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Review

by Nicholas Dupree,

Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell

Synopsis:
Macross Frontier: The Wings of Farewell
Time is running out aboard the Frontier. The battle against the Vajra continues, the costs and casualties of war stacking up in front of Alto's eyes with every encounter, and each fight leaves him uncertain if he'll make it back from the next. Time is short for Sheryl, whose body is quickly deteriorating and her days as the galaxy's songstress numbered in the single digits. And though she doesn't know it, Ranka's life is on the verge of destruction, with the menacing conspiracy of the Macross Galaxy's masterminds closing in on her. With so many mysteries and threats creeping ever closer, all three will need to come together, if there's to be any hope of surviving.
Review:

If I had to describe this film's predecessor, The False Songstress, in a single word, it would be “functional.” The film did a decent job trimming down the first 60% of Macross Frontier's TV series and delivering a coherent storyline, but it was an obviously compromised production that got by on the strength of individual elements. It was quite obviously a television plot edited down to a two-hour digest, and that left it feeling pretty insubstantial by the time credits rolled. It wasn't terrible, but it was largely lacking any of the elements that made its original series or the franchise as a whole so appealing.

The Wings of Farewell, I'm happy to say, doesn't have that problem. Besides radically rewriting and restructuring the TV series' third act, this film also just...works as an actual movie. It's paced and directed as a cinematic experience, crafting scenes that build upon each other to develop the characters or advance the story in ways that are compelling to follow. The first film could often feel like a collection of montages, stitching together key plot points without much finesse, while Farewell allows its story to unfold in a more organic way. Tension and emotion are able to simmer between sequences. The central mystery develops a comprehensible form even as it delivers multiple twists. In short, this is a far more engaging and well-constructed viewing experience than it is a recap movie, and that's before getting into the big changes made to the original story.

Though speaking of those changes, they are extensive. While some plot elements and character beats are retained, this is by and large a total rewrite of Frontier's final third, to the point of basically being its own continuity. This won't mean much to new viewers, but it could be jarring if – like me – you've somehow seen the original but not this revamped version. And speaking candidly, I'm glad for it. I've personally had beef with a lot of the TV series' decisions, especially considering its central romance and Alto in particular. In fact, I put off seeing the film versions for years, just because of how bad a taste the original left in my mouth. Little did I know I was depriving myself of a movie that fixes nearly every one of my biggest issues with Frontier.

For one, I actually like Alto Saotome now. Alto's confrontational attitude towards everyone and his general lack of agency in the larger story made him a frustrating, sometimes annoying protagonist, not to mention a charmless romantic lead. But in Farewell, not only does he get to demonstrate a far more vulnerable and contemplative side, he actually gets to develop across the story as he's faced with real, difficult choices. He's forced to not only reassess his outlook on the war with the Vajra, but his very identity. Is he truly acting on his own agency, or just playing another role for the people or society around him? And how much of a difference is there between the two? There's genuinely compelling drama surrounding him for the entire movie, and it makes him a much stronger character on the whole.

It also helps that our lead trio actually get time to bond, learn about each other, and just generally build a sense of camaraderie that was sorely lacking in the first film. Ranka not only gets the focus worthy of a tritagonist; she also gets to actually know Sheryl as a person, connecting with her and recognizing the vulnerability hiding behind the Galactic Fairy's celebrity. There's a sincere connection between the two characters that makes both of them more interesting, and gets you far more invested in the ensuing love triangle than the TV series' more generic competition for Alto's feelings. Now, when the cast risk their lives for one another, or make dramatic declarations of love, it feels both earned and genuine, and that rekindled emotional spark lets the drama and action reach new heights throughout the film.

That action also gets an upgrade over the first film. Not only are there more frequent and engaging Valkyrie dogfights, but there are even some non-Robot fights that get to shine too, allowing for a lot more immediate danger. It's also a fair bit darker in places, with multiple people getting perforated by gunfire in at least two scenes. It's never a gore fest, but there's a much bigger sense of life and death here, both against the Vajra and fellow humanoids. But on the flip side, the most climactic moments get to be way more bombastic, bringing in the kind of joyfully ridiculous ideas that characterize the best parts of Macross. It's not enough to just have a peppy musical number overscore a fight scene, it needs to climax with a sky-scraper-sized, transforming spaceship surfing on orbital debris to re-enter the atmosphere, all while the grizzled space captain hangs ten on the command bridge. It's the kind of glorious, pretense-devoid cheese that makes this franchise such an evergreen delight, and I'm happy to have it return in such fine form.

