Macross ‘Canon’? Oh, you mean Macross HISTORY…a shout out to Kawamori Shouji and postmodernism

Following on from my previous posts, my argument is thus: the contentious term in the Valkyrie Masterfile books may not mean what some of us Western Macross fans have been assuming it meant, that is, ‘canon’. Rather, this seems to be yet another case of, to some degree, ‘lost in translation’. Based on my findings regarding “koushiki settei”, and on all the interviews I’ve read – whether in Japanese or via translation by other dedicated Macross fans – there are two possible ways to interpret the use of the term in the Masterfile disclaimers. However, both ways lead me to the same conclusion: that the fixation on the idea of a detailed canon has unfortunately hindered some fans from exploring the potential of Kawamori’s postmodern approach.

“You must throw it away, the illusion that a story must have a beginning and an end.”

NB: If anyone wants to read discussions on the meaning on “koushiki settei” [公式設定] in the Masterfile disclaimers before reading my comments, several can be found in the following threads on Macross World (one, two, three), and Animesuki (one, two.)

The first of the two interpretations is that which I’ve been arguing for the last few months: that the disclaimers are not saying anything about our Western idea of canon, but rather, they’re saying something along the lines of ‘This isn’t official background/setting material – it’s an encyclopedia published on (some Macross fleet) in the year ~’. The second interpretation is that “koushiki settei” does indeed refer to ‘canon’: given the Gundam example of the Anaheim Journal, it has reasonable grounds to stand on. However, due to the contentious and ill-defined nature of the term, I contend that we need other information to put its use in Macross into context. I’m referring, of course, to the attitude of the creator to the idea of ‘canon’.

Kawamori Shouji‘s attitude towards ‘canon’ in Macross can be gleaned from what he has said about how he approaches the franchise. Such information has been available to fans for many years, even in the West. One of the key interviews, conducted by the owner of one of the most extensive Japanese fansites and posted online in the late 1990s, was discovered and translated by one of the regulars of Macross World a few years ago. In case the notion that the interview has not been conducted and published professionally colours opinions about its validity, it is important to note that that site owner did indeed meet Kawamori, and that the interview has been referenced in other published material. Furthermore, what the director revealed in it about his approach reiterates what he has revealed in other interviews previously published in the West.

Without further ado, here are some of the sources I collated over a year ago:

(1) From the interview on the Macross 7 Fun Net (originally translated by Renato here):

Wait...his skin was green...?!

Wait…his skin was green…?!

Next, I’d like to ask about DYRL (Do You Remember Love?)… The design for Exedore is green all throughout the rest of the Macross shows. How is this explained in terms of the timeline?

You know… This is something I have trouble getting people to understand in magazine interviews. For example, you’ve got World War II, and then you have lots of movies based on that event, right? They are all fictional. They’re all based on a war that actually took place, but they are all different. For example, in period dramas you have Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, but there are so many Oda Nobunagas and Tokugawa Ieyasus. The producers look at the real event and adapt the character according to their wishes. The actors and lines also change, so the character changes. It’s that kind of feeling. OK, so in the timeline you have a movie called DYRL that was released, does that mean that the TV series is the true story? Well, you have the SDF-1 that supposedly fell from the sky, and then a story was made about the subsequent history and was televised. Then that became a movie. Then later, there was a “Macross 7 incident”, and a TV series was made about that. That’s basically how I see it.

So… “Macross 7” is also a TV series broadcast within the Macross timeline?

That’s right, that’s the interpretation. It’s not just the movie, they are ALL works of fiction.

None of them are real?

None of them are real.

In the teaser for DYRL, there is a line that goes, “I am Lynn Minmay, I will be playing the lead in this movie”. It does make you feel that the movie ended up being a hit, which led to the TV series being made.

Exactly. That’s what I have trouble getting people to understand. The real truth is somewhere else. They studied the history and made the fiction after the fact. While reasoning the facts, they have to make many compromises, like the limitations of a TV format, like the fact they have to sell toys, and so they have to adapt the story that way. So, in that respect, it doesn’t matter if all the productions differ.

The same goes for Macross Plus, too?

Yeah, that too. You have a similar incident that occurred. There may have been some virtual reality character like Sharon. Like, “she probably did exist”.

and (2) from this interview in Animerica Vol.3, No.1:

It seems many American fans tend to think of the Macross movie as the “official” Macross continuity. What’s your opinion?

