Harmony Gold (animation by Tatsunoko and DR Movie) (1985-2013, 2006), A&E Home Video/Lionsgate (July 23, 2013), 2 Discs, 178 mins, 4:3 and 16:9 ratios, Dolby Digital 5.1, Rated PG, Retail: $19.98
A former soldier reflects on the events in his life during a war with an alien race. Then, a new invasion threat looms, as old colleagues must again fight for Earth's survival.
THE SWEATBOX REVIEW:
This is going to be a little complicated
Robotech was an American television series produced by Harmony Gold in the mid-1980s, utilizing animation footage from three distinct Japanese series. This was done in order to provide a 65-episode syndication package for the U.S. market, and the result was the creation a generations-spanning saga of interstellar war. Though the three original series basically each formed a different time period in the Robotech saga, changes had to be made to the source material in order to link the three series into a relatively coherent continuity. The result was a unique program that nevertheless strongly echoed the source material.
Thus, The Super Dimension Fortress Macross was transformed into the First Robotech War, known as Robotech: The Macross Saga. Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross became the Second Robotech War, or Robotech: The Masters Saga. The third Japanese series was Genesis Climber MOSPEADA, and it became the Third Robotech War, and is known as Robotech: The New Generation.
It is not necessary to go into all the intricate details of what these programs portrayed, but the basic gist is that everything started with a spaceship crashing to earth. The ship's technology was exploited by humans and developed into Robotech (as the name implies, robotic technologies such as advanced ships and shape-changing vehicles). The presence of the alien ship on Earth and the subsequent development of Robotech led to Earth coming into conflict with other races, and the three wars were the result, as the Earth was subsequently repeatedly invaded. During the course of events, humankind also became aware of an energy source called Protoculture, and this further drove the conflicts.
The two-movie set under review here features two later Robotech movie projects. They each have very different origins, but both attempt to carry on the Robotechlegacy, with mixed results.
ROBOTECH: LOVE LIVE ALIVE
By far the worst effort of the two is this film, cobbled together from episodes depicting the Third Robotech War. It is actually a dub of a Japanese OVA (original video animation) made in 1985, called Genesis Climber MOSPEADA: Love Live Alive. So, the OVA was itself a rehash of the series that The New Generation was based on, then Harmony Gold did their "adaptation magic" on it to make it part of its Robotech world. The effort seems pretty pointless, aside from helping fans collect every bit of material out there (and of course help to fund new Robotech projects). Basically, the movie has one character from The Third Robotech War, "Lancer" Belmont, talking to a journalist while he prepares for a concert. He reminisces about his odd life, including his time as a female rock star(!), how he became a soldier, and how he met fellow soldiers like Scott Bernard, and an Invid made to look human.
Love Live Alive (even the title makes no sense when translated into English) has a bit of new animation, as the conversation between Lancer and the journalist comprises the new bridging sequence that provides the framework for all the included clips. It also does allow us to see how Lancer turned out, including the fate of his relationship with an Invid woman; but it is mostly a series of clips from The New Generation shown from Lancer's perspective, plus some further background on how all the Wars started. The clumsy voiceover tries to bridge everything, but really you are just seeing snippets of a larger story-- a story that was already told years ago. It does serve as a decent primer for the next movie, at least for anyone who was not already familiar with the storyline, so I grudgingly admit that it does serve some purpose. However, the result is an often boring and awkward exercise that is a chore to sit through. Once you are through with it, though, Robotech rookies will actually be better prepared to jump into The Shadow Chronicles. If you are already a Robotech buff, you will either see Love Live Alive as an essential part of your complete collection, or more likely an unnecessary rehash.
MOVIE SCORE: 3/10
ROBOTECH: THE SHADOW CHRONICLES
A fourth chapter in the Robotech saga was produced (after several false starts) by Harmony Gold in 2006, and that chapter became the film Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, which is the second disc of this set. Animation was not done by Tatsunoko (the original production house in Japan), but by a Korean studio, DR Movie. The Shadow Chronicles occurs during and after the events seen at the end of The New Generation (also somewhat re-presented in Love Live Alive). The final battle with The Invid on Earth is revisited, with new animation this time, as the Robotech Expeditionary Force has returned to Earth with technology gained from new allies they found in far-off space. In addition to better ships and more powerful weapons, they have gained an advantage from the Haydonites' shadow devices, which can hide the REF's ships from the Invid sensors.
