Reviewby Theron Martin,
Super Dimensional Fortress Macross
DVD 1: Upon the Shoulders of Giants
In the year 1999 an unmanned alien battleship crashes into Earth, wreaking great destruction but also forcing humankind to acknowledge that they are not alone in the universe. Over the next several years the world unites (forcibly in some cases) around the project to rebuild the alien battleship, dubbed Macross. By 2009 Macross is finally ready to launch, but humanity has also taken advantage of new technology gleaned from Macross to create advanced fighters called Valkyries, which can transform from plane to robot or to a hybrid form containing elements of both. To the astonishment and dismay of all involved, long-dormant systems on Macross suddenly activate in response to the appearance of an alien fleet in lunar space, an action which plunges humanity into war with the aliens. Caught in the midst of the conflict are ace fighter pilot Roy Focker, young civilian stunt pilot Hikaru Ichijo, Lieutenant Misa Hayase of the Macross bridge crew, and teenage Chinese restaurant waitress Lynn Minmay, who ambitions to become a singer will ultimately have a profound effect on the outcome of Space War I.
Although Mobile Suit Gundam is credited with reinventing the mecha genre into the form it is most commonly known today, the original Macross is arguably of equal importance for its role in popularizing the revamped genre in Japan. In America it was also the model for (and one of the key components of) Robotech, the major “gateway” anime title of the 1980s, as well as the inspiration for a whole new genre of sci fi-oriented miniature games and mecha-oriented computer and simulator games, including the widely-popular BattleTech. (Side Note: the company which originally made BattleTech, the now-defunct FASA, for years did not openly acknowledge that it had copied various mecha designs from Macross even though it was quite obvious to anyone who had seen Macross or Robotech.) Until now, though, this 1982-83 series has never appeared in an unaltered English-dubbed form. Thanks to ADV, we now finally get to see a faithful dub version of one of the landmark anime series of the past three decades.
The elements which go together to make Macross are fairly typical for mecha titles: mankind rapidly expanding its technology based on equipment recovered from aliens, an alien attack/invasion that sets things in motion, and characters who fit common mecha stereotypes. Here we have the ace pilot, the new kid who hates war but nonetheless gets caught in the middle of it, the cute, helpless girl, and the young female officer who's trying to make a name for herself. Less typical is the way events play out. Calamities result from mistakes being made, and the young hero not only panics in trying circumstances but does not instantly master his new 'mech. While some humor is present, it's more from normal character interplay than outrageous behavior or exaggerated reactions, as so much of the humor content of anime is nowadays. And lots of people do get killed, though never in a graphic or bloody fashion. The storytelling does contain the kind of roughness one would expect from a title made in an age of less refined anime writing, and the way it plays out through the first volume indicates that it was made with younger audiences in mind, albeit with a few elements more suited to older audiences. (Roy doesn't miss a chance to ogle a pretty girl, for instance.) It is not hard to see why the title would have had such a great appeal at the time, though, as it presents a promising sci-fi story with a good balance of action and character focus and doesn't take long to get into its groove.
While the storytelling of Macross may hold its own in comparison with newer titles, its visuals and technical merits have not aged as well. Heavy-lined artistry which was probably quite respectable for its time pales in comparison to the better current titles, and character designs look as dated as they are. Mecha designs fare better, especially when one considers how influential some of them were. Like many anime titles from earlier eras, Macross takes its biggest hit in its animation, which might have been considered decent by the standards of the time but is woefully inadequate by more modern standards. Scenes involving running or complicated movement often seem awkward or like they're going in slow motion, which shouldn't be surprising given that the frame count is as low as 8 frames per second. Comparing flight scenes to something like the recent remake of Area 88 shows how far dynamic animation has come in anime over the past two decades. Also not helping matters is the cloudy filter which mutes the artistry and the occasional specks of dirt which pop up on the print. Redubbed this printing of Macross may be, but any visual restoration done didn't seem to help much.
The new English vocal cast is comprised mostly of ADV regulars, including Vic “Edward Elric” Mignogna in the key role of Hikaru. The big publicity stunt on this front is the very rare inclusion in the English dub of a member of the original Japanese vocal cast in a reprise of her original role! Yes, Mari Iijima is back once again as Lynn Minmay, this time performing the role in thickly-accented English. Exactly how well this is going to work is hard to tell at this point, as she doesn't have many lines in the three episodes available for review, but it's a neat stunt which may help lend an additional air of authenticity to the dub. Other performances generally suit the characters and are performed competently, although they aren't likely to win any converts from sub-favoring fans.
The best aspect of this version of Macross is the 5.1 Dolby audio production used for the English dub. ADV went all-out to make this a great-sounding audio track, and a viewer will hear every bit of that effort as they watch. Engines roar and explosions reverberate through the speakers just like they would for any high-end modern-day title, and the dramatic musical scoring delivers the rich sound one would expect from current releases. It's a shame the same couldn't be done for the 2.0 Japanese audio track, whose sound is (predictably) quite a letdown by comparison. The opener is a macho number typical of action-oriented series of the '70s and 80s, while the closer is wholly unremarkable.
The six episodes ADV packs into the first volume would alone make this a worthy value, but an extensive list of meaty extras is also promised. Most were not available for review, but they are to include multiple English audio commentaries, an interview with Mari Iijima, a clean opener, a restoration comparison, an audio track for the original 1984 English dub of episode 1, liner notes, and brief character bios on the inside cover.
Super Dimensional Fortress Macross is not likely to excite newer fans; this is a release primarily aimed at older fans who have fond memories of growing up watching Robotech and those seeking the foundation story behind later Macross titles. It's not a bad story, though, and it's often interesting to go back and watch such historic titles to see how things have changed and evolved over the years. If you're feeling nostalgic or want to capture a sense of anime history, this first volume is a worthwhile pick for starting off the new year.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : B-
Animation : D
Art : C
Music : B
+ Superb sound production on English dub, remains faithful to the original this time.
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