For those of you who have just arrived on Earth from the distant planet, Vulcan, Transformers is a toy line that became a franchise about two factions of giant transforming robots battling against each other. And this is a franchise with a tonne of stuff in it. There are the toy lines, multiple comic book lines from different companies, around a dozen different television series, video games, novels, animated films terrible live action films. They’ve had it all. So, let’s take a look at the first television series. It ran from ’84 to ’87 and was brought top us by the combined efforts of Marvel, Toei, AKOM & Sunbow.
A long time ago, a fire fight above Earth resulted in two crashed ships. One containing the heroic Autobots. The other containing the evil Decepticons. In the modern day, for when this was written, circumstances caused the robots within to come out of their long sleep. They resume their war on Earth.
I’m not going to criticise the series for being about a war but never showing anyone seriously injured or destroyed, remember I’m not reviewing the animated film where there was a lot of that. There’s only so much they were allowed to show in a children’s cartoon. But I will say that the set up is odd. Why not have the robots just crash in the 80s? There’s really no narrative reason for them to be asleep for a million years. If anything it detracts since the impetus behind them leaving their home-world of Cybertron is that they’re running out of energy and yet they contact Cybertron later on and the robots left behind are somehow still going. I mean, they’ve only been waiting for energy for a million years.
But the biggest issue is with the episodes that spend a lot of time with the human characters. What’s entertaining about the series is watching the robots scheme and battle one another. The humans are borderline useless sidekicks. No one wants to see more of them. We also get several episodes that introduce love interests of all things. Some of them are female robots. Which is odd since we see that these characters replenish their ranks by building more. You wouldn’t think they’d have multiple genders or even gender as a concept. We also get a human who falls for one of the Autobots and a humanoid alien who falls for another. Even assuming these robots have vestigial genitals of some kind, you wouldn’t think they’d look at our soft fleshy bodies and be interested. But maybe I’m just over-thinking the biology of giant robots.
That being said, those are the vast minority of episodes. Most of the series involves the Decepticons trying some scheme to gain a tactical advantage. Possibly gaining something from it, possibly not and battle ensuing between them and the Autobots. It’s simple and a bit repetitive, but it’s a children’s show. It’s allowed to be, legally. And I can’t deny that it is fun to watch.
The characters in this are pretty much tropes. A part of that is just that they’re constantly introducing new characters and having them play big roles in an episode or two before they get relegated to the background. Another part of it is just that it’s a children’s cartoon and children don’t exactly need deep complex characters to get attached to them. Instead, the series goes for making the characters endearing in their execution. Which does work in some cases. I honestly found Soundwave to be a really charming character.
Why Soundwave in particular? Well, way back when I talked about Steel Angel Kurumi 2 I briefly touched on the idea of something being stupid, but simultaneously awesome. Soundwave as a character really highlights that idea. He’s a giant robot who turns into a tiny cassette player and he keeps a whole slew of cassette robots, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Rumble, Frenzy, Ravage & Ratbat, in his chest compartment to be deployed when he needs them. That’s such a ridiculous concept that it would take a lot of failure in execution for it to not be charming.
The artwork and animation are pretty undeniably dated. That being said, they still hold up pretty well. You can tell that a lot of time and effort went into hand drawing everything and into making the action sequences look good. The character designs are actually really impressive. There are a few characters who look similar, but most of them are distinct.
The acting in this series is really mixed. You have some characters like Optimus Prime, Soundwave, Stormer… I mean Arcee, who have strong performances behind them. In contrast you have characters like Blurr, Seaspray, Wheelie and Tracks who sound really annoying. But most of the voice acting is fine. The music, on the other hand, is great and the series uses sound effects really effectively.
So, how well does the first Transformers hold up? Honestly, it’s quite good and I’m not just saying that because I don’t want to be harsh on a series made for children. Even speaking as a cranky codger, it’s a fun series that manages to have plenty of endearing characters. It’s easy to see why it became such a big franchise. My final rating is going to be a 7.7/10.
On the month ahead:
On another note, I will definitely have December bonus reviews again next year. I may even start doing one bonus review every month throughout the year. I can’t do them every single Sunday in perpetuity since I’m doing this as a hobby, but I think once a month, except in December when it is every week, is completely possible.
As for January and girls with guns month, I’m going to review Gunsmith Cats on Wednesday. I also plan on reviewing Noir, El Cazador de la Bruja and I haven’t decided on the final thing. Maybe one of the Dirty Pair OVAs or the second series of Black Lagoon or Upotte. Whatever the case, I’ll review it between Noir and El Cazador because I don’t want to do two Bee Train works in a row.