Here’s an odd one: a 254 page full color artbook published in 1986, in English, covering all 85 episode of Carl Macek’s masterpiece Robotech. Bearing the title Robotech Art 1 and billing itself as “The Official Guide to the Robotech Universe,” it contains lots of screen captures and line art accompanying episode summaries, character descriptions, mechanical information and a detailed essay about Robotech‘s Japanese origins. The best analogy I could provide here would be that it’s a bit like an English language Roman Album or This is Animation, but not quite as cluttered, detailed or claustrophobic.
Aside from a short introduction penned by the most hated man in Japanimation fandom, Carl Macek, the first 136 pages consist entirely of episode summaries. Nearly every episode gets its own page of summary text and screen captures, with some of the more complicated or important episodes getting two pages. Summaries this detailed seem a bit quaint now, but it’s easy to see how useful and appreciated this kind of thing would have been in the age before everyone had VCRs. The next three chapters focus on the characters and mecha of The Macross Saga, The Robotech Masters and New Generation portions of Robotech, respectively. The Macross Saga gets the lion’s share of attention here, with more focus given to it than the other two parts combined. Take for instance the Veritech fighter, which gets four pages filled with line-art, while New Generation’s ever present Cyclone is represented by exactly one piece of line-art. The Robotech Masters gets the least amount of attention, because as we all know, nobody except Justin Sevakis cares about Southern Cross.
The 20 page essay about Robotech‘s origins may be the most interesting part of this book, as it’s exceptionally detailed and informative (for instance, did you know Carl Macek was as of 1986 the only person to receive a college degree in “Theory of Criticism in the Visual Medium?) It isn’t without its errors, like listing Shoji Kawamori as having worked on both Orguss and Megazone 23, but it’s still an interesting read. It traces the origins of Japanese animation and provides a solid picture of the industry that would have been all but unknown to most fans in the late 80s. Macross‘ origin and production is covered in detail before moving on to describing the events that lead to Robotech itself in the United States. Although the essay is uncredited, Fred Patten is listed as a contributor to Art 1, and I’d suspect he had a heavy hand in the writing of it.
The book ends with a paltry two page glossary of Robotech terms that wouldn’t have been of much to help anybody, a list of full credits for the Robotech production and a list of the name changes in Robotech from the original Japanese. Things are finished out with a short afterword by one of the co-authors, Kay Reynolds, describing how she first discovered Japanimation and came to be involved with the production of the book.
While almost entirely superfluous today, 23 years ago Robotech Art 1 was probably pretty cool for Robotech fans. It’s nicely produced, with squarebound glossy pages and looks decidedly classier and more professional than other contemporary Robotech publications like Protoculture Addicts or Palladium Publishing’s Robotech role-playing game. As the title of the book implies, Art 1 was followed by an Art 2 and Art 3. Art 2 is largely unnecessary, consisting entirely of fanart, which ranges from absolutely awful to so-so. Art 3 is the most interesting of the three, as it’s written entirely by Carl Macek and details the production of the failed Robotech II: The Sentinels television series, including the difficulties of working with Japanese companies and having to change every design so that people wouldn’t think they were making a sequel to Macross. It’s worth checking out, more so than Robotech Art 1.