Non-hockey post: Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles

17Feb07

Long-time readers of this blog probably have noticed that, for better or worse, I make random references to geeky sci-fi stuff. From my last few mentions of Robotech and its new sequel DVD, I surprisingly got some appreciative feedback on it. So, since this DVDisn’t that well known and I have like five readers that fit in that crossover demographic of hockey fan/fellow sci-fi nerd, I’ll indulge and give my thoughts on it. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, stop here…you’ll be glad you did.

If, however, you’re a sci-fi geek like myself that grew up with Robotech in the 1980s, go ahead and view the full post.

Let me be blunt — Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is FAR from perfect. I mean, really far from perfect. But it ain’t half bad, really, and for anyone who wondered what the hell happened in the last episode of the series — or if you went a level further and actually read the Jack McKinney Sentinels books, you’ll really enjoy this. Don’t worry, I won’t put in any spoilers.

Let’s start with what’s bad about TSC. In case you don’t know anything about the failed Sentinels project, it was supposed to be the original sequel that showed where Rick Hunter and co. disappeared to during the other two generations of the show. Basically, they went across the galaxy on a diplomacy mission and wound up having to fuck shit up in a war with the Invid. Along the way, they befriended some teddy bears and Amazon women (I’m not joking).

Of course, you wouldn’t know this by watching TSC because , well, it’s never explained. One of the main problems with TSC is that it tries to recap the entire original series in literally like two minutes, let alone any failed sequels. You’d think they could include a retrospective or something in the DVD, but it’s not there — you’ll have to rely on your memory or the web for that. Consequently, they stick exposition, well, everywhere and with everyone. Long technobabble comes out of the mouths of almost every character and that makes a lot of the dialogue unnatural. Ok I get that they only had 90 minutes to try and explain a whole series and a new plot, but it’d be nice if the characters sounded like they were talking to EACH OTHER instead of like a lecture on the history of the show. There was a screening up in Berkeley prior to the DVD release that I was going to take my fiance to (she watched a few episodes of the DVD and is a big sci-fi nerd too) but I think it’s good that she didn’t go because she’d be really bored and confused.

One problem I noticed right away is that the quality of the animation isn’t very good. I understand that they didn’t have a big budget for this as it was really just a “testing the waters” project to see if the market was there, but still, the 2D animation is stiff and jerky. The 3D animation looks like bad CG (because it is); the actual movement and shot selection are fine, but the models look like supershiny boxes that aren’t realistic at all. It’s kind of strange because I’ve seen so many fan 3D models for Star Trek and Star Wars that look a bazillion times better than these that you’d think they could have easily done better than this.

Some of the “comic relief” is just bad. Bad bad bad. Really bad. Anything Alex Romero says is just awful. Even some of the exchanges between the cool characters (Vince Grant, Scott Bernard) are just mind-numbingly awful.

The script seems to be trying super hard not to refer to any original series characters not seen in the DVD. Rick Hunter gets a few lines, and Scott Bernard/Ariel get prominent roles. The Sterlings and Claudia Grant are alluded to, but that’s it. Lisa Hayes could have ditched Rick for an alien for all we know. I understand how they don’t want everything to be a cameo of original characters but a tiny mention in a throwaway line would at least let us know that these characters still exist.

The character designs aren’t bad but the animators went bonkers with the female bodies. Every woman here has two watermelons on her chest. It almost looks like a little kid’s charicature of boobies. I’m not sure why they went with this, but it really is stupid to the nth degree and kinda takes away from the integrity of the whole thing.

Ok, so that’s the bad — and I know it sounds pretty bad so far, but there is a lot of good. The story, which is the pilot for a new TV and/or DVD series, is really cool and it ties up a lot of the loose ends from the show while opening up a whole new plot. And really, story is what made Robotech so great in the first place. There’s something all warm and fuzzy that happens when you see older Rick Hunter and Scott Bernard back for the first time. They got a ton of the original voice actors so it feels like everything’s back from where it came.

The voice acting, overall, isn’t bad. You can tell that some of the actors got lost in the exposition (Patrick Stewart they’re not), but some of the meatier roles (Scott Bernard, Ariel) are really well done. The dude who voiced Roy Fokker is back as a general, which means that every time he talks you’re going to think of Roy Fokker. Chase Masterson from Deep Space Nine plays Janice the android and she’s essentially playing it like a cuter, perkier version of Data.

Overall, there are a LOT of things that aren’t good about TSC, most of them probably due to budget, but the story — which is the most important thing — is strong and well executed. The pacing is pretty tight and the second half really gets going. By the end (with shots lifted directly out of The Empire Strikes Back), you’ll be telling yourself, “Self, despite the bad animation and long-winded exposition, I enjoyed myself and want more.” I’m hoping that if this is successful, they’ll have the budget to improve on the animation and won’t need as much exposition next time. It’s a solid 7 out of 10 in my book and a definite must-see if you remember Robotech fondly at all.

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2 Responses to “Non-hockey post: Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles”

  1. 1 MrFrisby

    Mike, I think your synopsis is spot on. I’ll give you another 100 points.

    I was expecting it to be more of a complete movie like Macross II instead of a Series 4: Chapter 1. I still enjoyed it though, and I’m jonesing for more. I think it was well worth the effort I made to call every video store in the city to find the closest one that had the DVD in stock on the day of it’s release.

  2. 2 Mike Chen

    Some sort of continuation is definitely being planned, whether it’s in TV form or DVD releases. Funimation said that they’re gonna boost the budget for the next release, however it’s distributed.

    Hopefully that means the animation can actually support the story in the next outing!


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