The film follows a group of pilots with the REF, as they engage the Invid on two fronts: one in space and one on Earth. In the midst of battle preparations, the pilots themselves come into some conflict, and there are elements of soap opera as well. Meanwhile, on the ground, we again meet resistance leader Scott Bernard, who also happens to be in love with an Invid princess named Ariel. Ariel is on the side of peace, and tries to have her mother, the Invid Regis, call to an end of hostilities. The Regis, however, recognizes that the shadow technology belongs to the Invid's old enemy, the Children Of The Shadow, and she presses the attack. The Third Robotech War only ends when the Regis realizes that the humans have a weapon (Neutron-S missiles) more powerful than they know, and she agrees that it would be best that both races not be annihilated. So, the Invid leave.
This, though, is just the prelude to the next battle. The Invid go, but they take Protoculture with them, leaving humankind without their essential power source. They humans also become aware that their allies may have in fact been setting them up to destroy not only the Invid but themselves. Scott joins other fighters at Moon Base ALUCE, where he is seen as a hero-- at least until people find out that his girlfriend is an Invid. (The brother of Scott's old flame, who was killed by the Invid, is especially upset. I told you this gets complicated.) Further distrust develops after the reveal of the true enemy, as an android created by joint human-Haydonite technology is arrested despite providing valuable information to the REF.
There's even more to all this, but basically the REF has to fight the Haydonites, challenged by prejudices that come from long years of war, in addition to recent betrayals. As someone with minimal Robotech experience, I was able to follow the events, though just barely. (I first saw this before ever seeing Love Live Alive). First-time viewers may find themselves lost, but paying attention does allow one to piece it all together. There are a great deal of characters in play, and a whole lot of back story, but the film does its best to bring viewers up to speed. Unfortunately, this means heaps of expository dialog and clunky storytelling. The fact that the film moves between three or four plots in succession doesn't help matters, though one could argue that it is in keeping with Robotech tradition. A film, however, probably shouldn't feel so episodic; and an animated film shouldn't feel so talky. (But rest assured, there's plenty of action, too.)
The question, then, is whether the film is any good. Well, I enjoyed it overall, though with a number of caveats as mentioned above. Naturally, long-time Robotech fans have the most to gain by seeing it, as it directly continues the storyline, making it fairly essential if one wants to see how the story "ends." Of course, such fans are liable to be the film's largest critics too. I shall have to let them judge for themselves.
For newcomers, the "ending" may be the most disappointing aspect, as it is clear that there is more of the story to be told. The biggest open issue is the upcoming search for a lost battleship, a story that to this day has not been told. Many viewers will be frustrated with the introduction of so many non-descript characters, and the relative lack of fluidity to the animation. While it certainly looks way sharper than the old TV shows, the low frame rate does hurt it. The characters' emotions can also play too broad, even as they struggle to emote convincingly, particularly since a lot of the voice acting comes off as sub-par. CGI cel-shaded spaceships that don't entirely mesh with the rest of the action form another fault. The result is an overall uneven experience, in some ways far superior to the old shows, but also in some ways lacking. Still, I enjoyed it. The story is interesting and carries on the tradition of Robotech-style space opera. If that's your thing, The Shadow Chronicles is an exciting film and a good continuation of the story.
MOVIE SCORE: 7/10
IS THIS THING LOADED?
LOVE LIVE ALIVE
The first disc of this set has only a PRE-PRODUCTION GALLERY and a TEASER (0:29) for the movie itself. The gallery has twenty model sheets for characters and props from the new footage made for the movie. Plus, TRAILERS on the disc include those for Battle For Terra, Astro Boy, Next Avengers, Power Rangers: Clash Of The Red Rangers, and Hulk Vs..
THE SHADOW CHRONICLES
The second disc has a far more robust set of extras, largely gleaned from the previous 2-disc set for The Shadow Chronicles, and also present on the Blu-ray edition that came out a couple of years ago.
First, we get an AUDIO COMMENTARY with director Tommy Yune, plus the screenwriter and composer. It may be worth a listen for the biggest fans, but others will likely not find much of interest here. Better (and shorter) is the featurette BIRTH OF A SEQUEL: THE MAKING OF THE SHADOW CHRONICLES (44:43), which interviews several key members of the moviemaking team, as well as some fans.
