Useful as the FAQ is, the one question that it doesn't answer in sufficient detail is how the universe of the original Macross differs from that of the American Robotech series. As that's a question without a short and simple answer, giving it a section in the FAQ isn't an option. So, since Lott Sheen's a lazy bum who doesn't feel like giving himself carpal tunnel syndrome by explaining it to everyone individually, he wrote this handy little guide to the differences between Macross and Robotech that anyone can use! If you have questions about it, or he missed an important topic, find him on the MUSH and let him know!
- 1 The History of...
- 2 Changes to the...
- 3 Criticisms of the Adaptation
- 4 Litigation and Licensing
The History of...
Super Dimension Fortress Macross
Considered by many to be one of the pillars of the mecha anime genre, the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series has had a profound and far-reaching influence on the anime industry in both Japan and in the West. The most distinctive aspect of Macross's history, and the reason this FAQ is here, is that two very different versions of the series have been released in the west. The original and unedited version still carries the Super Dimension Fortress Macross title, while an edited and heavily censored rewrite of the series was combined with two other shows by distributor Harmony Gold USA to make a Voltron-style television series called Robotech.
Originally known as Battle City Megaroad when it was first pitched to sponsors in 1979, the project that would one day become Macross was created by Studio Nue (based on a concept by Shoji Kawamori) to capitalize on the success of Yoshiyuki Tomino's groundbreaking mecha series Mobile Suit Gundam. Studio Nue's original concept was for a serious space opera about a warship containing a whole city having to fight its way through an alien armada to return to Earth. The project's sponsor, the Uizu Corporation, was willing to pay for a 48 episode run for the series, but only on the condition that the show change formats to an outer space comedy series. The resulting clash between the two companies stalled development of the series until Uizu went out of business.
Bereft of a sponsor, Studio Nue bought the rights to the series from Uizu and started looking new sponsors with no success. The project was eventually picked up by Big West, an advertising agency looking to branch out into animation sponsorship, and in 1981. Despite its sponsorship, Big West was not convinced that the series would be a success, and insisted on a leaner budget and fewer episodes, and even then the series was projected to run far over its budget. In order to help fund the production process, Big West began a partnership with Tatsunoko Productions, giving them the international distribution and merchandising rights to the show in exchange for funding and production assistance... a move which would eventually give rise to Robotech.
When the Super Dimension Fortress Macross debuted on 3 October 1982, the show's stunning success prompted Big West to approve plans to extend the series to 36 episodes. With the addition of a further nine episodes and the demands of production, Studio Nue found they were unable to carry the burden of animating the series themselves. Animation of the series was farmed out to a number of satellite studios, including Artland, AIC, and Gainax. Tatsunoko Production also supplied studios to help animate the series, contracting with the studios AnimeFriend and StarPro, the latter of which is a Korean studio that bears the responsibility for many areas of off-model and low-quality animation in the series. Plans for the show's ending were also derailed by production difficulties, when the epilogue of the series had to be cut during the storyboard phase to prevent the final episode from exceeding its runtime and budget, displacing the planned conclusion of the Super Dimension Fortress Macross story to the 1987 OVA Macross: Flashback 2012.
The enduring success and popularity of Macross led to the production of a number of sequels, and exploration of the Macross universe in other mediums such as manga (comic books), video games, and even novelizations. Macross remains one of the great classics of mecha anime, hailed as one of the "unassailable pillars" of sci-fi anime, and is often considered a must-watch series for any true anime enthusiast.
Sequels and Spinoffs
Prompted by the unexpected runaway success of the Super Dimension Fortress Macross television series, Studio Nue opted to capitalize on their show's popularity with an animated movie. The new feature was planned as a movie retelling of the series, just as the highly successful compilation movies had been for Gundam. However, unlike the Gundam movie trilogy, which simply retold the original story and also reused animation from the television series, the Macross movie's story was a radically-different take on the war with the Zentradi and was composed entirely of new animation. When it was released in 1984 as Macross: Do You Remember Love?, the movie became a second runaway hit for Studio Nue's Macross franchise. Hikaru, Misa, and Minmay's story arc was eventually concluded with the release of the 1987 OVA Macross: Flashback 2012, a music video depicting Minmay's final concert on Earth and the epilogue sequence previously cut from the 1982 Macross series finale.
