by Justin Sevakis,

Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles


Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles DVD
Scott Bernard saved the Earth from the mysterious aliens, the Invid. Now, he's back on a ship, and trying to get over the fact that the woman he loved was actually an alien. But there's new trouble: Rick Hunter and his ship, the SDF-3 are missing. New races of alien enemies are approaching. The cast from Robotech returns in a race to find Hunter, before it's too late.

No matter what your stance on the Robotech franchise, the one thing you must agree with is that the show, and all of its iterations over the years, have been a bizarre mish-mash of continuity; a mess of stitched-together storylines and stretched explanations in order to merge three completely separate works into one. Those in love with the franchise, I've noticed, have long accepted this limitation. For all of the novelizations, the role-playing games, and the aborted sequels, Robotech is, at its core, the dubbed and reworked editions of three disparate anime: Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeda.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing has been debated ad nauseum, but for all its faults, anime as a whole benefited greatly from the exposure. The seeds that Robotech planted in kids have since converted a huge number of anime fans. Now, twenty years after Carl Macek created this Frankenstein of a series, Harmony Gold has resurrected it as a feature film, picking up more or less directly where the last episode left off.

It's such a direct sequel, in fact, that those who haven't watched the last arc of the TV show recently are likely to be completely lost. An attempt is made to bring viewers up to speed: The Invid, who had invaded Earth, have decided that humans are pretty kewl, and are worth saving. So, they're now on our team.

Half an hour later, the real story begins. Captain Vince Grant (an orignal character from the aborted Robotech: The Sentinels) is charged with finding Rick Hunter and his ship, the SDF-3. Scott Bernard (Stig Bernard from Mospeda/New Generation), from the first plotline, joins the crew, along with two young pilots, Marcus and Alex. And so it goes, until this storyline wraps itself up at about the one hour fifteen minute mark, and we veer off into another direction so there can be an unresolved cliffhanger to tease an as-yet nonexistent project.

And so, this installment of Robotech continues the grand tradition of being a bizarre mish-mash of stories that barely fit together. The whole thing reeks of a fanfiction writer struggling to keep the show's worlds and its continuity straight, while at the same time trying to extend the world to go somewhere it was never intended. In otaku terms, it's like the manga artist quit and the filler episode writers took over.

The animation suffers a similar fate. CG space scenes, with their grandiose battles between countless spacecraft, often look like a Scifi Channel original with a little Macross influence. But where the visuals really fall down is in the 2D work. Characters have that hybrid anime-style-drawn-by-non-Japanese look that has become synonymous with Korean anime. The costumes are basically paint-on jumpsuits over Ken and Barbie-with-implants body types, not one of them deviating from another. The cel work is flatly colored, low-budget work along the same lines as a cartoon from American TV. Co-director and writer Tommy Yune has admitted in interviews that he could've used a bigger budget, but I'm not sure that would have solved these problems.

But at its core, what Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is missing is a strong storyteller. Where the original shows were grand in scope and rich in characterization, this sequel is pallid and bland. When the inevitable cliffhanger reveals itself as the film's ending, few will care to find out more. The excitement-free performances by the (mostly) original voice cast do nothing to help this. Perhaps the advancements in anime dubs since the mid 80's have spoiled us.

All this isn't to say the film is awful. The score, by Scott Glasgow, is the sort of orchestral highlight almost required by space operas, and it adds real excitement to many of the space battle sequences. These parts are genuinely fun. But as soon as the characters come on screen and start talking in ridiculous expository dialogue, the excitement quickly comes to a standstill.

To those few who, to this day, faithfully buy Robotech novels and RPG games, Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles will scratch the ol' Robotech itch, and nothing more. It's inconsequential and forgettable; a Robotech-flavored nutrition bar where one might expect a meal. For everybody else, the film is just good enough to watch late at night on cable. It's certainly not worth anything more than that.

Overall (dub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : C
Art : D
Music : B+

+ Has its exciting moments. Good music.
Mediocre animation, cliché story, forgettable characters.

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Production Info:
Original Character Design: Yoshitaka Amano

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