02 November 2015

Military Sci-Fi Oddities: The BATTLETECH Animated Series (1994)

In 1984, the Chicago-based Role Playing Game publisher FASA (Freedonian Aeronautics and Space Administration) developed a mech combat game called Battle Droids. However, with Lucas owning the rights to the name "droid", FASA renamed their mecha combat RPG "Battletech" for the 2nd editions, and from that point on, FASA's Battletech became one of their most popular RPG and an hallmark of 1980's wargaming. Up until that point, FASA was better known for Traveller, but Battletech propelled FASA to new heights. By the time of the 1990's, FASA was pushing Battletech into other media, which bring us today's topic: the 1994 Battletech Animated Series. In this installment of Military Science Fiction Oddities serial, we will be examining this attempt at bring the dark world of the 31st century to the small screen. Brace yourselves....

Future War Stories would like to Thank...
The Facebook Battletech Center Chicago Group. They provided me with primary source material and some good memories of when you could play inside a mech pod.

What is Battletech: the Animated Series?
This series was developed by Saban Entertainment (Power Rangers, Ulysses 31, and Dragon Ball Z)  and aired on the FOX network from September to November of 1994, with an accompanying tie-in toyline by Tyco. It was hoped that this known property would capitalize on several trends in American toys and media along with filling in gaps in these areas as well. FASA also hoped to mint new fans to their iconic RPG wargame. Over the course of the thirteen produced and aired episodes of this military sci-fi cartoon, we would see a watered down version of the 3050 Clan Invasion of the Inner Sphere. The series would focus on a reconnaissance mission mounted by several Inner Sphere factions to gather intelligence on this new enemy. This group was called "the 1st Somerset Strikers."
The primary hero character was Major Adam Steiner of the Federated Commonwealth, and the primary foe was Star Colonel Nicolai Malthus of the Jade Falcon Clan. Both sides of the invasion was explored, along with motivations, and the rifts between the Inner Sphere factions. It was hoped by the Inner Sphere recon team that they could find a way to turn back the tide of Clan forces. Given that this is an Battletech work, there was plenty of mech-to-mech combat and some CGI effects, however, like GI Joe, the combat was basically bloodless. One of the early ideas was to use actual footage from the Virtual World Entertainment Battletech Center battle-pods. This could drum up business for the VWE centers.  By winter of '94, the series was gone from American airwaves. It was released in VHS, but there has been no official release on DVD, and no plans of it either. Most fans and even the RPG itself regard the animated series as non-canon.   

Why was there an BattleTech Television series in 1994?
Timing can be everything, and it always seemed to me that Battletech: the Animated Series had missed the boat by the time it aired in the mid-1990's. I even wondered this back in 1994. After all, the "Giant Robot Crazy" of the late 1970's and the 1980's, had run its course, and it seems to me that FASA missed the best time to have animated mecha series.That time when Battletech cartoon should aired was soon after ROBOTECH. Then the Battletech series could been an success with an locked-in audience of mecha-hungry fans. From some sources on the internet, 1994 was an era of expansion for the Battletech brand as a whole. While Battletech had been around for years, it's popularity was growing with an attack on all fronts. FASA expanding the game into miniature, while Activision had the line of highly successful DOS MechWarrior games along with Virtual World Entertainment's mech-simulator centers. There was also books and continued RPG product being rolled out. This was also a time when the hungry American toy market was searching for the next GI Joe or Star Wars. All of this lead to the decides that give birth to BattleTech: the Animated Series. It was also thanks to the animated series Exosquad and its line of toys, that Saban Entertainment saw a market. Saban, which had made animated series like Lazer Tag Academy and the fucking Power Rangers, saw a ready-built mecha series with a built-in fan base and well developed universe to expand and capitalized on. After all, Saban had experience with dubbed anime imports as well.

The Historical Context of Battletech: The Animated Series
I was a senior in high school in 1994, and I can tell about the world of 1994. Science Fiction as a whole was enjoying popularity, the genre had its own network, along with computer gaming. While the 1980's were the birth of personal computer, the 1990's would see the introduction of CD-ROMs and greater computer imaging technology along with beginnings of internet. Computer ownership would be on the rise, and all of this greater computer power was combined with the technology being cheaper, allowing for the greater use of CGI effects, as seen in BattleTech: the Animated Series and Babylon 5. This was also the time when American toy producers were looking for the next big thing...and given the growing interest in anime/manga, toy companies were looking for a way to get their foot in the door. This animated series would also follow the other American mecha animated series Exo Squad. The early 1990's were also the time when anime was beginning to gain an wider audience, with business like Sun Coast and Block Buster stocking anime VHS tapes. I miss the 90's...

