January 3, 2008
Canadian readers take note: starting January 7, Space will start airing Robotech, arguably the series that kicked anime fandom into gear in North America.
Anime had been on North American TV for twenty years before Robotech came around, but when it made its debut in 1985 it had three advantages previous series hadn't: the rise of home video recording, burgeoning online communities, and story editor Carl Macek.
That last point is the most contentious for some. The Robotech TV series was actually three Tatsunoko series (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada) strung together and altered where necessary to tell a story of three different wars fought in the near future against alien invaders.
To the modern anime fan, the results were heretical: character names changed, a new episode was created by editing footage together from several others, and three shows that had no business being together were suddenly family.
But one has to bear in mind that this wasn't uncommon for televised anime back then. And while Macek has taken plenty of heat for it, he also deserves credit for something few other adapted anime series could claim: he respected the sophistication of his audience.
You see, Robotech was the only war cartoon on the air that treated war like war. Soldiers and civilians died, sometimes on a massive scale. More important than that, the show addressed things like mourning, living under occupation, and the different ways that soldiers dealt with taking other people's lives. A lot of these issues came from the original series, but Macek went against the grain and left them in. Consider that during the age of G.I. Joe and muscular, Reagan-era popular entertainment, a major reoccurring plot point in Robotech involved elements from both warring parties empathizing with one another. How radical is that?
It's important to mention, though, that Robotech is wildly uneven. Some of that comes from the source material; watch the breathtaking aerial faceoff between Max and Miriya in episode 18 and you'll wonder how it could be from the same show that, a few episodes later, features some of the clunkiest, cheapest animation you'll ever see. That's the nature of outsourced TV animation, of course, but the difference between the two is startling.
The quality of the voiceover work among the main characters is pretty strong, though secondary and incidental characters sometimes chew the scenery with a little too much gusto. And, to be perfectly honest, more than a few scenes feature heaping amounts of cheese. At the same time, there are quite a few moments of grace in Robotech, and when you catch them it's easy to understand how it captured so many hearts.
Previously on The Critical Eye
Robotech and Battle of the Planets
Macross & Macross Plus
Buy Robotech DVDs and more from Amazon.com, or Amazon.ca