21 January 2012

FWS Forgotten Classic: The ROBOTECH Saga

In 1985, my world changed. I was 9, living in Oklahoma, outside of Tulsa, and one day, after school, I witnessed my first episode of the Robotech Saga. It was Blue Wind from the Macross-era, and I could not believe what I was seeing. From that moment on, ROBOTECH was one of the foundations of my life. I was more used to Anime the average kid, I had seen Starblazers, Gundum, and Battle of the Planets. But nothing prepared me for the 85 episodes of ROBOTECH.



The history of ROBOTECH

In 1982, head of Harmony Gold studios, Frank Agrama, was looking to get into the up-and-coming market of Japanese Anime. During a trip to an art studio having expo on Japanese art cells, Agrama met the art studio manager, Carl Macek. Agrama brought Macek over to Harmony Gold studios to look at which series to import for the syndication market. The primary issue preventing the importation of most Anime series was that most did not last for the required 65 epsiodes for the syndication market. So, the staff at Harmony Gold took three non-related giant mecha/space war Anime series all done by Tatsunoko Production, and redubbed the entire dialog, connecting these three "Super Dimension" series into a multi-generational space opera/war spanning 85 episodes.
There were problems along the way, while the original Japanese Macross ended properly, the Southern Cross and Mospeada were cancelled early, resulting in writing issues, plus Harmony Gold had to edit out an extra moon for the Southern Cross series, and develop a "connector" episode between Macross and the Robotech Masters.
By 1984, Harmony Gold was shopping ROBOTECH around conventions and trade shows, and in 1985, ROBOTECH would hit American airways. It would become an pioneer for Anime in America, creating legions of loyal fans and being one of the most beloved Anime series of all time. However, by 1988, ROBOTECH was running its course, and TV stations were looking elsewhere, forcing Harmony Gold to look at creating a sequel. With the success of ROBOTECH, Matchbox Toys made a massive toy line based on the series (yes, I bought them), and was the first American toy company to make toys for an Anime. These toys, which were just okay, resulted in fan alienation, especially for older fans when the girl doll line came out, resulting in poor sales. ROBOTECH would re-air in 1993-1995 on the Sci-Fi channels morning program, but they were re-edited for time conmsiders from the originals. Toonami aired only part of the series, a few random stations air the series from time-to-time on odd TV station, like a California public TV station.  

