by Dustin P. Anderson
In case you are unfamiliar with the over all Transformers mythos, allow me to regale you for a spell. The Transformers are an alien race of sentient, transforming robots that have crash-landed on earth. After a long war with their bitter enemies the Decepticons on their home world of Cybertron, they find a new home here with human companions. Unfortunately, the Decepticons follow our intrepid heroes and bring the war from their home planet here to Earth as they search for the fuel of their race called Energon. In this collection of episodes, we are treated to the biggest, meanest enemies the Decepticons have ever created, and they prove to be some of the toughest battles for our heroes.
The first episode called Masters and Students leads in to what we can expect from this collection of episodes from the series. The first expectation is that you have to have an existing knowledge of the series to get much from the collection. The second is that we are introduced to this series by getting told that Megatron died in a recent battle. If you are first getting introduced to this series like I was, this can be a bit troublesome, since they are talking about events that you have no knowledge of. Even if you look away from the bigger events that they talk about, questions still get raised about the smaller details, like: why do the Autobots have human companions? How can they create portals? What’s Energon Infusion? Who are the humans? Can I have more details about the Charles Xavier/Magneto-like friendship that Megatron/Optimus had? With most of these questions going unanswered, it is hard to get a good grasp on the series as a whole.
There are a few good things you notice during the first episode as well. The visuals in this are exquisite, and the storylines (while not being fully expounded upon) have the opportunity to cut deeper than most children’s shows; for example, in the first episode, we are introduced to a Decepticon who has laid dormant for years. After all of these years he is still loyal to Megatron and won’t accept an offer of peace from Optimus. I loved this, because it shows the stubbornness that comes with a sense of duty or pride. A couple of other good things you can notice at first glance are the voices: two voices in particular, Jeffrey Combs and Peter Cullen. Peter Cullen is the original voice of Optimus Prime, and it does me good to hear him still voicing the alien to this day. Jeffrey Combs has a particular tone to his voice which you may have heard in Justice League: Unlimited when he voiced The Question. His voice can remind you of a more unhinged hero, like one that you can trust but only because it suits his means. The theme was another thing I noticed. Since a theme is supposed to pique the interest of someone who is seeing this for the first time, consider the mission accomplished. It does the same thing as Batman: The Animated Series by not relying on the characters’ names being said, or even any words being said at all. They know the audience knows that this show is about the Transformers, and they proceed to show us the most important things we need to see, accompanied by a pretty amazing instrumental song. Images of the Transformers battling while brass plays in the background are enough to make me want to see the following 20 minutes of television.
The second episode gives me the answer to one, and only one, question I had about the series. Who are the humans? I get to know their personalities more, especially that of Miko, since this episode follows her Autobot, Bulkhead. While it does pose more questions like: what losses have the Autobots suffered? Why are these human relationships so strong? It gives me a gentle nudge in the right direction on the other questions I have. Some of the good things about this episode are more about the characters that they introduce. All of these episodes have a “big bad guy” that the Transformers have to overcome, and my favorite is Knockoff (Knockoff is a Transformer who can perfectly clone another Transformer). Although the trope of “who’s who?” is an old one, it’s still one that I thoroughly enjoy seeing when it is done well. It allows me to yell at the screen as if I were a child again. The Transformers introduce a new teammate, too, and he plays well in the episode. Even though he is a clone, for most of the episode his personality still bleeds through and lets me know that this Transformer is someone I will want to see again.
In the third episode even more questions are raised. Megatron is alive? Insecticons? Given that, while I can appreciate having a new, cool villain that has a psychic control over certain bots, I absolutely cannot appreciate the revival of Beast Wars. The introduction of the new characters doesn’t mesh well, and it comes off as more of a cash grab than an actual plot point. It also seems a bit sexist that the only arch-nemesis for a female transformer is a female Decepticon (or Insecticon, or whatever). While a lot about this episode rubbed me the wrong way, some things stuck a little better. I like that the new villain has a witty repartee, which she showcases by making cyclops puns about another Autobot. I like that they kept true to Starscream always switching sides. Even though the Megatron revival is unexplained, you can kind of assume what happens; it just would have been nice to see.
The fourth episode raises more questions, but I think whoever is watching this as a new viewer is used to it by now and can make the decision on if they are going to find this information out by watching the entire series. I don’t have a lot to say about this episode except that one of my favorite voices makes an appearance in it: Mr. Michael Ironside. If Justice League/Superman: The Animated Series has taught us anything, it is that this is the person you want as a voice for an authoritative (or menacing) character. The episode goes on about Optimus being assumed dead and there being a new leader, but since I am not a huge fan of the short time we are given with the new leader, I can’t say that I liked it. At least they had Optimus get injured as a sacrifice to save others, which would be more coherent with previous incarnations of Optimus.
The final episode on this disk was my personal favorite. It doesn’t go into too much detail on the series, which makes this the most new-viewer-friendly episode. There are a few questions someone might ask, but not nearly as many as they would in any of the other episodes showcased here. This is also my favorite episode on the disc, not only because it is so new-viewer-friendly, but because I love the horror theme. I love the whole “Frankenstein’s monster mixed with horde of zombies” thing they have going on in this. I love the “I’ve watched human horror films” line. This is just a fun episode. More lighthearted, while still giving us some texture.
In the end, the biggest thing working against this collection is that it isn’t new-viewer-friendly. If you are already a fan of the series, these might be your favorite episodes, but I can’t speak on that; however, I did love that this made me want to watch the whole series. There was enough good in this to let me know that this series could appeal to my age group while also appealing to someone of a younger generation.