Robotech

On very rare occasions, you find that your imagination finds a fictional universe you wish you could wrap yourself in it and never leave. You could re-watch or reread (or re-listen!) to it all over and over again. When each telling of the story ends, you feel loss.

This has happened three, maybe four times to me. Most recently, it was with Mass Effect, and the Dune universe and Babylon 5 deserve mention as well.

But the first time it happened, it was Robotech.

Some Background

If you are unaware, Robotech as a franchise is a weird beast. American production company Harmony Gold wanted to release the 1982 series The Superdimension Fortress Macross in the US, but it consists of only 36 episodes and the minimum for a full syndication run was considered 65 episodes.

(At the time, it was not out of the ordinary for Japanese series to make it here in syndication during the animation boom of the early-to-mid 80s. I have fond memories of watching Mazinger Z/Tranzor Z and a handful of others as a child.)

So in 1985, Harmony Gold re-cut, edited, and mashed together Macross, The Superdimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (which were completely unrelated series in their original incarnations), with some significant story changes, into one storyline covering three “generations” to explain the changes in characters.

New scripts were written to match the new storyline that had been grafted onto these series, and a full dub recorded. It shares visuals with its constituent source material, but is in most ways a unique thing. (My understanding is that Macross made it as “The Macross Saga” or “First Generation” with the least amount of alteration.)

Robotech consists of the 1985 series and little else; various attempts have been made from time to time to resurrect the series, but none have really been successful. A live-action theatrical version has been in development hell for years.

Encountering Robotech

I have vague memories as a boy of having seen at least parts of Robotech. The most vivid recollections I have are around the Macross portion of the series, and I recall that someone else I knew had a die-cast toy of one of the transforming mecha Veritech fighter jets I thought was pretty cool (I was also very into Transformers at that age).

Around my early teenage years I also remember renting and re-renting the FHE VHS releases of the series, which were edited even more heavily into feature-length cassettes. The volume I remember renting the most is the one with the climactic space battle during which pop idol Lynn Minmay sings “We Will Win,” and the imagery of that sequence is still one of my favorite animated works.

(Yes, I typed “pop idol” and “space battle” in the same sentence. It’s a long story and I’ll talk about that more when I write about Macross proper.)

In high school, I happened upon a friend reading through one of the “Jack McKinney” novelizations of the series. Not having known that such a version of the story existed, I then used whatever allowance or lawn mowing money I could scrape together to purchase the books as I could and read through them multiple times. (My copy of the first volume is hardly bound anymore.)

The novelizations themselves make additional tweaks and changes to the story (and adapt a comics story that emerged from one of the failed sequel attempts), but are surprisingly well-written for mass market novels based on 1980’s animated series themselves adapted from dissimilar source material.

It was through those books that I learned what I like about Robotech: I like the Macross portions significantly more than the rest, I like that music plays such a prominent role in the story (as it does in Macross itself), and the best part is not the space battles or the sci-fi nature of the story itself, but the romance and interpersonal relationships that are at the real heart of the story.

Reflections on Now

I haven’t watched through Robotech itself in a while; my books are possibly lost or in a box in my basement I don’t know about. I purchased the 20th anniversary soundtrack set (and got the first pressing with the mislabeled discs) and give it a listen on occasion.

And I just very recently finished a watch-through of the Macross source material subtitled, which gave me a different look into that series while reminding me of the very things I loved about Robotech in the first place.

I speak almost exclusively of the Macross portion of the series. (You could watch just those episodes and that would be perfectly fine.)

It’s—as I said—one of those universes that just surrounds you if you let it, because the characters have a ring of reality to them. They are atypical of anything that was being released at the time, and often even now.

They change. They grow. (It was serialized TV, years before that was really a thing!) They make mistakes, sometimes with lasting and annoying consequences. They often don’t know what they want. The love triangle that is central to the story is full of twists, turns, and accidental broken hearts. Good intentions fall to bad timing, or misunderstanding, or just plain old jealousy.

They feel the sting of war. They mourn the human compulsion towards war and violence. They experience loss. Two of them die in rather notable and surprising fashion. They deal with fame, with sadness, with loneliness, with the inability to express their feelings. They make peace with their enemies and then have to learn how to live and coexist with them.

All of this in thirteen-and-a-half hours of television, much shorter than single seasons of many shows today.

In the end, there is a ring of hope. The enemy has been defeated, though battles of home clearly remain to be fought past the boundaries of the story itself. Two main characters finally find each other and speak of further life, of further adventures and experiences together—and you are left to your own imagination regarding what those might have been. Every time I finish the story, I long for more.

I said this in my last post about it, but I really do recommend watching it at least once. Maybe you’ll find as much to love about it as I have.

Robotech: The Greatest Love Story of the 20th Century?

