Macross Delta – 06

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Hayate’s pilot-soldier training gets off to a rough start, as Lt. Messer delivers a frank and devastating critique of both his and Mirage’s skills. It’s an old story: Mirage is precise but too by the book; Hayate is suitably unpredictable but has all kinds of other problems, including the lack of the killer instinct all soldiers must have.

The third vertex of the triangle isn’t spared harsh criticism, delivered to her by Mikumo, who coldly remarks how Freyja’s song conspicuously lacks the surging life of the voice the Windermereans are using to annex planet after planet after infecting them with the Var.

Those victories are coming at a cost to Heinz’s health, as the strength and endurance of his voice, so crucial to his world’s war effort, decrease by the day. And yet rather than fall back or rest, Heinz (egged on by Keith) is determined to keep singing, no matter the cost.

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Hayate, Mirage, and Freyja also decide they won’t just quit in the face of withering criticism or risks, but resolve to continue moving forward. That resolve is tested in the first big space battle since the first episode, and is bursting with all the awesome space battle goodness one would expect of Macross.

Freyja and Hayate resolve themselves before departing from Ragna, and once in space, Hayate cheers up Mirage—who can’t obsess over the fact she inherited her grandfather’s legacy, but not necessarily all his talent. The two sortie in good spirits, to provide cover for Walkure while they purge Ionideth of the Var with their song.

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What follows is part space battle, part music video, with the Walkure members projected on meteorites as fighters dark through them; capital ships’ flak curtains dazzling as heavy beam weapons demarcate the screen, and lotsa shit gets Blow’d Up Real Good. Mirage and Hayate initially make up for their deficiencies by having each others’ backs, and it mostly works.

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Things take a turn for the dark when an Aerial Knight goes straight for Freyja, condemning her as a traitor. Hayate knocks him away before he can fire his weapon at the weakened glass which is all that stands between Walkure and the vacuum of space.

In doing so, Hayate leaves Mirage’s side, and she gets cornered and very nearly turned into a younger knight’s first kill, until Hayate swoops in and makes that kid his first kill, saving Mirage in the process. The other knights are ordered to retreat without further bloodshed.

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After the battle, Freyja gets another earful from a frustrated Mikumo, after she had to step in when Freyja’s voice wavered after being called a traitor. Mikumo, like Messer, isn’t here to coddle anyone, and tells it like it is: as things are, Freyja can’t last or be useful in Walkure. Not until she learns why she risks her life, why she takes the stage, and what feelings she puts into her singing.

It’s a tough assignment, to be sure; but then again, perhaps the answer is staring her in the face. Isn’t she working hard and singing for the same reason Hayate is working hard and fighting? Why, even after he took a life, won’t he won’t back down?

It’s because he (and Mirage) are motivated by everyone else risking their lives and fighting and enduring the pain of having taken lives, and having to take more before all’s said and done. Freyja sings, and Hayate and Mirage fly and fight, to protect one another.

Hayate deals with his first kill pretty well, and Mirage no doubt feels a bit closer to him, now that they’ve been in battle and taken the lives of adversaries in order to protect allies.

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I’m not sure Heinz needed any more motivation to protect his world, but perhaps Keith thought that seeing firsthand the horrific scar in the landscape would light a fire under him, that he can find a second wind with his voice. He may have a head start over Freyja when it comes to the power of his voice, but the cost may well prove too high.

The more Heinz helps Keith fight this war, the more planets are annexed, and the hungrier Keith and the hardliners get, thus extending what Heinz insisted must be as quick and bloodless a war as possible into something neither quick or bloodless. And yet even if he were to refuse to sing, the war would not simply stop on a dime. There’s too much inertia for that.

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Macross Delta – 05

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Since Windermere’s bold declaration of war against the NUG and bloodless invasion of Vordor, there are no further advances this week. Everyone kind of takes a breather, coming to grips that whether or not Ragna feels any different, war is upon everyone, and while many are committed to fighting it, others must make the decision for themselves, including Freyja and Hayate.

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As it’s a “breather” episode, we dart from one side of the conflict to the other. Even among the higher-ranked Windermereans, there’s argument over whether bloodshed should be used should Prince Heinz’s voice or health fail before their invasion is complete. Hardliners and pragmatists squabble in gilded towers while ordinary townsfolk in villages like Freyja’s gawk at the Aerial Knights’ formations.

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The grizzled veterans of Delta feel a bit of nostalgia, since they’re now poised to fight the Windermereans like they did seven years ago. As for the Freyja, she is caught up in a maelstrom of media attention over whether she’s actually spy for the enemy.

