If you are a fan of this year’s musical mecha extravaganza, Macross Delta, then chances are you may have fallen in love with the adorable half-cat, half-seal creatures known as the “mercats.” In the series, the loveable and cuddly critters live on the world of Ragna. One in particular, Don, has become so popular that he got his very own character merchandise, such as transparent acrylic plates and rubber straps.
— ガシャポンアニメ部 (@gashaponanimebu) August 21, 2016
With frenetic, high-octane dogfights between transforming robot fighter jets and spectacular singing idol performances, Macross Delta was one of the much-lauded anime highlights of 2016. Its deep-space setting introduced us to some fantastic otherworldly scenery such as the planets Ragna, Voldor, Windermere and Al Shahal, and the fascinating alien species within them. Recently, the origins of these and other weird and wonderful things in the world of Macross Delta have been revealed in various behind-the-scenes materials. So where did some of the ideas in it come from? Actually a lot closer to home, it turns out!
Much of the inspiration comes from real-world location scouting by Chief Director Shoji Kawamori and his staff– including Thomas Romain, the man in charge of world design.
Now, location scouting for anime productions goes back to the days of Heidi: Girl of the Alps in the 1970s, with Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata exploring the Swiss Alps, and is very common today. But Macross Delta manages to add a few twists and turns here that form a unique balance between the strange and the realistic. It may even help us to see the “alien” and fantastical nature in some of the things that are already part of our world.
Kawamori himself has been incorporating aspects of real-world locations in his works for many years (see the OVA series Macross Zero, for example, which is the result of his travels in Laos) There is even an apparent mystical tone and a deep respect for nature within the themes of his anime post-1990s, which is likely a result of his love of travel and the things he learned during them. More details on this topic can be found in his book: The Viewpoint of a Visionary Creator.
A special feature on the setting designs of Macross Delta ran in the August issue of Newtype, in which Romain explains that from early on, the setting of Planet Ragna was meant to be portrayed as a desert planet. The background is that 30-40 years before the story of the series begins, migration fleets (as seen in other series such as Macross 7 and Macross Frontier) came in and integrated with the environment, making it rain and changing the climate to bring about more greenery, and eventually most of the buildings would create a city with a very modern, futuristic look.
— ThomasRomain ロマン・トマ (@Thomasintokyo) August 1, 2016
Thus, the original plan for Ragna would have looked a lot like the city of Dubai, with its juxtaposition of desert land and cutting-edge cityscape. However, Romain mentions that Kawamori wanted to go in another direction for Ragna and give it a different image: that of the Mediterranean. As a result, the destinations for location hunting included Dubai, Malta, and Sicily.
Instead, Dubai became the model behind the planet of Al Shahal, where the story of Macross Delta actually begins. Yet some elements of the original plan for Ragna remained, such as the town market where heroine Freyja ends up being swindled, which was lifted from Kawamori and company’s experiences in the Dubai marketplace.
It is not just modern structures. It is also revealed that the ancient Greek colosseum on the island of Sicily is the inspiration behind the Windermereans’ enormous ceremonial stadium, and that the natural rock pillars of the beautiful Blue Grotto in Malta are recreated and multiplied in the world of Ragna.
Additionally, the making-of documentary included with the recent release of Volume 5 of the Macross Delta Blu-rays reveals many instances of director Kawamori just looking at things around him and getting ideas on the spot, which we later see come to fruition in the series. In fact, we actually see the moment when these rock pillars inspire Kawamori with the idea for the sequence in the series where Hayate performs some impressive moves flying between them in his VF-31 transforming Valkyrie. This scene shows off just one of the many instances of spectacular musical choreography in the series, thus melding the settings with the action and also the mood of the characters all together.
The documentary also captures in real time the precise instance Kawamori comes up with the idea of the “mercats” themselves. The crew had been trotting around the Mediterranean and everywhere they looked there were cats. There are so many of them, that Kawamori quips somewhat off-handedly, “I want something like these cats to be on Ragna. Kind of like a ‘mercat’? It would swim in the sea, and then come up onto land. Somewhere between a seal and a cat… I kind of want that.”
And thus, the mercats were born.
Additionally, the making-of documentary also reveals that the “Kinoko Café” on Ragna that the characters hang out in is inspired by the amusing shape of the tent covering the 5,000 year old Hagar Qim ruins in Malta.
Meanwhile, Romain was inspired by the patterns on the ancient rocks of the ruins themselves, noting the countless dots that peppered the texture of the stones.
He repurposed the pattern and incorporated it into the design of the temple of the stars on planet Windermere, where Prince Heinz sings his song. This serves to illustrate how in some cases, one particular location can serve two wholly different purposes.
Many more motifs from the real world are adapted into the seemingly-alien worlds of Delta. For example, here is a photo of Valetta in Malta. Does it remind you of a particular favorite spot of our heroes in Ragna?
Macross Delta is truly a product of juxtaposing ideas inspired by the mixing and matching of things in our surrounding world.
Macross Delta is currently at volume 6 of a planned set of 9 Blu-ray and DVD series, available with official English subtitles. Volume 7 will be released on January 27, 2017. You can order it at Amazon JP and other Japan-based retailers.