Ghost in the Shell

Ghost in the Shell
Shiro Masamune

Something about cyberpunk gives a buzz unlike anything else in science fiction. I’m not sure what it is and the only answer that comes to mind is generational. Cyberpunk really exploded when I was a young adolescent, playing a lot of computer games, dabbling in pre-internet BBS culture, and planning on attending Rice University before getting a job at Origin Systems. (Yes, this is doofy. To make it worse, that dream was updated to “co-own a jazz coffee shop in Seattle” in later years. Now I live in the Northwest and work for a certain IT behemoth, so no telling what any of this says about me.) I’m not sure that baby boomers felt the same about Neuromancer, or any of the younger crowd would get that “just over the technology horizon” sense of excitement that William Gibson and his crowd could generate. To us though, watching the dawn of the Information Age while we read about hackers, cyberspace, or AI, this stuff was dizzingly intoxicating. (For a fun counterview, read the second paragraph of this post by Jo Walton. As much as I like her articles, we have very few tastes in common.)

Shiro’s Ghost in the Shell is hardly the first shot fired in the cyberpunk revolution, but the manga was published in 1989, just four years after Neuromancer. The film adaptation in 1995 helped usher in a Second Wave of sorts, characterized by anime, The Matrix, and some other stuff. (I’m not nearly the expert I should be about this, so apologies for being shallow and/or vague. I have, however, read Shockwave Rider, so I’m no poser.) This article will address both the original manga and anime, but not sequels, follow-ups, or hangers-on. Shiro was already in the manga/anime pantheon for Appleseed (unseen, but on my list) when he took a break to create Ghost in the Shell. Oshii Mamoru directed the movie adaptation; he too is no lightweight in the anime world, so there were some heavy hitters lined up for this tale. As a final note, the English title, “Ghost in the Shell,” bears no resenblence to the Japanese title, “攻殻機動隊 Kōkaku Kidōtai,” or roughly “Armored Riot Police Squad.” It is much cooler, which is not something that happens often.

The first question for our busy readers is no doubt, “I just don’t have much time for this anime stuff. Which one is better? I’ve got to consume efficiently here.” For once, this is a difficult question to answer. I will give a couple of suggestions here, then break them down in further detail in the following paragraphs. The short answer is, “I can’t pick just one.” This is not just because I am indecisive and wishy-washy, this is because the two actually have different strengths and weaknesses. In terms of narrative integrity and intensity, the film is a better choice. For a larger look at the world Shiro creates, and for more time to ruminate over the questions of existence that the characters ask among themselves, the manga offers greater reward.

But because it is a manga, it was published weekly over a period of some months and is prone to wandering hither and yon with the plot. This was explained further to me by my wife last week, as she read a gooshy romance series all out of order. “Well, these things that happen are just self-contained episodes, so you can kind of take them however they fall and set everything straight at the end.” Longer manga are much bigger offenders here, but there tends to be a single, mainline plot to a manga that is compartmentalized into weekly or monthly sections. Side stories happen, characters go on vacations, some random person will pop into the story and be important for a bit before disappearing, weeks will pass without any progress on the main story, but things will always gravitate back to it at some point. Mind you, I’m not a manga veteran by any definition, but even in limited reading I’ve noticed this. I suppose it could drive some people batty, but if taken the same way computer RPGs, with their subquests and diversions, or even Victor Hugo books are dealt with, it’s not a deal breaker.

In the case of Ghost in the Shell, this allows Shiro to track the main plot, where Motoko Kusanagi and her special ops police force hunt down a hacker named The Puppet Master, but also gives enough flexibility to send the squad on other missions, demonstrate the larger society at work, and let the squad hash out questions of identity. Kusanagi is a cybernetic hybrid, and spends large portions of the manga trying to come to terms with notions of humanity, how they apply to AI and cybernetics, and how these affect notions of Self. The “Shell” in the title refers to the bodies the characters are given, while the “Ghost” is something like a soul, or consciousness. These questions are a necessary part of the story and are present in the film, but not with the shambling, philosophical bent of the manga. This lack of time constraint also gives Shiro a chance to blow a week on conversations between Fuchikomi (spider-like AI robot henchmen) as they debate overthrowing the human regime. That was my favorite part. I should point out that even within this flexible setup, Shiro apparently didn’t have enough room to get out everything crammed into his head, because there are copious footnotes. These aren’t necessary to the plot, but they shine a light into Shiro’s unquestionably brilliant, but deeply strange mind.

