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Robotech - Protoculture Collection
Robotech is an important series that has been credited as the series that started the interest in Japanese animation here in the US. There had been several other anime shows broadcast on American TV prior to Robotech, but none of them generated the excitement of this 1985 show. It ran for three years in the states, and paved the way for more anime to be imported. This is a really fun and enjoyable show. I've been a big fan for years, and have re-watched this series more than any other anime show. Having said that, I have to admit that ADV is releasing this show almost as often as Anchor Bay puts out another version of one of the Evil Dead movies.
More than you want to know about the history of Robotech on DVD:
Originally ADV put out this series on DVD as "The Legacy Collection"a series of 14 DVD that were released two at a time. These came in two flavors too; single disc versions or boxed sets that had two discs and a limited edition bonus disc of extras. I bought the boxed sets of all of them.
Then they released the Legacy series in bricks (cases containing several DVDs) with each of the three chapters collected in a set at a reduced price. These were dubbed "Complete Collections" and didn't have the extras, so I was happy with what I had purchased.
Next, the show was nicely restored and expanded very slightly (there were a few shots added here and there, but no major changes) under the banner "Robotech Remastered". I had to get that too. This new version didn't have the features on the bonus discs that were released with the Legacy Collection, so I smuggly hung onto those, while passing on the earlier versions to a friend.
The latest incarnation is the Robotech Protoculture Collection. This features the best of all the previous releases in one nice package. It has the Remastered discs, and the Legacy bonus discs all in four nice books with a page for each DVD. These are all contained in an attractive slipcase. If you have been waiting to buy this series, now is the time to do it. I can't imagine a nicer package than this.
In the mid 80's Harmony Gold, a producer of TV shows for American TV, wanted to syndicate a dubbed version of the popular anime show Super-Dimensional Fortress: Macross. The problem was that a syndicated show had to have 65 episodes and there were only 36 in Macross. So Harmony bought up two other series that were similar in tone (Super-Dimensional Cavalry: Southern Cross and Genesis Climber: Mospeada), rewrote the story to have each of the chapters loosely linked, and released them as the generation spanning 85-episode saga Robotech. It was an instant hit.
Each of the three sections of Robotech tell a complete story, as you would guess from the show's origin. Those three stories are:
The Macros Saga:
The story starts in 1999. A giant space fortress, heavily damaged, warps into our solar system. Hurtling uncontrolled through space, the unmanned ship crashes on a small island on Earth. The warring factions of Earth unite to study this ship and its strange technology. A city is built on the island where the ship crashed. The technology that is discovered is dubbed "Robotech."
Over the next ten years, the ship is studied and repaired. Using the newly discovered knowledge a fleet of jets is built that can transform into giant robots. Then, on the day that the rebuilt space fortress, named SDF-1, is to take its maiden voyage, the Zentraedi attack. These aliens have been searching for the damaged space fortress because they too want the technology that it contains. The only thing that stands between the Zentraedi taking over the earth is the untested SDF-1, its untrained crew, and a fleet of Robotech fighters.
This is easily my favorite chapter in the Robotech saga. There's fantastic space battles, intrigue, plot twists and several unexpected surprises. Who wasn't shocked when the SDF-1 finally gets back to earth and you find out how the civilians aboard are treated? Not to mention the ending. No American cartoon of the day would have a conclusion like that. There's also a romance plot, but that isn't too sappy and it doesn't get in the way of the rest of the story.
The characters are what really stick with me though. While they aren't as well developed as those in Ghost in the Shell for example, these people do have personalities and aren't just walking cliches. It's hard not to like Rick, Minmay and all the other people on the SDF-1. This is an all around great series.
The Robotech Masters:
The second chapter starts 15 years after the first one ended. The Robotech Masters, the rulers of the Zentraedi, have come to Earth to take it over. They need the protoculture matrix that is growing on Earth since their own supplies are running dangerously low. Dana Sterling (the daughter of two of the characters from the first chapter) is a member of the Southern Cross Army, 15th Squadron, whose mission is to defend the Earth against these alien invaders.
Joining Dana is a group of rookie fighters with heart, including the musician Bowie, tech guru Louie, and ladies man Sean. When raiding a downed Robotech master ship, they encounter an alien fighter, Zor, who eventually helps them escape and joins their battle against his previous masters.
There are some problems with this chapter. It's the weakest of the three by far, and really pales in comparison. The main problem I have is that I never liked Dana's character. She's supposed to be a leader but acts like a spoiled brat most of the time. The whole plot with Zor was mind-bogglingly stupid too. There were too many battles that didn't seem to advance the plot, and none of the characters are developed very well. The whole chapter had a bland feel to it.
Even with all of it's faults, this isn't a horrible show, just a slightly less than average one. There are some moments, and the second half plays a lot better than the first. This part also explains more of the nature of protoculture and why everyone is fighting for it. The episodes leading up to the conclusion were very exciting with both sides fighting for their lives and the viewer knowing that absolutely anything can happen.
The Invid, a galactic race of beings, have invaded Earth, turning much of the planet into a wasteland. Earth has now become a slave colony of the Invid, with humans working day and night to harvest protoculture.
Humanity's only hope is the expeditionary force that is led by Rick Hunter. They left Earth to search for the home world of the first chapter over 20 years ago, and are now returning to reclaim their home planet. A scouting team is sent ahead to test the Invid's strength and defenses, but their mission ends in disaster. The Invid quickly and easily defeat the Earthlings, destroying their ship. There is only one apparent survivor, Scott Bernard, a tough and rugged military man. Trapped on a world he has only seen in pictures, Scott is determined to carry out his mission: To find the Invid's main base, the Reflex Point and destroy their queen.
Initially all alone, Scott starts gathering help on his mission. As the episodes progress, he recruits a team of resistance fighters that will be invaluable in helping him complete his mission. First he runs encounters Rand, a young man used to living off his wits. Then he is joined by the talkative and hyper Anne, Lunk, aBio-Maintenance Engineer with a secret in his past, and Lancer/Yellow Dancer, a military expert who dresses as a woman and sings to cover his underground work against the Invid. Will this rag-tag group of fighters be able to take on the force that defeated the Southern Cross?
After the mediocre Robotech Masters storyline, this chapter was like a breath of fresh air. It gets back to the action and fighting against impossible odds that made the first series so good. There is more character development and the character designs are very good. After all these years I still think that the Invid are really cool looking villains.
This series does stretch your ability to suspend your disbelief. There are only so many times a small rag-tag group can go up against an experienced army and win before you start wondering about the plausibility. Whenever that would happen to me I'd just repeat the mantra from the opening song to Mystery Science Theater: "It's just a show, I should really just relax." If you can do that, this story line is a lot of fun with some great characters.
You have the choice of English or Spanish audio, both in 5.1. (There are no subtitles avalible.) Since the show was edited heavily, there is no Japanese language track. The sound during the frequent battle scenes is very cool. They make full use of the sound stage, with planes swooshing from the rear to the front and all over the room. There are laser blasts coming from all corners. This part of the mix is very dynamic and exciting, the audio track really puts you in the middle of things. Unfortunately, after the battles end, the sound collapses to what is basically a mono mix. The dialog is centered over the screen, and rarely moves about. Even the music is piped to the front speakers most of the time. I wish they had thrown some of the music and sound effects to the rear speakers throughout the entire show and not just the exciting parts.
The audio quality is good. There is no hiss or hums, though some of the dialog does sound a little flat. The music is not dynamic, though it does sound better than I remember it from television.
The video quality is a vast improvement over the initial ADV release of this series. The first DVDs looked like they were taken straight from video tape. The image was very soft and blurry. It looked horrible. This set looks a lot better. The lines are tight and clean, and the soft look is gone. It is not a perfect image though. There is a lot of aliasing, with many vertical lines having a stair step effect. The colors are not as bright and vivid as I was hoping, but they look significantly better than the previous DVDs. There were also some spots on the image that looked like they were on the cells themselves, but they were not a major problem. The 1.33:1 presentation is overall very good.
This set has a great collection of bonus material contained on seven discs. These disc are exactly the same as the bonus discs that were included in the seven Robotech Legacy Collection sets. These disc contain the following features:
The Macross Saga:
- Codename Robotech (Original Series Feature) with audio commentary on the history of Robotech by series developer Carl Macek: This is a movie based on the first thirteen episodes of the show to bring viewers who might have missed the beginning up to date. It's interesting to see how they condensed the show. The commentary is very good, with Carl Macek talking about how the show was put together and sold, and relating some of the details of marketing the show. Very informative.
- Animation Model Sheets (Character Library & Mecha Library)
- International Clips - the same seen shown in different languages. It's pretty fun.
- Gallery of Macross Comic Book Covers - the Comico releases, not the more recent version.
- Galaxy of the Stars (Harmony Gold Promo Film)
- Toy Commercials (Circa 1986)
- Character Bios
- Point Of View (Interview with Carl Macek 1986) - a 15-minute interview with Carl Macek from a Dallas TV station where he plugs the movie.
- Robotech® II: The Sentinels (With special commentary by Carl Macek) - an attempt at creating another robotech series that never got off the ground. A very interesting bit of history, and a lot of fun to watch.
- Sentinels Pre-Production (Character & Mecha Art Gallery)
- Sentinels (TV Series Promo)
- Original Opening/Closing Animations:
- Macross Saga
- Southern Cross
- Genesis Climber: Mospeada
- Gallery of Masters Comic Book Covers
- Animation Model Sheets
- International Clips
- Macross Pilot - this is pretty cool. It's the first episode from Macross dubbed, when they were trying to sell that series by itself.
- Pre-Production Art (Sentinels and unproduced Southern Cross designs)
- Robotech The Movie Supplementals
- Music Video
- Storyboard Animatic
- Unaired Pilot for Genesis Climber Mospeada
- Animation Gallery (Characters and Mecha)
- Prototype Toy Presentation
- Promotional Videos
- Gallery of New Generation Comic Book Covers
- International Clips
- Selected Deleted Scenes from:
- Macross Saga
- Southern Cross
- Genesis Climber: Mospeada
- Merchandise Gallery
- Video Games Past and Future
Is it worth upgrading?:
If you have already invested in the initial release of Robotech, the Legacy Collection, should you plunk down your hard earned sheckles once again for this remastered set? For me, the answer is "definitely" based on the much improved video quality. This is a series that I enjoy rewatching time and time again, and the first release just didn't look very good. The 5.1 sound is really impressive during the battle scenes, and there are plenty of them to keep your speakers busy.
If you have the Robotech Remastered series, I'd be less inclined to double dip. You are getting seven discs worth of extras, and the whole series in a cool, compact set, but I don't think it's worth the investment. While some of the extras are nice to have, a lot of them left me cold. How often are you really going to want to see the covers to Robotech comic books?
Robotech is like a comfortable pair of old shoes. It just feels good and you know what you're getting into. This series is a lot of fun and has a lot of replay value. This excellent package comes Highly Recommended to anime fans young and old alike. If you have the remastered versions that ADV recently released, you might want to hold off, but it's an improvement over the Legacy Collection and warrants an upgrade. Hopefully this will be the last time Robotech is released, I can't see them creating a better package than this.