Saturday, April 24, 2010

American Anime Pioneer Carl Macek R.I.P.

Carl Macek, the man who  produced Robotech and later as part of Streamline Productions brought such anime as Lensmen, Wicked City, and the original, dubbed version of Akira to America, passed on April 17 at the age of 58. The cause was a heart attack.

Carl Macek was born on October 12, 1951 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended California State University at Fullerton, the University of California at Irvine, and Chapman College in Orange California. While at California State University in Fullerton he served as a librarian, which would lead him to a career as a writer in the field of pop culture. He wrote several articles and  he was co-editor of McGill’s Survey of the Cinema and in 1979 Film Noir—An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. It was in 1979 that he first worked with anime, as a producer on the American version of Rupan sensei: Kariosutoro no shiro (Lupin the Third The Castle of Cagliostro). In 1983 he served as a producer on the English version of Golgo 13. He was also a publicist for The Creature Wasn't Nice.

It was in 1985 that Carl Macek served as a producer, story editor, and writer on the series Robotech. Robotech took material from three distinct, unrelated, Japanese animated series (Chōjikū Yōsai Makurosu "Super  Dimension Fortress Macross," Chōjikū Kidan Sazan "Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross," and Kikō Sōseiki Mosupīda, "Genesis Climber MOSPEADA") and blended them into a continuous storyline that spanned three generations. The series was produced by Harmony Gold in conjunction with Tatsunoko Production. At the time Harmony Gold's reasoning for combining the three different series was that it was necessary to create the number of episodes for the series to be shown daily in American syndication. Regardless, the series proved popular, resulting in several failed attempts at sequel series and movies.

In 1988 Carl Macek was a writer on the American animated series C.O.P.S. It was that same year that he co-founded Streamline Pictures with Jerry Beck. Over the years Streamline Pictures would release dubbed versions of such anime as Vampire Hunter D, Robotto Kãnibaru (Robot Carnival), Yōjū Toshi (Wicked City), Kuraingu Furiiman (Crying Freeman), and the original dubbed version of Akira. Streamline Pictures lasted until 2002.

Carl Macek also adapted Casshan to English and wrote the screenplays for Heavy Metal 2000 and Lady Death. He also wrote the book The Art of Heavy Metal (published in 1981) and the novel War Eagles, based on an idea for a movie by Merian C. Cooper of King Kong fame. 

Over the years Carl Macek has had his share of detractors. Although popular, Robotech was controversial among anime fans for taking three different Japanese series and combining into one. As part of Streamline Pictures, Macek met with controversy again as Streamline only released anime dubbed in English rather than in the original Japanese with subtitles. Indeed, I must confess that I prefer to watch anime with subtitles over anime that has been dubbed. And while I was a Robotech fan in its day, part of me wonders how well known Macross might be in the United States now if it had only been released in something close to its original form.

That having been said, while I can see the points of Macek's detractors, I think they ignore the fact that over all Carl Macek did an enormous service to anime fans in the United States. After the first wave of anime series (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion, Speed Racer) in the Sixties ended, very little in the way of anime was to be seen in the United States throughout the Seventies and into the early Eighties. What few anime series did air in the United States during that time were hardly successful, not to mention few and far between. This changed in the mid-Eighties when Voltron (another American series created out of two different anime shows) debuted in 1984 and Robotech followed it a few months later. While Voltron attained some level of popular, it would be Robotech that would put anime back on the map in the United States. It became the most successful anime series since Speed Racer.

As part of Streamline Pictures, Carl Macek also did a great service for anime fans. Streamline Pictures was one of the first companies to bring anime movies to the United States, even if they were dubbed. It opened the way for other companies which would import anime to the United States, many of which was not dubbed (or at least was available in both dubbed and subtitled versions). To a large degree Streamline Pictures was responsible for the acceptance anime would finally find in the American mainstream. In many respects, if it had not been for Carl Macek, Spirited Away might not have won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Movie and Howl's Moving Castle might not have been nominated for the 2005 Oscar. Quite simply, Carl Macek paved the way for anime's general acceptance among American audiences. And for anime fans, that can only be a good thing.

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