The basic plot of ROBOTECH

In the year 1999, humanity is locked in a Global Civil War that could mean the end of life as we know it, then an UFO of massive size crash lands on a small island in the South Pacific, called Macross. This unites the human race under the newly reformed UN, and the advanced science of the alien craft consumes the world as the UN rebuilds the alien mile-long ship. Secretly, the UN has formed the Robotech Defense Force to use the new science of Robotechnology for a means to defend the Earth, if and when the owners of the SDF-1 show up. In 2009, the SDF-1 is finished and during the party to celebrate the launch, the alien Zentraedi taskforce launches an assault on Macross Island to recapture the SDF-1. To attempt to put as much distance between the SDF-1 and Earth, they use the untested Space Fold system, and wind up near Pluto, along with Macross Island and the 70,000 civilians. For over a year, the SDF-1 and the newly reconstruction Macross City inside of its steel belly make the journey back to Earth, while the stories of Rick Hunter, Lisa Hayes, and Lynnn Minmay unfold. In 2011, the situation comes to head, rebel Zentraedi and the SDF-1 make a final stand against millions of loyal Zentraedi warships. The battle is won, Earth is scarred and billions are dead. The SDF-1 lands, and the survivors attempt to rebuilt. 2014 is a critical year for the Earth and the RDF, the newly built SDF-2 and stranded SDF-1 are destroyed by a last loyal Zentraedi strike. Rick and Lisa vow to built another SDF. In 2022, the newly constructed SDF-3 heads the Robotech Expeditionary Force that will attempt to go to the homeworld of the Robotech Masters, Tirol, and sue for peace. Earth is left in the hands of the military government of the Southern Cross.
While the REF is on the other side of the Milky Way, the Masters' show up around Earth in 2029, to claim the last of the Protoculture Matrixs, resulting in the Second Robotech War, while the REF is involved in a war with the Invid and forming the Sentinels Alliance. After one year, the 2nd Robotech War is over, and a battered Earth readies itself for another alien invasion, this time, in the form of the Invid, coming to claim the last Flowers of Life in the galaxy. Earth's resistance only lasts a few months. The REF attempts several taskforces to wedge the Invid out, but all met with defeat. When the 21st Mars Division of the REF, is defeat, one of the survivors, Lt. Scott Bernard, spends nearly two years travelling around the Americas gathering freedom fighters for the strike on the homebase of the Invid on Terra, Reflex Point. In 2044, The entire fleet of the REF enters the Sol System to end the war once and for all, however, the command ship, the SDF-3 with Rick and Lisa Hunter never appears.
 The battle over Earth finally ends when the Queen-Mother of the Invid is signed that the Flower-of-Life is regrowing on Optera, and they consent to leave. This battle to liberate Terra costs most of the REF ships, and millions of lives. At the end of the original saga, Lt. Bernard climbs into his Alpha Fighter, and vows to find the SDF-3. Just after the final battle, the remains of the REF limp back to various space bases for repairs, while the search for the SDF-3 is planned out. It is during the this moment in the storm, that the Haydonites, former members of the REF's Sentient Alliance move to strike at the users of Protoculture and purge them from the galaxy creating, another Robotech war.

 Timeline

  • 1999-SDF-1 Crashes
  • 2009- The Zentraedi Invasion of Macross, the beginning of the 1st Robotech War
  • 2011-The entire Zentraedi Fleet arrives, millions of ships, attempts to end the war, they lose, but Earth is nearly destroyed resulting in billions dead and Earth scarred.
  • 2014-The last "loyal" Zentraedi stage one final battle, the SDF-1 and SDF-2 are destroyed, Rick and Lisa vow to rebuilt.
  • 2022-The Robotech Expeditionary Force leaves Terra for the Masters' homeworld, Tirol
  • 2029-The Robotech Masters invade Earth.
  • 2030-The Southern Cross barely wins, but the resulting final battle, spores of the Flower of Life are let loose across Earth, signing the Invid to come to Terra
  • 2031-The still recovering Southern Cross is unable to withstand the Invid invasion, within months, the war is over, several ships abandon Terra and RV with the REF.
  • 2031-2042-The REF mounts several attempts to liberate Terra, all with bitter defeats. When the 21st Mars Division is destroyed in Earth orbit, one of the suvivors, Lt. Scott Bernard, forms a guerrilla force to destroy Reflex Point, home of the Invid on Terra.
  • 2042-2044, Scott Bernard's rebel group makes their way across the Americans, as the REF sends its entire fleet to end the occupation of Terra. The SDF-3 never arrives as the final battle is waged. During the battle, the Regress learns that Optera is re-flowering, and they consent to leave, but not before massive losses of life on both sides, along with most of the REF armada. 
  • 2044-The "current" time in the ROBOTECH Universe, the events of the Shadow Chronicles.  

Protocultre? Invid Flower-of-Life? Robotechnology?

