First thing up front: this is publisher A+E more or less successfully acting as archivists, releasing this pretty comprehensive collection of all 85 episodes of the original series along with a couple of the movies. And I'm speaking to U.S. viewers of a certain age here, I know, but if the Robotech franchise is at all your thing and you're looking to get the series as you remembered it as a kid, make no mistake that this is it, and this brick of DVDs needs to be in your home between your copy of that Criterion Robocop DVD and that copy of Rob Roy which you still insist is awesome. Short of a what would surely be a multi-million dollar HD upgrade, this is the best this probably the best presentation you're gonna get and you'd better like it.
Joking aside, beyond some quibbles with how some of the supplemental material is presented here, I'd recommend this set to practically anyone with an interest in the series that almost singlehandedly popularized anime in the West while telling an epic, surprisingly mature story of the cost of war.
Over a whopping 17 discs, The Complete Original Series collects the disparate shows that comprise the Robotech universe including The Macross Saga, The Masters, and The New Generation. Fans of the series know that these three series were in truth three separate anime duct-taped together and finessed with some clever writing and edits to create a shared, dynastic universe of science fiction... all to meet a syndication quota. It remains surprising how well the changes hold up, given the fine work of Carl Macek in attempting to create one gigantic fictional universe linked by giant robots and space dog fights.
I mentioned above how surprisingly mature the series is: well, it's essentially apocalyptic fiction, starting with Earth on the verge of mutually assured destruction thanks to multiple global wars, then a subsequent assault by an alien species (the giant, advanced Zentraedi), the pursuit of a desperate handful of humanity across the galaxy by the very same aliens, and then the subsequent return to a ravaged Earth. And it's very anxiety-filled stuff, with civilians and military trapped aboard a vessel together, eking out survival, with rationing a looming threat, and the fear of soldiers being turned into weapons by their military. Even the romance is a little more mature than you'd expect to find, with frequently ambivalent (and sometimes ambiguous) relationships threading their way through the entire series. I'm not saying it's "first four season of BSG-good" but it's got some brains to it.
Audio and Video
I wouldn't describe the presentation here as pristine, but I'm not willing to take marks off in this case, because in no way does the reproduction of the aging materials detract from the viewing experience. I know that sounds like a low bar to set, but having watched a decent amount of 80's TV animation to DVD in recent months, that counts for a lot. One area where this set really could have faltered is being too dark, particularly given the abundance of dogfights in space and the generally dark palette of the first series. But clarity seems to be the watchword here, and and at no point do you get the smeary, blown-up, occasionally visually incomprehensible reproduction that I've seen in some other sets.
However, that doesn't extend to the movies and pilots in the special features, which, all apologies, simply look terrible and epitomize all of the flaws I noted above. On this front, it feels a bit like A+E limped to the finish line a little, failing to bring the same level of attention to all the material.
The audio is fantastic, though, presented in a Dolby 5.1 mix. Every line of dialog, every explosion, every song lyric seems to get its own discrete channel from the sounds of it. Excellent work here all around.
There's a lot, so forgive me if I jack the special features description from the Amazon page:
The Making of Robotech Documentary – NEW to DVD
Robotech Music Videos – NEW to DVD
Robotech Overview – NEW to DVD
Alternate versions of select Robotech episodes – NEW to DVD
Robotech: The Movie supplementals (including several sequences NEW to DVD)
Macross Original Pilot – Parts 1, 2 and 3 (Parts 2 and 3 NEW to DVD)
Promotional reel of Robotech Launch in China – NEW to DVD
Over 2.5 hours of deleted scenes
Robotech: The Sentinels (with optional audio commentary)
Robotech: The Sentinels promotional video
Macross Original Pilot – Parts 1, 2 and 3
Mospeada Original Pilot – Part 1
Original opening and closing animations
Galaxy of the Stars - Harmony gold promotional reel
Toy Commercial and Videogame presentation reels
International clips for all three Robotech Wars
A vast stills appendix containing character bios, model sheets, pre-production art, comic book covers, and merchandise galleries
My complaints still stand about the visual presentation of the pilots and movies. Additionally, the image galleries could have used a little more love in terms of providing additional context to viewers beyond the titles. I'm a little biased against image galleries on DVDs in general, but here, the presentation is especially disappointing, providing a wealth of toys and Robotech back matter without the benefit of captions or descriptive text explaining exactly what we're looking at or where it came from.
Robotech: The Complete Original Series is available now on DVD.