This essay is 4 pages 1673 words in Microsoft Word. Published 7/8/2020.
As strange as it may seem, the dramatic events of Robotech are set into motion by a character never portrayed onscreen. This unseen character is Zor. Necessity is the mother of invention, and in 1984 Carl Macek was in urgent need of an inventive plot device to cohesively bind three unrelated series of animation into one franchise. Setting aside the later repercussions and criticisms of his actions, it was this singular creative leap in storytelling which deserves objective academic admiration. Carl’s innovation is a character named Zor. Zor is the plot thread tying all Robotech material together.
The well tread story of Robotech’s conception begins with the wildly successful 1982 debut of Super Dimension Fortress Macross (SDF Macross) in Japan, its country of origin. Harmony Gold USA, Inc. purchased the distribution rights for SDF Macross from Tatsunoko Production Company, Ltd intending to create an English language dub for distribution by VHS cassette tapes. Home VHS tapes were chosen because American television required a minimum of 65 episodes to broadcast a series for syndication, and SDF Macross was too short at only 36 episodes in length. Carl Macek was employed during the initial stages of the VHS undertaking. Two dubs were created. These being Super Space (two words) Fortress Macross and the Macross Extended Pilot. Each are pre-Robotech branded pilots and are more faithful SDF Macross dubs than the later adaptations known as Robotech. Super Space Fortress Macross is a dub of Episode 1, and the Macross Extended Pilot is a 67 minute pilot combining Episodes 1 to 3. Voltron had aired in 1984 by combining two different series to reach the 65 episode minimum. According to page 243 of Robotech Art 1, the toy company Revel was in favor of releasing Robotech in syndicated television as this would sell more toys and model kits relative to VHS releases. In this context it was decided to combine multiple series to create a franchise with at least 65 episodes. Harmony Gold had acquired the licenses for several animated series. Carl Macek exercised his talent for discernment and chose Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross (SDCSC) and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA (GCM) as promising prospects for this project as Harmony Gold held licenses for these properties. At the Robotech 25th Anniversary Panel of the Animation on Display Convention in San Francisco on January 30th, 2010, Carl stated it was fairly obvious these two series were his best options as they shared plots involving military forces and transformable mecha.
In hindsight it is possible to piece together Carl’s process. SDF Macross was the popular property and initiated this project. Naturally, it seems obvious the strongest material would open the debut of the television series. The landscape of Earth at the end of SDF Macross is similar to the landscape of Glorie in SDCSC regarding continuity, and the exit of the Inbit from Earth provides a climax and happy ending to the 85 episode concept. Thus, the sequence of these three series was an intelligent decision on Carl’s part to achieve a natural flow and dynamic pacing. In Carl’s panel at RoboCon 10 October 7, 1995 he stated he watched GCM prior to SDCSC. After watching 12 episodes of SDCSC he was struggling as to how to combine it with SDF Macross and GCM visually and thematically. It was SDCSC Episode 13: Triple Mirror (Later adapted as Episode 50: Triumvirate) which provided inspiration and hope for combining all three series. Carl felt the visual style of the scene portraying the flowers in this episode recalled the amorphous shapes of GCM Episode 1: Prelude to the Offensive (Later adapted as Episode 61: The Invid Invasion). While this connection was likely later not emphasized or elaborated upon, it was a creative starting point which shaped Carl’s vision for this series.
A fortuitous element of these series is all three can almost be categorized as narratives referred to as in medias res or in the middle of things. The lack of extensive flashback material excludes these series as in medias res. In Episode 1 of SDF Macross Britai (Breetai) is attempting to find a Supervision Army ship (the SDF-1) which is more of a backstory than in medias res. In Episode 1 of SDCSC Jeanne Francaix (Dana) is in prison, and the setting places the action on a colony planet previously inhabited by the Zor which is also a backstory. In Episode 1 of GCM Stick (Scott) is on a mission to liberate Earth implying a backstory. The absence of extensive flashbacks and the existence of the implied backstories enables their unification. The opening imagery and plots of these series conveniently lend themselves to rewriting and editing so as to combine them as one series.
In Robotech, the Supervision Army concept from SDF Macross was rewritten as the Robotech Masters with the Zentreadi serving as their private police force rather than their enemy. The Robotech Masters, a creation unique to the Robotech series, are an amalgamation of the unseen Supervision Army from SDF Macross and the alien race Zor from SDCSC. In SDF Macross, Protoculture is the first culture or prototype culture. It was redefined as an energy source in Robotech by renaming GCM’s HBT fuel source, a major GCM plot point, as protoculture. In SDCSC the Protozor flower is renamed the Flower of Life in Robotech. The Zor, or Robotech Masters in Robotech, have a symbiotic relationship with the Protozor and derive a bioenergy from it. All of these examples are adaptations of existing material. However, the individual Robotech character Zor is a totally new and invented character used to bind all 85 episodes of Robotech.
