Sunday, February 15, 2015

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Robotech

Once in a while, an anime series explodes into global consciousness in a way that gets everyone talking, and becomes a benchmark for a generation. In the mid-late 70s, it was Star Blazers (originally Space Battleship Yamato to the Japanese audience), a show that made a huge imprint on my mind as a little kid; meanwhile, in Quebec, they had Captain Harlock the space pirate; later, Battle of the Planets (a.k.a. G-Force on our schoolyard playground, and Gatchaman originally in Japan) was all the rage, though I remember it being on after school, rather than Saturday mornings. But by the mid-80s, it was Robotech that had invaded just about everyone's TVs.

Brought to North America and other markets by Harmony Gold, Robotech was actually an extended combination of three separate Japanese series: The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. The first group of episodes (using the Macross series) followed the lives of a group of people aboard a huge starship called the SDF-1 — originally an alien vessel that had crashed on Earth and been refitted by humanity — as it fled across the solar system in an effort to escape the alien Zentraedi forces (giant, cloned humanoids bred for war in the service of their creators) who claimed ownership of it. The second instalment (built off of Southern Cross), involved the next generation of heroes — specifically the daughter of two of the characters from the first instalment — now allied with the Zentraedi and trying to defend the Earth from an invasion by the Robotech Masters, the creators of the giants. The third part (using Mospeada) took place years later, during a human rebellion against the Invid, another alien force that had taken over the Earth in an attempt to reclaim the flower of life/protoculture stolen by the Robotech Masters centuries earlier and carried to our world by renegade Zentraedi aboard the SDF-1. (Convoluted enough for ya? Well, this was the simple version of the plot summary!)

What made Robotech different than other Saturday morning fare — indeed, more than many other anime series that have been exported to North America in the decades since then — was that the plot revolved around something more than just fighting badguys in a battle-of-the-week scenario. Instead, the story was truly about relationships between people (the love triangle between pilot Rich Hunter, second-in-command Lisa Hayes, and pop singer Lynn Minmay/Minmei in the first instalment — though I can't remember the characters and relationships in the second and third parts), and the power of music and emotion. And notably, music and human emotions — at least in the first instalment — proved to be more powerful weapons than the squadrons of transformable fighter plane mechs or space cruisers. It was also a series that — flying in the face of tradition for science fiction and action cartoons — had the guts to take a break from the action and give its characters quiet time to pause and reflect on their lives, relationships, and emotional states. Sure, the relationships between the characters (especially Rick and Minmei) regularly descended into melodrama (though the portrayal of Roy Fokker and Claudia Grant's partnership was actually very mature), but there was a serious attempt to make these people three-dimensional, and even the melodrama is somewhat understandable when put in the context of many of these characters being teenagers or in their young twenties. Even supporting characters, like the SDF-1's Captain Gloval, or the aliens Commander Breetai and his advisor Exedor, seemed well thought-out and believable. Aside from the occasional tediousness of dialogue that's sometimes top-heavy with excessive compound sentences (again, probably forgivable in light of the production team having to sync the English script over animation patterned for a Japanese script and speech patterns), overall, Robotech was a pretty good show (good enough that I picked up the first instalment on DVD a number of years ago, and still watch the odd episode on occasion).

So why dust this old chestnut off for the Saturday Morning Cartoon Rewatch all of a sudden? Recently, I read that a sub-unit of Warner Brothers is taking a run at producing a live-action movie based on Robotech. Now, like all Hollywood gossip, this is something that fans can't put a lot of stock into, especially since there have been rumours of Robotech projects before. Basically, you've got to put it out of mind until an official trailer is released, and even then you've got to keep your cool until the real deal hits the big screen, because anything could happen to sink the project, or, even if it's produced, delay or prevent screening. And yet, this newest rumour provides us with a good excuse to look back at the original TV show, and remember why it was good enough to cause all this fuss in the first place.

With an action figure in one hand, and a bowl of cereal in another, it's time to watch an episode of Robotech! (part 1 of episode 27, "Force of Arms")

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