In the 1980’s, I feasted on a bevy of animation growing up. I watched typical cartoon shows like Transformers, G.I. Joe, and Voltron. Honestly, my habits were to watch every piece of animation that came across in those days at least once. Yes, even the Care Bears. But sadly despite all of that, I completely missed some great ones. One of those truly great ones was the Robotech series. Now, with an 85 episode behemoth of a complete series set, I get a chance to rectify that grave injustice.
Robotech originally ran March of 1985 in the United States. It had started out as a Japanese series and then Harmony Gold USA came in, reworked the dialog and content so that they could sell it to stations in the US as first-run syndication. However, Harmony tried hard to include most of the complexity and drama of the source material. Producer Carl Macek supervised the proceedings and the sweeping epic was born. The show did very well and had attracted a more mature audience that was not expected.
The show ended up with three major arches and eighty five episodes in the can. Despite the great success with the initial product, they never could repeat the success and subsequent follow-ups proved to be nothing more than failures. A live action film is still a possibility and being worked out by the people at Warner Bros. Supposedly Mr. Spiderman, Tobey Maguire is looking at the lead role. Stick to the cartoon folks.
The initial story or the First Robotech War starts off with a little history lesson. In the 1990’s, there was global war and devastation followed. Even though it was a fairly conventional war to begin with, nuclear war was inevitable. However, in 1999, a massive alien spaceship crash lands on Macross Island in the South Pacific. The world countries soon realize that there is a greater threat than themselves and form the United Earth Government.
Their focus or purpose was two-fold. First they needed to rebuild and understand the massive ship that crashed in the South Pacific. Second, they need to prepare for the alien threat that would soon come looking for it. During the next 10 years, a civilization is formed on Macross Island. The ship is finished by 2009 and is named SDF-1. It is ready for launch. However, unknown to the people, the alien force named Zentraedi are well on their way.
In the first few episodes we are introduced to two pilots. First is cool and calm Roy Fokker who is squadron commander for Skull Team, a group of pilots instrumental in testing and flying the VF-1 fighters. The VF-1’s in addition to being impressive jets could also transform into deadly robots. Roy is a great pilot even if sometimes he jumps too strongly into a confrontation.
A long time ago, Roy was circus brothers with our next pilot named Rick Hunter. Rick has never been in the military but finds himself visiting Roy one day. Being something of a daredevil, he breaks up one of Roy’s demonstrations and catches up with the Skull Team leader on old times. But dangerous times are soon upon us and the reunion is short lived. Rick is left by himself in one of the Veritech fighter planes. He would soon find himself a unwilling participant in an aerial attack.
Meanwhile on the SDF-1, we are introduced to Captain Henry J. Gloval who is in charge of the vessel. The captain was instrumental in getting scientific experts to examine the initial wreckage which lead to the ceasefire of the global war. His crew is slightly unorthodox as they are all women and not trained for combat.
However, they are highly intelligent and led by second in command, Lisa Hayes. Lisa is a no-nonsense, sensible being. She is joined by Claudia Grant, a bridge officer. Claudia is relaxed and confident and is an important figurehead to the other Bridge Bunnies (the affectionate name to the other female operators of the ship). Together these females make up the inexperienced crew.
The Zentraedi troops soon appear and try to capture the ship. They make their way to Macross Island but the SDF-1 is finally able to take off with the crew safely inside. Meanwhile, Rick is trying to learn how to fly the Veritech plane. In attempting to figure some of the plane’s intricacies, he meets a girl named Minmei and her family. But when Macross Island’s inhabitants flee from the aliens to the safety of the vessel, Minimei goes back to retrieve a diary. Rick is soon compelled to go back for her.
Back on the ship, Captain Gloval is forced to attempt a hyperspace jump with the entire crew and Macross City in tow. In a blink of an eye, the hyperspace does not quite go as planned and the whole lot of them ends up in Pluto. At the last moment, Rick and Minimei complete the jump but end up crashing into an unknown part of the ship trying to reach Minimei’s family. (This ship is massive and is big enough to hold a city inside its hull). With minimal food supplies and no way to get back to the others, will the two be able to survive?
The beginning story is really just the tip of the iceberg. This is a sweeping space opera and moves at a slow and plodding pace. No, not the pace of Dragonball Z (where one fight takes half a season), but slow enough to actually develop the story and its characters. This is rare for animation which often races at full speed for 22 minutes at a time and hopefully they get in a few tidbits of characterization along the way. I think that is one of the reasons that immediately drew me into this show.
I normally do not watch shows like Star Trek or any film involving space except for a few choice films that go beyond the genre. I am more interested in a fantasy of medieval proportions. So when I see a show like Robotech, I become a bit nervous. But the truth is that they could set this anywhere and at any time. The strength from the show is not in the mech type technology or the alien races, it is in the characterization. Genuine human feelings are in full effect and one becomes swept up for the entire eighty five episodes.
