Macross Zero is an undeniably huge undertaking; this clearly has one of the biggest budgets to ever be granted to an OVA. Bandai has fairly deep pockets, but I’m sure even they must have been a little antsy about the huge capital investment involved in such a project. Thus, my primary concern when I started up the first episode was that the OVA, in the interest of "playing it safe," would create a relatively ambitionless plot that strayed little from what other animes from the Macross series have already done. My worries were not completely unfounded, as the anime has many of the trademarks that the franchise is known for. The most noticeable of these trademarks is the ever-prominent dichotomy of pro-war and anti-war sentiment. By this, I mean that like countless other Gundam and Macross animes, the OVA finds itself almost constantly deriding war as a pointless and inhumane endeavor, all the while providing bucket-loads of often superfluous combat sequences that are clearly designed to entertain the audience. As well as this, the show also works a love triangle in, a literary device that has been used in every Macross anime that I have seen. Fortunately, these all-too-familiar similarities are outweighed by an the animes "twist" - namely, tribal lore. The anime’s plot manages to work in a fair bit of this, and, among other things, integrates shamanism, primitive village life, and ancient unwritten mythology into the general plot. The fact that the OVA manages to mix these elements in with science fiction mecha warfare is not only impressive, but extremely beneficial to the overall storyline as well. While a lot of mecha animes these days come across as stale and derivative, Macross Zero’s plot feels fresh and new. The mix of tribalism with modern life works because of the show’s rather clever juxtaposition of the two. There are several times when modern culture noticeably clashes with established village life, and the result is surprisingly satisfactory and thought provoking. The animes personal opinion of this conflict ends up being rather one-sided, but I didn’t find this fact particularly bothersome. Unfortunately, the story is somewhat marred by the final episode. Compared to excellent pacing of the first four episodes, the fifth entry feels decidedly rushed and sloppy. The ending in general is also somewhat of a letdown, with the characters’ final fates coming across as predictable and cliched. As a whole, however, the storyline is a surprisingly original piece that manages to squeeze in the required action scenes without seeming too formulaic.
I can actually remember when the project was started nearly three years ago, and recall being thoroughly awed that the OVA would not come out until I was well into college. The wait was excruciatingly long, and I’m personally amazed that I managed to hold off on seeing any of the episodes until every single one was out. The reason for the incredibly long period of time between episodes becomes apparent, however, when one begins to watch through the first episode. Macross Zero’s CGI work is absolutely amazing, and is definitely the best I’ve seen in any non-Hollywood production. The action scenes in particular are absolutely stunning; fantastic mecha models combine with blisteringly fast animation and ingenious choreography to provide the undeniable high point of the entire anime. Oddly enough, however, the animation’s greatest strength turns out to also be its only detriment. While the CGI is almost always outstanding, there are times when it feels unnecessary and awkward. Probably the worst-looking scene in the entire OVA occurs when one of the characters spills cola on another. The scene would have been relatively easy to animate normally, but for some inexplicable reason, the director decided to animate the actual soda in CGI. The result is jarringly ugly, and is one of several decidedly imperfect scenes. However, for the most part, the CGI is nothing short of stunning, and is probably the number one reason to watch the anime. Besides the fantastic CGI, Macross Zero also sports some of the best backgrounds ever produced for an anime. Of particular note is the lush tropical rainforest environment that many of the scenes take place in, which is often eye candy in and of itself. Character designs manage to be appealing, if not completely original.
The OST is of decidedly high quality, with several excellent songs present throughout the show. The songs, which are very reminiscent of Yoko Kanno’s work in Earth Girl Arjuna, work very well with the OVA’s tribal theme. The highlight of the soundtrack is most likely a song that is sung by one of the main characters midway through the show, and is a wonderfully ethereal piece that seems to have permanently staked out a spot in my playlist. Voice acting on the whole is passable, with no performances that are either noticeably good or bad.
With the rather dense plot and lengthy action sequences, the anime doesn’t really have time in five episodes to have character development of any substance. As a result, the OVA falls back on age-old archetypes that can be found in countless other anime. The two Mayan sisters both have personalities that can easily be found elsewhere, and the protagonist is even more generic and undeveloped. The show even goes as far as to recycle Roy Focker from the original Macross television series (although, to the show’s credit, he works fairly well in his supporting role). The utter lack of any depth whatsoever in the characters is the most probable culprit for why the aforementioned love triangle falls flat on its face. Without unique and genuine personalities, just about every romance is pretty much doomed, and Macross Zero is no exception.
Macross Zero, more than anything else, is a work to be admired for the sheer amount of effort put into it. Over the time that this rather monumental series was put together, a tremendous amount of money and man-hours were no doubt poured into the OVA. As a result, the show feels almost blindingly well polished, and is thoroughly entertaining for just about the entire running time. While the characters and storyline could have probably been a little better, this is nonetheless an impressive work that I’d recommend to anyone who doesn’t absolutely hate the mecha genre.