations, strengths, weaknesses) would work together to make for the best show.  It is NOT about coming up with pretty character designs and then making the characters do this and that in order to fulfill the needs of the plot in each episode.  It’s a huge difference.

~ by Haloed Bane on January 14, 2012.

19 Responses to “Macross Frontier 18: Optimal”

  1. I like it when shows can make me feel for their characters. I’m sometimes willing to forgive a lot of other writing problems if a show is able to do that really well (this series is a prime example of that).

    I actually think it may be lead writer Hiroyuki Yoshino who deserves a lot of the credit for the emotional beating the characters are subjected to in this stretch of episodes. It reminds me a lot of the emotional punishment that was inflicted on the cast of Mai-HiME (which he was also the lead writer for) during its final third.

    There’s some info from one of the Drama CD segments that puts an interesting perspective on what went down between Sheryl and Grace in this part of the series. I’m not sure if you want to be bringing info from secondary sources into things though, even if it’s not spoilerific.

    • I keep forgetting that Matsumoto has a peculiarly high level of control over most of his material, and that the norm in anime is group work, so I guess by Kawamori you gotta understand Kawamori & Co.

      As to Sheryl and Grace, I did read in WRL of the discussion over genres of music, if that’s what you’re referring to. If it’s something else, and it doesn’t have spoilers, I’d like to know..

      • I gather Yoko Kanno also had a far more significant role in shaping this series than is usual for a composer.

        Galaxy Memory is a segment from one of the Macross Frontier drama CDs that focuses on Grace and her history with Sheryl. I don’t know Japanese so my information is largely second hand (except for what I was able to glean from untranslated raws of the manga adaptation). But anyhow Galaxy Memory reveals that Grace and Sheryl were very close. In fact Grace became so fond of Sheryl during the time they were together that she decided to use her cybernetics to repress/delete those feelings to ensure they wouldn’t hinder her ability to carry through with her plans.

        • Oh, that’s a great little detail!

          • Just checked up on a bit of info. Turns out Grace decided to reprogram* herself after determining that “Fairy 9” was a failure. This actually fits pretty well since the early part of the series has a few scenes where Grace seems rather fond of Sheryl. Heck, she even seems proud of Sheryl in a couple scenes.

            *I’ve also seen it described as Grace having erased her memories of raising Sheryl, but she seems to still know quite a bit about her during their confrontation in Episode 18.

            Where Galaxy Memory doesn’t work quite as well is with regards to Sheryl’s supposed feelings towards Grace. It seems to indicate that Grace was something of a mother figure for Sheryl when she was growing up (there’s a scene where young Sheryl asks Grace if she can sleep with her because she’s in a lot of pain from the medical procedure she’s going through and can’t sleep on her own) and that she sees Grace as a friend and older sister in addition to being her manager. However aside from the scene where Grace shows up at the shelter in Episode 3 there isn’t a lot indicating that Sheryl has these kinds of feelings towards Grace. Though I must admit the idea that Sheryl views Grace as being more or less family certainly does a good job of explaining why Grace’s working with Ranka would upset her so much.

            • It would be easy for Grace to erase her memories of raising Sheryl, and then simply looking through the data and re-learning about them second-hand, thus explaining her knowledge as well as her detachment.

              Interesting, interesting..

    • You know I’d made a comparison between Frontier and Mai-HiME earlier when I was noting that I saw Yoshino’s mark on Frontier. It also occurs to me however that HiME is a really good example of a show that is very, very character driven. To oversimplify things a bit, the show spends about two thirds of its length establishing its characters and their relationships, then lights a fuse and lets what it established during the early parts of the series act as the fuel that drives the rather dark stretch of episodes leading up to its finale.

      I wouldn’t recommend it without some serious reservations (like Frontier it has some pretty serious flaws) but its something you might potentially find interesting.

      • It sounds that there’s a major time imbalance there, hmm. I’ll look into it when I have a chance though.

        • Well yes, I did say the series has some pretty serious flaws. The fact that it didn’t show what it’s really capable of until late in its run is one of them. Although I found the early episodes watchable enough. Even if Episode 4 of HiME is arguably the prototype for Episode 8 of Frontier… (Yoshino’s influence on Frontier was not entirely positive).

          If you do decide to check it out just make sure you don’t get it mixed up with its second rate “spirtual successor” Mai Otome/Mai-Z-HiME.

  2. I like the Leibnizian lens applied here, but this show is hardly the best example … not that it’s a bad example, given how Ranka and Sheryl are competing for many of the same things.

    Imagine this lens applied to Kitoh’s works!

    Imagine this application to the melancholia in Cowboy Bebop!

    Even further, to particular branches of fetishistic media where sadism, brutality, and other matters are celebrated.

    • Hehe. I think Kitoh believes in the worst of possible worlds🙂

      Cowboy Bebop is interesting, though, much more even and realistic..

  3. Have not read Leibniz but his arguments particularly on free will seem to be influenced by Thomas Aquinas and his view on self determination. In the context of storytelling, I suppose that successful stories are the ones were the characters are true to the qualities they’ve been given, yet do not suffer from having their roles cast in stone.

