Robotech is a franchise that still gets a lot of love, even if hasn’t had a major TV series on the air in over thirty years. Most other franchises in this position have withered and died, but Robotech has kept going despite all the hurdles it’s faced. What keeps Robotech alive?
President of Animation at Harmony Gold, Tommy Yune, gives all thanks to the fans. “They are the ones who’ve kept the fires alive.”
When Den of Geek got to visit Harmony Gold, the owners of Robotech, fans were continually brought up. Whether it was on the topic of the live action movie, sequels to the series, or the new comics, every decision that goes into where the franchise is headed keeps the fans in mind.
It helps that the people behind Robotech are such big fans themselves. When you walk into the offices they have a TV set up to play Robotech: Battlecry. Toys line the walls. They have a room devoted to classic ’80s merchandise, which may sound like they’re stuck in the past, but the team behind Robotech has some very detailed plans about where the franchise is going and how the fans have kept interest in the franchise afloat.
Without a new property on air, it’s key for Robotech to not only appeal to its existing fan base but also bring in new fans. For the last two years Harmony Gold has been working on rebuilding the Robotech brand, partnering with people like ’80s Tees and getting the show back into circulation on Crackle, Netflix, and Amazon Video.
New fans are discovering the series all the time. Billy Davis, Executive Vice President, relates one story of how, after one of their usual presentations at a comic con, a thirteen year old came up to them,
“He said, ‘my friend dragged me here. I didn’t even know what Robotech was but I’m a fan. We’re gonna watch the show now.’ We just did a presentation! Here’s some video here’s some toys, blah blah blah Robotech is cool here’s some t-shirts! This wonderful young man is now going to watch the show. That’s the power of the series.”
Vice President of Marketing Kevin McKeever related a surprising anecdote about how Robotech Love Live Alive, a movie released in 2013 that was mostly a clip show, even brought in some new fans.
“We kept getting questions, ‘I just saw Love Live Alive. Is there a prequel movie I can watch?” Well yes, there are eighty-five episodes! If you release good new projects, new fans will come in and old fans will be pleased as well.”
But it’s those old fans that can also be very critical of how the franchise is handled. Davis simply says you can’t please everyone.
“We respect the heck out of our fans. But that also means you get people who are too fanatical about it. They get very detail oriented with certain parts of the show. You’re just not going to please everybody. We try very hard to make the fans happy. We don’t always succeed, but we try. That’s life. Balancing that with new story and with our old story it’s all about what a person’s personal expectation is and that can be impossible to manage but we do our best.”
Davis is also quick to say that even those who say Harmony Gold is ruining the franchise “show passion and engagement. When no one says anything? That’s the big problem.”
(Classic Robotech merchandise displayed in the Robotech offices.)
In fact it’s the people the Harmony Gold team meet in person at conventions that leave the biggest impact.
“I like to go behind the scenes a bit and talk to people looking at Robotech merchandise. I’ll say something like, ‘Oh, do you like Robotech?’ and they’re like, ‘Oh I love Robotech!’ and proceed to tell me every story they have about their childhood and how much Robotech meant to them or how it influenced them to join the military or they were sick and it got them through a really bad time. They don’t know I’m with Harmony Gold so it’s the most honest answer that they could give. “
Spending times with fans at comic cons, McKeever explains, is a huge part of the outreach Harmony Gold is doing.
“We’re able to listen to them and they can listen to us and they get their questions answered. That’s a tremendous way of keeping the franchise alive and keeping it energized. They go, ‘Someone from Hollywood is sitting down and talking to me in a conversation.’ If you watch our panels we make ample time for Q/A. That keeps people engaged so that when new products come out they’re bought and that keeps the franchise going.”
Davis says he’s been kicked out of rooms and has continued talking with fans long after a panel has finished, “Fans have to know we care as much as they do. We go out into the depths of Robotech fans and talk to them about the franchise. We are big on social media. We try to announce things and put up pictures and try to keep things moving forward. We plan our announcements for the year. We have announcements we haven’t even announced yet.”
