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Robotech
It has its flaws, but without it modern anime fandom would look very different
Robotech
Harmony Gold
Produced by Carl Macek
USA, 1985
Scratch Robotech's surface and you get nothing exceptional: transformable giant robots, cool battle scenes, and imposing aliens. But look a little closer, and you'll see there's more: enough that after it hit North American airwaves in 1985, it spawned several comic books, a role-playing game, a series of novels, and an ill-fated movie and sequel series. Some say it even sparked the current boom in Japanese animation in the West.

Robotech was not originally one series from Japan; rather, it was a combination of three unrelated anime series stitched together and redubbed by Harmony Gold. The three series became three different wars affecting three generations, for a total of 85 episodes. Robotech producer and script editor Carl Macek has taken a lot of heat from hardcore anime enthusiasts for this, but in some ways the final product became more than the sum of its parts. Rather than being the story of how invading aliens are defeated by humans, Robotech reached epic proportions, becoming a story where Earth is inextricably woven into an interplanetary war between three equally weird and fearsome races.

But the show's main strength was in its maturity. Many people consider a cartoon as "adult" or "mature" when there's a certain level of violence, swearing, or sexual situations. While Robotech had plenty of violence--it was a war cartoon, after all--it was not gory or gratuitous, and it lacked the other two features. What made the show mature was how it handled certain issues such as bigotry, interracial relationships, sacrificing lives for political expediency, genocide, propaganda, the dehumanization of one's enemies, and so on.

Equally mature was how Robotech handled death. Robotech never shied from the fact that war may sometimes seem to be necessary, but it's rarely a good thing. In one episode, two characters look over a battered landscape. One opines, "This is such a brutal war." "Yeah," interjects the other, "but can you tell me of a war that isn't?" Given the various situations throughout the series--humankind as defenders, as near-extinct species, as oppressed people--Robotech had plenty of opportunities to look at how people react to life and death during wartime.

The show had three failings: the animation was inconsistent from episode to episode, the voice acting was occasionally outright hokey, and there were some noticeable plot holes and inconsistencies. The first is hardly uncommon to television animation, and the last two are probably the result of Robotech's rushed production schedule. In any case, the characterizations and overall storyline works well enough that these can be forgiven.

Originally printed in Sci-Fi Entertainment (April 1995)