Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles: These Boobs Are Out of Control

There was a time, long, long ago, when I was a very big Robotech fan. Before I first watched Bubblegum Crisis and before I even knew what anime was, I started renting Robotech from my local video store after tracing a mysterious transforming fighter jet toy in my possession back to the series. I spent most of 5th and 6th grade obsessed with the series; if I wasn’t in school or drawing sprawling battles featuring the Robotech mecha, I had my nose buried in one of the twenty Robotech novels I had managed to accumulate through repeated trips to used book stores.

Although Robotech is usually credited as being a “gateway drug” into anime, it’s something that most fans gave up as they began to uncover the original three series that were turned into Robotech and became interested in other Japanimation titles. Despite this, even as I was watching later Macross sequels like Plus and 7, or exploring the depths of the 1980s OAV boom through the racks at my nearby video rental shop, I still remained a Robotech fan. This may have been due in part to the fact that unlike a large population of American anime fans, Carl Macek did not break into my house, rape my parents and bludgeon my sister to death with a VHS copy of Robotech II: The Sentinels.

It got so bad at one point that my 5th grade teacher called my parents to have a “chat” about my reading habits and how I absolutely refused to show interest in reading anything other than Jack McKinney’s Robotech novels. Soon after I began to supplement the novels with Palladium Books’ Robotech role-playing game series and the numerous Robotech comic books.

I’ve never had that chip on my shoulder about Robotech like a lot of fans do, and I’ve never held any ill-will towards Macek. The guy might be a hack, but editing some Japanese cartoons together to get shown on TV adrift in a sea of terrible 1980s American cartoons certainly isn’t deserving of the title of “Anime Antichrist” that so many pathetic fucks have bestowed upon him. Eventually my interest in Robotech stagnated into apathy, the comic books packed away in the attic and the Robotech soundtrack no longer permanently housed in my CD player.

To be honest, save for the Robotech: Battlecry video game I played through in my freshman year of college, Robotech just isn’t something I’ve put much thought into since middle school, even as I’ve been digging through the Japanese cartoons of my childhood like Bubblegum Crisis and Genocyber. The same apathy carried me through the much-debated and delayed release of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, Harmony Gold’s latest attempt to squeeze any remaining milk out of the flaccid teats of the comatose franchise, never having had any interest in watching the direct-to-DVD movie.

A Colony Drop staffer suggested I watch The Shadow Chronicles and review it for the site, if only because we haven’t posted a negative review in a while. That prompted me to finally watch it, for no other reason than that I was really trying to procrastinate on studying for a midterm. And here we are.

It’s worth noting that if you’ve heard anything about this American-written, Japanese-planned, Korean-animated cartoon featuring robot designs from a 1983 series called Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, it’s probably that this thing sucks. And yeah, it really does.

The Shadow Chronicles‘ hackneyed script dishes out a disjointed story that starts off during the closing scenes of the original Robotech TV series and proceeds through the events immediately thereafter. It’s so bad, in fact, a good way to make watching the film more enjoyable is to play Spot the Cliché. Seven minutes into the film a variation of the classic line “everything is going according to plan” gets busted out, and at the eleven-minute mark they use the old favorite, “so it has begun.”

The whole thing feels like it was written by people whose entire exposure to literature or film was schlocky science fiction stories, meaning all they could really do is bring out cliché after cliché and throw in some familiar characters and mecha. Eventually you realize you’re just watching something you’ve already seen before — sure, the characters are different and there’s some hilariously awful animation thrown on top of everything, but this is just the same garbage you’ve seen in crappy films over the last thirty years with a fancy 3D Robotech logo attached to it.

Pieces begin to fall into place once you find out about the tumultuous production history behind this thing. Years of delays and an American production staff who had no experience actually making cartoons (director Tommy Yune had no prior proper film credits to his name) meant that when you consider the extinction-level clusterfuck that went on behind the scenes, it’s actually kind of impressive they managed to end up with anything at all.