The Flower of Life is the key element in the ROBOTECH Saga, and the genesis of the Robotech wars. The plant was only native to the Invid homeworld of Optera, and used as their primary foodstuffs along with a key element in their religious life, it would later became a key element for a thousand years of galactic crisis and war.
When Zor, a explorer from the planet Tirol, discovered Optera, and the Invid society, he also discovered the amazing abilities of the Flower of Life. In its seed state, the Flower of Life can be used as an vast clean energy source when the process of cellular division is held in mid-stage. Zor seduced the Queen-Mother of the Invid, the Regress, and left Optera with samples of the Flower of Life. After returning to Tirol, this new energy source, called Protoculture, was able to fuel a vast interstellar empire and a new bio-mechanic science that led to the mecha seen in the ROBOTECH series. The society of Tirol transformed into the Robotech Masters, and using their giant mining slaves, the Zentraedi, to razed Optera clean of the Flower of Life. This twisted the entire Invid race onto a path of vengeance for the destruction of their way of life.The entire population of the Invid species, for hundreds of years, was devoted entirely to the war against the Robotech Masters.
In response, the Masters turned to cloning their own people and the Zentraedi to pilot their the new Protoculture-fueled war machines towards finally defending the Invid.
This war was over and run by the Protoculture, and Zor began to deeply regard his decision of bringing the Flower of Life to his people. Zor, using his own heavily armed science warship, the SDF-1, began seeding planets away from the conflict with the Flower of Life, it was during on of these operations, that the Invid got the jump on Zor and his Zentraedi bodyguards, led by Doza. During the battle, Zor sent the SDF-1 away to a small blue planet, known as Earth, then was killed by an Invid Shock Trooper (see ROBOTECH: Genesis, by Comico Comics, 1986). The body of Zor was taking back to Tirol, and the brain was probed, allowing the Master to locate the mental imagine of Earth, but not where it was located. Doza sent Breetai on a recovery operation that would forced the fleet to play hunt-and-find through a portion of the galaxy.
Why was the SDF-1 so important to the Masters? Zor had taken the last of the Protoculture Martixs with him, leaving the entire Robotech Masters' society and empire with the supplies they had, robbing them of the ability to create more.
Robotechnology was the human word for the creation of transforming mecha, and it wasn't until the REF that humans began using Protoculture to fuel their mecha, the war machines of the first two Robotech Wars were power by more traditional means.
The Invid Flower of Life and the use of the byproduct Protoculture fuel within the ROBOTECH saga draws similarities to the Spice-drug Melange from the DUNE Universe and its uses to fuel empires, near-immortality, space-travel, and wars that bring near destruction of civilization.


The historical context of ROBOTECH

ROBOTECH came at the intial wave of Anime/Manga interest in America, and its saga would fill a gap left open by independent TV stations who stopped running Battle of the Planets, Gundum, and Starblazers. At this time, there still were independent TV station outside of the Big Three networks, and they depended on interesting and unique material to bring eyeballs to the screens. Often, these were the stations were Anime was aired, and that was the case for me living in Oklahoma. ROBOTECH offered Television stations a long-term additive program,creating a market for comic books companies, robot models, and later, Matchbox Toys.
ROBOTECH did have a beachhead in the Japanese robot market, and it was not only the previously Anime series that aired on TV, it was also the 1980's Robotech Defenders model line from Revell. The original Japanese Super Dimensional series that ROBOTECH was based on had been in Japan since 1982, and the models were extremely popular. Seeing the new market for big Japanese robots, Revell bought the rights to sell and market the Macross and the Fang of the Sun model line in America, and they used the Robotech name. This could have bad news from Harmony Gold, but they reached a co-licensing deal. How I first heard of ROBOTECH was in 1984, via the models, and I even owned the DC Comics two-parter that forged a story for the mecha models independent of the Harmony Gold created universe and/or the original Macross. While the Macross and ROBOTECH endure to this day, the Revell line has disappeared into the realm of memory. 

What happened to ROBOTECH II: The Sentinels?

When ROBOTECH was at its height in 1986, Harmony Gold decied it was time to forge a true sequel to the saga, and it seemed logical to tell the story of the Robotech Expeditionary Force (REF), and what happened to Rick, Lisa, Max, and other beloved characters from the Macross series, and the originals of characters in The New Generation. The REF mission was to find the homworld of the Masters, Tirol, and reach a peace deal with them before they launched their own invasion of Terra. But they were too late, the Invid had invaded and captured Tirol, forcing the Masters to seek out the Protoculture Martix inside the SDF-1. However, what the SDF-3 (rigged up to look like a Zentraedi warship) did find was six former slave races to the Masters fighting the Invid. The REF united with them to fight the Invid, and rise an fleet to liberate Earth later.

