This post is dedicated to the memory of Noboru Ishiguro, one of the gods of /m/ anime and the original director of several of the individual pieces that make up the following monstrosity. We fucked up some of his greatest works, so we at least owe it to him to acknowledge that. Thanks also to The Land of Obscusion, from whom I stole the cover image for this article.
Why does Robotech: the Movie matter?
I’m well aware that unless you’re either really dedicated or an ancient curmudgeon like me, you probably have no idea what either Robotech or Megazone 23 are- it’s not likely that you’ve heard of either one these days. Why does it matter? Because Robotech, for all its many flaws, helped create the market for anime in the US.
The series ran concurrently with The Real Ghostbusters and Transformers and He-Man, and it’s Robotech (along with Voltron, Mighty Orbots, Star Blazers and to a much lesser extent Tranzor Z, Galaxy Rangers and Saber Rider and the Star Sherriffs) that got a lot of 80’s nerdballs curious about them wacky cartoons from Japan.
At the time, it was not really well known – hey, we were like 13, man! – that a lot of our favorite shows actually originated in Japan. But some of us started noticing how many series had Japanese names in the credits- when the companies could be bothered to actually give credits. If we were paying attention, we started to learn a couple of studio names: TMS or Tokyo Movie Shinsha always had great animation, better than other studios. We started to be able to tell TMS episodes from other episodes by the art style alone. We knew Toei Animation from Transformers. We heard about Tatsunoko here and there. We heard a little about Sunrise. We knew that some guy named Tezuka had made some robot dude named Astro Boy in the 60s. We vaguely remembered something about Speed Racer. We knew something was going on and we wanted in.
Interest in Robotech and curiosity about its origins helped fill the doors of some of the first nation-wide fan organizations for anime (see: Cartoon/Fantasy Organization, god help us all), who created the first anime cons in the US, which brought together fans who yelled and screamed and petitioned and started companies all for the express purpose of bringing more and more of this material to the States, ultimately making it possible for you to today have Madoka Magica Blu-rays in Suncoast, G Gundam and Dragonball Z airing nationally on Toonami, and Howl’s Moving Castle being mainstream released by Disney.
Robotech: the Movie, on the other hand, is a spectacular train-wreck – a laughable failure and a warning from the early dark days of “mainstream” anime releasing in the US. It’s a stark and vivid object lesson in How Not To Bring Content Here From Other Countries. Even the guy who caused it to be created hated it. It’s just plain bad.
“I don’t consider [the movie] to be a part of the timeline of the ‘Robotech’ era whatsoever. Really, I’d like everybody to forget about ‘Robotech the Movie’ altogether” – Carl Macek, 1990
The History of a Disaster
Robotech, following on the heels of World Production’s Voltron, took three different popular anime series from 80’s Japan, smashed them into a blender, rewrote all three series to be one interconnected world, cut a bunch of material out for the tastes of the US market, and then ran it alongside Transformers in the mid-80’s on TV. This was behavior that was par for the course at the time, and persisted even into the 90’s in some markets.
Megazone 23 Part One was the first successful OAV released in Japan, a smash hit in 85. Following MZ’s release, the OAV market exploded. Megazone 23 was a product of the ill-fated ARTMIC studio, which also gave us the stellar Bubblegum Crisis and Gall Force OAVs as well as the original form of the third section of Robotech, Genesis Climber Mospeada.
So as Robotech was still doing well, the folks behind it- Harmony Gold- thought they would try another market by releasing Robotech: The Movie. Combining these two things – both monster hits in their areas of origin – was a perfectly logical idea, right? Like putting chocolate in peanut butter! Although Harmony Gold had initially wanted to do a straight dub of the OAV, their other licensors balked.
Cannon Films (yeah, THEM) wanted Harmony Gold to include more graphic elements and more tech; Tatsunoko didn’t want any visual or conceptual elements reused from Super Dimension Fortress Macross. Unfortunately Macross elements had been hacked into being the primary core concepts of Robotech. This was a problem.
Megazone 23 shared some production staff from Macross, and was built around the same general theme of a “generation ship” versus aliens (but please please please don’t think Megazone is in any way a sequel to Macross- at best it’s a in-jokey homage). That meant Harmony Gold couldn’t more explicitly tie the Megazone concepts to the Macross concepts; this also meant no mention of Zentraedi, “protoculture”, etc. So Harmony Gold decided to cut together the MZ 23 footage with snips and clips from Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross. Southern Cross was the least popular “middle section” of Robotech, and one which had suffered the most, story wise, in the conversion process.
The fact that Megazone 23 was in an entirely different screen resolution, film stock, and frame rate from the Southern Cross material didn’t deter Harmony Gold in the least.
Finally, Harmony Gold commissioned a third animation studio to create new footage to replace the ambiguous/unresolvable/ “downer” ending of the original Megazone.
Does your head hurt yet?
The movie had a limited release as a test run in 35 Dallas theaters at the end of July 1986. Transformers: The Movie came out a week later. You can imagine how well that went.
Later, the film negatives would be destroyed when the building housing them was flooded, making an ‘official’ release impossible. The Memory Matrix, a very good fansite about this train wreck, suggests that there may be an alternate version, revised cut or even a whole separate dub, but so far that hasn’t surfaced.
The Bitching (aka Queenie’s Commentary Track From Hell For Robotech: The Movie)
A couple of years ago the movie surfaced on YouTube in fragments. I reviewed it at that time, going minute by minute and live blogging my reactions. I’d heard about it for years but never got to see it; I was stunned by just how bad it really was.
I left out a lot back then.
Another version has surfaced, which looks to be a fan-rebuilt cut by an Anon (Anarchy Reconstruction?), so since my original sources for the first article are no longer working, I decided to hold my nose and dive back in a second time- to update the previous post for full-length time-code notation, and add more context and clarification to the previous bitching. And add some more bitching. This movie is really, really terrible.