Sunday, 21 November 2010

Macross Frontier: Itsuwari no Utahime

I know, I'm a little late to the party here, but given the apathetic and luke-warm opinions at best coming from elsewhere since its Blu-Ray release, it's taken a while for me to muster up the courage and motivation to sit down for an afternoon with the first in the pair of Macross Frontier movies, Itsuwari no Utahime (or The False Songstress if you prefer).

This opening theatrical outing certainly wastes no time in getting things moving - there's no slow build-up of Ranka and Alto's relationship, instead dumping the two together as friends right from the outset, and similarly Sheryl Nome turns up on Frontier and kicks off her first big concert in short order.  This takes us to the first major set-piece of the film, with Sheryl getting a stunning, new-look and heavily CG rendered concert while the Vajra make their opening attack on Frontier as chaos ensues with Alto, Sheryl and Ranka in particular getting caught up in the bloody and destructive crossfire.

After that blistering start, Itsuwari no Utahime slows down notably as it goes through the motions of really cementing the Sheryl/Ranka/Alto love triangle, while this movie notably ties the two girls closer together as it progresses than the TV anime ever seemed to.  It's really Sheryl that gets the most attention here though, as she hangs out and goofs around with Alto, before Ranka finally gets her small but significant break as a singer just as Alto kicks off his intensive training after joining SMS.

All of these prevarications start to gather importance of rumours of Sheryl working as a spy for Macross Galaxy come to the surface, before news of a Vajra attack on Galaxy comes forth and is quashed by the powers that be, leaving Sheryl to pay SMS to try and save anyone they can as a private mission.  This brings us to the second of the major sequences which book-end the movie, as the Vajra jump from Galaxy to Frontier, attacking on account of Ranka's singing (why we haven't had an alien invasion interrupt The X-Factor I'll never know) and treating us to yet more wonderful music soundtracking lots of big explosions, transforming plane and giant robot action.  This is Macross, after all...

Come the end of it all, Itsuwari no Utahime is a curious beast - for a retelling of the TV anime it's not particularly forgiving for anyone who hasn't watched that series (I have, in case you're wondering), and it's frequently happy to pander to the fans (well, the Sheryl Nome fans at least) with a far few hefty dollops of fan service.  Yet despite this, it still clearly tries to set up its story for those new to the franchise, albeit in an occasionally clumsy and sometimes rushed fashion, perhaps understandably given that these two films are trying to squeeze over twelve hours of anime into around four.

This film is similarly hard to pin down on its aesthetic - visually it often feels less "defined" and more sloppily animated than its TV counterpart (although perhaps that's just my selective memory), while the additional CG work and effort put into some of its battle and concert scenes pay dividends in making for some great visual spectacle.  Indeed, it almost feels as little as though the middle hour of the film was a bit of an "Ohhhh, if we have to do these bits again" effort from the production team, with all of the real focus on the beginning and end of the movie which were clearly a labour of love and prove to be suitably spectacular to boot.

It's these two segments that really define Itsuwari no Utahime - they get to show off the frenetic action and brilliant music that have become the hallmark of the Macross franchise, and they do so with aplomb, although the TV series arguably still does it better simply because of the time constraints of this theatrical offering.  Truth be told, you could probably sleep through the middle hour of this film and not miss much - it doesn't have the energy to build up its characters as the original series did (and occasionally skips that build up entirely in the case of Michael and Klan), preferring to just go through the motions, but provided your a fan of the franchise already it's worth persevering with just to enjoy its spectacular finale.  Oh, and that awesome music, of course.

No comments: