The Undiscovered Country – Macross Frontier

I am, by many standards, a Macross novice. My exposure to the show had been limited to Macross Plus, the highly enjoyable story of three broken people fighting to resolve their differences against a dark background of encroaching AI control. More recently I’m glad to have encountered the seminal Macross Frontier, a tour de force space opera that manages to weave from jokingly referencing the female bosom via the use of tuna buns to emotionally charged, raw-with-humanity arcs of growing maturity and falls from grace. As a burgeoning writer myself, how the show manages this eludes me and frankly leaves me a bit green at the gills, but I found the adventures of Alto, Sheryl and Ranka highly entertaining and wonderfully endearing.

But, the show is not without its flaws, and the protagonists are not without their supporting cast.

Episode 4 of Warui Deshou was on the topic of Macross Frontier and in the closing minutes of the second part myself, The Subtle Doctor and Jimmy Gnome discussed two characters in particular; Michael and Klan, their relationship, and the seeming ire this stokes in Macross fans. I admittedly only know this secondhand from what I learned while recording the ‘cast, but as I understand it, Klan is not liked by a significant amount of Macross Frontier fans. The reason why? Well…

For those unfamiliar with Frontier or Macross in general, Michael is human while Klan is a Zentradi, a race of giants who were formerly at war with humanity during the events of SDF Macross. At the time of Frontier the two races are at peace and have co-existed for some time, resulting in a mingling of their cultures and nations not too dissimilar from what you see in other space operas (see Babylon-5 as a prime example). In order for the Zentradi to solve the practical issue of simply being too large to live in the same environment as humans, they can “micronize”, (using what I believe to be the same technology as seen in Honey I Shrunk The Kids, although I could be wrong on this) to make themselves human-sized.

Apart from the size difference after micronizing, the Zentradi maintain their physical characteristics and their personality, with the sole exception of Klan. She conversely becomes a thirteen year old version of her normal self, physically, while her personality regresses slightly into being more childlike and certainly more boisterous. Oh, and she and Michael have a romantic relationship.

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AH CREEPY ICE CREAM IN THE TOP LEFT NO BEGONE FOUL DEMON

If alarm bells are ringing in your mind about this, then they were also ringing in mine at first. What is even more bizarre is that there is never an explanation given as to why this only happens to Klan and no other Zentradi. Michael makes a quip about Klan’s genes being “clumsy”, but this is never further elaborated on and his tone suggests it more as poking fun rather than anything worth deep discussion. Beyond this, it is simply not addressed.

In the podcast I confessed that I felt I was not mature enough to tackle this issue head on, but I feel that might have been a lie on my part, a way of deflecting a debate I quite frankly didn’t feel I had the stones to tackle. Maybe it was cowardice, to be honest. But, to echo the words of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Captain Jean Luc Picard: “If we’re to be damned, then let’s be damned for what we are”. So, rather than shy away from this issue, let’s address it head on. After all, the very act of not talking about it inadvertently vilifies the whole affair.

I can totally understand the initial unease this situation presents to the viewer, but while the show doesn’t address why this affects Klan as it does, it however does offer a few nuggets of information regarding Michael that provide us with at least some insight. Michael is considered a “ladies’ man” by his peers and frequently cavorts and flirts with other women.  It is also hinted that perhaps he has even had sexual relations with one or two of these ladies, facts that Klan is aware of (and it speaks volumes of her character that she doesn’t squash him like a bug in her full-sized form). But far from being simply a negative character trait to carpet over uncomfortable whispers of the notion of paedophilia, it actually suggests Michael’s awareness of the situation he finds himself in. After all, lest we forget, Klan in her giant form is an adult woman mentally, emotionally and physically, and it is that form he fell in love with. But, of course, as much as we wish to believe a relationship can be founded entirely on an emotional connection, intimacy often craves the physical touch and for practical purposes that kind of interaction isn’t feasible between a giant Zentradi and a human.

So, why then does Michael pursue other women?  To sate his basic, human desire for physical intimacy, a desire which he feels he cannot act on in his relationship with Klan. He believes that having such interactions with her would be wrong and, as this idea is not reinforced by any of his friends, we can presume it to be a societal one resembling our own modern day notions. And so, with this particular itch to scratch, he seeks out other women, but as Macross Frontier progresses it becomes clear that he is self aware when it comes to this issue and that his “solution” is just a weak excuse. Michael ultimately does confess his love to Klan, but tragic events prevent any further development of their relationship. And even in the lead up to that, the viewer need only recall the presence of Zentradi-Human couples without such an enormous barrier in front of them to understand what both Klan and Michael must have thought seeing such happy pairs out in the world. Michael even offers Alto advice on his own romantic problems dealing with Sheryl and Ranka, but I would buy it immediately if someone said that in the back of his mind that he was jealous that Alto’s hardest choice was to decide between “lime green” and “candyfloss”, to paraphrase.

