Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Full Invasion Part 2 - Robotech: The New Generation

Just look at this crew. Does it get any more rag tag?
In Part 1 of this blog I went in depth into The Masters saga of Robotech and how it falls flat in the overall scheme of the story. There is a reason not many people mention it when talking about this anime hybrid. Most folks are talking about The Macross Saga instead. But what about the third series - The New Generation?

One of the big advantages the third series has over the previous one is the fact that its narrative is much clearer. It focuses on getting Scott Bernard to Earth and then getting him and his team to Reflex Point to stop the Invid. This gives the whole series a forward thrust that The Masters series was lacking.

I feel that the characters in The New Generation are a bit better defined and more interesting overall. The fact that you have this group cobbled together with mismatched personalities creates natural drama. Scott's hard headed determination clashes with Rand's devil may care attitude. Rook is surly and aloof at first and it is really hard to like her. Lunk seems like a nice enough guy, but you get the feeling that he's hiding something. Annie is just a kid and she feels like a tag along. Then there is Lancer/Yellow Dancer who just seems like a complete outsider of the group.

Rook may have her gun ready to take on some Invid,
or Rand may have ticked her off again.
But The New Generation builds on all these characters. They all change to various degrees because of the adventures they face together and what they learn from each other. For example, Rook mellows a bit and starts to learn to trust the team. Her survival instinct is very strong, and as we learn more about her past we understand why. But we also see her bond with the rest of the team, especially Rand.  So when she considers leaving the group near the end of the series because of the increasing likelihood that they are all going to die, we are not surprised. But it says a lot about her that she stays to fight the final battle. I appreciated that almost everyone in the group had some kind of character arc that developed over the course of the series.

One of the places where The New Generation falters is in the details. Because this turns into a road trip type story, it hits on many over familiar tropes. It starts to feel a little too scripted in places where events and locales are set up just to have our characters interact with them. Thankfully the big events seem to impact our characters and they don't reset for the next episode (compared to something like Cowboy Bebop). But at the same time it feels a little bit stale the longer it goes on. Especially with the endless Invid pursuit that just keeps pushing the team forward. I can't help but feel that Robotech is cribbing from The Fugitive.

I really like the design of the crab-like Invid mecha.
But this mid series slog isn't unique to the New Generation, it happens in all three series. But one big missed opportunity is the use of resources in this series. It comes up a few times, but it never really seems to impact the action. Our heroes are using proto-culture powered mecha and vehicles. They are constantly firing missiles and energy weapons. But there are only a couple episodes dealing with them attempting to wrest the necessary resources from the occupied cities or the Invid.

By the tenth episode I just had to wonder why the heck they were still using the pistol and rifle energy weapons against the Invid. The aliens have very thick and resilient armor. The energy weapons do nothing to them. Only a shot directly into the single eye seems to have any effect. But many episodes have our heroes blazing away against the Invid with energy weapons for no reason I can figure out. I mean if it slowed them down or something I could see it, but they do nothing but waste precious resources the team needs. But the series never addresses this.

They are still making toys from the "New Generation"
for collectors. 
It is the constant stream of missiles that gets me. Scott has no problem launching wave after wave of missile against the Invid. I can't blame him since those are the only weapons that seem to do any damage to the creatures. But man, I can't imagine them trucking all those missile around in Lunk's truck.

I know I'm picking nits here, but I will admit that it did take me a bit out of the story, especially during those more routine road trip style episodes. But when we got good solid character episodes, I was able to forgive The New Generation its faults and enjoy the ride.

But lets take a look at the Invid themselves. I find them to be the least interesting of the antagonists in all three series of Robotech. Their leader is essentially a commanding female voice for about 80% of the series. The Regis spends most of the episodes telling her soldiers to find and kill Scott and his team. A few episodes hint at the Invid attempting to use proto-culture for some master plan, but it takes quite a while for that to be revealed. I do like the concept of the Invid creating all kinds of life forms to determine which one they will put their consciousness into. It creates a ticking clock for our heroes, because the Invid feel that once they find the perfect life form they will be unstoppable.

Her green blood confirms the truth, both for Ariel
and her companions.
Of course they decide that human life forms are the most adaptable they've encountered so far and that leads to the creation of Ariel/Marlene. So the drama of human meeting alien and falling in love is repeated. Is it any different from the Miriya/Max, Dana/Zor or even Bowie/Musica relationships from the previous series? Well a little bit. It mirrors the Dana/Zor relationship the most. But in many ways Ariel is a more interesting character. She is vulnerable and confused for a lot of the series. She seems very fragile and her companions want to help her. You understand why Rook looks after her, why Scott starts falling for her and why Lancer doesn't say anything when he begins to suspect that she isn't human. Zor always came across as aloof and stubborn. I never really feared for him or what the revelation that he was clone would do to him. But with Ariel, you know she won't be able to handle a revelation of her origin, or the fact that some of her companions may turn on her when they find out. There is more tension in her character's story and it plays really well into the finale of the series - because of course she finds out what she is and yes some of her friends can't deal with it.

Rand is a jolly guy, even if he is trying to survive
an apocalypse.
But Ariel is the exception to the rule. Mostly the Invid are a huge hulking menace, and yes they are very destructive and powerful. But they don't really do much more than chase our heroes around and cause some trouble. It seems like they are mostly around to provide an action scene each episode. A few episodes do use them effectively, especially when the two human/hybrid pilots arrive the on the scene. But I think some better planning of the scripts could have really helped build the Invid and their culture into something as fascinating as the Robotech Masters from the previous series.