After the release of Flashback 2012, Macross co-creator Shoji Kawamori departed from the franchise, citing that as far as he was concerned the story was over and the cast had sailed off into the proverbial sunset. With the 10th Anniversary of Macross close at hand, Big West put together its own Macross sequel with the help of as many of the original creative staff that they could get. The project was planned as a far future sequel to the Macross movie, set 300 years into the future, but was eventually set a mere 80 years after the events of humanity's war with the Zentradi. The end result, designed by Gundam veteran designers Kazumi Fujita and Koichi Ohata, and directed by Kenichi Yatagai, was the six-part OVA Macross II: Lovers Again. The OVA was hailed as "The most anticipated anime sequel of all time", but failed to live up to either of its successors. It enjoyed tolerable success in Japan, and was the first Macross series to be released unedited in North America, as well as one of the first experiments in simultaneous American and Japanese releases.
Not long after the release of Macross II, Shoji Kawamori returned to the Macross franchise in order to secure funding for a project about two competing prototype transforming fighters. The story was adapted to fit the Macross setting, and dubbed Macross Plus. The success of the four-part Macross Plus OVA prompted the creation of a second Macross television series in short order. The 49 episode follow-up to Macross Plus, Macross 7, was also a wild success in Japan, prompting further spinoffs including a short film (Macross 7: the Galaxy is Calling Me!), a wrap-up OVA (Macross Dynamite 7), and a manga (Macross 7 Trash). The profound success of the entire Macross 7 story arc spawned side stories including Macross Digital Mission VF-X and that game's sequel Macross VF-X2, before finally concluding with the release of the eighth and final volume of Macross 7 Trash early in 2001. The end of the Macross 7 arc came just in time, with only four months separating the manga's final volume and the release of Macross Zero, a prequel OVA about an off-the-record conflict in the year before the first episode of the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series. The five-episode OVA served both as the latest Macross series and as a sort of public test of mixing CG and conventional animation for use in later projects, culminating in the development of the third Macross television series, Macross Frontier, in 2005.
The latest and, quite possibly, most successful of Macross's sequels is Macross Frontier, which is nominally the 12th animated Macross feature. The series, which debuted its teaser episode in December 2007 and began running as a weekly series in April 2008, was an explosive runaway hit in the same tradition as its predecessors. Macross Frontier was the first time in the franchise's history that a Macross series arguably outperformed the Gundam series also running at the time (Gundam 00). It launched the music careers of its two principal vocalists, it set sales records for both DVD and Blu-Ray anime releases, became the first anime series to capture the top-selling series spot three times in a row, and spawned a huge volume of side stories and other material including a prequel light novel (Macross the Ride), multiple alternate tellings in manga and novel form, several video games, an official Macross encyclopedia and series of tech manuals, and capped it all with a pair of feature films. The movies, titled Macross Frontier: the False Songstress and Macross Frontier: the Wings of Goodbye, were released in October of 2010 and 2011 respectively, with a third feature called Macross FB7: Listen to my song! expected sometime in 2012.
As a result of the growing demand for anime in the west and Tatsunoko's involvement in the production of the series, the unexpected runaway success of Studio Nue's Super Dimension Fortress Macross proved to have unanticipated and far-reaching consequences for the Macross franchise and a California-based distributor by the name of Harmony Gold USA.
