EPISODE REVIEW: Macross Zero: “Jungle” (Episode 4, 2004)

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Since we've been away such a long time, here's a really good FMV I found to get us all back in the mood. Watch this and then we'll get to the review:

Freakin' beautiful, isn't it?

Episode 4 picks up right where 3 left off, with Sara and Shin in the clutches of the evil Anti-Un forces on the island. Nora beats hell out of Shin, then accuses the UN of being evil, and talks about murder and rape committed by UN forces. She unzips her flight suit and shows him a huge scar on her chest. Some of the A-UN guys catch Aires and bring her in.

Meanwhile, Roy is refueling his fighter in flight, and DD Ivanov attacks and blows up the tanker while he’s still attached. - wow!_ a pretty heart-pointing battle sequence ensues, with Roy making a mad dash to the deck THROUGH the flaming wreckage of the tanker, while Ivanov harrases him from behind.

They fence a bit, verbally and physically.

On the island, Dr. Professor Hasford show s up, aged as and feeble as Davros in a wheelchair. He’s the one who came to the island years before and took blood samples from Sara when she was a little girl. We see flashbacks to him bribing her, and he expounds - to Aires - how this led to protoculture theory. Aires runs around mesmerized by the petroglyphs and the inscriptions on them. He explains how the ones who genetically manipulated humans in the past send a large probe-robot “Bird Human” which, when the experiment was deemed a failure, was programmed to destroy earth by singing the song of death. But it cut off it’s own head in order to prevent that, and hence our race survives. However, as people grow more and more removed from nature, it is believed that the head moves closer to the body and the song of destruction will come.

Meanwhile the dogfight between Roy and Ivonov continues.

Sara freaks out at this, and goes in to a kind of flight-or-fight state screaming “no” which causes the ancient alien machinery that’s genetically bonded with hwer to kick in. Gravity partially shuts off, and the petroglyphs start to fly. Higgaldy piggaldy ensues as the dogfight gets closer to the sight. Shin grabs a floating petroglyph, and pulls Sara on to it as it flys away. The Anti-UN forces look on stupidly, and some shoot at them. Fory - shot down by Ivanovo - gets shot down right in the middle of all this. The professor orders Nora to go after Sara and bring her back unharmed, but shin and her fly through the woods in a surprisingly in-control way that’s never quite explained (Is the alien machine protecting her? Is Sara flying it unconsciously?) Nora blows the thing apart with a VERY BIG sniper rifle, and Sara falls off.

They survive, and make their way through the jungle back to the coast, where they watch the aircraft carrier Askua pulling in off in the distance. Sara talks about the legend a bit and lets on that she feels the world is about to end and she’s the one who’s caused it, by breaking the priestly code when she was little and giving blood to the professor.

Aires and Roy make their way through the jungle, too, and discuss their wonky relationship. Both groups have minor adventures as they make their way to safety.

The UN and Anti-UN forces are gearing up for a major battle near the island.

Meanwhile, aboard the Askua, Mao lies unconscious on the hangar deck floor, surrounded by chanting women and men.

Far down in the bowels of the ship, the Birdman’s Head begins to glow…

The End


I’m sorry for the long delay between Macross reviews, but this was a hard one to do. For starters, this has never been officially released in the US, so I was forced to rely on fansubs. When I started this series, it was a golden age and fansubs were plentiful, but my supply has more or less dried up since the first of the year. Even the Youtube stuff is largely disappearing. Also, this is the third time I’ve seen this episode, and I’m still not entirely sure I’ve got a handle on it. Part of this, I think, is that it’s one of the weaker episodes of the bunch in terms of execution, but it’s also possible that there’s a lot of subtle culturally-specific stuff that I’m just not getting because I’m not Japanese. (Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!)

There’s a scene in this episode where Aires and Roy take a breather on a small, pretty ledge below a waterfall and above another waterfall, and that’s kind of a none-too-subtle metaphor for this episode as a whole - it’s a brief pause between the bad stuff that’s already happened, and the obvious tragic ending that’s about to come. It’s a respite, a chance to catch your breath before going back in to battle. For an actioner, it’s surprisingly talky, with a lot of chat about the relationships between the two lead couples in the show, though linking them through the Professor was a clever and unforeseen move - the same man who trained Aires, and is her hero, is a bastard working for the anti-UN who traumatized Sara as a young girl. He’s also the scientific head of the Anti-UN mission to recover the Birdman, which puts him -at least occasionally - in charge of Ivanov and Nora, so really he functions to link all three couples.

The moral ambiguity of it all is well played. Up until now we’ve been told the UN forces are the good guys, but obviously they did really, really bad stuff to Nora, which has lead to her being a violent psychopath. Of course we already knew that all the adults on Mayan island had been impressed in to service with the UN, leaving the old and the children behind, but if I understood some of the dialog in this episode correctly, they seem to be implying the “Little Sister” was raped by UN forces when the impressment happened. Are they talking about Mao here? Wow! The dividing line between good and bad gets muddied quite a bit here, with the Anti-UN forces suddenly becoming a bit more sympathetic.

And what are these forces fighting over, anyway? We haven’t been specifically told thus far in the series, and I kind of don’t think we will be. The UN and Anti-UN are, in actual practice, a lot like the old cold war NATO and Warsaw Pact alliances, respectively. The UN shows every sign of becoming a macro-nation, and the Anti-UN oppose that. Is that what it’s all about? Opposition to an emerging world state? Or has this whole long conflict been about gaining control of the alien artifacts, the Macross on South Antaria Island, and the much older “Birdman” here on Mayan Island? Is there an ideological conflict, or an economic one as well? Dunno. That would help, I think.

For good reason, this episode is called “Jungle” - nearly all of it takes place in the Mayan Island one, but beyond that, there’s a more subtle reason: “Kill or be killed” is the law of the jungle, and each one of these groups is acting that out to a greater or lesser metaphoric extent, even the Professor. There’s an element of betrayal in all this, because, of course, there is no loyalty under the law of the Jungle, right? So Ivanov tried repeatedly to kill his one-time star pupil, Roy; and Aires feels betrayed by her hero/mentor, Hassford; and Sara feels - cleverly - that her betrayal of the ‘don’t give blood’ clause of her religion is the thing that has caused the bulwark of civilization to slip, and the entire world to crash in to this jungle-like existence. And in fact, she’s probably right. If she isn’t responsible for starting the war itself, at the very least it was her blood sample that brought the war to this particular island. And what is the UN/Anti-UN war here, excepting “Kill or be Killed” on a much, much larger scale?

Despite me continually feeling like the story here is slightly out of my grasp for some reason, this is a very pretty episode, and the animation is great, particularly the sepia-toned flashbacks to Sara giving the younger Professor Hassford his blood sample years earlier. The exploding tanker dogfight is pretty harrowing, and the waterfall above and below other waterfalls where Aires and Roy talk things out is beautiful, and of course we get the obvious visual metaphor of a boat-like leaf sailing along placidly, then suddenly going over the falls: the intermezzo is over, the fat lady is soon to sing, and whole world is about to fall apart when she does, literally, because, as we know, the legend of the Birdman is true, if a bit obscured with a few thousand years of cultural encrustations.