TV Series Review: “Robotech: The Macross Saga”

The first 36 episodes of Robotech have been
released on DVD, and are available in three boxed
sets or six individual disks. The review of
these 36 episodes, known as The Macross
Saga
, are reviewed below.

Cast

The cast list is huge. Read it at the IMDB page
here.

Original Airdate

Robotech: The Macross Saga first aired in 1985.

The Nature of Robotech

As many of you probably already know, Robotech is
actually a
combination of three different anime series.
After He-Man, the power
of cartoon tie-in merchandising was proven to
North American
producers. Harmony Gold acquired the rights to
three anime series
(Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada) and they
went about reediting
and dubbing the Japanese originals to make a
coherent whole based on
the original images. The target audience was the
early to late teen
male model building audience. It should be noted
that I have never
seen these series in their original forms, and
that this review is
written from the perspective of someone whose
first exposure to
anything remotely like anime was the syndicated
Robotech cartoon that
aired here 16 years ago.

This review will only cover the first 36 episodes
of the series,
referred to as the Macross saga since they were
comprised of footage
from the Macross TV series.

Synopsis

An alien spacecraft of incredible power crash
lands on Earth in the
“near future.” (The date given in the series
is July 21, 1999.) After
ten years of effort, mankind has reverse
engineered enough of the
technology to launch the craft, and fill it with
small fighters of
similar design and capabilities. The Zentraedi
soon arrive to reclaim
the SDF-1 as their own. These episodes cover the
events that take
place in the four years after the arrival of the
Zentraedi.

High Point

The death of a major character. I won’t reveal
who it was, but it’s
nice to see a series that isn’t afraid to pull
any punches when it
comes to writing a story.

Low Point

The narrator. He was usually extraneous, and has
a knack for stating
the incredibly obvious.

The Review

In terms of originality, most of the
score comes from the
pure idea of combining three completely
independant TV series into a
single, coherent unit. The giant, transforming
robots thing wasn’t
new in North America or Japan at the time these
series started, and
the storyline in the Robotech series wasn’t
original overall, even if
it was the first such storyline aimed at the
teenage demographic. The
producers also set out to find an existing anime
series to use and
adapt, rather than come up with something on
their own. I give it 2
out of 6.

The effects and other visuals were
pretty poor. While
the individual animation cells were of much
higher quality than
anything else produced at the time, the animation
was rarely smooth,
and often irritatingly choppy. In some cases, a
series of fades was
used instead of actual animation. It gets only 2
out of 6.

The story was never mentally taxing,
but it wasn’t the
normal animated style that had everything
restored to the state the
epsiode started in quickly and easily. Instead,
the episodes have an
unmistakable order to them, and they form a
sweeping story arc that
covers the entire series. This was something
that most North American
cartoons seemed to actively avoid. I give it 5
out of 6, where the
overly expository narrator cost the series a full
point.

The voice acting was erratic at
best. Some of the voice talent
was good all around, while others were just
irritating (Minmei!) They
were bound to conform to existing images, so I’ll
be kind and give it
4 out of 6.

In terms of emotional response,
there were a few moments
in the last six episodes that really drew me in,
but the first 30 just
kind of scrolled by. I should have felt a
stronger response at
several points, but the characters just weren’t
developed or
believable enough to draw me in. (The romance
involving Max Sterling
is a prime example of something that was less
interesting than it
should have been.) I give it 3 out of 6.

The production was poor almost across
the board. The
animation style seemed as though they had
mediocre manga artists who
didn’t know how to animate. The score, although
well themed, was
often irritating and repetitive due to the choice
of synthesized
instruments. The editing was the only aspect
that really worked,
expecially given the difficulty inherent in a
project of this type. I
give it 3 out of 6.

Overall, the first 36 episodes of
Robotech get a 3 out of
6. If you’re not looking for nostalgia, this
probably isn’t worth
your time.

In total, Robotech: The Macross Saga
received 22 out of 42.

2 replies on “TV Series Review: “Robotech: The Macross Saga””

  1. spock says:

    Robotech was a great introduction to anime
    Robotech, despite its myriad flaws was a great introduction to anime, and a real eye opener that a cartoon could be something more than Mickey Mouse for American audiences. Prior to this it was Speed Racer and Star Blazers in the US. (To my memory anyway)

    Robotech, AFAICT, created the flood of anime culture that we enjoy today. I may eventually own this thing, but like the review said, it will be for nostalgia…not for any single ground breaking element.

  2. gemseele says:

    A nostalgic piece
    Robotech, specifically the Macross saga, will remain dear to my heart only because it was the show that got my attention to anime. Well that’s not quite 100% true, I did watch Starblazers (Starship Yamato) when I was even younger, but there was a long gap in there. I bought the original Japanese Macross subtitled version and rewatched it. I debated getting Robotech version but decided I wanted to see the original form. In retrospect, yes it is fairly weak but it had many strong points for it’s time and even by today’s standards. The animation was better quality than it’s contemporaries (in the US). It was the first series (in my experience, but also according to a friend of mine in Tokyo) where the “mecha” had a logical transformation and where human-form airplanes actually made sense in the story (they were fighting a giant race). I couldn’t stand watching the Transformers cartoons after seeing Robotech. Making quality music (did I say quality? hmm…) integral to the series was a nice touch and I think started the trend for putting good soundtracks in anime. But mostly, full season/series-long stories are joy to watch, keep people coming back, develop the characters more, and allow for nice long complex arcs; something that was purposely absent from US TV and is the same thing I loved about StarBlazers. It also gave the series a definite beginning, middle, and ending and is much more satisfying than a simple “2 hour series finale”; you feel like you are rewarded when it finishes, like completing a novel. Only recently has the johnny-come-lately US TV adopted that trend, most notably with Babylon 5 (the finest live-action scifi tv show to date in my opinion). Aside from that I would note that the review format perhaps is not suited to capturing the social/media relevence of the series. Macross remains a pop-icon in anime enthusiasts, on the order of Godzilla I dare say. Long live Minmei.

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