[13 November 2013]
With the release of the DVD boxed collection Robotech: The Complete Set, the animated anthology that covered three series of storylines and expanded into theatrical releases is finally available in one package for the enjoyment of its fans. What’s the big deal?
For some, Robotech was another of the many transforming robot animated TV shows that popped up like prairie dogs and spread like wildfire in the mid-‘80s worthy of little more note than Go-Bots or Transformers or even the lions of Voltron. For others, Robotech was (and is) a multi-generational Japanese animated space opera on par with (or, for some, even surpassing) the ambitious TV sagas like Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica.
To be sure, the impact of Robotech can be seen in the later generations of many sci-fi programs. Its fingerprints appear all over the reimagined Galactica, from the experiments with regeneration to the reformatting of the enemy to invade the human society to the multiple copies of the elite (and oft-hidden) main villains. The toying with timelines and predestination paradoxes foreshadows similar concepts in the Babylon 5 saga.
Robotech also helped to prove that American sci-fi television could sustain a saga that continued and evolved with each episode, as opposed to relying on self-contained stories. With the multilevel story revolving, in part, around love triangles and real world issues (in addition to war and alien invasion) the licensing for Robotech merchandise was among the first to attempt to appeal to both boys and girls.
Upon watching Robotech: The Complete Set, the viewer will notice some dramatic shifts in time, storyline and even animation, making one wonder if they are still watching the same show. The short answer to that is that they are not. What we know as the televised Robotech and the three generations thereof, actually consists of three completely unrelated Japanese television shows that were re-written, re-edited and re-formatted into one sprawling saga with an intelligent and challenging story arc. The man behind this amalgamation was Carl Macek (no relation to this reviewer) whose overarching story makes for a fascinating mashup (even if this reworking did alienate fans of the original sagas).
The tale begins with 1985’s The Macross Saga (“The First Robotech War”), adapted from 1982’s Japanese series Super Dimension Fortress Macross (which, in turn, spawned many non-Robotech licensed properties). In Macross, an enormous and highly advanced spaceship crashes to Earth in a time of all-out global war. This protoculture-powered warship clearly suggests the presence of a more advanced Alien Race who might be returning for their property. Thus humanity unites and works to rebuild and reshape the craft (much as Macek did with Macross on the whole) into the SDF-1 a gargantuan, transforming, space-ready aircraft carrier whose reverse-engineered “Veritech Fighters” transform from war plane to bipedal robot to something in between.
While The Macross Saga does start out a bit rocky with some admittedly bad animation, still shots and omnipresent (necessary) voiceovers, the program quickly improves in all areas and becomes an addictive saga with some surprisingly adult themes going far beyond the mere Transformers and G.I. Joe-style cartoon violence. Romance, changing sides, anything-but-easy story resolutions and more twists and turns than Pippi Longstocking’s pigtails keep this fun, but often bleak and dark saga in the must-see category.
The series continues in The Masters (“The Second Robotech War”), adapted from 1984’s Japanese series The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and The New Generation (“The Third Robotech War”), adapted from 1983’s Japanese Series Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, both of which (with the rewrites and American actor’s dubbing) carry the Robotech storyline forward to an exciting end.
“End” is, of course, a relative term, as the three combined stories of Robotech proved to be successful. Thus Robotech: The Movie was created from original animation, scenes from 1985’s Japanese direct-to-video Megazone 23 Part 1 and scenes from Southern Cross. Unfortunately the movie’s wide-release was cancelled in the USA after a disastrous test run (although it did well in Argentina).
Even more unfortunately, in the ensuing years, Robotech’s American studio Harmony Gold lost the rights to Megazone and the version included in this boxed set is the 29 minute re-re-edit with no Megazone footage included. The end result is disjointed and confusing with “better than nothing” being the best praise I can muster.
Macek’s attempt at a new series to immediately follow The Macross Saga was Robotech II: The Sentinels. With only three episodes produced before the project’s cancellation, the completed programs were reformatted into a 75 minute movie that was released in 1992 and re-released in this DVD set. Like The Movie, The Sentinels is interesting, but feels remarkably incomplete and ends, as one would expect, with the impression that the producers ran out of money (which, in essence, is what happened).
Robotech has remained popular in many circles, even when new programming remained dormant (licensing such as toys, comics and role-playing games continued and several documentaries were produced over the years), while a number of ambitious and ultimately aborted projects were attempted. In 2006 the newly animated sequel film Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles was released and the version included in this set looks beautiful, however, the 2013 movie Robotech: Love Live Alive is actually an adaptation of the Genesis Climber Mospeada film Love Live Alive from 1985. While it’s fitting that the animation from the latter-day Robotech properties still look like 1985 animation, after the new-millennium animated release of The Shadow Chronicles, Love Live Alive feels like something of a step backwards.
On the other hand, Robotech: The Complete Set is teaming with enough bonus features from all over the spectrum to make just about any fanboy happy. These include alternate versions (including some original Japanese versions) of certain episodes, documentaries and featurettes (including an excellent history of the saga with a focus on Carl Macek), photo galleries, promotional materials, deleted scenes (with commentaries) and Japanese versions of the films. For completists, an interesting inclusion here are not only the commercials for the Robotech toys (seemingly all of them) but also the industrial films in which Matchbox promoted the toys and attempted to convince retailers to carry them. This might not be for everyone, but the label on the package does say “The Complete Set”.
“Complete” may be in the eyes of the beholding fan (especially considering the inclusion of only one-third of Robotech: The Movie). Naturally there will always be fans who question the inclusion of some extras and are indignant about the exclusion of something obscure. However, considering the bonus features included and the expansive collection of the Robotech properties from the past three decades, this is the best and most complete Robotech collection yet. Existing fans will not need convincing. New fans may become immediately addicted.
Luckily, Robotech: The Complete Set has plenty of content (totaling a staggering 2,276 minutes) to feed your “protocultural” need. With Robotech slated to hit the big screen in live action form soon (with names like Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio attached), new fans are almost a guarantee.