So, YTV aired the final episode of TransFormers Cybertron today, and it was a good episode.
Even better, and more impressive, is that in the American version, we actually got a couple of bits that were exclusive to ours, not featured in the Japanese one. Awesome.
I have to admit, “The Unicron Trilogy” certainly went out with a bang. Armada had its ups, but mostly downs, thanks in no small part to the fact that our version was a rushed beta, while Japan’s was a more polished final product. The final battle in that between Optimus Prime and Galvatron remains one of my favorites in all of TransFormers, right up there with TransFormers: The Movie back in ’86.
Energon had a good start, for the first few eps, but when Megatron returned, the whole thing took a dive. It became almost purely an action show, with an underlying plot that might have been stretched out way too far. It had a good ep here and there, but really, the whole thing might’ve worked better if it were a video game of some kind, where a little bit of story can go much further. It had good designs for the characters, and some nice action sequences, but not a lot tying it all together, and characterization seemed to be downgraded as they went along, though there were some good bits here and there, mostly with the Decepticons. Starscream’s loyalty to Megatron being my favorite, and the whole Shockblast/Sixshot thing going on. Ironhide got a bit of growth as well, but most of it was simply dragged out for too long. Probably could’ve gotten the whole thing done in half as many eps, and better at that.
(Of course, the anniversary special was pure classic crack.)
Cybertron is easily perhaps one of the better, if not best, TransFormers cartoons since Beast Wars, if not ever, and almost seems to prove a notion I have that I’ll get into later.
It functions as a more adventure-type story, really, a quest. The Autobots explore the galaxy in search of the Cyber Planet Keys, and encounter different cultures of other TransFormers all along the way, all the while trying to fend off Megatron and the Decepticons, who want the power for themselves.
One of my favorite developments is in Scourge, who starts off as the tyranical leader of the Jungle Planet, but eventually learns what it takes to be a truly great leader. I was at first a little distraught that a new dragon TransFormer, a Convoy(in Japan) at that, had to be a bad guy, but he’s a definite favorite of mine now, and I’d love to get his figure.
If only he had a different name that didn’t seem to peg him as a bad guy…
Cybertron seems to have wrapped things up rather nicely, considering, while still leaving things open should Hasbro/Takara decide to revisit it, which I sincerely hope they do. Awesome designs, a good story, a pretty good dub, everything pretty much gels, except for the initial look at the TransFormers themselves, which takes a little getting used to.
But it’s all good, in the end.
Sadly, until at least BotCon, we really aren’t sure what’s coming next. The new movie is still a year away, and the next batch of toys will be the TransFormers Classics, re-envisioned G1 characters. Is it just a brief tribute line, such as Beast Wars 10th Anniversary was, or is this going to be the next full line?
It seems like TransFormers cartoons perform to the opposite of expectations. G1, no one knew anything about it, and it was a decent show for the most part. Beast Wars, people were apprehensive at first, some initially dismissing it, and it turned out to be one of the best pieces of TransFormers fiction ever, even winning some Emmies.
Then came Beast Machines, of which I think the initial impression was “more Beast Wars, and that turned out to simply not be the case. While not quite horrible in its own right, it didn’t really live up to, or quite gel with what had come before. It might have performed better had it been set in a setting that wasn’t tied to G1 and BW.
Robots in Disguise, we’d been hearing and seeing these awesome toys from Japan that had Beast Wars-like design aesthetics and tooling, but were fashioned as vehicles as in Generation 1. When Saban dubbed the toon, it truly became a real “love it or hate it” affair. Filled with kid-oriented anime cliche’s and humor, I don’t think it was quite what a number of people expected from a TransFormers series, much less one from Japan, the same place that killed Optimus(again), Ultra Magnus, Galvatron, and blew up Cybertron, all in the same series.
Of course, that one was filler, and some people knew it wasn’t the greatest thing ever before it ever hit our shores, though there were several nice nods to the fandom within, often references to past TransFormers lines and stories.
What came next was supposed to be big. REALLY big. The hype behind it was so great, you’d think it was the second coming. Speculation was rampant in a way I’ve never seen since for Armada, everything from it continuing from G1 to tying everything together, to you name it. Commercials started on Cartoon Network, and there were cameos aplenty of old TransFormers alongside the new. And Peter Cullen, the voice of the original Optimus Prime, was narrating it, to boot.
All that… and then it came tumbling down, with cut-rate animation and dubbing errors all around. Plus the then-irritating “Armada kids,” who might be best known for stealing the spotlight(something that was improved in Cybertron with its human cast) and bossing the big robots around.
For at least the first half of the show, things seemed to plod along, with the odd moment of coolness here or there. It wasn’t really until the TransFormers left Earth around the second half to go back to Cybertron to face this “Unicron” menace that things got interesting, and gradually built and got better into the finale.
Energon pretty much took that ball and ran with it, and people were hopeful that it would be better than Armada was. And it was, briefly. There were interesting plot points at the start, such as this human named Kicker who absolutely HATED TransFormers, but was forced to work with them, thanks to his father, who was a researcher working as part of a seemingly secret joint-alliance between Cybertron and Earth to use Energon as a resource.
Another was Demolishor. Here was a Decepticon, after the war, who was working for the Autobots, on Earth, along with the others of Megatron’s ranks. However, he had a conflict within himself as to where his loyalties lied.
Unfortunately, with Kicker, it was like he woke up one day and decided “hey, they’re not so bad,” and Demolishor rejoined Megatron, though he seemed on the fence… until he was killed. And Megatron used Unicron’s power to reformat him, and he pretty much forgot it all. Wee.
On a side note, the most annoying thing to me throughout the series was how they seemed to go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on about how great Energon was. It was like viral marketing gone horribly, horribly wrong, and I just wanted to start shooting anyone who even uttered the damn word.
So Energon boiled down to being about two things: 1) get Energon. It’s what everything needs to survive! And 2) stop Unicron from returning, ’cause he’s evil.
Sadly, it really wasn’t enough to go through 52 eps on. Worse still was how they actually managed to keep it going, even after Unicron was destroyed.
Almost as bad was some of the unexplained happenings between the end of Armada and the start of Energon. At the end of Armada, Optimus is hurtling through space, the Matrix floats by, and he deems himself unworthy to carry it. Back on Earth, no one knows where he is, but they’re sure he’ll be back.
Hey, they were right. And that’s all you can say, because it just… is.
So with all this in mind, it’s little wonder that expectations were low when it came time for the next TransFormers series, Cybertron. The toys looked great, and Studio Gonzo(Full Metal Panic, Hellsing, others) was supposed to be a pretty good studio, but… we’d been burned before. And if this was a continuation of the past two entries, it wasn’t going to be good enough, was it?
Guess it’s like I say, though, lowered expectations are easier to surpass, and fortunately, Gonzo came through and did just that.
Admittedly, the show was jarring at first. A hip-hop theme song, “weird looking lips,” swapped voice actors, and most TFs seemed to carry various Earth accents, even characters that didn’t have them before. Worse still, they skipped the first couple of episodes, which were given a recap episode later, so it seemed anyone who wasn’t “involved” in the fandom would be lost.
But despite all that, it produced an interesting show that surprised a lot of us, and helped remind a number of us why we love these giant robots in disguise.
And ironically, in the end, I’m sorry to see it end.
Funny how things just don’t work out the way you expect, huh?