It’s a no go on Robotech Academy

UN_SPACY_by_n1nj4_Katak_chanMy last post was a brief examination of the Robotech series, where I looked at the relatively friendly atmosphere it had towards in POC in three of the four story lines. [1] I also mentioned that they were holding a Kickstarter Campaign for the latest fever dream to dredged out of the memory of Carl Macek, “Robotech Academy”. As of the time of this writing, the campaign has been terminated by Harmony Gold, at less than half the requested amount of half a million dollars, with about six days left.[2] In the Canadian Army, we have a practice called an “After Action Review”, where we examine the background of, plan of, and execution of every mission and training event we conduct. Given Harmony Gold’s atrocious record, it’s time to do a bit of an AAR and figure out what went wrong and how to avoid it going wrong in future.

First, lets examine what separates Robotech from most mecha based anime shows, and establish a background to the event.

Robotech is, at its very core, a military science fiction series with strong space opera influences. The characters are, in the majority, members of the military, or at least old enough to serve or to be presented as relatively mature adults or teens/young adults. The action is military in nature, with missions and losses, and pulls few punches on the costs of war and conflict on both the character’s bodies and minds. While ostensibly aimed at children, Robotech plays more strongly to both young adult and adult audiences. Robotech, under the guidance of Harmony Gold, has been a notoriously moribund franchise, producing very little new material in the 30 years since its initial release, and has been dependent on an established audience to support it as opposed to engaging new audiences.

In the overarching plot design, it’s a multigenerational epic, and one that addresses social issues and ideas. The Macross Saga (MS) looked at militarism, the tribulations and costs of pacifism, and the power of popular culture as a social bonding agent and as a way to break down cultural barriers.  The Masters Saga (RM) rather ham handedly examined the issues of race using the alien Robotech Masters and half Zentraedi Dana Sterling, as well as the costs of blind militarism and the folly of allowing incompetent leaders to remain in command. The New Generation (NG) looked at the the question of loyalty, to ones people, to ones friends, and to a cause. The Shadow Chronicles (SC) opened the doors of the examination of arch betrayal by a trusted ally, to dealing with the loss of friends, family, and comrades, and the mental costs of growing up knowing nothing but war.

So in short, although hammered together from independent series, Robotech covers a wide swath of areas, and offers a lot to work with for future expansions on the series.

What was the Robotech Academy? From the now defunct Kickstarter, this is what I gleaned as far as the plan went.

The new series has only four characters detailed on the Kickstarter page, a “child prodigy” named Wally; an established character, Rolf Emerson, who was a major character in the Masters Series (and therefore probably not a major character in the new series); an historical character, Zor, because why not shoehorn him into everything; and a “swashbuckling teen pilot” named Lindsay who is an old rival and associate of a character who may no longer be canon, Jack Baker. There is a distinct lack of  POC, and a potential lack of mature characters. They (and presumably all the other teens and tweens that were to stack this show’s cast) were left behind by the Robotech Expeditionary Fleet (REF) at the Robotech Academy while their parents and families went off on a over two decade long mission. While there, the Children of Zor show up looking for the secrets of Robotech that the REF left behind at the Academy. The Academy does an unplanned space fold, shoots off into space, where it’s teen population must use their experimental mecha and wits and all the secrets and clues left behind by Zor to defeat the Children of Zor and find the REF. Several new mecha and spacecraft are shown, and there are a number of interviews with Robotech alumni about the project and how awesome it will be.

Reading this just made me ask questions. Why wasn’t the Robotech Academy mentioned in the Masters Saga? Why was Dana Sterling left alone on Earth, the only hybrid Zentraedi/human on the planet, instead of being placed in the Academy with everyone else’s children? Why were the secrets to Robotechnology left behind by the greatest minds on earth in a museum and scattered around a campus instead of being secured in a military base or somewhere more defensible? Given that the mission apparently had facilities to raise a self perpetuating, self supplying force (Maia Sterling was born in 2525 with the REF, about three years after they left), why did anyone leave their kids behind? Why didn’t the Army of the Southern Cross send a search party after the Robotech Academy if it was dripping so much robotechnology and experimental mecha? Why weren’t the Children of Zor a plot point in the RM saga? There are more plot hole creating questions, but those are just the ones that occurred to me while writing.

So where did it go wrong in execution?

  1. The idea as pitched it far too similar to just about every other generic anime mecha show out there where teenagers have to use experimental mecha to defeat their enemies and solve a mystery to win the day. In essence, it wasn’t “Robotech” as Robotech as has been established in the original animation or the supporting comic books and canon material.
  2. Robotech is unique in that it has a very large fan base of adults, and the campaign attempts to solicit their money by playing nostalgia cards instead of presenting concrete ideas and plans. Given the highly critical nature of the fan base, this was doomed to fail.
  3. Harmony gold has struggled for years with a schizophrenic approach to Robotech, ranging from good ideas like the prequel comics reboot and reactivating their relationship with Palladium Books, to terrible ones like this campaign and some of the ideas they’ve floated in past. After years of broken promises and waiting for vapour projects to materialize, the fans are leery about supporting the company because the bad decisions and lies outweigh the products produced.
  4. The art produced was a mixed bag of good ideas (like more practical and usable uniforms) and bad ones (mecha are not recognizable as being related to the era they are from, the intermediate between RM and NG/SC).
  5. The project was not what the fans have been demanding, it was a new, alien idea, plucked from the ideas of Macek.

How can this be avoided in the future?

  1. Let Carl Macek and his ideas rest. He laid a great foundation to build on, but his 70’s SF&F take on time/dimensions/secret guidance/circle of everything isn’t easily sold to the modern audience. His idea that a Zor clone and Minmei travel back in time so their child can become Zor, turning it all into a self perpetuating cycle, is terrible, and so was Robotech Academy. The Sentinels still have to be turned into a sensical operation, what happened on the mission needs to be fleshed out, and a fourth Robotech War is now occurring; and that’s just with the established material, never mind trying to explore some of Macek’s undeveloped ideas.
  2. Reorganize and prioritize. For decades, Harmony gold has strung its fans along with promises of movies, live action movies, and of new series. The only new products it’s managed are a movie (years late) and a new RPG series by Palladium Books together with an unreleased tactical game. Stop baiting the fans. Lay out a solid format or pre-release/release/post-release activities, and build a prioritized list of projects, then commit to it. For example: a prequel comic book(s)/trade paperback graphic novel leads to an OVA movie or short series, which in turn leads to an epilogue comic book(s)/trade paperback graphic novel. Add merchandizing in there with Youtube teasers and an aggressive advertising campaign, and you’re pretty much golden.
  3. Drop Zor as a major plot device, it’s lazy writing and does nothing to improve the series. Let him be the historic figure and flawed clones that he already is.
  4. Remember that Robotech examines society and social issues, and that doesn’t work well if your cast is predominantly teens and tweens with little life experience. Unless you’re examining teens, which is done to death in other mecha series featuring teens.
  5. Listen to the fans, they’re the ones who have supported this moribund franchise for decades now. They want to know what happened with the REF, what happened after the RM saga and onwards on Earth,  and what’s going on with the fourth Robotech War against the Haydonites.
  6. Redesign the website to make it more user friendly, and fully integrate your social media efforts. This is more of a pet peeve of mine.

That the Kickstarter campaign failed came as no surprise to me. It represented a massive downgrade to the franchise and spat in the faces of fans who have supported Robotech through the years. It also showed what can happen when a group refuses to abandon the ideas of the past. Carl Macek, love him or hate him, laid out a pretty good storyline, but that doesn’t mean that the franchise has to remain slavishly devoted to his unexplored and unused ideas, or the ideas that were shot down in the past. The right idea is to build on his legacy, but without letting his dead hand be the guiding force on the tiller bar of creativity.

19 comments

  • Thank you for writing this, and I (along with some friends, all fellow Canucks), agree with you wholeheartedly. You stated it a lot nicer than I would have. I think this Kickstarter fiasco shows what position HG is in: no real plan for the long term franchise (ie. Shadow Chronicles) and using the premise of the purported live action movie to act as a crutch to keep fans at bay for new materials. If they didn’t want to make new content for fear of confusing a new audience, why then did they pursue this route AND not focus on finishing up the story? It reeks of poor leadership/vision/marketing by a real estate corporation no less. What do they said in the biz: “Location, location, location.” They certainly didn’t position themselves well in this instance.

    Cheers!

  • While I did support the Kickstarter with a pledge, I do agree with a lot of the points that you make here. As far as the story line was concerned, the one thing I would have wished was that this take place at roughly the same time as Southern Cross, and during the time of The Sentinels. Basically, make these the kids of the first batch of explorers that went out immediately after the Macross Saga. Then they could add in some characters who are known, but don’t have canon designated postings and jobs, unlike Rolf Emerson. This would be a perfect time to use someone like Jack Baker, or other characters from The Sentinels or Shadow Chronicles. Heck, you could even throw in children from the Sentinel races to placate the fans. And in a time period like that, having bunches of experimental technology would make a lot of sense. As far as themes are concerned, I could very well see something like this series examining not just how young adults grow up in a world at war, but young adults growing up in situations where their parents may not be around a lot, or at all (if they died in combat).