Why is Battletech: The Animated Series an Military Sci-Fi Oddity?
The world of Battletech is a brutal universe of factions waging wars using combined arms tactics with mecha being the primary offensive element. The goal is to take control of worlds for their resources or for expanding the power of faction during the Inner Sphere Wars. Some mechwarriors fight for a flag, for a cause, or for the credits, but it is a world of combat and sadness. Sounds like a winning kid-friendly product doesn't it?! Another oddity is that the canon Battletech world acknowledges the failed animated series in a funny way. In-Universe, the series is regard as "badly reviewed holo-vid series" that was a fictionalized account of the time period along with the actions of the real 1st Somerset Strikers. In-Universe, the series was created by Tharkad Broadcast Company and much like the real series, it was quickly cancelled. This is a funny way of dealing with the blackeye that the animation series was to hardcore fans of the Battletech universe. This also proves how embarrassed FASA was at the whole endeavor.

Was the Battletech: The Animated Series an Broken Promise as well?
There is always great risk when a seminal work of a certain genre and media type receives an adaptation to another media type, but there is also great promise. So, was the 1994 Battletech: the Animated Series a broken promise as well as an oddity? YES! Oh god, yes! For original fans of the RPG combat system and the boardgame like me and my friends, this childish animated series was the very definition of a broken promise and also a major missed opportunity for military sci-fi as well. We fans of mecha got our addiction fed by Japanese imports like Macross, Gundam, and Armored Trooper VOTOMS.  However, an well-done Battletech American animated series could have been the American Gundam and could have even been the ROBOTECH of the 1990's. Instead, we got this shitfest, and it rotted on the vine. All of that promise and opportunity was wasted and this alienated fans of the original role-playing games. In the end assessment of history, this cartoon was an abortion and an soulless adaptation of our beloved Battletech universe.

What Happened to Battletech: The Animated Series?
It was cancelled after just 13 episodes, and was little missed by the general public because it was bad, like eating expired sushi from a gas station bad. While it is hard to find information on the series today, the Battletech Center Chicago Facebook group provided me with some answers. It seems the main reason for the cancellation was the overall lack of sales for the Tyco toyline. This was in conjunction with disappointment over the quality of the cartoon itslef and competition with the more successful mecha cartoon series: Exo-Squad. As for it's impact and legacy at the time, it did mint some new fans to the wider BT universe and it use of CGI and traditional animation was cool at the time. However, the entire series is not canon in the BattleTech universe, and nor is there a DVD release. Some BT fans regard it with loving memories and some (like me), with loathing memories. There have been a few people I've read online that this was their introduction to the Battletech universe.

Why Do all of the Images look like they were Recorded with a Potato?
The series airing twenty years ago in 1994, the only way to save the series was on VHS tape...and that is not high-def by any means. While the series was released on VHS back in the day, the series would never seen an official release on DVD. Any examples of the series are taken from the VHS tapes, and the quality is terrible. This issue is further compounded by the poor animation of the series overall. 1980's Anime series were of much higher quality....makes you wonder at the production values of this project.

Was Battletech: The Animated Series Any Good?
After rewatching the series on YouTube, I can honestly say that no it was not. The story was thin and dumb, the animation was of poor quality and the characters were all from Trope-Town. Above all, the series was boring and uninteresting.The sad thing about this American animated series, is that it did not fulfill the promise or vision of the original source material in any way, shape, or form. An animated Battletech series could have been a marvel if it had been done in Japan or by people who cared. I've seen better live-action Battletech or CGI in the Battletech video game cinematic than a broadcasted studio-made cartoon. The only thing that was right about the 1994 series was the setting. The invasion by the Clans in 3050 was an transformative event in the history of the game, and altered the Battletech universe forever, but it is wasted here. In the end, this abomination alienated fans like myself, and failed to create legions of new ones. To me, Battletech: the Animated Series is similar to the 1980's G.I. Joe cartoon series. It is filled with badly written characters, outlandish colors, too fake battles, evil-for-the-sake-of-evil villains, and flat animation with a toyline. Ugh. Somethings in the 1990s should stay in the 1990s.

What About the Tyco Tie-In Toyline?
Yes, much like many of the American animated shows, there simply had to be an tie-in toyline. The Battletech: the Animated Series would get its own toyline made by Tyco. But not so fast! We will saving that jewel of an military sci-fi toyline for an FWS: Military Sci-Fi Toys blogpost. Stay tuned!

Wasn't There an Comic Book Series?
From 1994 through 1995, Malibu Comics published a limited comic series based on the animated series, but it was not an comic adaptation of the series itself. Instead, the comic Fallout follows a ragtag group of pirate mecha pilots named Fallout during the Clan Invasion of 3050. Until this blogpost, I had never heard of this comic series, and I knew just from the name of the publisher that this Battltech comic was not going to be very good. Malibu was never an stellar publisher, and is was further proven by the scan of Fallout I saw online. The 1980's Blackthorne published Battletech comic series wasn't much better either. Four regular issues with an special edition were published, and I believe that much like the cartoon, the comic series was not an success and has been largely forgotten. Malibu Comics would go belly up in 1997. Good riddance.


Next Time on FWS...
In modern warfare, the gunship, attack helicopter, and the armed tiltrotor are all providers of close air support to the soldiers in the field, and death to the enemy. However, what is the feature of these aerial Grim Reapers? And will they follow us out into space, and help us in future bug-hunts? Next time on FWS, we will be exploring and explaining the Gunship, attack helicopter, and the armed tiltrotor, and their sci-fi counterparts.


  1. Just one minor thing. Before BattleTech, FASA, Freedonia Aeronautical Space Administration, was better known for its Traveller supplements and became a juggernaut when it launched BattleDroids which became one of their biggest successes.

  2. U should do an article on organized crime. I rarely see any type of space mafia or space cartel in any Sci FI work except for the hutt clan in star wars.

    1. There is the Orion syndicate of Star trek universe.
      Firefly had at least two 'local kingpins' – one, the Irish, Mal tried to sell the nutritious bars and the second who hire them for the train heist.
      In Caprica there is a 'Mafia' which Adama's family is related to.
      That 3 of the top of my head… and only in 'space' SF…


  3. Cool, and you are right. I used to play Traveller and should have known that. I will alter the article.

  4. Battletech was and still is pretty awesome I have actually been able to use it and some other tabletop games to teach my autistic children lessons in math, science, and even English it is pretty cool to watch them grow up with stuff that I did and they enjoy it even more than I did.

  5. I totally do the same thing as a social studies teacher of refugee kids. I've modified RISK for the Peloponnesian Wars, the Crusades, and even used Axis and Allies for World War II. I looking at using Settlers of Catan for class. There are few wargames I would love to do. I've got a great one on the 1519 Invasion of the New World that I developed.

  6. I tell that I am their "DM", and they don't get it.

  7. I owned the Malibu comic series at one point in time, and you're right in that it was as bad as the animated series. Utter garbage.

  8. Been reading a lot of your past blogs and for the most part enjoy them. One question though. Is the language truly necessary? You seem intelligent enough to make your points without resorting to the gutter.

  9. I having been attempting to stop with the use of so many foul words. While I am highly educated, well read, I do have a dirty mouth and so does my wife, who is also highly educated. Sometimes, a good cuss word is the best thing for the circumstance. At times, I write the blogposts with a great deal of passion, and it comes out. Much like with Spoony when he discuss RPGs for his Counter Monkey video series.
    I will try to cut down though.
    Thanks for the comment!

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  11. as an active duty infantry medical with the USMC I have seen some of the horrors of war everyone sees the glory in the struggle and the fight but no one sees the "doc" behind everyone trying with all their might to keep their people in the fight and we have to fight as well. We crawl from hole to hole in the middle of a fire fight to check on our troops we don't stop we don't quit when the fight is over our jobs begins again. To all my brothers and sisters out there happy belated Veteran's day and a big old OORAH to my USMC brethren. thanks for the blog it really helps the nerd in me.

  12. Thanks for the nice words! I am trying very hard to make FWS the home of military sci-fi

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