Seeking to capitalize on the transforming robot craze of the early 1980s, the model company Revell went to Japan to scout suitable mecha model kits with the aim of building their own line of mecha kits. The fruits of their labor, a number of licensed model kits from Fang of the Sun Dougram, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and The Super Dimension Century Orguss, were combined into a single line of mecha model kits and marketed under the name "Robotech" as the "Robotech Defenders" and "Robotech Changers" starting in 1984. Attempts to promote the toy line with an original comic series similar to Transformers failed when the three issue pilot comic was canceled after only two issues.
On January 15th, 1984, a fledgling California-based television production and distribution company named Harmony Gold USA licensed the distribution and merchandising rights to the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross series from Tatsunoko Productions. Harmony Gold originally intended to simply dub Macross into English and give it a direct-to-video release, but were forced to change their plans when they discovered Revell's existing line of Macross kits. Plans to support the show with merchandising were compromised by having been beaten to market by Revell's "Robotech Defenders", eventually prompting the two companies to sign a co-licensing agreement that eventually let Revell change the direction of the entire project. To better support the accompanying model kit and toy lines, Revell insisted that Macross be marketed for first-run syndication as a weekday television series. For Macross to meet the minimum length requirement of 65 episodes for first-run syndication, Harmony Gold had no choice but to combine it with two other mecha series licensed from Tatsunoko: The Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. Significant changes were made to string the three unrelated shows together into a single series, and the end result adopted the "Robotech" name from Revell's model kit line as its title.
In objective terms, the Robotech television series enjoyed a lukewarm reception when it made its broadcast television debut in 1985. Both the series and its toy line faced stiff competition from Hasbro and Takara's Transformers, a trend that would prove to have dire implications for the Robotech franchise. The show's ratings were unremarkable, but for their abrupt decline at the start of the Southern Cross portion of the show, and the toy line saw slow sales for the entire run of the series. Robotech was successful enough for Harmony Gold to consider making both a movie and an original series, both of which eventually met with failure as well. With no viable sequel prospects, Harmony Gold turned to repeated repackaging of the Robotech television series as a means of keeping the dwindling fanbase's attention, with the home video rights to the series changing hands frequently. After its original VHS and laserdisc releases, an attempt was made to revive interest in the increasingly obsolete series by re-releasing it alongside uncut versions of the three original series used in its creation, though the project died before the whole series could be released and the so-called "Perfect Collection" was frequently criticized for its wildly inaccurate subtitles.
Robotech did enjoy a brief revival with the re-release of the series on DVD in 2001 and the creation of an official website, but the revival was short-lived due in large measure to Harmony Gold's decision to reboot the Robotech universe as preparation for launching a fresh sequel project. With the renewed and accelerated decline of their principal (American) fanbase, Harmony Gold has once again turned to releasing the Robotech television series in foreign countries in the hopes of finding a fresh audience. Their efforts abroad have met with limited success, primarily in South and Central America, where they have nurtured a small but extremely devoted fandom.
Sequels and Spinoffs
In a sharp contrast to its Japanese primogenitor, Robotech has been trying and failing to produce a viable sequel to continue the story of its original series for over 25 years. The considerable and often surprising amount of bad luck dogging Harmony Gold's every attempt to build on the Robotech series with a new animated feature has led many fans to conclude that the franchise is actually cursed. The so-called "Sentinels Curse" was blamed for a variety of wildly unfortunate circumstances that killed a succession of attempts to breathe new life into Robotech, though it was briefly believed to have broken when their first new release made it to DVD in 2006.
