Several days ago, I mentioned the Macross Mecha Manual, an exhaustive compilation of the various mecha — variable fighters, spaceships, destroids, etc. — that appear in the Macross franchise of TV shows, movies, OVAs, and games. The Manual hit a real sweet spot for me because I’ve always enjoyed the incredible amount of thought and attention to detail in Macross’ designs.
As a kid, I was obsessed with fighter jets. I’d constantly check out library books about aircraft like the F-15 and F-16; I’d pore over their technical specs and stare endlessly at the photographs. The moment I first watched Robotech (the westernized version of Macross), the airplane geek in me was instantly drawn to the detailed mecha designs, which looked like they could exist in the real world.
This was due to Macross creator Shōji Kawamori, who has designed many of Macross’ vehicles (including nearly all of its variable fighters). Even at their most fanciful, his designs still draw inspiration from a lot of real world aircraft history and design, which makes things like the Valkyrie’s “GERWALK” mode seem plausible.
To this day, whenever a new Macross title is announced, I first check out the mecha designs. Forget about characters and storyline; I want to see the giant transforming robots. So with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite mecha designs from throughout the Macross universe, based on a combination of nostalgia, aesthetics, and overall coolness. I’m not going to try and argue which one could take out the most Zentraedi or anything like that, but there will be some definite nerding out, so consider yourself warned.
VF-1S Valkyrie (Super Dimension Fortress Macross)
One of the most iconic of all Macross mecha, this Valkyrie variant was originally piloted by Roy Focker, a hotshot ace and big brother figure to Hikaru Ichijyo, the original Macross series protagonist. In the VF-1S, you immediately see several instances of Kawamori’s attention to detail and verisimilitude. Its design is obviously indebted to the legendary F-14 Tomcat, what with the variable geometry wings and the design of the engines, and Focker’s “Skull Squadron” markings were inspired by a real life Tomcat squadron: the VFA-103 “Jolly Rogers.”
The VF-1 Valkyrie design has popped up in several non-Macross places, too. It was the basis for the “Generation 1” design of Jetfire, my personal favorite Transformer (and one of the coolest Transformer toys of all time), though legal issues eventually forced a complete redesign. Kawamori’s Valkyrie design, plus several other mecha designs, were also used in early editions of the BattleTech role-playing game. FASA, the creators of BattleTech, would later discover they didn’t have the legal rights to use Kawamori’s designs, and removed them from subsequent BattleTech editions.
(Since this will probably come up a few more times in the course of this post, the Macross franchise has been embroiled in all manner of legal issues which has caused a lot of confusion over the years. Among other things, they’ve prevented any recent Macross titles from getting official releases here in the States.)
YF-19 (Macross Plus)
Macross Plus’ YF-19 is another great example of Kawamori drawing on real world aircraft technology for his futuristic-looking mecha. For starters, the YF-19’s design, with its forward-swept wings, was based on an actual aircraft configuration that improves aircraft maneuverability. (It also makes aircraft more unstable and crash-prone, but presumably, aerospace engineers in the Macross universe have solved that particular problem.)
What’s more, Macross Plus’s plot was partially inspired by a major event in modern military aviation history: the “Advanced Tactical Fighter” program. The ATF program was intended to develop the Air Force’s next air superiority fighter, and ultimately led to the F-22 Raptor. In Macross Plus, the two fighters undergoing evaluation as part of “Project Super Nova” (as it’s called) are the YF-19 and the YF-21 (which also had a pretty cool design).
Ultimately, the YF-19 — spoiler alert! — wins the competition and becomes one of the primary Macross mecha designs, appearing in later Macross series like Macross 7 and Macross Delta.
VF-25F Messiah (Macross Frontier)
When coming up with new Valkyrie designs for 2008’s Macross Frontier, Kawamori apparently wanted to move away from the stealth-influenced designs that have come to dominate real-world fighter design (e.g., the F-22 Raptor, the F-35 Lightning II). As a result, the VF-25’s design clearly hearkens back to the original VF-1 design, albeit in a much sleeker and more streamlined form.
In fact, it’s so sleek and streamlined that it looks a little grotesque in places: see the head design of its Battroid mode, as well as some of its variants, like the over-the-top “Armored Messiah” variant. But in its fighter mode, the standard VF-25 Messiah is a real beauty that looks fast just standing still.
VF-2SS Valkyrie II (Macross II)
Ah, Macross II, the Macross franchise’s red-headed stepchild. Historically, the two companies primarily behind Macross’s development have been Studio Nue (the original creators) and Big West Advertising (which sponsored its development). By the early ’90s, though, Studio Nue didn’t want to make any more Macross, so Big West went and created Macross II — which, for whatever reason, was a continuation of 1984’s Macross: Do You Remember Love?, an alternate retelling of the original Macross storyline.
