Macross TV Dub

It's good to catch up with old friends. A friend from half a lifetime ago (or so it seems) started writing to me last week, and we've been sending emails back and forth catching up on life in general -- kids, spouses, work, our beliefs, you get the picture. It's great to get reacquainted. In a different way, that's also the way I felt when I started watching the new release of Macross from ADV Films. My start in anime came over 20 years ago with the release of Robotech, and it was "The Macross Saga" that got me hooked into the hobby. I've always loved watching the Macross movie, and I proudly have the entirety of Robotech on DVD as well as the AnimEigo release of Macross from a few years back. I'll admit right from the start that I'm biased about this show. It is, in many senses, an old friend worthy of revisiting.

But what's the purpose of ADV Films' new release? They licensed the remastered edition of the footage from AnimEigo and Harmony Gold, and they've supplied a dub track in addition to a retranslated subtitle track slightly different from the AnimEigo version. Going in, I was initially skeptical. I'm not particularly a dub fan, and I was very nervous that the voices from Robotech would be stuck in my head. After all, having seen that version many times, putting different talent behind these now-sacrosanct characters could potentially be like hearing Darth Vader voiced by Liam Neeson. (I love ya, Qui Gon, but you're not Darth Vader and you're not much of an Aslan, either.) What's the point? Well, let me be the first to admit I was wrong...dead wrong. The new 5.1 Dolby Digital English soundtrack that ADV has assembled kicks butt seven ways from Sunday. It is so good that I was utterly immersed in Macross all over again. As one of the initial pre-order purchasers of AnimEigo's set, it pains me to say this after spending all that dough, but the dub is so good I may just have to pick it up again.

For those of you not in the know, Macross begins in 1999 when a spaceship of unknown origin crashes onto an island near Japan. The interstellar event is cataclysmic, and its importance finally stops the warfare raging around the globe. In 2009, ten years after the appearance of the Macross, the ship has been re-engineered from the ground up. A community has been built on the island on which the fortress rests, and they're excited to see the ship finally in action. But they have no idea what kind of action they are in the Macross prepares for a shakedown cruise, a fleet of intergalactic cruisers appears out of a hyperspace fold. No one knows their purpose, but as their attack patterns indicate, they want the Macross back.

All of this means little to Hikaru Ichijo, a brash young pilot who's come to the island to see his friend and mentor Roy Fokker. The two of them trash talk each other, but they formed a bond a long time ago, and Roy's glad to have him around. When the unknown alien forces attack, however, Hikaru accidentally gets himself into the thick of battle. In the process, he meets a young woman named Lynn Minmei. As the story unfolds, the two become quick friends as the Macross leaps across the solar system in a desperate attempt to protect Earth from the invading forces.

Watching the first volume of Macross TV is most impressive. For a show made in the very early 1980s, it looks spectacular. Having watched Robotech back in 1985-1986, I can say with certainty that the footage never ever looked this good! Although there is a touch of grain visible from time to time and a very minor scratch here and there, it's an amazing preservation job. This doesn't mean, of course, that Macross is a particularly well-animated show. Under the gun of time and monetary pressures, there are some significant flaws in character animation from time to time. If you're familiar with older anime, this will not be much cause for consternation. However, those who are impressed by the shiny techniques of modern anime may be aghast at the defects. All I can say is this: if you can't look past them, you're going to miss one heck of a show. And, of course, unless you spent the money to buy the remastered version of Robotech (which I did not), there are several snippets of footage in these episodes you haven't seen...and there will only be more as the show progresses.

The sound is where the new ADV release shines. I'm amazed at the elements they've been able to work with to create an immersive 5.1 experience. Even in its day, Macross set a high bar. It has a fantastic musical soundtrack, and the sound effects themselves are really impressive. But you haven't heard Macross until you've heard it in 5.1 sound! Zentraedi pods finally sound like they're moving across the screen. The rumble of the Macross gives the subwoofer a workout. And the music...the glorious music! Finally freed from some of the cheesier musical cues added for Robotech, the score is utterly brilliant. Although I was familiar with it from importing CDs and such from Japan over the years, it is crisp and clear and wonderful in its proper context. It still sounds good within the original Japanese track, but it's given more room to breathe in 5.1 sound. Ultimately, the new sound mix makes for a far more intense experience, and I can hardly wait until the show gets into the music of Mari Iijima for which it's famous.

What about the voice actors? For the most part, they are very good. Of particular note is Vic Mignogna, who I immediately recognized as the voice of Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, in the role of Hikaru. He does a great job capturing the spirit of the character, far exceeding my expectations. Many of the minor characters are done admirably. I will say that Monica Rial sounds a little too young and abrasive as Misa Hayase, but I'm not convinced that the Robotech dub didn't make the character sound a little too old and worn. Captain Global doesn't feel nearly so comforting without his accent, but John Swasey makes a fine go at the character. But all of this comes from my Robotech hangover - if you've never seen that show, I'm certain the voice acting will seem excellent.

The one performance in question, even outside of Robotech memories, is that of Mari Iijima. The original Japanese voice actress for Lynn Minmei, she returns here over twenty years later to voice the same character. Does it work? Maybe, maybe not. Though Ms. Iijima is clearly a fluent English speaker, she still has a reasonably strong accent. She still sounds perfect for the role vocally, but the accent is distracting at times. Frankly, it's a bit of a publicity stunt. The screener I was sent only has the first three episodes, so I can't say a lot about her performance -- it's not until the fourth episode that Minmei has huge chunks of dialogue, so the jury is still out. I really do hope Ms. Iijima can capture the heart of the character in English, but we'll have to wait to decide if she does.

If you've never seen Macross in some form, though, you're in for a treat. I am not sure there has yet been an anime that more perfectly combines the elements of sci-fi action, drama, and romance in such a tasty package. It's absolutely captivating to me, and though my lenses are tainted with a bit of nostalgia, it's still a great show. With both the 5.1 English dub and the 2.0 Japanese soundtrack, a gorgeous transfer, and a price point much lower than the original AnimEigo release, this one is a must for any anime collector.

Macross TV (Dub Version) Vol. 1 -- violence, profanity -- A