Robotech: The Movie (1986) — A fascinating mess of a beloved franchise

“Alright, so I don’t own you. Nobody owns you. But can I at least borrow you for tonight?”

Justin’s rating: Autobots roll out! Wait, wrong thing?

Justin’s review: As I wrote about back in 2021, I probably read more books about live and animated TV series than actually was able to watch them as a child. As a result, my approach to many of these series came from the books first, which is backwards to how most people experienced it. And so it was with Robotech — I totally got hooked on this space opera by reading the 20-or-so short novels that recapped the series. Still, I loved me some transforming airplanes, flying aircraft carriers, and galactic war.

Of course, learning about how messy it was to make Robotech — which was actually a stitched-together quilt of three completely different anime series — I shouldn’t feel too bad about my backwards approach. What was even messier was the creation of the 1986 movie, which was sponsored by Cannon Films and cannibalized footage of a flick called Megazone 23 as well as Super Dimensional Calvary: Southern Cross (the latter also used as part of the TV series). It should be noted that both of these were filmed in different formats that weren’t compatible with each other at all.

So not only did Robotech: The Movie lack any solid connection, visual consistency, or continuity with the beloved series, its source material contained a bit of sexual and violent content that made it a poor prospect for the kiddie demographic. Ultimately, this film was dumped into a couple of theaters, yanked shortly thereafter, and more or less ignored in the subsequent decades. Fans hate it, but I’m willing to come at it with more of an open mind.

Plus, oddly enough, this will be the first time in my memory that I’ve actually watched, rather than read, Robotech.

So the general plot of all of the Robotech series is that wildly overpowered alien invaders converge on earth to get some sort of rare substance. Only the acquisition of advanced tech allowed humans to create transforming vehicles and give the race a fighting chance. Also, there are love triangles and pop songs because this is Japanese to its very core.

As the movie (also subtitled The Untold Story) begins, another alien fleet warps into earth orbit with the goal of finding some sort of important computer database. Said database is actually inserted into a super-advanced motorcycle and put into the hands of some young hotshot named Mark, who figures out that the bike can transform into a robot shell on demand.

While the alien fleet keeps hammering the earth (most of the combat sequences are the Southern Cross material), Mark evades a government conspiracy that seeks to capture the bike-database-transformer. He also repeatedly encounters an alluring pop star named Eve who (mild spoiler) is actually an A.I. projection from the computer. Cue a whole lot of chase scenes and a race against the clock to stop the aliens from getting the data they want.

I mean, there’s no denying that this is a hot mess no matter if you’re a fan or not. I suspect that this is bordering on sacrilege to the true Robotech expert, but even from a casual perspective, it’s confusing and disjointed. Still, the kid in me is entertained by the transforming robots and very ’80s music video sequences.

It’s decent from a visual standpoint — and a cut above most western animation in the ’80s — but the plot lurches from scene to scene with too much left unexplained or overexplained. You kind of have to enjoy it on a superficial level while ignoring the “Robotech” label, I suppose. This feels like the sort of effort that would have your Robotech-loving buddy begging you to turn it off and watch the real series starting with episode 1.

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