    • And I haven’t really read Thomas Aquinas.. I will some day though! But there’s a big influence there, definitely. Two things I know: 1) to some extent Leibniz is following a modification of Thomism known as Molinism when it comes to free will:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_de_Molina

      2) Thomas Aquinas said that angels were purely spiritual forms and that they were each unique (there isn’t one species of angels, each individual angel is its own species. Leibniz argues that everything that exists is an angel (if you define “angel” according to Thomas). Leibniz calls it monads..

      Yes, not having their roles cast in stone goes back to this free will and organic development idea. I agree completely.

  4. Just really appreciating what you’ve written here. It matches what I’ve felt with Macross and with some other series, where the characters make decisions that are entirely in keeping with their backgrounds and personalities. Sometimes, the creators even confirm that that’s what happened – that they created characters which later started ‘writing themselves’.

    In response to what you and Darthtabby were talking about wrt ‘understanding the creators’ above.

    I guess by Kawamori you gotta understand Kawamori & Co.

    There are some interesting insights from the commentaries for the 12th and 18th episodes that are quite relevant. (the following probably aren’t exact translations since I wasn’t quite as careful with them as I usually am, but I think they give more than the general gist of what the commentators were talking about)

    12th ep commentary, ~7:15

    Megumi: do you ever not know how a story will turn out?
    Kawamori: Well, rather than setting a goal, we say that we want to get to the other side of the “mountain”. E.g. we know (roughly) what we’ll be putting the character through, and on the other side of the mountain lies the answer. But not knowing 100% what’s going to happen actually ends up making it more interesting. If you prepare too much/set too much in stone, you can’t respond to other opinions.
    Kikuchi: Even Yoshino-san (the writer) would discuss things with everyone, but what happens next might still be different.
    Kawamori: sometimes, you get people who have to do things step by step according to a plan. It just so happens that we don’t have any staff like that this time.

    and

    18th ep commentary, ~11:30

    Kikuchi: the ending was set in stone, but the ‘how will we get there’ kept changing. Yoshino-san would propose something crazy, which would be shot down by Kawamori-san, only for Kawamori-san to propose something crazier…and then Yoshino-san would add more
    Yoshino: and then Kikuchi-san would add something good, it became like a stampede (of ideas)

    and 18th ep commentary, ~13:20

    Kikuchi: You wonder what their relationship was like before
    Endou Aya: When they got along, when Grace was being a proper manager
    Yoshino: They seem to have gotten on very well
    Endou Aya: You can really see from her expressions that Sheryl really trusted her
    ?: She was like a substitute parent
    Endou Aya: That’s why it was so painful, the betrayal
    Inoue Kikuko: As big as her love for Grace was
    *[And they kept making it worse for Sheryl:
    – Ranka’s press conference
    – with the song “Do you remember love?” (that was Kawamori’s ‘fresh idea’)
    – and then the poster, which Yoshino wrote in the scenario, thoroughly soaked and stepped on
    – and then someone she thought was Alto, but turns out not to be!
    This was entirely according to the screenplay. They’d talked about having Sheryl and Alto just miss each other, but then ‘what would be most interesting’ => ‘It’d be really interesting if she somehow mistook Yasaburo, the most unexpected person, for Alto’]
    Inoue Kikuko: I was super surprised
    Endou Aya: Me too…and this song, I never thought it was this sad before

    * The stuff in [these brackets] is just a general summary of what they were saying at that point.

    • Cool, very cool, thanks. As a counterpoint I can tell you of a video I just saw the other day. Two people who obviously did not know the first thing about Leiji Matsumoto and his career were interviewing a mecha designer who has worked frequently with Leiji and who’s sort of considered a disciple. One of the interviewers asked this mecha designer if he ever contributed his own ideas to Leiji shows and how that was like. The mecha designer looked at the interviewer with dismay, then embarrassment, and then started to explain that “No, he has his own ideas and he tells me what he needs and then I work on it”.

      I believe that team work can always be superior to solo work.. For all the fighting and troubles there are a lot of people out there who would argue that Leiji Matsumoto’s best work is Yamato, and that was very much a team effort that wasn’t even led by him. Then there’s a whole other slew of people who claim the films he did with Rin Taro were his best (Rin clashed with him and forced him to change certain things). And so on and so forth..

      • I’m not really familiar with Leiji Matsumoto (except for the name – and theme song – of Yamato (^_^;) ), but I guess that for every creator who enjoys the collaborative effort, there’s always someone who prefers things done his own way.

        But I definitely agree with you on the idea that team work can be superior to solo work. What might be obvious to you might not be obvious to someone else, and vice versa. And based on several interviews that I’ve read, it seems that Kawamori is quite well aware of that. (^_^)

  5. If the story is a machine, and Frontier’s characters in conjunction are designed to create the best machine, I see the point about Leibniz. That is an interesting way to approach the story indeed. I’ve really forgotten the finer points in the second half of the series, but I remember feeling manipulated a bit. Now I wonder if the characters remained true, just as they were in the beginning. Guess I’ll have to get back to my rewatch soon.

    One other piece of information I found amusing was how the idols, in becoming great, are manipulated by a shady group out to stir the world. In that sense, as related to Leibniz’s thoughts, Grace and her allies become a kind of ‘necessary evil’ behind something positive. Maybe that’s a little twisted.

    • Yeah, the difference of course is that with God we’re supposed to be sure that he truly knows what’s best, whereas I’m not at all sure that we can trust Grace’s judgments like that!!

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