Britain’s First Anime Fanzine: Robotech UK

Back when we were still regularly updating Colony Drop, I wrote an irregular column called History’s Greatest Disciple that served as an excuse to dig up and talk about books and magazines of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Along with garnering some fascinating comments from older fans (seriously, the comments are a much more interesting read than the actual articles) and partially inspiring me to launch Zimmerit, it became popular enough that I had people offering to send me things to feature. One of the things sent my way was a copy of Robotech UK

Published sometime in 1986 by Tony Luke, Robotech UK, at first glance, seems like your run-of-the-mill Robotech fanzine from the 1980s. There’s some background on the show’s creation, a brief synopsis of the show’s three “seasons,” and an interview with the show’s producer, none other than Carl Macek himself. What struck me after reaching out to Helen McCarthy, who should be familiar to most fans as the author of The Anime Encyclopedia: A Guide to Japanese Animation Since 1917 and The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga and who’s specifically thanked in the fanzine’s credits, is that Robotech UK, and its creator Tony, were something of an anomaly. And I love anomalies.

While Robotech served as an introduction to anime for American fans that missed out on Battle of the Planets or Starblazers (and I do mean American fans — Robotech was, and is, surprisingly popular in South America), its influence on UK fandom was practically nonexistent according to McCarthy, telling me, “Robotech had virtually no impact on the UK.” So, far from being the UK equivalent of Protoculture Addicts, Robotech UK was hyping up a series to fans that had (probably) yet to see it.

It’s difficult to talk about Robotech fanzines and not mention Protoculture Addicts, the creation of a group of college students from Quebec. Faced with litigation from Harmony Gold (see? they were dicks even back in the ’80s), Protoculture Addicts soon went “official.” Ten issues later, it turned into a general anime magazine and went on to be the longest running North American anime magazine. Acquired by Anime News Network in 2005, the last issue was published in 2008.

If you’re curious, the first ten issues are available as a PDF via DriveThruRPG.

That’s interesting enough, but Helen also informed me that Robotech UK was the first fanzine specifically dedicated to anime in the UK. “There was no anime fanzine community in the UK in the mid-80s. Robotech UK was the first fanzine devoted to anime, but with no supply – few people had access to anime because few had multi region VCRs – there was less inspiration.” Helen went on to point out that other fanzines has certainly talked about anime, and specifically mentioned Ashley Watkins’ Battletech fanzine MEKTEK, as doing so, but Robotech UK was clearly a pioneer of sorts. For those keeping score, anime fanzines in the UK wouldn’t really take off until after the 1990 Eastercon.

robotechUK_003

So enough background, how about the fanzine itself?

The first thing that jumps out is the fantastic cover by Steve Kyte, which easily surpasses the quality of “official” Robotech art from the era. Interestingly though, it features a VF-1S Strike Valkyrie from the film Do You Remember Love?, a design that never actually appeared in the TV series, and thus never in Robotech.

A full page is dedicated to explaining the background of the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross and Harmony Gold’s intention to combine it with Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber MOSPEADA. What sticks out to me are lines like “Fortunately, Harmony Gold USA Inc. had no intention of doing a hatchet job on Macross.” Compare this optimistic take with contemporaneous US fandom, where people were handing out pamphlets at conventions titled “Is Carl Macek the Anti-Christ?”

Most of the fanzine is taken up by an interview with Carl Macek himself, wherein he puts a positive spin on the future of Robotech animated productions, which wasn’t looking so hot by 1986. While praising the “very good review” Robotech: The Movie received during test screenings in Texas (a film he’d famously distance himself from years later, and one that performed notoriously bad during its test screenings), he also makes a comment about the production of Robotech II: The Sentinels being right around the corner pending a “few more” TV station commitments. That last statement was either naively optimistic or pure horseshit, because by 1986 the Plaza Accord had already wrecked the advantageous USD/JPY exchange rate that Harmony Gold and Matchbox Toys were using to fund production

robotechUK_002

Perhaps the most interesting portion of Macek’s interview concerns his efforts to remove the “ethnic eccentricities” from the original programs, something that often gets overlooked as fans rage about combining three disparate shows into one.

Beyond that, there isn’t a whole lot else in the 18 photocopied pages that comprise Robotech UK. Tony was apparently trying to court British TV stations (including the BBC) into showing Robotech, which at that point had only been partially shown on cable. As a result, Robotech UK fits the mold of most ‘80s anime fanzines: minimal editorial content, but maximum informative content to educate pre-Internet fandom.

Before I wrap up, I’d be remiss not to mention Tony himself. He passed away earlier this year after a long battle with illness, but left behind him a body of work that put him squarely into the Daicon-archetype of fans. His comic, Dominator, ran briefly in Kodansha’s Afternoon during the early ‘90s. He produced a short comic called Hellkatt that was published inside Manga Entertainment’s 12-volume release of The Guyver. He also put together a short film that Jonathan Clements called a “live-action and stop-motion apocalypse,” Arcangel Thunderbird. There was more to him than just those works, though, and I’d encourage your to read both Jonathan Clements’ and John Freeman’s eulogies.


Huge thanks to Cris for the copy of Robotech UK, and Helen for providing context and background.