The mighty 80s anime juggernaut Robotech continues with the second arc covering the adventures of 2nd Lieutenant Dana Sterling and her motley crew in the Southern Cross Army as The Robotech Masters descend on Earth to grow plants of doom.
Well, that’s probably being a little flippant – where Robotech: The Macross Saga focused on the SDF-1 tackling the Zentradi invasion of Earth, The Masters Saga focuses on the greater beings who created said aliens and have returned to Earth in order to restore their depleted supplies of Protoculture through the Flower of Life which can be grown and harvested thanks to the planet’s unique atmosphere. Despite their reputation, Dana’s crew successfully hold their own against the ensuring battle with their new enemy, while at the same time learning that all is not what it seems with both the soldiers deployed to take over Earth or The Masters themselves.
I have a distinct fondness for Robotech, warts and all – like the first collection released earlier to Blu-Ray, there’s plenty of flaws in this production if viewed with an objective lens in 2022 but I found myself quite surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I didn’t dislike it because of the nature of the localisation as the production echoes that of the first arc, but with the story itself.
I always felt both The Masters arc and its underlying source material, Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross, a little weak compared to Super Dimensional Fortress Macross and Genesis Climber Mospeada. The last time I watched this as Robotech was probably during the series’ final commercial TV airing in 1994-1995 on Agro’s Cartoon Connection, while I remember picking up and watching ADV’s Southern Cross DVD box set around 15 or 16 years ago – my mind’s eye suggests while I was happy to go through the journey, it didn’t leave the lasting impression on me that the other anime that make up Robotech did.
On the surface it lacks the depth and variety of themes as the first arc, with a tighter group of characters and mecha designs that feel a little muted compared in comparison. There’s no broad galaxy-stretching stuff and the setting is a drab and tired view of a battle-scarred Earth. The ultimate evil are a bunch of grumpy old men, some of which are sporting some very contemporaneous hair styles, who want to plant evil flora as their final solution as part of recharging their Protoculture reserves, rather than wanting to explode stuff. Mind, it’s still genocide so the stakes are high, but it feels a little less threatening compared to the Zentradi conflict and the really interesting themes it tackles.
But I found myself really engaged with Robotech Part 2: The Masters Saga in this viewing. The small cast and sassy dialogue kept things interesting, and after a while the unnecessary and unbalanced foley effects seemed a little less intrusive. I enjoyed how Bowie wasn’t prone to harmful racial stereotypes in his appearance or his actor’s performance throughout the show, and that this arc still addressed issues around prejudice and racism through the conflict between Dana’s team and the invading forces. It was also great to see Dana taking on a commanding role alongside Nova who, despite their mutual clashing of ideals, nonetheless presented strong female characters during an era of bubblegum femininity punctuated by occasional strong female leads.
Robotech Part 2: The Masters Saga is very much a product of the early age of anime localisations, consisting of some heavily rewritten dialogue and overall narrative to fit into the Robotech universe created for this production. Much like the first arc, these unique misgivings are offset by a sense of earnestness that comes off as undeniably charming and engaging.
Writing for children’s programming was notoriously poor during this era when it came to Western-produced animation, with many cartoon put to air as glorified toy commercials without much interest in building a broader universe or engaging or more meaningful narratives and themes. While the 1980s under Reagan’s guidance would see the scales initially swing hard into deregulating childrens’ programming in the spirit of commercial interests, conservative backlash flipped things hard into a weird direction where the glorified toy commercials were fine as long as they featured a token effort into addressing the indirect or direct moral panic amongst concerned parents (something that continued well into the 1990s with echoes in the 2000s).
Robotech Part 2: The Masters Saga managed to avoid this, with the cast regularly at the bar, characters are killed off and love and music are still a thing. Granted there’s plenty cut in this release, including the multiple fanservice sequences from Southern Cross in its original form, but the writing staff managed to keep an impressive scope of the original themes in place.
For the local release, similar to its predecessor we’ve got a second-gen scan of the 16mm masters in high-definition. Grain’s still problematic here and some of those darker sequences have the encoding bitrate working incredibly hard trying to balance space across the 4 discs’ 24 episode run. If the visuals are a touch cleaner than the Macross arc it would only be a case of the source material being slightly newer for Southern Cross and certainly no fault of how it’s been encoded. What’s a welcome relief is that the preservation of grain doesn’t leave things looking like a smeared mess, though my weeb interests are now keen to see a fresh scan of the 16mm film masters for Southern Cross and get this in a subtitle-only HD release!
Audio continues to be the “enhanced” 5.1 mix created for the DVD release and, frustratingly, doesn’t feature the option to enjoy the original mono mix and audio effects. The ops and eds are also the newer cuts created for the same DVD release and lack the charm of the original broadcast version produced back in 1984.
On the upside, we’ve got some amazing features in this set – over an hour of deleted scenes are in there, along with promo reels and production art. The real gem amongst these is the inclusion of the “Robotech: The Inside Story” mini-documentary produced by then-student Dexter Odani in 1984 featuring interviews with the production team and voice actors, though the historical footage of clamouring fans from back in the series’ heyday was a really great time capsule as well.
Checking out Robotech Part 2: The Masters Saga was a surprise of sorts – what I considered something of a throw-away middle arc proved to be more fun and interesting than what I remembered, and this Blu-Ray package does a great job of presenting things with a native HD transfer with a solid collection of extras. Consider my retro weeb interest appropriately peaked for The Invide Saga!
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.