DAY FORTY: Reflections, Part 1

If you're up at six a.m. reading this as it posts, then in a little over three hours I'm going to be getting on an airplane here in Northcentral Wisconsin in order to attend RT 25: THE CELEBRATION out in Van Nuys, California. That's the big fancy dinner ceremony thing going on this weekend where we'll all be raising a glass to the folks who helped create the ROBOTECH television series a quarter century ago. I've had to spend a few paychecks to get all my ducks in a row to go, including buying a new suit, since my old sport jacket makes me look like a ten year old wearing his dad's clothes. But I promised someone I'd be there for sure, and a promise is a promise, and on top of that I'd regret it for the rest of my life if I DIDN'T go. Bonus points: I get out of Wisconsin for the better part of four days. With the exception of a brief sojourn to Minneapolis-St. Paul to try and push some SCWONKEY DOG comics on an unsuspecting public almost a year ago, it'll be the first time I've left the state since I moved here in the summer of '08.

Consequently, I'm not going to be sitting in front of my computer for hours on end, staying up until the wee a.m. hours attacking the nasty backlog of posts I let build up over the course of the month of August and the first half of September. However, I thought I'd memorialize this occasion with a four-part series posts discussing what ROBOTECH means to me, my memories of the series -- y'know, bits and pieces of my personal ROBOTECH journey.

A page from the ROBOTECH STYLE GUIDE, the licensing guide
Harmony Gold issued to companies making ROBOTECH products
in the 1980s, signed to me by Tony "Rick Hunter" Oliver at the
Harmony Gold ROBOTECH booth at AnimeExpo 2005.

When I visited one of the handful of AnimeExpo conventions that Harmony Gold had a somewhat major presence at -- 2006, if I remember right, the year they were promoting THE SHADOW CHRONICLES without yet having a distributor -- I remember my fellow fans from across the country tossing back and forth the names of the stations they watched ROBOTECH on back in '85 or '86. Irritatingly for me, I couldn't play along; I don't remember what station I watched it on. I'm a few-to-a-handful of years younger than most of my fan-contemporaries, fellow folks who watched ROBOTECH in its initial syndicated run. I remember the time it aired, six in the morning, and in fact I vividly remember the first time I'd even heard of it. My mom was flipping through the Saturday listings in the TV Guide, looking for shows I might be interested in. She'd circle them -- or maybe highlight them, I forget. I remember sitting on the floor of the trailer we lived in at the time, and she was sitting on the couch, flipping through the pages, and she handed it down to me to look at, and there it was: ROBOTECH. 6:00 a.m. Sure, I could get up for that. That sounded cool.

And it was. I have very few concrete memories of watching the show; ingrained in my memory for the next several years were the opening filmstrip, the cool-for-the-time video effects over the opening sequence, the iconic pose of the VF-1J against the SDF-1 bridge, the question in my mind of "Where's Rick?" when the episodes with the blonde chick with the big hair started running, the transforming motorcycles, and the climactic scene from "Reflex Point" where Marlene/Ariel looks down at her arm and sees the green blood dripping from it. Did I ever ask for any ROBOTECH toys? I know I looked at them, specifically -- as I mentioned in the write-up for "Force of Arms" -- while trying to hunt down a Minmei, which as we all know now was never produced for whatever reason. What I did wind up with, at the age of six, was a copy of the first of the Jack McKinney novels, GENESIS, which I read and understood maybe the first chapter or so of -- the prologue, with all the business between Zor and Dolza during the seeding mission -- and then kept reading without really processing for several weeks thereafter. Since I was six years old and not really "getting" the show to begin with, since it was on too early and I think I was missing episodes anyway, I clearly recall picturing Zor as a half-remembered Breetai. (The faceplate clearly made a strong impression even back then.)

The following year, even though I had a hard time with the first one and never got the rest of the original series, my mom got me the first of the SENTINELS novels, THE DEVIL'S HAND. I remember spending a lot of time staring at that cover, thinking it was awfully weird, and reading and rereading the back cover copy. My clearest memory of actually reading that book, though, comes from maybe eight to ten years later -- specifically, reading about T.R. Edwards managing to seize the Invid Brain while I'm sitting in the back of my dad's car on a family trip up to see my Grandma Anita up in the vast green sea of nothing that is northern Kansas.

Hazy recollections were all I had for a few years. But those hazy recollections festered in my mind. I remembered that ROBOTECH looked different from most everything else I'd seen at that time; the colors were different, the art style was different, the art seemed to have a lot more care and attention lavished on it. I always came back to that oft repeated shot of the VF-1J; you compare that shot, seen over and over again, to anything from any of the other cartoons I'd have been watching in 1985 or 1986, and you'll see why that stood out as amazing to me.

