In extreme spite of the decrepit Harmony Gold’s continued license squatting efforts, I in fact know what Macross is, love it dearly, and will drop what I’m doing to talk about my favorite moments with little prompting. I own and cherish a small collection of the earliest entries in the franchise, a mix of official long out of print R1 releases and imports, and zero Robotech skateboards. I would have more but importing is expensive and most do not have English subtitles. Macross is really special in its own right, hugely influential, and one of anime’s longest-lived franchises that still sees regular meaningful updates. So many of its entries are still relegated to the frustrating gray area of fansubs and for those in the know, and it never stops feeling like a massive waste. I want to see people dissatisfied with our current glut of content discover the charms of Macross 7 in the same way that so many have flocked to Columbo. But without some key legal and contractual upsets, this isn’t going to change anytime soon. So instead of dwelling on that whole bummer of a situation, I’m going to highlight one of my very favorite pieces of the Macross canon, specifically a handful of dialogue-free minutes of beautiful montage.
Released direct to video in 1987 to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the original series, Flash Back 2012 is a 30-minute collection of music videos, pulling songs and footage from the Super Dimension Fortress Macross and its 1984 follow-up retelling Do You Remember Love?. Macross was an early adopter of the idea of using anime as part of a mixed media push that included tie-in music, along with the usual robots primed for toy investors. Within the show, emerging pop idol Lynn Minmay rallies survivors of an alien attack aboard a runaway starship with her love ballads and bubbly songs which eventually becomes the key to saving humanity and uniting the two races, and outside, it launched the career of Mari Iijima, who is still active today. Music and its role in culture, which Macross asserts, again and again, is the glue that can connect us all, remains a central pillar of the franchise. So the idea of cutting music videos from existing material, much of which is still regarded today for intricate animation and aesthetics on their own, makes a lot of sense. Missile volleys and stuff exploding in space set to upbeat pop music just plain works.
To be honest though, there’s not that much to talk about in regards to a solid 20+ minutes of this OVA. They pull all of the Iijima’s vocal tracks up until that point, the whole of Macross, and even repeat part of one song. I’m fond of many of the tracks, particularly “Shao Pai Long,” the theme song to an in-universe martial arts movie, “Zero-G Love,” and of course the titular “Do You Remember Love?” from the film’s barn burner of a finale. Several of these still crop up in newer installments and they’re always a blast to hear, frequently built in their worlds as classic songs on the radio. This is part of the deceptively simple magic of Macross. The accompanying footage, which also includes small snippets of live-action, lines up well enough and really ends up underlining just how far the staff were able to push the design and execution in the movie from the famously fraught television production. Not completely without flair, there are a few entertaining bits of editing and composition that continue to put a smile on my face. Misa slapping Hikaru once during the movie is turned into a quadruple take. A shot of a table full of singing Minmay dolls cuts across hardened Zentradi warriors, utterly stunned by them. And I hope whoever made the masterful choice to have fireworks going off from seemingly within Exsedol’s giant brain as he fearfully witnesses a kiss for the first time got a raise.
Those are at best pleasant fluff though, a well-meaning celebration of Macross on a budget that today would show up as an extra on a home video release or on the official Youtube page. The draw of Flash Back 2012 is the new footage, designed and animated with the same sensibilities and verve as Do You Remember Love? and serving as a belated epilogue. Originally intended to be a final concert ending the film in the newly built Macross City, humanity’s first new settlement on the scorched Earth and final resting place of the SDF-1 Macross, for one reason or another, it didn’t make the cut—though later home video editions do include pieces of it during the credits. The new material bookends the piece, both using the film’s ending theme “Angel’s Paints,” a song at least as good as “Do You Remember Love?” if not better. Beginning with Minmay’s massive concert in front of humans and Zentradi alike, it’s an assault of lasers and shining neon, and picking up several years later, with her visiting the now empty and muted stadium. Her outfit is more mature and less energetic than we’ve ever seen before. There’s an air of melancholy as she walks over to the abandoned instruments, but as she begins to play the opening notes of “Angel’s Paints,” life returns to the scene. Hikaru and Misa appear to offer encouragement with a microphone and return to the past concert’s wardrobe. The tangled love triangle that complicated their relationships is behind them.