The SDF-3
Harmony Gold's plan was to create a 65 episode story arch for syndication market, Matchbox Toys to create another line of toys and other items, and for the Tatsunoko Productions to animate and script  the new series, visually linking the Sentinels to the original saga.
Then everything went wrong, Matchbox's ROBOTECH toy line was not doing the numbers that Matchbox had projected, and they could not see that ROBOTECH II: the Sentinels wasn't going to be any different, causing Matchbox to pull out, who were the main backers of the project. However, Carl Macek has said repeatedly that the "crash of the Dollar-to-Yen exchange rate"  caused Matchbox to pull out of the project. Another roadblock was the major differences between the Japanese series that composed the American ROBOTECH saga, which the Japanese animation studio had difficult with, causing delays, continuous meetings in Japan, and scripts to be done in America then shipped over.
With the pullout of Matchbox Toys, and rising production costs, Harmony Gold was forced to cancel the project all together with only three episodes completed. ROBOTECH II: the Sentinels did live on in the five-part book series by Jack McKinney, an attempted full (lackluster )comic adaption, but died after 80%  completion by two comic companies, the Palladium Book RPG manuals (which are excellent!), an 1988 Starblaze Graphics Art book, and finally, the 1990 VHS release of the first three episode that shows the launch of the SDF-3, the Invid attack on Tirol, and the Hunters' wedding. One of the discs in the Protoculture edition DVD boxset by ADV Films is devoted to the Sentients.  We fans of ROBOTECH have a theory on what really killed the Sentients, the poor quality of the series, both in script and animation. This theory came about after the 1990 VHS release of first three epsiodes of the Sentients, and we fans got to witness the 1980's horror that was the sequel to our beloved ROBOTECH, and how it simply did not live up to the original. Not was looking forward to seeing the Sentients than me in 1988, and no one has been more disappointed by its lack of development since.


What the Frak is ROBOTECH : The Movie?

*Sigh* No matter how great something is, there is dogshit somewhere in the mix of a fictional works' lifespan, Star Trek had Star Trek: V, Star Wars has the Holiday Special and the Prequels, and ROBOTECH has "the movie" from 1986. This redub of Megazone 23 aired in Dallas (where FWS is headquartered) for about a month in summer of '86, and then later at an LA animation con, and is not currently available on DVD, but there fan-copies. Despite being a massive ROBOTECH fan, I've never seen this, the trailer and music video by Three Dog Night was enough for me. ROBOTECH: The Movie was an attempt to tell the story between the launching of the REF in 2022 and the 2nd Robotech War in 2029. Much like the ROBOTECH series, Harmony Gold used the same tactic of taking an Anime series or OVA and redubbing it to fit within the ROBOTECH universe, this time it was Megazone 23. It has been said that Carl Macek was eyeing Megazone 23 to become another Harmony Gold syndication marketed series and that most of the Japanese staff that worked on the Super Dimensional series worked on Megazone 23, visually bridging the gap.
However, ROBOTECH: The Movie had a strangle plot that didn't fit organically into the main story-arch of the holy saga, where the Robotech Masters control a veteran RDF officer to steal some computer material that was taking from the wreckage of the SDF-1, among other subplots. To make the connection between the saga and this movie, Harmony Gold spliced in footage from the Masters to round this production.
The main issue with  ROBOTECH: The Movie is that the original Megazone 23 story is close in spirit to the Matrix films and not a space opera, in the end, this movie had too many issues and plot gaps that could not filled via dubbing or spliced footage. One website did talk about massive production and staff conflicts that plagued ROBOTECH: The Movie and may have doomed the production. Over the years, some rewrites of the movie's plot were attempted, one in Jack Mckinney book The Masters' Gambit and the other in the 1986 Academy Comic limited series. ROBOTECH: The Movie was released in English on VHS in 1988 and on laser-disc in 1991. To this day, ROBOTECH: The Movie is not considered canon, and regards as some akin the Holiday Special of the ROBOTECH Universe....of course we never had Lisa Hayes singing "life-day"!
Here is a link to the best site about the movie:
http://www.robotech.patlabor.info/index.htm