When Studio Nue got back into the Macross game, they ignored Macross II and created Macross Plus, which continued the timeline of the original Macross television series. As a result, Macross II (and its related video games) are non-canonical, and many fans — myself included — consider it an inferior work.
And yet… it does have some cool-looking mecha, though Kawamori, who works for Studio Nue, was not involved in their design. Designed by Kazumi Fujita and Koichi Ohata, the VF-2SS looks bulkier than other Valkyrie designs at first glance — probably because it’s designed primarily for space combat — but its smooth organic-ness keeps it looking sleek and fast. I’m generally not a fan of the armored Valkyrie variants but I do like the VF-2SS’s armored variant, which has the clever addition of autonomous drones that fly alongside the VF-2SS and add to its overall tactical capabilities.
VF-XX Zentran Valkyrie (Macross II)
This one’s a real Macross deep cut, only appearing for a few seconds in a single Macross II episode. As such, it doesn’t have as detailed a pedigree as other Macross mecha. What little is known about it comes from a handful of references in various printed materials, like this issue of BANDAI’s Entertainment Bible. (Palladium Books also published some VF-XX specs for their Macross II RPG in 1993’s Sourcebook One, which even featured the VF-XX on its cover, but it’s not considered canonical.)
As its title implies, the VF-XX was piloted by Zentrans (i.e., Zentraedi) as opposed to humans. Like other Zentraedi-related mecha, it has a more organic look and feel, especially in its “Battroid” mode. And the above “Fighter” mode is sleeker than sleek. (I do have one quibble with the “Fighter” mode, though: the cannon hanging underneath its nose looks awkwardly placed and breaks up the craft’s clean lines.) Interestingly, “Battroid” and “Fighter” are the VF-XX’s only modes; unlike the other Valkyrie fighters on this list, it doesn’t have the third “Gerwalk” mode.
My first glimpse of the VF-XX was in the pages of Mecha Press’ January/February 1993 issue. Macross II was the cover story and one of the features was a history of Macross’ variable fighters written by Dominique Durocher, who described the VF-XX as a technology demonstrator created by UN Spacy after they captured a Zentran factory satellite. (As with Palladium Books, it’s unclear just how canonical that information is, though.) In any case, the VF-XX looked unlike any other Valkyrie I’d seen up until that point, and it’s been stuck in my mind as a cool, albeit relatively unknown, addition to the Macross franchise ever since.
Monster Mk II Destroid (Super Dimension Fortress Macross)
There’s more to Macross than variable fighters. For ground combat, the Macross universe includes Destroids, which are essentially walking tanks — and they don’t come more massive and ridiculously overpowered than the “Monster” (which was designed by Miyatake Kazutaka). I mean just look at this thing. Weighing in at 300 tons, it’s the largest ground vehicle in the Macross universe, with 4 massive artillery cannons around its head and triple-barreled missile launchers for arms.
Destroids may not get as much fame and glory as Valkyries and their hotshot pilots, but I’m pretty sure that many a Zentraedi soiled their spacesuits when they saw this beast on the horizon.
Roiquonmi Glaug Battle Pod (Super Dimension Fortress Macross)
The Zentraedi mecha in the original Macross look a little goofy, like a cross between the Star Wars AT-ST and an ostrich egg. At the same time, there’s an oddness and alienness to them that makes them rather creepy. It’s this blend that I like most about this particular Kawamori design.
The Glaug battlepod was used by Zentraedi commanders, and as such, is more heavily armed and armored than the standard Esbeliben Reguld battle pod. Most notable is the electron beam cannon located above its “head” and its arm cannons.
Nupetiet-Vergnitzs Fleet Command Battleship (Super Dimension Fortress Macross)
You’d think that if I was going to spotlight any Macross spacecraft, it’d be the Super Dimension Fortress, or SDF-1. After all, it’s in the show title (and the header of this article). True, the SDF-1 is pretty iconic and awesome-looking, especially when it transforms into its giant “Attack” mode (which uses an aircraft carrier for one of its arms) or fires its powerful bow cannon.
However, the Zentraedi ship designs immediately fascinated me when I first saw them in Robotech. No doubt that was due to the fact that, at the time, they looked unlike any other spaceships I’d seen. Up until then, I was mostly familiar with the vessels of Star Trek and Star Wars, but the organic-looking Zentraedi designs truly looked alien to my young eyes.
The Nupetiet-Vergnitzs class battleship is the pinnacle of Zentraedi ship design; with a length of 4 kilometers, it dwarfs the SDF-1 and is one of the largest vessels in all of the Macross titles. And though it boasts a mind-boggling armament that’s useful for both space combat and orbital bombardment, there’s an oddly graceful beauty to its curves that belies its massive power.
Update (7/18/2023): Added the VF-XX Zentran Valkyrie from Macross II.