Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sci-Fi Romance Re-Watch: ROMIE-O AND JULIE-8

I have incredibly fond memories of RUNAWAY ROBOTS! ROMIE-O AND JULIE-8 (1979), an animated television special from Nelvana Limited. It seemed so fresh, exciting, and different than my usual Saturday morning cartoon fare. Unfortunately, I was only able to see it once—maybe twice.

Image source: Spectacular Optical

Here’s the basic premise courtesy of IMDB:
Two rival robotics companies in the future release their latest creations at a robotics convention, claiming each to be the latest and greatest in technological advances. Mega Stellar Company's release is a robot boy named Romie-O, while Super Solar Cybernetics has released a girl robot named Julie-8. Unforeseen to each of the company's creators, is how each of the advanced robots soon falls in love with the other.
I blogged about ROMIE-O AND JULIE-8 before, but it bears repeating since I saw this purebred science fiction romance show at an early age. I was probably somewhere between ten and twelve.

The other night, while in-between blog tasks, I decided to look the show up on YouTube. I figured someone might have a snippet or a trailer I could watch. However, I found more than a snippet—some generous soul had posted a video of the entire show! (You can read a plot summary at Wikipedia).

I was shocked out of my mind, I tell you. I never thought I’d be able to see ROMIE-O AND JULIE-8 again. And it looks like the video went up not too long after my 2008 post. Go figure! Naturally, I dropped everything and re-watched it immediately. I had to make up for some seriously lost time.

As the story began to unfold, a big question loomed in my mind: would the show hold up to my hopelessly fond memories?

The answer: ROMIE-O AND JULIE-8—WTF?

What a wild, surreal trip down memory lane that was!

On the plus side, I still like the show’s kitschy animation. Scratch that—I love the kitschy animation! There’s lots of action and never a dull moment despite the clich├ęd setting. Their romance is one of forbidden love. External threats conspire to keep Romie-O and Julie-8 apart. The romance ain’t deep, but it’s strong and true.

The strange thing is that the romance has an adult romance vibe, but it’s sanitized for kids. Structure wise, the plot is similar to what you’d find in some romance novels.

So what’s the problem, exactly? This show contains some pretty offensive elements, that's what. I’ll describe a few of them.

* Creepy guy Gizmo is a man who has the hots for Julie-8. He experiences lust at first sight and then practically paws her to death, er, I mean, to rust.

* Damsel-in-distress heroine. This aspect probably bothered me the most and it ties into Julie-8’s other problematic character flaws. In the space of a thirty-minute show, two male characters obviously want to have sexual relations with her. Julie-8 becomes little more than a commodity even though these two guys view her as a person. So the message of not judging Julie-8 because she’s a robot is undermined by toxic misogyny. That kind of subtext is disturbing for a kid’s show.

* The villain kidnaps Julie-8 for himself (never mind that he’s a giant robot called Junk Monster). The show includes a pitiful KING KONG type sequence—I hesitate to call it an homage—where Junk Monster picks up Julie-8 in one massive, rivet-studded metal hand. Apparently, Julie-8’s body is the sum total of her worth.

* Heroine agrees to marry the villain to save the hero. I know, this show was made in 1979. But that kind of storytelling is still backwards.

* Offensive jokes about overweight people. For shame, Nelvana.

Here's another oddity: the final action sequence is a really, really lame montage. Pathetic, even, because it prevents the viewer from experiencing any tension. Still, as a kid I was totally sucked in. The “rust storm” was (is?!) one of my favorite sequences even though it’s completely ludicrous. As a kid I could barely stand the tension of that scene. While re-watching the show, I could feel long-buried emotions stirring to life. I recall questioning—in a biting my nails way—whether Romie-O and Julie-8 would survive the storm.

I love what this show meant to me as a child, and the influence it had on my eventual interest in science fiction romance. I’m not so sure I love the show itself given the numerous storytelling flaws. But I’d watch it again in a minute—especially if I could do so in the company of fellow SFR fans! That’d be a hoot.

Re-watching ROMIE-O AND JULIE-8 with fresh eyes didn’t diminish my nostalgic feelings, but the experience certainly reinforced my appreciation for the authors who write smart and sophisticated science fiction romance stories today.

If you’re game to watch ROMIE-O AND JULIE-8, tell me what you think!

Joyfully yours,