(A version of this review, with audio excerpts from the show, originally appeared as part of one of the RDF Underground podcast. Not sure which one, I think maybe in the #34-#36 range.)

As you may have guessed from my Internet handle, I’m a big fan of a TV show called Robotech. Robotech is an 85-episode daily-syndication TV series from the 1990s that was originally formed by merging three separate and unrelated weekly-syndication animé (Japanese animation) TV series. This has been a bone of contention in animé fandom ever since, as it became fashionable to hate Robotech and its creator Carl Macek for this act of “butchery” once he was no longer the sole purveyor of Japanese animation to the western world. Much of this hate comes from fans of the Super Dimensional Fortress Macross series, the most well-known part of Robotech, and the only part that was successful in its own right over in Japan. They seem to feel that Robotech traded on Macross‘s success, and maybe they do have a point.

But for the two less famous TV series, Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada, inclusion into Robotech was probably the best thing that could have happened to them. Mospeada was only barely successful when it originally aired, and Southern Cross was such a monumental flop that it was actually cancelled halfway through its planned run—something that normally just wasn’t done for animé TV series. Southern Cross and Mospeada would probably have passed unnoticed into obscurity, not even considered worth bothering to fansub, if it hadn’t been that they were incorporated into America’s first smash hit animé TV series.

Instead, twenty years after they would otherwise have been forgotten, they were completely remastered so that a remastered version of Robotech could be made. And, as a convenient side-effect, box sets of Southern Cross and Mospeada were released for the enjoyment of fans of the original animé. Animé vendor rightstuf.com is offering them for $25 each—about a third of their list price. That’s less than you would pay for the Robotech version.

The New Generation was always my favorite part of Robotech. Giant transforming fighter planes were nice and all, but they always seemed a bit…inaccessible. It was hard to imagine myself piloting one, but very easy to imagine what it would be like to ride a motorcycle that wrapped itself around me to become a suit of powered body armor. And an earth-based resistance operation, and all those ruins to explore, were more exciting ideas to me than those far-off space battles. Now, after all this time, I finally have the chance to watch the original version and see how it holds up by comparison.

In light of that, I decided to examine the first episode of Mospeada, “Prelude to the Attack.” Thanks to the Robotech extras discs, we have two different ways to do that, even if you don’t count the Robotech version of the episode: the first episode from the boxed set, AND the unaired Harmony Gold pilot episode from back when they had planned to do straight Macross and Mospeada dubs.

First off, let’s look at the quality. The subtitled Mospeada from the boxed set uses the same remastered video footage used in the remastered version of Robotech, and looks quite crisp and sharp. The audio track is a clean, good-sounding stereo, without much directionality in the dialogue. It doesn’t have the roomshaking surrounds of the Robotech Remastered version, but for an early-80s TV show, it still sounds pretty good. The Harmony Gold dub, on the other hand, looks and sounds pretty bad by comparison. It lacks the opening and ending credits and the episode title, and appears to be a transfer to DVD of an old videotape recording of a telecine from unremastered film. But still, as the old saying goes about a dog walking on its hind legs, the remarkable thing about this dub is not so much that it be done well, as that it’s done at all.

In terms of dialogue, the dub seems to be about 75 to 80 percent faithful to the translation as given in the subtitled version. A lot of little things remain the same, a few major things don’t. One thing is that the main character in Mospeada is named Stick Bernard, and the dubbed version of the episode “sticks” with this name. However, in the subtitled version, Harmony Gold and ADV chose to render it as Stig, S-T-I-G. Stig is actually a common Scandinavian forename, and seems to go reasonably well with the Germanic surname of Bernard, even if it may not necessarily be what was originally intended. The dub also called a character originally named Ray “Randy,” which was shortened to Rand in Robotech. And Marlene is referred to in the dub as “Marlin.” But if you think that’s bad, in the booklet of translated interviews and articles that was bundled with the DVD set, she is referred to as “Marine”.

The Harmony Gold Mospeada dub seen here predates the decision to make Robotech. As such, it features some different casting and writing decisions than the “Invid Invasion” episode that we all know so well. In fact, about the only actor in the same role in both the Robotech and Mospeada versions is Mike Reynolds, better known as Dolza and Senator Russo, who plays the shuttle captain. It’s a little startling to hear Melanie McQueen—Lisa Hayes and Marlene—providing the voice of the Regess (or Refless, as Mospeada calls her). And Cam Clarke—Max Sterling and Lancer—is also recognizable as one of the shuttle’s flight crew.

But the real kicker is where they have Dan Woren, aka Roy Fokker. Some folks who’ve seen the Macross Plus dub felt that Dan was miscast there as the voice of teenaged aerospace design genius Yan Neumann. But in the Mospeada dub, he is cast as Stick Bernard—by comparison, Yan Neumann was who Dan was born to play!

One of the first things you notice when you watch the episode is that Stick and Marlin were interrupted in the middle of their love chat in the corridor by another crewmember, who dropped down out of a hatch in the ceiling and told them to get a room. If you’re positive you don’t remember that from Robotech, you would be right. American TV had more commercials per hour than Japanese, so they had to lose some footage from each episode to fit into the timeframe. It probably would have come back for the remastered version of Robotech, except they never recorded the dialogue for it in the Robotech dub so didn’t have anything to put there. Mospeada‘s the only place you’ll find it.

