Macross The MUSICALTURE was performed a total of eight times from October 3 to October 8 at Tokyo Dome City Hall. I was fortunate enough to attend the midday performance on Saturday, Oct. 6.
For the first couple of months following the musical’s announcement it had one major thing in common with many other events held to commemorate Macross’ 30th Anniversary – no-one really knew quite what it was, or how the basic concepts and key three pillars of Macross could be translated into a stage performance. Just over a month prior to opening night details began to be posted on the official website – a page of text setting up the basic story premise aboard the pacifist Macross 29, ‘character’ artwork and profiles, some short clips of cast members covering various Macross songs. But not long after, less promising information started to come to light. Actor Takuya Kikuchi, who was due to play Neo-Zentran leader Vigo Walgria , dropped out citing personal reasons. He was replaced by understudy Yuusuke Hirose with only weeks before the production was due to start. Refunds were offered to anyone wanting one – apparently Takuya was the main draw for quite a few female fans.But then real disaster struck.
Only 2 days before opening night, Sayaka Kanda (daughter of Seiko Matsuda – one of the original inspirations behind the creation of Lynn Minmay) also dropped out – initially giving no reason whatsoever. Apart from being the most experienced singer in the entire cast, Sayaka had also had the highest profile – appearing at several Macross-related events leading up to the Musicalture. To many she was the face of the whole production and to some she represented the musical influences of Macross having come full circle. 24 hours after the news broke (resulting in, ironically enough, the first and only coverage of the Musicalture by more mainstream press outlets) that Sayaka’s sudden departure was the result of acute gastroenteritis, but the damage had been done. It was too late to offer refunds this time around, and understudy Maho Tomita had less than 48 hours to prepare herself to fill Sayaka’s not inconsiderable shoes.
To commemorate the musical, and as part of the 30th Anniversary festivities, the amusement park that surrounded Tokyo Dome (and included Tokyo Dome City Hall) was holding a special Macross-themed campaign, which I decided to check out. So, rather than going straight to the musical, I spent the morning exploring Tokyo Dome City, trying out a Macross Frontier themed Ferris Wheel (officially called the “Big-O’… meaning I sang an anime theme song other than Macross most of the time I was in it), participating in a stamp rally, buying too much merch at the official Macross shop, and then relaxing with Basara Curry And Roy Fokker Pineapple Salad (the curry was damn hot whereas the Pineapple Salad turned out to be filled with potato salad – meaning that fruit was cheaper and easier to obtain aboard the Macross than in modern day Tokyo?). After this, Macross World regular Gubaba and I met up with Save in front of Tokyo Dome City Hall and then headed inside – still with little idea of what we were actually going to see.
The lobby was lined with congratulatory bouquets, including ones from Shoji Kawamori and Animax. The one from Flying Dog was shaped like a bushel of Starlight Natto. Past the bouquets were displays of upcoming figures as well as the Fokker-coloured YF-29 from Bandai. Next to these was a tv running the commercial for Macross FB7 and the merchandise stand. I picked up a Musicalture booklet and a poster before heading in to see the show.
The tickets I’d acquired were the second row from the front. While they were little too far to the right, meaning we copped an earful of the monstrous speaker in front of us whenever any action occurred, we we did have a brilliant view of the stage and the story that proceeded to unfold.
I’m going to jump the gun here and state my impressions of the Musicalture outright before getting into the details. It was an interesting and well thought-out side-story which made sense and was self-contained meaning it had no influence on the overall Macross universe. The characters were interesting and the relationships surprisingly well developed and fleshed out given the medium. At times the production stepped a over the line of paying homage to certain aspects of Macross and veered into outright imitation of them. While these points were few, they stood out all the more so as a result. The musical’s small budget was also a little too obvious in the final ‘battle’ But apart from this, I came out of Tokyo Dome City Hall pleasantly surprised.
The story of Macross the Musicalture went a little something like this (please note that the following contains spoilers):
It’s the year 2062 and the Macross 29 immigration fleet has seen better days. Being pacifist in nature, the Macross 29 has forsworn any and all sorts of weaponry and conflict but, without any form of military to boost its economy has found itself slipping into recession. The main metropolitan center, 29 City (pronounced ‘Two Nine’, not “Twenty Nine’), is in a state of civil unrest. A mayoral election is fast approaching and large segments of the population are unhappy with the current situation. One of these segments has risen to challenge the government – Neo-Zentran. With a core group consisting primarily of micronized Zentrans but with sympathizers in both Zentran and human camps, Neo-Zentran – lead by the young and charasmatic Vigo Walgria – is challenging the mayor in the upcoming elections and the local media is giving them plenty of coverage. The incumbent mayor Serge Corban=Glass is a rather ineffective worry-wart at the best of times but this new threat, on top of the fleets economic woes, has him at his wits end. On top of this he also has a precocious teenage daughter from a previous marriage, Charlotte Marion=Glass – who just won’t stop singing Minmay songs – to deal with…
In one of the poorer neighbourhoods of the city Sonia Dosel, Meltran, grand-daughter of Loli, and ass-kicker extraordinaire, runs the local Nyan Nyan Chinese restaurant. Her customers consist primarily of labourers, both human and Zentran, and Sakura Crawford – a cute girl with a professed love of jumbo-sized galaxy ramen, but who has alternate motives for visiting the restaurant virtually every day.
