To anime fans, the name Robotech means many things - it's what the Macross Saga birthed and was around since the very early days of the giant robot phenomenon that continues on today. Combining multiple original series to create a larger, deeper world was revolutionary.
To American animation fans, Robotech meant seeing what was being done in the world of Japanese animation long before crossover hits like Dragonball Z and Naruto and Attack on Titan hit US shores. With rich character development, an "anything goes" attitude, and amazing action sequences (yes, featuring giant robots), the Robotech world went beyond just having the power or knowledge being half the battle - it treated kids like they were intelligent beings and spoke to adults as well, letting them know it was okay to love animation.
And now, Robotech is coming back, with a lost tale by original creator Carl Macek. While Macek passed away in 2010, he had begun work once again with Harmony Gold on an old idea, a way to salvage the Sentinels storyline and merge it properly with the original Robotech world. Now, Harmony Gold is looking to bring that to fruition in Robotech Academy, an all-new series they hope to launch with the help of the fans from across the three decades of this universe.
Through the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, Harmony Gold is looking to the fans to help them create the pilot of Robotech Academy. From their, they would be able to pitch the show further and bring it to series, finally telling Macek's last story in this universe. At press time, the kickstarter has $165,146 pledged of the $500,000 goal, with 18 days remaining. There are tiers that range from the "I hate Harmony Gold" stage (seriously, it's called "Enemy Spy"), up through things like being animated into the pilot and everything in-between. Plus, merchandise for Academy can be pre-purchased as add-ons to any pledge you make toward the pilot.
For more on Robotech Academy, on Macek's original vision, and why fans new and old should dive into this world, we talked with Harmony Gold's Tommy Yune.
Newsarama: Tommy, let’s talk some Robotech!
Tommy Yune: Are you a Robotech fan from way back?
Nrama: I am! It’s what introduced anime to me as a kid.
Yune: Oh wow. Cool!
I got into it… if I told you what kind of school I was in at the time you’d probably figure out exactly how old I am (laughs).
Nrama: Well, first off, you’ve been with Robotech and Harmony Gold for a few incarnations…
Yune: Yeah, I’ve been with Harmony Gold for the better part of the last decade.
Nrama: What’s the staying power of Robotech as a franchise? What makes you want to stick around and keep telling stories there.
Yune: It has a lot of staying power with its fans. There are a lot of old cartoons where, it’s released again on home video or Netflix, and you watch it and just kind of go “what were they thinking back then? And how did I actually like this stuff?”
But Robotech has this odd charm to it where people watch it again, decades later, and go “wow, this was actually a smart, well-written television series!” Even back then. Some of the dialogue can be a bit clunky at times, but regardless, the amount of effort that’s taken with the story-telling is astounding.
Nrama: Why do you think it was such a crossover hit, coming from Japan to the US?
Yune: I think it has to do with the character development. People would come and see a lot of their characters developed, and would be very invested in them. There were fans wondering to themselves, “is Rick gonna hook up with Lynn Minmay or Lisa?” or “Is Scott really going to get together with that Invid girl?”
It becomes a soap opera, and people get hooked on it. There were the typical anime conventions, like in the first episode, they through everything at you with action. So you’re chasing that high. You get hooked in with the action, then next thing you know you’re hooked into the soap opera. You tell a pre-teen boy in Junior High School, “hey, you want to watch a cartoon about a love triangle about a guy trying to figure out whether he likes a younger girl or older girl?” They’d say, “There’s no way I’m going to watch that!” But they get into that in Robotech and they’re addicted, and they’ll be in it for the long haul.
Nrama: Anime itself has been somewhat cyclical in the US. It had the big jump with Robotech then fell back a bit. It had a couple of 90s pushes with the first shonen push, then more modern and adult storytelling like Cowboy Bebop then it scaled back again. Now recently it’s come back again with Naruto and things like Attack on Titan. Where does this fit in? What’s the sensibility you have to go for with Robotech in the modern era?
Yune: People get drawn in by the look and the design, but the staying power is that character development. Cowboy Bebop is really a throwback, in that a lot of the visual conventions are from Noir, but people got so invested in the characters in that show that they got in the habit of watching it, wanting to know more about those characters and their backstories.
That was responsible for a lot of the success of some of these crossover series being made now, such as Avatar: The Last Airbender, that’s heavily influenced by anime and an exceptionally well-written show. People get hooked in by the look, but they stay for the story. That happens with anime a lot – there’s a resurgence because there’s a new style of storytelling introduced.
Nrama: So with Robotech Academy, we’re skewing a little younger as far as the characters go, but what style of storytelling are you hoping to see with this show?
Yune: That is why it started! After the success of Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, there was a lot of interest in Robotech for television. The typical pressure that you get from a network is, “how do you get the viewership to skew younger?” One thing that was important: you want to capture a wide swath of audience, but you don’t want to betray the message of what your characters originally are.
For this reason, I thought it was important to pursue the original producer of the show, Carl Macek, and really have him aboard working on this with us. And we were working with him for a few years, the last few years of his life. Unfortunately, he passed away right in the middle of us working on Robotech Academy. His idea was, yeah, he thought you could make it work, but you didn’t have to dumb it down.
The Bruce Timm interpretation of the DC Universe, for example, is highly regarded for attracting younger audiences, but at the same time being very smartly written. One thing that Carl really wanted to do, all these years, was that he wanted to revisit the Sentinels universe.
