Macross Delta – 13

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In case we forgot, Macross Delta reminded us it can present an epic climactic air-and-space battle, augmented with the dualling, increasingly powerful songs from Prince Heinz and Walkure. But before the aerial battle down on Ragna, both Johnson and Gramia play a little game of chess with their respective armadas, and the Sigur Valens’ stereo system gets knocked out. Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Squadrons engage the Valens, but Hayate, Mirage and Delta go after the Aerial Knights led by Keith.

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Delta also has to contend with NUNS, which considers their gambit a failure and detonates a nuke-type reaction bomb in the Protoculture Ruins, causing a massive explosion that threatens to consume Delta Squadron. Hayate manages to escape the blast radius, but his plane is wrecked and he has to eject. Freyja steps down from the stage to check on Hayate’s status, but it’s Mirage who rescues him, and gets a warm, unexpected hug in return.

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Not long after that, the ruins reappear in a different form, and connect with the Windermeran flagship, enabling Heinz to pipe his song out to the masses of Ragna, resulting in instant Var contamination. Johnson orders all units to pick up as many civilians as they can and retreat from Ragna, meaning for all intents and purposes the Windermerans have won.

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Walkure fights to counter Heinz’s song, but Heinz risks his life to boost his output, and the Windermerans take a shot that shatters Walkure’s stage shield, injuring Mikumo (who shilds Freyja from harm, showing she’s not all about herself). The Valens fires a huge cannon to finish the Island ship, but Johnson swoops in just in time to absorb the hit before plunging into the sea in one of the many fist-pumping moments in the episode. With that, Freyja realizes her song simply must reach Hayate at all costs, so she jumps off the ship and starts flying, using her rune and her voice to ride the wind.

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Hayate gets his groove back, is able to read Keith’s moves, and actually seems to best him, While Mirage rescues Freyja from a watery grave. Both Freyja and Mirage then risked their lives to keep Hayate—and their longstanding flames—alive for Part Two. Walkure joins Freyja’s extended arrangement of the OP, the Elysion emerges from the waves and takes a shot at the Valens, and Keith takes a nosedive towards the ruins (it’s unlikely he’s dead though). Walkure, Delta, and the Ragnan evacuees escape Ragna, now a Windermere-held world like the others, and Gramia dies shortly thereafter.

Lord Roid is put in charge and announces the completion of the Starwind Sector. But they’ve surely only won this latest battle. As long as Walkure have a voice and the Deltas have their planes, the war isn’t over yet. Until next season.

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Macross Delta – 12

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To quote Ron Burgundy, of all people: “Boy, that escalated quickly.” I thought we were being set up for a huge battle in Al Shahal, but Heinz’s song is so powerful, Al Shahal falls in fifteen minutes, putting a very large target on Ragna, the last world they haven’t annexed.

I like how off-guard Walkure and Delta Platoon are by this news; it matched my own surprise quite nicely. I knew our heroes would be heading into battle very soon; I just assumed Al Shahal would last longer than fifteen minutes—shorter even than the running time of this episode.

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But you know what? I’m glad the stakes have so rapidly escalated. I like the mild sense of dread and disquiet everyone wears on their faces, and the desperation in all of the remaining forces amassing at Ragna for what could be their only shot at a serious counterattack. The only reason they have any time to prepare at all is because King Gramia won’t allow Heinz to sing again so soon; though Heinz says he’s ready to sing again at once.

While Heinz rests, Arad promotes Mirage to 1st Lieutenant and puts her in charge of Delta Platoon, while Keith continues to question Roid’s dedication while Roid worries that Heinz, Keith, and Gramia are all intent on burning out in a blaze of righteous glory…without any plans for the future of Windermere. As Roid puts it, a new wind must come to take the place of the old, just as Mirage must step into Messer’s place.

