Kabuki Princess – Alto Saotome

At his best.

At his best.

I think it’s safe to say Alto is the character getting the most hate from the fandom out of the major characters. The reason I see behind this is that we have been trained to see male leads with multiple love interests to be indecisive and dense for the most part or to the very end. Another reason that causes dispute is his line at the end of this series, which was cleared up by Kawamori in 2010.

Aside from interviews and looking closer at the character, I would also recommend looking for posts from musouka and Swampstorm, mostly posted in 2008. Preferably before the Shaloom debacle. If you see the Ohnogi mentioned in any post, ignore that discussion.

With that, I would like to get into why I like Alto best out of all the Macross leads. As much as I love Isamu, the thought that went into this character is amazing, at least by today’s anime standards.

Shipping goggles?

As a first time viewer you might have fallen into the trap of seeing him as defined by the triangle, but if you look at his actions, though it’s a part of his growth, it seems to be the last thing on his mind.

Man of a Thousand Faces

Kabukihime

Kabukihime

Alto was brought up in a family of kabuki actors from a very young age. As such, acting became a part of who he is (4:10). Ignoring the girls feelings isn’t about him being indecisive.

Why do you fly?

Why do you fly?

Sheryl’s arc was about reaching out and being loved (by Alto and Ranka), Ranka’s arc was to assume the responsibility for powers and a connection she never asked for, but had to take on by herself. Alto’s character arc is his acceptance of not needing reasons to perform actions, but just living and doing what he truly desires.

They needed to grow.

They needed to grow.

A reason I really disliked, that was brought up very early on in the shipping threads, is that Alto and Ranka need to forever stay in the role of damsel and prince. Ranka makes Alto feel manly and Ranka is the only one girly enough to do that. This is never how Macross stories work, not how character development works, and shouldn’t be considered a good idea for a romance. The reason I would approve of a relationship between the 2 after the events of the series is because they grew past this.

Take your time to explore

Flying away.

Flying away.

Going back to the first episode, Alto starts off as a character who ran away from his past and one of the sources for his arguments throughout the series is giving excuses and sometimes not being able to answer when he is called out by Michael or Yasaburo on lying to himself and others.

Above a different stage.

Above a different stage.

However, if you look at the type of outlet he found, flying in his EX-gear is also a type of performance, a mix between what he loves and what he supposedly denies he has, an actor’s blood. He can’t keep himself from improvising and screwing up the performance leading to an accident at Sheryl’s concert.

Sheryl warned him.

Sheryl warned him.

His home is burning.

His home is burning.

The fact that he wants to help and protect is also quickly made clear when, despite Sheryl’s rational warning, he stays around during the attack. This leads to him distracting Gilliam who protects Alto but ends up getting killed. Alto with the help of SMS somehow manages to save Ranka, and when she thanks her he has a flashback to Gilliam’s death. He ignores Ranka, only telling her that she shouldn’t be thanking him. When he goes off and sees the destruction of his home, he finds himself in a state of horror and disgust and throws up. This is the point where he decides he wants to help his home.

A good man died that day.

A good man died that day.

Alto thinks of Giliam.

Alto thinks of Gilliam.

The first time he asks is after Gilliam’s death. But in the end he ends up using Ranka’s sad back story to decide he will protect her, this weak girl with big dreams. At this point he knows of her story, condition and has seen her both shaking with fear and unable to let go of his shirt to collapsing seeing her brother hurt.

The theme of running away

The role of protector.

The role of protector.

During the series Alto interacts with many people and often assumes roles. Ranka, sadly, is the easiest way for him, because of his lie in episode 10, after the Hydra attack, that he is the one always protecting her. The scene in the jungle in episode 13 might seem romantic at first, but after looking at it closely, only to a point. What Alto reacts to is Ranka thanking him for protecting her.

Ranka looking for Alto's support.

Ranka looking for Alto’s support.

Ranka has been building up a fantasy based on what he knows of Alto’s actions which are based on misunderstandings, miscommunication, a core theme used in Macross, and in the meantime dismissing Alto’s non to gallant actions, like having Michael go see her in episode 11 instead of calling her himself. By complementing him, she reaffirms his idea of being a pilot and protector for a very good reason, it makes him feel good and he shifts towards her, because she offers another form of escape. This goes on even further when he would scream her name in the up coming battle many times. Even Sheryl takes note of his determination to save Ranka.

Alto is just jelly because he wants a suit like that.

Alto is just jelly because he wants a suit like that.

