TV Review: Macross Zero: “The Ocean, The Wind, and…” (Episode 1, 2002)

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“Macross” is probably the best Science Fiction TV Series of the eighties. If I’m honest, that’s not saying a lot, since there wasn’t much to compare it to. Certainly “Manimal” didn’t offer much competition, nor did “The Powers of Matthew Starr.” Yeah, there was Star Trek: The Next Generation in the final third of the decade, but that series didn’t exactly hit the ground running as Wil Wheaton’s occasional reminiscences over on TV Squad point out. And even if it had, I think I’d still believe Macross was better, simply because of it’s much greater ambition, and it’s arc-driven storyline which was intense and grandiose enough to make Babylon 5 seem like The Brady Bunch Goes To The Grand Canyon.

Alas, despite its glorious genre greatness, most of you have probably never heard of it. Most of those of you who have heard of it have probably dismissed it as another of those goofy eighties mighty-fighty robot shows, like the Go-Bots and Transformers. Others have confused it with it’s bastard spawn, Robotech. This isn’t surprising - it wasn’t a live-action show, it was a Japanese cartoon, at a time when the distribution of such things in the English-speaking world was spotty at best. Add to this the unfortunately large segment of the fan community that can’t take anything seriously unless it’s a live-action show, and you’ve got a recipe for obscurity.

Which is really a shame, because it’s a great, ambitious, smart, and occasionally hilarious show that deserves far more exposure than it gets, and a lot more respect than its Robotech-addled memories tend to generate for it.

There are some similarities to the Trek Phenomenon in Robotech: Both were standalone Science Fiction series that proved far more successful after their initial run than anyone expected. Both kept coming back from the dead again and again. In the case of Trek, there was the original series, three subsequent spinoff series, a prequel spinoff series, ten movies (And counting), and an animated series that officially doesn’t count. With Macross, there’s been the original series, two full-fledged subsequent spinoff series, two subsequent miniseries, a prequel miniseries, three movies (And counting), and a number of one-off specials.

Since the order these episodes were produced in bears no resemblance to the internal continuity of the series, I’ve decided to watch the entire Macross franchise in its subjective chronological order, rather than broadcast/production order.

Here, then, is where it all starts: Macross Zero: “The Ocean, The Wind, and…”

We start off in 1999, when a massive, unidentified alien space ship crashes to earth, striking South Antaria Island and destroying most of the place, and producing a massive fireball that everyone mistook for a nuclear attack. Shin Kudo saw the fireball.

The ship - rather unfortunately dubbed “Alien Space Ship One” (or “ASS-1” for short). somehow survived, and as its secrets became known, the United Nations began coalescing into an actual world government in preparation for some massive crises yet to come, which the UN refused to talk about. Reacting to this, several nations and groups formed an “Anti-UN league” and the third world war began. We jump forward nine years to find Shin Kudo as a carrier-based UN Fighter Pilot fighting F-14 Tomcats against the bad guys in the south pacific. His back seater is Edgar LaSalle, a black American pilot (Who is the brother of Claudia LaSalle). Shin runs up against an Anti-UN variable fighter - the first he’s ever seen or heard of - and is shot down.

He awakes on an idyllic Polynesian island named “Mayan,” having been bandaged up by the locals. He freaks out a bit at first being cut off from the war, but eventually finds himself attracted to the only adult woman on the island, the beautiful priestess Sara Nome. All the adults have left to fight in the war, or been otherwise killed. Her kid sister, Mao Nome tutors him on island life. Edgar is presumed dead. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, or in this case, the Aircraft Carrier, Doctor Aires Turner is lecturing the command staff on the wreckage of *another* alien spacecraft that’s been found under water! Unlike ASS-1, it has been on the bottom of the ocean for at least ten thousand years. Everyone is quite stunned by this. Aries meets Commander Roy Fokker, a thirtyish American fighter pilot whom she had a romantic relationship years earlier, before the war began. Curiously, he’d apparently been a pacifist or a coward back then. She jokes about how he always said, “If there’s a war, I’ll run away to Arizona or someplace and hide.”

