All Time Great Anime: Robotech

Written by  //  January 5, 2011  //  Media & Popular Culture  //  3 Comments


Soon at a theatre near you...

An intergalactic war with a race of genetically engineered giant super-soldiers far more technologically advanced than humans – a war fought to a cataclysmic stalemate practically destroying both races and leaving Earth a lifeless cratered husk.

And all of this is just the first season of the Anime classic Robotech. Dubbed in English and telecast in the United States in the mid 1980s, Robotech became the most watched animation show of that decade. Following on the wake of Voltron in the US, Robotech was instrumental in the mainstream acceptance of Japanese anime around the world. It was in a sense a precursor to Naruto and Bleach…

A sprawling sci-fi epic, Robotech takes place at a time when Earth has developed giant robots from the technology on an alien spacecraft that crashed on a South Pacific isle. The space ship is the last source of technology central to 3 advanced alien¬†civilizations – who are ready to make war and commit genocide to regain control of it. And so begin the Robotech Wars…

It has giant city-sized space ships with cities inside them, space opera romances, a soundtrack which became a monster hit on the Japanese pop charts, ¬†fighter spacecraft that ‘transformed’ into giant alien fighting robots or “mecha” and an overarching story capturing humanity’s struggle to survive in an increasingly hostile universe. Oh, did I mention the spacecraft that turned into giant alien fighting robots?

Robotech was telecast in India in the early 90s on Star Plus – completely mesmerising me as a young boy by its mature although melodramatic storytelling, great action sequences and detailed romance sub-plots. Its serial nature also differentiating it from the episodic American cartoons that competed for my attention – the ongoing story proving far more compelling than the generic threat of the week fare offered by the GI Joes/Centurions of the world.

A significant cause of difference is that animated content In Japan is created for a mainstream audience – and is not a children-centric form of entertainment – how animation is considered elsewhere. In this show characters die, even the good guys. There are no last minute parachutes rising out of the explosions. May not sound like much now, but was quite revolutionary in the 1980s when it was made and in the early 1990s when I finally saw it.

There is also a thematic difference – in Robotech there is a certain bleakness of a war story from the point of view of the losing side. There is a greyer morality pervading the show – with the antagonists fighting for their very way of life. The Adversary shows bravery and cunning in battle and is not simply ‘evil’, adding interesting layers to the narrative.

All parties involved in the ‘Robotech Wars’ are simply fighting against their own extinction. The fact that the only way they thought to do that is through waging war is a larger pacifist comment that one finds in a lot of Japanese anime of that time. Being a nation that has suffered unimaginably under a military regime and the only people to know the first hand the great destructive power of human scientific progress – theirs is a unique perspective on war and its ultimately futile nature.

Almost as interesting as the show itself, is how it came to be in its current form. The 3 ‘seasons’ of Robotech are actually distinct unconnected anime series by the same Japanese anime studio. American producers Harmony Gold wanting to capitalise on the mega-success of dubbed mecha anime like Voltron in the US planned to dub and release ‘Super Dimension Fortress: Macross’. However Macross had only 35 episodes and Harmony Gold needed a show with at least 60 episodes (5 episodes a week for 12 weeks) so that it could get picked up for syndication by American TV stations. The Producer finally bought the rights to 2 further mecha anime ‘Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross’ and ‘Genesis Climber MOSPEADA’ – rewriting the English language dubs to make a cohesive pan-generational saga, with a generous back story seamlessly connecting the events of each season. The audacity of such a re-write was rewarded by the phenomenal success of the series – which far eclipsed the original content.

Design elements of Robotech have far reaching influences – the original Starscream (of Transformers fame) is actually the very same design as fighter mecha from Robotech. It spawned the creation of the first Anime music idol and is considered ‘one of the unassailable pillars of sci-fi anime’ by the Anime Encyclopedia.

This is a more personal post than the others I have written so far – Robotech is an indelible part of my childhood and its influence on me cannot be overstated. The original series was animated in 1982 and though it has started to show its age – the story and the manic action still holds its own. A recent digitally remastered release offers great Dolby sound and cleaner visuals – and is available at a torrent near you.

Those of you who grew up watching it – I hope I was able to bring back some memories of it and for those who haven’t yet (whether you are anime fans or not) I cannot possibly recommend it enough.

3 Comments on "All Time Great Anime: Robotech"

  1. Deeksha Singh January 5, 2011 at 9:33 am ·

    Hi,

    Thank you so much. You have answered a question that has been bothering me for AGES! I watched this as a kid and loved it, and though I eventually managed to move on from anime, I was dying to place the one I’d watched as a kid amongst the plethora of anime floating around.

    Finally….!

    Thanks!

  2. ex-sell69 May 15, 2011 at 9:51 pm ·

    Oh, you love Robotech so much that it would be asking too much for you to thank the japanese people that made it by name? Or to ask Robotech fans a question: Big West doesn’t stop you from buying Robotech, so why does Harmony Gold do everything to stop Macross [Zero,7,Plus,Frontier]from being sold outside Japan? All hail lord Shoji Kawamori! Long live Macross! Death to Harmony Gold! Robotech fans should kill themselves for the love of lord Shoji Kawamori!

  3. Rohit Shrinath June 11, 2013 at 3:02 am ·

    I second Deeksha’s comment. I have vague memories of the anime that used to air on Star Plus, the only other one I remember is Grendizer. Apart from Star Plus, AXN used to also have some shows like Ghost Sweeper Mikami, You’re Under Arrest and Ninku. Ninja Robots was another anime that used to air in those days, that was Cartoon Network though if I’m not mistaken. Good times, good times…

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