In a lot of ways I think the writing team for Robotech had better source material to use in The New Generation than they did for The Masters. The focus on the mismatched characters and their interaction with this war torn world and its people made for some very memorable storylines and events. Even if the villains were a little lackluster, it didn't hurt the finale too much. But once again, I feel like we are missing the punch to the gut that landed so well with The Macross Saga. It is a bit like the too pat ending of Return of the Jedi in that way. None of our heroes die, no one is even really hurt. The earth goes back to its old self and everyone rocks out to Yellow Dancer Live and in Concert. Even the Invid survive to fly off into the cosmos to find a new world to torment. It is celebratory but it feels like the costs to get there weren't all that high, or at least not as high as I would have imagined.

"Are you really ready to Robotech Rock?"
I'm picking a bit on Robotech because of my adult tastes. I fully realize that a kid back in 1985 isn't going to really care too much about same old road trip plot lines, bland enemies or endless ammo. I sure didn't. But I'm not sure I can recommend Robotech to a new viewer in this day an age. Anime and science fiction shows in general have gotten more sophisticated and better plotted out (for the most part). The messiness of The Masters Saga and The New Generation will cause viewers to lose interest.

What it all boils down to is that Robotech was a great series for its time. It was an interesting experiment that really clicked with a lot of young viewers back in the day. But I think the nostalgia goggles can blind some old time fans to the faults of the show. But the truth is pretty plain: The Macross Saga is the best of the series and that is why everyone always talks about it.

But if someone wants to reboot the series, I think there is a lot of room to build something bigger, more impactful and intense. The Robotech concept has a lot of potential to it, and maybe we'll see something that give us a sprawling generational adventure that was inspired by this unique animated saga.

They aren't panicking because of Invid. They just
realized Annie has a loaded plasma cannon
in the cockpit with them!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

And Then This Happened... Robotech

When you're on the run from alien invaders and road rambles on in front of you, tempers flare. All the rest stops have been obliterated by particle beam weapons, so you can't find a good clean bathroom. All the food trucks have been ransacked by mutated coyotes and then your attempt at playing "slug bug" with your companions ends with Lunk yelling at Annie for "crossing the line and touching him!"Its enough for you to pull this Cyclone over and sit down for a good sulk. Anyway, what captions can you come up with for this little moment from Robotech: The New Generation?

And then this happened...

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Full Invasion Part 1 - Robotech: The Masters

Dana and her tank were the largest toy
released for the Robotech series in the 80s.
They say you can't go home again. Not sure who "they" are, or why they said it in the first place. But the sentiment often applies to nostalgia. All too often we have fond memories of a film, television series, or bit of music. But when you go back and actually revisit these things, well the experience is not the same. It can even sour the fondness you may have for the thing.

I know this, and yet it never seems to stop me.

Back in 1985 I experienced Robotech, a series that destroyed my conventional expectations of what a cartoon could be. I blogged a bit about the series and it's initial impact on me. But I also mentioned that I was never able to see the entire run of the show straight through. That changed when Netflix download made the entire series available to viewing.

One of the things I notice is that whenever I see anyone mention Robotech they usually talk about the following: Veritech Fighters, the SDF -1, the love triangle between Rick, Minmei and Lisa, the Zentraedi, Max and Miriya's relationship and the impressive action scenes in the series. Except for that last bit, nearly all the conversation revolves around The Macross saga.

After watching the full show, I understand why.

Cool bit of fan art for a DVD
collection of the original series.
In Japan, the Macross series became a franchise by itself. It had movies, Original Animated Video (OAV) series and radio drama spin offs. I already reviewed Macross Plus, but that is just one example. The other two series that comprised Robotech didn't have the same kind of fame. In fact Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross was cut short with a rushed ending because it wasn't as popular as Macross.

I don't want to say that The Macross Saga is perfect. It slogs a bit in the middle and some of the soapier aspects of the series start to weigh down the story. But it still has a very clear narrative line. It has well developed and interesting characters who have clear motivations. It has antagonists that start out rather two dimensional, but evolve over the course of the series. It feels like it has real stakes tied to it. The drama is there. The action is impressive and overall it delivered a well told story with memorable characters.

But the following two storylines of Robotech are missing key elements. They end up falling well short at times. This is only compounded by the narrative problems of trying to tie the three very different series into one cohesive whole.

So many clones. So little time.
The Masters Saga is the most frustrating for me. I see so much potential for great storytelling in this series. But it never comes together in a way that works. The best part of the second series are the antagonists. The Robotech Masters are a really intriguing concept. I love that they are desperate people. It gives them a drive that continues to push them forward even when it becomes obvious that they are only making things worse with constant war against the defenders of earth. You really get the feeling that they have been fighting for so long that they really have no other concept of how to approach their goals.

There are hints that several of the people in charge on earth would be willing to help the Robotech Masters if they just ceased hostilities and asked for help. But the Masters refuse to even consider it. Their interaction with the Invid have soured their view on all other species. It is hinted that this acceptance of war is tied into the fact that they are essentially clones, and their hive mentality keeps them from seeing other options. The cloning aspect and civilization built on trios is also fascinating, and something that was fleshed out early in the series. Unfortunately the rushed ending doesn't give us a substantial payoff for these antagonists.