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Ernest Johnson is prominent this week, and not just because he’s the commander of the counterattack; he actually trained King Gramia when he was a lad (the king is 35, old for a Windermeran, but no one else). He knows how proud he is and how far he’ll go to preserve his people’s honor. Then a liason from NUNS arrives to inform Johnson that his forces are to destroy the Protoculture ruins on Ragna to prevent the Windies from taking control of the planet and the cluster.

This plan seems akin to releasing all the ghosts from their custom-built storage facility in the basement of a run-down firehouse in Ghostbusters (the original, not the upcoming film): a bad idea that could have unpredictable, possibly cataclysmic consequences. Put simply, the ruins are dug in too deep in Ragna, who knows what destroying them would do to the planet? Probably nothing good.

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When Lady M gets NUNs to agree not to destroy the ruins until after Johnson’s forces counterattack, I felt very relieved for the people of Ragna. Meanwhile, Walkure and Delta mentally prepare for the imminent battle of their lives. Hayate, Freyja, and Mirage all independently end up on the same flight deck, though Mirage hides while the other two talk, though I like how she doesn’t know why she’s hiding.

She catches a couple of tender nuggets between the couple about things like how far they’ve come together, the mutual respect they’ve developed, and their commitment to keep fighting for each other, their friends, and their freedom, but it’s not like they snog or anything. Even better, Mirage’s comms blow up, giving away her position, and rather than run off in a tizzy, Hayate has her stand her ground and encourages her as he and Freyja encouraged one another. All three intend to get through this, together.

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When the previously stationary Macross Elysion finally burbles to life and lifts off into orbit and fold space, it’s a pretty impressive and awe-inspiring moment: very much the ‘good-guy’ equivalent of the Windermeran flagship launch last week.

Then the Windermere fleet intercepts them, and we see how comparitively puny the Elysion is, and I got a lump in my throat. Okay, maybe this isn’t going to be as easy as giving the aggressive schoolyard bully a bloody nose…

In terms of raising stakes, building tension, putting us in the heads of its characters, and sheer adrenaline extraction, this episode of Delta put all the pieces of the previous eleven together and delivered a must-watch experience, even absent the actual battle. I hope the payoff matches the excitement of the setup.

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Macross Delta – 11

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Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance: the Five Stages of Grief. Macross Delta wsn’t going to cheapen Messer’s apparent death by bringing him back, so no one is really in denial.

Hayate, Freyja and Mirage are angry that they didn’t do everything they thought they could to prevent his death. Others still have more or less moved to acceptance, or at least the veneer of it, in the case of Kaname and Arad; keeping busy so the veneer doesn’t crack.

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Heck, even Lord Keith is angry about to loss of his wind-dancing rival, putting a blade to Bogue’s throat when he mocks the dead. It’s an interesting moment for Keith, who shares a moment on the balcony with Roid, reminding him of their promise to make their world strong again.

Clearly Keith is pretty miffed Messer had to die for that end, but will get over it, while Roid worries for Heinz because no one else (including Heinz) will. Hayate has to storm off when Arad brings up the necessary matter of re-filling Messer’s cockpit, while Freyja keeps getting up and running no matter how many times she faceplants in the mud.

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As everyone processes, the tech boffins sort out why Windermere is annexing planets with ruins: annexing them all (and they only have two to go) will allow them to exert mind control on all 8 billion inhabitants of the Globular Cluster (AKA Starwind Sector), bending everyone to their will.

To show he means business, the ailing king gets out of bed (possibly inspired by Hundred’s Karen) and leads the attack himself, overseeing the launch of the positively gargantuan, Final Fantasy-esque baroque flagship called the Sigur Valens, which was being hidden under a retractable mountain range.

It seems to me, if you have this much power, you’re probably set. But this is also about revenge. Revenge for that mysterious scar in Windermere; and perhaps also due to a powerful collective envy at the other races of the sector for their longevity. Windermere is committed to burning brightest, even if briefly.

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A fire burns on the beach, with the whole gang assembled, when Hayate arrives. They have a kind of wake for Messer there, during which they eat, drink, sing, and be merry. A model plane is constructed as a symbol of Messer, which in a Ragnian ceremony will be committed to the sea to become one of the endless jellyfish beneath the waves.