Jump ahead to 1992. My folks take my sister and I on a shopping trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma. We visit the mall there, which has in it the first Suncoast Motion Picture Co. store I'd ever seen. By the end of the decade a much closer Suncoast store would be a weekly mainstay in my life, but at that point it was something new and shocking, a place with the best selection of VHS tapes I'd ever seen -- stuff you'd only see in catalogs, stuff in foreign languages, stuff that looked like it was produced in someone's basement. And, of course, tapes upon tapes of ROBOTECH -- namely, the six FHE "100 minute edit" Macross Saga tapes and, if I'm remembering this right, all of the Palladium Books Southern Cross and New Generation tapes.

I was agog. I was stunned. There it was, the whole lot of it. Knowing full well we might never be back this way again, I asked for all of it. Or maybe three tapes? Two? C'mon, two? No? But you'll get me one, right? Okay, one. Hmm. Well, let's start at the start. Six episodes? 100 minutes? That math sounds wrong, but it's still the most bang for my buck. So I walked out of there with this.

Before I put this tape in, I was certainly fascinated. After I sat through the whole thing, finally making sense of some of these half-memories and impressions, I was officially obsessed -- and as I'm sure you can tell, it hasn't let up but for a few months at a time for the past eighteen years.

Tomorrow: Madness takes root.

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  • Wow, I have a lot of posts to catch up on! That’s what I get for not checking every day, I guess ;) But it will make for great reading material this weekend. Anyway, thanks again for sharing your thoughts on Robotech.

    I haven’t caught up with all of your last few posts, but I did want to read and comment this one before moving on to the others. I won’t say that my own Robotech journey was the same as yours, but in reading your story, I can definitely relate to some of the experiences.

    I was 5 when Robotech came out. I probably didn’t understand everything that was going on, but I fell in love with the show nevertheless. I even have some really hilarious fan “art” from back in the day, saved as evidence of my early infatuation, and my belief that the SDF-1 was the coolest thing in the world. What is interesting to me is how those early memories matched up with later viewings of the show.

    After Robotech went off the air in 86, it would be 8 years before I saw the whole series again. 8 years doesn’t feel like a lot of time at 30, but as a kid, it was quite a gap from kindergarten to middle school! The only exception to this was the first 6-episode edit (the same one you mentioned), which by chance was available at our local Block Buster. That kept the basics of the Macross Saga relatively fresh in my mind, but for the most part, the series became a kind of legend in my mind – a mysteriously fuzzy memory artifact of awesome from my childhood.

    Seeing the rest of the series after 8 years was an interesting experience. What was fascinating was how spot on some of my memories were and how lacking others were. For example, I clearly remembered an episode where an old ship was resurrected and hurled at an Invid hive; I remembered the freedom fighters coming across a bunch of ships and able to use those ships to increase their forces. But the images in my mind didn’t match what I saw on TV. I remembered the freedom fighters talking to the Invid queen, and I even remembered what the hive looked like inside, sort of, but somehow, I had no memory of the massive space battle going on at the same time. Perhaps more hilariously, I even remembered Scott always talking about some dude from space, but somehow I didn’t remember, remembering the name of that guy, much less ever having connecting that guy with Rick Hunter!

    After watching the whole series once again, I was eventually able to track down all the novels – although, I should probably note that the only reason I knew there were any novels at all was that this was about the time The Malcontent Uprising came out and I happened to see the display at K-mart. lol

    My only regret, so to speak, is that I never realized that there was a Robotech fan base online until relatively recently. Based on snippets from your previous posts, it sounds like it would have been fun to take part in those earlier discussions about continuity and what not.

    By Blogger Niff, at 17 September, 2010 17:24  

  • I'm thinking a bit of a comment Carl Macek once made that something made "for kids" won't have much appeal to those older, whereas something made for those (a bit?) older will have at least some appeal for kids... I admit I was nine when I first saw Robotech, and can remember what channel I saw it on... also how I only saw disconnected bits of it before managing to go straight on to the novels, which tided me over (with the help of the mecha art in the RPG) for close to a decade of a "one-person fandom". Then, I fell in with an online group of "we hold to our interpretation of the series!" people, and managed to rebuild my mental picture years before I got to see all of the animation.

    Anyway, I do sort of have the feeling nostalgia is powerful stuff.

    By Blogger Keith Palmer, at 17 September, 2010 17:50  

  • I hope you have a great time.

    For me, this whole thing is too much of a bizarre and recent fluke to get much nostalgia out of it, but I do enjoy what I've found.

    By Blogger A.J. Wells, at 17 September, 2010 22:32  

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