So a few weeks ago I talked about how I got into anime, and I won’t belabor the point, but Robotech was part of that process.
There is another part to that story. Years later, when I encountered my first anime fans, and mentioned Robotech, I got what I will call “the talk.” At that point, it wasn’t Harmony Gold’s fault though, it was Carl Macek who brutally butchered SDF: Macross, Southern Cross and Mospeada.
Then, sometime around the time of the anime boom, these arguments faded away. I mean no one complained because all of the series became readily available. There was even a big release of SDF:Macross by ADV Films, along with releases of the other shows.
So when yesterday’s news came out about Robotech, I was shocked by the bile it received. It was the kind of bile I see reserved for wife beaters and child rapists, I didn’t expect a middling cartoon from the 1980s would get that level of hate.
I’m a contrarian by nature and when someone reacts with that much emotion and vitriol my first question is, “Is it justified?”
And I’m going to step on the giant landmine, and say, “No.”
Before you take out your pitchforks, I do need to bring up two caveats. This is not exhaustive research. I don’t have any special ins with the industry. I don’t have a staff of people at my disposal. If you can find something I can’t, please bring it to my attention.
Second, my intention isn’t to defend Harmony Gold, Carl Macek or anybody involved. It’s just to inject facts into what is largely an emotional argument. If you want to be upset at not being able to legally watch Macross go for it. That’s your right.
There were a whole host of really bad arguments that I think need to be swept out before we even get to the most shocking thing. Let’s start with the “butchering” of these series to create some sort of bastardization of the three shows.
The practice of importing anime and making American cartoons out of them was fairly common in the 1980s. It’s expensive to pay for animators, editors, voice acting, film, etc. If you can cut one portion of that out, why shouldn’t you?
(It’s interesting to note that originally, Macek only wanted to use Macross. The reason he needed the other two series was because syndication requires 65 episodes.)
There is nothing immoral about this, or at least there is nothing more immoral than if you cut out magazine pictures to make collages. Or autotuning Carl Sagan to make it sound like he’s singing. The Millennial generation, in particular, is famous for remixing material that already exists to create a new cultural product.
And it’s fine.
Yet there are a whole host of people on Twitter who claim it’s a crime, or the creators had their creative freedom stripped away, or some combination of those two.
Here’s the truth. The people who created those series never had any right to them to begin with. That’s the way work for hire is. In fact, the only place it’s different is with items that are created solely by one person like a book or a photograph or, in some cases, a video. Otherwise, the work belongs to the company that paid for it.
That’s just the way it works. Those companies, or at the very least Tatsunoko, who owned the distribution rights, sold those rights to Harmony Gold.
Now there was a disagreement between Harmony Gold, Big West and Tatsunoko about who owned what rights and what could be done with them, but that type of thing is fairly common. Copyright, especially across international borders, is a twitchy thing, and if it isn’t vigorously defended, then you will lose it.
This leads me to my favorite bad argument, which has a lot of variations, but it says, “He didn’t agree to it,” or “The original creator said you should pirate the original,” or “The original creator says he doesn’t hates Robotech.”
Near as I can tell they all came from this Q&A with Kawamori:
Q: In America, they have a modified version of Macross, which is called Robotech. Nowadays, there are a lot of people who are fans of Robotech without knowing that Macross exists. How do you feel about it?
S. Kawamori: I don’t understand, nor do I accept the fact that they took and modified my work without even asking. I can not comprehend how a pirated version like this exists. However I feel I was very fortunate that many other people from other countries around the world were able to see Macross.
Q: Harmony Gold has a lot of new project (sic) around Robotech in America. I think they are working on a new movie, for example, do you take any credits from American Robotech works?
S: Kawamori: I don’t want to talk about. Please support the official Macross releases.
Now I’m not in love with the way this question was asked. The first question should have been, “Do you know what Robotech is?” Then when he says, “No,” then that’s the end of it. He doesn’t have a real opinion. He has an opinion based on how the question was asked.
And it’s pretty obvious that the interviewer expected exactly this answer when they asked the question, and it’s equally obvious that Kawamori doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So I can’t give this quote or any opinion based on it, any credibility.
He doesn’t retain the rights to Macross even now. I mean he can “not accept” that the sky is blue too, but that doesn’t make it so.
So here is where it gets weird
Here’s where I wonder what is actually going on. See Harmony Gold also owns the distribution rights for Mospeada and Southern Cross, but both of those shows are streaming.
There also was a DVD release of SDF Macross, which is common knowledge, but there was also a 2003 license between Harmony Gold and Tokyopop for the Macross 7 manga. Now that never went anywhere, but it’s interesting to note that the company is willing to license the material.
The common shtick that is passed around is that Harmony Gold is sitting on the distribution rights for Macross Frontier and Macross Delta because… well… just because. There’s not really an explanation other than they’re some sort of evil McEvilDoers sitting in an evil castle counting all of their evil cash while they cackle evilly.
The problem is that I can’t find where that’s true.
In fact as late as July 2019 Anime News Network reported:
Tommy Yune, Harmony Gold’s President of Animation, emphasized that the renewed agreements cover the first Macross series and not the follow-up projects in the Macross franchise, such as Macross Frontier and Macross Delta. He added that the status of the rights for those later Macross projects is ‘a separate question that has yet to be resolved.’
So who has the distribution rights to those shows? Well no one that I can find. Is Harmony Gold really holding up distribution of later Macross shows? Maybe, but not in any public way.
So here’s what I ask. If you can show me the error of my ways, then do it. Because I can’t find where you should be blaming Harmony Gold for… well… anything.
Now maybe not supporting the Robotech release will mean that Macross gets released, and maybe it will prove that there isn’t a market for Macross at all.
That’s for you to decide. But for me, my money is in the latter rather than the former.
Thanks for reading.