Our reviews of Robotech Remastered: Extended Edition (Volume 2) (published April 29th, 2004), Robotech Remastered: Extended Edition (Volume 3) (published October 7th, 2004), Robotech Remastered: Extended Edition (Volume 5) (published November 18th, 2004), Robotech Remastered: Extended Edition (Volume 6) (published November 18th, 2004), Robotech: The Complete Series (published November 6th, 2011), and Robotech: The Protoculture Collection (published December 1st, 2005) are also available.
You've never seen Robotech like this before!
Robotech, the legendary 80s TV series that introduced a generation of American kids to the joys of anime, has seen more dipping on DVD than a Dairy Queen ice cream cone. Following the Legacy Collection boxed sets in 2001 and the following year's largely pointless Complete Collection release, ADV and Harmony Gold have unveiled Robotech Remastered: Extended Edition, touted as "a complete remastering of the entire Robotech series, featuring new footage and new 5.1 audio tracks." Is this, at last, the definitive collection of Robotech on DVD?
Facts of the Case
In 1999, a massive alien battlecruiser crash-lands on Earth in the midst of a bloody global war. (No, I don't remember this happening, either, but I was too busy worrying about the Y2K bug to pay much attention to world affairs.) The possibility of an alien invasion prompts the nations of Earth to put aside their hostilities and band together in defense of the planet. The alien ship is retrofitted and dubbed the SDF-1, and staffed by gruff veteran Captain Gloval and a young, untested crew of cute teenaged girls. (Only in anime.) The SDF-1 is barely completed when the aliens, a warlike race of giants known as the Zentraedi, come to reclaim their ship, sparking an interstellar war that will span generations and threaten the very survival of humanity.
Much like the SDF-1 itself, Robotech is a retrofit of previous anime series. By now the story is a familiar one to anime fans, but in a nutshell, this 1980s series was cobbled together by producer Carl Macek and Harmony Gold out of three unrelated titles: Super Dimensional Fortress: Macross, Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. Macek edited the three series together into a single new storyline with English vocal performances and a new soundtrack, and thus was born the oddity that is Robotech, which occupies a curious role in the history of anime as a series that is at the same time Japanese and uniquely American.
The Legacy Collection in 2001 brought together the complete Robotech series on (officially sanctioned) DVD for the first time, throwing in supplemental discs packed with features (such as footage from the aborted Robotech: Sentinels sequel project) that most fans had never seen before. Unfortunately, the transfers were made from inferior materials, and the results were less than satisfying, featuring shoddy video and audio that wasn't much better. (The Complete Collection is just a repackaging of the Legacy Collection sans extras.)
Recently, however, anime distributor AnimEigo, with the cooperation of Harmony Gold, conducted a full restoration of the Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada series from the original 35mm film masters. Could a re-re-release of Robotech using these restored prints be far behind? In assembling this freshened-up Robotech, Harmony Gold went the extra step of remastering the audio tracks and adding newly-recorded sound effects. Also among the changes: "new" footage cut from the original broadcast of Robotech, new opening and closing credits, and new commercial bumpers.
This first volume of Robotech Remastered includes the first 12 episodes (from "Booby Trap" to "The Big Escape") of the first "Macross" section of the series, on two DVDs in individual keep cases. In these episodes we see the construction and unveiling of the new SDF-1 and the beginning of the Zentraedi invasion. We're also introduced to the main players of the story: hotshot flyboy Rick Hunter, his would-be girlfriend and burgeoning pop idol Lynn Minmei, and straightlaced commander Lisa Hayes, who form the central romantic triangle of Robotech's epic first act.
Few anime series have inspired as much clamor and turmoil amongst the fans as Robotech. There's the matter of its dubious heritage (if you want to infuriate any anime purist, just talk about Macross and the other two Japanese series as the "raw materials" of Robotech); the sometimes awkward seams between the three main storylines; and the very idea of Robotech being taken seriously as an anime series, given its origins. Whatever your feelings about Robotech, however, it was undeniably a landmark in the history of American television; most of the kids and adults who tuned into this "new" series had never seen anything like it before. Before Robotech, animated series on American TV were solely conventional kiddie fare like Hanna-Barbera shows and Looney Tunes. The idea of a dramatic animated series was virtually unheard of. For many kids, myself included, Robotech was the first exposure to Japanese animation, and created legions of lifelong anime fans.
