History’s Strongest Disciple: Robotech Art 1

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.

29 Comments

  1. Oh yeah I have my own copy somewhere. Just looking at the cover… well it brings back memories of trying to keep the book in good shape. Not so much the series itself. I never did get Art II or III, though. Wow.

  2. Sean, thank you again for this look back into the past. As a fan of Robotech (Hey! Don’t throw those bricks yet!) this book was a “must read”, especially the section covering the history of anime both in Japan and the US.

    Granted, it might not look like much today, in light of the Internet and many other books that have been published since then, but it is important to remember that R:A1 came out at a time when such things were, to use the hoary cliche, “rare as hen’s teeth” or non-existant. I recently found a copy of R:A1 due to a friend entrusting me his copy (as well as a copy of R:A3) and while it was not as exciting a read and seemed a bit “meh”, I had to remind myself that it was the passage of twenty years–and all the anime/manga related books, magazines, documentaries, and websites that came out since then–that was responsible for that, not the quality of the book itself.

    Thanks again, Sean!

  3. Well, this is pretty interesting. I didn’t really think that the people who made Robotech actually cared enough to make books such as these, but they’re fascinating all the same.

  4. When I was re-discovering Robotech in highschool in the mid 90s, a friend of mine had this and it was like gold in print form. The show was getting hard to find; you were lucky if you could find an aging copy of the FHE compilations of the Macross saga on the bottom rack of the local Blockbuster kid’s section and Streamline’s “Perfect Collection” reissue was still a couple years away. Someday I’ll do my inner child proud and make an effort to pick all 3 of these up and stick them on my bookcase with the rest of my junk.

    @Robert: I think that’s one of the great misconceptions about Robotech; that the people who worked on it didn’t care, that they butchered the original shows, etc. People may disagree about the product and how it differed from its origins and other Harmony Gold business practices, but if you’ve ever heard any of the voice cast/crew talk, or look at the novels, the music, the artbooks, there’s an undercurrent within the production of people who really cared and believed about what they were working on.

  5. To srynders: Great response to Robert–that’s been the main beef I’ve had with people who claim that those who worked on ROBOTECH did not give s*@! about the product and they essentially butchered the original shows with relish. Obviously, not true at all, but some myths die hard.

    If one compares ROBOTECH to many animated programs in the 1980s, things stand out–it was mature, had better storytelling and dialogue…the changes made were necessary in light of syndication rules and censors, and what was left was pretty damned good. And if you want to talk about butchering an anime, check out BATTLE OF THE PLANETS.

    Just my 2-cents….

  6. The thing that always pissed me off about people complaining about the “atrocities” done to Macross et. al in Carl Macek’s masterpiece Robotech, at least in the late ’90s/early ’00s when I discovered it, was how little consideration there was for how much they were able to get away with. In light of the sorts of “adaptation” that went on at the time, completely re-cutting shows to change the focus character as in Cardcaptors or Escaflowne‘s American television airing, retaining so much of the core plotline — and the violence and bleakness that all of the Robotech installments could manage — hardly seems like such a great offense, even if a few names got changed and some details were crushed together oddly.

  7. The outrage about Robotech that still survives today among nutter hardcore Macross fans absolutely defies explanation. Why exactly Robotech gets so much grief when series like Battle of the Planets or Voltron don’t still baffles me, even as a Macross fan. But regardless, the outrage over Robotech forms a core part of the identity of many Macross fans, and I suppose acts partially as fodder for lame jokes that they can tell each other.

  8. Why exactly Robotech gets so much grief when series like Battle of the Planets or Voltron don’t still baffles me, even as a Macross fan.

    Robotech & Macross created fanatics. Battle of the Planets & Voltron fans liked then as kids, and as lazy pop culture references in their teens/twenties. They never created a fanbase who’d buy duplicates of toys/CDs in order to deliberately prevent other fans buying them to keep their own Macross collection as the best in the UK (true convention story from a UK con in the nineties).

    I suspect that’s garnered out of a differences in approach to both the production and merchandising of the series both in Japan and the US adaptations.

