If it's crap ... We'll tell you
ROBOTECH - THE COMPLETE SERIES (DVD)...Guest Review by HARRIS
When Cyrus asked me if I wanted to review an anime boxed set that he’d just received, I was - naturally - suspicious. Having taken my fair share of crap for being the LEOG’s only anime fan, I suspected a trap... the complete "Strike Witches" series, perhaps? Or could I be looking forward to twenty hours of "Saikano", trapped in a room with nothing but a chair and a dull razor for company?
“No, it’s some 80s cartoon... Robotech, I think,” he responded.
If you happened to be in Austin that day, well, I have to apologize for the sonic boom that you may have heard as I ran to pick up the set.
Robotech, to anyone who grew up in the 80s, was a revelation. Not only was it generally our first exposure to Japanese animation (called, with the usual sensitivity of the time, “Japanimation” or “them freaky cartoons with the tits and big eyes”), but it was night-and-day different from every other cartoon on television.
Epic storylines that spanned generations! Interracial romance! Genuine character growth over the course of the series! Transvestites! And, most critically, people died. Beloved main characters would be unambiguously killed over the course of the series. There would be none of these cheesy last-minute dubbed lines about how “the pilots ejected on time” or that they survived but their injuries were so grievous that they had to leave town to convalesce the way my dog Charlie had to go live on that farm upstate after he got sick. Not only were entire cities wiped off the map, but the entire Earth was carpet-bombed back to the Stone Age... three times. This was a war story and war had consequences, even for the main characters.
Add in recurring themes of love blooming on the battlefield between bitter enemies and the transformative power of music, and you have the makings of a classic series.
It’s well known that Robotech was the Frankensteinian brain-child of Carl Macek, who licensed three unrelated series - "Space Dimension Fortress Macross", "Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross" and "Genesis Climber Mospeada" - and cobbled them together in order to have enough episodes to secure syndication. What is astounding is how well it hung together. Carl Macek’s name may be synonymous with “hack job” to anime fans, but Robotech’s adaptation is surprisingly seamless... without even the harsh editing and bowdlerization that afflicted "Gatchaman" (known in the states as "Battle of the Planets") and "Go-Lion" (AKA "Voltron").
"Robotech: The Complete Series" is an attractive package. All three chapters - "The Macross Saga", "The Robotech Masters", and "The New Generation" - have been collected and carefully re-mastered. There’s no getting around the fact that the character designs are dated, but the mecha designs and animation hold up remarkably well, especially considering that they were designed for broadcast television. The dogfights especially are astoundingly gorgeous, comparable even to live action film.
Similarly, Robotech was known for its original soundtrack, which sounds great in 5.1 Dolby Digital. Music is an integral part of the series and the careful attention paid to it in the remastering makes all the difference. The opening theme is an instant transport back to my childhood and the background score is excellent.
(Side note: Robotech was one of the first children’s shows to release its soundtrack for sale. I spent years trying to find the damned thing; copies were rarer than splinters of the True Cross and cost about as much. It wasn’t until I started attending anime conventions that I found a copy and was introduced to the wonderful world of bootleg CDs.)
I do have to take a moment here to discuss the voice acting. At the risk of sounding like a subtitle-preferring snob (which, in fairness, I am), but the dubbing is horrible. Half of the actors are blatantly Harmony Gold staffers who were shanghai’d into the recording studio and handed copies of the script. Reba West as Lynn Minmei is an especially egregious example; her singing is the human’s secret weapon against the invading Zentradi and, well... it’s not difficult to understand why it drives the Zentradi insane, but probably not in the way that the writers intended. Veteran voice actors like Cam Clarke and Wendee Lee stand out in stark contrast to the others who rise to the heady heights of “mediocre”. Frankly, I would kill for a subbed version with the original Japanese audio, regardless of the changes to the storyline.
The boxed set is a collector’s delight and is positively loaded with extras, including an art reel, a collection of commercials for the licensed toys and video games, and a documentary about Robotech’s genesis. In addition, producers included parts of "Robotech: The Movie" (a failed attempt to continue the storyline using spliced footage from "Southern Cross" and "Megazone 23") and the pilot to "Robotech: The Sentinels", the stillborn followup series that would have taken place between "The Macross Saga" and the "New Generation" which featured the continuing adventures of Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes. Dedicated fans will also be delighted to know that the original Japanese pilot episodes of both "Super Dimension Fortress Macross" and "Genesis Climber Mospeada" have been included as well. Nobody can say that A&E doesn’t know their audience.
The boxed set is a nostalgic rush for anyone who grew up with the series, and a valuable addition to the collection of fans of the giant mecha genre.
Just be willing to forgive the voice acting.
--CLICK HERE TO BUY Robotech: The Complete Original Series