Not unexpectedly, the animation was farmed out to Korean production house DR Movie, whose past credits include “crap” like Macross Plus, Ghost in the Shell and the Cowboy Bebop movie. The difference is the American side of the production relied heavily on their Korean counterparts to do a lot more planning in addition to just their typical in-between work, and DR Movie’s inexperience in the more creative side of production really shows through.

The computer graphics are astoundingly bad, looking half assed and painfully out of date. Compounding this inescapable ugliness is direction that is completely uninteresting and often downright boring. The camera work during action scenes is static and lifeless, making for a lot of dull scenes where poorly textured 3D robots duke it out in battles that just aren’t fun to watch. Furthermore, it’s obvious that something fishy is going on with the explosions. I’m not sure if the Korean guy in charge of explosions was busy with a 24-hour Starcraft marathon or if the explosion animations were added in during post production back in the US, but they look absolutely terrible. Not only do they reek of off-the-shelf video software effects, throughout the battles there’s a consistent disconnect between the mecha and the explosions, which is instantly noticeable when watching and quite distracting.

The proper character animation fares little better, with facial animation on par with Late Night with Conan O’Brien and character designs that are quite honestly some of the ugliest fucking designs I have ever seen. Not only do they bear little-to-no resemblance to the original designs, but every single character features a rippling superhero physique or gigantic watermelon-sized tits. I’m not sure who designed these bizarrely proportioned spacefreaks, but there’s probably a good reason why I can’t find a character designer credit anywhere. Despite being mostly shit, Yune’s uninspired character illustrations aren’t nearly this bad, so I’m at a loss as to why they didn’t just use those. Perhaps they were too close to the original designs by the Japanese character designers, or perhaps it’s because Yune can’t actually draw characters from any angle other than a head-on view. (That’s not a joke—he really can’t.)

As if sitting through this terrible mess isn’t bad enough, you also have to reconcile with the fact that it was originally worse. That’s right, despite how balls-out sucktastic The Shadow Chronicles is, it’s actually a revised version, rewritten and rerecorded after the initial cut and script were deemed unacceptable. Lord knows how bad the original version must have been to make this release version look adequate, but I would like to see it since it must be mind-shatteringly terrible.

Regardless of your feelings about the original Robotech series, you’d have to be a righteous jerk not to appreciate the background music. Yeah, we all know Reba West’s Minmei songs sucked, but the orchestral themes by Ulpio Minucci were great and a vast improvement over the original SDF Macross score. Of course, rather than reuse these great songs for The Shadow Chronicles (and why not? They decided to cut corners in every other area) the music has been remixed, techno’d up and pretty much ruined. Great job on that one, guys.

The Shadow Chronicles isn’t much more than the bare husk of what we would otherwise deem a cartoon. With absolutely nothing remarkable about it, it manages to fail at nearly every thing it attempts to do. Woefully low budget, both monetarily and creatively, the entire production comes off as incredibly amateurish and inexperienced. And unlike some projects made by unknown guys with nothing to their past credit, there isn’t a single hint of potential throughout the agonizingly long 88-minute running time, so you can’t even try and compensate by saying that maybe their next production will be better. It won’t.

Thankfully, it looks like the announced sequel to The Shadow Chronicles is on hold while production of Tobey Maguire’s live-action Robotech enters pre-production.

In the end I can’t say I’m particularly surprised, disappointed or hurt after watching The Shadow Chronicles. There was a time when I loved Robotech very much, but that time is long gone. The only thought I’m left with is that if I could move on and let Robotech rest in peace, why the hell couldn’t they?

13 Comments

  1. Thanks for taking the hit and doing the review. You really hit all my Robotech fanboy spots, which I totally forgot I had. After reading this, I didn’t even bother following up on the Wikipedia page, though I was concerned that I missed this 2006 work.