From ROBOTECH: 3000 to the Shadow Chronicles

After the loss of the Sentinels in 1988, Harmony Gold was at a loss on how to continue the series, and build on the legions of ROBOTECH fans. There were attempts to bring Megazone 23 to the states, along with Super Dimension Century Orguss, but at the end, fans wanted more ROBOTECH. To quell the hungry, various novelization of the ROBOTECH wars were released by author Jack McKinney, including the Sentinels, scores of comic books, some good, some complete dog-shit, and the RPG. What I remember that got us through the drought was playing the ROBOTECH RPG, Battletech, and the assembling the endless stream of models from Japan.

Then in 2000 came ROBOTECH:3000 (As known as RT3K), and quickly, our hopes were dashed for a new series. The proposals all CGI series (similar to the Roughnecks) was to take place in the year 2999 (shocked!), when humanity (and maybe other races) have formed the Federation (where have I heard that one?), and been at peace for six hundred years, during this time, they have used Robotechnology to explore the galaxy. Onboard the Federation starship Corsair is sent out to check a distress signal from a mining colony, and the landing party is attacked by some sort of mutated friendly mecha. It seems that all Robotechnology is being turned against their masters.
The three-minute trailer was widely panned by fans, and it didn't help that the CGI SFX team that was behind Babylon 5 made ROBOTECH:3000 causing the "possessed" mecha to sound and look like the Shadows. What the fans wanted was Anime styled Mecha and characters that looked and sounded like the ones from the original saga that they remembered. One of the risks that Harmony Gold was running at this time was ROBOTECH was entering the realm of nostalgia territory, they would need to create a product that would bridge the gap between the original saga ans, and the up-and-coming generation of Anime fans.
The good news that came out ROBOTECH in the 2000s was the release of two, well-made, video games, ROBOTECH: Battlecry (2002) and ROBOTECH: Invasion (2004) that gave fans something to do while waiting for Harmony Gold to come up with the vehicle for the future for the saga. Then there were a variety of comics that covered the stories unseen in the ROBOTECH universe, like Colonel Wolfe's taskforce to Earth, the Global Civil War of the 1990s, the beginnings of the RDF (From the Stars), and the prelude to the Shadow Chronicles.
 That vehicle was the ROBOTECH: The Shadow Chronicles. The studio as now under FUNimation and a new creative director that brought in script writers that were fans that grew up with the original saga. One of the first things that did right was casting as many of the original voice actors as possible, along with marrying the new style of Anime with the old via a Korean animation studio, DR Movie. They did bring new characters into the mix, ones from the old saga, and others from the aborted Sentinels storyline.
Shadow Chronicles picks up where at the end of the Invid War, and allows fans to see what happened to Scott Bernard, Ariel/Marlene, and Admiral Hunter. As a fan of the original saga, that holds ROBOTECH in a near  realm, I liked the Shadow Chronicles, and integrated several of the concepts and rounded them out. The only negative element was the enemy of the Shadow Chronicles, who are the Haydonites, one of the original members of the REF/Sentient military alliance to destroy the Invid, but the Haydonites are a cybernetic race ruled by the central "Awareness" computer matrix, and they hate Protoculture! This causes a new war for the weary Earth, but will led to a new series?

The Future of ROBOTECH: Now What?!