(A Robotech: Crystal Dreams comic displayed in the Robotech offices.)
Answering fans questions in person can reap long-term benefits. When McKeever visited China back in 2007, the response was so positive that years later they filled the room at a comic con in Shanghai.
“Fans came from all over China to Shanghai to see us because they knew the panel was so good and that vaulted us ahead of other properties that are spending millions of dollars. People were still talking about Robotech at the convention because we showed up just to answer fans questions. That goes a long way.”
Robotech continues to have a very strong fan base in Latin America as well. The shows fan base there is ecstatic Robotech is back on Netflix. Tommy Yune makes it clear how important that fan base is to them.
“We’ve had events down there and fans were thrilled when we brought the original voice cast back to work on Love Live Alive. So showing fans that there’s that attention to what they enjoy really pays off. “
(Pictured from L to R, Billy Davis, Kevin McKeever, and Tommy Yune.)
The People Behind Robotech
If you go deep enough into Robotech fandom, you see people slinging around a lot of not so complimentary things about the people in charge of the Robotech franchise. We wanted the chance to get to know three of the biggest people responsible for it and to that end we asked them to weigh in with their favorite saga of the show.
Billy Davis jumped in first, “I’m gonna say Macross, not because it’s the most popular but because I grew up as a fan. I watched it on channel 13 here in LA. I fell in love with the characters and I thought they were fantastic. The short attention span I had as a young man meant I didn’t get into the others series as much.”
McKeever gave a surprising answer, “I would have to say my favorite is the Masters. My favorite character, Angelo Dante, is in it. The stuff they were doing in that, even if it has various flaws obviously, was always intriguing to me. It’s also a very downer ending if you really think about it, which is unheard of not just in animated programming but live action programming as well.”
(A classic SDF-1 toy displayed in the Robotech offices.)
Tommy Yune’s initial answer will spend a chill up Robotech fan’s spines. “Well I really like the experimental CG in Robotech 3000.” Everyone immediately laughs, “That’s like our (Star Wars) Christmas special. I’ve always liked the New Generation because I watched Robotech backwards. I started watching it from the end and then when Scott Bernard flew off into outer space and then the show restarts from the beginning with ‘Join us again and reacquaint yourself with…’ I was like ‘Who are these muckity-mucks I want to know what happened to Scott Bernard!’”
And what about outside of Robotech?
“I have a very diverse kind of background so I enjoy going to the Magic Castle because I’m a magician member there. I like playing with cards and stuff like that.” Davis says, as he shows off his shirt, which features the Magic Castle logo. “I’m a musician so I play ten different instruments so I enjoy just playing music whenever I can. I have three groups I play around town. I enjoy fine wine and walks on the beach. I love movies and art. I love to draw and paint. My free time is taken up by doing those kinds of things with my lovely wife of twenty-seven years. “
McKeever says much of his time is taken up by the franchise. “In the month of June I worked thirty one days straight doing all the conventions and working in here. My time off I actually go out and see my friends who I never get to see and do things with them.”
Yune keeps it simple, his hobby is being a parent to his two kids but he also loves all things ’80s. ”I love old 80’s video games. I love to restore ’80s computers. Like I’ll get three broken Macintosh portables from the ’80s and turn them into two working ones. When I have the time I like to go hiking up in the foothills. Seen a couple of bears but haven’t gotten attacked yet!”
(More Robotech merchandise on display in the Robotech offices.)
The Robotech franchise is in good hands, even if it takes some time for it to return to screens, movie, TV, or otherwise. To the readers of Den of Geek, the team encourages them to just watch the series if they haven’t. It speaks for itself.
We’re so thankful to Harmony Gold for letting us visit their offices and stay tuned to Den of Geek for all things Robotech. We’ll be having updates on the future of the Robotech animated series and the Robotech feature film soon.
Shamus Kelley spent a little too much time looking at that Robotech: Crystal Dreams comic. Follow him on Twitter!