The release of the Robotech cartoon series in 1984 was a turning point in my childhood. Up to that point, I had assumed that there was only a certain amount of coolness in the world. Mullets were cool. Dinobots were very cool. Could there be anything more? However, when Robotech appeared om TV that first Saturday morning, a limit that I hadn't even perceived was at once disclosed and discarded. If there were actual adult people in Japan who had dedicated themselves to breaking down the walls of imagination by animating giant robots of undreamed beauty, then... then... the world has no limts. Coolness is an infinite resource.
|The box cover for Battletech 2nd ed.|
Also released in 1984 was Battletech, "a game of armored combat" by FASA corporation. Battletech has become one of the most storied franchises in the gaming world, surviving and thriving for 30 years. But it's true genius was to be the first to make a game out of the giant robots from Robotech (and other Japanese anime like Fang of the Sun Dougram and Crusher Joe). Without these Japanese designs, it's hard to imagine Battletech's existence, let alone its great success. Indeed, the initial boxed set consisted entirely of mechs lifted from anime. FASA would quickly start to develop its own homemade mechs, but they couldn't approach the beauty, originality and verve of the original Japanese designs.
The problem, as anyone familiar with Battletech knows, is that it was not clear that FASA had purchased the rights to the iconic Japanese designs. The upshot of a long, boring and secretive legal battle was that FASA retained the rights to the names of its mechs but gave up the rights to their images. It's like George Lucas losing the rights to Darth Vader's helmet or Stormtrooper armour. The heart of the Battletech brand was gone. In an unusually poetic phrasing, these lost designs became known as the "unseen mechs".
So, for example, below we have the WHM-6R "Warhammer", which occupied the cover of the 1st (1984), 2nd (1985) and 3rd (1992) editions of Battletech. This mech was patterned off of the Macross "Destroid Tomahawk". What a strange and awkward design! Just look at the the reptilian face, the huge under-slung guns, or the search light and missile pod sprouting from its shoulders like amputated wings. On its own, each element is quite ugly -- and yet the whole comes together to create a masterpiece. That's the genius of the Macross/Robotech design team, Studio Nue.
Well, Battletech eventually adapted to the loss of the Unseen Mechs. But grognards like me have trouble moving on. And so when I decided to start painting Battletech miniatures, I found myself in familiar territory: obsessing about long out-of-production miniatures. Now most of my collection comes from Ral Partha's early Battltech range. However, in order to get proper miniatures for some rarer mechs, I had to dig deeper, finding original Super Dimension Fortress Macross plastic models in 1/320 scale from the mid-1980's. I don't believe that these plastic models had ever been released in North America.
Above and below we have two different versions of the PHX-HK2 "Phoenix Hawk" LAM ("Land Air Mech"). This mech was inspired by the most iconic of all Robotech designs, the VF-1 "Valkyrie", which was itself the product of a nearly accidental combination of a robot's legs and a fighter jet in Studio Nue.
The top Phoenix Hawk is a plastic Japanese Macross model that I converted so that it looked like it was in the middle of a rapid emergency landing. The jets of flame were created by stiffening sponge with white glue, shaping it into cones and painting them to look like fiery smoke.
The second Phoenix Hawk is a Ral Partha model made from white metal. I decided to let my freak flag fly and paint him in a non-traditional colour scheme of blue, purple and screaming orange. Tasteful, no. But hopefully memorable.
So welcome to the first in a series of posts about Battletech, Unseen Miniatures, and other goodness. I hope they can add to the world's infinite fund of coolness.