His anger towards Brera is also due to how he is a much better protector and takes away his “part”.

"Take hold of your destiny!" She didn't make it this far because she was lucky.

“Take hold of your destiny!” She didn’t make it this far because she was lucky.

His advice to Ranka to leave her past behind is probably meant to be kind, in a way, since remembering could hurt her, but it’s also a part of him projecting his own issues on to her without really listening. While in Sheryl he sees someone who goes all out, facing all her problems and concerns, doing everything she can to get what she wants while shouting her name into the world as a sign of her confidence in herself, Alto wants to see himself in Ranka and encourages her to run away, like he did.

He doesn't like it when people lie to themselves either.

He doesn’t like it when people lie to themselves either.

He doesn’t just take a chance to go to Galia IV because Sheryl made the best offer, but he also finds this the easiest way to run away again, not having to think about his father and his offer.

Alto and his past.

Alto and his past.

Even before that, in episode 4, it’s after he sees his father that he rushes off to sortie.

Maybe, maybe not.

Maybe, maybe not.

In terms of “love” or attraction, I think he was shifting towards Ranka mostly starting with her words from episode 13. But the way they interact from 15 onwards also makes me doubt this slightly. The look he gave her might have been more a gaze of wonder that he was being acknowledged as the person he wanted to make himself out to be, but nobody up till this point would believe him. Yet here she is, Ranka, and she says the magic words on her own.

The attraction was there.

The attraction was there.

Like I said before, he was attracted to both girls but his discussions and inner conflicts had so much more to do with his goals as a pilot, that I can’t imagine him truly having love or a relationship on his mind. I do think he knew the girls liked him way before Michael told him out right, but I think he was ignoring this and concentrating on his roles instead, and love, a girlfriend wasn’t needed for those, a protect-needing support set up was more than sufficient. The first ever he probably thought of the idea of getting together with either of them was triggered by Sheryl’s kiss, but because she laughed it off, being surprised herself at her own emotions, he thought she was joking and it turned into a passing thought. The second time was most likely episode 13 in the jungle and later the sing-off in 15, but that was interrupted by Sheryl’s illness.

A reason other than showing his Dad.

A reason other than showing his Dad.

Just as Ranka needs to find her true song, and Sheryl her true strength, Alto needs to admit to himself his true reasons for becoming a pilot.

Sheryl inspires both Alto and Ranka.

Sheryl inspires both Alto and Ranka.

I think that meeting Sheryl had an impact on him, her challenging personality triggered something inside that he wished he could be. When they are stuck in the shelter, Sheryl is the one who inspires him first, by refusing to just stay there. Later on this is what leads him to inspire Ranka to take a chance at singing and also for him to try SMS again. In episode 5, he is sort of bewildered by Sheryl’s enthusiasm during their tour of Frontier. He was supposed to help out Ranka but ends up leaving this task to Michael and enjoying himself.

Alto takes Sheryl to Island-3.

Alto takes Sheryl to Island-3.

He didn’t take Sheryl to Island-3 because he saw Ranka boarding a train. He isn’t looking for her, at all. At no point, until she starts singing. He is taking his time while Sheryl explores, and talks to Klan and Sheryl about the reason she sings and thinks about the reason to fly. He folds a paper plane and throws it, Ranka doesn’t find out, but that plane, in a way, flew while Alto was thinking of what the 2 women told him. Ranka, once again is pushed forward not only by Alto, but Sheryl as well, only giving credit to the former though, for now.

Alto sees Sheryl staying strong.

Alto sees Sheryl staying strong.

When Galaxy is attacked, he sees Sheryl on the news and, seeing her relentless strength, rushes off to give the lost pair of earring back to her. They have a small heart to heart talk, and it’s brought up that while Sheryl saw the worst of Galaxy, it’s still her home and she wants to help save it. We know from early on that Alto supposedly hates Frontier, seeing it as a cage. And he supposedly has a different reason for joining SMS. Yet Sheryl loves what she sees of Frontier and hates her own home, but still wants to keep it safe.

He will do his best.

He will do his best.

It all falls apart

Some words come from the heart.

Some words come from the heart.

Some of his advices are genuine, one of them about acting to Ranka in episode 10. Becoming the role instead of thinking about it over takes his personality often, the only thing he doesn’t want to take on is just being himself completely.

Being angry at people who lie to themselves must run in the family.

Being angry at people who lie to themselves must run in the family.

