As a kid I loved Robotech. It was amazing to see jet fighters transforming into giant mecha suits, as they battled an alien race. It set my imagination alight. Yet, as I watch it again now, I realise that I didn’t understand it at all.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n 1999 a giant alien spaceship crash-lands on an island in the South Pacific, instantly ending war between all nations on Earth. The planet’s leaders realise that global conflict is pointless, and instead unite in case of an invasion by alien worlds. The crashed ship is slowly rebuilt, and a new military force with adapted technology is established. In 2009 the ship, now named the SDF-1, is ready to launch, but the planet is attacked by the Zentradi who have been searching for the ship for years. The SDF-1 tries to launch several times but it goes badly, and General Gloval orders an emergency space-fold to boost the ship into space. It succeeds, but takes a part of the island and its inhabitants with it.
Amongst the rescued survivors are young pilot Rick Hunter and aspiring singer Lynn Minmay. The population of the city take refuge and establish new lives and businesses on board the SDF-1 as they begin their year-long journey to return to Earth. Minmay becomes a beauty pageant winner and a celebrity singer, totally swept up by fame, and mostly ignores the attentions of Hunter. Rick himself has joined the SDF-1’s military and has become a decorated hotshot pilot, haunted by his love for her. Under constant threat from the Zentradi, Rick and Minmay’s lives are moving in separate directions, and he gradually falls in love with fellow officer Lisa Hayes.
As the years pass and the war rages on, personal relationships change and the course of battle takes unexpected turns as they learn more about their enemies. Uneasy peace treaties are forged, and the threat of a return to hostilities is always looming. Rick’s relationship with Lisa is constantly put to the test as he just can’t shake his old feelings for Minmay, who repeatedly turns to him for help whenever she finds herself in trouble…
Robotech was one of the first mainstream anime series to hit the west, and set the standard for others to come. It’s a series which is massive in scope, and the first season alone is 36 episodes. On the surface it looks like a kid’s show: the Robotech jet fighters are exciting and make the Transformers look dull by comparison, the action is fast and the villains are initially clearly defined. the sense of humour of the show, when it’s on display, is light and silly. Yet all of these things underplay that it’s a personal drama with incredible depth and scope.
This is a show which takes time to develop. In fact, it takes several episodes just to get into the real action of it. Yet it’s worth every moment, and as it goes on you realise just how personal a story it is. It isn’t just a show, it’s a saga on a scale similar to Asimov’s Foundation series or Babylon 5. The characters evolve and their feelings and relationships change with every experience they go through. Rick evolves from a fresh-faced, arrogant young man to a heartbroken and battle-weary veteran. Minmay’s innocence and sweetness prove to be her own undoing as she falls foul of her own success. Lisa goes from being a duty-obsessed officer to feeling love, and being emotionally hurt because of it.
The time span of the show is incredible too. Many years pass, with the political situation changing and characters living and dying as time constantly moves forward. It offers tight plotting and delivers slow-but-satisfying reveals of where the story is going. Astonishingly it never loses your interest, as the personal tales and the action-packed fighting always keep you hooked. There are weak spots, such as the irritating repetition of Minmay’s signature theme song and the slightly dated art, although it still holds up and looks better – and arguably more realistic in nature – than most cartoons today.
This show may have first hit the airwaves almost 30 years ago back in 1985, but it’s still as good as ever. If you’ve never seen it, you’re missing out. You don’t have to be a fan of anime to appreciate it, or even a fan of sci-fi or mecha-suits. This is a drama, and a well-told one which deserves to be watched. Just don’t race through it. It needs to be gradually savoured, not devoured greedily. It’s an epic in the truest sense of the word.