Want to watch a tragedy? Sit through the entirety of Macross Frontier. Then, contemplate what could have been made if the talent behind the anime had been used to make something besides a creatively brain-dead retread of a 20-year-old franchise. In the tradition of Hollywood, Macross F represents an enormous amount of time and money spent on something spectacularly shallow.
For a while, the anime is enjoyable on its production values alone, since Macross F has the slickest combination of animation and sound released in a series this year. However, some glitzy animation and a deep, high quality soundtrack can only carry a work so far, and the plot never pulls together into the epic story promised in the first few episodes. Instead, Macross F continues to careen through its to-do list of key plot points, failing to engage the entire way through. Not only are the disparate elements of the show mediocre, but they never come together as a cohesive whole. Nothing fits together, from the predictable pop-star careers to the clumsy love triangle to the fights with boring bugs ripped straight out of Starship Troopers.
In fact, at times the show feels like watching a four OVA story stretched into a 25 episode series. To compensate for the added length, the writers try to shoehorn superfluous plot thread after superfluous plot thread into the overarching story, and the final product is about as terrible as you’d expect: bloated, unorganized and in strong need of some ruthless cutting.
The unforgivably sloppy ending is the final straw. The writers try to resolve every single one of their endless loose ends in less than five minutes so that they can spend the other fifteen minutes on yet another boring mecha battle. As a result, everything reeks of anticlimax.
The visuals are heavily aided by computers, and the resulting richness of detail is impressive. Granted, the incessantly glitzy style can get old at times; in particular, the luminous, almost neon color palette is a little painful. Still, no one is going to complain that the animators were underfunded.
Arguably the best use of animation comes during the song performances. This is the best musical choreography that I have ever seen in an animated work, and no, nothing else comes close. I've lost count of how many times I've rewatched Ranka's performance of “Watashi no Kare wa Pilot.”
Sadly, for all of the glitz and glamour, the action scenes are surprisingly yawn-inducing. While they’re by no means terrible, oftentimes they lack any sort of kinetic punch. By that, I mean that there's little sense of immediacy to the entire affair, and watching the fights occasionally feels more like tedious exercise than genuine excitement. Compared to the intensely frenetic battles in Macross Zero, this is a definite step backwards.
The music is nice, at least. Some of Sheryl's songs are a little dull, but Ranka's singer has a great voice and some catchy songs to work with. Also, there's such a huge selection of songs that the show can pick and choose over the course of the series, ensuring none of tracks get old.
Voice acting is workmanlike but unremarkable. Series like this illustrate how difficult giving a convincing performance can be when the script is ass.
I’ve written about bloated casts before in my reviews of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion and My-Hime, and the same concept applies here. Given the depth of the narrative, there are about five times as many characters as the show really needed. A lot of the characters' only perceivable function is to take up space and make the story seem more epic than it is. The result is that I didn't care about anyone: not about the by-the-numbers protagonist (no, adding a ponytail is not innovation) and certainly not about the numerous contrived half-baked romances between the side-characters.
The fact that Ranka (girl #1) also isn't likeable is telling of just how utterly the writers fail, because God knows they try to get the audience to care about her. Still, in spite of the endless GAMBATTE dialogue, in spite of the bullshit tragic backstory, in spite of the contrived amnesia plot device, in spite of the 5,000,000 yen character design, in spite of all of this, nothing works and the primary emotion associated with her is still "indifference."
Sheryl (girl #2) fares slightly better, if for no other reason than that her personality actually feels vaguely different from the clichéd character archetypes that the rest of the characters so faithfully follow. However, since her main deviation from cliche is her nigh-infinite superciliousness, oftentimes “different” translates to “annoying.”
All of this culminates into an absolute disaster of a love triangle, which is easily the least convincing of any Macross work released to date. Yes, worse than Zero's. With Zero, the characters aren't given enough dialogue to convince us that there is any real romance between them. With Macross F, the deluge of face-palm dialogue convinces us that there couldn't be any romance.
Macross F is mediocre from the very beginning, but the series is initially enjoyable on the strength of the visuals and music alone. However, this appeal gradually fades, and by the end, the only real appeal comes from finishing the damn thing. Throw in the terribad ending, and Macross F is one of the worst full length series I've finished in some time.
After being threatened by extinction at the hands of alien invaders called the Zentradi, humanity undertook the task of guaranteeing itself a future by launching fleets of colony ships into space. On Macross Frontier, one such fleet, high school student Saotome Alto's life is changed forever: the fleet is suddenly attacked by unidentified creatures while he is performing aerial stunts for a concert by the wildly popular idol Sheryl. Alto quickly finds himself in the cockpit of a new-model fighter struggling to protect Ranka Lee, a young girl he met only hours earlier, from the invaders' swath of destruction. Noting his performance during this incident, the S.M.S. Skull Squadron private military company invites Alto to join their organization, where he continues protecting his friends and Macross Frontier.