Other staff at Nyan Nyan include the waiter/cook A-fro, an overly effiminate, Bobby-esque character with suitable large hair, and Ash Anderson, a young man with an artificial leg and a who handles take out deliveries. In his spare time, Ash tinkers around with El – a ‘Cyberoid’ he found abandoned. He has restored her to more or less a fully operational autonomous state and alternates between repairs and teaching her new vocabulary. For her part, El has a tendency to memorize the more eloquent words that she comes across. Things like ‘numbskull’ and ‘fugly.’
While working one day, Ash is shocked to see Vigo, leader of Neo-Zentran, being interviewed on tv. Based on his reaction it appears that he knows Vigo, but leaves the restaurant before A-fro is able to get more information out of him.
It turns out that Ash, Sakura and Vigo originally went to school together. Sakura had aspirations of becoming a singer while Ash and Vigo wanted to be dancers (cue hip-hop-esque dance off scene with overly bromantic tones). One day, while hanging out together, they are attacked by a rogue Zentran who, unable to deal with the pacifist way of life on board the Macross 29, decides to shoot the place up a bit. Sakura tries, uneffectively, to sing him down, before being rescued by Ash and Vigo. Unfortunately though, Ash takes a round to the leg in the process, ultimately resulting in said leg being amputated. The doctors swear that his new artificial leg is just as good as the original but Ash claims he just can’t dance with it. After the incident Vigo disappeared, Ash gave up his dreams of being a dancer and started working at Nyan Nyan where Sakura visits every day to check up on him. Since her failure to sing the rogue Zentran down, Sakura has completely given up singing, secretly blaming herself for Ash’s injury.
With this history between them, it seems incomprehensible how on earth Vigo could have wound up as the leader of Neo-Zentran. Sakura determines to ask him directly while Ash wallows in self-pity with El.
In the meantime, things at the Neo-Zentran base are getting complicated. Zegand, Vigo’s second in command, not only has a crush on Vigo’s sister Daryl, he also finds himself increasingly disagreeing with Vigo’s pacifistic, weak approach to dealing with things. Daryl, for her part, is interested only in helping her dear brother. One of the ways she does this is by practicing a song and dance routine (Holy Lonely Light) since Vigo believes it important that even Neo-Zentran can show that it understands and has culture.
Sakura manages to sneak into the base with the help of A-fro confronts Vigo. He reveals that, 5 years ago after the shooting incident, he had infiltrated Neo-Zentran with the goal of getting revenge by destroying the group from within. As time passed however he came to the realization that destroying Neo-Zentran wouldnt change anything as there were any number of similar groups of disgruntled Zentran that could rise to take its place. The only real solution, he concluded, was to change the group; to take it down a more peaceful path and in so-doing set an example for the others. He is shattered to hear that Ash is only a shell of his former self and can’t understand what he is trying to achieve, but Sakura is convinced that once they explain the situation to Ash everything will be ok.
Back in 29 City Charlotte reveals her masterplan to her father (after firing any maids in the house who couldn’t keep up with her song and dance routine) – why not hold a Miss Macross Contest? Doing so would take attention off the election, increase his popularity and put Neo-Zentran in its place. Of course, Charlotte also intends to not only enter the contest herself, but to win it outright. After all, how could such a talented and refined young lady such as herself lose?
The announcement of the contest is met with excitement everywhere except the Neo-Zentran base. Many Neo-Zentran feel that the contest is a cheap trick to win the election, but it”s also more-or-less an instant-win button. Theres no way a Zentran can win THE legendary contest that has produced so much of the humans enduring cultural legacy. Vigo disagrees. On the contrary, this is THE chance to show their culture to the whole fleet! Daryl agrees to enter the contest.
Disgruntled, Zegand starts plotting rebellion with those in the group who are still loyal to him (in other words, everyone except for Vigo and Daryl).
It is at this point that we learn that Sonia and Daryl were childhood friends and, to some extent, rivals. Sonia decides that, heck, if Daryl can enter the contest, then she can too. Of course, Charlotte is also among the contestants as is Sakura, buoyed by her talk with Vigo and wanting to cheer Ash up. El is quite possibly the most surprising entrant – jealous of Sakura’s relationship with and wanting to know what real emotion and singing is, she rounds out the 5 main contestants for the 29th Miss Macross Contest.
