Review: Robotech: Shadow Chronicles (2006)

Directed by: ,
Cast: ,

Distributed in Australia by:

I have been a Robotech fan. I followed the Macross Island saga religiously and my affection for anime has no doubt been largely influenced by my one-time membership amongst the fanatics of Robotech.

However, once the Macross Saga ended, the enthusiasm that had driven this obsession waned, and interest in the adventures of Maya Sterling declined in parallel to Saturday morning Television programmers’ willingness to air just the episodes, without the long and uninteresting fluff of ‘kid’s TV’ in amongst commercial breaks. This frustration, at not being able to follow complex storylines due to constant interruptions, irritated and eventually killed my interest in Robotech, such that once the adventures of Scott Bernard and his band of resistance arrived, I was no longer counted amongst its viewers.

While not watching the show whilst it aired, my interest had not necessarily died down and, via the benefits of licensing and roleplaying, I was introduced to the world of Scott Bernard, but alas such stories were character histories and not the narratives that compelled me such that they became little more than the two dimensional drawings accompanying the text from a story not my own. Which is a shame since it is the end of the third ‘season’ of Robotech from which Shadow Chronicles continues.

And that is one of the major flaws of the story. Having the film start with what was essentially a build up to an ending of a long running series makes the film by itself feel disjointed. The pacing seems off as we are rushed into introducing the characters before finding them facing a final conflict that is to determine the fate of the world. The exposition limiting itself to summarising the first few episodes of the Macross Saga as the source of all these alien invasions seriously leaves those with little exposure to the series with a minimal understanding of what eventually happens in the conflict; which in turn becomes a mere launching point for the introduction of the real villains of the film. What is worse is that the battle with the Invid has a much more epic hold upon us since the stakes are the Earth itself and completely overshadow the later battle with the true villains which is merely an opening salvo in what is assumedly meant to lead into a greater conflict.

This overshadowing just isn’t in the scale of the battles, either, though that does play a part. The initial conflict has the remaining Terran aramada fighting the Invid horde that quickly becomes a losing battle. The latter involves merely one cruiser and our gathering of ‘PC’s as they fight for the chance to run away and fight again another day. As such, most of the space battles occur in the first battle and I personally found them dull.

One of the key things that drew me to Robotech in the first place was the idea of the Veritech. Not only was it the attraction of a jet transforming into a robot but Robotech had serious dogfights involving robotic acrobatics and movement faster than the eye could follow. It was the first time that I actually got a sense of how cool it was to fly, and is probably seminal in my development of my love of kung fu films. Which is why I was so disappointed with the mecha in this film. They just don’t do anything but offload their payload and fly away. No longer do they dodge incoming missiles and find themselves in mortal combat with an implacable enemy ace; instead they become flying tanks which almost seems antithetical to being mecha in the first place.

Apart from that, I had serious problems with the computer graphics. I thought they look dated and much too simple. They had much too clean an edge and moved too statically to engage my imagination. I pined for the organic look of the Zentradi battle cruisers or the battle worn look of the SDF-1 amongst the establishing shots of the aramada. Similarly the characters were two dimensional and characterisation was given little more than surface treatment. I just didn’t care for any of them such that when one of them dies, well, I had to stifle a laugh. The cast was simply too big for a feature of this length for any focus on any character and it really feels as if there is a reliance on past knowledge to generate an attachment to them.

Robotech: Shadow Chronicles is Harmony Gold’s attempt to reinvigorate the Robotech license and introduce it to a new generation open to or preferring anime. So in trying to lure in both groups, much is demanded from Shadow Chronicles and it is unfortunate that it falls so short. In essence Shadow Chronicles is a film held back by acknowledgement of a burgeoning backstory such that those unfamiliar with the setting (of which I must count myself) are left with a bookend of a film that is underdeveloped and an unsatisfying space opera whose characters we care little about and a setting we care so little for that the crises of both fall upon deaf ears. Of course fans already have a history with these characters and may care much more but still the sense the film is a cash in at worst and a testing of waters at best; either way the tragic sense that something better could have been done is hard to shake.

5 Reasonably Sized Collars and Fringes out of 10.
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