Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Remembering Robotech, Part II
I first saw Robotech when it debuted on afternoon syndication in 1985, and it arrived on the scene at roughly the same time as other popular Japanese robot imports. While Voltron and Transformers were evoking memories of similar 70s era Japanese toys such as Shogun Warriors and Micronauts, Robotech’s method of serialized storytelling was very much like Star Blazers (or Space Cruiser Yamato as it’s known in Japan), another anime series that had a brief run on American airwaves in the early 1980s. Read on . . .
For me, the biggest hooks for Robotech at its launch were its opening and closing credits. (See the opening for yourself here.) Not only did the credits have a rousing theme composed by Ulpio Minucci and orchestrated by Arlon Ober (I’m convinced that Minucci and Ober’s musical work was instrumental to the ongoing appeal of the Robotech series), but it featured tantalizing footage of mecha in action from Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada. So, while the first 36 episodes of Robotech covered the Macross saga, I would watch the opening and closing credits and wonder with great excitement what was coming next in the series once the Macross saga reached its conclusion.
I guess you could say that I was still in the mindset of the mass merchandizing frenzy that was Star Wars. With each successive entry in the Star Wars saga, amazing new spaceships would be available for purchase as both models and toys; thus, the same logic seemed to apply to Robotech and since some of the Macross mecha were already released in the US as model kits in Revell’s Robotech model line (which wasn’t the same as the Robotech TV series due to a variety of licensing issues), there was no reason to assume otherwise.
Sadly, I was wrong. The only scale-accurate transformable Macross toy was actually released as a robot named Jetfire in the Transformer toy line, and I was able to pick up one of the Mospeada mecha toys which somehow made it into US toy stores with its original Japanese packaging(!). (Oddly, the Mospeada mecha model kits somehow ended up in the GoBots line of model kits, not the Robotech line.) Matchbox eventually released a Robotech toy line, which featured a transformable Southern Cross mecha, but the toy line was rather lackluster both in terms of its variety and distribution and it disappeared quickly from the shelves.
Then again, Robotech’s lack of focus around merchandising was actually a breath of fresh air in comparison to other syndicated sci-fi/fantasy animation at the time. Whereas other shows were clearly designed and produced to promote a specific toy line and thus kept their storylines as kid-friendly and non-controversial as possible, Robotech actually told a story that featured flawed heroes who didn’t (or couldn’t) always save the day and characters who died and stayed dead (gasp!). It even flirted shamelessly with topics such as interracial dating and cross-dressing (you read that correctly: cross-dressing). In fact, it was the Mospeada story arc that piqued my own interest in Darwin’s theory of evolution, something that I’m still grateful for to this day.
Unfortunately, Robotech’s history after its initial syndicated run has been plagued with many false starts and unfinished stories. The first animated sequel series, Robotech II: The Sentinels, was supposed to tell the tale of the surviving heroes at the end of the Macross arc and further explain the connections between the Zentraedi, the Robotech Masters, and the Invid. While the saga of the The Sentinels was eventually told in novels and comic books, the anime series abruptly halted production after the production of (barely) three episodes.
Many other novels, comic books and video games were produced to keep the Robotech story alive, but no new animation saw the light of day until the release of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles in 2006. While Shadow Chronicles had its strong points, its planned sequel Shadow Rising has been postponed indefinitely due to the possibility of a live-action Robotech film, which may never see the light of day. Further complicating matters for long-time Robotech devotees is that the prequel tie-in comic book miniseries, Prelude to the Shadow Chronicles, features a storyline that both affirms and contradicts The Sentinels story arc; thus, it is unclear as to which parts of The Sentinels are ‘cannon’ and which are not, and this issue will probably remain unresolved.
Yet in spite of the ups and downs, Robotech was well worth the ride, as was much of the anime that was brought over here thanks to Robotech’s impact. So where ever you are Mr. Macek, my hat’s off to you.