‘Let’s patrol the discos’ – In search of Robotech’s ultimate 80s aesthetic

Recently I’ve been delving into the seemingly endless vein that is Japanese ‘City Pop’ and all its associated paraphernalia, spurred on – I imagine like many – by its deft appropriation by the likes of current producers like Macross 82-99.

And of course, any discussion of Macross – musical or otherwise – invariably brings discussion round to the medium by which many English-speaking fans likely first encountered the ‘original’ 80s series in – that bastard child, Robotech.

A good couple of years ago, I acquired the complete DVD box-set of Robotech – when it was being sold on Amazon at a ludicrously cheap sub-£20 price. That said, it came at a point in my anime fandom where my shelves were rammed with back-log discs – and it wasn’t for quite some time that I eventually sat down to consume the show in its 85 episode entirety.

When I finally did – I fell in love with the rich, 80s aesthetic. While many hardcore Macross fans understandably decry Robotech for what it (and Harmony Gold) represent, I’ll always countenance that with the fact that at its heart remain three very solid shows – and as a piece of animated entertainment, whether in English or Japanese, it still ‘works’ a charm unique to whichever language you are viewing it in.

One moment that has always stuck in my mind epitomises the kind of ridiculous, dated humour present in the English dub. Namely, in episode 42 (aptly titled Danger Zone – 80s enough for you, eh?). To give a flavour, I refer to a great piece on said episode, which outlines the basic plot beats:

A newscast reports on what’s happening with the invading fleet. Weirdly, the broadcaster seems to be aware that the military commander of the Robotech Masters (Prince Charming) is called Zor, even though no one has been formally introduced. The standard of investigative journalism in the post-apocalyptic robot universe is surprisingly high.

The 15th Squadron have patrol duty in a city which is jam-packed with seedy recreation as portrayed by neon signs and hot ladies. The boys are all delighted at this turn of events and Dana is amused enough to let them have a little fun – all except Angelo, of course, who would rather have a proper patrol somewhere with no discos or strippers. Poor lad, all he wants is for everyone to take things seriously.

It’s here that the immortal line about ‘patrolling the discos’ comes from – and I have to confess when I first heard it, I burst out laughing. It was just so campy, so utterly cheesy, so utterly dated. But at the same time, so suffused with the very essence of what Robotech represents – this kind of ephemeral relic of a neon-dusted 80s where music and discos and hot girls seemed irrepressibly exciting.

When I listen to records from the era now – its this imaginary disco that I imagine. Somewhere they play 80s anime openings back to back with Flashdance and Simple Minds. An imaginary 80s that lives on, somewhere, forever.

 

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