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
February 5, 2007
The Amazing Screw-On Head (DVD)
Where the animated version of Hellboy benefited by not using the original aesthetic of comic creator Mike Mignola, with a well thought-out, equally compelling design, the pilot episode for The Amazing Screw-On Head keeps Mignola's angular, shadowed look to good effect. While the animation is fairly good—not great, the smaller budget is apparent—the timing and story will keep you watching. Fans of the original comic will enjoy it, but some of the concessions to a new medium will be apparent. The voice acting keeps the entire show together, and it's pleasing that while the famous typically live-action actors get the billing, their work stands up with the trained voice actors and cannot be written off as an attempt at stunt casting. —Tamu Townsend
Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (DVD)
Cinderella III: A Twist in Time is the latest direct-to-DVD sequel from the Walt Disney studio. It follows 2002's Cinderella II: Dreams Come True and the original Disney film, 1950's Cinderella. While I have not been a fan of Disney's sequels to its classic film roster, I will admit that this particular film was a pleasant surprise. —Noell Wolfgram Evans
Read the review
Escaflowne: The Movie (Anime Movie Classics) (DVD)
One of the nice things about the better anime productions is that they're not afraid to take chances, even at the risk of displeasing fans. This is exactly what Escaflowne: The Movie did. Most of the familiar characters are there, but with a twist. The overall tone is grimmer than the TV series: Upbeat Hitomi is now a depressed schoolgirl with no psychic abilities, Van is more aggressive and violent, the redesigned Escaflowne itself now gets its energy from the blood of its pilot (much like a semi-mechanical vampire). The production values are still top-notch, and some will prefer the new character designs by Nobuteru Yuki. The soundtrack by Yoko Kanno is also another high point of the film. —René Walling
Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz (Anime Movie Classics) (DVD)
This three-episode OVA is a great watch for a Gundam fan, because it provides viewers with the one thing that is irresistible to any good-natured otaku: backstory. There are many things to like about Endless Waltz—new villains, new mecha, old rivalries—but the opportunity to learn of the backstory of the five lead Gundam pilots is probably the sweetest of them all. —Aaron H. Bynum
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Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (Anime Movie Classics) (DVD)
Jin-Roh, haunted equally by Japanese post-WWII social history largely unfamiliar to most Westerners and by the fairy-tale images of wolves twisted into a grisly variation of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, may be the most dazzlingly noir anime ever made, if such melancholia can be considered dazzling. The film, by taking its dual themes of loss and despair very seriously, achieves a gut-wrenching emotional depth. —Amy Harlib
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The Last Unicorn, The: 25th Anniversary Edition (DVD)
The Last Unicorn has been a cult favorite among fantasy lovers since the publication of Peter S. Beagle's novel in 1968. The animated version released in 1982 spawned new generations of fans. Although it is an American film, Rankin-Bass contracted all their animation to Japanese companies (going all the way back to Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which was done in a warehouse on the outskirts of Tokyo). The Last Unicorn was done by a Japanese contract studio called Topcraft whose other claim to fame was that right after The Last Unicorn, they were hired by Tokuma Publishing to animate the film Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind under Hayao Miyazaki. (Topcraft disbanded afterward and most of the staff joined the newly formed Studio Ghibli to work on Miyazaki's next film, Castle in the Sky: Laputa, so I have always considered The Last Unicorn to be a "proto-Ghibli" film.)
Although a cult success in the US, The Last Unicorn became a mainstream hit in Germany where its annual showings on TV became a tradition much like the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz used to be in the US. Sadly, all the video releases in the US (both videotape and DVD) have been cropped and based an inferior print. Only the German Region 2 PAL DVD release was in the original widescreen format using a restored print. Now the 25th anniversary release of the film on DVD in America finally allows us to see the movie in its full glory for the first time since it played in theaters. In addition to the restored film the DVD also has a "making of" documentary including interviews with Peter S. Beagle, who wrote the screenplay based on his own novel.
But that brings up the one lingering controversy about the film. Despite the million copies of the film sold on home video since the mid-80s, Beagle has never been paid any of the royalties he was contractually owed. Read more here about the controversy and find out how buying the DVD through the link above helps Beagle. —Marc Hairston
Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles (DVD)
There are many things that can be said about Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles: here are three. First, Louie Nichols' character still has some of the best lines whenever he is in a scene. Second, the battle scenes were compelling in the earlier incarnations of the Robotech series, but now they are entirely lacklustre. The poor 2D/3D integration makes these scenes disjointed and cold. It is a great example of things not being better simply because they are CG.
And the most frustrating, final point: Blame it on my old age, but I simply do not remember that many characters with double-D cups and scenes with gratuitous crotch shots in the earlier series. We know young men like stories in space, and they like pretty women, too, but there are plenty of female viewers who will be turned off. If this is the way the producers aim to rope in a new generation of viewers, I seriously hope it fails, so that fewer creators use the same model, pointing to this series as a precedent. If they improve the story, encouraging viewers to look in the Robotech back catalogue, I sincerely hope they meet their goals. —Tamu Townsend
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)
November 20, 2006
Saturday night at the Waterloo Festival for Animated Cinema, the main question on my mind was whether Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles would break the curse that had plagued Robotech spinoffs. The first movie (Robotech: The Untold Story, a bastardized Megazone 23) died ignominiously, and rightly so. The wholly original Robotech II: The Sentinels series got caught in an economic crossfire and had to be released as a direct-to-video movie. The Shadow Chronicles, the first spinoff effort to hit the screen in almost 20 years and the first not to have Carl Macek at the helm, has a lot to overcome.
The first third of the movie overlaps with the last two episodes of the TV series, focusing on the Robotech Expeditionary Force's return to Earth in a last-ditch effort to expel the alien Invid. Robotech fans know what happens next: Thanks to a small band of resistance fighters and the human-Invid hybrid Ariel, the Invid leave Earth, leaving humanity to try to rebuild a world ravaged by three interstellar wars.
Fans also know that to claim the title Robotech, the Shadow Chronicles has to serve up love, loss, the fear and eventual acceptance of an alien race, a new and mysterious enemy, and thrilling combat scenes. It does offer all these things in principle, but the execution stops just short of really delivering.
Emblematic of this problem are the computer-animated battle scenes. CGI presents all kinds of opportunities for space combat scenes—just watch Battlestar Galactica for proof—and none of them are taken here, with directors Dong-Wook Lee and Tommy Yune opting instead for a "more of everything" approach instead of actually choreographing the battles. If anything, the scenes here make you admire the hand-drawn work in the original series all the more. Demerits, too, for the unnecessary and fan-service T&A, which not only includes two female characters on a warship's bridge in skintight outfits that display awe-inspiring cleavage, but two shots of women with their butts sticking up in the air.
But the real problem with The Shadow Chronicles is that it spends too much time just doing stuff, rather than fleshing out characters. Marcus, a new character and a hotshot pilot clearly destined to be the focal character, is a complete cipher. He's got a thing for his commanding officer, the half-Zentraedi Maia Sterling, he's still mourning the loss of his sister Marlene (killed at the opening of the TV series' third part), and... that's it. Outside of that, the three things to look forward to in this movie are Louie Nichols's dialogue, especially in scenes with commanding officer Vince Grant; catching obscure Robotech and anime in-jokes; and finding out more about what kind of alien threat will bedevil our heroes now. Frankly, that's pretty thin. Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is better than The Untold Story and Sentinels, but that's damning with faint praise; they'll have to do better if they want us to keep watching this new story unfold.
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.