For the 25th anniversary of the original Macross—known in the states as Robotech—we are given the product of Macross Frontier. Set in 2059, nearly fifty years after the original, Macross F tells the story of the fleet group Frontier as they make their way toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy in hopes of finding a suitable planet to colonize. Macross F follows the story of three teenagers: Alto Saotome, a former kabuki actor with dreams of flying in a non-colony ship habitat, Ranka Lee, a waitress with dreams of becoming an idol singer, and Sheryl Nome, a traveling international superstar and Ranka’s favorite singer. The three are invariably thrust into the story together as the Frontier colony is attacked by unknown alien beings that somehow seem drawn to the colony.
First, to be clear: Macross F is meant to, like all other Macross stories before it, be at heart a retelling of the original story. Like the Gundam series, Macross refrains similar characters and ideas almost like a musical composition and adds or subtracts elements to make it fresh and enjoyable. For anyone that is familiar with the original Macross or its Robotech localization in the States, the storyline will be extremely reminiscent and the characters regularly echo their Hikaru, Minmay, and Misa origins; however, they also break away from those origins just enough that none of the characters come across as absolute clones. Reverences to the original and other stories of the Macross universe abound, however, including but not limited to Ozma Lee’s similarities to Roy Focker, an iteration of the original Macross’ song "Watashi no Kare wa Pilot," and attack formations named for Macross 7's band Fire Bomber.
The story itself is, in many ways, secondary to the characters and their interactions. Much as a Space Opera should, it really centers around the adventures of the three characters and their friends amidst a larger picture each only has a small part out of the whole. Alto is no Luke Skywalker or even comparable to his Gundam hero counterparts; he is, instead, a teenage boy that has just enough talent and just enough drive to carry him through the situations he is presented with. Ranka herself, though similar to Lynn Minmay of the original Macross, is no idle window dressing and grows up significantly through the series, from aspiring singer to the spiritual heart of the show and its themes of communication. Sheryl likewise goes through an evolution, though one might argue it is a devolution, as she starts the show as seemingly the most mature of the three but comes out of the story having learned the most from her younger counterparts. And that is, perhaps, the series strongest feature: a love triangle that never seems to favor either side and always gives each character a moment to shine.
As Macross is known for its music, this series does not disappoint: indeed, in Japan, it smashed decade-old records for anime-related music sales. Singer-seiyuu Megumi Nakajima (Ranka) and singer May’n (Sheryl’s singing voice) have gone from unknown singers prior to the show to selling out Japan’s Budokan Stadium for their performances. The setting music is no slouch either, as Yoko Kanno (Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell) once again delivers an extremely complex yet sympathetic score that sets up both energetic battle sequences and startlingly poignant moments between the cast.
Animation is slick and colorful and hardly looks like anything else in the market today. Although jarring to some extent, the integration of CGI visuals for space battles is some of the smoothest integration of CGI in two-dimensional animation to date, and the well-done pacing and energy of the battle sequences help obfuscate the disconnect between the two.
Of any mecha series, this is probably the easiest show to simply slip into, watch, enjoy, and feel entertained by without the headaches caused by the browbeating shows in the Gundam series evoke. That being said, it is still deep enough and its themes on love and life are still strong enough that it is more than mere popcorn entertainment.