Sensing her inability to wrangle this kind of media circus, Hayate helps her escape to the beach, where the two of them contemplate whether to join the fight, and lament the fact everyone can’t just get along.

Enter Mirage, whose human and Zentradi grandparents got along despite their peoples being at war, inspiring peace. Hayate thinks she brings this up to suggest a similar path for Freyja and him, and they descend into childish bickering (which Freyja laughs her creepy laugh at).

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The fate of the three becomes cemented with Walkure and Delta when Hayate “borrows” a Siegfried so he and Freyja can blow off some steam. As she sings, they dance in the moonlight…but there are volatile extant rumors about Freyja, and they’re in serious violation of regulations in a time of war, so when Messer threatens to shoot Hayate down for mutiny, he sounds serious.

After they land, Messer makes it clear that the time for messing around is over, and if Hayate doesn’t like it, he can leave. Obviously, he doesn’t leave. Instead, he resolves to fight in Delta Platoon, so that he can return the skies to the kind of place he can screw around without risking getting shot down.

It’s a bit selfish and petty, but it’s not the only reason, just his stated one. He also feels bad for getting Freyja and Mirage in trouble, and after Freyja commits to sticking with Walkure to “cheer the galaxy up”, he can’t very well leave her side. As for Mirage, things are still rough, but they’ll now be fighting on the same side in a war against Freyja’s people. A deepening of bonds all around is inevitable.

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Macross Delta – 04

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First some quick observations on our Windermeran boy prince songster: he’s the key to his people’s plans for galactic domination, he’s a pawn of his big brother Keith, he likely has misgivings about hurting people with his song, and the song hurts him; indeed, he may be running out of time, necessatating an acceleration of those plans.

On the other side of the galaxy, fellow Windermeran Freyja Wion and her friend Hayate are at a party welcoming them to Walkure and Delta Platoon, respectively, but neither are (yet) carrying the weight of his little highness, they’re kicking back and relaxing with their new family. Mikumo solitary, solemn audience with the stars is a stark contrast to the frivolity of the party; and in lighting and mood, a lot more like the prince’s milieu.

But the lighthearted fun, for both for our star idol and pilot and the show, has to hit a snag at some point: we need to start seeing some stakes and some danger if I’m going to become dramatically invested and take the show seriously (that is, as seriously as one can take a show in which a berserker syndrome is cured with song). This week provides that necessary snag.

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Mind you, there’s still a Nostalgia Corner, for those watching Delta because of all the Macross that came before. Not only does Freyja name-drop several musical personalities and groups from previous shows, they’re on her playlist and formed her inspiration.

Mind you, this mirrors the real life cyclical inspiration of the idols who got their start with Macross: no doubt Freyja’s Suzuki Minori was inspired by Ranka’s Nakajima Megumi, and so on.

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But however inspired Freyja is by her forebears, Mikumo informs her in no uncertain terms that if she can’t deliver the goods in her debut, she’s fired.

This time it’s not a highly controlled simulation: Planet Randor has requested a “Waccine” to preemptively inoculate its population from the Var. Freyja inadvertently plays up her clumsy nervousness as a virtue in her debut, and the adoring crowds eat it up.

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Freyja also gets better as the show goes on, able to mostly keep pace with Mikumo, even if her fold receptors don’t activate at first, which was the whole point of recruiting her.

Things then take a turn for the perilous when a formation of Var-infected Spacy planes arrives and attacks Walkure/Delta. I was a little confused whether the Var was being caused by the Windy Prince’s song, but it sure looked like a connection between the two was implied.

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When shit hits the fan, the Walkure members scatter for safety, and the adrenaline of the first episode returns as they feel terribly exposed to the firepower and brawn of bogeys.

Of course, that’s where Delta comes in, and Hayate has Freyja’s back, keeping her alive until Mikumo regroups with a Var-eradicating solo Freyja turns into a duet, finally activating her fold receptors and avoiding summary termination.

Turns out harrying Walkure/Delta was only an elaborate diversion by the Aerial Knights of Windermere, as Chancellor Brehm announces a formal declaration of war against the New Unifed Government, while Delta confirms that Planet Vordor has been invaded.

First the Var, now a war with Windermere, a people who are short-lived (~30 years max) but powerful. The fact the newest member of Walkure is from the same planet should make things interesting. A quarter-cour in, things are finally starting to spice up.

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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!

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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.

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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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