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More than Meets the Eye
By Oliver Chin
Reprinted with permission by the author
July 18, 2002
It's time to go back to the future again. Instantly influential for its shape-shifting mecha and engrossing mix of action and opera, Robotech left fans begging for more and paved the way for the eventual mainstreaming of anime as mainstream American entertainment. Indeed was one who instantly gravitated to this television show. It was like an oasis to a thirsty adolescent wandering through the wasteland of afternoon cartoons where old retreads and two-dimensional toy commercials dominated. Lucky for my generation, the stars have aligned once again. Continuing the recent trend of publishers finding the lost anime and manga trailblazers for Western audiences, comes this heralded yet controversial 1980s series.
Three in One
Robotech's origins were both dubious and inspired. It is a case where anime fans will endlessly debate whether the ends justify the means. Aiming to launch a television series, Carl Macek's Harmony Gold wanted to adapt the Japanese animated series The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, which had 36 existing episodes. All TV producers hope to reach (but few actually do) television syndication's golden goal of a producing at least 65 episodes (5 days a week x 13 weeks), and reap a windfall of profits generated by future rebroadcasting. Therefore, to make his foray worth it, Macek stitched together three different Japanese programs and market it as one single series of 85 episodes. Besides American viewers and programming executives would hardly know any better.
Therefore the Japanese The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Southtern Cross, and Mospeada were pitched as chapters in a trilogy and renamed The Macross Saga, The Robotech Masters, and The New Generation, hereafter known collectively as Robotech.
For the unitiated, here are the synopses of each. In the first set, the SDF-1, the Macross flying fortress, defends the Earth against the sophisticated alien invaders known as the Zentraedi. On board are Captain Gloval, his lovely assistant Lisa Hayes, teen pop idol Minmay, top gun pilot Rick, and his wingmen Max Sterling and Roy Fokker. The opposition is led by Breetai, Khyron, and the fearsome ace Miriya. In a tornado of military and civilian conflict, political intrigue, and interstellar romance, who will survive?
The second installment (episodes 37-60) takes place fifteen years later, when the Earth must fend off the alien menace of the Robotech Masters who seek the source of "Robotechnology", dubbed the Protoculture Matrix. The Southern Cross' army are led by the feisty Dana Sterling, cast as the daughter of Macross' Max Sterling.
The final part comes as the Earth's defense forces have been conquer by the latest invading force known as the Invid, led by the imperial Regis. Soldier Scott Bernard guides a rag tag band of rebels to Reflex Point, the Invid's hive headquarters. Their ultimate goal is to drive the enemy from the planet, or die trying.
DVDs and More
Gaining the license from Harmony Gold, U.S.A., ADV Films has released a phalanx of product choices for consumers. There are 14 single DVDs (each $14.98, ranging from 150-175 minutes) and 8 types of box sets. The Macross Saga has 6 DVDS, 3 box sets ($44.98, 375 minutes), and 1 complete bundle (99.98), whereas both Robotech Masters and New Generation have 4 DVDS and 2 box sets.
Wisely ADV has maxed out each DVD's disc space with extras such as footage from international versions, promotional trailers (such as American toy commercials), interviews, deleted scenes, and galleries of Comico comics covers, character designs and production art. As expected, the revised video series has done well. Carl Macek commented, "Because the interest in the title was high, retailers responded with good placement and strong reorders - typically anime hits the street and then goes into inventory. Robotech maintains a high level of activity. The price point was also a major factor in the product's success."
Naturally, with repeat success comes repeat licensing. Graybeards may remember the RPG, toys, comics, and other merchandise. With the advancement of computer technology, fans may look forward to an upcoming video game version as well. Developed by Vicious Cycle and published by TDK Mediactive, Robotech's release date for the Microsoft Xbox is October 2002. Imitating the look of the animated series with "cel-shading" (objects' edges have black outlines and then color is applied within), it promises to be a faithful rendition. In one-player missions, you pilot your transforming Veritech fighter to battle enemy Zentraedi all over the planet. It promises to feature a multi-player mode where viewers, young and old, can satisfy their dreams of duking it out on the split screen.
Like watching a Love Boat cast reunion, viewing these animated flashbacks of love and war can be a fun but a guilty pleasure. In the midst of the resurgent success of the Transformers franchise, viewers again have the opportunity to see the real deal. Oddly in this time of international war and domestic cocooning, this classic sci-fi comes at a ripe time. Though not in pristine viewing condition, Robotech has earned its bookend status on your video shelf. A relic of history to some, this series is a must have for collectors. They would happily admit their development was arrested either by wondrous fighting planes that could morph into a humanoid robots and walking mechs, or by the heady buzz induced by an intoxicating blend of multiple genres. A war where mortality was real. A romance where hearts were broken by lost loves and new attractions were forged with the supposed enemy. And lastly, an epic quest where both the individual and the group were challenged to overcome past ghosts and present limitations.