Resistance is futile!
To me, the Robotech Masters are the most interesting antagonists in the series. What we see of their civilization and reasoning was always engaging and I wanted to learn more. The Zentraedi were very good antagonists too, but they were a bit one note with the exception of a few personalities such as Miriya. The Invid of the third series end up being pretty flat with the only 2D characterization coming from tropes that seemed to be templates from the previous two series (even though it is probably safe to say that Zor's amnesia alien trope was borrowed from Ariel's amnesia alien character. Remember in Japan Mospeada came out before Southern Cross).
Bowie and Musica facing a group of clone soldiers.

As I mentioned in my nostalgic musings, I appreciate now that the lead hero in The Masters Saga was a female tank commander. It was also cool that there was a young black man as the other main protagonist. Of all the heroic leads they are most interesting. Bowie's journey is very real. He starts out as rudderless in this war torn world. He loves playing the piano and writing music, but joins the army so he can please his godfather (who is his adopted father) and his best friend. But he has no stomach for fighting, and doesn't seem too good at it. As the series progresses we see him regretting his actions and becoming his own person. By the end of the series he has pretty much rebelled against the army, and even against Dana to an extent. He doesn't' want to fight people who he feels are very smilier to humans and just want to live in peace. We don't get to spend as much time as I we could have with Bowie, but I found his character to have the most interesting arc.

No, we get to spend more time with Dana and Zor. I think this was supposed to mirror the Max and Miriya relationship from the Macross Saga, but it feels like a stale retread of sorts. Dana comes across like a school girl infatuated with Zor.  His memory loss makes him a less appealing character compared to the fiery Miriya and the cool, confident, but genuine Max. Zor's big secret isn't really too much a secret - he's a clone created by the Robotech Masters. This is pretty much given away within the first few episodes of the series. So the whole time you are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and when it finally does it doesn't deliver a gut punch but more of a ho-hum.

Dana doesn't like me talking smack about her.
Part of the problem is the portrayal of Dana. I'm not sure what the creators were going for, but she comes across as too mercurial and too hot tempered to be a value on the battlefield. I don't care how great she is behind the controls of her tank, she often gives orders based on a whim instead of warrior instinct. She gets angry over petty things. She fusses about frivolities in the middle of war. It's like they took the school girl trope and the warrior women trope and tried to slap them together to make a very bizarre and nonsensical character. But the bottom line is, she isn't all that appealing. And the voice actress in English is actually kind of grating.

I think a real great character could be made with Dana Sterling. Here is a young woman who has famous parents. Her father was THE ace pilot of the SDF-1 and saved countless lives on a number of occasions. Her mother is a Zentraedi ace pilot who killed many humans before joining in the fight against her own people. The relationship must have loomed like a large shadow over Dana as a kid and would surely influence her as she pursued her own path in the military.

Nova and Marie wonder if Dana can really pull off
that outfit.
Speaking of that, Dana grew up on an Earth deviated by war. Even when the Zentraedi were defeated, there was expectation that the Robotech Masters would eventually come. So the people of earth have been waiting for the attack. Dana's joined a military that is in a constant state of alert. I can imagine she didn't have a lot of time to just be a girl. I can see the appeal of wanting to just do normal things like date boys, wear dresses and just have fun - without all the expectations of a famous family and constant war looming. Basically Dana Sterling could have been the Buffy Summers of Robotech.

But the writers of the series were locked into whatever the animation provided. Unfortunately Southern Cross provided a very confusing lead character. In the first portion of the series Dana gets tossed in the brig for behaving like an ass a couple of times. And while she does end up getting respect from those around her (especially Marie and Nova) by the end of the series, it just doesn't ring true. I also think the animators felt that if they had to have the lead character be a woman than we needed to have many gratuitous shower scenes. Seriously, Dana must have felt that she was always covered with tank dust or something.

Yeah Nova is Lawful Good to the extreme!
I will say that The Masters Saga doesn't lack for strong female characters. Not only was the top tank commander a woman, but the top fighter pilot was Marie Crystal. She has a major chip on her shoulder, but they manage to give her some interesting subplots. She kind of vanishes about half way through the series, and I think she is a victim of the shortened series. Nova Satori is the head of security for the Robotech forces. She is very strict in her approach to the law. This causes her to butt heads with Dana quite a bit. She is acts as a foil for Dana for the bulk of the series (and so is Marie to be honest). But they actually have Nova play a bit more into the plot near the end of the The Masters Saga.

The Bioroids have the ability to cause massive devistation.
The final element that bothers me about the second series of Robotech is the overall story arc. Again, this is something that could have worked really well if the creative team wasn't tied to the source material. Much of the series feels like a see-saw of attacks and counter attacks that don't achieve very much at all. So for a lot of the episodes this season you feel like the narrative isn't really going anywhere, at least from the war storyline. This causes you to focus more on the character arcs and when so much time is spent with Dana and Zor, that just doesn't pull you in much either. This gives the series a overall feeling of driving your mecha-tank in circles with no destination.

I don't think that was the intention. I think they didn't want one side getting an upper hand, and I can appreciate that. Both the Macross and the New Generation feature humanity going up against a much more powerful enemy and in a constant state of struggle. It created natural drama. But here with both sides so equally matched, you get bored feeling that neither side can win. This is why the desperation of the Robotech Masters adds such weight to the overall feel of the show. But it happens behind the scenes and never seems to impact the actual war until the end.

