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!


  1. Appreciating something in the context of its time takes... well... time. Young people more than once objected to me when
    I tried to share some classic scifi, "Oh that looks so fake!" It must be for them like the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials from the 30s that still played on Saturday TV when I was a kid. I and my friends laughed at the effects. Yet, we watched them anyway.

    1. Yeah I fully admit to doing the same back in my high school days. There are certainly some media that really can't transcend its time. But somewhere along the line we see enough changes in the scope of our life that we realize that some of that "cool" stuff from our past is now very dated and silly.

      But then those nostalgia goggles come on and you love it anyway.

  2. Yeah, I never got far enough into the three sagas to know how they rated. Good to know. I'm sure if I were a kid some of the more distracting elements of two and three might not make any difference. I would probably just wait and watch for the battle scenes, heck I'm about that way now. I assume from what I've read on the web it still has its diehard fans.

    1. Yeah Robotech has a lot of really dedicated fans. There were also a series of novel and comic books that I think really fleshed out a lot of the sketchier parts of the overall series. I'm almost tempted to give the novels a try. I think a good writer could really make the Masters and New Generation sagas work in the overall scheme of things.

  3. I have a friend that's a big fan (the one that turned me onto them) that has the novel or novels. He's a big SF fan. At any rate he enjoys them.

  4. I emailed my Robotech friend and here's what he had to say: To my knowledge, there are 21 Robotech novels, at least that is how many I have. Yes, they cover the three story arc, Macross, Invid Invasion, and Southern Cross. Then, they cover the unfinished Robotech Masters, and how and where Protoculture came from and who stole it. I think, just my opinion, that they do flesh things out better than the anime. But the anime is nice because you can put a face to all the characters, which is quite a large cast.