Oshii suffers no such distraction. He gets in and out with maximum efficiency, taking a compact 80 minutes to trace Kusanagi’s hunt for The Puppet Master. The movie basically stays faithful to scenes from the manga, but eliminates all the side stories and navel gazing. What this loses in context, it makes up for with insistent pacing, a flawless arc, and about ten pounds if style in a five pound bag, to borrow a favorite Dave Barry-ism. The manga is also a cyberpunk tour de force, but in color and in motion, the film is the quintessential near-future, urban noir aesthetic. Anything we owe The Matrix in terms of 21st century style, we actually owe Ghost in the Shell. (The Wachowskis are, or were at least, fairly open about this influence.)

The real answer to the question posed earlier is, “Get them both.” Ghost in the Shell is influential, engaging, intelligent, and stylish. Nobody can be serious about cyberpunk without, at the very least, watching Oshii’s film. I plan on seeking out the follow-ups and posting reviews in the somewhat near future.

Rating: Nakata Hidetoshi. Japan’s essential footballer as the Samurai Blue went from nothing to global relevance, and Japan’s first major football export. He played the game with an uncharacteristic intelligence and grace, and is also really into fashion.

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Mobile Suit Gundam

Mobile Suit Gundam

I am finally getting to the last of Japan’s Big Three SF Anime. (The other two are Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Space Battleship Yamato. Say what you will about the Japanese, but they sure like long, descriptive titles that may or may not make any sense.) Gundam is probably the definitive science fiction experience in Japan; it is comparable to Star Wars or Star Trek here. One can watch Gundam movies (possibly based on Gundam comics or books) while building plastic models from the show, then re-enact the whole thing in a video game, and finally tell friends about it later at a Gundam convention. There is even an anime series called Gunpla Builders that tells stories about, I kid you not, kids who build Gundam models and enter them in competitions. The original series came out in the late 1970s, the current series gets its next scheduled theatrical release in November of this year. It’s pretty much impossible to understand Japanese SF without confronting the Gundam behemoth at some point.
The best news? Many (but probably not all) of the Gundam stories are worth experiencing. On the surface, there aren’t many things sillier than gigantic robots piloted by angsty teenagers, flying through space and whacking things with glowing swords. And yet, somehow Tomino Yoshiyuki, the Gundam mastermind, pulls it off. It probably helps that he appears to be manic depressive and uses these stories to confront his personal demons. In Tomino’s hands, what should be moronic, adolescent fantasy turns into a dark meditation on the confluence of war, violence, and growing up. There are also giant fighting robots, crap blowing up, and occasional gratuitous shower scenes. (Note: the robots do not, repeat not, transform in this series. They only bash things and fly.)
The Gundam universe is a somewhat near-future creation, where humanity is split between Earth and several orbiting space habitats. The Earth-bound folk are The Federation, while the break-away orbitals are part of the Principality of Zeon. In the original series, Zeon are the rebel scum and the Federation are scrappy and decent. These roles are fluid though, with the sides trading white and black hats depending on the creator’s mood at the time. This being a Japanese story, there are multiple factions within each side, and ever-shifting degrees of good and evil. Char, the chief antagonist, is the epitome of this. He fights for the bad guys, but is operating for his own mysterious purposes in ways that both harm and help the heroes. He is also much cooler than the whiny protagonist and more sympathetic than any of the truly evil bad guys. Char and his clones play a major role in the Gundam universe, but now is hardly the time to delve into what has become a complex and detailed mythology.
Mobile Suit Gundam crashes merrily along a cliché ridden path. The hero is young and must come of age. (He’s also a dork for the first two thirds of the story and I had no compelling reason not to wish for his horrible death.) He literally falls into the cockpit of a Gundam (the giant robot) and demonstrates almost supernatural gifts for piloting it. Everyone is shocked, though if they had any idea they were in an anime TV series, they would immediately realize that of course the hero can drive the robot. After all, he used to bulls-eye wamp rats back home in Beggars Canyon, and they’re not much bigger than two meters. Whoops! Wrong dork who comes of age. Fortunately for all involved, the hero doesn’t find true love this time around. This is Japan, so most love is either tragic, unrequited, poorly executed, or some combination of the above. (A reflection of real life??) Again, there is no way this should work. And yet! I enjoyed it and plan on watching more.
Gundam benefits this time from finding a length sweet spot. I have complained in other reviews that Yamato was too short to engage and Macross needed to lose about one fourth of its episodes. Gundam clocks in at about nine hours across three DVDs; Tomino condensed the 30+ episode series and is, according to something I read somewhere, happiest with this length. I concur – three DVDs forces the editor to cut out clip shows, side stories, and other narrative fat, but allows enough room to build a convincing world and facilitate a rapport between audience and character.
I realize that in this review I have spent more time talking about the world, mythology and context of Gundam than I have the actual series. This may be appropriate, as a friend of mine explained to me that Mobile Suit Gundam is basically Tomino’s world building exercise, and that the story really gets going in the second series. This may be true. The first series is interesting, I’m glad I watched it, and I plan on watching more, but I think it leaves plenty of potential untapped. I consider it to be must-see anime for anyone who is serious about understanding Japanese SF or who just likes big robots, but suspect that Gundam’s best days are waiting for me on a different set of DVDs.
Rating: Pre-season friendlies. Fun to watch, full of useful scouting material, and an endless source of gossip and speculation, but not to be confused with the meat of the regular season.