Harmony Gold's first attempt to produce a new Robotech animated feature to complement the series, a rewritten and edited version of the classic mecha anime Megazone 23 (Part 1) dubbed Robotech: the Movie, is arguably the closest the Robotech franchise has ever come to a successful sequel. The film was originally conceived as a side story to Robotechs Macross Saga, using only the footage of Megazone 23, when production began in 1986. Its early development was quickly derailed when Tatsunoko Productions, Harmony Gold's partner, insisted the movie avoid any Macross references, as they were engaged in promoting Macross: Do You Remember Love?. Carl Macek was forced to rewrite his story concept again when the distributor (Cannon Films) insisted the film was lacking in action, ultimately resulting in a movie that combined footage from Megazone 23 and Southern Cross, with a new ending animated by The Idol Corporation. The finished movie was an absolute catastrophe in its Texas test screenings, with many parents removing their children from the theater because of Megazone 23s mature themes, and many other viewers criticizing it severely for the inconsistencies in the movie's image quality and its barely-there connection to Robotech. Harmony Gold attributed its failure principally to the meddling of Cannon Films and the total domination of theaters by Transformers: the Movie that same season. Robotech: the Movies subtitle, The Untold Story took on a new and entirely literal meaning when the movie's release was canceled, and only ever received a limited home video release in Europe.
Their next attempt at expanding the Robotech series was a planned 65-episode animated series called Robotech II: the Sentinels. Plans were for the series to be set between the Macross Saga and Robotech Masters Saga of the original series, and to feature the ongoing adventures of the Macross Saga crew and a batch of new heroes who were strongly derivative of the Macross Saga's cast. Like The Untold Story, Sentinels ran into difficulties almost immediately. Big West's ownership of the character and mechanical designs of Macross forced Harmony Gold to avoid using any Macross Saga designs, forcing them to use part of the project's aggressively small budget to commission new character designs for the returning cast. The story caused its own problems, when the Japanese writers supplied by Tatsunoko were unable to get their heads around many of the arbitrary changes Robotech had made when editing the original shows they had helped create only a few years before. The mid-development replacement of the writers with American writers slowed production considerably, before it was eventually stopped altogether when the show's sponsor (Matchbox) withdrew its support from the project's budget and the dollar-yen exchange rate crashed. Only three episodes worth of footage had been produced at the time the project was canceled, which ended up being hastily combined into a single feature and marketed unsuccessfully as a direct-to-video movie.
A long period of no progress followed the collapse of Robotech II: the Sentinels in 1987, with Harmony Gold largely ignoring the franchise and granting licenses for various small comic book companies to make Robotech comics without any thought to ensuring the quality of the work. This led to a great many Robotech titles being released, but almost all of the released titles being canceled for poor sales and the license changing hands frequently.
In 1999, Harmony Gold attempted to start fresh with an all-original CG animated series set a thousand years into the future from the events of the 1985 Robotech TV series. The project, tentatively titled Robotech 3000, ran into even more production difficulties than Sentinels had, culminating in the animation studio going bankrupt and the show itself getting canceled twice in quick succession. Robotech 3000 only got as far as producing the teaser trailer for the series, which was showcased at FanimeCon in 2000. The audience's overwhelming negative reaction to the trailer prompted the production staff's radical rethink of the series, and the subsequent attempt to continue it as a traditionally-animated show before it was finally put to rest. This was effectively the end of Carl Macek's tenure as Robotech's creative director.
With the short-lived revival of Robotech that began with the creation of its official website and DVD re-release in 2001, Harmony Gold decided to reboot Robotech and try again for a sequel. They hired comic book artist Tommy Yune to serve as the franchise's creative director, and began work on comics that were used to test the waters before launching the development of a Robotech OVA. The project was announced in 2004, but ran into considerable delays due to its small budget, personal conflicts between staff members, and Harmony Gold's strict requirements from potential distributors. Robotech: the Shadow Chronicles finally made its way to fans-only arthouse theater showings in 2006 and DVD in 2007, and received a severe critical panning from much of the remaining fanbase. Harmony Gold estimated they would have the second episode (of a planned 4) ready within two years, but the series was placed on indefinite hiatus by Harmony Gold management shortly thereafter.
Changes to the...
