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Will The Macross Franchise Ever Be Made Available In The West?

by Justin Sevakis,

Jake asked:

During this year's AX, Harmony Gold held a panel stating that they have extended the right of the original 1980's Robotech/Macross franchise. This shocked many fans, who hoped Harmony Gold would lose the license and that old and newer Macross series would be released in the West. Harmony Gold has not been a relevant player in the anime game for decades and a live-action movie seems less likely by the year. Why did Tatsunoko decide to continue to work with Harmony Gold instead of breaking off ties and work with literally any other well established anime or streaming company?

We can't know what happened behind closed doors between Harmony Gold and Tatsunoko. Needless to say, once all the court cases were decided, the two found a way to come to an agreement of some sort. Perhaps they wanted to see if the live-action film project in development with Sony Pictures will bear fruit. Despite having a high profile producer and writer attached, there's not even a script yet, so it's anything but a sure thing. But if it does happen, there could be quite a lot of money for everybody.

What does the agreement say, however? Fans jumped to a lot of conclusions. Harmony Gold wouldn't comment on how long the new agreement lasts and would only say, "well into the future." (The "35 years" some fans have stated was simply a misunderstanding of a quote from Harmony Gold founder Frank Agrama, toasting the 35th anniversary of Robotech -- "here's to another 35 years," he said, as people often do on birthdays and anniversaries.) However, they did confirm to me that they're looking into ways to present all of the shows in HD, including on Blu-ray via an existing output deal with Sony, but to do so, they'll have to remaster them from their own 16mm film elements of the original series. This would imply that they do not have the recent HD remasters released in Japan.

Regardless, when the announcement was made, a lot of fans flew into a rage. To them, Harmony Gold, their license of Macross, and holding of several Macross trademarks were THE reasons the seminal franchise has not gotten a proper release in the United States. Never mind the fact that the original Macross, Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada series all got uncut, subtitled DVD releases sub-licensed by Harmony Gold some years ago. (The original Macross TV series even got two releases from two different publishers, and a fresh new dub was even produced by ADV Films. I should note that NONE of these releases sold well.) These releases are long out of print now, but all three series are available to stream with subtitles on Amazon Prime. (They were not able to confirm to me how long that deal lasts for.)

The idea that all of Macross would suddenly become available in North America if Harmony Gold would just go away is, frankly, not reality. Over Anime Expo weekend I had the Macross situation privately explained to me by several industry insiders. A lot of information was not for public consumption, but frankly even if I had to explain everything at gunpoint I don't think I could -- it's that much of a mess. The myriad of lawsuits and rulings over the years between Tatsunoko and Macross producer Big West complicates things to such a degree that, even if someone approached them to license some Macross, it's not even clear who they would talk to, or how a deal would even get done. It COULD happen, but would take so much effort and so much legal legwork (plus a few miracles) that it's basically the licensing equivalent of a cure for cancer.

But what about Macross II and Macross Plus, many fans ask? Those two OVAs got North American releases by L.A. Hero (and later Manga Video, which eventually became Starz) during a brief window before things in Japan got muddied with lawsuits, and while Harmony Gold wasn't minding their trademarks. The same goes for the edited VHS release of Do You Remember Love, entitled Clash of the Bionoids. Macross 7, Macross Zero, Macross Delta, and Macross Frontier have all remained completely unavailable in the U.S., to say nothing of decent versions of Do You Remember Love and recent HD remasters of Macross Plus and others. While Harmony Gold has made it clear for the past couple of decades that they would expect to be a part of any new Macross related deals going forward, frankly, nobody has even been able to get that far since then.

Is Harmony Gold the boogeyman fans treat them as? They do make for a convenient villain, now that 4Kids Entertainment is a distant memory, and not many companies deal in edited or repurposed anime these days. It IS true that some people in positions of power in Japan aren't happy about Robotech and its effect on the Macross franchise. Heck, Shōji Kawamori himself made his displeasure with Robotech's existence very clear in a recent interview. But it's not at all clear that removing Harmony Gold from the picture would mean new deals could get done. What IS clear is that, despite not having any discs currently in print, Harmony Gold IS keeping the original series available, and if they went away it's quite possible that nobody else could bring back the original Macross TV series at all.

So while it's easy to blame Harmony Gold for the situation -- they are, after all, openly holding and protecting the Macross trademarks in North America, and fans and Macross creators alike are unhappy with their Robotech legacy, the fact is that their involvement is but one of many roadblocks that any wholesale reintroduction of Macross to North America would have to clear. And they might not even be the biggest one.

(*The company also made no claim to the series The Super Dimension Century Orguss, as has been claimed by some on Twitter. This was another misunderstanding at the AX2019 panel, as they were simply asked about something that they didn't have rights to.)

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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