Set one year before the events of the original SDF Macross, the war between the UN and Anti-UN forces has been raging for a while and tearing the planet apart. Shin Kudo is an apathetic pilot in the UN forces, who is shot down by an odd, transforming aircraft. Landing on the island of Mayan, he is saved by the priestess of the island Sara Nome. Shin meets the people of the island, including Sara’s precocious sister Mao Nome, and begins living a peaceful life with them. However, this all changes when the fighting between the UN and the Anti-UN comes close to the island. Both sides are battling to find the mysterious AFOS, or Birdman, an ancient being of power connected to the equally mysterious Protoculture. Shin must fight again to protect Sara and Mao, while also trying to figure out the mystery of the Birdman, the god of the island that will sing the Song of Destruction when the Kadun of battle comes to the island…
Macross Zero is a five episode OVA series that ostensibly is a prequel to the original Macross, but is really only so much a prequel cause it has Roy Fokker as a main character. The rest of the plot is purely stand alone, and probably has more connections to Macross 7 and Frontier than the original series. The three standby’s of Macross are featured here: love triangle’s, singing, and mecha dogfights. The dogfights are the most similar element to other series, and are also one of the standout elements of this OVA. Aside from Fronter, Zero has some of the best mecha battles I have ever seen in anime. The dogfights are pure savage beauty in motion, a ballet of jets and missiles. The show is worth watching just for the fighting alone.
The love triangle aspect is a bit lacking in Zero. At first it seems obvious, but the larger plot and battles going on quickly push it to the side, and by the end there’s no doubt who Shin has chosen, though his own future is ambiguous. The singing is probably the most radical element of Zero, as there’s no pop at all. Nope, not one idol in sight. Instead, singing is seen as a magical force in the show by the Mayan people, and the songs in the show reflect this, as they’re all beautiful and hauntingly melodious. The effect of the music in the show is perfect, especially in the final, apocalyptic battle. The wholly mystical element of music in the show may drive away some hardcore realistic fans, but in the context of the Zero universe it fits perfectly.
The animation for Zero is also appropriately stunning. This show had money. A realistic tone pervades the series, from the character designs to the landscapes. The views of the island are gorgeous, and especially pay attention to the scene in episode 4 when the jungle comes alive. It’s a wonderfully animated scene showing the fullness and beauty of life. The planes and other mecha are rendered in CG, very similar to Frontier with a little less polish. They work fine, though, and are integrated nicely into the rest of the animation.
Thematically, Zero is probably Shoji Kawamori at his most mystical and environmental. A strong theme of native cultures being poisoned by technology runs throughout the show, which is ironically funny for a sci-fi series. While I don’t think Kawamori is outright condemning technology, there is a strong chiding on the overuse of technology and how humanity has not evolved past warfare, which is similar to the original Macross. The theme is so pervasive I may have to do an actual post just on that. The only negative thing about Zero is that it doesn’t wrap up any of its big plot points. Now, the actual plot of the show and its characters is wrapped up nicely, but big questions - what exactly is the Birdman? what is protoculture? What did aliens do on Earth? - aren’t answered at all, but hopefully they will be in Frontier.
For those watching Frontier now, there’s already a few links between Zero and it. There’s Sara Nome and Sheryl Nome, the physical similarities between the Birdman and Vajra, and a scene in episode 3 that is exactly like the one where the Vajra reacted to Ranka’s singing. So for those just being introduced to Macross now, Zero is another fine series to check out, not only for its connections but for being a strong, wonderfully entertaining show in its own right. Really one of the best OVA’s I’ve seen, and arguably some of the best dogfights ever featured in any art form. It’s only five episodes long, so there’s no excuse for not watching this fine anime.