What follows is a montage of key moments in Minmay’s life up until this point. An argument with her parents. Packing a bag and saying goodbye to her childhood bedroom. Putting on makeup and taking in a moment of quiet before a show. Pushing against a crowd before stopping in front of an advertisement for the Macross with a promise of the “Star Frontier.” These were a series of crossroads in her life and when the advertisement fades to a new one, now for the newly constructed Megaroad, we see she’s made another important choice. She boards the vessel, captained by Misa, guarded by Hikaru in a new Valkyrie, and dwarfing the now stationary Macross, and it lifts off with a gorgeous and appropriately humongous celebration of glittering fireworks and a phalanx of starships.
At only about seven minutes, this core of Flash Back 2012 is many things. It is the ending the TV series never quite got to, likely in large part because of the awkward final third that was ordered and planned as it aired, though a conversation between Captain Global and Misa near the end tees up the idea of the necessity of space colonization for humanity’s continued survival. It is one last little bit of Do You Remember Love? a film white-hot in every frame with sincerity and spectacle. And it ends a distinct era of Macross with one last bang while leaving the door wide for the future. But to me, these few minutes of Flash Back 2012 is Macross crystalized. It’s sad in the same way the way that thinking about the breadth of life can make you feel like it’s all downhill from here, sentimental and celebratory for times that cannot be relived, and exhilarating in possibility. It is electric.
Shoji Kawamori, here for the first time not sharing the director’s chair or somewhat nebulous creative duties with anyone, guides the proceedings. This marks the beginning of his near-exclusive stewardship of the franchise that continues to this day. While Noboru Ishiguro’s steady hand was likely more integral to Macross‘ early success, Flash Back 2012 is pure Kawamori schmaltz and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Haruhiko Mikimoto also returns, honing his already iconic character designs to a razor’s edge, and is credited for the stunning production design. The most recent DVD release does not look particularly good on larger displays (I’ve heard this is a materials issue) and even the footage retroactively edited into Do You Remember Love? is of noticeably worse quality. This is a shame because it does the piece a great disservice. The DVD comes with a small booklet packed with artwork and it is amazing to see just how much design went into a few short minutes. I consider its inclusion as a consolation. While I enjoy modern Macross plenty, the handmade texture to the older ones will always hold sway over my heart and along with the movie, this is the peak right here.
Do You Remember Love? ended with Misa smiling and musing on the song that had just saved humanity from annihilation, and then used in Flash Back 2012 as a reviving anthem. “Just an ordinary song that was popular in an alien city tens of thousands of years ago.” With that moment, Macross casually tells us it isn’t here to be a monolith or a Great Work for the ages. In that moment, it owns its ephemeral place in the ocean of pop culture and time, and just wants to make a big broad emotional connection with its audience and that maybe that’s enough to save the world. And Flash Back 2012 is an even more refined version of that thought. Maybe that’s why is has always struck me as the best produced commercial I’ve ever seen. So many moments that last mere seconds would fit right into a beloved Coke commercial, fondly remembered years later by kids who grew up with it. Only it’s not telling you to go out and buy anything, even the cool new Valkyrie Hikaru pilots doesn’t have any transformations, Flash Back 2012‘s dense collage of striking images that immediately imprint and move are wholly in service of itself.
I can watch it without Macross occupying any recent headspace and it never fails to pull on my heartstrings with no small amount of force— and I’m not even that invested in Minmay as a character. The music swells. A neat looking spaceship soars in the distance. The rain stops, the sun comes out, and someone looks up into the sky with renewed energy. It’s that ancient pop song, silly and unabashedly wearing its emotions on its sleeves, that stirs. Not because of any grand ambitions, just simple affective human connection. Flash Back 2012 is easily one of the least substantive Macross entries, but to me, it might be the most Macross anything.
Macross Flash Back 2012 has never been licensed in English, and chances are slim it ever will be, though not having subtitles isn’t an issue. The most recent Japanese DVD from 2008 is still available.