Sunday, September 9, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Robotech Anything



Once upon a time, a guy named Carl Macek and a company named Harmony Gold redubbed three unrelated anime series as if they were generations of a multi-part saga. 1985's Robotech was composed of Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeda. At one time its relatively uncensored content seemed like a revelation to American cartoon viewers, but anime fandom grew and passed the need for Robotech by.

In 2008, Robotech had a random and brief television run in Canada. I decided to watch it, got into it, passed on to the media franchise built around SDF Macross, at first because of my interest in the Zentradi, a race of warrior-slave aliens who rediscover their own humanity in something both sweet, but touched with absurdity.

Robotech isn't a guilty pleasure because the TV series is an inauthentic representation of other peoples' art. It was bought fairly, and the component series didn't disappear. No, it's three basic things:

One, Carl Macek turned out to be a lot more arrogant than I thought he was, claiming credit for the qualities of Robotech that obviously came from the original anime, and being rude or dismissive regarding the Japanese staff. I value giving the right credit for media, so this is a real groaner.

Secondly, except for a few nice people, the remaining fandom is composed of die-hards more concerned with meaningless speculation and back-biting instead of enjoying anything. It's incredibly frustrating to watch Harmony Gold and the fansbase both refuse to give up, and keep feeding on each other. It's one of those stupid times I let a fandom's bad behaviour made me feel bad about my interest in something.

Thirdly, Robotech had its own toys, novels, and comics. The expanded media had huge flaws, but other things in them got a lock on my brain. This more about feeling liking things of that quality should be "beneath" me than it is about artistic integrity. On the other hand, I don't think they're the most awful thing ever made, either. Just mediocre stuff whose badness is inflated because it perverts the parent anime.

These are the things that I still go for:

* Sentinels Exedore: Exedore was my favourite character, who got spun off into multiple redesigned versions and this one was the closest to what I wanted to see from him. He's not a "true" version of the character, but I have the least nerdy guilt over this. I don't mind the way he looks or dresses and doesn't know what a Trojan horse is. Those Robotech novels, purely by accident, gave his character a sense of post-Macross emotional development, active involvement, and sense of completion that made my interest in Exedore skyrocket. Also, I don't consider the PTSC version to be the same thing.

* Kazianna Hesh: She is the only female Zentradi I liked for a long time, until I decided that Veffidas Feaze was okay. Kazianna, I don't only like because she at some point rocked the casaba with one of my favourite official characters...instead, somehow, through her brief moments, she had a sense of being a "real" character, which is very rare for a character created specifically for Robotech. The fact of her not being an official Macross character, and being unable to easily describe what gives her a personality, is the crux here.

* The Malcontent Uprisings (novel and comic versions): A story about one final push of allied Zentradi unrest is a worthwhile thing, and I liked the conflict between Max and Milia, which gave them a bit more depth as characters. "Depth" might not have been the original intent for those characters, but making their relationship more complex does work. However, TMU also does almost nothing with the allied Zentradi males, and much of the story prioritizes the military thriller aspect rather than exploring the situation via the characters most affected by it. The novel version is also too cynical about human/Zentradi relations, as if it's meant to be a display of self-destruction rather than a bump in the road.

* Tavisha and Rosarik Simons's Robotech Clone comic series: This has little to do with the Zentradi, and not much to do with the rest of Robotech, either. Though these are still licensed comics, only a few token Robotech things appear, and largely it tells its own surreal sci-fi story that may be informed by anime as a whole, with a little bit of New Wave SF. In other words, they show the signs of aspiring original creators struggling to get out, and this might be why they seem to be higher quality than other Robotech comics.

* Novels 15-18 of the Robotech Universe: I know Robotech II: The Sentinels, a sequel planned exclusively by Macek, would have sucked. Sentinels Exedore notwithstanding, I largely see a bare-bones sequel filled with dorky-looking aliens and cheesy plots, with shallow new characters, bad art design, and having no idea what to do with previous characters. Yet I kind of like the outer bits of the novel version. Not flaws I mentioned, but the crazy cosmic shit and the internal divisions among the humans. It's loaded with clich├ęs and never fully fleshed-out, but there's something compelling about it.

Some of my attachment was because I always start off fandom with an uncritical phase, absorbing everything. I read these works before my opinions and my critical senses had solidified for a new fandom, before I started even caring about certain characters or themes. Back then, all I really cared about was Exedore, and not the themes behind the Zentradi. When that all changed, I kept shaving off the attachment to the Robotech things I had previously enjoyed, to be left with those small things mentioned above. Because of those, and because of general apathy, I don't hate Robotech at all, for anything.

Another benefit of the experience was that I had to think hard about the nature of prequels and sequels, when exactly a character is fit to be continued and when not, and whether it makes a difference to enjoy something just for the small things, or enjoy a work as a whole. It helped me define my relationship to those issues, and become more aware of myself as an artist.

I'm not interested, however, in any modern attempts to extend Robotech, your Shadow Chronicles comics/film and your Development Hell live-action movie. Nothing that I find to be a "guilty pleasure" is there anymore, and everything seems rushed and charmless, boring rather than offensive or especially not sucking me in.

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