    But then you get to the flip side of this. Where there is a real concern among the fanbase, who have been loyal for the past 30 years (and paying attention), that Harmony Gold won’t follow through. Either because of their incompetence, or because they redirected the money to keeping their real estate business afloat (again).

    • I have a few issues with this line of thinking.

      One is that experimental mecha from the era in question would be things like experimental Alphas, Betas, Hover Tanks and alterate designs that showed some visual simularities to the established mecha design conventions of the day. Instead they offered the Drone Veritech, which shared no relation to in world designs and seemed more of a nod towards real life designs. I can appreciate the effort to try to bring Robotech up to speed with the modern military trends and developments, but this isn’t a great way to do it.

      The other is that teens as initial explorers or pioneers is again, done to death, and not ‘Robotech’ as established. The official site talks about reconnaissance forces sent ahead to act as pathfinders for the REF. A whole set of series could be done around that without shoehorning in a bunch of teens on a magical galaxy trip guided by a long dead Robotech Master.

      It’s my feeling that part of the reason that the novels were removed from canon was because they delved into some of the more esoteric and exotic ideas that Macek had, which didn’t jive well with the established technology and military based science fiction vibe of the series overall. As in my post, I also think that’s part of the reason why this kickstarter failed.

      • How quickly we forget that drone fighters have always been a part of Robotech:
        QF-3000 Ghost (from Macross) http://ptn.home.xs4all.nl/Aircraft/Ghost.html
        Vandal Shadowdrone (From New Generation) http://www.robotechresearch.com/rpg/mecha/ref/veritech/qaf_6/shadow_drone.html
        Not to mention the drone fighters that Maxwell (?) had in the New Generation episode about the mountain pass. And don’t forget the drone battloids in Southern Cross.

        I never said anything about them being the initial explorers. I said that they were the children of the initial explorers. Big difference there. And if you had read what I said, leave out characters who are already established as being somewhere else. My point was that these would not be normal young adults in any sense of the word. All of the young adults are survivors of the Rain of Fire, or the children of those who did. You’d be looking at a group of people between the ages of 16 and 19 (since I don’t think the REF is so hard up to start recruit child soldiers yet). If the story takes place in 2028-2030, most of them have probably spent their entire lives on-board ships in deep space. So at the very least, you would have a group of people who have been around adults, and under military discipline their entire lives. The big issue I would have is that it could end up as just a copy of The 300, just with mecha.

        I agree that shoehorning Zor into everything is very unimaginative. Much of the stuff in the later novels had nothing to do with Robotech, like Captain K’rk and the starship N’terprz. A lot of the pseudo-mystical stuff really didn’t belong. The one thing I don’t agree about the current state of things is how Protoculture has been downgraded to an interesting plant, instead of as a next generation fuel source/power booster originally.

        • Another note: The Academy could be in deep space, or even around an extra-solar colony. Keep the whole Children of Zor thing for the meta-story, but have the characters think these are just pirates or rogue Zentraedi. That way you could tie in both lines from Macross, and lines from Southern Cross, and have both be true. Best thing about doing in as a side story to the Southern Cross/Sentinels War timeline, is that the fact that a search isn’t immediately made for them is because both of the parent groups (ASC and REF) are heavily involved with their own wars at the time. The REF might send a ship or two to look for them, but the ASC is completely bogged down trying to fight the Masters.

          • That’s some good plot hole filling, but it still leaves the big questions of why did they leave thier children behind when the fleet was prepared for and capable of raising children, and why would you leave all your secret and unresearched technology in a place where the population is teenaged? I think a lot of the issues can be traced back to how underdeveloped significant parts of the Robotech world are, like how its military functions or is formed.

            • My thought is that they didn’t so much leave them behind, as brought the Academy with them. That was one of the reasons why I liked that artwork of the Academy floating in space so much. Most of the surface of the asteroid is used for the Academy, while the sub-surface base is used for storage/experiment testing. Kind of a combo Groom Lake and Air Force Academy, or better yet: West Point (which is also technically still a military base, and US Mint). Best of all, it can move under it’s own power, much like the Factory Satellite. Even better, make the thing a decommissioned Factory Satellite.

