Review: Macross Frontier: Wings of Goodbye

So today, when I got home from classes, I thought ‘I really want to review Sayonara no Tsubasa’. I hadn’t watched the movie (well, not fully anyway) due to a variety of reasons, but I thought this would be a good way to force me to watch it. So I did, and here we are. To start, Macross is a series in Japan (and in the US too, under the moniker Robotech, but that’s a whole other can of worms) and has spawned several series. It’s a little bit like Gundam, if you confine it to all of the Universal Century stuff, since all the Macross stuff is part of the same universe.

The latest incarnation in these series is Macross Frontier, a TV series airing from April to September of 2008. And it was immensely popular. Enough so to spawn two movies, that… Borrow heavily from the series. Kind of a re-imaging, if you will. Those two are called Itsuwari no Utahime (The False Songstress) and Sayonara no Tsubasa (Wings of Goodbye), and of course I’m reviewing the second of those two. It’s a little weird for me to start on the second movie, I know, but I wanted to get it all while it was fresh on my mind. I promise to do The False Songstress next week.

This movie's about people with plant faces making out. Yep. That's it. ... In all honesty, opening with a scene like this was really bizarre (and even worse since it was accompanied by my least favorite song in the movie).

So… Macross Frontier: Wings of Goodbye. To understand it from the beginning, there’s something important about the Macross series. They’re all mecha shows (the mecha in question are these fighter-jet looking variable fighters that transform into humanoid robots) and music and aliens generally play a pretty big role. Specifically, the interaction between music and aliens. So, there’s a lot of music, there’s a lot of mech combat, and just a hint of romance to spice it all up. And Macross Frontier fits the mold to a T. Consequently, so does Wings of Goodbye.

Starting with the plot… It’ll be a little difficult since this is a direct sequel to the first movie, but let’s do the quick version. The setting is in deep space, on this gigantic vessel that’s basically a giant pod city. The vessel is looking for a new habitable world for humans. There are also these aliens, the Vajra, that keep attacking. Saotome Alto, the main character, is just a guy who, through a variety of events, ends up working for the S.M.S, a paramilitary organization within this vessel (the Frontier) to repel these Vajra aliens. He has a school friend, Ranka Lee, who’s working really hard to become a famous singer, and coincidentally a huge pop star idol Sheryl Nome happens to be in town (she’s from another gigantic vessel looking for habitable planets). The story is about the three of them, their relationships with each other and their surroundings, particularly when it comes to these Vajra.

The Vajra alien, to the right. The left is Alto, of course. They honestly don't seem that frightening (and to a degree, they really aren't). Kind of like huge praying mantises.

It’s not really the most engrossing plot in the world; I’ll be the first to admit. But I’m also the first to admit I never watched this for the plot. I’d be surprised if everyone did. The plot has some cool moments (most particularly the climax of each movie) but as I think about it, the most notable part of those moments was the singing. And that’s what it is to me. The plot of these movies is really a gigantic vehicle to throw music at me. Not that I have any problem with that, and of course it could be argued that the songs were instead used to push certain moments in the plot. I can see that; certain moments were made much more emotional due to the musical choices and whatnot.

Still, I came to Macross Frontier for the music, and it gave me some music in an atmospherically charged context that I found really thrilling. Besides all of that, the whole plot of aliens and singing and mecha combat and internal struggles isn’t really anything special. Well, there is the romance. There’s a neat romance subplot (maybe main plot? It’s at least the interesting plot) between Alto, Ranka, and Sheryl that’s great to watch. I’ll be honest, it’s not about stupid crap like Edward or Jacob to me (for the record, team Jacob can suck it), it’s about Ranka or Sheryl. I’m sure bar fights have broken out between supporters of the two teams. I myself cannot for the life of me decide between the two. It’s a daily battle within me. Back to the romance plot though, it was interesting to watch. I thought the characters involved were stellar and distinct, and I was particularly pleased that Alto made a choice between the two at the end of the movie (he didn’t in the TV series).

