… and that’s a good thing. Because fuck Harmony Gold.
Okay, maybe that is a bit harsh without any context; so I’ll back up a bit.
Robotech was originally released in 1985. It was one of the first successful Japanese anime shows in the United States. Harmony Gold USA (HG) acquired the rights to three separate shows from their Japanese creators – Marcoss, Mospeada, and Southern Cross – cobbled them together, and dubbed them to form Robotech. An original story was written to make these pieces fit together.
I managed to watch the entirety of Robotech sometime in the early 2000s after I borrowed the DVD set from a friend. It was… it was okay. It wasn’t great. I was born in 1984 and was just beginning to be able to critically digest media. I was still a teenager so I had a while to go, but I was getting there. Of course I was enamored with shows such as Dragonball Z when it was first introduced to me. However, I quickly got over most of the standard storytelling tropes of anime (Neon Genesis: Evangelion being one of the worst offenders, in my mind). So Robotech being a hodgepodge series really does not do it for me.
To cut to the chase, to me Robotech is rather mediocre. And apparently I’m not the only one as the Wikipedia page shows a long line of failed continuations of the series. Yet, that isn’t the worst part of it. The worst is HG’s ironclad grip on the trademark for the anime series it cannibalized and the images associated with them. Those three anime series have actually seen success and several expansions in Japan for over 30 years. Unfortunately, they’ll not see the light of day in English dubs in the US because they would fall outside of HG’s control, which they would never allow as it violates their “trademark”.
At this point you are probably asking yourself, “Wait, if this guy doesn’t like anime, then why does he care?” And you would be right. I don’t like anime, so why do I care? Answer: BattleTech.
I discovered BattleTech in 1994 thanks to the animated series. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but I loved it. Giant ‘mechs covered in weapons stomping around blowing shit up? Dude, I was 10. It was fucking incredible. So then I discovered the SEGA Genesis game. Then I discovered the boardgame. Then I delved into the fiction. My life was changed forever. I kid you not, it taught me that the world was not simply black & white, but rather shades of gray. That’s just for starters.
G.I. Joe? Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Professional wrestling? Fuck that shit. I’m much happier in my 12 meter tall, multi-metric-tonage, fusion-powered, death-machine that may or may not be carrying a giant ax. Add a hearty portion of references to real history, complex interstellar politics, and a cast of intriguing characters and the story carries you well into adulthood. BattleTech is the future of the 1980s set in the 31st century. And it is awesome.
BattleTech was originally published by FASA as BattleDroids in 1984. George Lucas didn’t like seeing the word “droid” anywhere but in his material. FASA went back and renamed in 1985. One of the impetuses for the creation of the series was love of the design of the mecha, but not the story tropes of anime. They built a world heavily influenced by a lot of the science fiction that came before it, history, and the idea of the medieval knight riding BattleMechs (or ‘mechs) instead of horses. Although maybe not the best decision, the creators licensed the design of the first ‘mechs from the series Macross, Dougram, and Crusher Joe. This may not have been a smart idea at the time, but they are certainly some of the most aesthetically pleasing designs ever illustrated. Minor details would be tweaked to solidify them in the artwork published in various game supplements. Dougram‘s Bigfoot would become the BattleMaster. The Macross Tomahawk would become the Warhammer. These designs would be heavily used in the game history for several years. They were the rides for famous pilots. Scenarios published for players to use would include several of these in force compositions. Somewhere on some planet, a mechwarrior in a Marauder changed the fate of a whole battle. They were not just part of the universe; in many ways they seemed to be the universe.
FASA went directly to the Japanese studios/distributors for the rights to these images. I would like to think that in a logical world, this would make sense and be completely okay. Sure, there were two parties using the same designs, but the original rights holders were totally fine with that. So what’s the problem? The problem is that international law is trickier than that, and HG had been upset for years about this.
Back in the mid-90s, a show called Exosquad debuted. It was pretty good. Playmates made the toys for the show. They also made the toys for the BattleTech animated series. Playmates would eventually take a prototype for a BattleTech toy and use it for their Exosquad line without permission. FASA didn’t take this lying down, but in response Playmates managed to convince HG to take FASA to court.
I’m not entirely sure what happened as I haven’t read the actual court papers, but the conclusion is obvious. FASA needed to stop using the Macross images. As a result, FASA pulled all their borrowed images out of concern of a repeat of this court issue. Those iconic images that formed the bedrock of the BattleTech universe were gone. The designs they represented were still valid, but the images couldn’t be used: no drawings, no representation in video games, and no more miniatures.
To me, there is a clear problem in the fairness of all this. Why does HG get to control media that it did not even create? The original creators had no problem with this sharing. And even if they did at the time, a couple years ago for the 25th anniversary of BattleTech it was cleared up until the leprous, ugly body of HG reared it decaying head again. But that isn’t all.
See how I wrote 25th anniversary? Yeah.
For all its faults, BattleTech is still a viable and successful franchise. When FASA closed its doors, BattleTech was still a desirable intellectual property. Catalyst currently holds that IP and has been successful. Over the course of three decades, millions of words have been printed. Every year several new products are published. The line has consistently been able to win awards at gaming conventions for their quality. Since 2006, their team of miniature painters has put together massive dioramas that draw crowds at GenCon, which is the largest gaming convention in the world.
More so than the fairness issue, I think that is what galls me the most. Robotech under HG has limped along, barely surviving. It is the old dog with a bad back, congestive heart failure, urinary incontinence and rotting teeth (I am a veterinarian) that just needs to be put down. It’s a burden on everyone with no quality of life. In comparison, BattleTech is still going strong and has expanded as a universe for nearly 30 years now. They actually did something long-lasting with those images. They actually did something! I know that we are at a point now where the BattleTech universe has been without those iconic images for longer than they had them, but dammit I still miss them. And HG has denied fans of the original anime series from experiencing the actual originals.
So yeah, I hope that Kickstarter project fails miserably. Because fuck Harmony Gold.