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The music during this scene is top notch – soulful, moving; especially when Mikumo finally shows up and starts singing, and the rest of Walkure joins in. They also read from Messer’s log, which is full of detailed critiques of his kohais.

Even though we didn’t see all that much of Messer, the outpouring of emotion here makes it clear that he was loved and appreciated, and will be hard to replace. That being said, I’m not sure Hayate is being very sensible when he assures Arad no replacement pilot is necessary.

The beach wake also kinda contradicts Arad’s comment about their being no time to mourn, as they had an entire evening to do so. However, that’s all they get, because not long after the sun rises on Ragna, the huge Windermere fleet arrives at Al Shahal—and they’re not their for R&R.

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Macross Delta – 03

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The plot: Mirage and Messer don’t like Hayate and Hayate isn’t helping his case. He skips class and doesn’t take his training seriously and only survives his final examine because Freyja sings to him.

And until Hayate needs help, Freyja was under-performing as well. However, in her case she both takes the training seriously and her fellow songstresses are far more supportive and understanding.

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The Problem: This episode paints a bleak picture for Macross Delta. When all the extraneous, predictable and force-fed nostalgia is stripped away, all that is left is a beautifully-rendered but vapid show.

Worse, there are so many characters fighting for screen time, and each is so distractingly over-designed, that there’s no room for the main characters to breath. For goodness sake, the three street children from last week’s throwaway phone joke did not need to become recurring secondary characters.

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 4.03.25 PMIncluding the girl with the ai octopus hairpiece on her head, 5 of these characters have speaking lines and I have no idea who any of them are beyond ‘pilot’ or ‘deck crew’

Counting the slap-stick Mercat, who’s antics are clearly telegraphed as a teaching tool for Hayate to using in his exam, this episode features sixteen secondary characters, three main characters and that’s not counting the Aerial Knights who teaser us after the ending credits. Too much!

Even if Delta weren’t choking to death on frivolous characters and predictable plots, other plot elements feel purely nostalgic. Flying in VF-01 trainers (and being told they are ‘cute’) feels forced and without in-show purpose.

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You will probably enjoy it: because it’s wondrously rendered and packed with details. Even Elysion Colony floating in the bay itself is a visual callback to Frontier and Macross 8, and anchors this show within the greater universe.

You may not enjoy it: because the plot is predictable and the characters, what little we get to see of them, are Macross archetypes: Low-stress anti-war fighter ace, bright eyed loli-songstress whose spunk will win the day, and a rainbow of inconsequential ‘advance the plot’ secondary cast characters.

Sadly, Mirage’s tsundere character is about the most original thing here, and it’s only somewhat original to Macross, not anime in general. I am seriously tempted to rate this a 7.

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Macross Delta – 02

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Delta quickly wraps up last week’s cliffhanger with Mirage swooping in to rescue Hayate & Freyja’s falling, crippled variable fighter and the Aerial Knights retreating, having collected the data they were after.

The remainder of the episode sets out to establish more of the world, context for Freyja’s ability, character relationships and how Hayate & Freyja ultimately join Walkure.

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From mer-cats to gilled street kids with webbed fingers selling organic fish cellphone bracelets, the world around Macross Elysion, Delta Platoon’s HQ, is a fantastical buffet of extraneous but enjoyable details.

It’s all lovingly rendered but Hayate literally grabs Freyja and runs her out of the scene because they have so little narrative purpose, beyond a minor nod to Ranka Lee’s squeezable organic cell phone in Macross Frontier. Even the brief scene in the Aerial Knight’s mountain castle, which includes a column-like pipe organ in the background, only repeats information we’ve already been told.

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As to the joining Walkure part, Freyja is given an audition, which she fails and Hayate is outright offered a piloting position by Delta Platoon Arad Molders. Later, on her way back to the city, Freyja’s tram suddenly halts and one of the passengers goes var-mad. Freyja is knocked to the ground but she sings her way to safety and passes Walkure’s final, secret audition test.

