Robotech has long been something akin to the Energizer Bunny of animes, with rabidly loyal fans that have followed the franchise in its various iterations for decades, some since childhood. This is nowhere more apparent than in some kind of funny extras on this Blu-Ray where various fans are interviewed about their lifelong Robotech obsessions and what the show has meant for them. One guy keeps proclaiming, "You get transforming robots! What more could you want? Trans-form-ing ro-bots!" These folk make Trekkies and/or Trekkers look like mild-mannered, quietly interested show followers by comparison.
Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is a straight to video sequel of sorts that picks up more or less simultaneously from when the Robotech series ended. It's 2044, the nasty alien invaders the Invid are on a tear, and various Robotech heroes are on the march against them. That's really the sum total of the basic plot outline here, though the film does wrap up some dangling threads from the television series before launching its main storyline. For those unfamiliar with the Robotech universe, rest assured that the film can be approached as a standalone, with only momentary head-scratching going on--the gist of the series, funnily enough, is covered in about a 30 second summary flashback. In a nutshell, we get hotshot fighter pilot Marcus, mourning the apparent death of his sister and her fiancé Scott in an Invid attack. It actually turns out Scott is alive (Marlene wasn't so lucky) and is now involved with a young Invid "woman" (for want of a better term), Ariel, in a Romeo and Juliet sort of starcrossed lovers subplot. In a fitting illustration of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend," the Invid realize that the advanced alien race which has provided Earth with "shadow technology" and other high-tech gizmos like "protoculture" (think of it as the ultimate solution to our energy crisis) is actually their old nemesis, and they depart Earth quickly, to everyone's amazement. It takes awhile for us slow earthlings to realize that these other aliens, the Haydonites, may not have our best interests at heart when they imparted so much technology, setting up the final battle.
The film offers a fairly typical anime production design with some occasionally outstanding moments. Some of the Invid attacks are especially well handled, with giant clamshell looking spacecraft opening up to discharge hundreds of attacking forces. The character designs are much more detailed and generally better realized than the television series, though with an obvious nod to the original versions. Robotech, for all of it sci-fi goofiness, always tended toward the relatively "real" side of portrayals, so you'll see some characters have aged nicely. Robotech also never shied away from killing even central characters, and that trend continues in this outing, though I won't spoil the doomed character's identity for you, only to say that, in true Robotech fashion, they die heroically.
If some of the transformation sequences seem old hat, especially after the recent actual Transformer live action outing, they're nonetheless fun and, historically speaking, show their influence on ideas that have permeated sci-fi animes up through such recent efforts as Appleseed. Some of the supporting characters are equally as innovative, as with Janice, the half alien/half human technology robot who simulates a human appearance holographically around her automated shell. That said, you still get your fill of some sci-fi clichés, albeit gussied up in some new terminologies. So instead of "warp drive," we get "folding," with about the same visual effect of shooting stars that you get in Star Trek: The Next Generation or the Star Trek film franchise.
The voicework is generally excellent, if often over the top in that typical anime way, and includes some voice actors who have been with the show for its entire run, something unusual in the transitory world of voiceover work. The show also has a very vigorous sound design, with some great sound effects utilized liberally throughout, especially in the battle scenes. There's an attempt made here at some adult themes of unity despite diversity and the "shadowy" (no pun intended) character of ulterior motives. While it may seem like stretching at times, it at least shows the Robotech crew isn't trying to rest solely on visual laurels.
If you haven't caught the Robotech craze, you could do worse than starting with this film. While you may from time to time wonder exactly what's going on (though one of the many extra featurettes attempts to provide some backstory), if you're a fan of high octane space battle scenarios, The Shadow Chronicles provides that in spades, with enough character drama to at least occasionally keep the events from seeming patently silly.
The Blu-Ray Disc
This is a decent enough MPEG-4 AVC transfer, with some vivid colors, sharp detail and nice blend of CGI and traditional cel animation. While it probably won't knock your socks off, it has above-average depth and dimensionality, if few of the gasp inducing moments of something from, say, Pixar or even Disney in their better moments.
The Dolby True HD soundtrack is where this Blu-Ray really shines, with a great, enveloping mix of crystal clear dialogue, surprisingly sparse yet effective underscore and ubiquitous use of excellent and directionally diverse sound effects. While the Dolby 2.0 soundtrack is by nature less immersive, it provides plenty of punch. Only English subtitles are available.
There are a host of middling to excellent extras augmenting the Blu-Ray. The creative crew commentary is probably more for Robotech insiders than the general public at large, but everyone will have a blast watching the linked mini-featurettes that make up "Birth of a Sequel" (especially the longtime fan comments mentioned above). There are several other short featurettes, including "Anime Selects," a music video, a podcast and split screen animatics. True Robotechies will get a kick out of seeing some of the demo reels for the aborted sequel series Robotech 3000 featuring some truly appallingly bad motion capture CGI (but it was the 90s, after all). Rounding out the extras are deleted scenes, outtakes, a photo gallery and trailers.
Robotech has inspired at least a generation and a half of loyal fandom to follow its space operatic exploits, and The Shadow Chronicles helps propel the story into not only the next generation of its characters, but its viewing audience as well. Even non-aficionados should find some fun stuff in this enterprise (sorry). Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet