On March 4th, 1985, Robotech premiered, marking the beginning of a phenomenon that, to one degree or another, has deeply impacted the lives of those of us who consider ourselves its fans all these years on.
Twenty-nine years. God, but the sheer scope of that is hard to fathom.
On a level, it doesn’t seem so long ago, but consider: Ronald Reagan had recently begun his second term in office. The USSR and the Cold War still loomed large in the public imagination, and the Vietnam War had been over for less than ten years. Europe had two Germanies, but only one Czechoslovakia. The video game industry, staggering under the weight of millions of unsold Atari E.T. and Pac-Man cartridges, had yet to recover from its crash. Coke had never been new, the VHS and Betamax format wars were still raging, and the newly introduced Internet Domain Name System was a blank slate (its first .com domain would be registered later that month).
But none of that mattered to me. In March of 1985, I was a few months shy of four years old, and I lived with my parents in a small town about 45 miles north of Austin, Texas, in the company of a cat named Buffy and an ill-fated dynasty of goldfish—all of them, in sequence, named Otto. The birth of my kid brother was just over a year away, and the most exciting thing in recent memory was the freak snowstorm that had reached as far south as San Antonio.
Other than that, my world was made up, in the main, of cartoons, mock battles, and whatever other mischief I could manage to get myself into.
And all this considered, it might seem like I’m setting you up for a claim that I should be counted among the ‘85ers, those folks who saw Robotech in its original run and have been with it ever since.
But I’m not.
I wish I could tell you how Robotech swept me off my velcro-swaddled feet in March of 1985, changing my life forever. But I can’t—because I didn’t watch it then. I don’t even know if it ran on KBVO 42, my go-to channel for cartoons, or any other station in my area.
The best I can do is note that I perhaps saw one episode of New Generation (“The Big Apple”) at some point between 1985 and 1987, during one syndication run or another, on one channel or another, and that I recognized it when I watched the show later in life.
Still, in any case, I can make no claims on the fourth of March, 1985.
Instead, my personal Robotech anniversary is the 12th of January, the day Cartoon Network started its run of the show in 1998. Because of that happenstance, I found the first fandom that made me really come out of my shell. I found a better relationship with my kid brother. I found a group of friends who are still part of my life—and I even found my husband in the mix (though if you’d told either of us that then, we would have laughed; funny how that works).
All the same, 12 January 1998, with all its personal significance, owes its existence to 04 March 1985, so I feel obliged to honor start of it all.
And I know, I know: it’s the 29th anniversary. Who cares? Next year’s 30th shindig will be far cooler, I am sure. Additionally, I haven’t got a bunch of cool, unique stuff to share. My fan resume is pretty short, and it’s mostly self-indulgent.
The thing is, when it’s a matter of a debt of gratitude, whether the surrounding circumstances are important or exciting doesn’t particularly matter. It’s the acknowledgement, no matter how small, that counts (or so I tell myself).
So what I chose to showcase today in honor of the original broadcast—an event in which I did not participate but to which I owe much—is a toy from the original product line.
That item is the Matchbox die-cast miniature SDF-1.
This isn’t the first SDF-1 in my stash. That honor goes to the Bandai model my husband gave me this past Christmas. But this one, this somewhat dinged-up toy from the Reagan era, is important in a different way.
I’ve been fascinated by the SDF-1 from the first. Over the years, I have found and built model kits of various mecha, and I have collected a variety of other figures and toys, but I have long coveted an original SDF-1.
I knew from older fans that such toys had been made for the ‘85 product line, and I found both the miniature SDF-1 and its bigger brother—and their much rarer and more expensive Takatoku Macross cousins—for sale from time to time on the internet or at conventions.
But this always happened when I was dead broke or had Certified Grown-Assed Adult things to do, so the item never got bought. In time, it became something of a symbol of the unobtainable. Just as I couldn’t retroactively experience the whole of Robotech history that had happened before I discovered the show, I had a hell of a time finding—and simultaneously affording—this particular physical representation of the same period.
I’m sure if I had really busted my ass trying, I could have done it, yes. But life intervened, as it has a habit of doing, and I tended to choose the responsible thing over the awesome thing. So it goes.
(This kind of behavior on my part is, incidentally, why it took 11 years of knowing my husband before we finally tied the knot, but I digress.)
