Remembering Robotech, Part I

I heard a few days ago that anime importer extraordinaire Carl Macek recently passed away from a heart attack at the relatively young age of 59. If you look at Macek’s career in total, he brought a wide selection of Japanese anime titles stateside through the distribution of English dubs. Macek has also been the source of considerable controversy within the anime community, because some felt that his English dubs somehow diminished the creative integrity of the original Japanese work (if you’re an anal-retentive anime fan to the point of requiring medication, this is a major no-no), while others felt that Macek’s efforts were integral to nurturing the anime market in the US. Thus, the work with which Macek is most commonly associated, his pet project named Robotech, has incurred both repeated accolades and vengeful fatwas from anime fans of all stripes. Read on . . .

For those of you who have no idea what I am talking about, Robotech was created by Macek as a way to get one of the more popular anime series in the mid-80s, Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, to the US. As the pre-Robotech story goes, Macross only had 36 episodes, which were too few episodes for American syndication at the time. So, Macek re-edited and re-dubbed Macross to incorporate it with two other anime series, Super Dimensional Calvary Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, so that the three separate series—each of which were about alien invasions being repelled by humans who pilot transforming battle robots, or “mecha”—into a multi-generational, 85 episode saga named Robotech.

The major complaints that anime fans have against Robotech is that 1) Macek ruined Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada by re-editing and re-dubbing their separate plots into a single story and 2) that Macek took credit as being the “creator” of Robotech even though he had nothing to do with the creation of the three series that were used to assemble Robotech. These are legitimate complaints, but I can’t really speak to them because I happen to fall into the pro-Robotech camp. Like many other Robotech fans, I credit Macek with introducing me to anime through his work and for creating a series that is very unique, even by anime standards.

What Macek did through Robotech (either wittingly or unwittingly) was something that no entertainment company (either American or Japanese, past and present) would ever do: produce and release as a single syndication package a multi-generational saga about three waves of alien invaders and the humans who fought them during each era. If Robotech had been created from scratch and been released across multiple seasons, it could’ve faced cancelation due to lack of strong syndication ratings or merchandising revenue before the story ended and thus left die-hard fans with an incomplete story—much like the fans of many, many, many cult classic sci-fi television shows. This factor alone makes Robotech a one-of-a-kind treasure, both then and now, in spite of its shortcomings (e.g., cheap animation, awkward dubbing, inconsistent script details, Lynn Minmei, etc.).

Robotech’s biggest asset was its epic story, which was the one thing that Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada on their own couldn’t offer. By tying their back stories together, the alien invaders—the gargantuan Zentraedi, the ghoulish Robotech Masters, and the insectoid Invid—became more interesting, and the usage of transforming robots by human against each set of invaders also made more sense. While many fans cite the Macross saga as their favorite part of Robotech, I felt that the series became even more interesting as it went along to the successive two “generations”. From the somber Macross episodes which took place after the Earth-wide attack by the Zentraedi fleet, to the morbid, brutal exploits of the Robotech Masters in the Southern Cross episodes, to the heroes’ quest to end the Invid occupation in the Mospeada episodes, I kept finding new and interesting things to appreciate in this anime epic—all courtesy of Macek’s efforts.


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