Delta deserves serious credit for its solid sound design.  Music cues are tight. We can feel Freyja’s frustration in the droning elevator-pop of the tram ride and feel her surprise as that music cuts off with the lights and is replaced by something more ominous. Subtle too, that omens music is fun-house style goofy, which softly hints that not all is as it seems to the viewer.

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As to the character relationships, Mirage and Hayate are immediately set up as rivals (and, probably, long term love interests) due to Hayate’s natural skills and matter of fact criticism of the military and rules following. It doesn’t help that Mirage was out of sync during combat too and they both know it.

More broadly, we see Arad’s fatherly relations with with his pilots and other admin, as well as how most people are scared of Elysion’s Captain Ernest Johnson, who is probably Zentradi but looks like an adult version of Teen Titans’ Beast Boy. We also see the Aerial Knights have a lot of internal conflict, which will no doubt be their undoing.

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Stray details and speculation: The Aerial Knights’ SV-262 Draken III’s appeal to be capable of docking with a Ghost on the end of each wing. This not only looks pretty cool, but could imply reliance on artificial intelligence to bolster their numbers. (AI is also generally outlawed in the Macross universe, following Sharon Apple’s rampage in Plus and whatever the heck the androids of Macross Galaxy were up to in Frontier)

Also worth noting the Aerial Knight’s resemblance to the pre-space era earth villains in Macross Zero. The fighters look similar, also had purple, and the characters had feudal sounding titles and ranks…

Also also, Walkure’s VF-31 “Siegfrieds” are named after a dragon slayer, which is important because “Draken” means dragon in swedish.

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Delta’s strength is that it is very well produced: tremendous precision went into its sound design, visual styling, animation and world building. It somehow even keeps its 17+ characters recognizable and coherent.

Delta’s weakness is it has 17+ characters to show us, tons of world building to get through, and some technobabble about singing/fold-space potential, and even more alien races than Macross has ever tackled before.

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It does a good job balancing that all out, but there is so much packed into this episode, I found it hard to absorb in one sitting. More critically, despite the extraneous detail scenes that serve as points of ‘rest,’ the shows maximum level of information density stops individual elements from standing out.

It’s like playing a game for the first time with 2 years worth of DLC turned on from the very beginning!

16rating_8

Macross Delta – 01

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Note: This is a repost of my January review of the preview special, updated with the rest of the episode that more recently aired.

Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the Sheryl Nome-esque star Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty leader, Kaname.

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

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So…what does the newly-aired episode add to the preview? Nothing that changes my original score of an 8. Right after Freyja runs off, Hayate commandeers a partially-wrecked mech to back her up. As Walkure detects Freyja adding her voice to theirs (and it’s a nice voice), Hayate takes out baddies with the grace of a dancer.

Eventually, he gets lost in the song, and he and Freyja spend a little time in Glowing Naked Blue Sky Land before enemy fire snaps Hayate out of it, and the two start plummeting to the Earth. With their fates uncertain (though not really; they’ll be fine) the episode really just replaced one ellipsis with another, only now Walkure and Delta Platoon have seen a little of what these two crazy kids can do.

16rating_8

Macross Delta (Preview Special) – 01

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A couple of things: First, to my surprise, Macross Delta won’t be airing until April as a Spring 2016 show (which is for the best, as I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle both a Gundam and a Macross at the same time). Second, while this isn’t a complete episode, it is comprised of 391 of the 450 frames of the first episode, or over 86% of the total. So we get a pretty good look.

A lot of those 391 frames contain some pretty familiar stuff…but this is Macross, so you go in fully expecting that.  Cute, quirky, idealistic heroine whom the serious male protag helps out? Check. Rather than Ranka Lee, we have Freyja Wion. She’s also voiced by a first-time seiyu (Suzuki Minori), who does a pretty good job balancing goofiness, earnestness, vulnerability and determination.