Twenty years later, Robotech still holds up pretty well. I've rewatched the series with a friend who's never seen it, and surprisingly enough we've both enjoyed it equally. Part of the reason for the lasting appeal of Robotech is, of course, the original series, which featured some excellent character/mecha designs and dynamic action sequences. And then there's Carl Macek's makeover, which is fairly solid despite what one might expect from its rushed creation. The series could easily have been an incoherent jumble, but it actually holds together pretty well, despite some inevitable rough seams. The first, Macross-derived act fares best, with a sweeping, epic tone and a driving storyline with intense drama and charming comedy in equal measure.
Naturally, there are aspects of the show that are pretty dated and lend themselves to a bit of mockery. (The funniest line, for me, is when the narrator informs us that Minmei is the girl Rick Hunter would "someday like to call…his girlfriend." I'm not sure why, but that always cracks me up.) But for a decades-old series, Robotech offers some sophisticated stories and rousing action. The voice acting is top-notch, especially in the case of Aline Leslie's (Cowboy Bebop) sultry-voiced Lisa Hayes, but my personal favorite is Gregory Snegoff, who voices sneeringly evil Lord Khyron with a flawless James Mason impersonation that amuses me to no end.
While many fans were dismayed at the poor video/audio quality of the earlier Robotech DVD release, they may be even more upset with this new version. Let's get one thing out of the way: this is not Robotech as you remember it from the original broadcasts. In some ways it's far better, but ultimately it's not the same. If you're looking to preserve your nostalgia for the original experience, you'd be better off sticking with the Legacy Collection.
One thing that's undeniable is that the video quality is vastly improved from previous releases. Given the quality of the original elements, nothing short of a complete remake or frame-by-frame restoration is going to make Robotech look like a brand-new production. But the series looks almost as good here as it could possibly look. (I say "almost" because, unfortunately, ADV has chosen to pack six episodes onto each disc, and the resulting increased compression has slightly degraded the image compared to the remastered AnimEigo Macross set.) The print is remarkably clean and free of grain, for the most part showing only defects on the original materials themselves. Colors are vivid and bright, and details previously obscured are now visible (which in some cases isn't an improvement, as you can now clearly see references to "Misa Hayase" (Lisa Hayes) and other remnants of the original Macross series).
Audio quality is a somewhat dicier issue. Robotech Remastered features totally revamped 5.1 Surround sound, complete with new sound effects to jazz up battle sequences. Of all the new elements of this release, the sound will probably outrage purists most, since the new sound mix is, shall we say…peppy? To be more specific, the action scenes now feature bigger explosions and lots of whizzing and whooshing mecha, with an extremely active surround field that threatens to drown out the voices at times. Some will find it distracting, but it's certainly not as bad as some purists will no doubt claim. Voices are still clearly audible, and, in fact, the battles now sound much more immersive and dramatic with the enhanced effects. Do they sound like the original broadcasts? Not even close. But I found the original audio washed out and tinny, so as far as I'm concerned it's a vast improvement.
Another highly-touted aspect of this new version is the addition of footage that was cut from the original broadcast. If you're looking for tons of deleted scenes or a Lord of the Rings-style extended edition, don't bother—the additions here are subtle at best. For the most part, what has been added back in are "butts and guts" shots featuring Minmei's posterior and added bits of people being blown up. Aside from two memorable pieces of fan service—a Minmei shower scene and one where she adjusts her swimsuit bottom—it's not a huge change, but the added carnage during the battle scenes does lend those scenes a bit more gravity.
Disappointingly, this release is fairly short on extra features. An opportunity to put together a truly definitive Robotech set, with all the extras from the Legacy Collection, is not taken here—which leads one to dread the possibility of yet another re-release—so what we're left with is…a pack of trading cards. That's really it. No subtitles, even.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
No amount of remastering or sound mixing will completely obliterate the horror that is Lynn Minmei singing "Stage Fright" over and over and…over…during the course of this series. For the prospective viewer who has not yet been exposed to Minmei's singing, caveat emptor is all I can say.
Robotech Remastered is not the definitive Robotech. But then, nothing could ever be, as far as the fans are concerned. What it is, however, is a revamped, jazzed-up version of Robotech, and it's definitely work a look. Although I'm one of those who fondly remembers the original broadcast of the series, I have to admit that the previous DVD releases are not likely to draw in hordes of new viewers; they're simply too lacking in video and audio quality to look like more than 80s artifacts. This new version, though, looks and sounds fantastic and is the one I'd show to anyone curious about the show. The Legacy Collection is still there for those who insist on the old-school experience, but for those who don't mind a bit of revisionism, Robotech Remastered is Robotech the way it should be seen.
Robotech Remastered: Extended Edition Volume 1 is declared not guilty on all counts. But why are they using such primitive weapons?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: ADV Films
• Robotech Trading Cards
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