As previously mentioned, the story is divided into three major arches, or each of the three Robotech Wars. Rather than give too much away, the second arch is set fifteen years after the first war with some familiar old faces and a few new ones. The Robotech masters are the new threat, an alien force even stronger than the Zentraedi. The third arch is similar to the second in the sense that another alien force known as the Invid have come to challenge the Earth’s forces.
The video is in 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation. For the most part, the video is the victim of plenty of cartoons from the era. It has its moments (there is certainly evidence of restoration), but by and large there is a lot of grain and pixilation depending on the shot. Color is strong but backgrounds are often static and can consist of scribbles or sloppy animation. This show was never about the video, the story is what struck such a chord with its fans.
For the audio portion, we get 5.1 English and Spanish Dolby Digital tracks. Wow. Back in the 80’s, this show was actually recorded in mono. But remastering can be a lovely thing. Explosions, gunfire, and more environment noise than you can fly a mech at. All in beautiful 5.1 sound. It reminds me of the original silver embossed Transformers set.
The sound is huge…until it gets to the dialog. The dialog is not bad once you get used to it but it has plenty of hollowness and is on a different listening level typically than the effects. It is just a shame that they put all of this work into the background and then forget to work on the dialog too. No subtitles could be found which is a bit unfortunate.
- Macross Pilot Episode 25:07 : The raw form of the original first episode. I found the ending credits particularly odd.
- Macross Saga Animation Model Sheets: Characters Bios as well as model sheets for the characters and mechas are included here from the first part of the series.
- Macross Saga Classic Comic Book Gallery: The comic book gallery from the first saga.
- Macross Saga International Clips: Five different clips are shown here, in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian. Interesting if you like listening to dub differences.
- The Masters Animation Model Sheets : On to the second saga. Model sheets for characters and mechas as well as Armies of the Southern Cross and backgrounds.
- The Masters Classic Comic Book Gallery: The comic book gallery from the second saga.
- The Masters International Clips: Four more clips, again in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian.
- Galaxy of the Stars – Harmony Gold Promotional Reel 1:39 : This would be the equivalent of comic-con, except for Robotech fans. They show some fans, some cool stuff and autograph sessions with I assume to be the creators and voices behind the show.
- Toy Commercials (1985-86) 6:09: Twelve different commercials are provided here. Highlights include the one on the SDF-1 which is not to size. (Of course to be to size in regards to the other figures, it would have to be the size of a mini-van). There is also the pseudo “Barbie-esque” line for little girls but more on that a little later.
- Prototype Toy Presentation 42:45: One of the more raised eyebrow features on the extras set. Basically, this is a presentation by some marketing executives to interested parties about the Robotech toy line. First, they go through the typical male toys such as action figures and vehicles. Then, the true treat (if you like laughing at awesome cheesiness like I do) is the girl line or the very Barbie like line I mentioned in the commercials. The best part is when they describe one of Dana’s extra outfits which has a tear off top to reveal a “sexy” halter underneath. They actually use the phrase “For when she wants to feel sexy with the boys”. I’m guessing that part of it never made it to production but I could be wrong.
- Toy Line Promotional Reel 9:10: By the looks of it, this was a promo reel sent to retail outfits in hopes to secure product. I like how they used adjectives of other popular toys from back then like “He-Mansized”.
- Merchandise Gallery : Tons and tons of merchandise was put out for the series in the 1980’s. This shows just about anything you can think of. This is separated out in a few different categories like Toys, Miscellaneous Merchandise, Doll Line, Flyers, Sell Sheets, Novels and the Promo sheet for the Fan Club. Yeah, this section of the disc is insane. I actually saw cross promotional advertising with Banquet Meat Pies in there. Do you think Rick Hunter talks about his meat pies to Minmei? Okay, maybe I just need to stop right there.
- Genesis Climber Mospeada Original Unaired English Pilot 22:00: The animation from this show ended up in the third saga of the Robotech series. Dialog and scenes were reworked and put into the New Generation of episodes. MOSPEADA stood for Military Operation Soldier Protection Emergency Aviation Dive Armor. It ran for twenty five episodes in Japan during late 83, early 84 before being reworked here. Original dvds are available with English Subs on Amazon, just expect to pay about $25. Good stuff, just rough.
- Deleted Scenes from the Original Japanese Series: This is the motherload of deleted scenes, broken out in 5-6 episode increments. They were omitted for many reasons but they do not go into too much detail as to why. There is one huge problem though. It is in the original Japanese language WITHOUT ENGLISH SUBTITLES. So unless you are versed in the Japanese language, you are going to be lost here. This is really a missed opportunity in my opinion.
- Other Pre-Production Art: More art here to look through including Sentinels and unproduced Southern Cross Designs.
- New Generation Animation Model Sheets: Third saga Model sheets.
- New Generation Classic Comic Book Gallery: Third saga comic book gallery. I wonder how good these were.
