History’s Strongest Disciple: Protoculture Addicts #4

Protoculture Addicts was first published as a Robotech fanzine back in 1987 by French-Canadian college students operating out of a dorm room. They soon caught the attention of the company that owned Robotech, Harmony Gold, which gave them an ultimatum: give up the fanzine or go professional as the “Official Fanzine” of Robotech. “Official Fanzine” might be a bit of an oxymoron, but then, Harmony Gold was never the most sensible company. Starting with issue ten, Protoculture Addicts became a general focus anime magazine and has, to date, published nearly 100 issues.

Dated Spring 1989, Issue #4 of Protoculture Addicts was the first to be distributed by Diamond Distributing, which allowed it to reach a wider range of comic and specialty shops in North America. The issue itself is printed on coarse newsprint in typical comic book dimensions, clocking in at 35 pages. The layouts and style are rough, and the lack of any professional background really shows through. The content is focused on different aspects of Robotech, with a small section in the back about general anime and manga.

The first section is a letters page, called “The Voice of the Freedom Fighters.” Most of the letters complain about how hard it is to find Robotech merchandise and how grateful they were to find out about the fanzine. One guy brags about having a vanity front license plate on his ’66 Buick that says, “I love MINMEI,” and another sent in this letter straight out of third grade:

“Dear Protoculture Addicts,

Below is something I would like for you to put in the magazine.

ROBOTECH

R eally
O utrageous
B eyond
O utstanding
T otally
E xtraordinary
C ool and
H ot!

#1 techie

The letters page is followed by a brief article explaining the goals of the fanzine and some general information about submitting articles, getting the fanzine carried in more stores and apologizing for not responding to all inquiries due to being busy with studies and the publication itself. After that, there’s a brief write-up tallying the results of a reader poll on the most popular male characters (Rick Hunter is #1, while the ubiquitous Robotech narrator is a disappointing #32).

The ongoing feature “Uh?! Chronicle of the Odd & Bizarre in Robotech” details various goofs and continuity errors in various episodes of Robotech, the title itself a reference to the “Uh?!” noise characters often made throughout the dub. Given the haphazard production of both the original anime series and Robotech, plenty of goofs abound, so there’s no shortage of material.

The main focus of the issue is an interview with Kevin Siembieda of Palladium Books, the publisher and writer of the Robotech role-playing game. The Robotech role-playing game is a notoriously poor piece of tabletop game writing, and Siembieda has something of a bad reputation in his industry, but he manages to come across as a reasonably likable guy. He spends most of the interview talking about Palladium’s upcoming VHS release of Robotech II: The Sentinels. The most interesting piece of information may be that Steve Jackson Games (publishers of GURPS, among others) almost acquired the rights to Robotech before Palladium did, a tidbit that will likely be entirely meaningless except to RPG nuts.

A feature called “Robotech World” features reviews of various Robotech products, and in this issue, they review the Robotech role-playing game and the first few issues of the Robotech II: The Sentinels comic adaption by Eternity Comics. It’s worth noting that The Sentinels comic adaption would go on to span some 70+ issues, which is rather impressive considering the source material and the market for such a product.

A short three-page comic breaks up the articles, although the art is as amateurish as you’d expect. The title of the comic is “Operation Aborted,” and focuses on a female Robotech Defense Force pilot who finds out she’s pregnant on the day the Zentraedi attack Earth. The title is a bit misleading, as it’s her husband that dies, not her. The comic is followed by an article about the feasibility of producing a Valkyrie fighter in real life, an absurd idea that’s apparently been floating around Robotech/Macross fandom since forever (and still pops up on message boards to this day). The article is laughable, ignoring any sort of logical hindrances to producing an actual transforming fighter jet, with such choice insights as:

“Also, the Veritech will need two smaller engines for forward motion in Guardian mode. The engines of choice are two next-generation Adour Mk-861 turbofans.”

The last of the Robotech features is a selection of combat random hit location tables for the Robotech role-playing game.

