Before we begin, a quick introduction.
“Robotech, In Brief” is the spiritual successor to a project I undertook in the summer of last year, “365 Days of Robotech, which was to be my “last word” on the Robotech franchise. With that in mind, given my long personal association with the series — both in terms of writing stuff about Robotech on the internet (I’ve been writing about it extensively on the ‘net since I was a teenager) and in print (I contributed some words to the Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles artbook, wrote continuity notes on the last two novelization omnibus editions, and produced an article on the history of the franchise that appeared in a magazine once) — I drove myself crazy detailing every last little facet of every piece of Robotech television and comic book material I wrote up, went many sleepless nights doing so, and ultimately crashed under the pressure of my own ridiculously high standards.
I refuse to let that happen again. That’s why I put the words “In Brief” in the title of THIS project.
For the two of you in the back row who don’t know: Robotech is an animated TV series consisting of 85 half-hour episodes that originally aired in 1985. Liberally adapted from three Japanese TV series, it chronicles three generations of human heroes in fantastical transforming robotic vehicles battling ever more persistent and desperate alien invaders. And while fighter jocks in transforming airplanes battling warrior-giants and robot crabs makes for entertaining viewing, the addictive element of Robotech is the twist of soap operatic romantic subplots and occasionally shocking consequences to the cool fight sequences. Not every victory is clean, and not everyone gets a happy ending. I got my first taste of the show when I was something like five years old, and I’ve been watching it over and over — and reading the novelizations, and collecting the comic book adaptations and spin-offs, and accumulating toys and animation art and original comic book art and so on and so forth — ever since.
Mind you, I’ve never actually watched the entire TV series in order. I started last year — again, for the 365-day project — but I only made it up to halfway through episode 28. When I was a carefree kid, I never had the whole thing on video — just scattered VHS tapes and laser discs, covering maybe half the series at best. By the time I had it all on DVD in the spring of 2002, I never found or made the time to watch it all. There was always something new to watch, so I just didn’t make it a priority; I knew the stories by heart from comic and novel adaptations, after all, and if I was going to engage with Robotech, it was going to be for one of my always over-ambitious website projects.
So, almost a decade later, this is an attempt to remedy that situation. Two or more episodes a day, one post going up every weekday, keeping it short and sweet. If I’m doing it right, this introduction is the longest thing you’ll see under the “Robotech, In Brief” heading for the next few months.
Let’s get started.
“This Robotech thing is so exciting I just couldn’t give it up! It just gets in your blood or something, I don’t know.”
“What is Robotech, anyway? Just more modern war machinery. And the aliens–“
Read my 365 Days of Robotech write-up on “Boobytrap” from last summer here.
WHAT HAPPENS: In the far-flung future of 1999, a massive alien spaceship falls to Earth. Humanity bands together to fix it up, and ten years later, during the newly christened SDF-1’s launch ceremony, its main gun fires at a fleet of incoming space battleships manned by alien warriors called the Zentraedi, instigating the First Robotech War. The Zentraedi warriors, led by one-eyed badass Commander Breetai, had been pursuing the lost alien ship, and, following this automated instigation of hostilities, begins a full-scale attack. On Earth, cocky amateur pilot Rick Hunter is accidentally ordered into the skies as squadrons of Veritech Fighters are directed to defend the ship. In the chaos of battle, Rick loses control of his plane and is ordered by stern, abrasive SDF-1 First Officer Lisa Hayes to switch his plane to “configuration B.” Confused and panic-stricken, he pulls the lever, and the plane makes a safe landing as a giant robot.
THOUGHTS: I’ve written a lot about “Boobytrap” over the years, so it’s very difficult to talk about without repeating myself. If I’m not mistaken, every time I talk about it I mention how brilliantly the young animators of Studio Nue realize the world they’ve constructed, how impressive the animation still is nearly three decades later, how vivid the colors appear to be compared to later episodes, and how wonderfully constructed the beats of the episode are. In less than a half hour, they explain the circumstances of the momentous crash and the ship’s reconstruction, introduce our young heroes and vividly albeit briefly sketch their personalities, introduce the alien threat, and set up some dynamic action set pieces, including Rick’s bold air show performance. It gives you everything you’d want short of a fight with the giant robots, but those final moments certainly promise robot fighting’s right around the corner. It’s also worth noting what a great job the Robotech voice actors do breathing life into the English language interpretations of these characters, especially during the back-and-forth between Tony Oliver’s impulsive young Rick Hunter and Dan Woren’s equally confident yet war-tempered Roy Fokker. Finally, I always smile at Zentraedi advisor Exedore’s cut-off reference to “the Robotech Masters” and Breetai’s exclamation that, “That’s Zor’s battlefortress, but what’s happened to it?” The Robotech producers start seeding the references to the later generations on day one. I have to wonder how many regular viewers went “Aha!” watching the rerun of this after making it through all eighty-five episodes.
FIRSTS OF NOTE: It’s the first episode, so there’s a whole lot of firsts. For me, though, the biggest first will always be the first transformation of the Veritech Fighter into its robotic Battloid mode that concludes the episode. I especially like how the music editor uses the reprise of the opening theme to underscore and punctuate that iconic moment.
RICK’S STATE OF MIND: Mostly cocky and confident, until the final minute or so of the episode where he starts to panic. Still suffering from being nineteen years old and, consequently, invincible.
DOES MINMEI SING? No, in fact she barely appears in the first episode. Minmei doesn’t take center stage ’til tomorrow.