April 19, 2010

On the passing of Carl Macek

by Doug Wilder, Writer

On April 17, 2010, Carl Macek, passed away. A name that many younger American anime fans may not be familiar with, Macek was one of the pioneers in bringing anime into the spotlight of American popular culture.

25 years after Macek's production of Robotech, (an amalgamation of three Japanese titles, Super Dimension Fortress Macross, Super Dimension Calvary Southern Cross, and Genesis Climber Mospedea) he remains a popular target for those who to choose to criticize editing and re-arrangement of anime in order to make it suitable for airing on American TV. It is easy to forget that in 1985, the path Macek took was essential in order to boost Robotech's episode count high to be picked up for distribution. Yet despite the changes to the original works, there are many fans of anime who cite Robotech as the series that introduced them to Japanese animation. Being a big fan of the mecha anime, I cannot help but feel some gratitude for Macek's work to get one of the essentials of the genre out to a larger audience.

Unfortunately, I am too young to remember Robotech's first run on the air (I was only two at the time, cut me some slack), but yet I still heard the name mentioned on and off as I grew up. However, I was fortunate enough to encounter some of the works that Streamline Pictures, the company Macek co-founded, released on VHS to American audiences. Many of these titles such as Akira, My Neighbor Totoro, and Vampire Hunter D are still considered to be essential viewing for anime fans.

Macek's work is not always well received, especially in the contemporary environment of anime distribution. Vastly altering dialogue and heavy editing of episode content are now considered taboo in the anime fan community. Delivering anything short of the original work is akin to shooting yourself in the foot. The recent uproar when episodes of Dance in the Vampire Bund were released with even of few slight edits made to scenes that might be considered too risque, shows us just how much things have evolved. Not only have the rules for what is considered an acceptable release of an anime title drastically changed, but the time in which things are released as well. When Streamline began, it only released a few titles a year, many of which were stand alone films or short OVA series. To boot, these titles were released in small quantities on VHS. Today it is not uncommon to see officially licensed versions of anime titles streamed online mere hours after it finished airing in Japan.

While reflecting upon Macek's passing, a friend of mine described him as "a polarizing, but necessary figure in anime history." I cannot think of a better way to describe Macek. In hindsight, it is easy to criticize much of the work he did as poor decisions, but we cannot forget that the anime industry in America has changed dramatically, and is continuing to do so. If there is a legacy to attribute to Macek, it is the stepping stones that he now laid for others to create a stronger awareness of anime in America. Next time you attend a convention, think about how many different anime titles you encounter be it through panel programming, cosplay costumes, or just in screening rooms. Next time you are browsing the anime section at a store that sells DVDs, or watch an episode of a series online, imagine what it would be like only being able to see anime once a week, and only through broadcast TV, not your own schedule. He wasn't the first person to bring Japanese animation to America, and it's pretty obvious he wasn't the last either, yet many of us owe our fandom to Mr. Macek's work.