The voice acting in the Mospeada dub is by and large not quite up to the standards seen in the Robotech dub of the same episode. By the time they did that dub, the actors had been working on the Robotech project for months and gotten in a lot more practice. Here, they more often seem to be phoning their performance in. For instance, Dan Woren’s acting when Marlene’s shuttle goes down is particularly flat; it detracts from the emotional impact the scene is supposed to have. In short, the dub is fun to watch to see the original casting choices for the characters…but it’s also a little painful. The subbed version is better for casual viewing.

But let’s move on from the dubbing to the episode itself.

The music for Mospeada is very different from the Robotech soundtrack. It has a bit of a harder edge, and more of an authentic jazz feel to it. You may be surprised to learn that the composer and arranger for the instrumental music is none other than Joe Hisaishi, better-known for scoring all of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies since Nausicaa. Nonetheless, there’s a track or two that sounds like it might have at least indirectly inspired some of the Robotech music—and that’s not even counting the reuse of the “lonely soldier boy” phrase from the opening titles.

Quite a few differences between the Mospeada and Robotech storyline are seen in this episode. The biggest difference is that the Invid—or the Inbit, as they’re called in the original series; I guess Invid was easier to pronounce—have been occupying Earth for some thirty-three years as of the beginning of the TV series—not just the dozen or so years as from Robotech. Instead of a returning Expeditionary Force, mankind is attacking back from Mars Base, the colony outpost where many of mankind’s survivors fled. Instead of being born “in deep space on a Robotech ship,” the members of the returning shuttle fleet were born on Mars. The Alpha and Beta fighters are the Legioss and Tread, and the Cyclone is the Mospeada—Military Operation Soldier Protection Emergency Aviation Dive Auto. As originally conceived, the show was hardly going to feature the Legioss and Tread at all, and be more of a Seven Samurai with transforming motorcycles—which is why the show is named after the motorcycles. But the creators came under pressure to make it more like Macross, and so gave the planes a bigger role.

But back to the episode differences. In Mospeada, when the shuttle goes down, it’s not because they’re re-entering too fast, as in Robotech—it’s because the atmosphere is thicker than it should have been at that altitude. At the time, they think it’s some kind of Inbit weapon—but the actual reason is that the Inbit, being super-environmentalists, had returned the atmosphere to its original state before mankind had depleted the ozone layer and caused the greenhouse effect and so forth. This is a change that I kind of wish Robotech had kept, as it makes the Invid into more of a force to be reckoned with rather than placing the blame on the captain’s incompetence. And Stick doesn’t believe that Marlene is dead, at least at first—he says to the locket, “If you’re alive, I’ll find you.” Interestingly enough, in the Mospeada storyline, she may actually be alive after all, judging by one of the articles in that translated interview booklet…

The most interesting difference to me comes when Stick encounters the desert at the edge of the forest. In Robotech, Scott is excited to see it because it reminds him of home (though why he’d know how vast Venus was, or be homesick for a “Martian landscape,” when his home was Tirol or a Robotech ship is never adequately explained), and then as he drives across has the internal monologue about ghosts. In the Mospeada *dub*, he’s worried about the heat, and resolves to think happy thoughts of Marlene to help see him through it. And so he imagines Marlene there, babbling to him about the wedding. In the Mospeada sub, he is impressed at how big the desert is, then drives across it without speaking—and Marlene appears, floats around the bike, and wafts away in complete silence (apart from the soundtrack). Of the three different interpretations of this sequence, this one is definitely the most effective; it gives me goosebumps just watching it.

In fact, there are a lot of places where excess dialogue was added in Robotech or the Mospeada dub. More in Robotech, though. For instance, when Stick saves Ray from the Inbit, he doesn’t say a word from the time Rand sees him up to when he fires his last missile—unlike in Robotech, where he keeps up a steady stream of banter as he hops around and blows the Invid away. It’s a little hard to get used to, but after a watch-through or two, the subtitled version proves that less is definitely more.

In both Robotech and the dub, Stick or Scott comes off as decidedly unfriendly to Ray or Rand, mistaking him for an inattentive soldier and grabbing at him in anger. In the sub, though, he seems to know Ray is not a soldier right off the bat—maybe it’s the clothes—and just grabs him in order to get his attention away from the cool new bike. Consequently, in the episode of Robotech Scott seems to come off as a little self-important, even a bit of a showoff; but in Mospeada Stick’s a more focused soldier.

It’s going to be interesting to compare the other differences from Robotech to Mospeada as the show goes on. The one problem I really have in watching it is that thinking of everything as a part of Robotech, and placing it in relation to the other two series, is so ingrained in my mind that it’s hard to separate the unique and different background that Mospeada has. Guess I’ll just have to work on that.

At any rate, the Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada DVD sets are being sold by Right Stuf for $25 each. Buy them both and you get free shipping. At that price, every Robotech fan should have them in his collection.