Space Battleship Yamato

Space Battleship Yamato

Best to get the anime disclaimer out of the way first, as I press forward in my quest to experience the pillars of Japanese science fiction. Yamato is the second of the Holy Trifecta of Japanese SF Anime, the others being the original Gundam and Macross series. Yamato is the oldest of these, predating even Star Wars. Savvy anime veterans will know that Yamato blew through the US as Star Blazers back in the day. Like a lot of Japanese creations, this enjoyed life as a TV series, a movie, and a manga. And, like pretty much every Japanese export, I missed the boat as a youngster. I am addressing the movie in this review.

I have mixed feelings on whether to recommend the movie condensation of this story, or push readers to invest the time in the whole series. Here, at least, my decision was influenced mainly by the contents of the public library: Star Blazers was available as an English dub, but to get Japanese language I was restricted to the movie version. Movie it was. (Also, the time commitment required for a 40+ episode series is more than I was comfortable with. As it is, the movie is long at three hours.) I suspect that, if language and time are of no concern, the full series may provide a more emotional experience. Language may not be a problem anyway, as I think I saw Yamato on Crunchyroll somewhere.

First, a quick summary and review. Earth has been pounded into submission by the evil Gamilas. The only survivors live in underground cities that are threatened by radioactivity from the surface. A spacecraft crash lands and gives humanity a message: build a ship with the enclosed plans and travel to the planet Iscandar. The mysterious Stasha awaits there with technology that will save the Earth. The lucky humans dig up the real-life Battleship Yamato (sunk during WWII) and retrofit it with new technology, at which point it flies off into the stars to save everything.

What works about this? As a stylized space opera, this is good fun. The bad guys are nefarious, the crew of the Yamato is plucky, the fate of all humanity hangs in the balance, etc. Also, seeing a WWII-era battleship flying through interstellar space and firing its wave cannon is awesome in a crazy kind of way. There are twists and turns in the plot to keep viewers engaged. There is a kind of fake complexity and moral ambiguity that gives the impression of watching something challenging and profound, without actually being taxing in any way. I was happy at the end, when (spoiler alert) the good guys save the day.

What doesn’t work so well? Many of my complaints might be a result of seeing the movie rather than the series. The characters are a big problem for me in the movie – only one of them has any real impact (the captain), while the rest flit in and out of the story without ever distinguishing themselves. Two characters fall in love at some point, but those scenes must be on the editing floor somewhere, because I never saw it happen. I would also question some other editing decisions, as aspects of the plot that seemed important were skipped over quickly, while side stories that could have been addressed in five minutes, if at all, bogged down the main story arc. Beyond that, my complaints are rather predictable. This is, after all, a story whose target audience includes boys in upper elementary school grades. While I don’t expect total plot coherency or an absence of incredibly random problem solvers in my cartoon space operas, it would have been nice.

What really grabbed me, however, was not the story or the canonical importance of Yamato, but the relationship of the events on-screen to Japanese history. I’m uncertain if the creators were conscious of this, but Yamato is basically re-fighting the end of World War II. The parallels are far from iron-clad, but within the first 30 minutes similarities were leaping off the screen. The Gamilas reign radioactive death from the skies, launch from a forward base taken from Earth and now beyond the reach of Earth’s ships. Humanity fights bravely, but is ultimately helpless in the face of superior technology and production and reduced to suicide attacks. The battleship Yamato, originally launched (and subsequently sunk) in a hopeless attack against the invaders was Japan’s last gasp in the naval war. For those not up on Pacific War history, this would be roughly analogous to, in order, be the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Okinawa, and the end of the war in general, when the full might of US industry was bearing down on Japan.