In any case, when I went to the comic shop on the 26th of last month to pick up Robotech / Voltron #2, the guy behind the counter gave me a funny look and said, “You haven’t been in here in…ages.” (Which is true; the last time I was there with any regularity, Antarctic Press still had the Robotech comics license.) I told him as much—and that I’d been here and there over the past decade and a half and had lately found myself back in town. He took a moment to consider my purchase, then said, “Hey, we got a bunch of Robotech stuff in recently,” and waved me over to the vintage toys.
There, tucked in behind a handful of destroids, a super-deformed Max Sterling Veritech, and several unloved Robotech Masters, was a Matchbox die-cast miniature SDF-1.
I didn’t immediately buy it. I was only there for the comic, and the budget was a little tight that week. That and the toy was also missing a few things—the radar tower and the shoulder cannons—and the stickers, being thirtyish years old, were a little funky in a few places. They had also obviously been slapped on by a kid, because they were crooked or misapplied in spots. And the screws that held the thing together were rusty…a sign that some kid, somewhere, had probably re-enacted the SDF-1’s return to Earth in the bathtub.
Still, the price was right, and I was tempted, so when I got home I told ruminatingroy, my eternally patient Other Half, about the discovery.
"And you didn’t buy it?" he asked me, flabbergasted.
"Well, no," I said. "Not without discussing it first."
He picked up his hat, grabbed his wallet and keys, and said, “Let’s go take a second look.”
And so we did. In short order, we were walking out of the shop in possession of the SDF-1 in the image above.
It’s not a perfect specimen. Sure, it’s still white where it could have yellowed, but it’s not mint, there was no box, and, as I said, it has a few minor issues. But there’s something endearing about it as well. This isn’t some carefully hoarded relic that’s been guarded by a secretive cabal of Level 99 Epic Fanboys for the past three decades. It’s clearly a toy somebody played with and enjoyed.
For me, that’s part of the appeal. It was enjoyed by someone, brought them a good time. In later years, it might have sat on some teenager’s desk, as the models I built in high school stood guard over my homework. Why the owner got rid of it is unknown to me, and in the end it’s not important. The big thing for me is that it’s a point of connection with the past of the fandom that I’ve wanted for some time.
Will I hunt around, in the months and years to come, for junk parts from broken items to see if I can find the missing bits? Sure. And would I pass up a good deal on one where the stickers are straight and the screws aren’t rusty? No, provided the budget I’d probably go for it.
But if I never do find those things (or even if I do), I’m still going to like this one for what it is, because it’s a lot like Robotech itself: a bit rough around the edges, a bit imperfect, missing a few bits, and not exactly the same as the Japanese model it’s based on—but well enjoyed and a source of good memories all the same.
So all of that said, here’s to you, Robotech. I didn’t discover you at the very beginning, but I caught up to you eventually, and whatever my life might have been without you, I’m pretty sure it would be less interesting. If I’m still alive in 2043 when another 29 years have passed, I hope you’ll be there, too, in all your imperfect glory.
I have one of those SDF-1’s, too. Like most of the Matchbox-era toys, I have, I did get it when it first came out. It’s held up decently over the years. But due to a recent fall from a high shelf, the arms have a tendency to pop off. I’ve moved it to a different shelf, and as long as I point the arms straight forward, they will stay on.
And I was fortunate enough to catch the show when it first aired. All I really remember is my dad telling me about the show and that he thought I’d want to see it. I had watched every Robotech-like TV show that had come before and he knew I enjoyed this kinda stuff. My dad loved TV in general and he dutifully read the TV Guide magazine each and every week. I’m not sure if TV Guide did a special write up of Robotech or if he just came across it randomly. Regardless, I’m glad he did find it and perhaps more importantly (and this is one of the amazing things about my dad) that he recognized that my interest in these shows went beyond just a “kid watching cartoons.” (I was eight years old at the time.)
And thus what has become a lifelong obsession with Robotech began. I’ve appreciated other franchises over the years. But this is the one that always draws me back in. I tend to identify with the oddballs and underdogs of the universe. And Robotech fits the bill there for sure.
I suppose there’s even a hope, however misguided, that the franchise will really find a proper direction and regain some of its faded glory. Given that the only real predictor of the future is the past, this seems unlikely. But it never hurts to dream…