A series of mecha franchises that have been active since the early 1980s, Macross is also one of anime’s most long-standing and widely-loved stories. Each show in the franchise is set in a different time period, but each takes many of the same basic ideas that were laid down in the earlier Gundam franchise—giant robots, space-based warfare—and adds thematic dimensions that include the clashes between cultures and the redemptive power of love and music.
Originally created as a TV series by Shōji Kawamori of Studio Nue (the same group that produced the animated version of The Dirty Pair), and the advertising firm Big West, the original Macross aired from 1982 to 1983, and quickly spawned a franchise that included two other full-length TV series, four feature films, six OVA productions, and various literary and manga properties.
American TV production company Harmony Gold, best known for the miniseries Shaka Zulu, licensed Macross through Tatsunoko Pro for Western audiences. With some redubbing and editing, the resulting show was known as Robotech, and its TV broadcasts and home video sales made it into one of the first anime productions to reach a broad audience in the early Eighties. The original Macross has since been licensed for English-speaking audiences as well.
How To Watch:
- Robotech: Macross Saga:
Harmony Gold/A&E (Click to compare prices)
- Super Dimension Fortress Macross: ADV (Click to compare prices)
- Macross II: The Movie: Manga Video (Click to compare prices)
- Macross Plus: Manga Video (Click to compare prices)
Unfortunately, the newer Macross properties after Plus are currently not available outside of Japan. This is due to a thicket of licensing issues between Big West, Studio Nue, Tatsunoko Pro, and Harmony Gold, all involving the ownership of the original properties, its sublicensing to other territories (specifically, the United States), and in some cases the rights to the music.
[Because of the scope of the franchise, this review will consist of overviews of the major entries in the franchise.]
The Super Dimension Fortress Macross (1982-83): The first show, and by many accounts still the best, of the Macross franchise. When an alien spacecraft the size of a city crashes on Earth, an international team reverse-engineers its technology over the course of a decade and creates many new inventions, not least of which is a spaceship capable of faster-than-light travel, the SDF-1 Macross. Just as the SDF-1 is being launched on its first mission, staffed by members of the U.N. Spacy, its alien creators--the Zentraedi--show up and attempt to start a war. Thus begins the adventures of three groups: the crew of the SDF-1, the civilians who live their lives inside it, and the Zentraedi forces who believe mankind might be either their progenitors or their destroyers.
Most significant in the first series is the establishment of a few basic character types seen as common motifs throughout the show: the ace pilot, for instance, but especially the aspiring pop idol—in this case, Lynn Minmay, whose singing and personality become a source of inspiration for the SDF-1’s crew. The show also introduced the concept of the variable fighter, a vehicle which can shift between a roughly humaniform shape (a la Gundam) and a jet-fighter configuration.
In English the series was known as Robotech: The Macross Saga, and was re-edited for television broadcast.
Macross: Do You Remember Love? (1984): A feature-film retelling of part of the plot of the first TV series, which is widely acknowledged to be in in-universe version of the story—i.e., if a movie was made in the Macross universe about what had been going on, this would be it. Widely loved by fans even if it diverges somewhat from the actual plotline.
Macross II (1992): A sequel OVA, set some eighty years after the events of the original series in a parallel timeline, and which involves a human journalist caught up in a clash between humans, Zentraedi, and another alien species, the Marduk, who have enslaved them (and have their own singer caste to inspire their warriors, to boot).
Released to great hype, fans were ultimately disappointed with the series, possibly because it was produced without the involvement of Studio Nue.
Macross Plus (1994-5): Studio Nue was brought back on board for this OVA installment, and it was well worth it. Two rival pilots—a hothead human and a cool-as-ice half-Zentraedi—vie for the heart of a music producer whose newest sensation, Sharon Apple, is an AI. A emotionally compelling storyline, some spectacular aerial action (including some then-groundbreaking use of CGI), and a soundtrack by the inimitable Yoko Kanno make this one of the best places to start with the franchise as a whole. An alternate, shorter version also exists, but stick with the full three-hour cut.
Macross 7 (1994-5): A TV series that functions are a more formal sequel to the original show, although with a much goofier tone. Set on a combination deep-space battle cruiser and city-in-space, the show involves the antics of rock band Fire Bomber’s egomaniacal lead singer lead mankind into direct conflict with a new alien species, the Protodeviln. A comic-only side story entitle Macross 7: Trash was also released, along with two OVAs (Macross 7: Encore and Macross Dynamite 7). The show is in constant demand with fans, but no legitimate release has been planned for English-speaking audiences allegedly due to the prohibitive cost of licensing the music from Victor Japan.
Macross Zero (2002): Commissioned for the franchise’s 20th anniversary, Zero is a prequel—set one year before the events of the first show, and depicts the battles between the U.N. Spacy and a resistance force. A pilot engaged in this battle crash-lands on a remote island and discovers the natives there have a connection to the alien armada on its way. Music by Kuniaki Haishima, of Mushi-shi.
Macross Frontier (2007): Commissioned for the franchise’s 25th anniversary, Frontier is set after Macross 7 and involves a human colonization fleet looking for a world suitable to establish a home base on. The drama includes the usual ace-pilot character, and not one but two pop-idol characters, as well as an alien menace and new varieties of variable fighters. Two films entitled Macross Frontier The Movie: The False Diva and Macross Frontier Movie: The Wings of Goodbye were also produced. Music once again by Yoko Kanno.