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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Robotech/Voltron: ♪1+1+1+1+1... Macross! Macross!! Macross!!!♪ Wait, That's Not Right...

In the 80s, two anime dominated North American TV airwaves when they were localized & adapted in similar ways. Harmony Gold's Robotech from 1985 was an amalgamation of three separate mech anime, 1982's Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, 1984's Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross, & 1983's Genesis Climber Mospeada, while World Events Productions' Voltron: Defender of the Universe from 1984-1985 was made up of two series, 1981's Beast King GoLion & 1982's Armored Fleet Dairugger XV, but in both cases only one of the sources would become the de facto face of their own respective franchises. For Robotech it would be Macross (though, due to legal issues, Mospeada would eventually be used as the basis for future productions), while for Voltron it would be GoLion (so much so that an adaptation of Lightspeed Electroid Albegas was scrapped in favor of completely original "Lion Force" episodes). After decades of ups & downs for both franchises, though, we're at an interesting time for both of these icons of the 80s.

There hasn't been anything truly "new" from Robotech since the maligned movie The Shadow Chronicles in 2007 (yes, I know of 2013's Robotech: Love Live Alive, but that was just an adaptation of the 1985 Mospeada OVA of the same name), and after filing an arbitration lawsuit against Tatsunoko that revealed that HG's license to the three shows that comprised the series will expire in 2021, it looks like Robotech is slowly approaching death's door; while money does talk, I highly doubt Tatsunoko will renew HG's license at this point. Meanwhile, Voltron has had a couple of full-length animated series within this very decade alone, 2011's generally maligned kind-of-sort-of-maybe sequel Voltron Force & 2016's highly beloved reboot Voltron: Legendary Defender. In between those two series, though, a company called Dynamite Entertainment had the comic rights to both franchises, so it was decided to have the two cross over, which resulted in 2013's Robotech/Voltron, a five-issue American comic that focuses specifically on the Macross cast meeting with the "Lion Force" GoLion cast.

Amusingly enough, this is literally the only time these two series have ever officially interacted with each other anywhere in the world, as the only Super Robot Wars game to feature GoLion, 2007's W on the DS, did not feature Macross in any way. All this being said, was anyone even asking for this to happen, & is it any good in the first place? Let's find out...

When the Omega Comet looks to bring destruction onto Planet Arus of the Far Universe, Keith Kogane, Princess Allura, & the Lion Force form Voltron to take it on... Only for them to disappear & allow Prince Lotor of the Drule Empire to conquer the planet. Meanwhile, in the year 2009 on Planet Earth of the Near Universe, the SDF-1 from Macross Island is under attack by Zentraedi Empire forces lead by General Breetai, resulting in Captain Henry J. Gloval ordering the emergency use of a space fold teleport. Right then, however, the Lion Force robots suddenly shoot out from space, crashing through Breetai's fleet, destroying them, & crash landing onto Earth, with the Black Lion landing on Macross Island; the SDF-1, though, has disappeared without a trace. It is now the year 2014, and ace pilot Roy Fokker has been welcomed onto a top-secret coalition that has been figuring out what exactly the Black Lion is, with all four Earthling Lion Force members having been held in captivity for the past three years; Keith only recently has come out of his coma. Meanwhile, Lotor figures out what the Omega Comet is capable of & orders Haggar the Witch to capture it & use its powers... Only for the SDF-1 to appear in the orbit of Arus.

When you cross over two series from the same overall genre, in this case mecha, there are some natural expectations that potential fans will come in with. Naturally, one would expect to see the titular (or at least iconic) giant robots come together, either in combat against each other or together against a common foe. One would also hope to see the respective pilots banter with each other, finding common bonds & at least forming some budding rapport. This would also apply to the villains, because even if the two series' antagonists might not exactly like each other (backstabbing is always an option), they will still utilize the old adage of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" in order to give the heroes a potentially greater threat than they would be able to do so individually. Finally, combining together two mech anime-based franchises should result in some great action set pieces, matching what is stereotypically thought of when one hears the word "mecha". Sadly, Robotech/Voltron both follows a lot of these expectations & neglects to adhere to them, some of which go against what this could have been.

First, though, let's cover the best parts of this crossover written by Harmony Gold's Tommy Yune (Danger Girl: Kamikaze, Buster the Amazing Bear). The most appreciated of all is that there is a lot of nice character development, both subtle & obvious. Keith's budding feelings of love for Allura is given some neat moments to shine, Roy Fokker's backstory of loss works in well with the idea that both his foster brother Rick Hunter & his girlfriend Claudia Grant are possibly dead after three years, & even both Lotor's attraction to Allura as well as his own tragic childhood memories are detailed well. I also found the use of an alternate continuity fun, because it results in some neat twists. For example, now having conquered Arus without Voltron to stop him, Lotor has actually become King of Drule, usurping his father Zarkon, though without Allura to drive him further he feels unfulfilled. The introduction of the Lion mechs on Earth also brings T.R. Edwards & Dr. Penn from Robotech II: The Sentinels into the fold, with Edwards wanting to reverse engineer the tech for his own ambitious militaristic goals, while Zentraedi Commander Khyron takes control after the sudden death of Breetai to attempt a second attack on the "Micronians" all these years later. There is so much potential to be seen here, and it is admittedly really cool to see the Lion Force pilots wear Veritech helmets & the Black Lion get retrofitted with a Veritech F.A.S.T. pack booster so that it can fly.

