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Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles - A Macross Fan's Review
Peter Tatara - September 18, 2006

As a boy, I loved Robotech. I think. Looking back, I have no memories of the show other than sending in the proof-of-purchases from three chicken pot pies to get my choice of Robotech action figures. (Why I picked a clunky, lumbering Destroid over a sleek, sexy VF-1 Valkyrie is forever beyond me. I apologize for the preceding sentence. It is my hope to write an accessible, ungeeky review, keeping any fanboyish commentary to a minimum. In fact, I'm not even a Robotech fan. Oh? I'll get to that in a bit.)

As a boy, I think I loved Robotech. I'm sure, though, as I entered my teens that I was absolutely fanatical about the show when I was reintroduced to it through Cartoon Network's Toonami. But, then, as I entered college, putting my toys away, I quickly abandoned my passion for Robotech. For more Robotech.

Robotech, you see, is an animated space opera created in America in 1985 from three unrelated Japanese cartoons -- Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada. The three Japanese series, individually too short for US TV, were rewritten by a company called Harmony Gold and broadcast together as the 85-episode Robotech.

While Robotech got a generation into Japanese animation, in college, Robotech had become passé, and I, going through a hardcore otaku phase, became enamored with the original Japanese Macross. (Girlfriend who doesn't want to be mentioned on this website by name, I feel I deserve a Yamato 1/48 VF-1 Valkyrie Strike Pack for Christmas.)

Years have elapsed. More Macross has been made in Japan, but because of its unique creation, there's been no new Robotech. American fans have been asking, begging, and screaming for more, but because Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada's original creators were shafted in the deal that gave their shows to Harmony Gold forever for a couple of smallpox-infested tatami mats, they -- and pretty much all of Japan -- haven't had any burning desire to return Harmony Gold's phone calls.

But with the original Robotech on DVD in no less than six different configurations, how was Harmony Gold to continue to milk Robotech into the 21st century? By going to Korea.

Harmony Gold contracted Seoul-based animation studio DR Movie to draw and a guy who watched Robotech as a kid and said he could "write" who some guy at Harmony Gold knew to pen the forthcoming Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles -- one of the most banal, pedestrian, milquetoast animations I've ever seen. It will sell over 50,000 units its first month on DVD.

I took in The Shadow Chronicles with some friends -- some Robotech fans and some not -- at a preview showing on August 25 as part of the 2006 New York Korean Film Festival in Manhattan's ImaginAsian Theatre.

While the Robotech fans gobbled up the further adventures of Rick Hunter, the rest were checking their watches within half an hour of the start of the picture. Personally, I was originally worried by The Shadow Chronicles's short 88-minute runtime, but in the theatre, those minutes didn't pass by quickly enough. Wait. Wasn't this supposed to an even-keeled review? Yeah. And that's why it tastes negative. If I wrote this as a fan, I'd be gushing over the new, orchestrated theme or debating whether Janice or Maia Sterling was hotter. But I'm not going to do that. The Shadow Chronicles was written by a fan for fans, but I want to look at it as an outsider and the damage The Shadow Chronicles could do to the Robotech franchise.

In terms of animation, while the first ten minutes of The Shadow Chronicles look good, it's clear soon after that Harmony Gold didn't have a lot of money for the project -- despite the company's statement to the contrary at the preview screening. While the animation starts out honestly striking, it quickly nosedives into what you'd expect from something on Saturday morning. Characters change shape. Eyes are seldom even. Limbs stretch and shrink. Breasts swell to preposterous proportions. (Don't get me wrong, I love boobies, but when you draw a character whose breasts extend from shoulder to stomach, this is a problem rather than a feature.) But this can be forgiven. Harmony Gold didn't have that big of a budget? Fine.

Robotech's staying power isn't the beauty of its animation but the timelessness of its story, and this is, sadly, The Shadow Chronicles's biggest failing. As I left the theatre after the screening, The Shadow Chronicles didn't leave any impression on me. The movie picks up directly following the original Robotech and gives fans everything they've wanted, but even with all the classic characters, transforming robots, explosions on screen, when you look at The Shadow Chronicles as a film, when you look at its structure and storytelling, it falls flat.

My education's been in screenwriting, and while I've yet to sell a screenplay and don't proclaim myself to be a master of the art form, I do know what's good and what's not -- and Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles was on par with the kind of scripts I've seen turned in by freshmen for their first screenwriting assignment.

While other early reviews have called The Shadow Chronicles convoluted and confusing, I found the movie to be exactly the opposite. Mechanical and predictable. It's filled with stereotypes rather than archetypes, regurgitated, tired jokes, and unintelligent, uninteresting action and drama. When two of the film's main characters meet their female commanding officer, they launch into five minutes of "Sir" and "Ma'am" prattle. The movie features a doomed spaceship named the Icarus. The Shadow Chronicles's villains are the most uninspired, cookie cutter, unoriginal, black-cloak-wearing, cryptic-speaking cartoon bad guys you could ever imagine. Their name? The Shadows. Spooky.

Still, as I stated earlier, Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles will do 50,000 units its first month out. It's Robotech. The Shadow Chronicles will sell because of its name alone. However, there's a problem here. The Shadow Chronicles was created to rejuvenate Robotech, and while it will easily win over fanboys, it won't win the saga any new fans.

The non-Robotech fans I went to The Shadow Chronicles with found nothing engaging about the film. They left the theatre completely uninvolved, without any desire to see the original series. The Shadow Chronicles will entertain the current generation of Robotech fans, but without it grabbing the imagination of others, it won't create a new generation. After seeing The Shadow Chronicles, my money is on newcomers passing up the original Robotech completely. And if The Shadow Chronicles turns away potential Robotech fans, while extending the franchise in the short term, it, in the long term, is a death sentence.

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is a shadow of the original Robotech.

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