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Note that Michael is in his sniping mech in this scene. And what immediately follows this comment is a broadside slap from Klan in response. Pimp handing a giant robot makes her look tough, but it’s clear that Michael’s admission hurts Klan deeply.

There’s also an argument that I’ve heard that Klan exists to fill a particular niche; specifically to have a pre-teen female character on screen whose sexuality is in full view, without paradoxically having a pre-teen female character on screen whose sexuality is in full view, all in order to appeal to a specific subset of fans who find such underage sexualisation appealing. Apart from being the kind of idea that Schrodinger would prefer his name not be applied to, I question this theory because, as much as Klan’s unique situation has no explanation behind it, neither does this concept when applied to her. She’s a side character for a start, so one would presume if her sexualization was the goal, why not make her the focus of the show? If you assume Michael to be a vector for self-insertion for such people, then why does he seek the caress of other women? He himself feels such a physical relationship with Klan is wrong, which would run counter to the idea of the show pandering to fans of underage sexuality if the character they are supposed to identify with doesn’t himself agree with it. To be frank, to assume Klan fulfils that role by design seems almost to invoke the Watchmaker argument: we have no evidence contrary to it, ergo it must be true. Except that Michael’s behaviour is the evidence to the contrary in my opinion.

So then, by the show’s own admission it does not condone this kind of physical relationship because Michael does not, and I think that’s significant and worth pointing out to people who dislike the pair.

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Michael and Klan as children. Apart from being a sweet moment, this also serves as the most unorthodox swing set on record.

But what then, I ask? The lack of real explanation of Klan’s condition leaves the whole affair with a sense of incompleteness. Why is this particular relationship in the show? What purpose does it serve to the narrative? I posit that a more in-depth single throwaway line, something along the lines of “Klan was born with a very rare congenital disease/genetic disorder that causes her to regress to a childlike state when she micronizes”, rather than Michael’s brief quip, would have turned what people see as a stroll into uneasy territory instead into a romantic tragedy that, given full development, would have eclipsed the Alto/Ranka/Sheryl triangle in terms of engagement and dramatic possibility.

Science fiction’s greatest works tell us things about our modern day selves and societies through allegories of technology and the changes these advancements bring on us, and there have been no end of films and works that explore the idea of a love hindered or restrained by a physical impairment. The very recent film “Me Before You”, depicting a romance between a young woman and a paraplegic man, is one such example. Had Klan and Michael’s relationship been given the contextual foundation it needed, it could have been a shining moment for Macross Frontier that would parallel such contemporary romances between physically disparate people, and one that could have fed back into the show’s protagonists and their own arcs. Sheryl’s debilitating health is a factor in the show, but Klan, if we assume the genetic disease idea I suggested earlier, could have discussed this with her. A line of dialogue in the vein of “You’re dying, but that doesn’t stop you from holding Alto in your arms. I’d give anything for that.” from Klan would have been resonant for Sheryl and also provide insight into Klan’s pain. A similar scene could also play out between Alto and Michael. Apart from being worth it in its own right, this relationship would have benefitted the show as a whole.

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From the film “Sayonara no Tsubasa”. The amount of women I’ve known in my life who have given me this look at one point or another is off the scale.

I don’t know why the true context of Klan’s unique condition wasn’t given in the show. I assume, since she and Michael are supporting characters, that it was an omission due to a lack of screentime. This story, after all, is Alto, Ranka and Sheryl’s, and such an issue as the one that exists between Klan and Michael is far too heavy to comfortably fit in full discourse with the rest of the show’s existing material. Furthermore, my other complaints with the show follow the same trend of underdevelopment: Brera Sterne being misutilised as a rival for Alto and having no real development of his own and also the lack of visible societal degradation due to the ongoing war against the Vajra. Were I to unsheathe Occam’s Razor I would assume Klan and Michael’s narratively undercooked relationship to be the result of limited time rather than incompetence, and as I’ve said before I will always settle for “I wanted to see more of X” rather than “X was like trying to apply contacts with a power drill, I wish I didn’t try it and now my eyes are bleeding.”

I labelled this article the Undiscovered Country not just because of the Star Trek IV reference, but also because of it’s meaning for Macross on two levels: one to symbolise Klan and Michael’s relationship remaining trapped in limbo rather than daring to go elsewhere, even against the grain of taste, and also because the very issue itself is something Macross Frontier does not go into. That “country” is only seen from afar but I believe it is too large and too complex to be addressed as a side plot, and had it been so I suspect I would have been left wanting. Furthermore, this is a “frontier” that Macross Frontier ironically does not explore despite its namesake.

Nonetheless I believe Klan and Michael’s relationship as it is portrayed in the show to not be detestable as I have been told people believe it is. For me, it is just gridlocked by the context of the show itself and the shallow depth in which it is approached. Besides, since much of the rest of Macross Frontier is genuinely brilliant I cannot hold it against the show too much, but instead wonder what could have been…

I still have no goddamn clue what “Yack! Deculture!” means though.

6 Comments

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  1. Hi there…er, I went looking for the section on the podcast but then realised that you hadn’t actually released the second part yet.

    Also, I’m sure I probably came across it back in 2008/9, but I seem to have forgotten the backlash against Klan in the Western fandom, mostly because the Macross circles I hung again in didn’t really talk about it. Is it still that bad? In any case, I’m not entirely sure what you’ll make of this bit of trivia, but Klan’s micron form was born from a joke during the planning stage… (^^;

    With regards to why Michael didn’t want to admit his feelings to Klan: my take on it was that the fact that they were both in a military organisation was a big part of it. He knew that they could die at any time, and I think he wanted to ‘protect’ her from the worst of the pain if he did die. To me, the whole thing about “it’d be a crime if I’m caught with you” was just an excuse hiding his real reasons for not wanting to commit. So it operates on the reverse logic to what happened between Alto and Sheryl a few episodes later (we could even say that one of the reasons behind Alto and Sheryl ‘giving in to their desires’, so-to-speak, in episode 22 was because of what happened between Klan and Michael).

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    • The last time I heard of something being put in as a “joke” during the planning stages was Uhura’s dancing scene in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (yes, more Star Trek references!), but Klan’s micron form is not even close to being as awful as that particular bit of the film.

      For context: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dxk1BSQo8bg

      Your take is a solid interpretation too. One of my other criticisms of Frontier was that it wasn’t quite gritty enough with the “war is hell” idea. Sure, there’s evacuation shelters etc, but there wasn’t a gradual societal decline (Rioting, looting etc) as you might see. That might be against the tone of the show mind, but the danger the Vajra presented never seemed to hit truly home for the average joe on the Frontier, so I’m not sure if the “could die at anytime so we’re holding back” theory quite holds, but it’s still a solid one, and I do elaborate on the idea of romance in dark times in the cast (which is coming soon!)

      Thanks for chiming in Karice! =)

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      • Sorry for the late reply — finally listened to the second part of the podcast (and was nodding along for most of the first part of it in particular, where you were all discussing the character arcs and how the triangle was used so well for that).

        With regards to the rioting (or rather, lack thereof, in both Frontier and now, Delta), my guess is that what Japanese people are like in similar situations would also have something to do with it. One thing I remember from following the coverage of the triple disaster in Japan in March 2011 was quite a few articles about a relative lack of looting in the aftermath of earthquake. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but many Westerners from Japan seem to have reported surprise at how little there is of this kind of behaviour.

        Going back to “the idea of romance in dark times in the cast,” I’ve actually found the difference between the writers’ and most viewers’ takes on this rather interesting. I can’t remember exactly which interview it was now, but I remember Kawamori making a point once about ‘sometimes, finding yourself in a war situation makes you do things you might not do otherwise’, with reference to Sheryl and Alto’s night together in episode 22. The impression I got was that he were pointing out that the two of them got together less because they had realised they loved each other romantically, and more because they had realised that they could die at any time. But the vast majority of viewers I’ve interacted with see what happened in episode 22 as incredibly romantic, and a clear affirmation of AxS in the TV show. Personally, I agree with Kawamori on this, so I find it difficult to think of it as “romance in dark times” because I just didn’t find it ‘romantic’.

        And I guess this was relevant to the podcast too, so perhaps I should have commented on that blog…but honestly, Frontier means so much to the anime fan that I am today that I’m not sure I can respond to a 2.5 hour podcast in a succinct manner!

        p.s. I never really followed Star Trek, so that scene admittedly went a little over my head. Though I wouldn’t be surprised to find quite a few things in the creative world actually coming from jokes! Creators are human, after all ^^

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  2. Yack Deculture is from the original series, it’s one of the boss bad guys who says it, the first time he listen to a song. I think it’s because they are raised warriors and culture was banned from their life (and they don’t even know why at that point).

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    • Considering how a little slice of culture, pop music, turned them into quivering piles of fanboy goo…you can almost understand why such strict practices were instilled😉.

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      • I could be wrong, but I might have said “Yack! Deculture!” myself one time in the past, after I ate surf and turf at the Red Lobster in New York’s Times Square.

        No joke, the fever dreams the following day made LSD look like cough medicine.

        Hallucinogenic experiences aside, I am definitely going to check out SDF Macross in the near future. I’m very curious and excited to see where it all started.

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