Miraculously, the story somehow tucks this into the narrative without ever addressing more controversial (from Japan’s point of view) circumstances surrounding the war, or caving in to nationalist cliché. I don’t mean to imply that Matsumoto Reiji and the other creators are trying to rewrite history in Yamato, indeed I am uncertain if the parallels are even intentional, but I couldn’t ignore the possibilities inherent in this kind of tale. Even if it is just a reflection of the history embedded in Japanese culture at the time, the reference to the war is fascinating.

What is my final verdict then? I’m still not sure. Yamato is worth seeing as a part of the canon, as a cultural artifact, and probably as a way to relive Star Blazers if one is so inclined. It is not without faults, so I can’t give it a whole-hearted recommendation. My feelings on compilation movies vs. TV series are mixed; Macross could certainly stand to make a quarter or so of its episodes vanish, but Yamato loses a lot by cutting out so much character development. I felt more invested in Macross when it ended, even if I was gnashing my teeth every time Minmay started talking. Yamato never irritated, but never provided that final catharsis either. In the end, I will give it a rating just this side of lukewarm, with the caveat that increased time put into the TV series may generate increased emotional rewards.

Rating: The Carling Cup. Drama to be had, if one is into that sort of thing, but nothing compared to a full season of play.

Nausicaa

Nausicaa (manga)
Miyazaki Hayao

Nausicaa is an intense experience. This is no doubt partly due to my inexperience with the graphic format, but also a tribute to Miyazaki’s storytelling powers. As chronicled elsewhere, I have little to no exposure to anime and manga, despite my long years in Japan. Further, I never read comics or graphic novels in my younger days, so the whole words and pictures together thing challenges my simple mind. I’m sure that veterans of the format will plow through Nausicaa with nary a blip, but I was often confused and overwhelmed by the details crammed into little panels on the page.

The reader’s initial reaction to Nausicaa likely depends on said person’s introduction to Miyazaki. Those entering from My Neighbor Tottoro or Ponyo will probably be steamrolled by the story, but people more familiar with Princess Mononoke will feel right at home. Nausicaa is Miyazaki at his most epic, with all that implies. This is not a kid’s story – heads and limbs fly, bodily fluids gush, an unexpected boob appears, characters sermonize, wax scientific, and sometimes die. It is, however, immediately recognizable as Miyazaki. Strong-willed women lead the reader through a parable about the Earth and the environment, steampunk flying devices rule the skies, and Japan is there beneath the surface, for those who look for it. (This is not like Kiki’s Delivery Service or Ponyo, where Japanese life is essentially transplanted to an idyllic European village. Japan pops up hither and yon in the form of monks, temples, statues, and Buddhist philosophy.)

Plot-wise, Nausicaa starts with a familiar post-nuclear holocaust setting but reimagines it in a uniquely Miyazaki way. Gone are the radioactive and desolate deserts, mutant rats and gas masks; in their place we find towering forests and majestic (?) giant bugs. Yes, the forests emit poisonous gases and molds, but they have the same primeval beauty and natural power of Mononoke’s woodland home. The title character is a princess in the Valley of the Wind, so named because it is shielded by the winds from the poisons seeping out of the nearby forest. Nausicaa is quickly caught up in a narrative that brings her into conflict with empires and sets her on a path to uncover the true nature of the forest. As wars rage, Nausicaa inches her way towards secrets and traditions that will nudge the world toward a pathway leading to a future free of the poisons that endanger humanity.

Initially, the people of the Valley of the Wind are the good guys and the representatives of the Torumekian Empire are bad. As the story progresses, however, relative positions of good and evil are, if not reversed, then at least subverted as several other groups are introduced – the Doroks, Worm Handlers, independent kingdoms, and various denizens of the forest. True to most Miyazaki tales, the good are genuinely good, but the bad are anything but purely evil. Each faction has its motivations, problems, turmoil and potential. Antagonists grope their way towards uneasy alliances and positions of temporary security. Good people meet unjust fates and untimely ends, while bad people find redemption. In the end, questions remain over who exactly was right or wrong. (I am reminded of a review I once read of Princess Mononoke. The author complained that the characters were drawn so strongly in black and white terms and openly longed for the moral complexity of Disney movies; my head almost exploded.)