Criticisms of the Adaptation
As you'd expect from a series that adapts and significantly changes a classic like Macross, Robotech is a very polarizing title among anime hobbyists. In many mecha circles, the Robotech adaptation of the Macross series is considered a poor or even offensively bad one, to the point where the show's title itself is treated as a dirty word. Because Robotech was created and released near the end of the period where significantly rewriting a series for American audiences was considered acceptable practice, the series caught a disproportionate amount of criticism only years after its debut. Trends in the industry that began in the late 80's and early 90's saw demand for faithful translations of anime grow exponentially, causing many hobbyists to scorn rewritten shows like Robotech as inherently inferior and insulting to the original creators, a viewpoint that remains common to this day.
The kind of significant changes that not only dramatically alter the story and eliminate any and all Japanese cultural references were once common and an accepted industry practice, but are now considered something very much like sacrilege. This is helped not at all by the general perception that removal of cultural references (what Carl Macek referred to as "ethnic gestures") carries some (probably unintentional) racist undertones. Harmony Gold has made a bad situation worse for themselves by not only defending the rewrites as a good thing, but antagonizing fans of the originals by arguing that their version improved upon badly flawed originals and making fraudulent claims that the Japanese creators liked the Robotech version better and had used it as the inspiration for their subsequent works.
Needless to say, it's somewhat understandable why Carl Macek carries the unfortunate nickname "The Antichrist of Anime".
Litigation and Licensing
Those of you who are fans of Macross and/or Robotech who haven't been living under a rock since the turn of the millennium have probably heard some news about the messy legal situation surrounding both titles in the west. This is meant to be a simple and straightforward guide to all that nonsense in what passes for plain English, because there's been a lot of confusion about this... much of it caused by Harmony Gold.
Harmony Gold v. FASA
One of the earliest lawsuits relating to Harmony Gold's exclusive license for Macross in the US, the lawsuit Robotech "creator" Harmony Gold USA and their then-partner Playmates Toys filed against Battletech and MechWarrior owners FASA Corporation and Virtual World Entertainment in January 1995 was a long-running fight over the legal right to use designs from the Super Dimension Fortress Macross series in merchandise.
The dispute actually began in January 1985, when Harmony Gold noticed that FASA had used designs from Macross in their BattleTech war game. At the time the problem came to light, Harmony Gold had already held the exclusive distribution and merchandising rights to Macross in the US for a year and were already involved in the production of their Robotech series. Following the same line of thought as Revell had, FASA Corporation contacted a model company named Twentieth Century Imports and acquired the rights to 26 pieces of model kit box art from various anime series, many of which are from Macross, for use in their game. The two companies exchanged cease and desist notices, but the matter didn't come to a head until 1991.
In 1991, FASA hired an agent to pitch the idea of a BattleTech toy line to various toy companies including Playmates Toys. Playmates turned down FASA's offer to focus on their Exo-Squad toy line, which including remakes of a number of Robotech toys previously produced by Matchbox. The BattleTech toy license went to Tycho, and the two companies ended up suing each other over alleged copycatting of various toy designs in December 1994. FASA's case against Playmates was decided in favor of Playmates on the grounds that FASA failed to prove that Playmates stole the designs in question. On the other hand, Harmony Gold's suit against FASA, which asserted that TCI had never had the legal right to license that art to FASA, ended in an undisclosed out of court settlement that saw the disputed designs removed forever from the BattleTech and MechWarrior lines. The terms of the settlement were later made clear when BattleTech/MechWarrior's new owner, Catalyst, violated the terms of the settlement and received a cease and desist notice over their plans to reintroduce the so-called "unseen" designs.
Big West v. Tatsunoko
Bizarrely, despite having narrowly avoided direct involvement in this particular Japanese legal battle they had directly instigated, Harmony Gold USA still insists that the case is ongoing even though it effectively ended in 2003.