One of the three modes for the battle tanks used by
the Southern Cross brigade.
If the creative team behind Robotech had a little more room to maneuver they could have turned this into a theme - the costs of war. We would be able to see how far the Robotech Masters are going to keep humanity from seeing how weak they really are. We could see how each failed invasion costs them more resources, more clones, and increases the likelihood that the Invid will find and destroy all of them. Elements of this appears in the show and when it does, it is the most effective part of The Masters Saga.

What is missing is the cost to humanity. The Macross Saga did a much better job showing how much damage and loss of life the Zentraedi caused to humanity. But we don't see that in The Masters Saga. All our protagonists survive unscathed. We hear and see some aftermath of the war, but nothing comes home like the attacks agains Macross city in the first series. We don't hear Earth defense forces talking about any costs to personal, supplies or technology. You just have the firebrand leader behaving like a jerk and yelling that they can never be defeated. But in the end, he kinda turns out to be right. I'm not sure if some material was edited out, or if it just wasn't there to begin with. But the cost of the war to humanity just doesn't seem to be that high. Especially when you see the massive destruction and backsliding of civilization in the New Generation saga. It just doesn't seem to line up.

Staring contest... and GO!
If we could have seen more of that personal cost to humanity. Seen more of the devastation that the Masters were unleashing. Realized that both sides were on the ropes, but putting on a powerful face for the benefit of the other. Dana could have been part of this plan and thought it was a good one, or she could have seen it for the farce it was. Either way could have been an interesting character arc and given her an additional level that would make her a more engaging character.

Sadly this doesn't happen. When the Masters Saga ends you don't feel like you got a proper climax to the plot. It just feel like the filler in the middle to get to the third act. This is actually intensified in the New Generation when you don't get any mention of Dana or Bowie or the Southern Cross brigade at all! You hear about the devastation of the war against the Robotech Masters, but it feels like the events you just spent so many episodes watching didn't impact the story much at all. In fact you get more name dropping of Rick Hunter and the SDF-1 in the New Generation than anything from the Masters Saga. It could be because the middle series just wasn't too popular and they wanted to remind viewers (kids) why they liked this show so much the in the first place.

It is frustrating that so much potential was in place for the Masters Saga of Robotech, but it just never really comes to fruition. Luckily things get a little better with the New Generation, but it isn't without its problems.

Dana gets ready to rock a rhapsody of Robotech.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Nostalgia Nugget - Talking 'bout My Generation

Love the colors and sweep of this fan art for
Robotech: The Macross Saga.
I’ve always been an animation fan. Animation allows the creators full freedom with they’re imagination, bringing almost anything to life. When animation is used to maximum effect it can present fantastic worlds and truly bring dynamic visuals to the screen without having to worry about budget limits for special effects. One of the places where this is most apparent is in Japanese animation or anime. Unfortunately much of the recent stock of anime has been suffering the same issues we see in Hollywood entertainment – a fear of moving beyond what is established as a money earner. This has lead to endless sequels and pale imitations of older series and movies.

I won't say that there isn't anything new or exciting going on in anime these days, mostly because I'm not following it with the same passion I had for the medium back in the mid 1990s and early 2000s. But one of the reasons I stopped following it was because it was starting to feel a bit stale. I have a lot of fond memories of being a huge anime fan and I’ve written about work like Ghost in the Shell and Millennium Actress. But what got me into anime in the first place? That seed got planted quite a long time ago, back in the mid 1980s with a little show called Robotech.

Let me set the stage a bit for you. It was the Reagan era of cartoons. There was plenty of concern about too much violence in cartoons impacting kids. So there was an effort to tone down violence and have clear consequences for doing bad deeds. In some ways it was like the Hayes Code but for children's entertainment. At the time I wasn't aware of such things, but it was obviously impacting a lot of the kids animation of the early 80s.

Probably about as violent as it got.
Stuff like Care BearsSmurfs and evan the goofy Pac-man cartoon didn't have your typical Looney Tunes level of violence. In fact all you really had were characters shoving each other or making threats to shove them. Even when George Lucas decided to bring his Star Wars universe to the small screen the scripts to the Droids animated series was severely edited because it was too Star Warsy with people getting shot at by blasters and injured.

But I'm a bit off topic here. This was the landscape of cartoons that I experienced up to that point. Oh sure I watched Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo as well as The Superfriends which all had various levels of violence, but also had a very light feel to them overall. Besides they were from older decades. And like any kid I was looking for something that I could call my own.

By 1985 some of the draconian oversight had mellowed and shows like Transformers, He-man and the Masters of the Universe were bringing some action, fantasy and sci-fi to the small screens after school. But most of those shows were simple one-off stories. Characters reset at the end of the episode and things started over again in the next episode.

Skull Leader blazing away at enemies.
I think this was the main reason Robotech blew me away. Within the first couple episodes the Zentraedi attack and the devastation is real. Buildings aren't reset in the next episode, they are in ruins. Fighters were destroyed with pilots inside, unlike G.I. Joe where everyone seemed to eject from cockpits at the last possible moment. There were consequences in Robotech.

