On December 15, 2021, Macross Plus Movie Edition was screened in theaters across the country. Despite being one of the all time greats of mech anime, this was my first time seeing Macross Plus. I watched Robotech in middle school on Toonami, Do You Remember Love was my first bootleg anime tape, and I watched SDF Macross in college with my roommate but had just never gotten around to seeing Plus. At least I feel fortunate in that the first time I get to see it is on the big screen, free of distractions from the outside world, and immersed from all sides by Yoko Kanno’s spectacular soundtrack.
Macross Plus follows Myung, Isamu, and Guld, three childhood friends that grew apart as adults. Myung, formerly an outgoing singer, is now the withdrawn producer for a virtual idol (many years before that term was even coined) known as Sharon Apple, while Guld and Isamu became bitter rivals as two test pilots from competing military contractors. Against this backdrop of tense drama, the virtual idol Sharon Apple shows signs that she’s more than just a popular singer.
Myung’s song, Voices, is used as a motif throughout the film, and right away the first time I heard it during the film, I was overcome with this sense of familiarity that was almost haunting. Why did I know this song so intimately if this was the first time I had heard it? Then I remembered. In 1998 Rhino Records released a compilation CD, The Best of Anime, which compiled early American versions of anime theme songs from the 60s to the mid 90s. With the internet still in a nascent form, and anime just starting to pick up pace on TV, anime soundtracks were not as readily available as they are now, so I listened to that CD, and the track Voices, constantly as a kid. It’s appropriate that a ghost from my youth would come up during this film, since it’s largely about confronting the past. The past reflected itself in Macross Plus in other ways too.
The screenplay to Macross Plus was co-written by Keiko Nobumoto, who sadly passed away in early December. She helped pen Cowboy Bebop, Wolf’s Rain, and Tokyo Godfathers. Central to a lot of her work is strong human drama, themes of loss, regret, change, and running from problems. Macross Plus also featured music by Bebop composer Yoko Kanno, which is instrumental to the film’s identity. During a montage scene showing Myung, Guld, and Isamu preparing themselves and immersing themselves in their work, the track Bad Dog plays. The song begins with simple almost improvisational acapella scat that layers on itself, becoming more frantic, fast, and tense, as it overlays with frantic shots of jets tearing through the skies, and ominous computer consoles looming over Myung. There’s a human element to the song, with the pulse-like beat complimenting the adrenaline rushing in the pilots. This contrasts sharply with Sharon Apple’s techno pop songs. Just this small scene encapsulates how Macross Plus truly represents the ideal of what anime can be when animation, music, and narrative all sync up together. How can a live action film ever truly capture the manic majesty of the Itano Circus? How often do you see a story about rival giant robot pilots and a rogue AI pop idol that loves them, that is also a mature, heartfelt story about grief and trauma and never winking at the audience? At no point does anyone on screen ever say “well THAT happened.”
I couldn’t help but think about Cowboy Bebop, another classic anime that featured Nobumoto’s writing and Kanno’s music, and how its transition to live action left nobody satisfied and lead to an unceremonious cancelation by Netflix. Macross Plus was allowed to go up on the big screen and be itself, it didn’t have to have it’s memory contorted into something lesser.
Macross Plus is as fresh and exciting today as it was for the laserdisc- and VHS-viewing fans of the 90s. While this one day screening of Macross Plus may have passed, it’s definitely worth tracking down. Who knows, maybe now that Big West, Tatsunoko Production, and Harmony Gold USA are on better terms with each other regarding the international rights to Macross, we might actually get a US release of the Blu-ray.
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