There was a great deal of hope for us fans that a new era for ROBOTECH was on the horizon in 2006/2007 with the release of the Shadow Chronicles, then nothing...Even today, nothing seems to be happening with the ROBOTECH legacy. Yes, the website is active and keeps bring new badass toys into the fans, but there seems to be no movement on bring fresh ROBOTECH onto the current crop of American Anime lovers, and its original fans (like me) are starting to push 40 (not like me). The dream of a new ROBOTECH series was soon dashed by nothing coming out of Harmony Gold or FUNimation, and it seems that 2012, nothing will continue to happen. *Sigh*
Yes, there are rumors of a live-action ROBOTECH movie in the style of the Michael Bay's Transformers, but I didn't know if I want that...the live-action Space Cruiser Yamato was uneven and I'm worried that a live-action movie will destroy the dream that is ROBOTECH in my heart.
I wish the future of ROBOTECH was in my hands, and if I ever win the lottery and have a spare ten to twenty million, I'd make ROBOTECH II: the Sentient, and then end the series for all time. I think ROBOTECH is one of those stories that has an end, and since no one is able to write a good conclusion to the mystery of the lost SDF-3, then we leave it to the mystery, and allow our minds to chew on it.

5 comments:

  1. I had two sets of the 1980's Robotech Defenders model line from Revell! Although you are making me feel old by telling me you were 9 at the time!
    I was in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks at that time my kids were 9, 6, and 5...guess I am old lol....Good write up as always, loved the series and all the Battletech that flowed directly from it to include renamed mechs!

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  2. I remember watching Robotech as a kid and enjoying it also. I think it may have been my first exposure to anime. I thought it was odd that a Robotech toy line was released under an Exo-Squad toy line crossover since the series were not related in any way. Although Exo-Squad is another of my favorite series, which is sometimes referred to as an "American anime" because of the style and content.

    I also have a couple of the old FASA Battletech sourcebooks that used images of Robotech and other anime mechs before all the law suits from Harmony Gold happened. I was sad when later FASA removed those mechs from later books because they were some of my favorites, probably from seeing them in Robotech.

    I have some anime loving friends who hate Robotech because it basically a corrupted translation of the Macross anime hacked together with other animes. One friend of mine went so far as to say whoever translated it was an idiot who didn't know Japanese or even English, because he failed to recognize the only English word in the entire series: "Protoculture," meaning literally an ancient culture rather than a wacky power source.

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  3. I wished I had held on to my Revell models, and not used them for a firecracker 8mm Godzilla stop-motion film. Playing Citytech was one of my favorite things to do in the 80's! I am now nearly finished collecting the FASA Technical Readouts for Battletech, including some of the pre-ban ones!
    Exo-Squad and the Battletech animation series both came out at around the same time, and I was in high school at the time, and my brain had gone dead with thoughts of the DUNE series, girls, and bad Oklahoma Near-Beer. But I can remember the Exo-Squad toys, and saying to myself, "hey that's a ROBOTECH battlepod!" I plan on watching the Exo-Squad series on hulu and writing up a "forgotten classics" blogpost.
    While researching this post, I did come across people that hate Macek and ROBOTECH for the redubbing! I was shocked, because ROBOTECH paved the way for all of the Anime/Manga we see today, in fact, I think the ROBOTECH storyline is better than the original Macross, and I admit that Protoculture is an frakked up term for an enegry source, and I really don't know why they just didn't invent something else.
    BTW-I was serious when I said that if I win the lottery, FWS is going to make Robotech II: the Sentients...now to just to win...
    Thanks for the comments and memories.

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  4. Robotech just brings back wonderful memories. I used to run home to catch my beloved show on tv when i was in elementary school.

    I buy all the toys I can to this day from toynami, Bandai and Yamato.

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  5. I was in elementary school when I watched ROBOTECH, and beloved is the same word I would use for the experience. I still remember when Macross switched over to the Master, and I was like WTF? One day, when I win the lottery, FWS will make the Sentients!
    Some of the new toys coming out are amazing! I badly wanted the masterpiece edition SKULL-1, but my wife said no. Thanks for commenting and reading!

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