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NYCC 2012: "Robotech" Panel Report

Kevin McKeever at Robotech Panel at NY Comic Con 2012

Harmony Gold’s Kevin McKeever hosted the Robotech Panel at New York Comic Con 2012, giving a quick rundown of the state of the Robotech universe before opening up the bulk of the panel to audience Q&A (and giving away a pretty hefty pile of Robotech swag to people asking questions). He quickly breezed through the many properties available now, including the original anime (especially the newly released complete series DVD set from A&E Entertainment, which McKeever said was selling extremely well), the live-action movie in development now with Warner Bros. and Tobey Maguire’s production company, new toys (including a new battlepod he showed prototype photos of), Jack McKinney novelizations available now in e-book format from several e-book services, and the Robotech tabletop role-playing game. He also teased a few new toys, including a Shadow Beta Fighter in both a standard version and one that transforms into a mecha with a synchro cannon attachment. He noted the two soundtrack releases now, and noted that about five hours of original Robotech music was found in a vault in Europe that they are working on to get released in some form.

McKeever showed a clip from a Robotech documentary available on the complete series set, authorized by Harmony Gold president Frank Agrama. The clip featured a number of people who had worked on the series, with animation historian Jerry Beck providing some context on how groundbreaking the series was when it premiered in the United States. The documentary was also a genuine tribute to the late Carl Macek, whose influence on the franchise was greatly praised. He also showed a clip from the new Robotech project Love Live Alive, which is in production now, and noted that once Love Live Alive was finished, Harmony Gold could begin working in earnest on Robotech: Shadow Rising, the sequel to The Shadow Chronicles. McKeever noted many returning voice actors for the English dub, including Greg Snegoff as Scott Bernard, Susie London as Rook, Richard Epcar as Lunk, and Cam Clarke as Lancer (and many other actors whose names I didn’t catch will be reprising their roles as well). Snegoff will also be the voice director again with Tommy Yune. He also made a point to say that even though it looks like a side-story, Love Live Alive does tie directly into Shadow Chronicles, though he was careful not to specify exactly how. He answered a question about delays in Love Live Alive and Shadow Chronicles by noting that the dollar is down 25% in the five years since the first announcement, which would have had a major impact on overseas animation pricing even if the overseas studios had kept their prices the same. The movies are also being delayed because they are being remastered since the originals weren’t stored too well (nobody in 1984 thought anyone would care about the material almost 30 years later), but Tatsunoko is very happy with the remastering job so far.

With that, McKeever turned it to the floor for Q&A:
There are no plans to merge Robotech properties with Macross 7 or Macross Plus. They did have the rights to some of that material, but there are no plans or discussions for doing it at the moment. As for other Macross series, McKeever noted that an ongoing lawsuit between the original producers (Tatsunoko and Big West) was launched in Japan in 2000 and are still going on. Until those lawsuits are resolved, there aren’t going to be any new Macross imports.

An original box containing the 16mm film print of an episode of “Robotech”

To answer a question about Robotech on Blu-ray, McKeever showed a box that contained the original 16mm film that they received from Tatsunoko studios, which is how a lot of anime was aired back in the 1980’s. While the films aren’t in bad condition, they’re not in great condition, and the process to upconvert a 16mm film to high-definition video is prohibitively expensive at this point for them to attempt the conversion. However, the 85-episode boxed set has sold extremely well, and has led to Wal-Mart “screaming at us” to get more Robotech material to sell.

When asked about Shadow Rising spreading into other forms of media, especially comics, McKeever noted that the comics industry has been facing declining sales for years, and Harmony Gold is exploring methods to bring more Robotech comics to the market, since the market for print comics of Robotech material doesn’t seem to be there. Harmony Gold is exploring other digital platforms, but McKeever thinks any releases in that format are still going to be a few years away. Harmony Gold is focusing their print-to-digital efforts on the e-book versions of the Jack McKinney novels.

Many questions were asked about the status of the live-action movie. McKeever said that they were still working on the script, since the Robotech franchise is so dependent on getting story and character right. As a result, there is no information about who would direct the movie, who would be in it, or what the mecha would look like. He did want to make sure that everyone understood one thing:

So, repeat after me: Tobey Maguire is attached only to produce the movie, and the rumors that he will be playing Rick Hunter are not true. Until the script is finished, discussions about directors, actors, or mecha design are way too premature. McKeever did add later that Warner Brothers is looking at Robotech as comparable to the Harry Potter franchise, so they’ll ultimately make as much Robotech live-action as they think the market can stand.

Questions about Robotech video games tied into the status of the live-action movie, since the rights to games on all platforms (PC, console, and iOS/Android portable) currently belong to Warner Bros. McKeever expects that they will begin rolling out when the movie comes closer to reality, and that Warner will have more power to attract an A-list game development studio to make a good Robotech game.

Several questions were asked about returns to the Sentinels storyline in Robotech, but all met more or less the same answer: the current distributors want newer Robotech material, and doing a Sentinels story will rely heavily on continuity, which is perceived as a detriment to attracting new fans. This is the reason why Harmony Gold is focusing more on projects like Love Live Alive and Shadow Rising.

In response to a question about Robotech disappearing from Netflix recently, McKeever said that harmony Gold was on the case and that they hope to resolve the issue as soon as possible. In the meantime, he added that Robotech is available on Hulu and YouTube legally, so most devices that can play a Netflix stream could pick up Robotech from those sources. He also said that the return of Toonami set up a potential destination for new Robotech material rather than the older material.

New Robotech TV series are currently cost-prohibitive, requiring a network to commit to funding 24 episodes of the show. Harmony Gold would also require creative control over the series to ensure its integrity and to keep it from being too “kid-ified,” so odds are a new series isn’t coming any time soon. A web series is also prohibitive because the structures to monetize Internet content are still maturing, so there is no way to do a Robotech web series profitably at the moment. The prospect of crowdsourcing Robotech gives the Harmony Gold lawyers hives, so that avenue is not available either.

McKeever relayed a sad story in response to a question about re-issuing older Robotech toys. Apparently, a search by George Son to find the original molds for those toys was successful, but he found them left outside the factory, exposed to the elements, for the better part of a decade. Since new molds are extremely expensive, odds are that there won’t be any re-issued Robotech toys. Plastic model kits are also not in the pipeline because the market has essentially died in the United States.

Unfortunately, there are no job openings at Harmony Gold at this time. McKeever added that it took 2 years of lobbying for Harmony Gold to give him his job, and even then it was on the condition that he’d be a temp for 1 year. 16 months later, he was left wondering if he should say anything to anybody or just keep working, but he’s been there ever since.

Jack McKinney is not a pseudonym for Carl Macek, as one audience member asked, but a pen name for James Luceno and Brian Daley. McKeever noted that Daley passed away in 1996 and James Luceno is now a best-selling author writing Star Wars novels, so new “Jack McKinney” novels are unlikely. There are no plans for audiobooks of the McKinney novels, but he noted that since e-book sales are normally a subset of audiobook sales, strong e-book sales would prompt a revisit to see if the economics work.

Finally, when asked how to keep up with new news, McKeever suggested the Robotech.com website, the Robotech Facebook page, the Robotech Twitter feed, or just e-mailing him directly by sending to “kev” at robotech.com.

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