I was also not used to actual romance building across episodes. Rick and Minmei's romantic antics were a big part of the show. At the time, my grandmother lived with us and I swear she was just as into Robotech as I was. She was also a big General Hospital fan, so the soapier aspects of this anime series appealed to her, especially when the love triangle between Rick, Minmei and Lisa started to develop.

Roy: The man, the myth, the hair!
The only trouble with this serial story format was that I ended up missing episodes. Sometimes I had too much homework and didn't finish it in time to watch an episode. Other times a friend came over to play and he wasn't a fan, so I missed quite a few episodes that way. My favorite character was the lead pilot for the Skull squadron, Roy Fokker. I missed a few episodes and when I come back he was no where to be seen. I asked a friend at school who was also watching the show and he says, "Oh yeah, Roy died. I think that green haired girl killed him."

That blew my mind.

Sure the nameless characters had been getting killed, but no one with lines. No one who had actual backstory. No one who was in a relationship (and yeah it was bizarre to me at the time to see an animated show featuring an interracial couple so prominently). And Roy had just died, and Rick Hunter took over Skull Squadron. And then Rick's buddy Ben dies. I could understand how Rick felt, because I was just as dumbfounded and disturbed by his death as well.
Wait a minute? Who the hell is this? You're tearing me
apart Robotech!

Yeah, the cartoon character was changing because of his actions and the world around him. This never happened in Inspector Gadget. In some ways, I think this kind of soured me on the show after that. I wasn't a big fan of Rick in the first place and he was getting all mopey. Much to my grandmother's annoyance I stopped tuning in regularly for Robotech.

It was part of my regular after school viewing block. I believe Star Trek followed it, and my grandmother loved Star Trek, so we never missed an episode of that show. That meant we'd catch the odd episode of Robotech. It got even stranger. Suddenly the episode had a new intro with new faces, robots and vehicles racing across the screen to the same opening title music. There was this blonde woman riding around on a tank and point a gun at me. What was going on? Well, I missed the first few episodes of The Masters saga, so it took me a little bit to realize that Dana was Max and Miriya's kid! I was a bit intrigued by that turn of events, but was still pretty lost trying to pick up the story threads in the middle. 

Didn't see this too often in any show in 1985.
But I want to point out something that I don't think Robotech (and its source anime series) gets enough credit for. It was a surprise to be watching an animated series where the main character was a woman who was tough, resourceful and brave to a fault. She was the leader of the brigade and by the end of the series had the full respect of her men. You just didn't see that back in 1985. You also did see a black character in such a prominent role as Bowie in this series. It was a real surprise to me back then. I think that says much about the times as it does the innovative approach to animation that was being taken in Japan. These series had a global feel to them, and it worked with the planetary invasion plot line. But it also gave kids watching a good message about everyone working together, no matter what race or gender you were. Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that Robotech was on right before Star Trek in my neck of the woods.

Competing with Jem for most awesome 80s act,
One day Robotech comes on and the opening credits were different again! They changed for each new storyline. Suddenly I'm seeing a new group of characters riding these bad ass looking motorcycles that turn into body armor. The earth is completely devastated and as the main characters travel through it, the people they meet are desperate and dangerous. I'd never seen anything like this in any animated series. I was actually pulled into this storyline a bit more, and caught quite a few episodes of it. I thought Annie was a cutie and really was surprised to find out that Yellow Dancer and Lancer were the same. I can't confirm or deny if it was a Crying Game moment. But yeah it kinda was.

I do remember seeing the last episode of Robotech and being a bit confused (because I had probably missed most of the key episodes featuring Ariel who plays an important part in the ending). But the action was intense and there was a real feeling of closure to the episode. It had this kind of bittersweet triumph - yeah the Invid were repulsed, but the Earth was in bad shape. Could humanity ever come back? 
Max should have been my hero. He wore
glasses like me, but didn't die first and got a hot
alien wife. Talk about inspiring!

I assumed the series was just going to continue. But the next day it started over again with The Macross Saga. Instead of being excited to watch the whole thing again and maybe catch some episodes I missed, I skipped it. 

Skipped it, but never forgot it. 

In some ways I think it became something more mysterious because I never did see the whole thing. My mind would drift back to it and I would remember the intensity of the action, the ways the characters changed over the course of the story and the depth that the world seemed to have. It was this shining beacon of originality in my memories.

A little over a decade later I got into Japanese anime for many of the same reasons. Here was animation that was not afraid. They could tell any kind of story. They let their imaginations run wild. Anime was storytelling in a way I had never really imagined.

Dana rushing to get to the tanks and start defending earth.
Except that I had experienced it (in a way) before. I started to run into other people my age, and we all had the same story. We remembered Robotech and it was our gateway drug into this "new" medium. The internet was just really taking off and I was connecting with all these people across the country that were fans. Some of the older fans had other gateway shows: Speed Racer, Astroboy and Starblazers. But my anime generation was the Robotech generation of anime fans. After us would be the Sailor Moon generation, the Pokemon generation and of course the Toonami generation. 

For a while, when anime fandom was still a unique thing, this was a badge you wore. It helped connect you with other fans. But these days anime has become ubiquitous. It is everywhere you look, and no one really thinks twice about it. Hell, I don't have to explain what anime is to most people, unlike the 1990s when you got strange looks for watching foreign cartoons. I don't hear too much talk about the anime generations any more, and I think that is probably a good thing. I'm sure I show my age too much anyway blogging at length about Robotech.