Still, the key word there is "potential", because this comic either didn't pace itself well or just wasn't long enough to fully deliver on what Yune was leading up to. For example, Rick Hunter & Lisa Hayes don't really appear until Issue 4 (hell, Lynn Minmei only appears for a page or two in Issue 5!), Allura disappears immediately at the start until Issue 5, where she has amnesia that's recovered from within literally a couple of pages (so what was the point of it?), and for all that Lotor gets in terms of development & Khyron is shown as a schemer, neither of them really do that much of importance; Lotor at least has Haggar capture the Omega Comet to help start the climax. Truly, that's the biggest problem with Robotech/Voltron: It's a lot of well done set up for three issues that doesn't have the time to properly deliver in the last two. Rick's involvement essentially sums up as him being a "chosen one" who will help everyone on the SDF-1 in the climax, Pidge, Hunk, & Lance get barely anything to do (Keith gets the lion's share, no[?] pun intended), & in the end the Omega Comet essentially reverts everything back to the status quo so that both the Macross Saga of Robotech & Voltron's respective stories can still be continued (Lotor even reverts to being a Prince), though the Lion Force, Lotor, & Haggar do remember what happened; it's vague on if the Robotech cast actually remembers anything.

Seriously, why didn't Tommy Yune give us THIS story?!

Finally, notice something missing, like anything about the giant robots actually interacting with each other? That's because barely anything happens on that front, with the most being Voltron working with Roy Fokker in his Veritech to take on the Omega Comet at the very end. Yes, you never see Voltron fight alongside the SDF-1, and the villains never even find out about each other, let alone work together. With this being an alternate continuity, Tommy Yune could have gone with pretty much anything he wanted, but the most we get is a bizarre two-page splash at the very end where we see, as Haggar puts it, "a taste of the worlds that may been" (Yune's grammatical typo, not mine)... And, quite frankly, that looks like the story that Tommy Yune should have written in place of what we actually got! Seriously, Lotor seeing his mother (who Zarkon choked to death in front of him as a child) one last time, Allura & Minmei interacting, Max & Ben donning the Lion Force suits, Lotor & Khyron scheming together, Breetai fighting a Robeast with his bare hands(!), & having all three Voltrons (including Albegas!!!) meet up only makes me wish we had this story. Hell, Yune could have even created an original Zentraedi character who defects to Drule, only for Haggar to turn him into a hellish Zentraedi/Robeast monster that requires the combined efforts of all three Voltrons, the Skull Squadron, & the SDF-1 to defeat. Come on, Tommy Yune, what the hell were you thinking, actually hinting at a much better story (or even multiple stories) than what you actually came up with... He even bothers to bring up the Robotech Masters & the Invid (the villains of the other anime adaptations), so why not actually involve them too? It would at least be a good excuse to bring in Vehicle Voltron & even Gladiator Voltron (which I guess is technically canon... toys were at least made).

Thankfully, I have nothing but praise for the penciling & digital inking done by Elmer Damaso (Seven Seas' Speed Racer, Unearthly). Having gotten his start with Seven Seas' initial Original English Language manga line, Damaso's drawing style manages to maintain the general character designs from both Macross (done by Haruhiko Mikimoto) & GoLion (done by Kazuo Nakamura), making it extremely easy to identify who is who on first glance, while still making them mesh well into his own overall style; it's extremely good artwork. Sadly, there is the occasional typo from Yune's script, which is just a bit sloppy, but it doesn't detract much.

Look, there's no doubt that Robotech/Voltron was a crossover that pretty much no one was asking for back in 2013. Robotech had essentially been a dead franchise for nearly seven years (& the failed Kickstarter for Robotech Academy in 2014 changed nothing), while people were still trying to get the bitter taste of Voltron Force out of their mouths, which ended just a year earlier. At this point, neither franchise had people really begging for more content, though Dynamite had already been doing Voltron comics at this point (& I recall hearing that they were actually fairly good), so crossing them over seemed utterly pointless. All that being said, though, there was still some good potential to be had here, and the comic that we did end up getting shows a lot of it. In fact, I would say that Robotech/Voltron isn't terrible by any means, but rather is simply a good bit underwhelming due to either a pace that sets up for one too many issues or simply should have been maybe six or even seven issues long to properly deliver. Sadly, this will likely be the only time we'll ever see these two franchises cross over, as Dynamite would lose the Robotech license to Sony in 2016 (with this being the only comic the company made with said license), & when combined with Harmony Gold likely forever losing the licenses to the anime that made the franchise in 2021, along with Voltron having seen a strong resurgence with Legendary Defender, the chances of another crossover are next to nil.

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