Buried Treasure
Macross DYRL

by Justin Sevakis, May 7th 2009

Macross: Do You Remember Love? is more than a movie, it's an institution. It's been fansubbed more times than probably any anime in history. It's visually arresting to this day, despite being completed in 1984. To Japanese otaku and animators, it's a holy grail: an absolute high-water mark of both anime and the nerds that make it. It will never see a proper American release.

Directed by the amazing Shoji Kawamori, the film has a level of hand-crafted intricacy that was rare even in anime's bubble economy heyday. The visual highlights are many, from the famous chaotic missile barrage (a specialty of animator Ichiro Itano, and therefore christened the "Itano Circus") to Kazutaka Miyatake's intricate mecha to Haruhiko Mikimoto's now classic doe-eyed character designs, now given an even more vivid spark and detail than in the TV series. It seems like nearly everybody involved in the production became an all-star of the anime world; other notables include Haruhiko Mikimoto, Koji Morimoto, Yutaka Izubuchi, Takashi Nakamura, and many more.

But these impressive credits are merely factoids, for Macross DYRL is far more than the sum of its parts. There's a lilting, nostalgic tone to the proceedings. There's a sort of overarching wisdom to the show, the nostalgic feel one gets when a relative recounts an old yarn with the distance of many years. In that way, it's a departure from the TV series. Whereas the TV version's unnatural story progression and sometimes meandering narrative limited its epic feel (to say nothing of the technical limitations of television animation in the early 80s), DYRL has none of these limitations.

It's the year 2009 (!) and humanity is locked into a fierce war with not one but two other alien races, the all-male Zentrans and the all-female Meltrans. Humanity's greatest warship is the Macross, the newly commissioned massive transforming battlecraft that's, unfortunately, home to way too many civilians. (A badly timed hyperspace fold took a big chunk of a city with it.) Fortunately the ship is big enough to, more or less, rebuild a habitable city in its interior, and most people try their best to go about their daily lives. This isn't easy when the ship sees regular battle and, on those occasions, has to change shape.

It's during one such battle that young pilot Hikaru Ichijyo gets stranded in the bowels of the ship while saving the one girl on the ship that EVERYONE wants to take home, an idol singer named Lynn Minmay. After spending a dream-like few days with her, the two are eventually found and begin secretly seeing each other. This, of course, doesn't bode well for either of their careers: an idol singer must stay chaste, while a pilot kind of has to keep his mind on flying and shooting stuff. Hikaru's friends, including his self-appointed Big Brother figure Lt. Roy Focker, jibe him good naturedly. At the same time, there's another girl who's not exactly pleased by this. It's Hikaru's commanding officer, Lt. Misa Hayase.

Anyway, the Zentradi, a race of giants who split from humanity ages ago, happen upon a broadcast of a Minmay performance, and are met with an alarming discovery: the presence of music has a supremely destablizing effect on their race. "Protoculture," their name for the co-mingling of men and women, is the ultimate taboo in their culture (having split off from the female half of the species, the Meltran, ages ago), and its rediscovery softens their men and makes them useless in battle. They capture Hikaru, Misa, Minmay, her manager cousin Kaifun, Roy and Hikaru, and the group only manages to escape when the Meltrans attack the ship they're held captive on.

They escape and hyperspace fold to a planet that's unrecognizable and desolate. That planet is Earth, and there, they will find the secret that will unite the disparate races, and Hikaru will find the answers he's looking for as well.

As the film climaxes, there's an absolutely show-stopping piece that also serves as the war's final battle. As Minmay begins her song and stuff in space starts blowing up, the film goes from intriguing to entrancing. Her song, "Ai, Oboete Imasuka?" is not the childish stuff we've heard before in the series and earlier in the film, it's an adult song, lilting and delicate, a tribute to those things that the Zentradi have forgotten. The combination of the visuals and this song is such an unlikely pairing that the result is captivating and awe inspiring. There hasn't been anything like it since.

No matter how ludicrous the idea of fighting a war with a pop song, or the any of the other absurdities of ultra-big alien races, Macross makes us believe. It creates a future world so colorful and exciting that despite the hardship and the war, it's a world we kinda wish we lived in. Minmay is a big part of that, an annoyingly cute object of wish fulfillment and innocence that, while not exactly being a brain surgeon, inspires the sort of fantasizing that keeps people going when times get rough. The girl herself is nothing special -- for years she actually dominated fans' list of most annoying anime characters (until Fushigi Yuugi came out) -- but she's a best-case scenario for the very idea of an idol singer: a pretty, gentle, talented (and realistically attainable) girl. Taking cues from Seiko Matsuda, she's the epitome of what idol fans wish for in a girl.

And yet, Hikaru's relationship with her seems to progress alongside his own maturation. Ultimately, he's forced to choose between the young, adorably inexperienced Minmay and the maternal, mature Lt. Misa Hayase. Misa isn't exactly happy to have the little pop princess around, but she doesn't begrudge the fact that she's actually serving a pretty important role in keeping morale up aboard the Macross. It's the very acceptance of those childish dreams that give her the ability to find the key to defeating the Zentraedi, after all. Idol stars are important in giving us dreams and touching our emotions, but they're better kept at a distance. In the end, Hikaru's choice is obvious.

There is an English dub of the film, and it's a doozy. Commissioned by Japanese distributor TOHO and dubbed in Hong Kong by both English speaking natives and Australian ex-pats, it's pretty much a complete train wreck. Wooden at best and hilariously stupid at worst, its initial release in the United States (where it was made even more unwatchable by having nearly 30 minutes excised) was released on VHS as "Macross: Clash of the Bionoids". It proceeded to sit untouched in the anime sections of every Blockbuster Video in the country for the following decade. (The uncut dub, which still had minor cosmetic edits, was re-released as a budget VHS tape by Best Film and Video in the late 90s shortly before going out of business.)

What's keeping Macross DYRL from a proper re-release is more than just Harmony Gold (who owns the "Macross" trademark in the United States and would want compensation for it). The years-long legal battle between Tatsunoko Pro and Big West makes who would even get to serve as licensor something of an open question. With the US anime market in shambles, it's hard to imagine any businessman suicidal enough to pay off everybody in order to sell a DVD to a small handful of fans. And since this didn't happen during the industry's heyday, it probably wasn't even possible.

The film version of the original Macross story is absolutely the best way to experience it. While the TV show is a work of beauty and absolutely worth seeing, it's the movie that irons out the pacing flaws and other kinks. It elevates the story to a level beyond itself, to a place where silly fantasy somehow becomes more important and believable than anything in real life. Its profound effects can be found on every mecha and action show produced since. It's as important to Japanese science fiction as Star Wars was to the fantasy world at large. Unless you have seen Macross: Do You Remember Love?, you have simply not seen mecha anime.


Obscure-O-Meter™
A Abundant. Available anywhere that carries anime.
C Common. In print, and always available online.
R1 US release out of print, still in stock most places.
R2 US release out of print, not easy to find.
R3 Import only, but it has English on it.
R4 Import only. Fansubs commonly available.
R5 Import only, and out of print. Fansubs might be out there.
R6 Import long out of print. No fansubs are known to exist.
R7 Very rare. Limited import release or aired on TV with no video release. No fansubs known to exist.
R8 Never been on the market. Almost impossible to obtain.
Adapted from Soviet-Awards.com.

Where to get it:
Unless you know Japanese, fansubs are your only option and likely will be for the rest of our lives. That is, unless you really enjoy watching indescribably bad 80s hack 'n' slash dubs on fuzzy old VHS. (Those pop up for sale used all the time -- try the usual sources.) The good news is, the fansubs are pretty much everywhere, and since they're based on the most recent digitally restored Japanese DVD, they look pretty nice. I hold out hope that when the inevitable Japanese Blu-ray comes out, the Japanese might see fit to add a subtitle track. I'd buy that in a heartbeat.

There was recently a fan restoration of the crappy old dub, which I GUESS is a good thing, since the old VHS tapes have so much hiss in them that it's like trying to watch the film with the shower on. As one might expect, the cleaned up audio makes the dub even worse: it's so badly recorded that there's an audible "click" and a change in ambient noise every time somebody speaks. I think most people could do a better dub job on their phones these days.

Screenshots ©1984 Big West.


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