- New Generation International Clips : Four more clips to look through in the same English, Spanish, French, Italian and Portuguese. They should throw in some Russian or the language that makes the clicks just to make it interesting.
- Carl Macek’s Robotech Universe 36:02: This is the ode to Carl Macek, the real force and creative mind behind Robotech. He unfortunately died in 2010, well before his time (he was 58). This can be best described as a homage with all of the creators, designers and of course the voice actors that Macek took a part in the hiring process with.
- Robotech Series Overview 3:06: Alright, the whole Robotech series in 3 minutes. Let’s GO!
- Alternate Robotech Episodes & Scenes : The original episodes did not have the same music as later episodes did. Eventually, Harmony Gold cleaned those earlier episodes up to make them closer to the rest of the stories. However, thanks to some really devoted fans with vhs tapes, they kept the originals and that is what we get here. Commentary is also provided by Carl Macek which is a very awesome inclusion. The first four episodes are included along with scenes from the 25th to 27th episodes.
- Macross Extended Pilot (English) 1:07:27: This is essentially the first three episodes smushed together with extra footage. It is in mono as opposed to the 5.1 on the episodes, but it is a great inclusion.
- Robotech: The Sentinels 1:09:50: This was an attempt by Harmony Gold to continue the original 1985 Robotech television series. It is three episodes in length and again, it is an awesome extra to include. It follows the adventures of Rick Hunter & Lisa Hayes and the Robotech Expeditionary Force. There is even commentary by Macek as well as bios and model sheets.
- Robotech: The Movie (1986) & supplementals 29:15: There is an actual movie out there that is 82 minutes in length. This is only the 29 minute version that has been edited to death and only deals with Southern Cross stuff. Supposedly, the movie’s original negatives were destroyed in a flood of the studio in the mid 90’s. The only copies are now available over file sharing services and the like (and are of poor quality). Harmony Gold mentions that they edited it down for licensing and content. ADV Films and Harmony Gold should have worked on the best copy they could and included it in an extra disc here. Or not include it at all. You really can’t make heads or tails of this thing. There are also supplements here including animatics, storyboards, and a trailer.
- Original Opening & Closing Sequences Openings and closings for Macross, Southern Cross, Mospeada, Robotech, and Robotech: The Sentinels.:
- Music Videos 36:12: Twelve different videos here are included, sang or performed by Lynn Minmei, Musica, Three Dog Night (not a misprint), and Yellow Dancer.
- Robotech Video Games : There are four games included here and they include actual game and promotional footage. The first is Robotech: Crystal Dreams which was a cancelled Nintendo 64 game (Rom images are available to download via the developer’s website). It was essentially a flight simulator. The next one is Robotech: Battlecry which showed up on PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. It was a very well received shooter. I might go look for it at some point. Then there is Robotech: Invasion was something of a followup in 2004 for the PS2 and Xbox. This was like many Xbox games where it was a first person shooter. However, it was only deemed mediocre by most review outfits. The final game is Robotech: New Generation which came out for AT&T and Verizon phones back in 2007. The quality looks to be that of somewhere between Game Boy Color and Advance. It is a top down shooter and actually looks pretty fun. However, I would go nowhere near it on a phone. I think there is a missed market here in all of these games and that maybe somewhere down the road if they created a Robotech game in the spirit of the hugely successful Mass Effect series, they could have a major hit on their hands. There are so many stories here and it seems completely missed by these very rudimentary and basic games.
- Promotional Reels : Promotional reels included here are a 1993 Toy Promo and a 2005 Robotech Launch reel in China. So let me follow this correctly. Robotech took footage from a Japanese cartoon, remolded it and then China took that US footage and soundtrack and dubbed it? That might have been worse than twice baked potatoes.
- More Robotech Merchandise Gallery : Our final extra and it is a meaty one. This includes a gallery of novels, role playing games, more comics, other publications, music soundtracks, premium toys, other collectibles and miscellaneous tidbits from around the world. There is again a ton of stuff to look through here. Robotech is a really rare television series that will continue to last at least in spirit for a very long time.
As mentioned in other sections, Robotech is a force in animation even today. The whole reason so much anime exists here in America can at least be partly attributed to the success of the Robotech television series. If it wasn’t for creative genius Carl Maeck, there is a distinct possibility we as Americans might be forced into more G.I. Joe and Transformers spinoffs and remakes than we can stand. Robotech was more than just cartoons however; it was a show with characters and a story that can still be appreciated today.
The box set is downright impressive. The audio is perhaps the best I’ve seen for animation that exceeds 25 years old and the extras set is beyond impressive. It could arguably sell by itself if the movie and deleted scenes were cleaned up by adding footage (movie) and subtitles (deleted scenes). But we get all of the complete episodes, four discs of extras, and a beautiful box for about $60 dollars on Amazon. If you like Robotech or even animation at all, you owe it to yourself to procure a copy. I give it one of my highest recommendations possible. It’s that good. Enjoy.