In most Miyazaki stories, there is at least one moment that leaves both characters and viewers breathless – the glade in Princess Mononoke, the Totoro waiting at the bus stop, entering the castle for the first time in Laputa, night falling for the first time in Spirited Away. Nausicaa has more than its share, as Nausicaa explores the depths of the forest and learns the nature of her post-apocalyptic world. Some readers may be put off by Miyazaki’s environmentalism (and to be fair, I am uncertain that I agree with his conclusions at the end) or by the labyrinthine, ambivalent narrative path. Further, hardcore SF readers may be dismayed by the suspension of scientific belief that Nausicaa requires, as the story demands to be taken on its own terms. Anyone not put off by these, which should be a majority, will find a story of unexpected depth and emotional power.

Rating: FC Groningen. I doubt there’s any similarity, but I’m stuck for a good comparison.

Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Super Dimension Fortress Macross

Before diving into the Macross discussion, I should first offer the requisite anime disclaimer. Not only am I ignorant of anime conventions and clichés, I am also not much of a television viewer, so things that are commonplace in long-running TV series are news to me. Both of these are fundamental to the discussion of Macross, because I am forced to deal with it in terms I am comfortable with, not the terms under which it was created. In some ways this may be unfair. My own ignorance means that I judge the series solely as a work of science fiction, not necessarily in the context that one should examine early 80s TV anime. On the other hand, all I really demand is good storytelling.

Some background for those not up on their anime.  Super Dimension Fortress Macross is the original, 36 episode series in what has become one of three fundamental canons of Japanese SF. (The other two are the Space Battleship Yamato and Mobile Suit Gundam universes.) The intricacies of sub-genre and historical background are best left to more specialized sites, but Macross falls firmly into the Transforming Giant Robots in Space field that Japan seems to dominate. (I have no idea why this is so – nothing in my years in Japan gave me any indication why they should like giant robots so much more than we Westerners.) The background I have read paints a confusing picture of the authors’ intent with Macross; it may have started as a satire, and seems to end as a deconstruction of warlike space opera, though I question if the ambiguity of the storyline is an indication of profundity or just too many cooks in the proverbial kitchen. Finally, some readers of a certain age may recognize Super Dimension Fortress Macross as the first season of Robotech. I am snooty, so I watched the Japanese version.

But I get ahead of myself. I watched all 36 episodes over the course of a couple of months, which adds up to 17+ hours with these characters, minus whatever time I spent fast forwarding through annoying music, clip shows, or the boring romantic bits. I am left with deeply divided opinions on Macross. On the one hand, after 17 hours, I feel an attachment to the world and characters. On the other, there is a lot of stupid crap that goes on in said 17 hours. But on the gripping hand, when Macross really brings it, awesome stuff goes down. Of course, awesomeness and utter banality often clash in the same episode, and even between commercial breaks. Each viewer will have a different tolerance level for this. (My wife hit hers before the first DVD had ended.)

The story. Actually, this can be one of the weakest parts of the experience. I am guessing that insane discontinuity is due to the vagaries of TV production, as accounts elsewhere describe uncertainty if the first episodes would lead to any more, funding problems resulting to new people getting involved part way, and eventual success requiring more tacked on to the end of the series. None of this is conducive to tightly plotted, consistent material. The core of the story is the conflict between Earth and the Zentradi, a race of giant alien invaders. The source of this conflict is poorly spelled out in the beginning and the series leaves very confusing hints about the backstory. I never really figured it out and finally jettisoned the first DVD from memory because it was interfering with my enjoyment of the middle third. Likewise, the final DVD and then some is an extended epilogue meant to tie up loose ends and end the story pleasantly. The resolution of the final conflict hits somewhere around episode 27. The epilogue is completely unnecessary, but by the time I’d made it that far, I figured I might as well see the whole thing through to the end. This despite the fact that the narrative stopped being fun once Earth and the Zentradi finished blowing crap up back in episode 27.

Continuing on the somewhat critical note, I will get my main complaints out of the way here before moving on to positives. This may be par for the course with TV shows, but I found that about one in four episodes was a throwaway. There are at least two clip shows, which I skipped entirely, the first two or three episodes that can be passed up without any lasting harm, and large swathes in the early middle that involve singing, the Miss Macross competition (every bit as horrible as it sounds), lovesick people mooning about, or awkward conversations between people who really should know better than to bulldoze through junior high school mating rituals when there is an alien invasion on.  Suffice it to say that the fast forward button was my friend, as I channeled Monty Python and yelled “Stop that! No singing in my scene!” at the screen.

