Today we look at the five episode OVA series Macross Zero. The main reason why I wanted to watch Macross Zero is because of Macross Frontier. Macross Frontier was my favorite anime series of 2008. Frontier featured reference to several previous Macross series, but it has the closest connections to Macross Zero, which I haven’t seen until yesterday (the day before I wrote this review). As expected of a Macross series, Macross Zero contains its share of quality action, love triangle(s), and music, although action seems to be the main focus this time around while the other aspects are somewhat overlooked.
Macross Zero is set in 2008, one year before the original SDF Macross series. In the midst of the UN wars between the UN Spacey and anti-UN forces, Shin Kudo, a F-14 Tomcat pilot, is shot down by an enemy transformable fighter while fighting over the Pacific Ocean. Shin crash lands on the remote Mayan Island and discovers that the island’s inhabitants holds a great secret that links them to alien artifacts that are related the giant alien space ship (the SDF-1 Macross) that crashed into the Earth nine years ago. Shin eventually rejoins his fleet and is given a brand new VF-0 variable fighter. Shin and the UN fleet engage the Anti-UN forces over the Pacific Ocean as both sides fight for control of an alien artifact named Aphos, and the peaceful inhabitants of Mayan Island are caught in the middle of the conflict.
The most striking aspect of Macross Zero is the visuals. The Valkyrie dogfights are an important part of the Macross franchise and Macross Zero delivers plenty of it. Despite being a few years older, the battles sequences in Macross Zero hold their own against those in Macross Frontier, and Macross Frontier is the most visually-impressive mecha anime I’ve ever watched. This may be because the per-episode budget of Macross Zero is higher, since making a five episode OVA and making a 25 episode series are probably quite different in terms of their budgeting priorities. Nevertheless, Macross Zero has enough breathtaking, high-speed dogfights to satisfy any mecha-action fan, and the cel-shaded CG fighters look great. One particularly memorable scene was in the last episode and features our protagonist Shin Kudo dueling against the villain ace pilot Nora Polyansky. Both Shin and Nora stall their variable fighters in mid-air and start descending in a helix pattern while trying to shoot each other down. There are many other memorable fight scenes in this five episode OVA, and even some of non-action scenes such as those taking place in the forest and under the sea look great as well. The bottom line is that Macross Zero is extremely impressive when it comes to the visuals department.
With all of this spectacular action and impressive visuals, it’s easy to overlook and forget about the other aspects of the series. Compared to the CG graphics and action sequences, the story and characters of Macross Zero are a bit mundane. My main complain about the main characters is that none of them have much of a personality. This is especially true for Shin Kudo, who has next to no defining characteristics other than being slightly standoff-ish to strangers. The Nome sisters aren’t much better either, and the quintessential Macross love triangle between the sisters and Shin also feels underdeveloped. The production staff probably spent too much time trying to think up of cool dogfights instead of trying to develop the characters, and the feelings between Shin, Sara, and Mao never reached the emotional level that they should have.
The overall story of Macross Zero was descent but not outstanding. I thought the tie-in between the alien artifacts and tribal mythology was quite clever. The relationship between the mythology and alien artifacts makes Macross Zero almost seem like a fantasy, which is fine since science fiction is really a type of fantasy. There are a couple of details that didn’t really make sense in the story. Most of this is nitpicking but I’ll continue anyways. One of the scenes that didn’t make much sense was the scene when Aries accidentally stepped onto a landmine in the Mayan forest. That landmine was mostly used for dramatic effect to stir up the romance between Aries and Roy, but it makes no sense for a landmine to suddenly appear on Mayan Island. Another event that made no sense was the nuclear strike ordered by Nora on Mayan Island. One would imagine that nuclear bombs would be a last resort weapon and certainly won’t be used as tools to flush people out of hiding, but Nora ordered the nuclear strike without much difficulty. There are a few other things that didn’t make sense, such as how the ships and submarine were floating even after the alien artifact has exited their hulls, but I don’t really have the time to point out every little single hole in the story.
The last topic to touch upon is the music, which is another defining characteristic of the Macross franchise. Compared to the other Macross series and OVAs, the music of Macross Zero falls short of expectations, most because there are only a few vocal songs. The lack of vocal songs can probably be attributed to the fact that Macross Zero does not feature a singing idol or popular band unlike some of the other series in the Macross universe. A couple of the vocal songs in this series are orchestral in nature and sounds pretty good as background music, but this is Macross and therefore the small number of vocal tracks is a little disappointing.
Without question, Macross Zero is a much watch for any Macross fans and for fans of mecha action. The dogfights is mesmerizing, and the graphics are impressive. Some of the other aspects are a little lacking, but they are not enough to ruin the overall experience, at least not for me. I admit that I’m biased since I’m a big mecha fan and I’m mostly focused on eye-candy. Regardless of my opinions, Macross Zero is worth checking out unless mecha is on your “don’t watch” list.
That’s all for the review portion of this post. Below is some more of my random ramblings about Macross Zero, with special focus on the ending and the series’ relationship with Macross Frontier. If you don’t want the ending to be spoiled then please do not read beyond this point. Actually I probably already spoiled the ending with all the pictures, but you can just pretend that you never saw the pictures.
The ending to Macross Zero was pretty ambiguous about what actually happens to Shin an Sara. Supposedly Shin blasts off into space and to be with Sara and the Bird Human, but according to Wikipedia the “Bird Human” movie made in Macross Frontier is actually based on the autobiography of Shin. This implies that Shin must have returned to the human world somehow, but nobody really talked much about it in Macross Frontier. Macross seems to like to leave the endings ambiguous, which I don’t really like since I’m the type who likes clear-cut endings. We still don’t know what happened to Hikaru, Misa, and Lynn after 25 years so we probably shouldn’t expect any of these mysteries to be solved.
After watching Macross Zero, I finally got what the scenes in the “Bird Human” movie in Macross Frontier were paying homage to. It would have been more fun if Sheryl had played her great-aunt Sara Nome in the movie, then the parallels between the lead characters in the two series would have been more striking. Alto has the same kind of personality as Shin, but of course Sheryl and Ranka aren’t quite the same as Sara and Mao. I probably would have gotten more out of that Macross Frontier if I had watched Macross Zero first, but who really cares at this point.