Macross (TV Volume #1) Review
Macross (or, to use its full title, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross) as a show dates back to the mid-1980s, and remains firmly entrenched in animé fans' minds as an example of the wonders of realism that could be achieved through state-of-the-art animation techniques. Of course, the intervening two decades have made many of these effects seem slightly old hat, but that doesn't detract from the technical achievement that Macross represents to the true animé historian.
The actual story itself follows a familiar progression for the 'hostile aliens' sub-genre of Japanese sci-fi. A gargantuan alien spacecraft crash-lands on Earth at the end of the 20th Century, and Humanity pools its collective resources in an effort to reap the harvest of its advanced technologies. Although political and military struggles over the fate of the ship dominate during the ensuing decade, in the end Mankind is able to repair the gigantic vessel… just in time for the aliens that created it to come looking for it.
If you are willing to allow the writers this one major conceit – namely, that a collection of fractious nations limited to pre-millennial Earth tech could somehow repair the derelict craft of an advanced extraterrestrial civilisation in 10 years flat – then there is nothing else in Macross that the average viewer would balk at. The series features a collection of likeable characters, many enjoyable plot arcs, and animation which looks very crisp even in this modern day. This first volume includes episodes 1 through 4 of the original TV series.
1: "Booby Trap"
The Macross crashed on South Ataria Island in 1999, and 10 years later the day of the official launching ceremony has finally arrived. Amidst the celebrations, we are introduced to the various key characters who will grow in prominence over the course of the series. Examples include gruff, battle-weary Captain Global, some of his bridge officers (e.g., Misa Hayase and Claudia LaSalle), his 'top gun' star pilot Major Roy Focker (don't giggle), and Roy's invited guest Hikaru Ichijo, with whom he used to do stunt flying when he was younger.
However, things take an abrupt turn towards disaster when the main cannon on the Macross targets and destroys an alien spaceship that has unexpectedly entered the solar system. This sparks a wave of retaliation by the Zentradi, an alien race of giants who have come seeking the lost Macross.
As battle is suddenly joined both on ground and in the air above the island, everyone scrambles to react in time. Captain Global and his bridge crew race to launch the Macross into outer space before it is destroyed on the surface. Hikaru (who has been left 'temporarily' in the cockpit of a Valkyrie fighter, having been promised a joy ride by his sempai Roy) is jarred into action by Misa, who – thinking she's addressing the craft's actual pilot – orders him to take off.
Whilst the battle rages on all sides, Hikaru has trouble coming to grips with the strange 'special features' of his Valkyrie fighter. Making an emergency landing downtown, he encounters Lynn Minmay, a 15 year-old girl with whom his fate is destined to become entwined.
3: "Space Fold"
Besieged by the superior forces of the Zentradi, Captain Global is left with no choice but to attempt the dangerous manoeuvre of engaging the untested 'space fold' drive near the Earth's surface.
4: "Lynn Minmay"
This episode begins to develop some of the show's main characters in greater detail, particularly Hikaru and Lynn, who – caught up in the huge sphere of space 'enfolded' when the Macross engaged its drive – find their Valkyrie craft abruptly in outer space. Although they finally succeed in finding a way aboard the Macross, it quickly becomes apparent that they are shut away in a vast, unused section of the spacecraft, with no means of contacting the rest of its human crew and passengers.
Yes, it's true… there is quite a bit of subtle graininess throughout these early episodes, but it is clear that this is due solely to the age of the masters used. Furthermore, the amount of care AnimEigo took in preparing video this old really shines through – the video quality is overall very good despite the background grain (and even this is only very noticeable in the first episode of the series). Specifically, I would say that the restoration efforts have succeeded beyond anyone's expectations, and the colour is spot on.
If you can forgive the minor grain issue and the very rare scratch or speck, you won't be disappointed by the picture here. Also important (considering that this DVD does not include an English dub track), the disc provides AnimEigo's usual super-readable subtitles.
Recalling that all the sound for this show was recorded in the 80s, it's not surprising that there are limits to what AnimEigo was able to do with the audio. The original mono track comes across very clearly on the centre channel, with no perceptible hissing or popping at any point. Nor does the Japanese dialogue exhibit any murkiness… although, somewhat vexingly (as it would have been a fairly easy fix), the 'bridging' segments which preview each upcoming episode seem to play louder than the episodes themselves. Not a biggie, though.
Moving into an area that can be a bit hit-or-miss for AnimEigo, I'm pleased to report that the company has done a great job with the menus for this DVD (which bodes well for the rest of their Macross TV releases). Upon loading – after a very brief copyright notice and AnimEigo's ID page – the disc moves into a short animated montage featuring Hikaru and cleverly incorporating a cockpit motif into the main menu, which appears immediately thereafter. They just about pegged the length of this animated intro sequence perfectly. Not only does it look great, but it doesn't leave you waiting ages to access the main menu controls (a vice some animé DVDs are guilty of).
The main menu controls themselves are very simple, essentially limited to individual episode play buttons, a 'play all' option, and 'settings' and 'disk info'. While you're deciding what to select, you are treated to a smoothly-looping series of background animated sequences coupled with musical highlights from Macross. Having mastered a lesson that certain other animé distributors have yet to learn, AnimEigo takes care to do cross-fades on all the theme music so it doesn't just cut out inexplicably at the end of each loop.
As for the extras… well, bad news here, I'm afraid. The phrase 'There aren't any' may be a bit harsh, but what special features there are aren't ones the average fan is precisely going to clamour for. The 'disk info' option treats you to music over a slideshow of static pages, featuring complete credits for Macross in English lettering over nice background images. The other 'extra' on this DVD are the extended subtitling options for this disc, which include unexpected possibilities such as watching the show with both subs and the Japanese audio turned off, but with the music and sound effects track left playing! It's an interesting feature, but not one that the average viewer is going to use.
This DVD comes in a black Amaray case, which works well with the cover art: essentially a set of neon 'wireframe' drawings of key characters against an ebon background. (Volume 1 features Hikaru, in case you're wondering.) The reverse of the case provides three screenshots and handy capsule summaries of the four episodes on the disc. It's not very exciting artwork, but it doesn't look ugly either.
A nicer packaging consideration is of course AnimEigo's standard bonus of liner notes concerning the show. In this case, the notes were researched and prepared by Egan Loo, and include interesting tidbits on everything from the show's original Japanese title to changes in specific animated sequences over the years. As usual, it makes for a good read and expands the viewer's enjoyment and understanding of the series.
This first volume of the Macross TV series represents a solid effort, and one that will appeal to any fan of the original show. For those who are new to Macross, however, it's important to gauge how much you like this sub-genre of animé before committing to a purchase… because as you only get the first four episodes on this disc, you're looking at buying quite a few more DVDs after this one if you do want to make any real headway with the story.