DAY FORTY-ONE: Reflections, Part 2

I was clearing out my suitcase for the trip on Thursday night, and I came across the program for my pal Ian's wedding. I flew halfway across the country for that particular trip, too, about seven years and a month ago. How, you might ask, does that relate to the subject at hand?

Well, if not for ROBOTECH, and specifically the old Robotech Message Board, I wouldn't know Ian. Sometime in 1997, I think, he posted up that he was looking to sell off some ROBOTECH comics, and I, looking to acquire a lot more ROBOTECH comics, bit. We then started e-mailing back and forth every day. Today, even though we don't talk as often as we used to, I'd still consider him one of my three closest friends in all the world -- and even beyond that, all three of those people I wouldn't know if not for this obsession, this fixation -- I'd almost call it this PROBLEM. I wouldn't live in Wisconsin if not for ROBOTECH; it was because I wanted to move somewhere, ANYWHERE else that I moved up here to be roommates with my pal Evan, who I met through ROBOTECH fandom on-line around '99 or 2000. You could say every person I've met here, every coworker, every person I now call a friend here is a consequence of my ROBOTECH fandom.

My life is weird.

The late, great Carl Macek's autograph from the inside front cover of the
keep on my bookshelf. I keep hoping he's right.

From the moment I returned to ROBOTECH in the early 1990s, I've had a voracious appetite for more ROBOTECH. As quickly as allowances and begging would allow, I got all the novels, and had most of them read by the end of the eighth grade. I got episodes of the TV series on video tape and LaserDisc when I could find them, or when my parents would order them, but never amassed the full series until the DVD release in 2001; thankfully, I managed up to episode 60 courtesy of the Cartoon Network run in 1998, but that was still several years of relying on the novelizations and synopses for my ROBOTECH knowledge.

And that's what it was all about -- a thirst for knowledge. A thirst for understanding. A desire to see how this complex universe, crafted almost haphazardly from three once separate anime programs, actually worked. I dearly love the characters, most of the mains and a lot of the more offbeat or bold members of the supporting cast, and the mecha were both an obvious draw from the get-go and still keep me interested and entertained in toy and video game form, but it's the depth of the universe, and the depths still untapped that keep me fixated on ROBOTECH. It's why I became Mr. Robotech Comics; because that's where creators were really putting the toys through their paces. That's where the possibilities were truly being tapped. Sure, the execution was often lacking, and especially in the waning days of Academy the art was crap, but there were kernels of good ideas being popped out on a monthly basis for years. The RPG books also offered a lot of ideas that a lot of people seemed to dismiss as silly, but about which I say, bring 'em on. That's the only place you can go to find the motorcycle that transforms into the chariot for the Expeditionary Force pegasus mecha. Give me the Expeditionary Force pegasus and its chariot that splits off and transforms into a motorcycle! It's ridiculous, but I don't care. A little bit of madness is good every once in a while. You toss out the offbeat and the occasionally ridiculous and you turn into -- well, you turn into a modern ROBOTECH comic, all sober, straightforward, mechanical and obvious. Competent, crafted with care, but bereft of life. Thank goodness, really, for the Waltrips and their absurd Edwards-Invid hybrid monster. Over the top, a little silly, but horrifically realized and a real kick in the pants.

Even today, as I write these write-ups of the TV series episodes, you'll notice all these rhetorical questions, questioning the occasionally inexplicable and trying to sort out why things happened the way they did, why lines don't make sense, and what the intention was with certain parts of the mythology that were never quite fleshed out in a way that makes sense based on the information given -- that's just me continuing, all these years later, to search for that level of understanding. I want to know how this works, if it works -- and if it doesn't, how I could hit it repeatedly to MAKE it work.

It's funny, unlike other properties I enjoy, I can't bring myself to throw any part of ROBOTECH out. It's like I was saying about the pegasus above, or any of the much-derided elements of Sentinels -- Karbarrans, cowled villain T.R. Edwards, Breetai's stupid hat, Rick Hunter learning psychic powers, busty Amazons, any of that stuff -- I couldn't bear to see it all tossed into the dustbin of history, because a voice in the back of my head keeps shouting, "It could work! Here, just hit it like this, spin it like that, smooth that out, provide some clear motivation here, and it's all good!" We long-time ROBOTECH fans all carry in our own heads our own ideal version of the series; we've all read so many different takes, read different parts at different times, prioritize different versions of the series -- and, in my case, I even spent a few years fanficcing away with friends, spinning out our own half-silly, half-serious generation of godawful author avatars and characters imported from other fanfics flying around in an SDF design I cooked up for a series proposal for Antarctic Press, fighting a splinter sect of Zentraedi in the 2040's. Some of those characters are still running around in the ROBOTECH in my head, fighting the good fight, turning traitor, and discovering that what works in MACROSS 7 as regards the power of song doesn't necessarily work in the ROBOTECH universe ...