Saotome Alto. Look at that smooth pretty face and... Well, he has a ponytail back there, but I think the image got cut off a little bit. Needless to say, he's a long hair kinda guy.

Luckily what the plot lacks the characters more than make up for. The main character, Saotome Alto is a pretty boy. I mean that in the most literal sense possible, I guess. He used to be a Kabuki stage actor, and of course only played the roles of women or something to that degree. He has a hotheaded personality and is a loyal guy to a fault, but when it comes to romance he’s a bit dense (has there ever been a protagonist in a Japanese animated work that wasn’t?). Insofar as Sayonara no Tsubasa is concerned, he doesn’t go through too much development or anything in particular. He reacts to certain events in a way befitting his personality (gets depressed when everything is lost to him, returns with a fire to protect the ones he loves, etc.) and besides that he’s not all too distinct, I think. He’s probably the weakest of the main characters, but he’s the guy all the girls (read: two) dig.

Ranka Lee (in one of her final outfits). A cute demure maiden with a whole host of interesting quirks. For example, her two hair flaps (on the left and right) seemingly react to her emotions.

The first girl I’ll cover is Ranka Lee. Ranka Lee has known Alto for a while, going to school with him, and of course she has a crush on him. He doesn’t know, since he’s dense as hell, but it’s pretty obvious to you and me watching the movie. She wants with all her heart to enter the world of singing, and in the first movie she does just that (clawing her way to the top, of course). As the second movie kicks in, Ranka is quite a bit more popular, and we learn that her singing has some sort of special interactions with the Vajra. Ranka’s personality is a little shy, and kind of soft-spoken, but when she gets on that stage, boy, can she sing. She plays a cute and innocent foil to Sheryl’s sort of sultry seductress look, particularly on stage. The first movie was more about her growth as a person, becoming more confident in herself to sing and become known, so the second movie doesn’t go into that as much. There are a few developments to her character, but they’re mere facts that don’t really affect her personality or anything. Still, she has a bright and vivacious personality that brings a lot of life to whatever scene she’s in, and constantly battles Sheryl for supremacy in my mind.

Sheryl. Not her flashiest outfit, but my favorite picture of her from my favorite scene of her in the movie. She's confident and it shows.

Now for girl number two, Sheryl Nome. She’s known as the Galactic Fairy, a singing prodigy from the Galaxy ship. She arrives at the Frontier meaning to do a few concerts and whatnot, and through a series of events (there are a lot of those in the first movie) she ends up meeting Alto, and they hit it off (as friends for Alto, a little bit more for Sheryl). Compared to Ranka, her personality is a lot stronger-seeming and passionate, and this really shows in her singing. She gives off this mature vibe and kind of takes on a sort of mentor/older sister role to Ranka, who’s aspiring to become just as big as Sheryl.

The dichotomy between Ranka and Sheryl’s stage presence is cool to watch, as Sheryl’s kind of this black seductress type character on stage, whereas Ranka plays more of the white angel. What’s interesting to note is that Sheryl’s offstage character is a bit more girly, and her interactions with Alto in particular are great to see. I think the differences in her stage personality and offstage personality are some of the most interesting parts about her. Insofar as the second movie is concerned, Sheryl’s really the main character in terms of development. A lot of bombs are dropped about her character, and the movie kind of deals with some of that fallout. She puts on a front, but she’s not quite as strong as she seems.

Now between the two, who do you think Alto will choose?

A single picture won't do it justice, but... Look at those colors, damn. A total treat to watch, seriously. Make sure you click it to really see it. I'll put a youtube video of the concert at the end; do yourself a favor and watch it in HD.

