Macross II: Songs and Culture

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Me, looking in distressed confusion at Macross II

I hate Macross II, it’s  blight upon a franchise I love. It’s a cynical cash in that takes superficial elements from the original;  without understanding how or why they worked and rehashes them into a miserable pile of bad. And now I’m going to say something vaguely positive  about the series. I think I get what they were going for.

I could go on and on about why I hated II so much, because everything in it sucks to some degree. What really put the final nail in the coffin however, was the ending. Macross II ends with the Macross having been brought back to life as part final ditch attempt to find a peaceful resolution with the antagonists, the Marduk (who are definitely not just Zentradi with fancy tatoos, nope). It doesn’t work. The Marduk fleet destroys the Macross (boo, hiss) leaving only the bridge miraculously intact. And then the series singer Ishtar starts singing again, and within moments the power of her song begins to work on the Marduk, turning their singers against the Marduk Emperor Ingues. In a matter of seconds the entire surviving Marduk fleet has changed sides, they team up and destroy Ingues flagship, ending the war, a peace treaty between Earth and the Marduk is signed days later.

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Yes, Macross II really looks this crappy, I’m just going to use amusing SDF shots instead from now on.

My initial reaction to this ending was to view it as an outright rejection of everything the original SDF Macross did so well, because it was. In the original Macross songs were a powerful force to be sure, but human culture wasn’t just some magical instant conversion tool. The Zentradi’s brush with culture was a slow process of awkening, spreading over time from soldier to soldier, and they all reacted differently; some embracing these new and exciting experiences, whilst others looked on in fear or disdain. Series antagonist Boddol was a tragic villain, because he was 100% correct. For a species literally created for the sole purpose of fighting, the idea that something else could have meaning was anathema. From Bodol’s point of view culture was exactly what the Zentradi’s garbled and degraded myths said it was. A creeping contagion spreading through the ranks, depriving them of their will to fight, their very reason to exist. So he took drastic measures and tried to expunge the infection the only way a Zentradi could, by destroying it before it could destroy his race forever. The Zentradi who sided with the humans in the end didn’t do so because “heck yeah, pop music”, they did so because they were Zentradi and faced with a foe too powerful to survive against they opted to do what Zentradi always do, fight.

Boddol was right. When the ashes had settled the surviving Zentradi had their way of life forver and irreversibly altered. For some this was for the better, for many others the new system failed, leaving them outcast from the new Human/Zentradi society with no refuge to turn to. Ultimately the two races managed to come together and reach for the stars. But it was a difficult, painful process that didn’t just magically resolve itself without sacrifice.

And then I watched ‘Do You Remember Love?’. ‘Do You Remember Love?’ is in many ways an idealised Human centric retelling of the original Human/Zentradi conflict. During the final battle, Minmay’s song does exactly what Ishtar’s would later do in “Lovers Again”. Swayed by the power of song, the Zentradi fleet turn on the Boddol Zer flagship. The twist in the tale is that Minmay’s song – a resurrected piece of music from the Protoculture; the precursor race that created both Humanity and the Zentradi in the distant past – isn’t anything special It’s just a pop song.

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The Zentradi’s reaction to Human culture is often played up for comedy. Because, well, it’s inherently ridiculous. A race of warrior giants being brought low by silly, harmless pop music rather than any of our masterpieces of art or writing feels like some sort of grand farce.

 

But Macross as a franchise knows when to take silly things seriously. Shared cultural experiences won’t end wars, but they might just help people come together. The Zentradi may be a bunch of fighty space giants, but they’re still people, people capable of having hopes and dreams. Do You Remember Love? is just a pop song, but it became a catalyst for something much bigger, it allowed the Zentradi to see beyond the confines of their narrow circumstances and make a choice to embrace that.

And now back to Macross II. Which sees this and misses the point entirely. Where I went wrong with my original reaction to the ending was thinking II was a sequel to the TV series, when it’s actually trying to be a followup to the movie. The title ‘Lovers Again’ should really have clued me in, but hey.

For all its failings Macross II does shoot for one significant thing, building on the idea of  the power of song. Minmay’s song may have been a silly pop song, but her resolve let it reach the Zentradi regardless. II tries to take this idea further, by making  music meaningless.

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The average Macross Viewer after hearing ‘My Boyfriend is a Pilot’ for the 8000th time.

At the start of II humanity has become lazy, trusting in a system of automated speakers to keep roaming Zentradi at bay through the power of culture shock. This naturally fails when the Marduk show up with their own singers and proceed to be entirely unfussed about weird Human stuff.  Their reliance on vapid music with no feeling or intent ultimately leaves the UNS defenseless. And then protagonist and general jerkass Hibiki kidansps one of the Marduk singers via the power of contrivance and brings her to Earth. Upon seeing the Macross she becomes convinced it’s the prophecised Alus, a ship which will bring peace to the Marduk.

It doesn’t. The Macross isn’t anything special, it’s not meant to be, it was a double edged sword which brought humanity together through vicious war, and happened to be involved in the war with the Zentradi, but ultimately it’s just a ship. Ishtar’s initial attempts at singing to the Marduk fail disatrously, and lead to the destruction of the Macross, because she chose to cling to a legend for its own sake, not for any deeper meaning. She eventually succeeds not because these empty songs or legends have meaning, but because of her genuine desire for peace. Even with the Alus gone she’ll hold on to that hope and sing to the end. Macross II wants to sugest that music has inherent power through the hopes of those who create it, even if it’s just a love song, devoid of meaning in a vacuum, it can convey meaning if you genuinely want it to.

Sadly this intent is lost in the swamp that is Macross II. Because Macross II is in and of itself an example of a soulless, vapid piece of culture. The message is there but the show doesn’t really believe it. It’s content to rehash the same formula for its own sake, without contributing anything new or meaningful. if some effort had been put into it it could have been a genuinely interesting take on the movie’s interpretation of song, as it stands it’s just a recorded idol singing into the void.

There, I said something vaguely nice about Macross II. I still hate it, does that one hint of a coherent and potentially interesting theme justify its existence? I’ll let Mylene answer that one for me. macross130.jpg

Macross II: Songs and Culture

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