    Now you got me wanting to re-read my digital rips of the novels… :-/

  2. Glad you bit the bullet and reviewed this; I was actually tempted to give it a fair shot until I saw not so much the review as the screenshots. Good God, the cinematography in this flick makes Gundam SEED look inspired. Scott’s (I can’t bring myself to call him Stick) physique is way too Liefeldian, given that he was kinda scrawny in Mospaeda (but still an iron badass).

    I agree about Macek; kids troll him to death for what was — even by modern standards! — a VERY mild hack job on all shows involved, and in many ways he showed more respect for the shows he brought to America than many who have followed in his footsteps. He actually seemed to LIKE Macross beyond the level of “how will this Japanawhatsis fill my coffers with the idle money of 12-year-olds?”, and he actually managed to keep the VAST majority of its essence intact on syndicated kids’ TV. That’s a big accomplishment on the heels of Voltron, where the bawlderization of every single instance of death was so transparent that it was wince-inducing. (although they certainly had their hands full with Go-Lion, which AFAIK was atypically GRIMDARK for its kiddy genre). Hell, looking back, the stuff they retained in Robotech (at least in the Macross portion) is downright liberal by modern censorship standards — smoking, drinking, 90% of humanity getting vaporized by laser-beams…all of which would give modern networks serious pause, with the possible exception of the THIRD one (!). Sad times we live in.

    As for Minmei…I’m sorry, but I like Reba West’s songs a LOT better. That’s not to say that they’re GOOD per se (at best, they’re inoffensive)…but that IS to say that any and every time I hear “Shao Pai Lon” or “Zero-G Love”, I can actually FEEL bits of my soul dissolving with a searing acidic burn. Seriously. There’s insipid and cutesy, and then there’s “I CANNOT LISTEN TO THIS WITHOUT WANTING TO HURT SOMEONE, HOLY FUCK, MAKE IT STOP”. Give me “To Be In Love” or “We Will Win” ANY day over KYUUN KYUUN.

    May wealth and fame come swiftly to the man who digs Minucci out of retirement (the grave?) to score something GOOD.

  3. Aw, man, I had this buried in my Netflix queue somewhere with a note to buy plenty of rum when it came in. Now I’m prepared, and it sounds like I’ll need twice the rum!

  4. Finally a good truthful review on this movie! You and I share the same feelings in the matter, hell this bad movie was part of the reason I started writing my own shit. I also wasn’t impressed with the character designs, it seems they were trying too hard to appeal everyone not just robotech fans, but either way those huge melons werent necessary…. How did Ariel go from an A cup to a DD cup? Better yet why did the Regess need a rack?

    The whole thing was like a big joke to me, couldnt take it seriously.

  5. As a man-child who honestly believes that the Robotech novelizations set down a plot that’s better than that of the current Macross continuity, I’m glad that you bit the bullet and watched this movie, so that my inner child might live.

  6. I like you, TORUMASUTA; let’s hang out. 🙂

    This review was a fun read, and I would probably have shared some of your thoughts if the movie didn’t feel like it was even worth critiquing, and virtually disappeared from my mind after the first viewing.

    That picture of Ariel and Janice together just reinforces how bad the character design is; they look *far* too much alike, and are (supposedly) the main heroines. You shouldn’t even do that with background design…

    Give me the McKinneyverse and older comics over this any time, and not only in comparison.

  7. Great review and spot on. I feel the same way and posted as much on robotech.com some time ago.

    http://www.robotech.com/community/forum/read.php?id=1891046&forumid=31&pagenumber=4

    mid-way down, darrin geisinger, invid scout

    Why the heck did they make the characters LOOK like that!?! What doesn’t Scott just look like Scott? Lok at the picture of his profile on your review! What’s with his hair and nose?!?

    It can’t be for legal issues can it? I mean so much of it is sooo easily identifiable from the Mospeada series that I do not know why they screwed up the character designs and did not show Rook, Rand, Lancer etc!! I do undersatnd why Rick had to be changed because of Big West – but not the Mospeada characters.

    And the attempts at comedy were a disaster. Louie cute lines – sheesh – we are not 12 anymore!

