ADV Films // 1985 // 1500 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // December 1st, 2005
Roy: Only this Robotech thing was so exciting I just couldn't give it up. It just gets in your blood or something I don't know.
In 1985, Harmony Gold sold the syndication rights for a show they were producing to UHF television channels across the United States. The eighty-five episodes were actually three unrelated Japanese anime series cobbled together by producer Carl Macek and a team of writers. Robotech was initially only designed to sell toys -- Revell models had a licensing agreement to market "Robotech Defenders" models in association with the series. Later, Matchbox came in to produce action figures and replicas of the mecha vehicles featured in the series. Harmony Gold had to call the series Robotech, because the toys were already heading in to production and the model manufacturer had come up with the name.
Robotech has a strong place in anime history, and many people remember it fondly. It remains one of the most satisfying stories in the anime genre. It's a space opera George Lucas would have been proud to have thought up. Back in the '80s the series was a landmark event. It was the first exposure for most people to how an anime series could be gripping and exciting. It was the characters -- Rick Hunter, Captain Gloval, Lisa Hayes, Exedore, Myria, Khyron, Lancer, Scott Bernard, Dana Sterling, and countless others, that made the show so compelling.
Well, the series never really sold a lot of toys for Revell or Matchbox. It was canceled after one season, and plans for sequels were abandoned because of the failure of the show to sell as many action figures as He-Man and the Masters of the Universe or G.I. Joe. But something amazing happened. Teens and adults latched on to the show, and the entire Robotech series became a cult phenomenon. It was the one of the first shots fired in a new revolution called anime here in the States. It is the Star Wars of the anime world, and it opened the floodgates for the entire genre to invade America. Cartoons were suddenly cool again.
To celebrate the show's twentieth anniversary, ADV is releasing Robotech -- The Protoculture Collection. This is the fourth dip for ADV, among countless other releases of the series. Frankly, I've lost count of how many times Robotech has shown up in some form or another. But in honor of the milestone of the series hitting twenty, let's dig up one more round of praise for the series that started it all.
Robotech starts in 1999 when an alien spaceship crashes near Macross island on Earth. Scientists study the new technology (termed "robotechnology"), and begin to make plans to move the ship out to explore space. Little does anyone know an entire race of aliens are tracking the ship and want to capture it, as well as find a new source for "protoculture." Thus begins a story of three generations of ragtag heroes fighting against the alien invasion.
The first part of the series is commonly known as "The Macross Saga." It details the first war with the alien Zentraedi race trying to capture the ship. Most of the struggle occurs in space, and is reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica. The second part of the series, known as either "The Masters" or "The Southern Cross Saga," follows the next generation of warriors as they square off with the creators of the technology on Earth. The final chapter, known as "The New Generation" or "The Mospeada Chapter," has the space explorers returning home to find out aliens have taken over Earth. The entire series can be seen as a meditation on what war does to people, and how technology is often inferior to emotions and creation.
Anime purists have a real problem with Robotech, and with good reason. The show's director, Carl Macek, threw out any idea of doing a direct translation of the three Japanese anime series Harmony Gold had purchased -- Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Instead, Macek and a team of writers came up with a new story and new dialogue, and edited the series to fit an American format. Back in the early '80s, anime wasn't well-known, and the creators of Robotech were venturing into new territory. There were no rules to follow, so they were doing what they thought was the right thing. But don't think the shows' Japanese creators were against the Westerners coming in and retooling the scripts. The three shows weren't entirely successful in Japan, and they leapt at the chance for Western exposure.
The show was shocking in how it unfolded: major characters died, interracial (and even interspecies) couples popped up, and there was a drag queen rock star. Characters developed and grew, and the stories were never simple or "dumbed down" for the kid market. Carl Macek and his team of writers may have been rewriting three series, but they certainly didn't hold back on the serious themes anime deals with. Robotech felt very adult, and that made it an anomaly in the animated world. Back in '85 the idea that serialized cartoons could actually take themselves seriously was unheard of. I remember as a kid I was riveted by the series, and couldn't believe the amount of death, sex, and violence in it. In G.I. Joe or Transformers nobody ever died, not even the bad guys. But in Robotech anything could happen.
Robotech was aimed at a new audience for a cartoon series. At the time most cartoons courted a very young viewership, with simply-drawn stories about good and evil. They were comprised of stand-alone episodes that taught a lesson to preschoolers or elementary age children. Robotech wanted to attract an older crowd -- mainly because of the model tie-in. Teenagers were the prime target, so the show was a racy soap opera full of violence and love triangles. The series was mind-blowing back in 1985. Hard to believe now, but the animation was totally new, as was the idea a cartoon could be dramatic and engaging on so many levels. It seems quaint now, but back then it was ambitious.
