SDCC 2013: Tommy Yune Brings All The Giant Robots Together In ‘Robotech/Voltron’ [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]

It was inevitable, if you think about it: someone, at some point, must have gotten it into their heads that the grand space opera of “Robotech” and the monster-smashing action of “Voltron” would somehow fit together. Ignore the tangle of licenses, rights, deals, and territorial arrangements: what would happen when you took a mystical giant robot made of lions and pitted him against the Valkyrie pilots of the SDF-1?

That’s for writer Tommy Yune to figure out when he provides the story for Dynamite’s “Robotech/Voltron” crossover in November and announced yesterday by the comics publisher in the lead-up to Comic-Con 2013. Yune, the Creative Director at “Robotech” studio Harmony Gold, is holding details about precisely how these two universes will collide close, but he’s got some thoughts on why this matchup works beyond giant robots smashing each other.

MTV Geek: Both series are kind of grand in scope–the way they’re about civilizations being spread out among the stars and the giant robots that protect them. Could you talk a little about some of the shared elements between the series?

Tommy Yune: Well, they share some common ground; what’s important in both series is the grand storytelling across arcs. “Voltron” has that with some of the earlier series where the storyline would be resolved in one or two episodes, but there would be a grander storyline underneath it all.

“Robotech” is even more connected–it’s a very linear storyline, which was highly unusual back then. It wasn’t until TV shows like “Lost” which made audiences more accustomed to the grand universe, linear storylines. And that was very intriguing to me, what I remember when I was very young. My classmates and I would get up early in the morning to see the next episode and find out what happens next.

Geek: Which series came first for you?

Yune: I remember watching “Robotech” and “Voltron” at about the same time, but there was another show I watched before either of them: that was “Tranzor Z” which was an adaptation of “Mazinger.” I collected the manga when I used to live in Korea, so that was one of my favorite series. I watched the anime when it aired there and encountered it again when I moved to Los Angeles.

“Robotech” I actually watched backwards–I started watching it from [final series] “The New Generation” first, and when the story ended, I was like “What’s going to happen next?” And when the story started over again, I started watching “The Macross Saga,” and I wondered “Hey, who are these guys?” And I still had some unresolved questions about “The New Generation” and wondered what happened after that last episode. It’s astonishing that that storyline remained unresolved for 20 years, and it’s remarkable that when I got into the industry, I got to take a crack at it by producing “Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles” [2006] a few years ago.

Geek: Were you thinking about unresolved elements from either franchise when developing “Robotech/Voltron”?

Yune: Yeah. A lot of the characters in the “Robotech” universe disappear from generation to generation–they’re killed off, they’re written out. So what I wanted to do was build up a lot of character backstory. And the crossover was an opportunity to do that.

Personally, with crossovers, I have a lot of skepticism–when I see a crossover, I go “Ugh, well, okay, it’s a mashup and everybody gets to interact with the universes.” To me, they usually feel like a punchline and once in a blue moon you get a good one like “Aliens vs. Predator.” And I wanted to use this as an opportunity to explore the backstory of the characters and throw them into this incredible situation and see how the characters react. So it’s a great opportunity to do a character study of characters from both sides.

When it comes to “Voltron,” I’m not as familiar with that series as “Robotech,” and I went as far as watching every single one of the Japanese episodes so that I had more character definition from the Japanese writing.

Geek: And you touched on one of the most interesting aspects of both series, which is that they’re multi-generational; the studios cobbled together shared universes from disparate series and gave them a sense of scope and legacy. To what extent are you trying to do that here?

Yune: Well… [pauses] That is a common route which is that both series took; neither series had enough episodes for syndication back in the ’80s. “GoLion” and “Dairugger” were married together and ultimately became lion “Voltron” and vehicle “Voltron” so that they would have enough episodes for U.S. syndication. And the universe got bigger along with the writing between the two series.

Likewise, the same thing happened to “Robotech” and that was the brainchild of [writer] Carl Macek, the person who worked on “Robotech” before me.

Geek: What are some characters or story elements you’re looking forward to exposing to fans?

Yune: On the “Robotech” side, one of the biggest requests was the character Roy Focker. He was one of the biggest characters in the series, and back in the ’80s, when the episodes aired, Harmony Gold got a lot of critical fan mail saying “Why on Earth did you write out my favorite character,” even though the Japanese script writers had laid out the storyline to go with that narrative.

One of the remarkable things about the series back then was that ’80s kids shows would usually avoid showing bad things happening to characters, so if you attacked the enemy, the good guys would have 100% success rate in battle. But in “Robotech,” there were substantial casualties, and that gave the series a real edge.

Now thanks the to crossover, we thought that this was one great, giant opportunity to bring Roy back with an alternate take. So fans who thought “Wow, I always wanted to see more of Roy,” but they’ll do a double-take because this is a great way to challenge fans. This is an alternate universe and we’ve very clearly defined that to fans with some of the art that we’ve released, with some fans calling him the “Pirate Roy.”

On the “Voltron” side, there were elements where, when I was watching the Japanese episodes, I saw underlying storylines that were written out. I don’t know whether they were removed because they were too intense for American audiences, but what I did was take the Japanese elements of “GoLion” and blended them in here.

Geek: One more thing: if you got to smash all of the big ’80s giant robots together–“Robotech,” “Voltron,” and “Transformers”–which franchise do you think would come out on top?

Yune: Well, there was a poll that was put out on a Facebook page a while back and of the choices, and “Robotech” and “Voltron” were at the top, which actually led into this crossover. And [the addition of “Transformers”] is an interesting idea, but we’re just happy to be working with our partners at World Event Productions for right now.