Doubtful, and especially not to the degree in this io9 post from back in 2012 that I somehow missed:

Literary types often regard Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita as the greatest love story of the 20th century. They’re close, but it’s actually the ‘80s cartoon series Robotech – specifically, it’s the Macross section of Robotech, based on the 1982 anime Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the first of the three Japanese cartoons that were cobbled together and re-edited to make the Robotech cartoon that aired in the US. While so many other children’s entertainments were going on and on about true love (or avoiding the subject entirely), the Macross saga helped countless kids understand that love isn’t perfect, it isn’t good, and most importantly, it’s never easy.

It’s not that good, and there are some aspects of it that are handled even better in the source material Macross (which I just finished watching in its original form for the first time), but it is surprisingly sophisticated for animation as it was at that time in the US.

And it’s one of those stories that many years later still sticks with me. It’s touching, it’s infuriating in spots in that way that good stories are, and it’s occasionally corny, but it’s not trite. People get hurt, even (or especially) accidentally. People are left alone.

If you have never watched the show, I’d encourage you to give it a spin.

Live Another Another Day?

Man, Live Another Day wasn’t the best 24 has ever been, so I guess that’s over and done with, even though they ended it on a cliffhang—

During the 2015 FOX upfronts press call, Dana Walden and Gary Newman, chairmen and CEOs of the Fox Television Group, revealed that another edition of “24” is in development.

Oh, hm.

Well, I’m not sure I would be all that interested in another one of those; what else could they—

Details are scarce at this time, but perhaps the seed for a new “24” season was planted on the “Live Another Day” Blu-ray/DVD release. A special feature on the discs shows Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) in solitary confinement, offering to spill secrets to the Department of Justice in exchange for release from solitary. The request is denied, but someone plants some secret plans for escape in the lawyer’s glasses and in the end, Tony is seen looking at the escape plans.

LET’S DO THIS THING

(source)

Star Wars: The Clone Wars — The Lost Missions

13 final episodes for the best thing Star Wars has produced since Empire. And even better, when this debuts on March 7th, Netflix will also get the existing episodes.

If you haven’t watched it, you should give it a spin. Let the fact that it uses prequel characters go and look for the deeper themes the series embraces. It’s surprisingly complex and more than a little fun.

Doctor Who

In early 2006, I had just taken my first salaried job and had benefits I didn’t have to pay a fortune towards for the first time in my adult life. We had three young children and though things weren’t exactly perfect, they were better than they had been in a long time.

One of the things we did to celebrate the job was pay for TV service again. (It’s the little things.)

I remember seeing ads for something called Doctor Who on (then-named) Sci-Fi and wondering what this thing was about. Interested in new shows and seeing that it was a bit quirky, I set the DVR to record it and watched through that first season when it ran—and yes, first run here in the US, it was a year late.

I knew very little about the classic series, though I had a vague recollection in my mind of having seen an episode or two when I was a child and up late sick.1 My memory is of being lightly terrified of the opening sequence and music—on looking back, I’m pretty sure it was a Tom Baker-era serial that stuck in my mind.2

Watching through that initial reboot season, I loved it. Amanda didn’t watch it with me at the time, but I recall that I found the idea fascinating and particularly enjoyed Eccleston’s performances. At some point after watching that and prior to the airing of either “The Christmas Invasion” or the second season, we decided to ditch the paid TV service and I ended up not watching any more of it.

I’d followed what was going on with the show, knowing about changes to it in superficial ways and (after joining Automattic) hearing colleagues talk about it from time to time. As the 50th anniversary approached, I started thinking that I should pay some attention to it and try to watch some, as anything that lasts that long must have some appeal.3

For the 50th year, a box set was made that had the whole of the new series up through the end of season 7 on Blu-ray.4 I figured that was as good a sign as any to jump in to the series, but missed the product being available on Amazon.5

As luck would have it, my obsessive nature won out and I found through Google searching that the BBC Shop had copies that were not findable through their normal shop navigation:

So, I’m dragging Amanda through watching the whole thing.6 We’re going somewhat slowly—at a rate of about an episode a night on average. Right now, we’re about a third of the way through season three, and the show keeps getting better. I’m looking forward to catching up to things and then watching as they push ahead to the next incarnation of The Doctor this fall.

I have some criticisms of the show, but overall it’s high-quality and quite enjoyable.7 At some point I may go back and start collecting some of the older serials as well to see if they have aged well. But for now, it’s on through until I hit the 50th. I’ll probably tell you what I think as I go. :)


  1. PBS stations were often carrying the program in the US at that time. 

  2. Time tunnel + giant Tom Baker head = freaked out young Markel, I guess. 

  3. To put it in some perspective, it’s older than Star Trek. And I love me some Star Trek

  4. You may be wondering how this is possible and if it is any improvement. It is and it is; the first four seasons were filmed in 576-line digital. NTSC DVDs have a maximum resolution of 480 lines. It’s a noticeable improvement. And the later seasons have been re-done as progressive rather than their broadcast interlaced. Oh, and the audio is DTS-MA. 

  5. It appears that BBC Worldwide only wanted this set to be available through the end of 2013, at least in North America. 

  6. We tried including the kids at first, but the level of nightmare production for them was too great and had to switch to just us. 

  7. My chief complaint is a bit of an over-reliance on “monster of the week” episodes.