Consider real history. Many different stories have been created based on the same historical facts, haven’t they? For example, there are many stories about World War II. It’s the same thing with Macross. The real Macross is out there, somewhere. If I tell the story in the length of a TV series, it looks one way, and if I tell it as a movie-length story, it’s organized another way.

Hm...should I offer a translation to the first person who tells me which war movie this is?

Hm…should I offer a translation to the first person who tells me which war movie this is?

These interviews are both from the ‘90s, but there is evidence that this has always been Kawamori’s own stance, even if someone decided at some point to give the movie a release date of 2031 in the official Macross timeline (source). The interpretation that arose from this, and which many fans continue to stand by, is that the SDFM TV series is what actually happened, with the film being a reinterpretation broadcast within the Macross universe (see some of the hits on google). However, a longtime Macross fan now living in Japan indicated to me in a private conversation that the decision-maker in this case may well have not been the director himself, but some executive(s) for Big West. In other words, the drive to make some sort of coherent timeline comes not from Kawamori, but from someone less connected with the artistic side of the project.

Hence, I personally consider Kawamori’s stance of “all of them are fiction” as the approach that has been taken in creating all the works in the Macross franchise that the director and Studio Nue had a hand in. This is also supported by evidence from the treatment of the different iterations of Frontier and the stories that build on it. In particular, in the final volume of the Frontier light novels, released in 2009, the author revealed that Kawamori had advised him to adapt the details of the story as he liked, and that “All Macross series can be thought of in the following way: as real life events that have been adapted into dramas, short stories and other such works.” The director again reiterates this point in the introduction to the most recent collection of information on Macross, the Macross Chronicle (the 2013 version). All this evidence for the consistency of Kawamori’s approach over the years is, I would think, pretty difficult to deny or dismiss.

Applying this to the Valkyrie Masterfiles then, I contend that the disclaimers aren’t really saying anything about ‘canon’, but are merely emphasising that each of those books is to be treated like each animated work, or like the Macross Chronicle: as historical documents created within the Macross universe. This is, of course, my personal argument based on what I’ve uncovered and read over the last couple of years. If I ever get the chance to put the question to a creator in the anime industry, to someone who actually determines what is labelled ‘koushiki settei‘ or not, I may have to revisit the idea, but at this point, I’m pretty confident that this is the interpretation we’re meant to take away.

ValkyrieFile01 ValkyrieFile02
As for why those Masterfile disclaimers are so controversial, please have a look around AS…

So, what’s a Macross fan to do about that one ‘canon’?

As I alluded to in the introduction to this topic in the first post, there have been a range of reactions to Kawamori’s approach as revealed above. Some fans absolutely love it, for their own reasons. Speaking for myself, I think it makes perfect sense on the creative front. As Kawamori observed in the interview for the first volume of Sheryl ~ kiss in the galaxy ~, different mediums work in different ways. What makes sense for depiction in a TV series is different from what makes sense for a film…or a manga, or a novel, or a drama CD…the list could go on. Hence, if creators wish to explore a story across several different media, then they may all be slightly different – unless, of course, the creators use all the media in a complementary way, and thus strive for consistency in the overall background setting and character development, as I assume has been done with 「K. But that is not what Kawamori has done with Macross. Instead, the various works have different details, and even slightly different characterisation. For example, the songs that the relevant songstresses sing in the climaxes of TV and film iterations are different, and a character who was apparently a villain is revealed to have erased her memories or had them suppressed so as not to interfere with her original mission. To me, all these differences reflect the various interpretations that one might be able to make about real people or real events – as one might find in different recordings of history. These interpretations are influenced not only by what happened and who was involved, but also the chronicler’s and even the end-user’s understandings of the context. Simply put, Kawamori’s approach is deliciously postmodern.

NB: I was going to add that “none of those interpretations are necessarily incorrect”…but I don’t think that is what Kawamori wants us to take from the stories, to be honest. So, Macross isn’t completely a postmodern franchise in the sense that the creator’s intent is ineffectual or unimportant – not that there has been any work that is completely postmodern, as far as I am aware. And perhaps you won’t believe me, but I first wrote the above about two months ago, before Kawamori laid it all out so clearly in that introduction to the Macross Chronicle.. (unless you happen to think I had access to it before it was published). It’s a good read, and Sketchley’s a fantastic translator, so I highly recommend it.

The one from a parallel universe...

