Carl Macek died yesterday. He was Fifty-nine.
While never a household name, Carl had a huge influence on my life in the mid-1980s, thanks to his role in bringing anime to the United States through his studio, "Harmony Gold." Anime had already been here, of course: Speed Racer, Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, and a few others had already stuck their toes in the pool, but they'd all been sanitized and dumbed down quite a bit in translation and editing, based on the presupposition that cartoons are *only* for little kids.
Macek decided to aim a little bit higher, shooting for teens. He left things like romance, cheesecake, and death in the shows he important from Japan, all of which were pretty much unheard of at the time in American Cartoons (Compare Robotech, where three and a half people die in *one* episode to GI Joe, for instance, where no one dies, ever, or even gets hurt). He toned this down a bit - nude scenes were cut out, for instance - but he trusted older kids to be able to follow convoluted storylines and handle somewhat more adult themes.
Of course he's since been excoriated because of the free hand he took in packaging his imports: "Robotech," for instance, was actually three separate series in Japan: "Macross," "Southern Cross," and "Genesis Climber Mospedia." Macek basically bolted them all together under one title, altering the storyline just enough to tie these three shows together, and claiming that each phase of the story was set 15 years after the previous one.
Some say this is bastardization, and of course it is, but at the same time it's rather brilliant. I mean, sure it's totally chopping up independent works and forcing them into a format they clearly weren't intended for, but you know what? So is "The Illiad" and "La Morte d'Arthur," - it's a very human thing to do, to syncretize stories that way, and provided the initial stories work independently, you can end up with something greater than the whole.
Is that true of Robotech? To be honest, I can't say. I'm too close to it. As a lonely college freshman suffering a massive crisis of faith, I think I bonded with Rick and Lisa and the sense of loss that pervated the whole show more than was probably sane. Certainly, I was taken in by the sprawling, ambitious story that spanned more than thirty years. Does it work?
For me it does. I re-watched it for the first time in decades a few years ago, and I was surprised by how many of my catch phrases and off-the-cuff comments could be traced to it. It impacted me in a big way. So for that, Mister Macek, thank you very much.
He did other stuff, too. There were plans to do a sequel series, "Robotech II: The Sentinels" which would have integrated two more unrelated Japanese series, and one completely new made-to-order series, but this fell apart for various reasons after about 90 minutes of original footage had been animated. I've never been able to get through the novelizations. I suspect the finished product would have been terrible. There have been numerous attempts to revive the series since then.
He attempted the same kind of thing with Captain Harlock, which is universally considered to be one of the worst things ever, and can't really even be found in bootleg form. He did a number of other things, too, but I find I've never been terribly interested in them. He was a one-trick pony, but it was a really good trick.
Lightning never struck twice. I don't know why, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was because the original Robotech was such a rush job - the entire thing was re-scored, translated, re-written, cast, re-edited and recorded in just six weeks - that the impetus and excitement of flying by the seat of your pants couldn't help but rub off on it. On other projects, they had way too much time to think, too much time to second guess themselves. Several people connected with Robotech went on to work on Babylon 5, most notably Jeffrey "Kosh" Wilerth.
So, in the final examination, Robotech may not have been great art, but it was the art I needed greatly at that point in my life, and I'm indebted to the man for shaping a surprising ammount of my dreams.
Thank you, sir, and our prayers go out for your family and your soul.