08 October 2008

On storytelling: things that work in TV that are hard to make work in print

I've noticed that I've got a slightly more analytical eye when consuming entertainment since I took that workshop last month. But not so much that it keeps me from consuming mass quantities.

Macross Frontier is the newest entry in the Macross franchise. Some of you (who aren't anime nerds) may remember this show called Robotech. Macross is what Carl Macek hacked up and turned into the first part of Robotech - the show with the giants and the transforming fighter planes and the annoying girl who sang on TV and started an interspecies incident? Yeah, that one. (Don't forget Max Jenius and Roy Fokker!)

So, Frontier is the Macross that's the setting for the series. Like the Macross in 7, it's got a clamshell dome structure where the people (including Zentradi) live. They're chugging along through space, and these giant space bugs start attacking. So our hero, Alto Saotome, the wannabe pilot son of a kabuki actor, gets caught in the middle of the Vajra's attack and steals a Valkyrie and tries to kill the giant nasty bug. He winds up joining the semi-secret mercenary corps that actually does most of the fighting (because the army is run by incompetents, apparently.)

In the mix, there's Sheryl Nome, a pop star from Macross Galaxy who's on tour at Frontier. She seems to like Alto, and she encourages adorable teenager Ranka Lee to follow her dream of becoming a singer. (Does the word "deculture" mean anything to you?) Ranka also likes Alto, so you get the traditional Macross love polygon.

Other supporting/main cast is Mikhail, the Max character, who's a part-Zentran sniper; Luca, the genki kid who's also a mercenary pilot; Ranka's friend Nanase (whom Luca likes); a Meltran named Klan-klan, who turns moe when she's a miclone and likes Mikhail; Ozma Lee, the Roy Fokker character, who is Ranka's adoptive older brother; and a bunch of bridge crew and mercenaries. (Like Gundam series, Macross has a highly populated cast.)

With the background out of the way, let's get into the analysis.

In episode 6, the plot starts to pick up. Vajra have started a massive attack, and the president of the Macross declares a state of emergency. The mercenaries take their little SDF (Macross Quarter) and start their deployment. As this is happening, Sheryl is having her farewell concert, because she wants to give the citizens of Frontier something to enjoy in their fear. Before the show, and before the mercenaries deploy, Alto goes to Sheryl to return an earring she lost. She tells him to keep it, but return it after the battle.

This is where the storytelling trick comes in. The final 3-5 minutes of the episode juxtapose Sheryl's concert with the MQ's launch. The first song Sheryl sings is the one used as the ED, Diamond Crevasse. It's a song about farewells (It's long long goodbye, sayonara, sayonara).

As Sheryl sings, "If I couldn’t ever touch you again/ Then I’d want you to embrace me again for the last time at least," Alto is running into the hangar and jumping into his plane. We also get a cut to Ranka, who's running across town with her ticket to Sheryl's show.

On film, it's possible to have that juxtaposition: the song is playing in the background of the launch preparation, but it's not just incidental background music. It's designed to give the audience the reaction that it's awful, this separation, and there's a chance they'll not come back -- as Ozma is telling his squadron that he won't let anybody die. It's a powerful scene, and it works. Well.

You can't get that in print.

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