His ideas of playing hero start cracking slowly when Sheryl wants to quit singing in episode 19. He is furious with her for pretending, telling her how much she meant to both him and Ranka and that she is lying to herself. It’s not something he ever denied, but saying how much Sheryl meant to them was a start for him to really open up.

We all felt it...

We all felt it…

Alto-cant provide comfort for Ranka.

Alto-cant provide comfort for Ranka.

In episode 20 Michael dies, once again reminding him of the horrors of war that he saw when Giliam was killed, and he finally starts to fall apart completely when Ranka says it’s fine to use her to lure the Vajra to Island-3. As I said in my Ranka post, Brera and Ai-kun are the ones giving her the attention she needs. I believe that is because this is the point where Alto has to choose if he can take on a new role, even closer to Ranka. Perhaps he also feared triggering an attack like the one after Ranka saw him and Sheryl. And just as he didn’t rush after her then, he can’t take on this particular role now. This isn’t to say he loves Sheryl, though in my personal opinion he was shifting towards her since episode 18 again. But he does not have those feelings for Ranka. He can’t take it upon himself, to make that step and give her comfort, not this time. If you think about it, this is the time she would have needed it the most. She is being used as bait, but all Alto can give her is a promise to make sure she makes it out alive.

Things can't stay the same forever.

Things can’t stay the same forever.

He slips back into his role with a hope that things will return to normal when he meets Ranka in Griffith Park but everything crashes and burns when Ranka realizes what Alto has been doing all this time and finally takes her life into her own hands. She frees him without him wanting to, and now all that’s left is for Alto to come to terms with who he really is and what he really wants.

Alto sees Sheryl Nome.

Alto sees Sheryl Nome.

Finding out about Sheryl’s illness and her showing him a side of her personality he didn’t know only solidifies this process. Sheryl will not give up singing, because she wants to sing and help Frontier. And that is what Alto wants as well. Sheryl also shows him that she was willing to die alone, taking everything upon herself. Now the he knows and offers her to just stop, the camera shifts to a picture of his mother but Sheryl yells she doesn’t want that, and we cut back to her. Even before she knew she could produce fold waves in exchange for her life, she sang at charities. She doesn’t want to sit back and die. She wants to sing, because she loves to sing, because she loves her fans and she wants to help. Gathering the courage she lacked Sheryl finally asks Alto to stay by her side and give her strength, and this is the point I personally believe Alto made a choice, so to speak, romantically. Not because they may or may not have slept with each other that night. But because he knew Sheryl and Sheryl knew him. And because he understood that they wanted the same thing. They could connect and she was the person who needed him. She had more of an impact on him than he would admit to himself.

Frontier came first...

Frontier came first…

I think, in a way, Ozma’s words might have helped with him staying on Frontier. It was a left over reminder that he couldn’t have it all. I think it wasn’t the adult decision to stay. I think it was an adult’s, a person’s, a soldier’s and a man’s decision. By this point, he knew what was most important to him, but he still had to clear his mind up about possibly having to face the people he loved in a battle to death.

What's most important now is the home they all want to protect. This is his love.

What’s most important now is the home they all want to protect. This is his love.

He is not saying in 23 that he will kill Ranka, he only says he is willing to go that far if he must. Not for Ranka. Not for Sheryl. His love for his home and the lives of the people he can save come first and foremost. They always have, from the moment he went out in his EX-Gear in episode 1 to when he threw up, he always wanted to protect everyone. Because he loves his home, it is what’s dearest to him. He lived here with his mother until her death, he met his friends here, it was here that Sheryl’s concert lead to the three of them meeting. It is here, where his happiness lies. The sky is beautiful, but fantasies will not save lives, he is staying where he can be most useful, with the knowledge he has.

Sheryl's request.

Sheryl’s request.

In 24 he tries to sort out one last thing on his mind, before facing possible death and the killing of loved ones. He wants to make sure not to commit the same mistake as Michael and confess to Sheryl, but she, knowing that a confession might hurt him once she is gone, it would hurt her either way and influence her singing, and could lead to him really going out of his way and killing Ranka without thinking, denies him this. She only confirms her own love sealed with a kiss and her remaining earring. She also asks him to bring back Ranka.

True to himself.

True to himself.

By this point Alto has gone through, running away himself, to meeting 2 very different girls who pushed him forward on his road to become strong enough to be who he is without the need for anyone to make him feel that way. Ranka makes her final step with admitting to the importance of Sheryl in her life, Sheryl by getting a chance to live and reaching out to her friends, embracing her own feelings for them, and Alto with his kabuki speech declares himself free, finally the man, the person he is, no words need be said, because he is who he is and is content.