  9. Prouldy this sits on the bookshelf in the home theatre- what a rare gem this was to own back in the day as a kid anime fan!! Colony Drop is a Gem in and of itself for spot lighting the early days of my anime fandom- Loved the Article on the classic AD Police anime, damn, I miss the late 80’s and early 90’s more every time I visit this wonderful site!

  10. To Jeff: You hit the nail dead-on the head. Excellent points.

    I was always amazed by what ROBOTECH left _in_, as opposed to what was taken out. How many animated programs were there in America that showed the deaths of main characters (onscreen, not off)? The utter idiocy and futility of war? The fact that even though the good guys won, that the victory came at a high cost?

    Considering the butchering done to other shows, MACROSS, SOUTHERN CROSS, and MOSPEADA got off rather lightly in ROBOTECH.

    …Just my 2-cents…

  11. > Marc

    Well, the hilarious thing about Macross fans is that they’re not angry about what was taken out, they’re angry that it got edited AT ALL. After all, how DARE someone change the vision of their lord and savior Shoji Kawamori.

    The elephant in the room is that as much as Macross fans like to hate on Robotech, Macross wouldn’t be nearly as popular as it is now in the West if it wasn’t for Robotech.

  12. To tell you the truth, I haven’t even seen Robotech. It never hit British television back when I was a kid, and it was mostly consigned to the expensive cable channels like the Sci-Fi Channel. And by the time Manga Video got around to releasing it to DVD, I just didn’t care any more, because I wanted to see the original Macross instead, out of personal preference.

    When the first of the “Robotech is better than Macross” posts on ToplessRobot spread over the internet, I asked on Twitter about Macross, and I was told about Robotech’s lack of the excessive sanitising and Americanisation that plagued most anime dubs on television.

    So I’m aware that Robotech mostly stays faithful to the original Macross, and the whole tampering of the source material came with the later two series trying to make themselves related to Macross.

    I’m not hating on Robotech, I just prefer Macross more.

  13. If it weren’t for Robotech, I probably wouldn’t be an anime fan. The Art of Robotech books, the novels, the comics, the RPG: all of these things helped raise awareness and pique interest in Japanese animation. This is true and you can never, ever take that away from Robotech.

    But it’s also true that Robotech, despite having admirably served its purpose for its time, needs to pretty much go away at this point as its continued existence is a hindrance. The continued existence and support for Robotech is a key part (not the only part, mind you) of why we can’t have US releases of Macross DYRL, Frontier, or even–dare I say–Zero. A big hurdle for why we can’t get games or merchandise for Macross is because Robotech’s still there. You could ask “do people really just hate Harmony Gold?” but at this stage of the game, Harmony Gold and Robotech are the same thing.

    Robotech gets more grief than other US adaptations of anime such as Battle of the Planets or Voltron because of the reason why it’s more popular in America than the original uncut version of the show that it was derived from. Sales of BotP and Voltron over Gatchaman and Go-Lion are because people are nostalgic to see the show they saw as kids, which was never presented as “anime.” Robotech has that too, but at the core of its popularity is the idea that the world of Robotech is actually superior to the original shows. An idea like that is highly debatable.

    You don’t see anything NEAR this level of schism between fans of Space Battleship Yamato and Star Blazers. While many SB fans carry a torch for the English dubbing such that they use both the English and Japanese characters interchangeably (I myself never say “the Argo,” but I do frequently refer to “Derek Wildstar”) and may not feel so hot about the actions of Voyager Entertainment over the years, there isn’t that pervading mindset of “what they created with Star Blazers is greater than Space Battleship Yamato” the way there is for Robotech. That’s why those lunatics at MacrossWorld couldn’t tell Ciolek’s article was a joke despite it being on a “humor” website: people actually believe those things.

    Robotech was awesome for its time, but the primary qualities of Robotech were all things present in the original shows. We have Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada now. Therefore, Robotech’s obsolete. Just as with Streamline Pictures, the resentment comes from the lack of choice resulting from its existence more than the product itself.

  14. The fact that Voltron and Battle of the Planets gets away with worse treatment of its sources than Robotech does utterly shocks me. If you compare the amount of alterations done to either Battle or Voltron as compared to Robotech, best guess is that you’d probably be as sick as a parrot!

