Why Robotech deserves another chance
I’ll be the first to admit that Harmony Gold is pretty shonky.
However deep down, deep down in my gut I can’t help but shake the feeling that Robotech, the monstrously operatic world that Carl Macek seamlessly crafted in the mid 80’s, is worth salvaging in 2017.
For a lot of people 1985’s Robotech, whether they knew it or not, was the first taste of Japanese animation they ever had. A synthesis of three separate Japanese anime’s (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA), Robotech was Harmony Gold’s successful attempt to cash in on the rise of Japanimation and create their own long lasting cartoon series with as little effort as possible.
By licensing existing anime and redubbing their own story over the top, Macek and Harmony Gold committed what amounted to sacrilege in the eyes of anime fans.
While nowadays hardened western Macross fans are reviled by Harmony Gold’s disrespect of a classic franchise, the success of Robotech did have an upside; Macek was an avid anime fanboy and his desire to bring solid anime releases to the United States and beyond was only spurred on by Robotech’s immediate financial gain.
In 1988 Carl Macek co-founded Streamline Pictures, a media company that was responsible for licensing and releasing English dubbed Japanese anime in the west. It was Streamline that gave us the first dub of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Lensman, Robot Carnival and Fist of the North Star. Without Harmony Gold, none of these things would have been possible and the spark that lead to the japanimation boom in the early 90’s may never have ignited.
But of course that doesn’t erase the decades of bad blood that’s arisen between Harmony Gold and the creators of Macross: Studio Nue, Tatsunoko Productions and Big West. If you’re wondering why you’ve never seen another series of Macross released in the west after 1994’s Macross Plus, it’s due to a huge legal spat that erupted over the intellectual property of Macross related designs in the mid 90’s.
To summarize briefly: After the 1984 movie ‘Do you remember love?’ Studio Nue had put Macross to bed. At this time Harmony Gold licensed the Super Dimension Fortress Macross anime and created Robotech. Cut to 1992. The now de-canonised Macross II was a moderate success in Japan and the west and that spurred Studio Nue and Big West to re-launch Macross with a new TV series and a special OVA series; Macross 7 and Macross Plus respectively.
By legally purchasing the rights for Super Dimension Fortress Macross in 1984, Harmony Gold say they own the right to Macross outside of Japan, something that put a crimp on Macross’ ability to release their products to a global audience.
A legal shit-fight ensued and in the end Macross couldn’t launch new products outside of Japan and Harmony Gold weren’t able to continue to create new stories set in the ‘Super Dimension’ universe.
Hence, each iteration of Robotech we’ve seen over the years has been a continuation of Robotech’s “Invid” storyline (See Robotech: The Sentinels and Shadow Chronicles).
I know, tl;dr. None of this explains why Robotech deserves another chance. Allow me to explain.
I love Macross. Macross Frontier is one of my favourite anime series and 1994’s Macross Plus I regard as one of the greatest anime series ever produced. But before I was graced with stories of Isamu Dyson’s heroism or Ranka Lee’s alien infused jealousy, Robotech was a cornerstone of my introduction to science fiction. The aerial acrobatics, the immersive storyline and the ultra cool characters did more for inflaming my imagination than Transformers, He-Man and GI Joe.
In the end the defence for Robotech comes in understanding the world that Macek built. It was partly drawn from Macross, partly from Southern Cross and partly from MOSPEADA, but it was wholly something new and unique. Right now there exists a chance for Harmony Gold to break free of the mould of their original three series and move on to something new; like DC and Marvel constantly expanding upon the initial universes they create, Robotech can evolve their settings and their shared universe to create new characters, new mecha, new plotlines and new alien antagonists.
In 2017 there is no longer any excuse for Harmony Gold to dwell on the past and with an almost infinite resource pool of writers, artists and media creators to draw from, there’s no longer an excuse as to why Robotech can’t evolve beyond the SDF-1 and SDF-3 as backdrops to storylines.
Macross has shown that it can continually evolve – every new series isn’t a direct sequel to its predecessor, they are instead new stories that exist in a shared universe. While old plotlines and characters become immortalized as pillars that hold up the foundations of the Macross world, they’re not essential in moving from one series to the next. It’s possible to watch Macross Delta and enjoy its unique storytelling without being burdened by the ignorance of missing Macross Frontier.
This is why Robotech deserves another chance. It is a perfect periodic table to create exciting unique elements from. It is Batman’s Gotham City; more than just a backdrop for a single narrative about a crime fighting crusader, Gotham City is swirling microcosm of an entire franchise of heroes and villains. It has spawned more characters and newsstand comic books than some entire comic book companies and Gotham is still the catalyst for movies and thrilling narratives to this day.
With Macek’s passing Harmony Gold seems to have stalled, but I still feel that something great can be achieved. It’s time to move beyond the legal cases, the hatred and the limiting world that the Invid has created. It’s time for a Robo-verse (patent pending, patent pending, PATENT PENDING!!), a platform to launch a million new stories from.
I genuinely believe Robotech can once again ignite the passion for science fiction in an entirely new generation.
If Harmony Gold simply try.
I’m willing to meet them half way.
- Andrew Archer