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Remembering Robotech: The Anime Gateway Drug

Robotech: The Complete Series

The funny thing about listening to Tommy Yune talk about Robotech in the Carl Macek/Robotech retrospective on this new complete series boxed set is that I was nodding the entire time he described what the cartoon meant to kids. He mentions kids going home right after school because they had to see the next episode of the show. I was thinking, “6:30am for me, buddy.” And then mention was made of getting up early as well. So yes, it’s nice to know I wasn’t the only one.

It was my first anime. It was apparently a lot of people’s first anime. And it apparently opened the doors for a lot of that material to get over here. So kids, ask your parents: this whole “anime section at Borders–whoops, Amazon” thing? This whole anime cons all over the place thing? Back up twenty-five years and you didn’t have that. Granted, as the man stated, we also thought digital watches were pretty badass, but still. Robotech paved the way.

It was, quite frankly, a show my parents probably wouldn’t have let me watch if they had known what it entailed. I must have been twelve or thirteen–and remember television wasn’t then what it is now (it had pretty much been just invented, this was, after all, 1718). The G.I. Joe cartoon? Lasers instead of guns. The A-Team? Nobody got shot unless it was central to the plot of the episode. Violence simply wasn’t…violent. So in the opening episode, “Boobytrap,” Robotech lets you see two huge alien ships get melted in orbit. The attack on Macross city feels like there’s a body count. And you’re watching ships just get destroyed left and right, good guys and bad.

[ad#longpost]You might be thinking, “Widge, you surely saw Star Wars, right? People got smacked in that as well.” Yeah, but–and this is weird and somewhat hard to describe properly–the cartoon felt more real. Star Wars was a space opera and somehow beyond real. But Robotech got down on the ground and got its hands dirty.

The first interracial relationship I had seen in a cartoon. First crossdressing character. First plan going completely catastrophically batshit wrong (Macross City, anyone?). And first character in a cartoon that died and stayed dead. Kenobi? Kenobi had to die. That’s How Those Stories Go. But the character that I’m thinking of that you’re, if you’ve seen the show, thinking of as well so we don’t even need to say the name for spoiler purposes? Yeah. I don’t know about you–but that is when for me, the shit got real when it came to animation. Watching Robotech on WZDX before school, the full scope of what you could do with an animated series opened up–and blew my tiny mind.

So that is what Robotech means to me. It didn’t turn me into a hardcore otaku because I was in north Alabama, where we didn’t have any places to purchase anime or manga. But it did fit in nicely with my long-standing comic book addiction. And if memory serves, I did grab the Robotech RPG…only to shelve it next to my Star Frontiers set when I realized that I lived out in the middle of nowhere and had no one to play with it.

But I’m not here to just moan about Alabama. I have podcasts for that. What sent me down into the memory cul-de-sac is A&E has released the series to Region 1 DVD once more as The Complete Series. For those who don’t know, Robotech was basically three separate anime series re-edited and re-written to become one series that spanned three generation with a coherent storyline. Eighty-five episodes are presented here across thirteen discs with four discs containing the extras.

The main question people are going to have is “So, I own the Protoculture Collection…do I care?” I think the answer is yes. Here’s why: first, the video is remastered and looks better than the original ADV release. It’s not great, but the damn thing’s over a quarter century old and unless you completely rework it and do a massive digital scrub job, not sure how you could improve it further.

The new stuff starts off with a retrospective on Carl Macek and Robotech. At first, the more than a half-hour running time makes you think it’s going to be sparse…but it’s actually pretty dense for a short docu. Part of that’s due to the fact that everybody turns out to pay their respects to Macek, who died last year. Part of that’s due to the fact that it’s pretty much told straight through by the people who were there, in talking head mode, discussing Macek’s directing style, the mad dash to get the thing made, and recording at all hours of the day and night. There’s a short, effective but useless to fans “Robotech Overview,” which distills the series down into three minutes. But what’s really sweet are some alternate version of episodes with Macek commentary, along with some alternate scenes. You get some supplements to Robotech: The Movie which are new (but you also get the movie itself–now new, but critical for a full-on boxed set).

ADV also brought over the original series that spawned the three generations of the Robotech saga, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. While you don’t get those full series (those were sets unto themselves anyway), you do get the pilot episodes from each (complete with terrifying theme music) including an extended pilot for Macross. And the toy commercials, which are hilariously bad. There’s also deleted scenes, art, stills, model sheets and gallery art from the comic books and info on the video games.

It’s a ridiculous wealth of info and bonus bits. Would some commentaries from some of the talking heads who appeared in the Macek retrospective been nice? Yes. Could the video be cleaner and will there inevitably be a Blu-Ray release? Yes. Should any of this stop you from buying? Probably not. I mean, if you’re a rabid fan, you should buy. If you only liked one generation of the show (and probably own the Legacy set of it) or for some reason just have a passing interest, then sure, give it a pass. But until you get a Blu-Ray release, I don’t know what else they could throw at us that would be additional info at this point. A&E has given us everything but the kitchen sink. Recommended.