I finally managed to carve out enough time to sit down and enjoy the last nine episodes of Macross Frontier in one sitting. While it had its flaws near the end, the series provided a solid, entertaining close. It has to rush to tie up sixteen episode’s worth of schemes, back story, and overall character motivation, but it manages to do so without tiring exposition or overly contrived devices.
It is a pity that this series will likely never see a legitimate release in the US; created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original Macross, it does not capture the same timeless magic of the original but comes very close. The story does not captivate merely with mecha and female eye candy; it has plenty of that but also provides a solid story and enjoyable characters. Loved this series; one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Read on for a more in-depth, spoiler filled breakdown.
Episode 17 - Cool scenes can only be done once…
With an episode title of "Goodbye Sister", it seemed like Ozma was headed for the final sortie in the sky. Ozma reminisces about the past, specifically bringing Ranka into his life, leaving little hope he’ll be around much longer. But he and the rest of the Frontier crew have much to do first. Michel asks Klan Klan, who is dropping ten ton hints about her love for him, for help identifying the mysterious pill he found on Sheryl. Ranka and Alto have a serious discussion about the ethics and purpose of fighting the Vajra. Luca is pulled a bit closer into the inner circle of the Leon and Grace conspiracy. Of great importance though is the revelation that the Vajra are learning how to resist the fleet’s weaponry.
A fierce battle rages forcing the SMS to face the Vajra in hand to hand combat. Ozma is particularly charged up to protect the women – Cathy and Ranka – he loves. Those that have seen the original Macross series can put this and a previous discussion about pineapple cake together and guess what might be coming up. Ozma returns to the fleet and enjoys a quiet moment with Cathy at Ranka’s latest concert. As the repair crew checks Ozma’s seat, we see Ozma say that Ranka doesn’t need him anymore; pull back and Cathy finds Ozma bleeding profusely.
However, this is only another homage to one of the most memorable scene of the original series if not all of anime. We quickly learn Ozma is recovering in the hospital, and Michel completes the homage by saying it would have been the coolest scene ever if Ozma had died. Indeed, it might have been, but the writers had the good sense to realize you cannot reproduce magic simply through mimicry. The title and the episode rather mean that Ozma has finally realized Ranka is a woman now with her own path to walk. Some might roll their eyes at the Roy Fokker head fake, but this was a solid episode that acknowledges that no one can ever top the original.
Episode 18 - Fame and life are both fleeting
Grace’s malevolence knows no bounds; as Sheryl confronts Grace about being Ranka’s manager, Grace informs Sheryl that her time as an idol is not the only thing nearing its end. Sheryl has a V (for Vajra) type infection, an incurable infection that will kill Sheryl soon. Michel’s investigation into Sheryl’s pill reveals the same fact along with a surprise about Grace’s past. However, Sheryl’s first thought is to keep this a secret from Alto; Michel immediately understands her feelings but tries to nudge Alto to Sheryl without telling him the truth. In the midst of this, the fleet is attempting a dangerous plan for a long distance fold and leave the Vajra permanently behind.
Seems like we might be getting another head fake on the death front, but the episode works well to highlight Sheryl’s strength and weaknesses. She does not want to die but realizes she is powerless against the disease ravaging her body. It is hard to imagine the series killing off Sheryl, but the episode does an excellent job of pulling you into Sheryl’s emotions.
Episode 19 - Awakenings
The fleet has successfully folded away from the Vajra, and everyone is in the mood to celebrate. However, Ranka is shirking her publicity duties to search for the missing Ai-kun and is dragging Brera along with her. Alto sneaks into the Saotome mansion to visit with a recovering Sheryl. Sheryl states that she is done with singing, a fact Alto has difficulty believing. Brera questions Ranka on why she sings, and Ranka realizes she is singing for one man’s love. Meanwhile, Leon is planning to assassinate the president and assume control of the fleet. Cathy and Ozma learn of this when they confront Leon about his other treacherous dealing.
As the sniper takes aim, Ranka runs from the end of her concert towards Alto, ready to confess her love for him. She instead finds Sheryl and Alto together. Luca sees a drawing of Ai-kun and realizes Ai is a Vajra larva. Cliffhanger!!!! Loved this episode as it shows once again the writers understand what made the original series special. Even in the midst of extraordinary events, people still want to find happiness and love. But life is never simple and simply hands you either.
Episode 20 - In the shadow of death
It all falls apart; the Vajra had a large nest inside the Frontier, and everything has hatched at once. Ranka’s heart ache pours itself into her song and enrages rather than confuses the swarming Vajra. In the midst of the chaos, Leon succeeds in his coup and assumes command of the fleet. Sheryl finds the strength to sing again.
The heart of this episode is Klan confessing her love outright to Michel, and his realization that he loves her back. This ensures Michel’s death minutes later trying to defend Klan from the Vajra. While I never connected much with Michel’s character, the mirror his death holds up to the love triangle is poignant. Take a hold of love and happiness while you can; Michel’s death may not have the impact Roy’s death did, but it still stings.
Episode 21 - Farewell
A desperate battle clears the ships of the Vajra but leaves the fleet with precious few resources left. Ranka decides she can’t sing anymore and runs away. She finds a freshly transformed Ai and decides she wants to help Ai find his original home. Her memories have also been slowly returning. She tries to convince Alto to help her, but Alto only sees the Vajra as a threat to humanity. Brera instead comes to Ranka’s side and helps her leave the fleet. As she leaves, she finally and tearfully tells Alto she loves him and wanted him to be by her side.