Those that find the music the best part of this movie may appreciate the SCORE MUSIC VIDEO (8:07), a suite of music set to footage from the film.
Other ports from the Blu-ray include the brief ANIME SELECTS PODCAST COVERAGE OF ROBOTECH AT ANIME EXPO (1:56), and the longer !PON ANIME PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR TOMMY YUNE (11:14), where Yune talks about his career to date and his involvement in the Robotech franchise.
Prior to The Shadow Chronicles being produced, there was a different project in development, using CGI animation. The result was only a small cut above Reboot, as seen in the ROBOTECH 3000 DEMO REEL (3:25). You may also view shot footage from the ROBOTECH 3000 MOTION CAPTURE SEQUENCES (0:21).
The disc also offers up twelve DELETED SCENES WITH OPTIONAL COMMENTARY, including alternate opening and closing sequences. Most are of minimal interest, and worse yet are the OUTTAKES (3:02), offering either smaller cuts out of larger scenes, or alternate takes, as well as broadcast bumpers. On the plus side, all of the deleted scenes and outtakes have fully completed animation. 10 ANIMATICS WITH OPTIONAL COMMENTARY may be of interest to those interested in the process.
TRAILERS include a television spot, a promo for the Prelude To Shadow Chronicles comic, a NATPE teaser trailer, a DVD trailer, and a DVD Collector's Edition trailer.
The IMAGE GALLERIES may keep you busy for a little while, as they include sections for a Personnel Dossier, Ship Registry, Mecha Database, Prelude To The Shadow Chronicles (an overview of the five chapters of the comic book series), Secret Files (DVD cover art from other countries, magazine covers, and other tie-ins, including Robotech 3000 ads and designs).
From what I can tell, the only thing missing from the Blu-ray is a set of Funimation DVD trailers.
Both movies get their own disc, kept in an eco keepcase with a swinging tray. The embossed O-ring has a sticker identifying the set as containing a "never before seen film," which is perhaps slightly disingenuous given the origins of Love live Alive. The Shadow Chronicles is described as being the "Collector's Edition" version, and indeed the prior two-disc DVD set's contents are ported over and included on the single disc here.
INK AND PAINT:
As Love Live Alive incorporates so much footage from the TV shows, and even the "new" footage was at least mostly created in 1985, it is presented in the 4:3 ratio. The transfer is unimpressive, owing mostly to the quality of the original footage. The image is soft, banding is present, and colors tend to flare a bit. The print is in mostly in good shape otherwise, though some minor print damage or dust can be seen from time to time.
The Shadow Chronicles, made and presented in 16:9, fares much better. It's a perfectly clean image, with some minor banding and more frequent shimmering (on the CGI ships), and naturally not as sharp as the Blu-ray release from 2008. For a DVD, though, it looks quite good.
Both films get 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks, but of course the first film is basically a 2.0 Surround mix masquerading as something else. Even so, Love Live Alive manages to squeak out a little bass in what is otherwise a pedestrian mix. The Shadow Chronicles shows off its full 5.1 somewhat better, with the score in particular sounding quite rousing. Rear activity is still subdued compared to the Blu-ray, but is surprisingly enjoyable compared to what one might expect.
Those looking for Japanese language tracks are reminded that these films are actually American productions, made in English, with Love Live Alive's Japanese footage being rewritten a long time ago.
Subtitles are available in English (for the hearing impaired) and Spanish on both films.
A fan interested in owning The Shadow Chronicles in the best quality possible is likely better off seeking out the Blu-ray version, as it also has practically all the same extras (I didn't count, but there may be an additional deleted scene or two on this DVD) and certainly better video and audio. Those still happy with DVDs might prefer to get this version, with the added "bonus" of receiving the oddity Love Live Alive for a smaller cost than the Shadow Chronicles Blu-ray. However, if you are only looking to see Love Live Alive, even the small price for this two-disc set may be too much to ask for what is essentially a clunky clip show. In short, this two-disc set is a great way for someone to get The Shadow Chronicles, but only if you don't have the previous Collector's Edition or the Blu-ray already. Naturally, the Robotech fan who really needs to get it all will buy this set, and at least can take solace in the great value otherwise present here.
ANIMATED CLASSIC OR BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD?