The Shows and Movies:
“Robotech” is considered by many to be a classic of the anime genre, making it somewhat surprising that I had never come across it in all my years of being an anime fan. One of the first to be brought over to America from Japan, it takes three unrelated animes and combines them into an epic story that covers multiple generations as they fight a series of wars with alien races. Given that, in its entirety, this is an 85-episode saga, I’ll primarily be focusing on the first, longest, and arguably most famous of the series, entitled “The Macross Saga.”
In the year 1999, an alien spaceship crash-lands on Earth with the crew having disappeared. Over the next ten years, a city grows around the vessel as the people of Earth unite to discover the secrets that it holds. This leads to an advanced form of technology known as “Robotech,” which includes such things as weapons and space vehicles that can change into robot forms. From the very start, we meet out principle characters: Rick Hunter (Voice of Tony Oliver), a hotshot young pilot, Roy Fokker (Voice of Dan Woren), Rick’s brother and a pilot for the military, Lynn Minmei (Voice of Rebecca Forstadt), a young woman who eventually becomes a special friend of Rick’s, and Lisa Hayes (Voice of Michele Lituac), a high-ranking military officer.
While Earth is still undergoing its blossoming of new technology and unanimity, an alien race known as the Zentraedi arrive with the purpose of taking the crashed spaceship, which has been remodeled over the years into the SDF-1. This first arc follows our heroes as they fight what is known as the First Robotech War, a conflict that will cause much death and destruction before it finally comes to an end.
Now that we’ve got the background out of the way, we can finally take a closer look at the series. Given that the show premiered in 1985, you shouldn’t expect the same high-level quality of animation that we see nowadays. In fact, to call it “cartoony” would be a bit of an understatement. While it may take a little getting used to for today’s anime aficionados, it becomes easy to adjust once you settle down into the story.
While it’s not quite on the narrative level that I find most engaging, I still found this to be an entertaining series for the most part, though not without its share of problems. Something that I found cropped up rather quickly was that it becomes somewhat repetitive very early on. After the initial background story and the start of the war, almost every episode became yet another battle between Earth and the Zentraedi forces. Sometimes the opponents would be switched up, while at other times there would be smaller subplots going on, but for the most part, the episodes followed a very similar pattern. Some episodes even seemed like they just didn’t need to be there at all, such as one where Minmei participates in a talent competition and another that was a recap episode disguised as the SDF-1’s captain giving a report on the events up to that point.
I’ve come across several animes in my time that have been repetitive and failed to get the story moving, but luckily “The Macross Saga” (and its subsequent arcs) doesn’t fall prey to the latter. While the episodes do pretty much stick to the same template, the story keeps moving at a decent pace, which gives you a reason to sit through the multiple battles and root for the heroes to defeat the evil Zentraedi. Even if this first series is a little stretched out at 36 episodes, it’s still worth taking a look at, even if it’s just to see how far anime has come along in the last few decades.
Just to give you a brief rundown on the other two arcs, the second series follows a new group of characters as they fight the Second Robotech War against a race known as The Masters. This too ends up being a very destructive conflict, leaving much of Earth devastated. However, even after the second war, the people of Earth don’t get much time to rebuild. A year later, another alien race known as the Invid invades the planet, leading to the Third Robotech War. Again, there are lots and lots and lots of battles, but the exciting story is always there to keep things moving along.
This set also comes with the “Robotech” movies, some of which are worth taking a look at as well. “The Sentinels” was originally meant to be a continuation of the TV show showing us what was happening with Rick, Lisa, and the others during the Second and Third Wars, but only three episodes were made before its cancellation, which lead to them being edited together into a film. While we didn’t get the full 65 planned episodes, at least we got this much. “Robotech: The Movie” has only a small connection to the show and takes place during the Second Robotech War. It’s not particularly worth seeing, especially since this is only the shortened version (29 minutes) of the film, but it’s there in case you feel like taking a look at part of the first big-screen attempt.
“The Shadow Chronicles” takes place during the end of the Third Robotech War and beyond. It covers what is called the Fourth Robotech War, a conflict with an alien race called the Haydonites. It’s definitely worth a watch, especially if you’re interested in seeing what happens after the show. The final movie, “Love Live Alive,” is made up from an old anime music video and flashbacks. This is another one that’s not particularly worth watching, so all in all, you have two good movies and two that you don’t really need to bother with.
Normally I don’t need to talk about the packaging of a Blu-ray or DVD, but in this case, it really needs to be mentioned. Given that the studio knew they were going to need space for 20 discs in this set, it’s rather surprising that they would cram all 20 of them into such a small box. This leads to multiple instances of discs being stacked on top of each other, and stacks being in the way of other stacks, so there are times when you have to take out three discs just to get to the one you want. This is how scratches easily happen. Why not make four individual books like with the previous release of the show so that each disc could be easily accessible? While it is great to have it all together, there should have been a lot more thought put into the presentation.
All three shows are presented in a 1.33:1 ratio that looks surprisingly good for being around 30 years old (the animes they’re taken from are from the early 80s). As mentioned before, it looks very cartoonish coming from the 80s, but they’ve done a great job restoring it. The Dolby Digital audio is likewise crisp and clear, allowing you to hear every little sound effect. The films are also in 1.33:1 with the exception of “The Shadow Chronicles,” which is in 1.78:1. Obviously the picture looks better for “The Shadow Chronicles’ given that it’s more recent and original, but the other films have been cleaned up just as well as the show with great audio to match.
There is a plethora of special features included in this set. They total around 12 hours and are spread across five discs. Since listing them would take up far too much space, here’s a quick rundown of what you get: art, promotional material, behind the scenes featurettes, alternate cuts of episodes, deleted scenes, galleries, pilots, and more. The featurettes are particularly worth watching. One of them is a vintage look behind the scenes from the 80s that includes interviews with the cast and crew, while the other is more a retrospective about the show and its influence. The ads also stand out as one of the more amusing extras given that they’re rather cheesy. This is one area where there was certainly no skimping done on this release.
With all the pros and cons weighed, this balances out to a decent set. The shows may be a bit repetitive and the presentation really sloppy, but it’s all here along with a great selection of special features. Sure it doesn’t reach the heights of some of the greats I’ve seen, but if you’re a fan of anime, you’d do well to give this classic a try. Anime’s come a long way since then, but it never hurts to see one of the many steps it took to get here.
Available on DVD starting tomorrow.
Recent Blu-ray/DVD releases: The Way, Way Back, Only God Forgives, Drug War, A Hijacking, American Horror Story: Asylum, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Curse of Chucky, Fantastic Voyage, The Croods, This is the End, Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition
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This review is based on a copy of the DVD received for reviewing purposes.