              I think the biggest problem wouldn’t be that you have a majority teenage population, the biggest problem would be that because of their maturity and previous experiences, you’d have an entire population of Wesley Crushers. How’s that for scary?

              • The problem is that they were pretty explicit that they left all thier kids behind.

                • While that may have been “said”, at one point or another, the ages of the characters show the error in that. Scott was born in 2023 (or earlier if you go by The Sentinels movie), Lunk was born in 2010, and Lancer was born in 2020. Not to mention all of the really young folks we see in the Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn forces who were obviously born after the 2022 departure of the SDF-3.

                  • Which is the point I raised earlier in why did they leave any of their children behind if the fleet had facility to raise them. Robotech Academy doesn’t make sense when you have so many characters born before or just after the departure of the SDF3 and REF coming back to earth for the first time.

                    Not to mention it raises a lot of questions about why Dana Sterling and Bowie Grant were left on Earth under the care of the ASC instead of being placed in the Academy.

        • I didn’t forget them. Neither of them are in heavy usage, and more to the point, they aren’t predator drone knockoffs. The Ghost was in two episodes, and matched (broadly speaking) the design trends and styles of its era, the Alpha and Shadow Fighter drones likewise match the design trends of thier era. Same with the ASC battloids. The Drone Veritech is a serious departure from the established design conventions. Some variation is good, but extreme variation breaks the visual cues needed to connect a series to its roots.

          As for idea about them being the children of the first explorers out, it’s still bad. Gundam has already thoroughly explored the teens in space with mecha concept, and again, that’s not what Robotech has been established to be about. If they’d offered this as a non-Robotech product, it probably would have had a higher chance at succeeding.

  • Robotech_Master

    I don’t think Harmony Gold really has any good long-term ideas about where to go with Robotech. Even Carl Macek’s later ideas were kind of weird. (Remember, he was the one who came up with all the ideas behind Robotech 3000.) Robotech was so great precisely because 90% of the story of the first and last saga (the more popular ones) were left effectively unchanged from what the Japanese writers wrought, and they provided enough basis for tinkering between them to let a mangling of the middle series, which was apparently considered so bad in Japan that it was canceled mid-season, serve as glue to hold them all together.

    I hate to speak ill of the dead, but Macek’s original ideas for Sentinels and other stuff (as given in Robotech Art 3 and the podcast interview I did with him) were really kind of cheesy and terrible. Without something better-written to work from, any sequels Harmony Gold can come up with are effectively well-financed Robotech fanfic.

    • I concur with just about every point you make, except the last one. Some of the fanfic is actually better than some of the ideas HG has floated over the years, and way better than some of Macek’s ideas.

      • Robotech_Master

        Yeah, so? Some of it is terrible. Shadow Chronicles was kind of in between.

        • I was just pointing out that some fans have had really good ideas.

          The Shadow Chronicles was certainly a mixed bag, but I appreciated how it moved the story forwards in what was an unexpected (at least to me) direction. The ending left some to be desired though.

      • I agree with both of you. I wasn’t really a collector of the comics, but what I saw from the Academy issues seemed to be pretty good. The only reason I didn’t really get into them was because I have pretty much stopped reading comics entirely. But I also feel that a lot of the problem here was that HG has lost a lot of credibility with their fans, and this dropped Kickstarter showed just how far their credibility has fallen, especially when you compare it to the one for Robotech Tactics. While Palladium Books has its credibility issues, folks believed in them enough to throw more money at them than they asked for. (Although it is kind of sad that a lot of that enthusiasm was because Kevin was going to be hands-off on this product, and let someone else run the show.) So while the product may be later than expected, from what it looks like, it will more than meet expectations.

        When was the last time HG did something with Robotech that met expectations?

        • All I can think of is the last set of RPG releases, they weren’t a complete set of disappointments and actually seem to take into account stuff from the shows.

          • That’s because the last couple of books, and the new ones coming out, were done by fanboys under Palladium’s auspices. The only thing HG had to do with them was to submit edits, and delay their publication while Palladium waited for someone over there to get back to them. It was probably the first time there was a publication delay that wasn’t really Palladium’s fault. That and it really helps that Palladium has decided to get the RPG, and it’s background material, right this time around. So they decided to go with the folks who have been analyzing and discussing this stuff for 30 years, the fans. It’s a sad commentary when the supposed knock-off, the RPG, is more accurate than your “source material”.

            • I just wish the KS could leave the ‘Nam era slang behind and that they’d sort out what the wolverine rifle actually looks like!

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