Just a beautiful episode with perfectly matched music…
Episode 22 - Forever and a day
With Ranka’s departure, Alto has thrown himself into his work, and Sheryl has thrown herself back into music finally connecting back to her love and passion for it. However, Michel’s death makes Klan Klan decide to tell Alto about Sheryl’s condition. Alto has the worst luck with women; his mother died from an illness. Ranka has left him for love of a bug, and Sheryl is also dying from an illness. Alto confronts Sheryl, and the pair finally tear down the emotional walls between them. Alto vows to stay by Sheryl’s side until the end.
Leon boldly moves against Grace in order to become the only ruler of the galaxy; Ozma and Cathy make it back to the Macross Quarter and inform them of Leon’s betrayal. Most of them decide to go rogue and leave the fleet. Alto refuses to understand their actions and stays behind. Another brilliant piece that twists the action and characters together; they simply are not reacting to events. They are shaping them with their actions and finding their own desperate paths. The episode ends with Ranka finding the Vajra homeworld. Cliffhanger!!!
Episode 23 - The board is set
Sheryl and Alto have settled down together and share a romantic meal. Across the galaxy, the Vajra have taken Ranka away from Brera. Her memories return, and she realizes it was her song that brought the Vajra to her colony and destroyed everyone. Grace uses this to manipulate Ranka into helping her with her plan.
The Vajra are a collective entity able to communicate across the universe via fold waves. Grace intends to use this power through the Vajra queen for her own ends. Exposition heavy, the episode sets up the final plot points to close out the series. Alto realizes he loves Ranka enough to kill her if she is being used as a tool for the Vajra. Grace and Leon all appear to want to use the Vajra as a tool for control over humanity. Brera learns briefly that he is Ranka’s brother. We are setup for the final gambit.
Episode 24 - The pieces march
Here is where the series breaks down a bit for me; we learn that Grace was part of a science team that included Sheryl and Ranka’s mother. They were studying the Vajra and their ability to communicate as a collective via fold waves. Ranka’s mother contracted the V type virus while pregnant. This left the mother on death’s door but with an immunity and a tie to the Vajra collective in Ranka. Grace intends to use Ranka to decipher the Vajra communication protocol, absorb into the queen, and use the Vajra to force humanity into her servitude.
Where the series stumbles is in Leon’s actions; he seemingly was going along with this plan though more to control humanity by using the Vajra’s power to establish a monopoly on intergalactic travel. However, he seems obsessed with destroying the Vajra completely, something that contradicts his entire actions to this point. Not sure if this is a misunderstanding on my part due to the translation, but I can’t make this leap in his behavior.
I can overlook this plot hole though as the rest of the story sucks me into it. Sheryl sends Alto out to save Ranka, but it appears Ranka is trying to protect the Vajra from the fleet. The fleet attempts to jump into Vajra space and forcibly land on the homeworld. As the battle rages, Brera hits Alto’s fighter, sending it into a fireball in front of Sheryl.
Episode 25 - An end, a beginning
The Quarter chooses this time to jump into the battle and reveal Grace and Leon’s villainous plans. Leon’s motivations at this point still bother me; the plot didn’t hold together this thread well enough. Alto is still alive and tells everyone that the giant Ranka in front of them is an illusion. The Quarter tears through the illusion and reveals the Galaxy has survived and is another tool in Grace’s plan.
Grace has taken over the queen and her power over the collective; Sheryl is on death’s door. All seems hopeless until Ranka’s true song begins to ring out. She has broken free of Grace’s control and turns the Vajra into the fleet’s comrades. Ranka also moves the deadly V type virus from Sheryl’s brain into her intestines, giving Sheryl the same immunity and power as Ranka. With their spirits united, Alto confesses that both of them give him his wings. The pair sings the fleet to victory.
Skillfully woven into the action are the final bits of exposition that tie up the lingering threads. Ranka’s tie to the Vajra enabled her to sing the Vajra love song, her famous "Ai mo Ai mo" refrain. This song drew the horny Vajra to the planet where they first experienced the chaotic human mind. As a collective, they couldn’t understand why Ranka would be with such a disharmonious race and tried to save her. But Sheryl’s unique voice helped the Vajra understand humanity to an extent.
Bilrer’s motivation was to use the Vajra’s power to find Lynn Minmei; this didn’t work for me either. Just didn’t fit his actions across the series. The Vajra leave humanity to their homeworld and fold into parts unknown. Alto finally gets his free, open sky, and Sheryl and Ranka vow to never back down in singing or in their love for Alto.
Overall, I have few complaints with Frontier; loved the characters and loved the overall story. Brilliant music throughout, great action… It stumbled at times especially near the end, but I can forgive this as it did not have the episode count the original had to develop in. The ending is rushed leaving some of the secrets revealed to conflict with the established character’s behavior.
I have yet to read any other reviews of the series, mostly to prevent being spoiled; I would not be surprised though if the end of the love triangle leaves a sour taste in the mouths of some. Alto does not commit his heart fully to just one of them; this works for me though given the development of his character through the series. Both speak to different parts of his heart; Ranka is his hope for a free sky. Sheryl is the self confidence needed to achieve that sky. He truly loves both of them and has finally found the courage to tell both of them that.
Nothing can truly recapture the magic of the original Macross, but this celebration of the 25th anniversary is an amazing reminder of why the series endures. Write a good story and give it characters you can care about; that is how you keep an audience coming back week to week. It will never fully escape its predecessor’s shadow but Frontier makes a great case for its own place in anime history. Can’t wait to see what they do with the movie…