The day of the contest dawns and Mayor Glass is gleefully abusing mayoral privilege buy entering the girls ready room and attempting to bribe them into letting Charlotte win while passing out ‘special’ bushels or Starlight Natto. Charlotte is enraged by this since she believes she can win the contest without any help, and literally tells her father to go back to the doghouse (the Mayor has a habit of barking and running away when she does this).
The contest begins. Some of the contestants are in their official costumes (character artwork featured on the Musicalture poster) for the first time (such as El) while others have new outfits (such as Sakura, who is dressed in a very Sheryl/New Orleans-ish outfit). Each of the girls does a song (with El doing a terrific, not to mention thematically appropriate, cover of ‘Voices’), but when Daryl’s turn comes Zegand and his cohorts strike!
Taking the entire audience hostage, Zegand declares himself the new leader of Neo-Zentran and continues to beat several shades out of Vigo until Ash (who has been missing in action for quite a while by this point) finally shows up claiming he wants to finish off Vigo himself. Zegand hands over his gun, but leaves the safety on so that it doesnt fire when Ash rather predictably turns on him. However he forgot about El who remotely disengages the guns safety, allowing Ash to get a shot off before all havok breaks loose. The entire main cast is fighting at this point. Most of Zegand’s Neo-Zentran followers have changed into battle armor which unfortunately looks a little cheap (spray paint a bicycle helmet in as many colours as you like – it still looks like a bicycle helmet) but is a a necessary plot point since, at one point, Ash shoots Zegand in the chest but thanks to the armor he just shrugs it off.
Sakura tries singing Zegand down and this time, unlike the time Ash lost his leg, it works and ultimately Zegand and his followers are defeated.
Due to the disruption, Mayor Glass reschedules the Miss Macross Contest for the following week and sentences Vigo and the remaining Neo-Zentran to a harsh life of …. backup dancers. This is part of his new plan for economic recovery – send the winner of the Miss Macross Contest out on a tour of the galaxy (with backup dancers, of course) and make money from merchandise sales that flows back into Macross 29’s economy. Ash volunteers to accompany Vigo, vowing he will dance again.
Overall, the plot was well done and managed to be self-contained while still paying homage to much of Macross past.
The Sakura-Ash-Vigo relationship had elements of Myung-Isamu-Dyson, while many of the settings invoked Frontier (Nyan Nyan, school flashback, etc). Of course, Lynn Minmay’s name was invoked on several occasions – Charlottes chair in her room was even based on Minmay’s Miss Macross throne. A-fro was an obvious Bobby clone, and Sakura was a 70/30 mix of Ranka to Sheryl with Mylene’s hair added for good measure.
Having said this, for a production that tried to appeal to the Frontier crowd by maximising the amount of Frontier music it used, the Musicalture managed to sneak in quite a few ‘firsts’ for the Macross franchise. For example:
-El – first ‘Cyberoid’ (robot ai construct)
-Vigo & Daryl – first Zentran siblings (meaning that the local micronized Zentran population must’ve been making a lot of ‘culture’ of their own)
Oh and remember Miss Macross 30 ‘Actress Wing’ winner, Yuki Katagi? She did get a role of sorts although it was a little disjointed. Basically she came on stage to do a Ranka commercial several times while stage changes were going on in the background. These interludes were never really explained and felt a little extraneous but she had been promised a role and I suppose they had to fit her in somewhere.
Production-wise, the sets were minimal but well done and a lot of the budget had obviously gone into the main characters costumes – in almost every instance they looked identical to their character art- except for El who only appeared in her full costume at the end and it had obviously been modified to provide the actress with a greater range of movement.
All the main actresses sang well – much better than the initial samples posted on the initial website had initially lead me to believe. Of particular note was Sakura’s actress, Kanae Yoshii, whose experience singing in idol band ‘9nine’ (no, that’s not a typo) was clearly obvious through her performance.
Despite its troubled production, Macross the MUSICALTURE came together well – the performance I saw was the third one and several friends who saw it on opening day commented on how the show had noticeably improved as the cast (after last-minute changes) became more accustomed to performing together.
Granted, I went in with low expectations. I think everyone did. And no, there were no Valkyries or mecha at all during the 160 minute performance, save for the Koenig Monster and Bandai valks that decorated Charlottes room. But I came out wanting to see more of the majority of these characters – whether in musical or animated form. Many of them felt original, fully fleshed out and enduring. And if that is the sole legacy of the Musicalture then the stage production was well worth the time and effort that was invested into it.