First off, a programming note. There are multiple versions of the initial episode of Macross Frontier. One was an early release with incomplete effects. Another was a slimmed down version for its regular tv slot. What you’re looking for is the Yack Deculture edition. It’s a little longer, at around 31:39 or so, and has a few more character scenes than the other versions. If your version is shorter than roughly 32 minutes keep looking as you’ll be missing out on some content. 

Episode Summary:

When Macross Frontier debuted, it had been 14 years since the last full Macross series, Macross 7, and more than six years since the first episode of the five part OVA series Macross Zero had come out. Nobody really knew what to expect from this new series. SDF Macross had been about a lone Human ship on the run from an overwhelming force of enemies where our culture that included things beyond hatred and warfare had saved the day. Macross 7 had been about getting a very alien set of enemies to open their hearts to the power of rock. Macross Zero had been about the effects of the modern world intruding on a primitive island culture. So, what about Macross Frontier? What would it be about?

When Frontier opens, it does so back in space. Macross hasn’t been in space for almost a decade and a half! We get a beautiful view of the Frontier fleet and we first meet a young woman named Sheryl who is excited to see a ship containing an ocean out the window of her approaching starliner. Apparently, Sheryl is a songstress known as the Galactic Fairy, and she is ending her long tour with a series of concerts on Frontier. 

We’re quickly introduced to our second main character, Alto Saotome, a young man who enjoys flying and aerial acrobatics but who is oddly bitter at the limit of the sky within Frontier’s main city being too low for his liking. Alto’s friends also tease him a little about looking like a girl and it is briefly mentioned that he used to be a kabuki actor. If one knows anything about Kabuki, one has got to wonder just what kind of role Alto played. At one point in time all parts in a Kabuki drama, even the female ones, were played by boys! 

Soon, we get our first glimpse of our third main character, the somewhat younger green-haired Ranka Lee. She works at a restaurant called Nyan Nyan, and seems a bit clumsy, but we also learn that she is related to a pilot in an elite part of the Frontier’s military. Other than that, though, Ranka’s roles in Frontier’s story is still very unclear. 

Finally, part way into the episode, the Frontier fleet has what seems to be its first encounter with a new alien force not yet seen in Macross. Ranka’s brother and Frontier’s president seem to know them as Vajra. Ranka’s bother in particular makes a comment that seems to indicate he’s been waiting for this day. Possibly to get revenge?

This episode has everything it needs to make it a true Macross show. It has fighter pilots and transforming fighter planes and missiles and gunfire going every which way. It has what could be the very first stages of a love triangle between Sheryl, Alto, and Ranka. And, it has music galore thanks to an impressive open number performed by Sheryl. 

Macross 7 had been very repetitive using the same animation loops and songs over and over again across nearly fifty episodes. Macross Zero had been visually impressive and had good characters, but it’s pacific island setting had left fans wishing for a return to space and politics, and more typical social interactions. So far, Frontier seemed to be checking all the boxes. Fans were impressed with the first episode of Frontier, but there were still a lot of unknowns about the series and its characters.

Specific Scenes I Loved: 

  • The introduction of the Macross Frontier fleet. The initial exterior shot shows just how massive a collection of ships Frontier is. There’s a main “Island 1” at the head of the fleet and then several (I counted 20 or more) smaller pill-shaped islands stretching along behind. Just from a rough guesstimate, I’d put the pill-shaped islands at maybe five miles long each with the main island being a little bigger. That’s a whole lot of land area complete with seas and mountains and at least one main city with a population that must be in the millions. 
  • I also love that initial shot of the trolley car and surrounding city. We’ll see even better shots of the city as the series progresses, but that long pan up the street along with the traditional trolley car makes it clear that the city is large and high tech, but is also a place where tradition and familiarity is at least as important as technology.
  • The little history lesson at the beginning. Macross Frontier has these short segments near the start of its first few episodes in order to help get views up to speed on a few different aspects of the Macross universe. 
  • Sheryl’s concert. The concerts in SDF Macross, and Macross 7 were far more static affairs probably due to budget and animation challenges of the times. Macross Zero did not have a typical pop/rock music idol as its songstress, so while most of the OVA’s animation was very impressive, there just wasn’t much to animate music wise. Only the trippy, psychedelic holographic performances of the artificial intelligence Sharon Apple in Macross Plus comes close to the level of art and animation that Macross Frontier just demonstrated. 
  • Alto climbing into a downed Valkyrie seems to be a close parallel to Shin Kudo doing much the same in Macross Zero.  

Episode Impressions:

Overall, I like this episode. It’s a little fast paced and certainly it doesn’t stop to explain every little thing, but it sets up our three main characters. The alien attack that is still in progress seems to be pointing the way to the overall conflict that the Frontier fleet will face. The artwork has some problems here and there, Alto flying with his paper airplane has what should be 3d buildings instead drawn as 2d textures on the ground and it’s a bit jarring, but aside from a few other minor animation errors most everything else looks excellent. We were left in something of a cliff hanger at the end of the episode, so it will be interesting to see what happens next. 

I also like this opening. The song points very heavily to their being a typical Macross love triangle between Alto, Ranka, and Sheryl, but the imagery from the traffic on a busy street to the hectic battles in space are all pretty awesome. I think my favorite part is the Valkyrie taking off right beside Alto as he is launching off the roof of his school in his Ex-gear. 

Since this is only the first episode, there aren’t a lot of plot points that need to be called out. Or, maybe, being the first episode, nearly everything that happens is important? The one standout plot point that this episode threw us was the reveal that the “Galactic Fairy” Sheryl refers to herself and is known as Sheryl Nome. We could be in for a wild ride if Sheryl is somehow related to the Nome sisters of Macross Zero. Their bloodline nearly saw the earth destroyed by a left behind alien guardian, after all.

