From Me To You Ranka LeeAfter more than a year since its Japanese release, I was finally able to see the Macross Frontier Short Film: Labyrinth of Time. And I really enjoyed it. This story primarily follows Ranka Lee. In large part because with Alto Saotome lost in space and Sheryl Nome still in a coma, she is the only one of Macross Frontier’s three main characters still active within the camera’s eye. But don’t worry, the story makes it a point to involve the other two.

We catch up to Ranka on some settled world whose architecture features things that kinda, sorta, look like artistic gold Tokyo Towers. She’s singing at a concert branded as “From Me To You – Ranka Lee”. Ranka is looking confident on stage and we find her sporting a new, slightly more mature haircut that features a neat bit of longer hair hanging off to her left. (Maybe there’s a hip, technical hair term for that… I don’t know what it might be.) She stars off singing Hoshi Kira (Starshine) in front of a huge audience. Both her outfit and the stage in front of her change dramatically thanks to the Macross universe’s ubiquitous hologram technology. Ranka is visually transported back to the Varja homeworld in front of Alto’s downed Valkyrie and is again wearing a white dress with a blue bow similar to the one she wore when she sang for him back then. Midway through the song, though, she receives a sharp pain in her stomach. Her fold bacteria are responding to something. Ranka, who is apparently a much more professional singer these days, continues on with her song, but it looks like she organizes a search for the fold signal immediately after her concert is done.

Ranka and her adoptive older brother Ozma, along with Luca, Michael, Klan Klan, and Nanase journey out to a Protoculture ruin set in the middle of a lake on the same planet. There they set up monitoring equipment while Ranka and Nanase set up a shrine of sorts containing items important to Alto and Sheryl. Soon, the ruins begin to respond, and Ranka runs forward as the ruins begin to turn and transform. She enters an energy portal just seconds before it seals itself off and is deposited inside the flooded ruin.

The ruin quickly drains itself as it continues to transform and respond to the song that Ranka begins to sing. Pretty quickly, Ranka and her support staff begin to see images of her memories of Alto and Sheryl made large thanks to the Protoculture technology. As Ranka’s song progresses, we see imagery of her meeting Alto for the first time, and of her calling Alto one night when she was nervous and unable to sleep. Ranka also sees images of herself and Sheryl when they sang together on stage and rode one of Frontier’s Island 1 trolley cars together with Alto and Brera as body guards holding back tons of adoring fans.

Ranka reaches a central area of the ruins and throws Alto’s paper airplane which begins to soar with the magic of her song… only to drop as Ranka begins to doubt herself. She collapses to her hands and knees and trails off singing “What do you think of me now?” and “Have I become a stronger person?” to the images of Alto and Sheryl. It seems clear that Ranka has grown a lot since the war with the Varja, but she still has that core of self doubt that she displays here.

Fortunately, Sheryl’s voice echoes through the ruins, singing the first few lines of Diamond Crevasse. Sheryl’s voice lifts Alto’s paper airplane which is soon joined by a flurry of Sheryl’s own butterflies. Encouraged, Ranka begins her song again, questioning if Alto and Sheryl can hear her. Ranka and Sheryl join in a limited duet as the Protoculture ruin comes alive with color and sound. The song and the ruin build in intensity as representations of Sheryl in a wedding dress and Alto in his kabuki gown and flight suit both appear in huge form, so large they are even visible far outside the ruin. Finally, as the song reaches its climax, we see Sheryl reach out to Alto as a beam of energy shoots forth from the ruins and stretches far beyond the planet out past even our galaxy.

When it all ends, Ranka finds herself back in the center of the again dormant ruin, still on her hands and knees. She stands, looks to the sky and says “I’m not losing you this time” as Alto’s paper airplane returns to her hand.

Movie Impressions

While this short film isn’t super densely packed, it does contain a good bit of nostalgia for the two Macross Frontier characters who have been out of the picture since the end of the Wings of Goodbye movie. Ranka looks and sounds better than ever. The whole film is based around her 7+ minute song, and I think it’s one of the character’s best yet. Sheryl always carried the big, weighty musical numbers in the anime and in the movies, but here, Ranka finally gets an epic piece of her own. Something that’s not child-like or filled with rainbows and stuffed bears.

Beyond the song, the animation and effects were spectacular. I really enjoyed the song when I first heard it several months ago, but I was a little afraid that the animation would consist of nothing more than reused scenes from the anime. Nope! Other than a few brief flashbacks to Wings of Goodbye at the beginning, this was all brand new, highly detailed animation. It looks pretty dang good, too! I was scared we were getting a minor side project, but instead we got something that clearly had a ton of care and attention put into it!

And then there’s the story. Alto is still far away with the Varja queen. Sheryl is still in her coma. But the two seem to be connected when Ranka awakens the Protoculture ruins. And with that beam, which is said to be an amplified fold wave transmission, I think Sheryl is maybe calling Alto home. With Macross, it’s hard to tell if this is just a one off piece, or something that might be followed up on in a decades time, or the revival of the series’ attention to the Frontier storylines. I would love a new Frontier series. I would also love if we just got a yearly or bi-yearly short film that slowly took us to Alto’s return and Sheryl’s reawakening. But as things are, I just have to brace for this being a one off that will never get a followup. But, even if it is… it still managed to live up to my frankly uncontrolled excitement when I first heard about this new project a couple years ago. So, regardless of what does or doesn’t happen next, I’m glad it exists.

Specific Scenes I Loved

Ranka on the big stage. Satelight, the anime studio that handles Macross, is no stranger to singers on stage. They did Macross Frontier and Macross Delta, as well as the highly musical Symphogear series that has its fair share of singers and stages. But, this may be the studio’s most impressive stage yet. The crowd movement with their pen lights is just right. The feeling of vastness works very well. Even the holographic transformation looks spectacular. I really did love these stage scenes.

Ranka’s run. During an interlude in her song, Ranka runs and pulls off her soaked jacket as the camera spins round and round her. The background movement plus the near constant redraws of Ranka in the foreground are very impressive. She is in motion removing her jacket and running flat out almost the entire time as the camera continues its fast rotations around her. There’s all sorts of flashy energy portals and giant holograms in this short, but this may be the scene that impressed me the most.

The paper airplane flying once more as Sheryl began to sing. I loved Sheryl reaching out with her song and also loved the fairly subtle reference back to the end of Macross Zero where Mao Nome dropped Shin Kudo’s Valkyrie in the water as her voice briefly wavered. The animation here isn’t really the same at all, but the power of a songstress’ voice being able to lift an airplane? Yeah… that’s totally a Macross thing.

All in All

Though this film is short and ends in yet another cliffhanger, I was really glad to dip back into the world of Macross Frontier. It had the music and magic and animation I was looking for in a new installment of the Frontier story. I hope we get more, but even if we don’t, I’ll be grateful for this entry that seems to point the way to a better future for Alto and Sheryl.