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.