So it is easy to say that Robotech was the perfect show at the perfect time for a lot of sci-fi/adventure fans out there. Almost everyone I know who managed to get pulled into it back in 1985 has fond memories of the show and talking about (or playing) it with their friends. 
Great bit of fan art showcasing the Macross Saga.

When I saw it appear on Netflix download, I added it to the cue immediately. But I waited. I was afraid to take the journey again. Would it be as I remembered/imagined it? Probably not. But I was curious.

The first episode started and that great opening title music kicked in and it was 1985 all over again. Wow, talk about a nostalgia trip. I watched all of The Macross Saga, and then took a break to catch up with some other shows. When I went back, Netflix had dropped the show. I was sad, because I was really curious to see how The Masters Saga played out.

Nearly five years later it came back to Netflix download, and I didn't waste time. I finished the series. I may be part of the Robotech generation, but in 2017 I finally watched the complete series. Better later than never.

Revised 2/2/2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Anime Archive - Robotech


There is a certain generation of anime fans that were pulled into Japanese animation by a show called Robotech. The series has recently returned to Netflix download and I gave it a full viewing. This inspired me to write a few posts about it. As happened in the case of Urusei Yatsura and Lupin III I realized I was spending a bunch of time on history, plot and characters of the series instead of what I wanted to say specifically. So that means it is time for another anime primer.

Robotech is a strange case, because it is actually three different anime series that were edited together, rescripted and dubbed to create a unified story. Why take three perfectly good shows and smash them together? At the time (1985) you needed to have at least 65 half hour episodes for your show to get syndicated. So the company behind this, Harmony Gold, found three anime series from Tatsunoko productions that had a similar look and feel to them for the project.

The SDF - 1 flying into adventure.
The first was the 1982 series called Super Dimension Fortress Macross which focused on an alien invasion of earth and the mecha pilots of transforming fighter planes who attempt to stop it, with some help from a pop idol of course. The series was a big success in Japan and created its own spin offs including the very entertaining Macross Plus which features one of my favorite homicidal virtual idols - Sharon Apple. But I digress.

The middle series came from Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross made in 1984. This series deals with human colony on a distant world dealing with an incursion by aliens who use clones to further their technology. Our heroes pilot transforming tanks and find themselves battling aliens who seem obsessed with obtaining a bioluminescent flower.

The third series used to make Robotech is Genesis Climber Mospeada (and no I'm not making these names up). This one takes place on a post apocalyptic earth. Alien beings have invaded the planet and enslaved humans. The human colony on Mars tries to help, but only one soldier makes to Earth. He gathers a rag tag group (is there any other kind of group in a post-apcolyptic story) to find out why the aliens are on Earth and the best way to stop them. You've got transforming planes in this one, but the real highlight are the motorcycles that transform into cool body armor.

When Dana has her helmet on,
she is all business.
Harmony Gold took these three series and turned them into a single saga spanning three generations. This required some editing of the actual episodes. For example the planet in Southern Cross has two moons and scenes showing those moons had to be snipped or modified to make it appear that the action was happening on earth. Carl Macek, a founder of one of the first American anime distributors back in the 80s, worked on the overall script and concept for Robotech. This makes him loved by fans of the series and grumbled at by anime purists.

In many ways this was an innovative undertaking. I can't think of any animated series at the time (in North America at least) that had one continuous story that spanned 85 episodes. And yeah, if you missed an episode or two (especially of the first series) you would end up pretty lost.

Robotech aired in March of 1985 and for most of us who grew up with the series, it was like nothing we had ever seen before.

The Story

The first series of  Robotech is called The Macross Saga and sticks pretty close to its source material. An alien ship crashes into earth near Macross island. Humanity researches the vessel and discovers an amazingly advanced technology called Robotech inside. They also discover that the aliens who piloted this vessel her war-like giants called the Zentraedi.

Fearing that the Zentraedi will come looking for the downed vessel, humanity bands together to create new weapons to defend earth combining this alien technology with human ingenuity. The result are amazing transforming fighter jets and mecha war machines. But the crowning achievement is to refit the downed alien vessel into the SDF - 1, a massive space going battle fortress that also transforms and has an enormous cannon that can cause massive destruction.

All too soon the Zentraedi arrive and begin to wage war with earth. As the story progresses we discover they are looking for something called proto-culture. Turns out the Zentraedi are a warrior race being used by beings called the Robotech Masters who are after proto-culture for their own purposes.

Human resistance is spearheaded by the brave crew of the SDF -1 and brash mecha pilot Rick Hunter. But surprisingly the best weapon is actually pop singer Lynn Minmei. Her music has charms to sooth the savage Zentraedi. But just when he battle seems to be turning in earth's favor some extremely passionate Zentraedi unleash a final attack on earth. Many sacrifices are made and much of the earth is laid waste, but the Zentraedi are defeated. The series ends with Rick Hunter leaving earth with the surviving SDF -1 crew to find out more about the Robotech Masters and proto-culture.

Series two picks up with the next generation of heroes and is known as The Masters Saga. Humanity is attempting to survive on the rocky harsh world the earth has become. They also have developed Robotechnology with proto-culture to create new and more powerful weapons. This include amazing transforming tanks and hover bikes.

Once again earth is invaded by a massive fleet of warships. This time it is the Robotech Masters who have arrived looking for proto-culture. Turns out they are running low on their sources, and need it to keep their civilization from dying. They are desperate especially since they are being pursued by an infamous group of aliens called the Invid, who are out to wipe out all other users of proto-culture.