Ingeniously, Carl created a deceased character named Zor. In the audio commentary of Codename Robotech from the Protoculture DVD set Carl states he watched the 84 original episodes of source material without audio for inspiration to create a unifying plot to correspond to the images of the pre-existing animation. Carl also explains this process in his panel at RoboCon 10 at 23:00 and at the 25th Anniversary Panel in San Francisco at 16:00. A character named Seifrietti Weisse (Weiße) appears in SDCSC, and, without the aid of audio, it would have appeared to Carl the Zor aliens plant Sefrietti as a spy of their own race amongst the micronians. This assumption is reasonable as there is a lot of imagery of clones in suspended animation in SDCSC. Carl’s thought process made the creative leap of inventing a deceased character named Zor cloned as Robotech’s Zor Prime (Sefrietti). In SDCSC Sefrietti (Zor Prime) is a human captured at Aluce Base on a moon of Glorie, implanted with biopulse transmitter cell espionage technology by the Zor, and brought to Planet Glorie to infiltrate the humans there. In Robotech, Zor Prime is an amnesiac clone of Zor intended by his masters to recover memories of Robotechnology.
Carl created a backstory for the deceased Zor as a scientist who discovered an energy source from the Flower of Life on Planet Optera. This energy source became protoculture. As Sefrietti turned on the Robotech Masters, Carl likewise had Zor subvert his leaders and send his battle fortress (the SDF-1) and protoculture matrix to Earth.
Zor is first mentioned in Episode 1 of Robotech when Breetai identifies “Zor’s battle fortress” in reconnaissance photos. Zor is last mentioned in Episode 60 of Robotech. He is never mentioned in the 25 episodes of the third Robotech war. Robotech Art 1 was published in April of 1986 with further small details about Zor. Other writers expanded on Carl’s story to develop Zor’s backstory as published in August of 1986 with Robotech: The Graphic Novel. Two more Robotech Art books released in 1987 and 1988 contained further small details about Zor. Published between 1987 and 1996 the Robotech novelizations developed the Zor character even more. 1988’s Robotech II: The Sentinels briefly touched on Zor, and later, different Robotech comic book adaptations presented more portrayals of the backstory of Robotech and Zor.
Similar unseen characters existed in fiction prior to Robotech. In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo attends the Capulet party looking for an unseen character named Rosaline. In a play titled Waiting for Godot the characters wait for an unseen character named Godot. George Lucas began Star Wars with Episode 4 implying a massive backstory for most of the major characters in the un-filmed, as of 1999, Episodes 1 to 3.
Carl Macek has a complicated reputation. His creativity and contributions can be put in the proper perspective by contextualizing Carl in the culture and media landscape of 1984. One must imagine his decisions and ambitions from the point of view of 1984. He is a victim of his own success. He likely succumbed to the seductive power of success, celebrity, and high praise. His sin was a sin of omission in not continuously clarifying the unceasing incorrect assumptions of his peers as to his specific role in the adaptation of the material and not as its intellectual creator. Statements he made through the year of his death in 2010 are Rorschach tests depending if Carl is given the benefit of the doubt or assumed to possess offensive motivations. The author of this essay, its readers, and Carl all share the same weaknesses of character and human foibles. While not condoning his behavior, Carl’s offense was his passivity and deafening silence in the face of often unstated and only implied creative credit. His editorial decisions may also be debated. The history of Robotech’s adaptation is a valuable educational tool to deepen our understanding of art, culture, commercial business, and assumptions about the viewing audience. Still, Carl’s talent for adapting pre-existing material is worthy of acknowledgement. The creation of Zor is perhaps the most impressive and least noticed of his many original concepts and modifications to the original source materials. Regretfully, Carl has been defined as a convenient shorthand for virtue signaling. The full range of media critics from professional to amateur now broadcast their own animation ethics as well as their sensitivity to Japanese culture by referencing Carl as an avatar in order to cite their authority over the stereotype he represents. As a master, Carl’s awareness, shapings, and many folds of the material allowed the awesome flowering of Robotechnology which might have only been possible, both in-universe and out-of-universe, by a character named Zor.