The one from a parallel universe…

However, other fans have not been quite as enthusiastic about this approach. In particular, some have railed against the idea that there will never be one definitive iteration of events, that we will never know whether the real Lynn Minmay was as childish and immature as portrayed in Super Dimensional Force Macross (SDFM), or whether Alto really had those gender-related identity issues. (Hm…does this only apply to the original and Frontier? I can’t think of any controversies with Macross 7 or Plus, and it obviously doesn’t apply to Zero, which only exists in one iteration…) A common criticism is that Kawamori simply wants to keep the flexibility of being able to deny turns of events and characterisation that fans end up not liking – at the extreme, some fans constantly condemn him for being a ‘troll’.

Yet another common reaction is the belief that all the different works should be treated as parallel worlds. The idea probably stems from the official decision – which I assume was originally made by Kawamori – that Macross II is not part of the same universe as all the other major series. However, we have to remember that Macross II did not involve Kawamori or Studio Nue, the co-creators of the concept. Hence, the decision to differentiate this series from the rest in such a manner is perfectly understandable in my book. Kawamori did comment in his first Sheryl ~kiss in the galaxy~ interview that he wouldn’t mind if fans take all the different iterations as parallel worlds, but it doesn’t actually change how he approaches their production.

Let me repeat that:

It doesn’t matter if fans want to treat each Macross work as a parallel world – that isn’t how Kawamori himself approaches it.

Where does that leave fans who want to have their one continuity? There are probably two ways you can look at it. One is to take the parallel worlds view and choose as the main/sole canon one particular work of those depicting the same event (be it the original Zentraedi conflict, the Macross 7 incident, or the Vajra War etc), as Kawamori himself suggested and just as Macross fans have done for years. The other is, in my humble opinion, far more interesting and fruitful. My suggestion is to try looking at the franchise as Kawamori does, as a collection of popular works and other historical documents within which the real history of the Macross universe is hidden. Just as in the real world, it will be impossible to determine what really happened, but why not see what you can come up with?

Just run with it - you might be surprised with what you find.

Just run with it – you might be surprised with what you find.

As Gustav St. Germain tells Carol in response to her question about why stories should never end:

There are a multitude of ways to answer that question. But for your sake, I’ll just tell you the simplest one.

(Yes please.)

Because it’s fun.

(Because it’s fun?)

Yes, because it’s fun.

(But aren’t there people who are dissatisfied when a story doesn’t have an end?)

That in itself is something to look forward to, Carol.

Take that mouse. How do you think it’s lived up to this point? And what kinds of experiences is it going to pass through from here on? Try and imagine it, Carol, imagine.

(Vice-director, you’re right, this is fun!)

That’s what it’s all about, Carol.

About karice
MAG fan, translator, and localization project manager. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

53 Responses to Macross ‘Canon’? Oh, you mean Macross HISTORY…a shout out to Kawamori Shouji and postmodernism

  1. Matts says:

    An interview looking back on the production of MP would be nice, with Nabeshin, Kanno and Kawamori.


    Instead of the encyclopedia we have Pottermore and that Spellbook game for the PS3. (^_^;)


    Sleeping helps a little, I think part of the reason for my headache is all the running around from doctor to doctor, the stress. What really helps is a hot shower, the steam can do wonders for the head.

    I have a lot of things my family and I have collected over the decades, so if I do end up buying something from a convention or fair like this, it has to be small and special.


    • karice says:

      I’ll let you know if I find anything interesting ^^

      Ah, of course. I’d half forgotten about Pottermore… ^_^;;

      Do have more hot showers then! (And let’s move this over to MW)

      We do live in quite a materialistic time, don’t we? But if it’s small and special, then it’s all good, I think!


  2. Matts says:

    I found something that might be interesting, I got FF today and there is a long interview (7 pages!) in it between Kawamori, Kikuya and Rena Matsui titled Triangle Macross Talk, I’ll take pictures and send it to you when I can. I need sunlight, I tried taking pictures with the lights on but it didn’t work.
    It also seems like they managed to cram in all the chapters from NT Ace, there is a concert at the end and Sheryl and Ranka are wearing the same outfits they do in Macross 30. The art is fab.


    • karice says:

      Another one….? orz…
      I’ll definitely translate it, but I seriously hope it’s the last one they’ll do! Time to move on, I say! (Or, in my case, to return to the past!)

      Thank you for letting me know as well – I’ll definitely be picking it up, whether online or on my next trip to Japan, whenever that is!

      p.s. Don’t scan them! You don’t want to ruin your books!


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  7. BEAST says:

    But for many of us, the lack of canon, and the resulting mish-mash, is NOT fun, regardless of who tells us that it is.

    “There are FOUR lights!”
    –CPT Jean-Luc Picard, STNG


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