DVD REVIEW: Robotech The Complete Original Series
Definitive edition of classic 1980s series...
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If you’re a lifelong Robotech fan like me, chances are you have (or have had) the series on several forms of media. My FHE VHS tapes still look good in their sleeves, even if the tapes are worn down from watching over these many years. In recent history the advent of DVDs saw Robotech releases like the Legacy series and the Remastered versions, each approaching perfection but limited to the materials on hand as well as the current technology. I’m happy to say that all of that is in the past. With Robotech: The Complete Original Series you’ll never need another tape or disc!
Just released from A+E Networks Home Entertainment, the Complete Original Series brings you all three “wars” of the Robotech story: the Macross Saga (First Robotech War), Masters Saga (Second Robotech War), and the New Generation (Third Robotech War). With 36, 24, and 25 episodes respectively, the three components bring you over 40 hours of space opera action that have been newly re-mastered. Add to that the four discs worth of bonus material (including a sizeable amount that’s appearing for the first time on DVD here) and it’s easy to see why creators Harmony Gold have released this with such fanfare.
For those of you who may not be familiar with Robotech (though that possibility boggles my mind), it has a very interesting history. Way back in the early 1980s Americans were just starting to notice Japanese animation after seeing initial imports like Speed Racer and Astro Boy. Leading the way was Harmony Gold producer Carl Macek. He envisioned bringing more adult anime to the U.S., and went about putting together a series that would at once satisfy fans as well as networks. To do this he needed a show with a certain number of episodes (enough for syndication), a difficult task since many Japanese series at the time were short-lived. Macek then made the fateful decision to take three unrelated (except for the theme of transforming robot/vehicles) anime series and merge them into one coherent saga; thus Robotech was born.
Let’s take one more moment to spend thinking about the enormity of that task. Harmony Gold licensed three separate series: Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. Macek and his team pored over every episode and created a new story with complex character relationships that would work not only episode by episode, but within their distinct “seasons” and as an 85-episode whole. To put this in perspective, imagine you’re a producer in a non-English speaking country. Yours is the job of taking three unrelated American TV shows and rewriting them with new dialogue and narration to fit together into one seamless story. Let’s say the current trend is vampires, so you’ve got True Blood, Vampire Diaries, and Being Human. Good luck!
That’s not where the impact of Robotech ends. The first episode aired on March 4th, 1985, and was generally thought of as a “kid’s show.” What people never saw coming was how rich the series would be in terms of story, depth, themes, and animation quality. While anime wasn’t exactly new to the U.S., most of what had been seen thus far was more juvenile in tone. Robotech blasted onto the scene as a full-fledged space opera chock full of sweeping space battles, an excellent voice cast, mecha action, love trilogies, death, music, and fundamental existential questions.
Robotech begins in the year 1999 when an alien ship crash lands on a remote island. The event interrupts a degenerating global conflict and unites humanity against the threat of aliens. Over the next few years the crashed ship is repaired and retrofitted to become the SDF-1 (Super Dimensional Fortress), mankind’s defense against extraterrestrial threats. Technology discovered aboard the ship would, dubbed “Robotechnology,” would be used to create a new weapon system in the Veritech Fighters. Capable of transforming between robot-like “Battloid,” fighter jet, and half/half “Guardian” modes, Veritechs would become the frontline fighting units and inspire other anime, manga, cartoons, toys, and more to this very day. Inevitably, the giant alien Zentraedi did come looking for their lost spaceship and the brutal conflict for it is known as the First Robotech War. The main characters of this saga are rookie fighter pilot and recovering pacifist Rick Hunter (Tony Oliver), ace pilot and leader Roy Fokker (Dan Woren), SDF-1 second in command Lisa Hayes (Melanie MacQueen), pop star Minmei (Reba West), and many more. Rick’s journey from punk kid to military leader and fiancé captivated young and old viewers alike, catapulting the series to massive popularity. The Macross Saga dealt with plenty of issues disguised by sci-fi elements like alienation, separation from home and family, the uncertainty of war, fame and its price, self-sacrifice, understanding one’s enemy, inter-special (racial) relations, and much more.
After the Macross Saga came the Masters Saga with a different feel. Set after the original Robotech heroes left to seek peace among the stars, it focuses on the next generation (literally in some cases) of Earthly defenders. The Terran forces are caught unawares by an attack by the Robotech Masters, leading to a brutal war. The heroes of this story are mainly the members of the 15th Alpha Tactical Armored Corps: rebellious half-Zentraedi Dana Sterling (Melissa Newman), techie Louie Nichols (David Millbern), war-weary Bowie Grant (Larry Abraham), boisterous Angelo Dante (Steve Kramer), and more. They serve in the Army of the Southern Cross along with General Rolf Emerson (Michael McConnohie) and officer Nova Satori (Edie Mirman), while inserted into their ranks is a confused enemy clone Zor Prime (George Cole). Leading the fight against the humanoid Bioroid robots were the ATAC’s Hovertanks, a next generation of Veritech with massive weaponry. This series too had its share of heavy issues like dysfunctional families, long-distance relationships, military life and subordination, espionage, memory loss, clones, and of course desperate fighting for survival.
The final component of the original Robotech run was the New Generation. Similar to the previous war, this one takes place on Earth after another alien race, the Invid, invades. This time the initial conflict is already over, and humans lost. The Invid rule the planet in giant hives with enslaved humans, and it’s up to a small band of motley freedom fighters to fight back and prepare for the return of Rick Hunter’s forces. Scott Bernard (Gregory Snegoff), the last survivor of a doomed rescue mission travels across the blasted landscape of the former United States, helping survivors and gathering reluctant heroes Rand (Frank Catalano), Rook (Susie London), Lunk (Richard Epcar), Lancer/Yellow Dancer (Jimmy Flinders), and Annie LaBelle (Mary Cobb). On the other side of this conflict was the Invid Queen Regis (Alexandra Kenworthy) and her children Sera (Barbara Goodson), Corg (George Cole), and the human-like Ariel (Melanie MacQueen). A somewhat grittier tale, the New Generation deals with urban survival, desperate measures, turncoats, guerilla warfare, PTSD, Scorched Earth tactics, evolution, genocide, and more.
Robotech The Complete Series comes to you in a collector-friendly box that holds its four components DVD cases. The front cover of the box is decorated with the product’s logo below a group image of Rick Hunter, Dana Sterling, and Scott Bernard (the main characters of each Saga) with a glossy metallic effect that looks great. The back of the box has a matching image across the top along with a description of the show and a breakdown of the set’s bonus materials. Each Saga or Robotech War comes in its own DVD case with unique artwork of three characters: Rick, Roy, and Miriya for the First, Dana, Nova, and Marie from the Second, and Scott, Rook, and Lancer from the Third. The overall design is the same on each with a swirling background pattern that’s a different color on each set. The back of each DVD case has a fourth character at the top (Minmei, Zor Prime, and Rand respectively) above the same general Robotech description and a specific blurb about each Saga. Each of the 13 episodic discs has its contents printed on it, and you’ll find that they have a streamlined animated menu that gets you to the content quickly.
While a fully remastered Robotech series is great, the Complete Series has so much more. The fourth case is called “Robotech Archives” and has awesome Veritech art on the cover and back. Inside are four discs of bonus materials, much of which is available for the first time on DVD! Without going through every last component, you’ll find 10 hours of general information, music videos, alternate scenes, original pilot episodes, an hour of deleted scenes, original opening and closing animations, promo videos, toy commercials, international clips, hundreds of stills, Robotech: The Movie material, and much more. There are a few notable special features that require mentioning. The Complete Series marks the debut of “Carl Macek’s Robotech Universe,” a look back at the origins of Robotech and its creator through interviews with the cast and crew. Developed from an interview taken right before Macek’s untimely death, the documentary is both informative and touching. Also on board is Robotech: The Sentinels, the feature length pilot for a Robotech sequel animation created wholly by Harmony Gold, with audio commentary and a promotional video!
Robotech The Complete Series is fully remastered and both looks and sounds great. Considering its age and the original medium, Robotech is not likely to be released in a better format than this. If you’ve been waiting for the best representation of the cartoon you remember from childhood, this is definitely it. With 85 episodes and 10 hours of bonus material, the Complete Series is well worth the SRP of $99.95 and is guaranteed to be a staple of any anime fan’s collection. The set is available now and can be found wherever DVDs are sold.
Review and photos by Scott Rubin.
Review sample courtesy of A&E Home Entertainment.