This was supposed to be the spin-off from Robotech, in the middle of the universe, that was supposed to explain what the Expeditionary Force was doing in deep space all this time. Unfortunately that series only had a few episodes produced, and was then played out in novels and comic books. But visually, that world was never explored out to his satisfaction, and what he wanted to do was – all the officers of the Expeditionary Force, you see all these admirals; but what are they doing with all their kids?
So in Robotech Academy, the best and the brightest of this universe are sent to the Academy, where they’re being trained in the latest of Robotech technology. Their parents are sending them there because they want their kids to be safe from the front lines where the battles are taking place. Or so they think – because you have the brightest minds and the latest technology all in one place, of course that makes it an inviting target.
So all these exciting things happen, with the Robotech Academy, somewhat far away from where the war is supposed to be. So now instead of the older characters, you have these younger characters drawing upon their inner strength, all their wits, to survive in the deep space world of the Sentinels universe. This would be a fantastic way to investigate parts of the Robotech universe that have never been explored, to make all the fans begging us on hands and knees, “please make Sentinels!” happy – finally that gets to happen.
And it was one of the unfinished projects that Carl always wanted to do. For us, it’s a no brainer, this is something we have to get done.
Nrama: You kind of blew up the Expeditionary Force in Shadow Chronicles – so when does this story take place?
Yune: It actually goes back – it starts at the very end of the second Robotech War. So we’ll have a few familiar faces. We’ll have General Anderson pop in… and you’ll see mecha that is an evolution in between that of the second generation and the third.
Nrama: Oh, cool! You know how to entice your fans, apparently.
Yune: Yeah! And the villains in this one; by the end of the second Robotech War, the masters have completely fallen – but that’s far from the truth, they haven’t completely fallen. So the new villains are called the Children of Zor. These Children of Zor try to reclaim the mantle of control of Robotechnology.
Nrama: One of the things you said about the overall concept stood out to me – the idea that the kids at the Academy are supposed to be in this safe space, but of course, the War comes to them. Obviously the world is a pretty different place than it was when Robotech started thirty years ago. The idea of how war influences our lives and the wars we’ve been involved with – terrorism, things like that… are those things you’re looking at when developing a series like this?
Yune: Yeah, this is exactly what we want to do. If you watch the news, it presents us with uncomfortable things that are occurring in the world all of the time. One of the things that was pretty amazing about Robotech was it happened during the emergence of stealth technology, the emergence of widespread destruction, of cities being laid bare by war. The concept of scorched-Earth warfare. They’re things you hear about and are uncomfortable, but it took these concepts dead-on. It doesn’t candycoat what giant concepts of war like these and the newer ones would be like.
I think that’s what makes Robotech so relevant, and what it made relevant with fans back then. It doesn’t pull punches. Early on, you had a main character, Roy, pass away, and soon right after that, another major character, Dixon passes away, and then fans were razzled – they didn’t know who was going next! It felt like Game of Thrones but decades ago (laughs). Because the series was willing to make character sacrifices on that magnitude it kept fans on the edges of their seat.
Nrama: Shadow Chronicles will have been about a decade out when this series gets underway; why is now the time to bring the property back, and why in particular is it ready for a new series instead of just a new movie?
Yune: Well, what we’re asking fans to do is support a pilot. The pilot will set the tone of the story. The thing is, if we take funding from a corporate entity, they have to get their two cents in. The merchandising that a corporate source has in mind might inform the story we have to tell. When we saw how well kickstarter was doing for a lot of potential projects – fans started bugging us as well! They said, “if you throw something like this on Kickstarter, we’ll say shut up and take our money!” (laughs) This is a way for fans who are aware of who Carl Macek is, as the original producer, we can ask them, “hey, can you help make Carl Macek’s vision come true?” With their direct support, instead of designing the pilot to corporate interests, we can stay true to what all the fans want in the first place. It would be to the vision of Carl Macek, which is what we intended.
Why we prioritized this is that Carl was working on this with us a few years back, he was working on Robotech Academy. The Shadow Chronicles did get made, and did get met with some success for us, but we wanted to keep Academy a surprise for fans. We may have done too well, we wanted to keep Carl’s work a secret, but the folks finding out are surprised, and one of my fears as a fan myself is that this would be a concept from Carl that would disappear into the ages. I felt that we all owed it to him to get this made, to get something he had percolating in his head all these years made.
A fan actually sent in some old convention video of Carl talking about this story decades ago! It was how he was going to salvage the Sentinels. So when we contacted him a decade ago, he was overjoyed. He said, “finally I get to do this dream project.” He passed away before we could get it finished, but fans can help us get it done for him.
Nrama: Now, you have your solid fanbase and the people you know you’ll pull in with a project like this. How are you making this open and accessible for new fans?
Yune: Well, it is going to be a new set of characters. It’s something that has happened throughout the Robotech generations. Every time there’s a generational shift, you get new characters, but you have some crossovers for existing fans that they’re already invested in. So we’ll have those, and some of the characters you recognize might be a little older than you remember – and some might be younger – but the lion’s share of them will be new characters, and a few of them will have some surprising family ties, being related to other characters in the universe.
Nrama: All right! Anything else you want to leave fans with as this kickstarter goes on?
Yune: I would just say, spread the word. It never ceases to amaze us that fans see Robotech product on shelves, and then say, “oh my goodness, I didn’t know you were still doing this!”
Robotech is one of the few independently distributed IPs still out there. There are still a lot of people out there that get genuinely surprised. So spreading the word is definitely going to help.
Now it's your turn to enlist at Robotech Academy! Click here to head to the kickstarter and help bring Macek's final vision for this world to life.