  15. > Daryl

    I would say a large part of the blame for the lack of Macross products in the West lays on the shoulders of the Japanese rights holders, as much as it does Harmony Gold. HG may be bullies and act like they have more rights than they actually do, but Big West has yet to make any serious effort to fight them in the West, or really, hasn’t shown any interest in doing so at all. HG sucks, no doubt, but their role in the whole shitty situation is exaggerated by fans who need an easy scapegoat and refuse to believe that the Japanese companies don’t give a shit about them.

  16. I dunno, I got the original Macross TV thin pack box set on R1 DVD from ADV, and Macross products like Valkyrie action figures (not just Revoltechs, but the transforming figures from Yamato as well) regularly make it over to stores in England.

  17. Sean: That’s all true and I briefly acknowledged it in my earlier post. The fact that Big West is so “…whatever” is why I specifically said Robotech’s existence was a key reason but not THE reason why we don’t get more Macross. I simply offered that up to provide an answer to why Robotech/HG earns so much grief when other US localizations that have made substantially bigger edits and alterations do not.

    At the anime conventions of this past year (and probably also 2008, I forget at this point), a question asked at every industry panel was “do you have plans to license and release more Macross, such as Macross Frontier?” Everyone’s response was almost word for word identical: “we would love to release Macross [blank], but that’s really a question to ask Harmony Gold.” Then Harmony Gold when asked would say “well, the status of everything is on hold because of this live-action movie that might not actually get made” before mumbling under their breaths “and we want our cut for being the forced middleman.”

    This sort of thing is not because “Robotech sucks” or “Big West is unreasonable” (even though they are that). This particular roadblock which is rather difficult to overcome is because “Robotech still actively exists.” Hence, the fan ire.

    [Realistically speaking, even WITHOUT Harmony Gold/Robotech being around anymore, releasing a new Macross title wouldn’t make money in the US ANYWAY since it’d cost too much to get–the aforementioned “Big West is unreasonable”–and not sell due to the fact that there are robots in it.]

  18. Great feature, and some really fascinating comments.
    From a personal point of view, I was only vaguely aware of Robotech in the 80’s, mainly via the UK release of the VF-1S as Jetfire in the G1 Transformers range. Macross became one of my first real experiences with anime however through tv showings of Macross: Do You Remeber Love whilst living in Hong Kong. Then when I went to university in 200o the crew I hooked up with had some real Robotech fans who introduced me to the series proper and Jack Mckinneys superb novelisations, and never looked back.

    I must agree that looking back it’s amazing how most of the changes to the three shows were small, cosmetic things that made Robotech a more palatable product for wester audiences.

    And yes, you really can see the dedication and care that went into the production on Harmony Golds part. The real bugbear is that the licencing issues make it damn-near impossible to make the better elements of the broader Macross saga available to the western market.
    Shame really 🙁

  19. Robotech was also the subject of the first dedicated anime fanzine ever produced in the UK – Tony Luke’s Robotech UK, cover art by Steve Kyte.

    For what seemed like quite a long time, some fans would do the old-fashioned equivalent of flaming you to death if you used the words “Robotech” and “anime” in the same sentence. Ah me, old times…

  20. I’d have a comment about Harmony Gold and how much they cared and respected the original Japanese shows they worked with, but I’m too busy enjoying their wonderful production of “Captain Harlock & The Queen Of 1000 Years”. Who needs two separate television series with two different casts, set in entirely different millenia? Not me! 2976, 1999, what’s the difference.

    Also: amazed to learn that Battle Of The Planets never “created a fanbase”, or that nobody ever complained about the cuts or the rewriting. This is, indeed, news we can use.

  21. I do think some context is in order. NOBODY who worked on Robotech felt it was ‘something special’ or ‘different’ when it was in production during late ’84 into ’85. They showed up, clocked in, did the work and clocked out. It was a job.

    All the ‘magical time’ bullshit is pandering to the fanbase, to make them feel like they’re part of something wonderful.

    The reason why the Macross segment seemed more ‘true’ to the Japanese origin show is because it was already mostly DONE when the word came down to find a way to expand it to the supposedly desired minimum episodes. Harmony Gold had been planning on selling the show as a ‘direct to video’ thing and the translating and scripting was mostly finished. Note how awkward the lead-in to Southern Cross is.

