Directed by Tommy Yune and Dong-Wook Lee (Shadow Chronicles); Gregory Snegoff (Love Live Alive)
Starring Kathleen Barr, Brian Drummond, Alessandro Juliani, Michael Dobson
The ‘80s mecha hit Robotech is back on home video with this two movie set that collects the premier of Robotech: Love Live Alive, as well as re-releases 2006’s Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles. Can these two films together combine to form a worthwhile release?
The first film – Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, released in 2006 – is an original animated feature celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Robotech franchise. The original animated part is important because the Robotech television series is made up of repurposed footage from three different Japanese anime series (Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospeada). Making an entirely new film was a big deal for the franchise’s owner Harmony Gold.
The story picks up at the end of the original series, in the year 2044 with humanity fighting to reclaim the Earth from the alien invaders Invid. About the first third of the film is the show’s final battle, re-introducing the main characters Scott and Ariel from the third arc of the television series, as well as introducing newer characters from expanded materials but shown for the first time in comics. After this, the film goes into its new plot. The “shadow” technology given to humanity by a new alien species called the Haydonites to defeat the Invid may be a Trojan horse for the Haydonites’ more sinister goals. It’s up to Scott, the crew of the Icarus ship, and a brand new Skull Squadron of veritech transforming space jets to stop the Haydonites and save humanity.
This new story fits in line with what came before, but its execution is sorely lacking. The first half of the film is too schizophrenic, jumping back and forth between different characters and scenes so much that it’s difficult to keep track of what’s going on. The antagonistic turn in the film comes out of nowhere, as the Invid from the original series promptly disappear to make room for the Haydonites, neither from this film feel threatening or with any purpose. The human characters are flat, lacking much emotional conviction. I don’t expect depth or nuance in my giant robot characters, but I do expect some level of empathy as I get caught up in their excitement or drama, which doesn’t happen here.
The second film – Robotech: Love Live Alive – is a new release from Harmony Gold for the Robotech franchise. Whereas The Shadow Chronicles is an original animation, this film is a return to Robotech’s roots of anime adaptation. Specifically in this case, it adapts a 1980s Mospeada music video recap of its series called Love Live Alive (hence the name). While that was a music video, Robotech has opted for a full-on feature with character dialog and all. It’s narrated by the character Lancer and also follows star Scott and Ariel, who are also seen in The Shadow Chronicles.
The film covers the third and final arc of the Robotech series, with their fight with the Invid, ending with the battle that The Shadow Chronicles starts with. Being a recap, it’s a poor stand in if you’ve never seen the third Robotech arc. The series rushes along to key scenes, skipping important transitions. Audiences will be constantly confused when suddenly characters appear and disappear and the plot jumps around with no explanation. This works for the original anime’s purpose: a long music video highlighting greatest hits from the show, for fans already in love for the series and released right after the series. Not so much for a traditional film over 20 years after with new viewers having no familiarity with the story.
That being said, there are glimmers of good here. The cyclone bike and veritech jet mech designs are cool, and what fights we get are well animated and exciting. Even with its sporadic scenes and jump cuts, I found myself enjoying the characters and the story in Love Live Alive than in The Shadow Chronicles. Their plight felt more imminent, fighting against home invaders and fellow humans turned sympathizers. Their character arcs are more interesting. I only wish it were compiled better so that it weren’t so confusing to watch.
The Shadow Chronicles 4/10
Love Live Alive 5/10
The Video and Audio
It’s a big deal that The Shadow Chronicles is an original animated work, which makes it worse that the animation is such a letdown. The animation switches between 2D characters and backgrounds with 3D CGI space battles. The character animations are stiff and limited. Too many scenes focus on head shots to lessen full-body animation, which becomes laughable during times when facial expressions don’t match at all the emotional states of the voices coming out of their mouths.
The 3D battle scenes are blocky and simple; giving them a cheap feel compared to what should have been capable in 2006 and mismatched from the cleaner 2D animation in the film.
Its audio is serviceable. The soundtrack has a new rendition of the original Robotech theme, which is an instrumental theme that invokes the feelings of epic space battles of good versus evil. That’s pretty much all I remember of the soundtrack – the original theme. Everything else is forgettable, but on the plus side, it wasn’t distracting. That might have actually been a good thing in some parts though.
With Love Live Alive, it’s almost entirely ‘80s television animation. It looks good for its era, and I can get behind that, but it will be a barrier for some. Especially with its liberal reusage of footage. The parts I didn’t like were the new and original animated bits, only a couple throughout, but the difference is jarring. The coloring in those is more vibrant, and the style just doesn’t match the hand-painted cels of the ‘80s.
While adapted from a music video, only a couple of songs are included, both very reminiscent of ‘80s pop rock from anime of its time.
The Shadow Chronicles 3/10
Love Live Alive 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This two-disc set comes in a standard DVD case with a cardboard jacket, with each film having its own disc. There’s a surprising amount of extras with the collection, most of which centered on The Shadow Chronicles portion. That film includes behind-the-scenes features, deleted scenes (with director commentary), animatics (with director commentary), outtakes, image galleries, promotional events, concepts for failed Robotech projects, and the film’s trailers. If you enjoy the Robotech franchise more than this film itself, the extras alone should make this a decent supplement to your collection.
Overall (Not an Average)
Both films in this set feel like they’re incomplete works that need some fine tuning. There’s plenty of “if only they did this” in each. If only The Shadow Chronicles picked one story and stuck with it. If only Love Live Alive weren’t so sporadic or maybe even just stuck with the music video premise of the original.
Unfortunately, they are what they are, films only a Robotech completionist could tolerate.
The Film 4/10, 5/10
The Video and Audio 3/10, 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 4/10