Aside from that, here are the moment to moment notes I jotted down during the episode. There were a couple of fun Easter eggs and a few good callbacks to past Macross series along with some lovely background animations that are worth admiring. 

0:00 – This episode opens with the phrase “Yack. Deculture.” This is a Zentradi phrase that has a number of meanings. Back 50+ years ago, when the Zentradi attacked earth, this phrase of theirs was almost always used as an expletive. Zentradi would speak it when they saw something they could not comprehend or yell it when their fighters or ships were about to be destroyed. Since the end of the war, the Zentradi have largely integrated with humanity and the meaning of the phrase has shifted and softened. By the time of Macross Frontier, it has a wide range of uses from surprise, to excitement, to being a compliment. In rare cases, it is still used in its original connotation. 

1:08 – The Frontier fleet is beautiful and massive. It’s one of my favorite all time fleets because of its size and complexity. Note that there are several “island” ships trailing the main “Island 1” in the distance. Surrounding the fleet is a large number of support vessels including quite a few carriers and warships. Though never directly stated in this series, the Macross colony ship fleets are always supported by a sizable military escort because even 50+ years after “Space War 1” back in 2009, there are still an unknown number of rogue, warlike Zentradi fleets in the galaxy. Traveling on a long term exploration mission without an escort would be ill-advised. 

2:13 – The scene here depicts a scene the Macross movie “Do You Remember Love?”  where several of the main characters were captured and spoken to / interrogated by the leader of the Zentradi fleet that attacked Earth. On the left is Hikaru, a Valkyrie pilot and the original show’s protagonist. In the middle is Roy Focker who also appears in Macross Zero and Misa Hayase who plays a somewhat similar role to Lieutenant Glass who escorts Sheryl on Frontier. The original show’s main singer, Lynn Minmay is being held in the Zentradi’s hand to the right. 

4:42 – The fourth listing on the flight schedule “Satelight” is one of the two animation studios that worked on Macross Frontier. 

5:27 – Nome? As in Sara and Mao Nome from Macross Zero? Up to this point, Frontier has only referred to Sheryl as “Sheryl” and here it drops the big twist that she might be related to the islander sisters who helped UN forces finally put an end to the destabilizing anti-UN forces a year prior to the launch of the original Macross ship at the beginning of Space War 1. 

10:30 – The thought is that the Frontier fleet doesn’t make a lot of hyperspace folds because of just how huge it is. Instead, it makes long jumps from one candidate star system of potentially habitable worlds to the next, then it stops for long stretches at a time to refuel and resupply from asteroid belts and gas giants before making its next big jump. 

14:14 – Looks like AI controlled Ghost fighters, which were in the initial prototype stage back in Macross Plus, have come into widespread use after all! Ace test pilot Isamau Dyson was so against the Ghost program that he went AWOL to earth in order to shoot down the first prototype Ghost fighter so as to prove that human pilots were better. That Ghost fighter was more than a match for Isamau and his rival/friend Gould, but they don’t do very well here thanks to the powerful jamming. 

15:15 – I love the constant sparkling presence of the skycars traveling along their paths on Island 1’s outer dome. We’ll get brief up close glimpses of those trams and their shell stations later on in the series

15:41 – Nyan Nyan was the restaurant that Minmay Linn worked at in SDF Macross. It was run by her uncle. I guess it survived and expanded into a franchise! Remember, anything that survives the original SDF Macross show or the “Do You Remember Love?” movie is very remarkable because the vast majority of the earth was destroyed in a single Zentradi fleet wide orbital bombardment. 

15:53 – Ranka’s little song ends in “Deculture”, demonstrating one of the ways that phrase has slowly merged with everyday life. Now, what was once an expletive, is just part of a restaurant’s marketing jingle and its meaning has shifted to reference the quality of the food and dining at the restaurant. 

16:43 – I love the carrier here that can launch fighters from the top and bottom decks. We saw some other novel launch methods in previous Macross works, but I think this one is by far the best as it uses spaces’ 3d nature to good effect. 

21:48 – “Super Packs” are additional modules fitted to a Valkyrie that give it extra maneuvering thrusters, fuel, and armaments meant for space combat. “Armor Packs”, are similar but are more weighted towards the armament side of things. You can see the pilot that chases the red Vajra into Island 1’s dome jettison his pack just before he enters. 

22:05 – Note that Sheryl’s appearance changes from an elaborate outfit to what almost looks like a skin tight diving suit when the evacuation order is issued. By this point in the Macross universe, full body holography is a thing. We saw it in “Do You Remember Love?”, the followup movie that retold the original Macross’ story, and saw extensive use of holograms in Macross Plus where the virtual idol “Sharon Apple” put on very trippy holographic concerts. It seems that Sheryl might not always be as provocative on stage as she first appears. 

23:09 – Skull Squadron, first featured in SDF Macross, has a long history of being the best of the best within Macross. It also has a history of its leader dying. We’ll see how that goes. 

27:32 The scene of the tanks shooting at the Vajra is an almost direct homage to an extremely similar scene in the original Neon Genesis Evangalion. Right down to the enemy firing back and obliterating the entire block.

29:41 Yep. Another inexperienced pilot climbs into a Valkyrie in the middle of a battle. This happens a lot in Macross. It happened in the original, in Macross Zero, here in Macross Frontier, and will happen again in Macross Delta, the show made after Frontier. It’s almost a trope unto itself now. It usually doesn’t go super well for the new Valkyrie pilot in their first outing…  but maybe things will be different for Alto?

Next Episode: Hard Chase

Normally, this is where I would pretend to speculate on what’s in store during the next episode based on the ending teaser, but for whatever reason, I don’t have a Next Episode section on the end of the Yak Deculture edition. So… I guess we’ll find out together!