The Masters come in with guns blazing and humanity answers in kind. Soon all out war erupts between the two factions. Earth forces have Dana Sterling on their side. She's an fearless and brave commander of the Southern Cross brigade, but she is also reckless and hot tempered. This gets her and her crew into all kinds of trouble outside of the battle field.

The two forces get closer and closer to destroying each other, when a mysterious Flower of Life is found on earth. It opens up and dispenses proto-culture all across the earth. The Masters know this is the end of them, because that will cause the Invid to attack earth. The Masters are defeated, but humanity is so weakened from the endless war, that they are easy pickings for the new alien threat.

Sure enough the Invid arrive in the third series called The New Generation. The weakened Robotech forces are no match for the powerful Invid, and soon enough humanity on earth is enslaved. But a colony on Mars still exists, and Rick Hunter returns from his galactic tour with fresh weapons and equipment. They launch an all out attack on the Invid on earth.

And it fails pretty spectacularly, but one heroic soldier Scott Bernard makes it to earth with a clear objective, find and destroy the home base of the Invid on earth, called Reflex Point. Scott starts on his mission and brings with him a group of misfits with various skills that come in very handy. Nearly all of them can pilot transforming mecha too, so that helps.

Along the way to Reflex Point they have all kinds of adventures and mishaps. This post-apocalyptic world is dangerous enough, but the Invid pursuit is relentless. It also becomes obvious that the Invid are using proto-culture for some unique purpose - to further their evolution into an ultimate life form. Can Scott and his team stop the Invid before they become unbeatable and all hope for humanity is lost?


With a series this sprawling it would be silly of me to cover all the characters. I'm going to focus on the key ones for each series and ones that were pretty innovative for 80s television marketed to kids.

The Macross Saga

Rick Hunter
Your typical young rash hero, Rick started out as a skilled pilot who ended up behind the controls of a mecha fighter by accident. He took to it quickly and rises up the ranks of the Robotech forces. Rick actually evolves as a character, starting out brash and impatient. As the series continues the war's devastating impact on the lives of those around him causes him to grow up a bit. While he isn't the greatest pilot in the fleet (Max Sterling takes that prize) Rick is the natural leader. His heroics and planning help save many lives by the end of the story. Rick is also the center of a love triangle with Minmei and Lisa. Can't have an epic without one of those, right?

Lynn Minmei
Cute as a button but always managing to get into some kind of trouble Lynn Minmei wins Rick's heart early in the show. She also has some singing talent, and quickly becomes a pop idol for all of Macross and the crew of the SDF - 1. Minmei's popularity starts to create some problems for her relationship with Rick and things get more complicated when Rick realizes that he is falling for Lisa. Through it all Minmei feels herself trapped between what she wants and what life as a pop star demand. This becomes critical when it turns out there Minmei's songs have an unforeseen impact on the alien invaders - who have never experienced emotion expressed through song before. Is Minmei the secret weapon Earth needs?

Lisa Hayes
Lisa is the voice of the bridge crew of the SDF -1, relaying critical information from the bridge to the forces supporting the SDF -1. She is no-nonsense, loyal to her duty, a strategic thinker and determined to ensure the safety of earth. She takes everything pretty darn seriously, so when hot head Rick Hunter shows up they take an immediate dislike to each other. But things change a bit when the two are captured by the alien invaders and spend some time together. At one point they use a kiss to distract the aliens (the aliens have never seen kissing before and it horrifies them). Well this seems to kindle some kind of chemistry between the two, because they start to fall for each other. But Rick seems enamored with Minmei, so Lisa shifts her focus on her career in the military instead... at least she keeps telling herself that.

Captain Gloval
Global is the stoic but brave commander of the SDF - 1. His iron will leads the Robotech forces in many victories, but also sees them through some of the darkest times Earth faces. He is the kind of commander you want at the head of a super powerful battle fortress. He uses tactics and daring to pull off some very dangerous missions. But for each victory, humans lose more and more lives. He begins to look for a way to stop the war before everything goes out of control. Gloval ends up being a mentor to several of the characters in this series. During the climactic battle for the fate of earth Gloval makes the ultimate sacrifice to save as much of earth as he can.

The invading aliens have some pretty interesting characters on their side to. But the fan favorite has to be Miriya, the piloting ace working for the Zentraedi. Once she appears on the scene she starts to outmaneuver the Robotech forces tactically and in the air. No pilot stands a chance facing her down, and she takes pride in it. Until the Robotech ace Max Sterling shows up one day and nearly kills her. This causes Miriya to obsess over this human who defeated her. She eventually is shrunk to human size and infiltrates Macross city to find Max. It doesn't take long for hate to turn into love and the two fall head over heels for each other. They actually marry and this causes both civilizations to stop and wonder if they are so different after all. Miriya takes to the skies along side her husband against her own people as the war moves into its final stages.

The Masters Saga

Dana Sterling
The daughter of Max Sterling and Miriya, Dana is half Zentraedi, and seems to have retained the battle hungry nature of her mother. Instead of piloting flying mecha, Dana is the leader of a tank brigade, the Southern Cross. They defend the war scarred earth from any further invasions. Wouldn't you know it, the Zentraedi's bosses show up in huge warships and attack. So Dana and her team are thrown into the fray. Dana is brash, impulsive and has no problem telling you exactly what is on her mind. She can come across as flaky at times, but when she's at the controls of her tank she is nearly unstoppable. She is also fearless, and will stop at nothing to ensure earth doesn't fall to The Robotech Masters and their army of bioroids.