So, why no confession in 25?

Off he goes.

Off he goes.

When? No, seriously, anyone ever gave a thought about when in episode 25 was the right time for a guy like Alto to confess to either of the girls? They are in the middle of battle. Sheryl’s dying in the fold network, should he confess to either of the girls and leave the other heartbroken there? Or after Sheryl is healed? Or when both girls are happily waiting for him after their victory? What a fantastic ending that would be. Swooping up one of the girls and kissing her while we get to see the other heartbroken. No. I personally don’t even think it was on his mind. I want to go back to what I said, it was musouka who pointed it out on Random Curiosity in the episode 23 comments, he seems so defined by the love triangle, that by this point we expected something big. Except that something big didn’t have a place here. With all the build up prior, my money is on Sheryl, but we have no conformation, I already mentioned why I will not rule out Ranka. All we know is, the “wings” line was not a confession of love.

Alto in the movies

:)

🙂

I find his situation similar to Ranka’s. Both were a lot like their series-end selves and didn’t use each other. In fact, both were supportive. Them being long time friends, Alto had no problem sharing some of his worries about himself and Ranka held his hands to pull him back to the real world. Later, at the very end, Ranka trips but tells her brother to not worry since she isn’t a child anymore. Alto places his hand on her shoulder showing us that he recognizes Ranka as an independent young woman.

He has his thoughts focused on other problems.

He has his thoughts focused on other problems.

I think we get to see more of Alto dealing with his personality issues because of how he doesn’t have the same outlet with Ranka, as he did in the series. They can talk, but their friendship is on a different level by this point, where this deception or running away wouldn’t work. Besides, Ranka is too strong to let herself rely on Alto and fantasies, she goes 100% in her priority to become an idol of her own right. That Grace doesn’t get a hold of her this time also helps.

Connecting to Sheryl.

Connecting to Sheryl.

Alto has to deal with the feelings of the girls and his, another thing he has more time to focus on. He gets told by Sheryl that Ranka loves him, and it’s possible here he never considered it. He also gets to know Sheryl and is conflicted with her being a spy. He doesn’t hesitate to push her away from Ranka because in situations like this he has always been quick to act and his friend, possibly in danger, comes first. He does go back on this and can’t keep himself from trying to go back to his kabuki days and think like a woman once more. He discovers Sheryl’s loneliness, Ranka confirms she did so too in the 2nd movie, and he reassures her she is no longer alone.

Alto is amazed by Sheryl's love of his home.

Alto is amazed by Sheryl’s love of his home.

I think he was drawn to Sheryl as a person from at least around their date, but he starts falling for her in a similar situation as in the series, when he gets to know her lonely side and how much she tries to keep it hidden. That’s why he has a hard time accepting her as a spy and can’t throw away the earring in SnT. He doesn’t allow Michael to tell him not to mourn her and keeps the earring close to him.

Cheers for our fantastic Trio!

Cheers for our fantastic Trio!

Someone told me that she felt Sheryl outshone Ranka in the movies. I personally don’t see it that way. As I mentioned in my Ranka post, I think the roles are more clear cut this time around and while Alto keeps falling for Sheryl (who already knows and likes him, since they don’t have the time to build up the same opening up to him, as in the series), and we get to see the sides of her that we got to know through the entirety of the series, Ranka takes on the role of a rising star and discovering her connection to the Vajra. While Sheryl is needed to reach them and make them understand humanity, she has other issues to deal with, so instead of Ranka waiting on, then leaving only to get captured, needing to be saved, she is proactive in finding out more. She shares information. She also tries to get Alto’s attention, but I think she knows what comes first, her pain when the Vajra die and that they were coming for her, her memories need to be dealt with.

Because, you know, there was a war going on.

Because, you know, there was a war going on.

I look at the movies from a different perspective now, but the first time around I couldn’t even see Sheryl outshining Ranka in the romance department, I think all three were given a good, solid story given the amount of time they had to build it up.

Someone precious...

Someone precious…

His reaction to Ranka was similar to how he couldn’t take that big step in episode 21, but this time around he was, I think, more aware of the situation and I also think Ranka understood what the embrace meant. That he even embraced her shows that they had a deeper understanding here and were very close.

A man or a woman?

A man or a woman?

