Robotech and the case against live action Anime

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     RICK HUNTER, a pilot in the Robotech Defense Force, grew from boy to man during the course of the series. A 
    Campbellian Everyman, Hunter was the Luke Skywalker character of the series.

    Let’s get this out of the way: I love anime. The visual style, the language, the ambition. As much as books and comics helped to form my imagination, anime certainly solidified that love affair with science fiction and fantasy.

    Thanks to critics like Roger Ebert and the film “Akira,” anime rose to prominence and has a very healthy fan base. Though “Akira” is often cited as introducing mainstream audiences to anime, it was really “Robotech” (a half-hour television series) that had the most impact, at least in my world.

    “Robotech” was revolutionary because it wasn’t interested in talking down to its pre-teen viewers. In fact, you never quite knew what to expect. Characters made love (off screen mind you), made war, died, married, argued, cried, matured. My mom had “One Life to Live,” and while she was mulling over the relationship of Cord and Tina, I was wondering if Rick Hunter was going to be with Lisa Hayes or Lynn Minmei. Sure, “Robotech” had tons of space battles, giant aliens, giant robots, an awesome soundtrack, and more. But all of this was simply window dressing – the series was really about the characters.

    It was announced about a year ago that Tobey Maguire would be producing a live action version of the influential series. A self-professed “Robotech” fan, I felt pretty good about his involvement.

    But see, like the latest stream of comic book movie adaptations, there’s a part of me that just wants to resist live action versions of my beloved cartoon series. Though I avidly watched the “G.I. Joe” cartoon, I have purposely avoided the movie. It could very well be a solid action flick and the trailer had moments in it that made me go, “Oh man, there’s Snake Eyes!” But as with “The Transformers,” I can’t totally commit to anything but voice actors taking on these roles.

     

    Here’s a short list of anime-to-film: “Blood: The Last Vampire” (recently released on DVD); “Cowboy Bebop” (to star Keanu Reeves); “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (uh, make that “M. Night Shyamalan’s Avatar: The Last Airbender”); “Speed Racer,” and there are a bunch more in development. 

    The Wachowski Brothers (directors of “The Matrix” trilogy and “Speed Racer”) have acknowledged the anime influence on their work. I don’t have a problem with this because ultimately “The Matrix” was conceived as live action, and though I really loved the direct-to-DVD, “The Animatrix,” the films will always be live action pieces riffing off the complex chord structures of anime. When it comes to going the other way (from Anime to live action) I kind of start to groan and one word always comes out: Why?

    Beyond the big payday for studios and obviously the problems they’re having with plummeting ticket sales, it makes sense to give audiences familiar fare, even popular cartoons that Gen Xers grew up with. But again: Why?

    I have the same argument with comics. If it’s perfect on the page why would you need to (like “Watchmen”) ruin it by taking an already visual medium and transplanting it to another visual medium? My argument is that “Akira” is perfect. So too, “Blood: The Last Vampire” and “Cowboy Bebop.” I don’t need to see it recreated with live actors.

    In my humble opinion (which isn’t so humble now that I think about it), anime is the perfect amalgamation of animation and live action cinema. Have you seen the visual effects in today’s anime features? They’re astonishing and quite frankly, it’s too expensive to do anime any justice in the live action arena.

    Live action anime is not only an exercise in futility; it is redundant and somewhat irresponsible. We should be exposing more people to the wonders of this art form, not watering it down, repackaging the spare parts and presenting it as somehow “new and improved.”

    If you haven’t taken a look yet at “Robotech” you should. Particularly “The Macross Saga.” In my childhood mind there was one triumvirate that I returned to over and over again: “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” and “Robotech.”

    “Robotech” follows the SDF-1, a space battleship that harbors a technology called protoculture. Pursued by the evil Zentraedi (who destroy most of Earth’s population), these group of military fighter pilots and civilians must struggle to survive.

    Granted, some things just don’t hold up, like Minmei’s singing voice, though “We Will Win” is a special case. That performance still gives me goosebumps because the stakes were so high for the characters you couldn’t be sure if any of them would live after the end credits rolled.

     

    If we’re talking storytelling, character development and overall ambition, “Robotech” had it in spades. By the end of the series my eyes were close to watering. I felt as if I had taken an important  journey and that “special something” put “Robotech” miles above “Inspector Gadget,” “He-Man,” “Mask,” and yes, even “G.I. Joe.” There was nothing else like it on American television.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    ROBOTECH REMASTERED DVD

    If  Maguire and his crew can exude the corny parts and go with the gravitas of the series and – above all else – get the characters right. Then maybe, just maybe, “Robotech” the live action version might be a good or even great film.

    Till then, I’ll be dusting off my “Robotech” DVDs for the Christmas break.

     

     For Robotech news, visit www.robotech.com.

     

     

    YOUTUBE VIDEOS

     

    “We Will Win”

     

     

    “Opening Credits”


     

     

     

     

     

     

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