Back on the Island, Shin learns the legends of the local pagan religion: That humans were originally aquatic characters, who were visited by “Bird Humans.” These Bird Humans got mad at people and took away their fins, giving them legs instead. Eventually the bird humans left or were driven off.

Back on the carrier, Roy explains to Skull Squadron that the secret training they’ve been undergoing for the past year is to get them ready to fly the new super-secret Valkyrie VF-0: The first UN transforming variable-fighter. It’s identical to the VF-1s they fly in Macross, excepting it lacks the nuclear engines. It’s just a jet.

On Mayan island, Sara expresses her technophobia while Shin grows fonder of her. She has a sudden apocalyptic vision of the destruction that is to shortly come, and freaks out saying “Something is coming.” Suddenly Roy Fokker’s VF-0 flies by fighting anti-UN forces, and really, really freaking out Shin when it transforms from a plane in to a mighty-fighty robot. Making quick work of the bandit on his tail, Fokker flies off to help one of his wingmen, oblivious to the destruction he’s causing on the island with his stray shots. Sara realizes that Mao could be hurt, and shin runs off to rescue her…

To Be Continued.

OBSERVATIONS:

The First 6 minutes and 18 seconds of this episode are amazing, pulse-pounding and beautiful! The combination of CGI and ink-and-pen animation is amazingly well done, really probably about the best I’ve ever seen. Characters on the ground seeing ASS-1 hit are surprisingly poignant, since none of them have any idea what’s going on, and the dramatic slo-mo almost-montage up to the dogfight in 2008 is impressive. The battle itself is great, and there’s just something really really cool for people of my generation seeing Tomcats and Enterprise-Class Carriers fighting World War III.

The sequence from 24:55 to 26:41 where Fokker flies over the island fighting the bad guys is pretty amazingly done, particularly the long, glamorous flyby in absolute silence before the sonic boom hits. The fact that we see most of the battle from the ground is neat, too, and the transformation sequence from Fighter to Battroid is amazingly cool and shiny as hell!

Man, is it good to see Roy Fokker again/for the first time, or what? I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed him. The revelation that he may have been a pacifist in his younger days is interesting, or it may have simply been a pickup line he used to calm down chicks worried about his long-term prospects. He always was a bit of a womanizer. It’s interesting - and subtle - the way he acts around Aries as opposed to how he acts around other women in this series, and the next: He’s respectful. Not that he’s normally a bastard to women or anything, but he’s not on the prowl with her, he’s not trying to get her in to bed. He’s already had that, and so it’s out of the way, a long time in the past. Instead, he seems happy to have a familiar face from his old life around. Though there’s clearly some attraction between them, he seems to value her based on their shared past more than is normal for him. They’re not in love, they’re not in lust, though they’ve apparently done both of those things, they’re just happy to have someone familiar around in very dangerous circumstances. That’s how it seemed to me, anyway. He even calls her “Senpai” - “Teacher” or “Mentor” rather playfully a couple times. One wonders what it was she taught him? One thing that confuses me is that the original Macross series takes place about a year after this miniseries, and yet Roy’s got normal fighter-pilot hair here, and a massive mane which he couldn’t possibly have grown in only a year in the next series. A quibble, but it made me laugh.

The discovery of the ancient alien wreck under the sea and the religion on Mayan island are obviously connected in some way, and it was interesting that when the derelict blinked to life, Sara had her vision of destruction.

Story was good, characterization was good, nice to see an old friend again, nice to get a new insight in to the last days of the “old world” before the darkness comes in the next series, but as much as I enjoy all this, there’s a slightly half-baked feel to the episode: It’s not quite Macross and it’s not quite Top Gun. I think this is a deliberate move on the part of the producers, however, since we’re actually watching the transitioning from the world we know to the world of the series in these episodes. It makes it all quite interesting.

Well worth the time! You should watch the link above, you won’t be disappointed!

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