Macross Plus OVAs

Recently, I've been figuratively taking a number of programs to the woodshed for their complete lack of creativity. It's that creative spark that typically makes the difference between a mediocre show and a great one. However, as Macross Plus points out, you can get away with old standards and have a fantastic time as long as you do it right. As a story, Macross Plus really offers us little new. But as a tidy piece of animated cinematography, Macross Plus dazzles us with great visuals while focusing hard on characterization. It's the one-two punch of style and depth that helps us skip over the paper-thin plot to enjoy this well crafted endeavor.

Macross Plus is set in a future far past the end of the hostilities shown in the Macross TV series. (It also exists in a universe where the annoying Macross II simply didn't happen.) Isamu is a brash fighter pilot, a required character type in any Macross series. Frustrated by his arrogance but impressed by his skills, Isamu's commanding officer gets him assigned to an elite division on the planet Eden that's testing two brand-new Valkyrie fighter jets. The problem is, his arch-nemesis Guld is the pilot of the other test mecha. Years ago, Isamu and Guld were good friends until their relationship violently split apart over their love for the beautiful aspiring singer Myung. The two take out their loathing of one another on their jets, pushing them to their limits to prove superiority.

Meanwhile, Myung unexpectedly comes back on the scene when she arrives as manager of virtual idol singer Sharon Apple. Apple has become the hottest musician throughout the colonized worlds, but her artificial intelligence lacks emotion; Myung secretly supplies her own passion to Sharon's programming through a neural hookup. Isamu and Guld skirmish for Myung's affections, but as they wage their own personal battle, secret innovations in A.I. may render all three of them unnecessary...permanently.

The Macross franchise is at its best when it serves up great battle sequences, intelligent and meaningful characters, and love triangles that keep us guessing. Macross Plus does each of these very well. A 1995 production, the show looks amazing, and the computer graphics within the program are downright stunning. Although I miss Haruhiko Mikimoto's character designs, the artwork here is still excellent. Yoko Kanno, known more recently for her work on Cowboy Bebop, turns in a fantastic musical score that includes a few truly beautiful, haunting tunes.

From a meat and potatoes standpoint, Macross Plus certainly fills the table. Although not every episode is loaded with mecha and missiles flying, there's enough action to keep us interested. For those who only pick up the first disc, each episode ends on a nice cliffhanger; you'll be finding yourself running to the store. (Thankfully, there are only two discs, since the cliffhanger between the third and fourth episodes is nearly unbearable.)

There's some great character work here, too. Isamu is not a character whose disposition really changes, despite his attitude as a know-it-all hotshot. Instead, we learn more about him and relate to him as he is, rather than making him into something he's not. Guld is a perfect foil for him---brave, fearless, duty-bound, yet driven to uncontrollable violence. They are nothing alike, and yet perfect blood brothers. If there's a weak point, it's Myung, who is a cipher of a character in comparison to these two brutes. But that's minor.

A few distractions do affect my rating somewhat. First, the show has no epic flavor to it. Gone are the Zentraedi hordes trying to conquer Earth. Side stories are nice, but after the immensity of the original show, Macross Plus is slight in comparison. The story is also trivial. Test pilots after the same girl? A virtual singer who wants to have a soul? Eh...not so new. Done well, yes, but not new. Finally, the ending is a little too sudden; we need some time to bask in the stunning events of the last episode and gain some closure that just doesn't get presented. It's not something that threatens the show, but I wanted just a bit more resolution than what I got.

None of those points really can stop me from recommending this otherwise great OVA series. Fans of the original series as well as newcomers should pick up this action/romance/music hybrid that carries the Macross franchise forward with pride.

Macross Plus OVAs -- violence, brief nudity, profanity -- A-