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Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles
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by Jay Seaver

"Fan service (not that kind! Well, mostly not)."
3 stars

I understand that for many people my age, "Robotech" was the gateway drug which led to anime, manga, toy kits and every other form of Japanese pop culture imaginable. I just missed it; by the time Mill Road in North Yarmouth was wired for cable, Fox and Disney were starting to push that sort of import off broadcast television. As a result, I came into "Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles" somewhat cold.

The film does a decent-enough job filling the audience in on what it needs to know, though: After robotechnology and protoculture appeared on Earth, the planet was invaded by the Invid, who have held it for twenty years. While one ship is searching deep space for new technology and allies, the residents of the Moon and Mars are preparing to take the Earth back. What the humans don't realize is that there is a third power in the galaxy, determined to wipe out all those who would make use of protoculture - such as humanity, which uses it as an energy source.

As space opera goes, that's not bad, and it's even relatively coherent, considering the property's history - the "original series" was actually two unrelated anime series grafted together, rewritten and redubbed in order to be sold to American TV stations as a single package, and the film (I'm told) makes at least nodding reference to the novels and comics which have continued the story over the past twenty years. There's a fair amount for newcomers like myself to process, but between the opening narration and a non-trivial amount of exposition, the point comes across well enough. Heck, I assimilated enough that I may have grumbled about not repeating themselves once.

The trouble is the structure. I suspect that, as the name implies, The Shadow Chronicles is either the pilot for a new television series or, given how many events it tries to cram in, a story that was originally supposed to span a TV or movie series that has been compressed into an hour and a half. The big battle with the Invid comes, I think, a little before the halfway point, even though it would logically seem to be a grand finale. Not only that, that battle resolves something in a contrived way before giving an explanation of what it needs to be resolved, suggesting that something went astray at the script stage. Then the story rushes through a set of revelations for a battle that is big and climactic but leaves loose ends all over the place. That's fine for setting up a new series, but if The Shadow Chronicles is meant to be enjoyable on its own, or at least work as a conclusion for a twenty-year-old cliffhanger, it's somewhat less than ideal.

Which isn't to say that there's no fun to be had. A good chunk of the budget appears to have been spent on the battle scenes, which break from the traditional animation of the original series to give us swarms of individually rendered ships and missiles. It's not at the level of what George Lucas does, but it looks pretty good. If you've got a "spaceships blowing each other up" itch, this will scratch it.

The character-oriented segments are animated in a sort of faux-anime style, and look fairly smooth. Whoever is responsible for the character design seems to like his women busty to an almost comical extent (luckily for them, they spend a lot of time in low-gravity environments). The filmmakers probably tried a little too hard to ape some anime conventions, such as the anguished flashback and the bizarre karaoke number, but mostly do all right. There's a little bit of "personal drama that can wait until the world is out of danger" going on, but it never reaches the absurd level. Voice acting is handled mostly by anonymous, but capable, anime-dubbing vets, many of whom worked on the previous TV series.

I can't speak to how a fan of "Robotech" will feel about this, but I'd be a little surprised if they loved it; its flaws aren't based on inaccessibility. For the rest of us, it does what it sets out to do even if it doesn't seem likely to create new fans.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16146&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/15/07 14:52:54
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USA
  05-Jan-2007 (PG)
  DVD: 06-Feb-2007

UK
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