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
December 18, 2006
The sixth "wave" of the Disney Treasures Series. Each release offers an insight into what made Disney, well, Disney. Of particular interest is the "Your Host, Walt Disney" series which offers an interesting look at the public persona of perhaps the most influential figure in the development of the popularity of animation. —Noell Wolfgram Evans
Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S. (Book)As a great job of rotoscoping (the A-Ha video Take on Me led me to studying animation) this is a cool choice. —Jeff Boman
Mainstream media reporting on anime and manga falls into two categories: Those that "get it" and those (sadly, still the majority) who "don't get it." Fortunately Roland Kelts "gets it" and the result is the first book-length study of the rise of anime and manga fandom in both Japan and the U.S. It reads like an extended news magazine article but manages to trace a lot of the moebius strip of Japanese pop culture feeding off of American pop culture and turning it into something new that American pop culture then embraces. —Marc Hairston
KamiChu! Vol. 4: Holiday Confessions (DVD)
KamiChu! is an innocent and fun little anime about a most reluctant junior high school girl with the powers of a goddess. It's a slice-of-life comedy/drama that doesn't over-complicate itself and a short series whose storyline and characters always feel quite genuine. —Aaron H. Bynum
Macross Vol. 7: Hell's Fury (DVD)
The first episode on this disc, which reunites Hikaru and Minmay, is wobbly in every way. But then the remaining four fire on most cylinders, if not all. Mecha action and growing menace are the backdrop to a soap opera that feels real as three characters stumble awkwardly through their relationship, each one failing to see or say the obvious in different ways. There's a reason why, as Macross or as Robotech, this series is considered a classic. —Emru Townsend
Paradise Kiss Vol. 1 (DVD)
Paradise Kiss Vol. 1 + artbox (DVD)
Emotional characters, slick and vibrant character designs, a good soundtrack and good series direction highlight this story Yukari, a girl struggling with her self-identity. While the over-arching motifs of high fashion and popular culture definitely outline the interests of the anime's often eccentric characters, Paradise Kiss is a sort of modern-day Cinderella tale in which Yukari has to define herself as an individual, in a number of contexts, before she is able to be perceived as someone socially relevant. —Aaron H. Bynum
Rumbling Hearts Vol. 1 (DVD)
Rumbling Hearts Vol. 1 + artbox (DVD)
This is a Japanese dorama (live-action drama) that somehow ended up as an anime series. Japanese audiences love tear-jearkers and this one delivers. It starts out as a typical teen romance when high school senior Mitsuki plays matchmaker to get her best friend, the shy Haruka, paired up with Takayuki, the guy Haruka has had a crush on for years. So far, pretty cute and pretty standard. But when Haruka is hit by a car while waiting for a date with Takayuki, he blames himself. Fast-forward three years. Haruka is still in a coma and the accident has so devastated Takayuki and Mitsuki that both have given up on their dreams of college, ending up in dead-end jobs. United by their grief, they end up falling in love and are just about to start moving forward with their adult lives together when Haruka wakes up from her coma. Cue the emotional meat grinder and be sure to keep the kleenex handy... —Marc Hairston
Scanner Darkly, A (DVD)
Walt Disney Treasures: More Silly Symphonies (1929-1938) (DVD)
Walt Disney Treasures: The Complete Pluto Vol. 2 (DVD)
Walt Disney Treasures: Your Host, Walt Disney (DVD)
May 8, 2006
Super Dimension Fortress Macross is inarguably one of the signature anime titles of the 1980s, and the source material for the first part of Harmony Gold's Robotech. There have many spinoffs over the years of varying quality and popularity, but the ones that everyone can agree were the best have all been given a decent English-language release since the advent of DVD—except for the first, best spinoff of them all.
Macross: Ai Oboete Imasuka (Do You Remember Love) was released in Japan in the summer of 1984, a year and a half after the TV series' debut, compressing the series' 36-episode narrative into just under two hours with a lush score and gorgeous visuals that took advantage of the larger and wider scope of the movie screen.
Macross: Do You Remember Love movie is also a textbook example of how to adapt a popular TV series to create an equally popular movie without alienating the people who made the series popular in the first place. It's different enough that it's fresh, but similar enough that the familiar touchstones are comforting. And consider this: the movie's a third longer than a typical Disney animated feature, took half the time to make and no doubt cost a lot less as well. And yet it’s captivating enough that the lack of Disney-quality character animation is entirely beside the point.
Throw in Macross Flashback 2012 (a direct-to-video showcase for Mari Iijima's vocals as idol-singer character Lynn Minmei, mostly made up of recycled TV and movie footage, plus a what-happened next coda to the story) as a featurette and everybody’s happy. And while we’re at it, release the movie on the big screen a few months before the DVD release, like the Cowboy Bebop movie.
January 9, 2006
The Consulate-General of Japan at Houston doesn't quite have it right when they describe Cowboy Bebop as "one of the first anime series to become popular in the U.S."—Astro Boy has it beat by over thirty years—but they're pretty much on the money that Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe (also the director of Samurai Champloo, two shorts in The Animatrix, and Macross Plus, all fps faves) is a Big Deal. And of course it's a Big Deal that he'll be appearing at the IMAX theater in the Houston Museum of Natural Science on February 11. Hmm, maybe it's time for a return trip to Texas.