    And Southern Cross…MAN what a screw up, editing the show to make it seem like it’s on Earth when given how Mospeada starts it would have worked BETTER as an alien planet. So, look, NOT MUCH FORETHOUGHT AFTER ALL, huh?

    And I’ve never bought any of the excuses for the Captain Harlock/Queen of trainwreck. I think Macek was full of himself, thought he was a GENIUS thanks to Robotech and figured he could ‘do it right’ with these shows. Which he didn’t.

    Macek always had a problem trusting the shows to tell their stories. Remember, Dave, that one A-Kon he was at? How PROUD he was for ripping out the music and effects and song for the Bable II OAV, how much he crowed about improving it because the Japanese just didn’t UNDERSTAND how to use audio? Mannnnn. I think we laughed for an hour after that.

    And I know, second hand, some things about the production of this book. It’s not a pretty sight. Hint: Kay Reynolds was NOT a nice person.

  22. > Dave

    I think the difference is that there’s a large, vocal part of Western Macross fandom that is STILL complaining about the edits done for Robotech, where as it seems like most Gatchaman/BotP fans have moved on by now.

  23. Yeah. What Sean said.

    While I recall some BoTP complaining in some US sci-fi or horror magazine around the early 90s, it was never as bad as the Robotech moaning. And it was presented more as – “remember that kids show you watched as a kid, well in Japan it was this wild thing!”

    And by the time I was actually paying attention to anime in the mid-nineties, it was only the Robotech/Macross complaining I encountered.

    Even then it seemed old and played out, but that may be due to the fact I was too busy doing my own complaining about Final Fantasy translations…

    And being British of course. A lot of the moaning always seemed second hand from the US.

  24. Just because you guys missed out on the first wave of “Sandy Frank Is The Antichrist”, well, that doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. There was plenty of histrionic, over the top, completely insane BOTP complaining.

    I would say more, but I am busy enjoying that incredible, well-written, produced-with-respect-and-admiration for-the-source-material motion picture, ROBOTECH THE MOVIE. It was even shown in a theater once!

  25. Did that BOTP last as long as the Robotech complaining did?

    My point was that there didn’t seem to be the same fuel to the fires of the BOTP grievances as there were to Robotech/Macross. That one seems to continually sweep new people up into it in a way other conflagrations don’t. It’s a total Billy Joel situation.

  26. Maybe it’s because most of us Gatchaman fans are mature enough to understand that while the changes made to create BOTP were horrible, horrible things, that’s just the way things rolled when adapting a show to American broadcast standards.

    altho there’s still no reason for 7-Zark-7. Oh, wait, that thing called ‘context’! It was post-Star Wars! Robots that looked like trash cans meant SPACE.

  27. I have to echo Daryl’s comment that Robotech has become increasingly obsolete in today’s market. For a long time people recommended it base solely on the fact it was the only dubbed version of Macross which thanks to the late ADV, is no longer true.

    Also I wouldn’t say the changes to Robotech as a whole were “small” when you consider how much Southern Cross was re-written to form the very basis of the Robotech mythos.

    As a mecha fan, I find the most annoying thing is trying to talk about any of those shows without bringing up Robotech. While the way they were joined together was only made with cheap cement, the cracks in the block haven’t done it in completely. Just look at how many people were shrieking about Macross Frontier and all the superficial things that they thought made it a ripoff of Robotech whereas in Japan most people were like, “what’s a Mospeada?”

  28. Yeah, I remember being around a lot of BoTP and Star Blazers goofs complaining about all those Gatchaman and Yamato fanboys. Oh, wait…

    The Robotech fans were a different set altogether. There were quite a few Robotech fans who simply weren’t interested in the source material at all. And most of the ones I knew were quite nice.

    RWG (unlike those loser Yamato and Gatchaman fans I hung with 🙂

  29. To Steve: Good point. The trouble is that a good chunk of people cannot understand–or refuse to understand–that simple fact.

    Not everything that works in a Japanese cartoon will work on American television. And back then, cable was not a very large market, VCRs were still oddities, and the Internet was, well….the equivalent of two soup cans and a string. The re-writing and editing was sadly one of those horrible, crazy things that happened back then because there was no other option, short of just not bringing the thing over here at all.

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