The final few pages focus on general anime and manga topics, with a long review of Project A-Ko and a page-long obituary for Osamu Tezuka. News for this issue include:

• US Renditions was set to release a BGM soundtrack from Robotech.
• A robbery occurred at Ben Dunn’s house in San Antonio, where “Several valuable toys, BGM, hundreds of japanimation tapes and two VCR have been stolen.”
• Details on two e-zines, Anime Stuff and Animanga Nuzu. Both were available on CompuServe, USENET and assorted anime-related BBSes.
• Streamline Pictures was set to release Miyazaki’s Laputa in U.S. theaters following its debut at the Roxy Theatre in Philadelphia.
Anime-Zine #4 was supposed to be released in April or May of that year.
• A rundown on upcoming manga titles set to be released in the US, including Cyber 7, Mai the Psychic Girl, and Lum (Urusei Yatsura).
• A Mai the Psychic Girl film was in option negotiations in Hollywood, and promised to be “a very high-tech and extravagant movie with a lot of special effects but the human side of the character will not be neglected.”

Two things become painfully obvious when reading these early issues of Protoculture Addicts: the amateur roots of the magazine and the poor English writing ability (perhaps due to the French-Canadian origins) of many of the writers. This remained apparent in much later issues, even as the general production quality improved. That said, Protoculture Addicts is (they’re still publishing about one or two issues per year) the longest-running English-language anime magazine, having been in production for over 20 years. They managed to outlive better-written, better-funded magazines and I suppose there’s something to be said for that.

[The first ten issues of Protoculture Addicts are available in PDF format for $12.99 from RPG Drive-Thru]

6 Comments

  1. Yep, I remember this…and I also remember picking it up at a comic store in Montreal (in Canada, duh!).

    Sean, you were pretty fair and on the ball with this overview–but remember that this was 20-plus years ago, and it wasn’t as if there was a massive influx of professional anime magazines and books back then. You are right about the mangling of English and the fanzine look (well, that’s pretty much all we had back then…), but I guess that added charm to it.

    That said, PA is still being published after 20 years and it’s much better looking and slicker. Not sure if there has been a new issue in some time, but I was a regular reader for years. And you are correct–it outlasted many other fanzines such as ANIME-ZINE, ANIMAG, and ANIMENONEMOUS, to name a few.

    One more thing…the obituary for Tezuka in this issue was the first time I had ever heard of the man or his work. Over the years I’ve learned a lot more and Helen McCarthy’s book promises to be the most comprehensive.

    Good job again, Sean. Keep these coming!

  2. We actually played that Palladium RPG back in the day. It really wasn’t THAT bad if you were willing to make adjustments. Pretty much every tabletop RPG I ever played needed adjustments. I still have my copy of the Macross part around here somewhere…

    RWG (the illos were pretty decent)

  3. Marc, I realize this was twenty years ago but even compared to contemporary efforts like ANIMAG, Protoculture Addicts is pretty rough.

    I updated the post a bit, as apparently Protoculture Addicts is still being published, albeit very irregularly.

  4. I’m still surprised that PA hangs around while Viz pulls the plug on Animerica.

    Yeah, yeah, freebie at Best Buy or at least was, might have pulled the plug on even that thing now that BB considers anime (and, really, all DVD) poison.

    PA is trying to move to the ‘digital future’ in some vague way, I think one of their guys was pimping for mobile phone versions or some other doomed-to-fail nonsense. Guys, forget it, the AmeriOtaku ™ only want free stuff. Paying to download a magazine to a 2 inch screen is like eating a Burger King Whopper over the internet. Nobody ends up happy.

  5. Rough and cheap has survived and got slicker while those of us who shot for expensive, elegant or intelligent from the word go have all fallen by the wayside. You can have great design and great writers, but if your magazine folds you have nowhere to showcase them! All credit to the PA team for handling all the changes of the last 20-plus years and ensuring that their publication kept going.

  6. To Helen: That is sad, because one reason (well, several reasons) I loved ANIME UK was the fact that it WAS elegent, intelligent, and put together in a professional manner–and it was damned good to read, when we did get it in the States.

    To Sean: Good point. I also read ANIMAG, and other ‘zines that were better looking and more polished…and I was young and uninformed back then.

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