One day, while I was rewatching a bunch of mecha anime OPs to brighten up my day, the Macross OP made me realize something that’s missing in the “modern” anime OP: a coherent narrative. As anime switched from being plot-driven (Yamato, Gundam) to character-driven (Evangelion, Haruhi, umm… -gatari?), the OP has evolved into a vehicle that showcases characters.
All anime OPs ask the same question: “how do I introduce the show to a prospective viewer?” The modern anime OP twists this into, “how do I introduce the characters?” Instead of packing a coherent mini-narrative that gives insight on the show, the OP of today often becomes an exercise in cramming as many characters into its one-and-a-half minute of running time, throwing in a key scene here or there with little context.
Take an example from a later show in the Macross franchise: Macross Frontier. This OP is laden with characters, as if to show that every one of them is important. But most of their appearances aren’t grounded in context: a hard thing to achieve if you’re only given a second’s worth of screentime. Aside from the action scene, the rest is dedicated to the three main characters, who have scenes that are just scattered here and there: a gigantic disembodied Ranka appearing before Alto’s Valkyrie, quick shots of Sheryl in her various concert outfits.
So what’s so special about the original Macross OP? It tells a story. It isn’t the best-looking thing in the world, but it is driven by clear vision.
It starts out slow, in both song and visuals. A third of the running length is devoted to a fighter plane’s launch sequence. The pace is deliberate, until the plane sprouts arms and legs.
Now, imagine if you were caught squarely in the show’s timeslot. Plane, dude in cool shades, then wait. The plane turns into a robot. That’s something.
There’s a sense of momentum as the OP reaches the chorus. Macross! Macross! At this point, there is no turning back. What follows is one of my favorite OP action scenes ever: The plane-with-legs dives in the thick of a city firefight, transforms into a bipedal robot, diverolls through heavy fire and catches the enemy as it jumps, just as the song reaches a high note. You have to see this scene for yourself–it’s really amazing.
Only after do we get our first glimpse of the other major characters, in their respective habitats: Roy barking angry orders, Misa fixing her hair in the bridge. Their appearance isn’t out of the left field, and you immediately understand who they are. Economy of storytelling.
I really love how the OP shows the scale and grandeur of the titular ship. First you get quick zoom outs, showing the scale of the ship. Then later the Macross soars through the clouds, dwarfing the Valkyries, and fires its cannon, slashing through darkness. The awesome power is conveyed perfectly by how the beam crumples an enemy ship that is merely grazed by it. Holy shit. Then we see the bridge crew in a panning shot, which slots them neatly into the context of the OP without resorting to a jarring disembodied shot or something.
So yeah. Plane launches, turns into a robot, saves the city, then huge motherfucking spaceship wastes aliens in orbit from the surface. There isn’t a single cut that doesn’t contribute to the bigger picture, no extraneous appearance by someone who has no business in the scene. It’s epic, with nothing forced or artificial in its composition. That’s why I love it.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT MINMAY?” so sayeth the fan. The thing is, she isn’t important, not in the OP’s context. Plane, aliens, spaceship, war. Minmay would be extraneous. I’d like to think that she’s the surprise for the viewer, once they get to watch the actual show. She worms herself into our hearts, but only after the introduction. After all, during Macross’s time, someone like Minmay would only be a small fixture.
There is a hidden joke in this. The OP is definitely plot-driven, but we know Macross as a character-driven franchise, even more than its rival, Gundam. (I’d say the transition was fully realized by the time Macross 7 happened.) What’s funny is that Macross becomes a character-driven show only after two-thirds in. The post-war story arc, while not as flashy as its preceding arc, is the one that arguably cements Macross’s position in the history of anime.
The OP has a new version with shiny CG, which just doesn’t work because it shoehorns the ghostly characters in (and Minmay). Those really ruin it for me. Despite that, the original Macross OP remains one of my favorite anime OPs ever.