As mentioned above, the story tends to be a scrambled mess. There is a coherent backstory that emerges late in the series concerning the origins of the Zentradi and Supervision Army, their relationship with humanity, and the resulting power of the Protoculture. This part is pretty cool, but the bits connecting it to the story of the Macross are wildly confusing. (Maybe they aren’t and my brain was melted by the initial exposure to the theme song, but I honestly have no idea why the Zentradi are fighting or how exactly the whole mess started.) The balance of the plot is littered with holes, weirdness, and head slappers, but basically holds together. A lot of the silliness can be placed at the feet of some awfully dumb characters.

The review thus far has been somewhat harsh, so now it is time to highlight a few of the reasons why I pushed on to the end (besides having OCD). Despite its failings and incoherence, Macross pulls itself together just often enough for moments of greatness. There were just enough “wow!” moments to pull me through the stupid parts. Several of the characters are engaging and left me cheering as I watched them grow. Two points of the love triangle mature in gratifying ways and manage a far more satisfying relationship than one might expect of a Giant Robot Space War. (The third point, however, remains annoying throughout.) Several of the side characters are also well-portrayed (Claudia, Max, Global, and my favorite: Exedol), though numerous others are nothing but cringe-inducing (the bridge bunnies, Kamjin, and Kaifun, who is the biggest tool ever). Finally, the viewer can never go wrong when, spoiler alert, the Macross literally punches a battleship to death. Spoiler over. Also, Global says, with a completely straight face, “Launch the booby duck.” That won my heart.

It is the overarching theme, however, that keeps coming back to me. I don’t know if it is a result of residual Japanese ambivalence about war and violence or just the producers trying to think of a hook for the show, but the Macross treatment of war is certainly different. The whole series is a 36 episode examination of how to create peace. The Zentradi are the obvious warmongers, but there are hawks among the humans as well. One prominent character is a vocal pacifist. (He is also a moron and probably a caricature of the Japanese Communist Party.) The hero starts out with no use for the military but finds himself joining up in the face of destruction. Attitudes about the military end up deciding the love triangle central to the story. Again, I don’t know how much of the moral complexity in the series is a result of carefully placed symbolism, how much is a reflection of a culture still trying to reconcile its warlike past with its ostensibly pacifist present, and how much is just too many production companies throwing in too many side stories. Japan’s attitude about war and its military is worthy of books, but suffice it to say that watching Macross in its entirety provides the viewer with a good, if confusing, overview.

What really sets Macross apart, however, isn’t the shades of gray. Macross offers a solution, not just questions and compromises. (What one makes of the solution and its implementation is another question entirely.) If humanity is to conquer the enemy and win some sort of peace in the Macross universe, it isn’t through arms, valor, loyalty, democracy, or any such thing. The secret weapon in this story is culture. Culture was denied the Zentradi and Supervision Army and culture is the key to ending conflict. In this case, Culture is represented by music, which is heartening to a jazz musician like me. Less heartening is the fact that the music that can turn the tide of battles is crappy Japanese pop, but the Good Lord giveth and the Good Lord taketh away. To look further though, the weapons that turn the tide are not the new fighters, the neat robots, or the hilariously named “Grand Cannon,” but songs, babies and kissing. I won’t argue that these plot points are handled in subtle, sensitive, or ingenious ways, but many of the “wow!” moments that kept me coming back were related to them in one way or another.

A couple of other random asides before wrapping up. Two main characters, Minmay and Kaifun, are obviously Chinese. While there is an international cast, as it were, I would be very surprised to see any sympathetic Chinese characters in Japanese anime today. Like much anime (I am told), Macross doesn’t pull punches when killing characters. One major death was broadcast several episodes before it happened, but another was totally out of the blue. I can only imagine audience shock at the time. Destruction is also pretty unforgiving – there are a couple of things taken out that I had not expected. Like a lot of things I saw in Japan, romance is handled in the clumsiest way possible. It would be totally unbelievable if I hadn’t seen similar idiocy in real life, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch.

To sum up, Super Dimension Fortress Macross is a bit of a rollercoaster. The gap between sublime and ridiculous is more of a yawning chasm. I feel some attachment to the world and the characters after investing so much time in the series, though I wish that less of that time was spent groaning and hiding my eyes. There is a lot to recommend, not the least of which is the deconstruction of space opera tropes, but I would caution viewers to have the fast forward button at the ready.

Rating: Sounders-Timbers derbies. Inflamed emotion, frantic running and fighting, rabid partisans on both sides, lots of fun to be had, but a suspect product on the pitch.