It really all comes down to how much more time was spent on him and his own personal issues and how he didn’t rely on lies to make himself feel better. He did need to find himself, he wasn’t fully there, but much closer than in the series and in comparing the 2, I think a lot of his actions there can make more sense.

My aim is better than this dude's...

My aim is better than this dude’s…

A lot of time was also spent on building up the story, so much of his development is left for the series.

A dance for the Queen.

A dance for the Queen.

Once again, he embraced his past as a kabuki actor, performing for the Vajra Queen, delivering the girls’ song in his own way, and he flew, in a sky, accomplishing his own dream and finding himself. The confession was well timed and the rejection was needed, it would have been unfair to leave Ranka hanging after how brave she was despite knowing she would most likely get rejected. And I personally have hope that he will return in the future.

Alto the soldier.

Alto the soldier.

I think that Alto is a wonderfully complex character and analyzing him is a lot of fun. I like him as pilot too, not the best, but pretty good and loves being one. And he also grows into a fine soldier and person. I’m not sure I’m completely done with it myself but that’s what you get with a well written character.

I want one! Alto and the apple too.

I want one! Alto and the apple too.

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5 Responses to Kabuki Princess – Alto Saotome

  1. karice says:

    Great post. I really agree with a lot of what you’ve said here, with the main difference being that I would go one step further and contend that Alto’s running away is linked to his issues with identify, which are linked to the acting he’s done. i.e. what the first movie made clear in that train scene with Ranka: he was afraid about losing his sense of self. And since all the roles he took on were women (the protected, the victims; basically, passive roles), in ‘running away’, he goes for the ‘role’ that is as far from that as possible – the protector, the fighter, the pilot – links it to things to be avoided/disliked, and avoids thinking about anything associated with it. So to me, it’s not that

    the only thing he doesn’t want to take on is just being himself completely.

    Rather, because he has been avoiding the topic altogether, he doesn’t actually know what being himself completely is, because he doesn’t know how much of anything is just himself acting. Conversely, perhaps everything is just him acting. But is that necessarily a bad thing? As Ozma said in the second film: no. Everyone acts out different roles. The important thing is to realise what you value, what you really want to protect; only then will you know for certain what it is you should do when given a choice.

    At least, that’s some of my take on it.

    Hence, I wouldn’t say that Alto and Sheryl knew that they wanted the same thing as of episode 22 (beyond the immediate choice of whether to sleep together or not, that is, i.e. to protect Frontier), because I don’t think Alto works out that this is what he really wants until episode 23.

  2. HoshiKira says:

    Hm, I agree and that’s what I was trying to get through honestly, but you phrased it much better. I think my problem was, while writing this, is that (and you would know, sadly) some people have an issue with Alto and the word “acting” and I was probably subconciously afraid to use the word out right.
    And the second part is also what I was aiming at, that he didn’t really know that all these things together were a part of him, so when he qoutes kabuki in 25 he can finally just be who he is and live without worrying.

    I think he did realize to a point that he wanted the same thing, or at least that it was part of what he wanted to do as well, but he needed to clear that and many other issues up in his head, until he would know for certain by 23.

  3. karice says:

    Ah yes…that issue. I never really understood it, I must admit, especially not after Ozma’s spiel in the second film. I guess one reason for that is that I wasn’t around for those debates whilst the series was airing…

    But I do love what he says in 25: “I’m just going to let my feelings guide me, and fly!” It sounds really cheesy, especially in English…but I think of it as Alto finally deciding that he’s just going to do what he feels is right, without any regrets.

    • karice says:

      Ah, and I forgot to add: I was just reading You-kyan’s interview from (the magazine) Otona Anime #10, which was published just after the series was ended. The direction he received for that episode 22 scene was “Here, please act it out as if you’ve decided to support Sheryl, to keep moving forward together. That said, you’ll still be wavering again later on.”

      ^_^;;;;

      • HoshiKira says:

        Mhhm, I can accept that. It makes the later episodes and the finale even more interesting! Like I said my main idea was protecting Frontier, but it does make sense he would decide in 23 and make the statement you quoted finally in 25. What I think reading this is that he knew deep down that this would be the right choice to make but because of the events leading up to this point and the battle ahead he still couldn’t confirm it. I don’t think he doubted if protecting Frontier was the right thing to do on his part, rather if it should be what he does and if it was what he really wanted to do, going down to how this could mean killing Ranka. Ozma’s parting words and him shouting after could be the confirmation of that.
        Definitely food for thought! Thanks!

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