Moving on to the art, well, to preface, this is a movie. As a result, the production values are a lot higher and only crammed into two hours of show time. So, the art is good. Gorgeous, in fact. I love the art and art direction in several of the scenes. Particularly in the second movie, the Niji Iro Kuma Kuma (literally Rainbow Colored Bear Bear. I know, I know, bear with me) concert is one of the most visually appealing things I’ve seen ever. Some of the technology they pull for this kinda stuff (not drawing, I mean in the movie for the concert) is way ridiculous but totally awesome to watch. There’s a cavalcade of colors dancing everywhere and the setting keeps changing and things are bright and there’s this cute little jpop number going on and it’s really hard not to start singing along (I sang along to most of the songs as I watched).  Besides that, the character designs are pretty good. Sheryl and Ranka have really nice base designs and get a ton of outfits to enjoy throughout the movie that are a joy to watch. Alto… Well, he looks pretty. That’s about it. The mecha combat is done in CG, which I generally don’t like as much as the drawn stuff, but it looks alright here, and I can forgive it for the stellar concerts.

I'd be remiss if I showed none of this. Technically half of this movie is about the mecha combat, so here's the VF-29 Durandal. Pretty spiffy looking.

The animation, like the art, benefits greatly from the big budget. There are some neat elaborate dances in the concerts (really, the choreography for some of that stuff is ridiculous) and the high-paced mecha combat is a treat to watch. I got a little dizzy watching some of it, really. Still, within the confines of a movie (aka, comparing it to other anime movies) it’s not really the best I’ve seen. Some of its well-done, but there are some scenes that look just a little weird. Consequently, animation, while nice, is not the movie’s forte.

And, after a magical girl-esque transformation sequence, these are the last outfits Ranka and Sheryl sang together in. I actually really like these outfits too (Sheryl's are usually too flashy, and I don't particularly like her hair in this shot either).

And, well, the music. Where would we be without the music? You come to Macross Frontier for the music, and dammit, you stay for the music. The rest is just icing on the cake. Of course, if you don’t like jpop, stay the hell away from this, because you will hate it; but if you even have a passing interest in the stuff, check this out.

Composing everything from the back is Yoko Kanno (Gabriella Robin?) who’s in my mind up there with Kajiura Yuki in terms of anime composers. She’s done Cowboy Bebop, Turn A Gundam, Aquarion (say what you will, the music is fantastic), Ghost in the Shell… She has an impressive repertoire, and it shows in Macross Frontier.

Providing the vocals are Nakajima Megumi and May’n. Nakajima Megumi does Ranka’s vocals, and also her voice, whereas May’n does Sheryl’s vocals (though Endou Aya does her voice). There’s some fantastic voice work here (not that I could recognize that) and since Macross Frontier, Nakajima Megumi has done a lot of stuff. I don’t know May’n as well (I think she was a singer before doing Macross Frontier) but their work together is excellent. They even put on a huge Macross Frontier concert thing a while back that has some excellent music.

As their work for this movie is concerned… The quality is great, as expected. I’ll be honest; I don’t give a damn about the BGM (though I remember one or two good tracks… Ai to Kimi Watashi or something? That one was pretty good) but the voiced songs are fantastic. There’s a whole lot of music, and almost all of it is excellent. Fans of the TV series will recognize a few old ones, but there are plenty of new songs by Ranka and Sheryl to bring you in and keep you hooked. By and large, Macross Frontier: Sayonara no Tsubasa, is about the music, and it does it damn well.

Rating Breakdown
Really, who came here for the plot? Still, while it's not super, some of the emotionally charged moments, driven by the music, can be quite engrossing.
One of the best parts of the movie. At least, Ranka and Sheryl are. I don't even know what team I'm on. I think, for the purposes of this blurb, Team Sheryl for life.
The art direction and the general quality is stellar. The quality is to be expected for a movie of this caliber, but the art direction in the concerts and character outfits and whatnot is great.
It's great stuff, but looking at it as a movie it's not the best. Plus, some moments just look a little weird.
I know I just watched this and there's a little of that high still lingering, but this was a great watch if you're a fan of the series and especially the music. A treat.
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I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.


I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.

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