Robotech -- The Protoculture Collection is the best the series has ever looked, and it's combined with all the extras from the previous "Legacy" releases. Seven discs of extras are included, and you can find anything and everything on them. There's the Sentinels sequel, the movie version of the pilot, two proposed pilots for Macross and Mospedea that stick closer to the Japanese plots, toy commercials, poster galleries, and interviews and commentaries by creator Carl Macek. You'll walk away knowing enough about Robotech to write a dissertation on the series. But there is no additional content from the original "Legacy" releases, so if you bought those you've seen this material already.
The show is crude by animation standards, even with remastering by ADV. If you're not a fan of the Japanese "still shot" method of storytelling, where they hold on one frame, then this series could drive you nuts. It's a far cry from the crude days of Speed Racer, but is along the same level of Battle of the Planets. It's an old school anime series, so the visual presentation is hardly cutting edge. The show innovated more with its storytelling perspective than with its artistry. In comparison to Disney or feature film animation the anime style looks cheap, but when compared to other kids programs of the era it fares more favorably.
This is not the original series as it was released in 1985. Robotech -- The Protoculture Collection contains the newly remastered edition of the series ADV began releasing a couple of years back. Much like the enraged outcries of Star Wars fans over additions to the holy original trilogy, Robotech viewers were shocked to hear additional sound effects and see amped-up visuals CGI'd on top of the original cel animation. Honestly, there's not much added, and the sound is vastly improved during the battles with the full surround effect. Mostly the "Remastered" title is a marketing device. The box claims "extra footage," but each addition lasts merely a second or two. You get to see "butts" in some shower scenes, and "guts" in the battles. The aggressive new surround sound mix only kicks in during the battles, and reverts back to a two-channel mono once the smoke clears for the dialogue scenes. The visual transfer is clear and colorful, but vertical lines still demonstrate some aliasing (they often look like stair steps).
ADV has treated Robotech lovingly over the years, and this set demonstrates their commitment to the series. Robotech -- The Protoculture Collection is simply a repackaging of two previous ADV releases of the show combined to make one attractive box set. It's the "Remastered" discs coupled with all seven bonus discs of the "Legacy" collection. Is it worth an upgrade for fans who already own one of the previous sets? Nah, not unless you plan on selling or trading in the former sets. This bulky box set is not a space saver by any means; and though the extras are comprehensive, they have been on the market before. Should you buy this set if you have never bought a previous release? Most definitely. It's the best Robotech has looked, and has a wealth of production trivia behind it. For me it brings back memories of racing home from school to sit mesmerized in front of the television, with juice box in hand, waiting breathlessly to see what happened next. After twenty years, Robotech still stands as one of the best anime series ever produced, even if it did betray its Japanese roots by being rewritten and reedited for Western audiences.
Guilty of blasting the anime craze into hyperdrive here in the U.S., Robotech remains a classic of the genre that is deserving of its reputation. The stories are engaging, the characters are incredible, and it remains addictive after two decades. ADV is guilty of going to the well with this series time and again -- but when you've got a show this good, can you blame them?
Review content copyright © 2005 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 1500 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Codename Robotech -- Original Feature-Length Episode from Series with Commentary by Series Developer Carl Macek
* Animation Model Sheets (Characters)
* Animation Model Sheets (Mecha)
* Galaxy of the Stars -- Promotional Film
* Matchbox Toy Commercials from 1986
* Gallery of Macross Comic Book Covers
* Point of View Interview with Carl Macek (1986)
* Robotech II: The Sentinels -- Feature Length Sequel to the Macross Saga with Commentary by Series Developer Carl Macek
* Sentinels Pre-Production Art Gallery
* Television Promos for Sentinels
* Character Bios
* Original Opening and Closing Sequences From the Series
* Animation Model Sheets (Characters and Mecha)
* Gallery of Masters Comic Book Covers
* Macross Pilot Episode
* Pre-Production Art
* Robotech: The Movie Supplementals -- Trailer, Music Video, and Animatics
* Unaired Pilot for Genesis Climber Mospeada
* Animation Gallery
* Prototype Toy Presentation
* Promotional Videos
* Gallery of New Generation Comic Covers
* Deleted Scenes from the Series
* Merchandise Gallery
* Video Games Featurette
* International Clips
* Official Site
* The Robotech Page -- Fan Site
* Third Invid War -- Speculation and Fan Fiction
* The Robotech Companion -- Info Site
* DVD Verdict Review -- Robotech Remastered (Volume One)