Donghua, or the Chinese equivalent to anime, has become increasingly popular in the past few years. The animated cultural products allow the Middle Kingdom to more competitively exist among similar offerings from Japan and South Korea, although these shows weren’t always of top quality. One infamous donghua in particular was rightfully scorned back when it was released.
Astro Plan was China’s big foray into mecha animation -- one that outright ripped off all the hits from Japan. Incorporating elements from both Gundam and Macross, Astro Plan took the concept of a “Chinese bootleg” to a whole new level. Here’s a look at this deservedly forgotten series and how donghua has changed for the better since then.
What Was the Chinese 'Anime' Astro Plan?
Premiering in early 2010, Astro Plan was the product of toy company Xing Yuan. The company's seeming unfamiliarity with animation shows in literally every part of the donghua’s production, but primarily in the creativity department. The story is based around the Sky Arrow Flight Team, led by Tian Long, who pilot transformable Type Yi fighter units to combat invading aliens bent on harnessing humanity’s resources.
This general plot is basic, but that’s the least of the show’s problems. Astro Plan was immediately criticized for outright copying designs and elements from the Macross and Mobile Suit Gundam franchises. This is especially obvious with the transforming mecha straight up being the VF-1 Valkyrie from the former. In this way, it could also be argued as stealing from Transformers, since Generation 1 Jetfire was essentially just a repainted Valkyrie. Some even referred to the series as “Robotech: Astro Plan” in mutual scoffing at another poor use of the Macross source material. When combined with the show’s questionable animation and purpose as thinly veiled propaganda, Astro Plan became known for just how ill-conceived the whole thing was.
China, Astro Plan and Gundam
Of course, China is no stranger to sometimes shamelessly ripping things off, especially if they’re Japanese in origin. This was definitely the case for the popular Gundam franchise, with a Chinese statue of supposedly “completely original” design simply repainting the classic RX-78-2 in a garish orange. Japan already had its own live-action, life-sized Gundam, and the Chinese equivalent was definitely not on the same level. The orange monstrosity was also mocked online, leading to the finished statue receiving an overhauled design that's an arguable improvement.
Donghua as a whole has also improved and become a bit more mainstream, with many of their stories being both more original and Chinese in origin compared to Astro Plan. Shows like Zombie Brother and Heaven Official’s Blessing are both more well-known and well regarded, allowing Chinese animation to finally flourish amid competition from the other East Asian dragon countries. As for Astro Plan itself, it was quickly thrown aside, its few moments in the spotlight resulting in more infamy than anything else. It did have some official toys, however, which according to online enthusiasts were actually of respectable quality. As for the show itself, it sadly took everything from the old pros… except for the quality.