Maybe that take on things, that the core of every idea can be useful and that the ROBOTECH universe has room for everything that's been tossed into it, in one form or another, is naive, stupid, wrongheaded, and may even be why the chronology is in a minor state of disrepair at the moment -- because it's still taking all this SENTINELS stuff into account when none of it's been properly grounded or established. But don't even bother trying to convince me of it. I've spent too many years digging these things out of back issue bins, buying them up from used bookstores, tracking down copies of production materials on eBay, and connecting dots from interviews and revision errors to make sense of the glorious jumbled mess. Back to my pal Ian, I remember hanging out with him in a toy store in Japan, and I found a toy that I've long desired but just never gotten around to buying, this toy from a Takara toy line and animation series called WEBDIVER. It's a dragon-headed galleon, a sailing ship, that transforms into a dragon man with a big crazy sword and a shield made out of the bottom part of the ship. Bear in mind, he's a fellow TRANSFORMERS fan, too. I showed this thing to him, and he looked at me like I'd dropped a sack of dog crap on his shoe. He just flat-out told me it looked stupid. When I'm standing here defending random fifteen year-old comic books, sifting through them, finding the salvageable parts, dreaming up ways to spin them in with stuff I've been reasoning out from my latest viewing of the TV series, I wonder if people are staring at this blog with the same sort of bafflement tinged with sadness? Disgust? Or maybe just curiosity -- "Why would someone still be beating his head against a wall trying to make something of a badly drawn licensed comic that nobody else seems to care about anymore?"

It's like I said, it's an obsession. I just can't help it anymore. What is it we always say? "It just gets in your blood or something, I don't know ..."

Tomorrow: Oh the places I've been, the things I've done.

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  • I’ve mentioned it before in earlier posts, but I totally agree with your sentiments concerning the driving need to understand Robotech. That desire to understand has driven a lot of my own interest in Robotech and why I appreciate the ambiguity of the series (it’s a feature not a bug!) and all the untapped potential of the interwar periods. Interestingly, I don’t have a desire to necessarily retain every aspect of Robotech. My personal conception of Robotech would leave out or highly alter the Sentinels saga, but this is probably because I have less exposure to the various comics and consequently less emotional investment in the Sentinels-related series (although I see no problem with keeping these ideas around). And as you noted, we long-time fans all have our own private preferences. Lord knows, I’ve re-imagined the final battle for reflex point numerous times.

    By Blogger Niff, at 18 September, 2010 08:49  

  • I think I understand what you mean about "trying to sort things out," and can remember how I was trying to piece disconnected episodes together at the very beginning, and perhaps to "preserve" what I'd seen by drawing a very rough comic of my own, which may have developed over the years into a willingness to "tinker" with the story to my heart's content (although I think I can still manage to hold this completely personal version alongside the actual property). I do have to admit that not having read the Sentinels comics as they were coming out (I had the chance to get in at their very start, but just didn't seem to have the spending money for it) may have kept me a bit detached from that part of the story too. Perhaps, though, what really keeps me interested is that every time I'm wondering about boxing up my interest in Robotech at last, I manage to find a new and interesting perspective on it...

    By Blogger Keith Palmer, at 18 September, 2010 17:37  

  • When I discovered Robotech recently, it was joyful in a way, to finally find a new thing to obsess over. My feelings towards Robotech quickly developed a rotted, cynical veneer, as I became highly critical of it.

    But it's more like I *know* this material has a lot of problems, and I'm not afraid to acknowledge them, but it doesn't translate into complete dislike. For example,
    I waffle a great deal about "Robotech II: The Sentinels". If other fans try to struggle to understand Sentinels and all of Robotech in continuity terms, I try to understand why I remain attached to it. Except for this, I'd strike others as a perfectly normal anime fan, who has long had to do without edited TV dubs.

    The easiest explanation, of course, is that the Sentinels novels offered the only post-Macross future for Exedore which wasn't a complete disappointment, and Breetai some amount of living before it degenerated into a not-as-crappy-as-PTSC-but-still-crappy-death-scene. These characters are still central to my interest in Macross *or* Robotech, and it's often frustrating to see what other continuities do with them. But feel that it's something beyond that which keeps me coming back, leaves me tolerant towards all the stupid-looking aliens and sci-fi cliches.

    Again terms of the novels, I think it's because I'm attracted to the idea of many of Robotech's cast having their world turned upside down, warped and twisted, in which everything they *thought* they knew turns out to be wrong. The execution of these concepts was lacking, as the characters seem to take these alterations and revelations with a little too much stoicism and often outright mischaracterization, but there was something compelling about it. For these reasons I'm one of the few people who doesn't hate "End of the Circle".

    However, playing a game of "What if they improved this/how would I improve this?" is always deeply unsatisfying for me, since I have the intense feeling that my own imaginings of another fictional property are always tertiary to the official stuff, so that trying to "re-imagine" anything feels like a weak exercise, effort I could better put towards my own original concepts.

    That said, I have succumbed to the urge to try to rewrite a different version of certain parts of the Robotech story, though a lot of the time it ends up just being slight tweaks on the novel version, related to the feeling of being small compared to the creators. However, the reason I tried such things in the first place is because I have very little actual respect for Robotech's material, and so feel more free to twist it a bit. For another example, I follow a combination of the novels, TV series, and older comics, rather than the canonical new material, whenever I think of "my" feelings towards Robotech.

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 19 September, 2010 09:55  

  • I am like you, I LOVE Robotech, so I will take it in all it crazy forms. The books, comics, RPG, and Shadow Chronicles.

    Hell, even the original Robotech series had it issues and craziness and it was suppose to be a complete show.

    By Blogger Rick Chat, at 17 October, 2010 13:34  

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