Genre: Sci-fi Top Gun-Style Action Drama (Drama)
What’s in it?: Big robots/mecha, Space Ships (transforming mecha, of course, and a lot of defense satellites), chases and races (Some great aerial chases), Dogfighting (you won’t find better, anywhere)
The story of Macross Plus centres on the love triangle between three old friends, reunited after seven years apart: Isamu Dyson; a wild and carefree daredevil, Guld Bowman; a cold, formal half Zentraedi, and Myung Lone; a former singer who now works as the manager for the wildly popular Sharon Apple, an artificially intelligent computer singer.
In episode one, we find that Isamu and Guld, both test pilots, are working on opposing teams vying for the contract to design the new U.N. Spacey Veritech fighter. It’s not long into the combat testing before old animosity between the two pilots surfaces, and a violent confrontation between the two during testing is the first run-in. Things are complicated further when they find that Sharon Apple is on the planet doing a concert, and Sharon’s manager is Myung. Finally, the three meet, and though Isamu and Guld both still feel for her, Myung has changed.
In episode two, we discover as Sharon’s Concert nears that Myung is more than just Sharon’s manager; Sharon’s program is not complete and Myung’s singing skill and thoughts are required to give the computer its emotions. During Sharon’s concert, the head engineer on Isamu’s team hacks Sharon’s program and finds that Sharon seems to have an interest in Isamu. After the concert, Myung spends time with some old friends, but is upset about talk of the past, and leaves before Guld or Isamu arrive. However, both Isamu and Guld get a strange message telling them that there will be a fire at the concert hall. Both rush there, but Guld, who was already looking for Myung, arrives first to find Myung is trapped in a burning room. Guld saves her, injuring himself in the process. Myung takes Guld to her apartment and treats his wounds, while Isamu and the authorities arrive at the concert hall, believing no one had been there. Isamu and Guld’s anger toward each other finally reaches a head, with both abandoning a test run and attacking each other. Isamu is bested when Guld fires on him with a practice gun pod that was somehow loaded with live ammo.
In episode three, we find that no on one was harmed in the violent confrontation, the incident is ignored by the top brass, and the project continues. Shortly after Myung leaves abruptly for earth to oversee a concert by Sharon, the two test pilots find the real reason why the incident was swept under the rug so quickly–The project has been cancelled in favour of introducing an unmanned “Ghost Fighter”. Further, this Ghost Fighter is about to be introduced at the Sharon Apple concert on earth. Meanwhile, on earth, Myung discovers that Sharon’s program has been completed, and she is no longer necessary. Further, we find that Sharon’s creator is working with the government on the AI for the Ghost Fighter, and using unstable and illegal bio chips in the process. Before the concert, Myung confronts Sharon to find that she has become more than a simple singing computer–she not only has inherited Myung’s love for Isamu, but is insane to boot. Sharon proceeds to imprison Myung within the Macross, and take control of the planetary defence system. In the mean time, Isamu has decided to crash the introduction of the Ghost Fighter, and takes off for earth in his experimental Veritech to do it. Guld realizes this, and soon follows to stop him.
Not much can be said about episode four without giving away the end of the story, but Guld and Isamu have a final showdown in the upper atmosphere of Earth, and then the real fight starts; the fight against the insane Sharon Apple, with the Ghost Fighter, the entire planetary defence system, and the Macross at her command. The fight for Myung begins.
Macross Plus: The Movie
The Macross Plus movie follows basically the same plot as the OAVs. There are a few differences; some scenes were cut to make the story flow better and keep within a two hour length, and a few scenes were added to smooth things out. The most notable changes are at the very end, but I can’t really elaborate on them without spoiling the plot.
The Macross series has been around for a long time, especially by American anime standards; the original TV series was, after all, the foundation for the old Robotech series. Through the years, many incarnations have popped up, but of all those, Macross Plus is probably the best known. And for a good reason. The basic theme is true to it’s heritage: strong characterization, interesting (if not wildly original) plot, lots of singing, and transforming robot action. But this one takes all of those things a notch up, and adds some truly spectacular visuals to the mix. And despite it’s long lineage and relatively archtypal story, Macross Plus feels fresh, interesting, and is just plain good storytelling. You should be warned that the setting and background of the world may be a bit confusing for those who aren’t familiar with some of the preceeding Macross series, but the plot is self contained enough that you won’t feel too left out if you’re a newcomerjust a little underinformed.
As with the rest of the Macross series, the plot isn’t quite what you’d expect; if anything, it feels more like a soap opera than an excuse for dogfights. While this might sound bad to some non-Macross fans, it’s a big reason for the series’ popularity, and it definitely worked here. Shifting the focus from the action to the characters while still having dogfights that put Top Gun to shame makes Macross Plus not only riveting visually, but also well worth watching between the action sequences. Though this ballance of action and characters appears in some shoujo-style stories, and is an ongoing theme in the Macross (and Gunbuster) series, I would say that Macross Plus managed to top all of them in that aspect. The characters and their relationships have plenty of depth, and some interesting, troubled personalities. The story has a classic, archtypal theme that may seem a little tired to some, but the richness of the characters and their depth added so much to the mix that even the relatively simple story came across very well. Actually, my one and only complaint is that, for a story that is so archetypal and characters that feel so real, the plot takes a remarkably weird turn. Mind controlling megalomaniac robots seem just a little out of place. The last episode in particular has more in common with Akira than Top Gun.
Macross Plus: The Movie is worth special note: unlike many “Movies” or “Perfect Collections” based on OAV series, it is more than just the set of OAVs pasted together and passed off as a movie. It is cut together, trimmed down, and sprinkled with new animation and minor plot adjustments throughout. The changes are, in my opinion, all for the better. A lot of the minor scenes were trimmed down, giving the story a much tighter feeling, but the most major changes (and most of the new animation) occur at the very end, and are probably the most beneficial to the overall story. I won’t go into any detail, but the end of the movie is more satisfying and tightly wrapped up than the OAV series. In any case, the movie flows beautifully throughout, and you would have no idea that it had been an OAV series in a past life. The only complaint you could have is that, by watching the movie, you’re missing a fair chunk of some of the best animation you’re ever likely to see. For that reason, as well as the fact that the plots are somewhat different and both quite good, I’d recommend seeing both versions, particularly if you’re a big fan of either really good animation or Macross in general.
The visuals of Macross Plus are something else altogether. Macross Plus, I have heard, was one of the most expensive anime OAVs ever created. It shows. This is, simply put, a visually stunning piece of work. The character designs are sharply featured, very three dimensional, and attractive, and are actually somewhat of a departure from the relatively rounded, soft-looking Mikimoto look that most of the Macross series has had. The action, both mechanical and character, is beautiful and beautifully animated, with a few truly spectacular mecha battles and dogfights. And the art is smooth, detailed, and downright beautiful. As a whole, everything looks expensive and polished. Theatre quality animation in an OAV package. Just imagine a Robotech episode animated on a Disney budget.
As with everything else, the acting is top notch; the Japanese acting is great (necessary for a character-based drama like this), and the English acting was actually quite good too. Finally, there is the music (this is part of the Macross series, after all, and music has always been an ongoing theme). As one might expect in a series involving a robotic singer and her manager, Macross Plus has plenty of music, and it doesn¹t disappoint. Sharon’s music has a pop feel, but is sung in a variety of languages and artificially modified voices, and the musical themes (all by the Yoko Kanno, a master of variety) are distinctly international (or non-national). The end result is, frankly, beautiful. The songs are some of the most unusual, and best, I’ve heard in any anime series (or anything else, for that matter). Powerful, lyrical, mysterious, and just alien enough that you would actually believe that a computer might have come up with it. And, in addition to being just plain great music, it actually plays an important role in the story. To top it all off (and as a neat contrast), the non-vocal score is done by a full orchestra, and is composed and executed with a very classical feel; upbeat and grandly adventurous.
To sum up, the animation is second to none, the art is simply beautiful, the action is spectacular, the music is great, and, most surprisingly, the story still manages to be character driven, with detailed characters and good acting (even in the dub). Macross Plus is a must see for any Macross fan, for transforming robot fans, for admirers of beautiful art and animation, and for basically anyone who even claims to like anime. The only question is weather you should see the Movie or the OAVs. They are both good, and somewhat different, but if you’re only going to see one (and have the choice), see the movie. If you can, though, it is almost certainly worth it to watch both. An instant anime classic.