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Robotech Retrospective

Nadia's look at the world of anime & manga.

By Nadia Oxford, Columnist     February 09, 2008

Thinking back to cartoons from the 1980s puts you in grave danger of breaking down under the pull of nostalgia and weeping while your boss watches in alarm. We were impressionable creatures as kids. Though we might be uncomfortable to admit it now, how many of us found role models in heroes like Optimus Prime, Lion-O or (God help us) Braveheart the Lion?

I've noticed that when people get together and start gabbing about the cartoons that guided them to the televisions on early Saturday mornings, they have a tendency to claim that cartoons back then were so much better than the crap that's on the air now. I contest that claim, though I probably take my life into my own hands by doing so. Regardless, I was asked elsewhere to assemble a feature relating to '80s cartoons, and it kind of put things into perspective for me. For instance, I've been watching Captain N: The Game Master recently and…wow, it was shameless. No wonder my mother hated me watching it.

While sifting through the pile of shows available at the time, an old truth made itself known once again: In every era and in every medium, you have bad offerings, you have mediocre offerings, and then you have one or two gems that were put together by a team that might've given half a damn about the quality of the final product. The shining star in the pantheon of '80s cartoons was undoubtedly Robotech, a futuristic mech-based anime with a surprisingly good--though controversial--localisation.

Until the introduction of Robotech, it had been standard practise to make anime as kid-friendly as possible. This was often done through obvious censorship such as the removal of character deaths, lewd jokes or through the blurring of some character's bare bum. More disturbing was the dumbing-down of morals and themes until the affected anime didn't deliver much beyond "Hey, don't hit your sister."

Robotech, on the other hand, broke the mould by working on the assumption that perhaps young viewers could appreciate a deep, ongoing storyline. In fact, production / distribution company Harmony Gold USA added depth to the Robotech series by splicing three unrelated anime series together, including Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada. The result was…surprisingly clear and competent, especially compared to later anime that used the same trick. The finale for the first season of Sailor Moon, for instance, threw several episodes into one big showdown, making for a confused jumble rather than an epic battle--and that was using material from one show, never mind three.

Robotech's "assembled" story had the opposite effect. It unwrapped a battle-torn universe where wars didn't just end because the good guys happened to foil the villain's plot in half an hour. In fact, the war lasted for generations, tuning kids into a very sad fact about life, death and war: Sometimes this shit just drags on forever. In truth, splicing three anime series together was necessary for syndication purposes (for which Harmony Gold needed considerably more episodes than what was available with the original Japanese source material), but thanks to careful handling, Robotech is a rare example of what can be achieved with competent editing.

Of course, it also depends on whom you ask. Nowhere are purists more rampant than in the anime fandom, especially since the rise of the Internet has clued us into long lists of what was changed or cut for American audiences. One side argues that the original anime should not have been altered because it ruins the message the original creators of the series were trying to convey at the time. The other side argues that the amalgamation America received was actually better than the separated Japanese series. In the middle are lots of fans who simply enjoyed Robotech for what it was at the time, and feel a little dazed after eating the forbidden fruit and learning the truth about the series. Why should you stop loving something just because its parentage is a little questionable?

Fortunately there's no arguing that Robotech's introduction was pretty badass. I'll also relent that although the quality of '80s cartoons were questionable, cartoons today definitely underestimate the power of a catchy theme song when it's allowed to run its course for a full minute--or longer. Robotech's introduction was a full minute and thirty seconds long, which is standard for anime. It was also unique for the time because it was instrumental, whereas most cartoons were preceded by a jingle thick with lyrics.

So enjoy your flying robot nostalgia. Robotech deserves to be looked back upon fondly.

COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 10 of 18
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ultrazilla2000 2/8/2008 10:47:05 PM
Robotech is actually one of the few animation series I own from my childhood that I can revisit about every year. The woven together story isn't perfect...the animation does a terrible job of explaining the Protoculture mythos (the book series smoothed out all the edges better)...but the story is so compelling and entertaining. Not to mention some of the best character developement in U.S. cartoon history. And of course who could forget all the awesome mechs? The Veritech fighters...the Hover Tanks...the Cyclones and Invid...all memorable.
mckracken 2/8/2008 10:58:43 PM
yes all of what ultrazilla2000 said and more... actually you can stop watching this after Robotech: Masters series ends because Invid Invasion was horrid. (except for the transforming bikes and the transvestite Purple Dancer! Ehhh.. ok I take that last one back) I'm still waiting for the LIVE ACTION ROBOTECH coming in 2010...12?... 14? oh god.... 2015? PLEEEEEEEEEASE just somebody shut UP already and greenlight this and get somebody to direct it ASAP... for God's sake we're getting GI JOkE and we all witnessed (and I loved) Transformers last summer but those were American cartoons.... lets get Robotech and Starblazers off the ground and then we can talk about that Voltron flick... and argue about the Speed Racer flick... and and and ohhhh.... and damn if we cant get a (GOOD) live action Gundam anything or Escaflowne or or or..... sheeese...
videocide 2/8/2008 11:04:46 PM
Loved Robotech when i was akid and still do. Though hoestly i think Starblazers was the first series to take war seiously even though it may have been dumbed down.I swore i remeber reading in one of the Robotech art books, i think it was 3, that the show took the 3 series' character,mech designs and so on and basically it was reanimated for the american story. I thought that for years and found out late ri was completely wrong. Guess I owe an ex gf an apology. Lastly, Shadow Chronicles was great.
videocide 2/8/2008 11:09:20 PM
I need to ask, has anyone ever seen a macross film called "Clash of the Bionoids"? I beilve it was a british dubbed Macross film because all the character had the accents.I wasn't sure what this film was but it had the basic Robotech story compressed to 2 hours or so, which fueled my "robotech was animated differently " thought i had for years.
mckracken 2/9/2008 1:33:10 AM
videocide, the story I've heard about "Macross in Clash of the Bionoids" as the story goes... this version was NEVER intended to be released here in the states, SUPOSIDLY it was dubbed solely for the purpose to educate the japanese students on their english and nothing more. The dubbing is (if I recall) abysmal, unwatchable and utterly horrible. All the characters talk... real........ slow..... and.....with...... painfull... gaps...in....dialog. well anyway you get the point. It was terrible... teaching tool only... not ment for the States. IMDB lists its running time at 114 minutes and has numerous titles listed for "Macross" and "Robotech"
Drahken 2/9/2008 6:49:51 AM
The real name for "Macross Clash of the Bionoids" is Macross: Do You Remember Love. I have a HK realese of it, the subs are passable, I have never seen the British dub though short of a few clips. They changed a huge amount of the base story elements but the new artwork was very well done. The later shows, Macross Plus, Macross 7, Macross Zero(takes place before the series so it is not really included in this but I thought i'd mention it) and Macross Frontier, airing in Japan this spring/summer keep most of the design elements but use the TV shows story as the back story.
Drahken 2/9/2008 6:50:12 AM
The real name for "Macross Clash of the Bionoids" is Macross: Do You Remember Love. I have a HK realese of it, the subs are passable, I have never seen the British dub though short of a few clips. They changed a huge amount of the base story elements but the new artwork was very well done. The later shows, Macross Plus, Macross 7, Macross Zero(takes place before the series so it is not really included in this but I thought i'd mention it) and Macross Frontier, airing in Japan this spring/summer keep most of the design elements but use the TV shows story as the back story.
nadiaoxford 2/9/2008 11:45:53 AM
"Just because something is animated doesn't mean it has to be childish" is a great lesson, one that America is learning...slowly. Seems like there'd been a bit of a slide since the '90s, when shows like Batman: TAS and The Maxx were developed to appeal to adults. Now, when people think of cartoons for adults, they think of Family Guy and its thousand imitators that don't even last a season. Might be a while before America makes "serious" cartoons for adults again, but I'm patient.
wrrlykam 2/9/2008 1:52:17 PM
Marlin: Did you mean Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind or Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water? (Nadia in the Valley of the Wind?) The first anime I saw was Marine Boy, my mother hated it as it was 'so violent' LOL. My next exposure came with a shedload of vhs videos at my local video rental store, from early ADV and manga videos like most folk.
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