    The whole thing makes me sad . . .

  8. Yaknow, I saw the whole series from front to back just hours ago (Protoculture edition to Shadow Cronicles) and was happy with the end result. They built it around the concept of the final episode of “New Generation” for the first part of the movie (filling in those who had never seen the series) and continued the series from that point on with, in my opinion, with satisfarcory results. If I had any complaint, it was the eventual fate of the un-mentioned individuals from the Masters saga, and the New Generation. More the Masters than the NG (New Generation). What happened to Dana and the gang? What happened to Bowie?

    The main point being that it wasn’t as bad as you intimated, and in the end could be greater than the sum of its parts. I will sacrifice any complaints about it at this point for the possibilility of more, and better, explination. However it is up to the property holder’s to be that more…

  9. Hey man your mom still buy your knee high tube socks? Seriously after watching this I went back and found old copies of the original series bad synching and inking a three year old could do went rampant, whereas not counting personal preferance on anyones part on artisic styles this appeared to actually be done by professionals you apparantly have no grasp of graphic arts but, I will agree with you this Robotech script sucked (as do all of them)

  10. Comment on script/story (including the five-part comic that was supposed to be a set up for the movie): The story is incomprehensible to anyone who has not also read the Sentinels books, yet there are enough changes that the movie also makes no sense when put with the books. What did Yune intend to do here?

  11. What makes Macross Plus Japanese anime? Director: Shoji Kawamori, Co-Director: Shinichiro Watanabe, Music: Yoko kanno, and the fact that it was made for the Japanese market by Big West makes it anime. Now what are the names of the Japanese who make Shadow Chronicles anime?

    None, because it was never released in Japan, nor does it have a Japanese dub… So by your logic The Simpson is more Japanese anime than Shadow Chronicles just because it was dubbed in Japanese. Besides, why would Robotech fans care about if it’s anime or not?

    I thought you liked Robotech more than the original anime that it came from because it was white washed, and completely devoid of anything Japanese. Think about it, for something to be good, it has to be made that way. Just because something is made in Japan doesn’t make it good (Yu-Gi-Oh Zexal).

    Shadow Chronicles doesn’t suck because it’s not anime, it sucks because it was made poorly. But if you’re going to say you’re a fan of Japanese anime, is it too much to ask: who, by name? Japanese people have names too. They like being treated as people too, ya know. They’re not all “the Japanese”.

    I’m a fan of Macross not because it’s called anime, but because it’s good. Can you say the future of Robotech by Tommy Yune (Korean) is good, just because it’s called Robotech? No, I didn’t think so. All hail Lord Shoji Kawamori! Long live Macross! Death to Harmony Gold!

  12. For the life of me, I cannot understand how this person can be a fan of anime and piss all over Macross Plus which, gave breath to a series devoid of anything worth its foundation. He then proceeds to tear into Ghost in the Shell which, is one of the greatest anime series to ever have come out. After I read his trash these two series I realized he has no idea what good anime is and it might be better to have someone who has the ability to critique things more sensibly, do a review…

  13. I’m glad i have my own mind & dont listen to others telling me how to think…I for one enjoyed Robotech Shadow Chronicle. The animation was GREAT,the storyline was good as well & most of all it didn’t have all that cheesy singing in it hence Minmei and it left the lame jokes & goofiness back in the 80’s ..The flim was geared more towards adults.Im glad as i evolved from a 5th grade kid into a 38 yr old man man that HG writers (Harmon Gold) took the time to write a mature script & evolve with its fan base..I loved the plot & all the action in movie, it even made me go back into the archives and revisit the whole Robotech trilogy (Macross saga,The Robotech Masters & The New Generation) to get a better understanding..I even got my kids hooked on it now..And im even looking foward to the next installment to the shadow chronicle, Robotech shadow rising (if it ever comes out?) Im pretty sure thats going to be EPIC too..Love to read your criticism on that as well CANT WAIT!!!! Lol…

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