Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Movie Review: Robotech, the Shadow Chronicles
Robotech could show Farmers Branch a thing or two about dealing with aliens.
It's been over twenty years since the last official Robotech release, an anime television series that, along with fellow anime pioneers Star Blazers and Transformers, opened American audiences to a new world of animated entertainment. Before Robotech, the Japanese anime that preceded it was considered children's cartoons by American studios, who removed most of the violence, sex and deaths of major characters in favor of a watered-down, vanilla product that captured very few imaginations. Robotech changed that by leaving in those elements, successfully ushering in an age of tremendous commercial and critical success for anime titles in the U.S., and has since become one of the most beloved titles for fans of the genre.
Two decades later, the Robotech franchise has finally produced a worthy sequel that should satisfy the hard-core fans and relative newcomers alike. Produced by Harmony Gold and distributed by local phenoms FUNimation (the North Richland Hills distribution company that brought us the hugely successful Dragon Ball Z franchise), Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles picks up where the final episodes of the original left off.
To summarize the plot of any anime movie would undoubtedly make this review unreadable, but suffice to say the familiar elements of the original story are intact: the earth is enslaved by the invading alien Invid race, and now the earth's space fleet is back attempting to re-capture the planet using new battle technology provided by the mysterious Haydonites. Keeping roughly the same characters as the original, the sequel injects some new twists and plot complexities into the series that do not seem out of place with the overall direction of the franchise. In fact, the first half-hour or so of the movie overlaps with the final battle of the Third Robotech War, just from a different perspective. This first half-hour is well-done, re-introducing the old characters and adding new faces into the mix without radically altering the story. Considering the long passage of time since the original, the makers of the Shadow Chronicles could've done a lot worse.
Definitely the strongest aspect of this movie are the numerous large-scale space battles. Huge space fleets barreling into each other is tricky to get it right--the bargain bins at Movie Trading Co. are full of anime titles that thought endless explosions and bright flashing lights were all that was needed to adequately portray a massive interstellar battle. But these things have to be directed, and the battles in the Shadow Chronicles are well-planned and well-thought out cinematically. Rather than simply showing endless loops of ships blowing up, the makers of Robotech ensure their audience is aware of the tactical events in each battle, as well as how each space cruiser loss or military advantage relates to the overall story. In a franchise that has historically been driven by plot rather than explosions, this was excellently done.
The actual visual appearance of the film is a toss-up. Twenty years ago Robotech had every advantage over live-action cinematic special effects, but now even the crappiest $100 million Hollywood space epic will sport stunning CGI-created worlds. Some anime titles, such as Ghost in the Shell 2, have tried to compete head-to-head with modern CGI with amazing results --but at the expense of an intelligible plot. Some titles, like Spirited Away, did away with over-the-top realism and focused on providing a captivating story with far more success. The visual effects in the Shadow Chronicles have cool-looking, almost model-esque 3D graphics, but their 2D portrayals of the characters suffer from the typical anime blockiness and stiffness of movement, which looks awkward on the big screen. Like Spirited Away, however, the film's effect support the story, rather than the other way around, and should look much more impressive on the TV screen for which the film is intended.
Not to spoil the movie, but it does end on an unresolved note, clearing the way for a number of possible sequels or even another television series. Although some hard-core Robotech fanatics might bicker over the details, overall the Shadow Chronicles is very well-done and a mostly seamless addition to the overall Robotech franchise. The DVD is set for release in early February.