Bowie Grant
The youngest member of the Southern Cross team, Bowie is a musician at heart. He joined the army because his godfather expected him to. But also because he grew up with Dana and as her best friend he figured he might as follow her lead. Probably not the best reason to do anything and as the series progresses Bowie starts to regret his decision. He's not a fighter and the pressure gets worse as the war rages on. He eventually encountered a lovely alien musician aboard one of the Robotech Masters' ship and realizes that these invaders may not be as different as everyone thinks. Can this connection with music ease tensions in the war, as it did in the previous generations?

A mysterious man found on the battlefield with severe memory loss. What memories he does have point to him being at the site of an attack by the Robotech Masters. But it becomes clear that he is a manufactured being that somehow escaped from the Masters. The Robotech forces feel he could be the key to discover a weakness to the new threat. They allow him to join Dana's brigade and his skills as a warrior and pilot are impressive. Dana also thinks he's hot, so there is that. But the rest of the brigades doesn't trust Zor and it is soon revealed that he may be a puppet to the Robotech Masters who are just waiting for the right moment to reactivate Zor for their own purposes.

The Masters
This alien race pioneered Robotechnology and the use of proto-culture to power their technology and civilization. But as they used up all their resources they started to spread into the universe searching for new sources. This lead them into direct conflict with The Invid who also use proto-culture and are determined to destroy everyone who would take it from them. The Masters found themselves outmatched and fled after nearly being destroyed by the Invid. This leads them to earth in the hope they can obtain enough proto-culture to face and destroy the Invid once and for all. But these stupid humans keep getting in the way, first destroying their Zentraedi army and now refusing to be beat down in the second war. The Masters clone themselves in trios and their whole civilization seems focused on maintaining order through threes. They don't put stock in emotions and see it as a taint that starts to infect their clones the further the war rages. The Masters are desperate to win and this could end up costing both civilizations dearly in the end.

The New Generation

Scott Bernard
A member of the forces under Admiral Rick Hunter that returned to earth to set it free from The Invid. Scott is a fearless pilot and natural leader. But his single mindedness often leads him to conflict with others on his team. Since Scott was born and raised in space and under the military command, he is often at a loss when it comes to dealing with people on earth who experienced constant invasions, war and two doses of apocalypse. Scott is a excellent pilot of the flying mecha as well as the transforming motorcycles called Cyclones. He can be hard to get along with, but he loosens up as the series progresses and he comes to realize how hard life on Earth has become and how battered its people are.

Lancer (aka Yellow Dancer)
Originally part of the military forces that attempted to wrest the earth from the grip of the Invid,  Lancer was the only surviver of a massive attack, and to escape undetected he dressed as a woman. He leveraged this female identity and turned it into a popular idol singer, Yellow Dancer. She has a growing fan base across the war torn earth. Few people know that Yellow Dancer is a) a man and b) a freedom fighter. Lancer joins Scott in his attempt to liberate the earth, and can often get them access to areas as Yellow Dancer. Lancer is a hell of a fighter in both types of mecha as well. He also finds himself drawn to one of the Invid mutations named Sera. Will their connection be a key to stopping the war?

Annie (aka Mint)
A kid who has grown up under Invid attack and occupation. She's a big fan of peppermint candy and seems obsessed with finding a cute guy to marry. Annie is a bit silly but is braver than most of the adults they run into. She want to see Earth freed and finds comfort with her new friends, who treat her a bit like the team mascot. But Annie is constant reminder of what is at stake in this war. When she first shows up in the series, you pretty much sigh and roll your eyes. But as we get to know more about her life and see how much the team means to her, she really becomes a character that you connect with. She also has red hair, is an orphan and has a hat that says E.T. on it, so that makes her so 80s it hurts.

Ariel (aka Marlene)
Like the Zentraedi and Masters before them, the Invid are disturbed but intrigued by humans. They feel the best way to understand them is to make one of their own. The Invid are masters of physical mutation and are able to warp their very being into new forms. The first experiment is Ariel, an Invid that has a human female form. She was supposed to collect data and bring it back to the main Invid force, but some twists of fate caused her end up with Scott and his team. She can't remember her name, so they dub her Marlene after Scott's old fiancé. This is just asking for romance to happen, and so Scott starts to fall for Marlene, not knowing she isn't human. But Marlene doesn't know she's Invid and things start to spiral out of control as the series nears the conclusion. Marlene is a demonstration of the Invid's power as well as their desire to perfect their bodies into a ultimate life form. But is love between a human and Invid even be possible?

They are still making detailed
models of the mecha for
current fans.
This show started out as a way to sell some very cool transforming robot toys to kids, essentially a way to jump on the Transformers and G.I. Joe bandwagon. But by creating this sprawling epic it did something else. It introduced the concept of a long running science fiction story to a bunch of kids who had never seen anything like it before. These kids would grow up looking to Japanese animation to continue that tradition. Beyond that there are a lot of Robotech fans who are now creating their own work and let that inspiration peek through. It isn't any wonder why there is a group of anime fandom who considers themselves part of The Robotech Generation.