Judge Mitchell Hattaway likes Macross Plus, but found the transfer to DVD a Macross minus.
It's the Top Gun of Japanese animation.
Manga Video celebrates the 10th anniversary of the original release of the anime series Macross Plus by packaging the entire four-episode run in one box and lowering the price. A reasonably priced anime series? What's up with that?
Facts of the Case
2040 A.D. Three decades have passed since the end of the Earth-Zentraedi War. On the planet Eden, a distant world colonized by humans, the Ministry of Defense is developing two new transforming combat aircraft. Piloting the YF-21 is Guld Goa Bowman, who is of mixed human and Zentraedi descent. Chosen to be the test pilot for the YF-19 is Isamu Dyson, a hotshot flyboy who was once Guld's best friend. Complicating matters is the arrival of Myung Fang Lone, a music producer who is director of the latest tour by Sharon Apple, a computer-generated pop star. In the past, Myung dated both Isamu and Guld, and she is the cause of their current estrangement. Guld quickly allows his feelings for Myung to cloud his judgment, and his rivalry with Isamu takes a deadly turn.
Like many members of my generation, I was first exposed to the Macross anime series when Carl Macek melded it with a couple of unrelated shows and brought them to the States as Robotech. I was fifteen at the time, and I had pretty much stopped watching anime. (I knew some morons who for some reason swore by Voltron, but I wasn't buying it.) Then I saw the ads for Robotech, recognized it as the source material for these cool—and expensive—models I had seen in a local comic book store, and decided to give the series a look. Well, it only took a couple of episodes and I was hooked. I liked the story, the characters, and the technology, but I loved the animation. In fact, I think this was when I first noticed how anemic most American animation was in comparison to anime (I didn't really care about such things when I was a kid). I watched it religiously—until the end of the actual Macross storyline. The Masters and New Generation sections of the series didn't work for me (I prefer transforming planes to transforming motorcycles, and the characters in the later stories were no match for Minmay and her friends). I eventually lost interest, and I once again left my anime watching days behind—unless you want to count the few times I saw Matthew Sweet's "Girlfriend" video in college—only to resurrect them a couple of years ago. What's the point of all of this? Well, you see, up until a few months ago I didn't even know Macross Plus existed, and I might never have seen it had I not been assigned this review. Let me tell you, not seeing it would have been a mistake on my part.
I was afraid Macross Plus wouldn't live up to my memories of the original or my expectations of any series that dared to attempt to follow up said original, but I needn't have worried. Macross Plus is a better sequel than I ever could have hoped for. Everything I loved about the first series—simply put, the balance between the epic and the personal aspects of the story—can be found here. The characters and their relationships are well-drawn (although I'm not sure how psychologically sound the reasons for Guld's hatred of Isamu really are). The story is interesting, dramatic, and involving (I particularly liked the military's ultimate resolution of the YF-19/YF-21 situation, although by now the notion of a quasi-omnipotent, computer-generated entertainment figure is almost old hat). The animation is first-rate, and the action sequences are amazing (the scene in which Isamu sneaks into Earth's atmosphere by destroying derelict satellites in an attempt to mask his heat signature kicks major ass). I think the quality of the sequel is due in no small part to the fact that much of the original production team came back to work on this series. From what I understand, the creators were given a rather substantial budget and a great deal of artistic freedom, which certainly paid off (thank God the backers didn't play it cheap and go for a factory-farming approach to the show). This is a worthy sequel to a classic of the genre, and it also stands on its own as a great tale.
Manga Video originally released this series back in 1999 (they also released a re-edited and re-jiggered version as Macross Plus: Movie Edition). What we have here is simply a boxed set of those original discs; no new work has been performed on the transfer or the audio tracks, which is a good thing in one respect and a bad thing in another. Both audio options are excellent. I'm not a fan of dubs, but I have to admit that the work here is above average. The 5.1 mix in the English track is enveloping and expansive, with some very nice surround action (the action scenes sound damn fine). The Japanese stereo track is almost dynamic enough to make you forget it's a simple two-channel mix. Unfortunately, it's also the type of track that constantly makes you think about how great a full surround mix would sound. Having said all of that, I'd suggest sticking with the Japanese track, as the subtitled version seems to provide a slightly better translation than the dub. (Speaking of the subtitles, this release includes a standard subtitles stream as well as an SDH stream. The latter option is for deaf and hearing-impaired individuals, and is a combination of subtitles and captions.) Okay, so that brings us to the video side of things, which unfortunately can't compete with the audio. Manga squeezed the four episodes onto two single-layer discs, resulting in compression artifacts throughout the series; jagged and shimmering lines crop up far too often, although they're not quite as obtrusive in the third and fourth episodes. Other than that, the transfer, which was obviously sourced from pristine elements, is quite pleasing; colors are very good, and the black levels are very, very good. Previews comprise the bulk of the extras (previews for each of the original releases of the individual installments in this series, as well as previews for other Manga Video titles), but you also get a very brief, character-based photo gallery on the second disc. (In the past couple of years, Manga Video has released some stellar, technically sound, extras-laden editions of Ghost in the Shell and Ninja Scroll; would it have been too much to ask for Macross Plus to receive the same treatment?)
If you own the original Macross Plus releases, you don't have to worry about double-dipping. As for anyone else, I'd suggest you try to take a peek at it before you spend any serious cash on it, as the flawed video presentation is the only thing preventing me from recommending a straight purchase. Macross Plus is a great series, but it's a real shame about the transfer.
The producers of Macross Plus are found not guilty. Those individuals at Manga Video who decided to cut corners on these discs are hereby ordered to put a little more care into the creation of future releases.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Manga Video
• Musical Photo Gallery
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