When hot-headed fighter pilot Isamu Dyson is posted to his home planet of Eden as a test pilot in a test programme for the latest combat aircraft, he finds himself working alongside old acquaintance Guld Bowman, rekindling a long-standing rivalry between them. Both pilots then enter a bitter competition to get their respective aircraft through the test programme and win the heart of childhood friend Myung. This edition of the Macross Plus story includes all four parts of the OVA with the film version on a separate DVD, and the disc mis-labelling that blighted earlier pressings appears to have been resolved.
Unlike the original Macross TV series the alien invasion themes are left out entirely, allowing the story to focus solely on the lives of a small cast of characters. The feud between Dyson and Bowman is one of the most interesting aspects considering they had been the best of friends in years gone by. A series of flashbacks hints at how two grown men could show such all-consuming and blind hatred for one another but it is not until the final episode that the truth is finally revealed. Dyson in particular is the stereotypical jet fighter pilot: cocky, wisecracking and something of a loose cannon, his arrogance is only matched by his skill in the air and the obvious fact that he simply loves to fly. Bowman is the gruffer and more thoughtful individual, probably never having come to terms with the fact that he has Zentoradian blood in his veins. Even Myung has her own regrets, conflicts and emotional issues and is a more well-developed character than viewers might expect from a series like this.
The jet planes that Dyson and Bowman fly are nothing short of superb: capable of astonishing aerial manoeuvres and transforming into combat mecha in mid-air, the attention to detail is outstanding. During the battle scenes Shinichiro Watanabe’s involvement as co-director is especially evident: the animation is smooth, exhilarating and makes great use of the CGI available at the time. It’s real edge-of-your-seat stuff; fans of Cowboy Bebop’s excellent use of a sharp script, well choreographed combat and convincing futuristic settings will be right at home.
The icing on the cake is without a doubt the series’ soundtrack. Another Yoko Kanno masterpiece, it is an eclectic selection of haunting vocal work, hypnotic synthesised beats and dramatic classical style pieces that are reminiscent of the classic Hollywood war films. When Dyson and Bowman are in the air the rousing orchestral melodies appear to pay homage to the twentieth Century glory days of the fighter aces, while the live performances of the A.I. pop superstar Sharon Apple are a magical experience for both the eyes and ears.
The feature film is essentially a retelling of the series with some inevitable editing to reduce the running time. Somehow it was still possible to include a few scenes of new footage, making the ending in particular a little clearer. The result is a shorter Macross Plus that is a viable alterative to the original OVA instead of a mere summary. As a stand alone release the movie might have seemed like a cash-in, but to have both versions in one box the movie actually complements the series. The DVD extras are a little thin on the ground however, and there is strangely no option of an English language dub (the series discs give a choice of both).
The premise might sound like an animated Top Gun with higher-tech weaponry but there is much more to Macross Plus than that. Thanks to some superb animation, characterisation and a breathtaking soundtrack it is one of the true anime sci-fi classics. With the addition of new footage that explains some of the plot points the movie version is a full hour shorter but doesn’t suffer much for it and neatly completes the package.