Friday, April 5, 2013

Anime Geek: Robotech

Robotech is an anime series that will always be close to my Geek heart. When it first started airing on television in 1985, I still did not know it was anime, or at the very least derived from anime. All I knew was it was different than anything else that was being shown in the cartoon block after school. As I got older and kept revisiting this series, I learned more and more about the Robotech production history. I also learned that it was a foundation for a lot of other anime to come.

Robotech is an anime, but it was Americanized. This was during a time when bringing Japanese animation to the U.S. was a fairly new concept. There were concerns American viewers could not grasp a lot of the Japanese cultural references in the original Japanese version. The Americanization started with the title. In Japan the first series was known as Super Dimensional Fortress Macross. When it was brought here to America the title was changed to Robotech. If you have watched the series, you might have heard the Japanese title referred to in the episodes. 


In Robotech there are three series. The first was the Macross Saga. The next two were loosely connected to the Macross universe in Japan. The second Robotech series was The Masters, but in Japan it was called Super Dimensional Fortress Southern Cross. Again, Southern Cross is referred to regularly in the episodes. In Japan Southern Cross was not a continuation of the Macross series. It was created by the same people who made Macross and they used the Macross universe as a background, but that was it. When Southern Cross was brought to the U.S. it was given the new name and the story was changed up to tie in with the first series, Macross Saga. 


The third series in Robotech was called New Generation. Ironically this series was changed the least when brought to America, but had the least to do with the Macross universe. In Japan this series was called Mospaeda. It was produced by a completely different group of animators, who just happened to like all things Macross, so their technology and background story closely resembled the Macross universe. It fit so well that when it was brought to America, very little was done to change it, except the title and the character names. Another bit of irony is Mospaeda was created before Southern Cross. The American producers felt the story line worked best going in the order of Macross, Southern Cross, and finally Mospaeda.

To go back and watch Robotech now has a very old school vibe to it, but back in 1985 when the series premiered it was revolutionary. It was the first time an animation was
not…well…cartoonish. Everything was drawn realistically and everything that happened in the stories had a real life feel to it. The characters got hurt and some of them died. There were also love interests in the stories. These things simply did not happen in cartoons back in the 80s. They rarely happen in cartoons today.


As I said the Robotech animation has an old school feel to it. During the first series, Macross Saga, used still frame shots were a lot. This is when they showed a picture of the action. Nothing moved, but to give a sense of movement they would slowly scan from one side of the picture to the next, usually while the narrator talked. In the following Robetech series, they got away from the still frames and the artwork became more up to date. The only other down fall was repetitive use of stock footage. Even though these animation tricks were annoying, you have to give the creators credit. They were trying to find ways to keep the animation within budget and these tricks helped them to do so.

Robotech helped pave the way for other anime and even U.S. animation. Robotech is the start of the popularity of pilot driven giant robots in Japan, which led to the massive powerhouse of Gundam. Cartoons in America used the staple of anvils and slamming into the sides of mountains. About the only action adventure cartoon before Robotech was Super Friends. With the popularity of Robotech we saw the emergence of Thundercats, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. Action based cartoons are now more of the norm. 


Since the time of the original series there has been a few attempts at a Macross / Robotech revival. There have been Macross movies and the animation in them is excellent. The only annoying part is they are stand alone and do nothing to move the original series forward. A few years ago a Robotech movie was created that was called Shadow Chronicals. It was supposed to be a jumpstart to bringing back the original series, but nothing has been done with it since. The last movie left us hanging with a lot of frustration wanting to know what happens next.

Even though Robotech is old school and it has been Americanized, I still think it is a great anime and a wonderful way to spend an afternoon lost in nostalgia. I’ll even admit to being such a geek that to help my nostalgia of this show, I used to wear a motorcycle helmet during the fight scenes. It sounds stupid, but it helps with the fantasy. Helmet or no helmet, I hope you take the time to enjoy Robotech!