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If you’re not put off by Freyja’s bubbly enthusiasm, you’ll want to root for her almost immediately. She’s on the run from an arranged marriage to audition for Walkure, a “Tactical Sound Unit” that uses music to fight the Var, which unlike the Vajra aren’t a primal alien race, but a disease that infects everyone, potentially making anybody a weapon in its arsenal.

While there’s a lot of terminology right out of the gate, Delta doesn’t drown you in it, and also assumes this isn’t your first Macross rodeo (my other exposure to the franchise is the excellent 25th anniversary series Macross Frontier). Like that show, the world is lush and detailed, only the visuals here in 2016 are even more smooth and refined, particularly where CGI is concerned.

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The male protag, Hayate Immelmann (probably named for the turn), is initially put off by Freyja’s weirdness, but ends up rescuing her, though having been someone who’s dreamed big in the past and gotten nowhere, he remains skeptical of her lofty aspirations.

Something tells me his attitude will have changed when this episode concludes in April. He even seems to come under a little bit of a spell from her overflowing charisma—until she loses her foothold and he has to catch her in an awkward position that has him at gunpoint for suspected perversion by Mirage, a soldier in Delta Platoon, Walkure’s escort unit.

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The misunderstanding is corrected just in time for a city-wide Var Alert. The Var infect the local Zentradi base (as in Frontier, the green-skinned giants are normally allies of the humans here), and Freyja and Hayate become naught but two more ants on a massive battlefield, running for their lives.

Then we’re introduced to the four members of Walkure who run towards the danger, transforming into their magical songstress forms: You have the leader, the Sheryl Nome-esque leader Mikumo, the tomboyish Reina, the girly Makina, and the sporty Kaname (thanks Starqo).

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Working in concert with the Delta Platoon, they neutralize the effects of the Var with their music, as the battle on the ground is essentially one big music video. This is a departure from Frontier in that the effects of the singing on the enemy aren’t known until later in the show. Here, Walkure is an active participant in the combat, and also in protecting the hordes of citizens with swarms of multidrones.

As one would expect of an experienced and practiced pop music group, Walkure knows exactly what to do and carry it out swiftly and efficiently, but also with an ample helping of style. So confident is Mikumo in her powers of charm, she gets right in a Var-infected Zentradi pilot’s face and cures him on the spot, getting him to exclaim  that iconic line, “Deculture!”

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But that’s not all for enemies. In orbit, the planet’s space fleet is attacked by the Aerial Knights, a group of badass male warriors who look to be the Walkure Girls’ rivals and foils. When they engage the Delta Platoon on the surface, they learn they’re more than a match.

Be it the Huge Capital Ship Getting Blow’d Up Real Good in orbit or the Zig-Zagging Dogfight in the skies, Delta doesn’t separate itself much from Frontier in these areas, but it does distinguish itself in sheer quality and refinement. There’s nary a frame out of place, and as previously stated, the CGI is far better integrated into the regular animation than the older work. The plane, ship, cockpit, and HUD designs are also new and very cool-looking, all with a welcome nod to the past.

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With all the big battles and explosions going on, the episode could be excused for completely forgetting about Freyja and Hayate, but when the Knights push Walkure and Delta into a corner, we come back to them, trying not to get caught in the crossfire. Then Mikumo emerges from the pile of wreckage, ready to rumble anew, and changes the tune—literally—to a more aggressive but still upbeat song.

Freyja’s little heart-shaped stone on her head starts to glow (as it did when Hayate fell on her), and she can’t resist singing along and running towards the battle rather than away. It’s an inspiring sight for young Hayate, seeing her risk her life with a smile on her face and a song in her heart, without a care in the world that things won’t work out.

Even though Freyja stowed away on a ship to the wrong planet, it looks like she’ll get her audition after all—we’ll just have to wait until April to see how it goes. Until then, I know I have a big, bold, upbeat new Macross to look forward to when the chill breaks.

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