On that note, there's just a lot more playfulness on display here, not only balancing out the heavier drama of the main conspiracy storyline, but allowing the characters to have fun along with the audience. The crew needs to break Sheryl out of prison? Well why not hold a concert at Alcatraz, disguise all the pilots as musicians, and help her escape while Ranka's music starts a full-on prison riot? Oh, and also Alto's disguise is him crossdressing as a Gothic Lolita maid, with rocket propellers under his skirts for a quick escape. And just for that last little bit of fanservice, the rest of the cast are dressed like Fire Bomber from Macross 7. It's a patently ridiculous idea for a pivotal scene in a sci-fi thriller storyline, but that's part of what makes it a quintessential Macross idea. This is the franchise built from its foundation on the literal, physical power of song to save the entire universe, and when it embraces that idea with both arms, there's nothing else like it.

Granted, that mix of tones may be offputting to some, especially any newbies who came into these films after seeing Macross Plus during its screenings. I'm fully immersed in it, but the particular blend of heart-on-sleeve melodrama and goofy comedy can take some getting used to. More concretely, while the overall plot structure is a lot more solid than False Songstress, there are still some undercooked elements that don't quite gel with the rest. Brera Stern, Sheryl's cyborg bodyguard, is criminally underdeveloped for how big of a role he winds up playing in the final act. While it's coherent, the overall scheme by the villains is still convoluted enough to leave you scratching your head while it's playing out.

There are also some vestigial setting and character details from the TV series that are present but never explained. Like, the movie just assumes you know the deal with the Zentradi, the (sometimes) green-skinned, pointy-eared aliens who show up routinely in the background. Or Michael's wingwoman/love interest Klan Klan, and how she changes size and appearance between scenes with nary a word of explanation. It's not enough to derail the overall story, but I wouldn't blame anyone for having some questions when they left the theater. And yes, I could explain that part about Klan Klan right now, but I refuse to because it's funnier this way.

While not 100% perfect, this is nonetheless Macross firing on all cylinders. It melds its sci-fi action with resonant character work. It's the kind of heady, intoxicating mix of high-flying action, higher-flying emotions, and soaring music that has come to define this franchise for nearly three decades. It's an earnest rock ballad of a production, and if you're willing to harmonize with it, you're in for a Deculture and a half.

Grade:
Overall : A
Story : A-
Animation : A
Art : A
Music : A+

+ Thrilling conclusion to the story, Fixes nearly all of the first movie's biggest failings, Brings the classic Macross charm in full force
Plot is still a little cluttered, some small details may confuse new viewers

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Production Info:
Director: Shoji Kawamori
Screenplay:
Shoji Kawamori
Hiroyuki Yoshino
Storyboard:
Takao Abo
Keiji Gotoh
Tomohiro Hirata
Shoji Kawamori
Kazuya Miura
Yasutake Okawara
Eiichi Sato
Atsushi Takeuchi
Yūsuke Yamamoto
Unit Director:
Masashi Abe
Takao Abo
Takahiro Harada
Tomohiro Hirata
Kazuya Miura
Yasutake Okawara
Kazuo Sakai
Yukio Takahashi
Hiroshi Tamada
Music: Yoko Kanno
Original creator: Shoji Kawamori
Character Design:
Risa Ebata
Yūichi Takahashi
Art Director: Shunichiro Yoshihara
Chief Animation Director:
Risa Ebata
Hirotaka Marufuji
Shunji Murata
Kenji Shinohara
Junichi Takaoka
Animation Director:
Atsushi Irie
Shou Kawashima
Masayori Komine
Yae Ootsuka
Kyong Rock Seo
Yūichi Takahashi
Mechanical design:
Junya Ishigaki
Takeshi Takakura
Sound Director: Masafumi Mima
Director of Photography:
Itsurou Sasakura
Maki Ueda
Executive producer:
Kafumi Onishi
Michiaki Sato
Shin Unozawa
Producer:
Shinichi Hirai
Hisanori Kunisaki

Full encyclopedia details about
Macross Frontier: Sayonara no Tsubasa (movie)

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