「虚空歌姫～イツワリノウタヒメ～」 (Itsuwari no Utahime)
“The False Songstress”
Given that this movie premiered in theaters almost a year ago, the anticipation towards watching it had naturally dwindled since then. However, as a long-time fan of the Macross franchise, the Blu-Ray release of this movie quickly took me back to 2009 once I saw the drastic visual improvements over its television counterpart. With new songs, concerts, more focus on the relationships, and mostly new animation, this retelling proved to be a real treat for those who have already seen Frontier. In fact, I was so caught up into how awesome it was after finishing it that I watched it again the very next day. I can’t recall the last time I’ve ever done that with any movie (if ever).
For those who haven’t watch Macross Frontier due to a lack of interest in it or the franchise as a whole, I have no hesitation whole-heartedly recommending that you watch this movie for a quick two-hour immersion into everything that it has to offer. While you probably won’t appreciate it as much as those who have seen the series, there will be a lot of other things that should appeal to new audiences alike, such as Kanno Youko’s always memorable music that was used in ways befitting of a full feature film. Still, the most prevalent thing will undoubtedly be the visuals themselves, as the relatively high production quality of the television series is taken to movie-like levels. There are still times when the animation quality dips, but overall it’s most certainly several notches higher, which the sight of a few bowls of Nyan Nyan ramen and Sheryl’s live performance of “UNIVERSAL BUNNY” make apparent right from the get-go. Once the Valkyries and Vajra come into the picture, it’s nothing but pure mecha eye candy from then on, as the 3D rendered models appear to be more detailed yet are also textured to fit the anime scenes more seamlessly than before. Some of those improvements undoubtedly come from the resolution increase, but others are likely from remastering post-production, particularly for the scenes that were reused. Of course, there were also cases where scenes were completely redone, such as the chamber where the captured Vajra was briefly kept in. (TV version here.)
For those like myself who have seen the television series, the added bonus is the different take on the story. It starts off similarly for the most part, but there are some obvious details that were changed up to advance the plot more quickly in the limited time frame, such as how Ranka is already acquainted with Alto at the very beginning. Klan makes a much earlier appearance as well, when Alto, Michael, and Luca are practicing for Sheryl’s concert. In Klan and Luca’s cases, their screen time and roles in the story actually diminished to almost nothing afterward, though I can’t really say I’m opposed to the shift of priorities to make this work as a movie. Despite this movie being the first of two — the second of which is slated for a theatrical release in February 2011 — it has to work as a fully self-contained feature from start to finish, and I really can’t see how it would have worked if the focus were spread so thinly. In their place, the love triangle gained much more steam, with Alto’s “date” with Sheryl getting the extended treatment to further show both a more playful and serious side to our Galaxy Fairy. As a result, the Alto x Ranka pairing seemed to pale in comparison, until it really mattered when Sheryl was suspected to be a Galaxy spy.
It was at that point that I felt there was noticeable direction change from the original story, as that suspicion placed a real wedge between Alto and Sheryl with Ranka being the inadvertent “benefactor” due to Ozma’s orders to protect her. Rather than focus on the whole V-Type infection (at least in this movie), that change in plot placed much more emphasis on the love triangle itself and paved way to dramatic scenes that worked well from a movie standpoint. In terms of fleshing out the complexities in each of the characters, I still find that it can’t compare to the time available in a 25-episode series — even in light of the unnecessary “fluff” ones — but there were definitely some moments that stood out so much in my mind that it helped offset that to a degree. This includes the wealth that Sheryl showed when she tossed her black Vega (i.e. Visa) at Ozma and hired the entire S.M.S. to rescue Macross Galaxy from the Vajra. Sheryl’s fold quartz earring also became the primary driving factor behind a lot of the story, which worked nicely in not only bringing Alto into the picture, but also quickly showing some of the backstory that didn’t have time to be covered in detail. Incidentally, the latter case actually caused some confusion that I hope to see cleared up in the next movie, namely that Sheryl knew Ranka from their time on Galia 4. As shown in the series, Dr. Mao Nome did have a working relationship with Ranshe Mei, but I don’t quite recall that Sheryl and Ranka knew one another when they were kids. All that reiterated to me though is that a rewatch of Macross Frontier is in order in the near future, especially seeing as it’s been over two years since it finished airing.
Other than that, the story here did touch briefly upon Alto’s past as a Kabuki actor and quite powerfully so with how he felt like he was slowly losing himself from all the roles. That sure put it a step up from some discord with his father and also gave a brief moment for Ranka to rescue him for those thoughts. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a whole lot from either Leon or Grace as antagonists, other than the former making Glass believe that Galaxy had betrayed them and the latter only shown to be working in mysterious ways and referring to Sheryl as “Fairy 9” and Ranka as “Little Queen” for now. I imagine that will serve as build-up for the next movie, as an all-out Vajra attack on Frontier was scripted to be the climactic finish to this one. As such, most of the underlying story will only really strike a familiar chord with those who know the story coming in. However, that isn’t even to say someone like me has a complete understanding of where things are going, especially in light of the slight changes to the story. While I’m admittedly curious as to the possibility that a new direction will be taken — much like the cleverly played scare they gave us with Michael getting shot down — this movie didn’t leave me the least bit unsatisfied. After all, it ended off exactly how a Macross series should, with an all-out battle with the power of music resounding throughout the galaxy.
I was already a bit giddy about how Sheryl’s first performance had a mini tribute to previous infamous Macross music, namely Lynn Minmay, Sharon Apple, and Fire Bomber, but to go out in true Macross style with the Valkyries lighting up the skies with singing in the background was pretty moving due to the nostalgic effect alone. It was pretty awesome to see Sheryl continue singing on her boat-like stage as it became a focal point of the battle, as the only thing that topped it was seeing the Macross Quarter unleash the infamous Pinpoint Barrier Punch and Macross Frontier following up with the Macross Cannon and blasting the Vajra mothership out of the skies. A bit wild is an understatement with the way that Bobby pilots Quarter. Hearing Jeffrey Wilder tell his crew let them have it gave me goosebumps. Leading up to that, I don’t think there could have been any better way of going out except with Sheryl and Ranka performing a duet of “Lion”, which was only possible after Alto went all out to save Ranka from the Vajra that had kidnapped her. I can’t even imagine the budget that went into animated that battle at the end, because it was completely new footage and just “orgasmic levels” of Macross awesomeness.
Story-wise, Brera had also joined in to lend a hand and probably raised more questions about his intentions by doing so, but none of that really mattered for the time being. There will be plenty of time to sort of the ongoing story in the next movie, which honestly has me considering schedule another visit to Japan to coincide with its release. (Unlikely, but I did consider it.) The thought of having to wait for god who knows how long to see a home release of “Sayonara no Tsubasa” isn’t exactly my idea of fun after watching this. The preview also shows a Valkyrie painted in Nekki Basara’s VF-19 colors and hints that Alto may actually decide on one of the two girls this time around, so I definitely what to see what’s up with that. Anyway, Macross fan or not, do yourself a favor and check out this movie if you haven’t already. You’ll be glad that you did!
* Family Mart looks like it’s an official sponsor of the movie.