Starting in 1999, Harmony Gold USA attempted to block the importation and licensing of any Macross merchandise, claiming that the license agreement they had with Tatsunoko Productions granted them the exclusive rights to all of Macross. Harmony Gold acted on its claim without checking its facts first, sending cease and desist notices to toy importers and filing for a trademark on the Macross name and logo to prevent other companies from acquiring rights to other Macross shows and distributing them in the US. This behavior prompted Macross creator Studio Nue, owner Big West Advertising, and animation studio Tatsunoko Productions to file a series of copyright confirmation lawsuits to confirm who owned which rights to the series, and verify that Harmony Gold's claims were utterly groundless.
The first case filed was done jointly by Big West and Studio Nue, to confirm that they were the rightful owners of the designs and concepts of the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross television series. Tatsunoko followed suit shortly thereafter, filing its own lawsuit to confirm their ownership of rights they'd received as compensation for animating the series. On 25 February 2002, the Tokyo courts ruled that Big West and Studio Nue owned the material which was used to animate the series (the key character and mecha designs, among other things). On 20 January 2003, the second case was ruled upon, with the Tokyo courts deciding that Tatsunoko did own the copyright on the physical animation of the series and the distribution and merchandising rights they'd been given as payment. Essentially, the courts upheld the original contracts and kept things exactly the same as they had always been, Macross being owned by Big West and Studio Nue, and Tatsunoko owning the copyright on the film itself (but not its contents) and the right to distribute the show outside of Japan and make merchandise for it (also outside Japan). This functionally left Harmony Gold high and dry on their claims that they owned the rights to ALL of Macross.
As if to put the last nail in the case's coffin, Tatsunoko filed one last suit to claim that their involvement in the creation of the original Macross series was grounds for them to be entitled to a share of the profits from sequels. Their claim was shot down by the courts on 1 July 2004, where the judge denied the claim because they hadn't actually been involved in the development of the series (the creation of the story, concepts, designs, etc.) and had only gotten involved later on, to animate the series. This, more than anything, effectively killed Harmony Gold's assertion that their licensing agreement granted them rights to Macross sequels.
In practical terms, the end result of the whole Harmony Gold-inspired legal tiff between Big West and Tatsunoko was that nothing changed in Japan. Studio Nue and Big West still jointly owned the Macross franchise, and as owners were the only ones allowed to make sequels and such. Tatsunoko was left with only those rights they already had, the copyright on the footage of the original series, and the right to distribute it and make merchandise based on it (only outside Japan). Because nothing changed, Macross continues to thrive in Japan.
Harmony Gold lost big on their claim to have the rights to everything Macross, though they maintain their trademark on the show's name and logo. The vagaries of trademark law in the US give them the right to keep the trademark on the grounds that they were the first ones to use it in the US, despite not actually owning the work whose title they were trademarking. This trademark has effectively allowed Harmony Gold to stonewall any and all plans to bring the rest of Macross to American audiences, in the name of protecting their Robotech franchise. This means that they have effectively embargoed most Macross titles by requiring any distributor who licenses one to get their permission and pay royalties to use the Macross name in the show and on that show's packaging. Because anime is such a niche market in the US, Big West and Studio Nue are seemingly content to sit back and wait for Harmony Gold to run their Robotech franchise into the ground, and have politely rebuffed Harmony Gold's occasional attempts to strike a deal. This has left most of the Macross shows unavailable to American fans, unless they choose to download fansubs.
To get around the fact that they don't own the copyrights on the character designs of their series, Harmony Gold had repeatedly engaged in redesigning any characters who need to appear in new animation. The first hint of this came in Robotech II: the Sentinels, when many cast members had to be given new character designs in order to avoid a copyright infringement lawsuit. More extreme redesigns have also been done for Robotech: the Shadow Chronicles, rendering the few recurring characters from the Big West-owned Macross and Southern Cross totally unrecognizable. It's widely speculated that fear of legal retribution for the string of lawsuits their behavior prompted is the reason they killed off or otherwise disposed of all but a few recurring characters in the comic book prequel to their aborted Shadow Chronicles OVA.