ROBOTECH could be the most unlikely move in history
This is one of the best and easiest times to be an English speaking anime fan. Between Funimation and Crunchy Roll now merged, you can find just about any Japanese animation you could want. Dubs or subs, you have access to a whole plethora. It wasn’t, of course. Until fairly recently, if you came across any cartoons in North America, they were recut, redoubled, and often entirely rewritten versions. Speed runner was the Americanized version of Mach Go Go Go; Space battleship Yamato become Star blazers, stuff like that. However, the most popular of them would probably be Robotech, an animated series resulting from three completely distinct original animated series. The whole show is available now on Blu-ray from Funimation, and it’s a fascinating ride.
Robotech is a franchise of Harmony Gold, a burgeoning television and film production company. One of its initial missions was to import foreign entertainment into the United States. The company hired Carl Macek to adapt the Japanese animated series. His choice fell on the 1982 series Macross Super Dimensional Fortress, a show featuring a love triangle against humans battling alien invaders with the help of jet fighters who transform into mechs halfway through.
Unfortunately for Macek, Macross had only 36 episodes, far less than the minimum of 65 needed for syndication. He should complete it with two other series: 1984’s Southern Cross of the Super Dimension Cavalry, and 1983 Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. These shows have 23 and 25 episodes respectively. With all of that together, plus some thoughtful reconfiguration, you get 85 episodes of Robotech. The problem is, of course, that these three series are effectively unrelated. While Southern Cross was also in the Super dimension metaseries (the third to Macross‘first entry), MOSPEADA was not part of anything.
The decision then became, how would these three similar but disparate shows become one? This required splitting the history of Robotech in three different sagas. Each saga takes place at a different time in Earth’s future history and relates to each of the three Robotech wars. In order to tie the three together despite having different characters and types of robotic mecha, the writers decided that every war would be for the powerful power source “Protoculture”.
The first part, “The Macross Saga”, is about humanity’s discovery of a crashed alien ship and the ensuing battle against a race of giant warriors called the Zentraedi. We meet a young pilot named Rick Hunter as he first climbs into the cockpit of a strange transforming jet fighter. He soon saves a young singer named Lynn Minmei and as the fight to save humanity takes off, we have a lot of interpersonal drama between people as they battle the Zentraedi. The potential romance between Rick and Minmei runs into a problem when Rick meets First Officer Lisa Hayes.
Earth almost succumbs to the Zentraedi, but as you might expect, the good guys are winning. In the process, they learn about Protoculture and the so-called Robotech Masters. This leads directly to the second part of the series, “The Masters Saga”, which takes place 15 years later. We see here the arrival in Earth orbit of the Robotech Masters, who came to look for what turns out to be the only way in the universe to produce Protoculture. After bad diplomacy, the Masters start a war with humanity. Among the army of the Southern Cross are the 2nd Lts. Dana Sterling and Bowie Grant, who pilot this part of the iconic mechs in history.
At the end of the Second Robotech War, the Earth is covered with the spores of a plant called the Flower of Life. It turns out that this flower is the source of protoculture and a beacon for the mysterious Invid who roam the galaxy in search of its presence. The Invid ends up landing on Earth 12 years later for Robotech’s final war. “The New Generation Saga” finds the Invid totally in control of Earth.
This section seems the least connected to the previous two. However, ingeniously enough, the first two sections have few references that define the start of this one. We learn that many heroes of the First Robotech War had left Earth to search for the Robotech Masters as part of a preventive mission. This Robotech expeditionary force returns missions from across the galaxy in an attempt to liberate their home world. The storyline follows a group of freedom fighters as they make their way to the final battle against the Invid.
Obviously, with three separate TV shows all together, Robotech feels a bit disjointed if you watch it all in succession. For most people, “The Macross Saga” is the one to watch. It is the one who is the most, for them, Robotech. As a rough guide, Rick Hunter in his flight gear and jet fighter are still the most commonly associated images. You can tell Macek cared the most about bringing Macross on TV even when you watch it 36 years later.
Having said that, I think the second and third sections have some really good characters. Dana and Bowie in “The Masters Saga” make a great one-two, and the mech design is my favorite of the bunch. “The New Generation Saga” has Scott Bernard as a hero and he’s just a badass overall, and the transforming motorcycle mechs are pretty dope too.
Robotech has made its way to home media several times over the years, in various formats. In 2019, FUNimation secured the rights, and it’s thanks to them that we have this absolutely stunning Collector’s Edition bundle. In addition to the 85 episodes, conveniently divided into their respective sagas, you also get four embroidered patches and a 1/100 scale transformable VF-1S Veritech Fighter, piloted by Roy Fokker in “The Macross Saga”. It even comes with a Roy Fokker figure, but not small enough to fit in the cockpit.
The series looks and sounds wonderful on Blu-ray, and really lets you experience Robotech in the best possible way. I only saw a few episodes in my youth so watching it now feels like a whole new experience. Even if you’re unsure about dubbed anime, it’s a fascinating piece of animation history, when a company wants to take adult animation to a different country and market it directly to children. And by eraser, it works.
Kyle Anderson is the editor of Nerdist. You can find his movie and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!