"Transformers" Season 2 Vol. 1 Is a Soft Upgrade
A little thing happened during the 80′s, we got a ton of awesome action cartoons to entertain us kiddies through the tough times. Unfortunately, looking back with adult glasses, our childhood favorites don’t seem as great as they did when we were 5. The latest example is Transformers, with the first half of season 2 now available in a 4-disc DVD set from Shout! Factory.
Millions of years ago, the Autobots and Decepticons crashed here on Earth and lied dormant until 1984, when they were awakened to continue their war. The evil Decepticons, led by Megatron, aim to conquer the universe and will let nothing step in their way. The peaceful Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, vow to defend the planet from Megatron and somehow find a way back to their home on Cybertron. Luckily, the Autobots are aided by a human teenager named Spike and his father, Sparkplug, who teach the Autobots about human culture while helping them in their struggle for peace. But with Megatron gaining followers in the form of the Insecticons and the Constructicons (who can combine to form the giant Devastator), things aren’t looking good for humanity! In this second season, Megatron tries to get every advantage he can get, from hijacking a giant ninja robot to hijacking Optimus Prime to hijacking an energy tower built by the Autobots (Megs does a lot of hijacking). Luckily, Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Bumblebee, Wheeljack, and the rest of the Autobots have goodness and an awesome voice cast on their side to save the day.
When you look at 80′s shows as a whole, especially the action cartoons, one begins to wonder how one ever liked these shows as a kid. There’s terrible writing almost from start to finish, the action is about as non-violent as one could get, nothing of consequence happens by the end of the episode, and much of the voice cast feels stilted, almost like pre-school shows are today. You can look past those problems for some shows if you try really, really hard (G.I. Joe was mine), but Transformers isn’t one of those shows. The plots are often terrible (I’m looking at you “Decepticon Raider in King Arthur’s Court” and “Golden Lagoon”…actually, now that I think about it, pretty much all of Disc 4 is horrible) and much of the action scenes are the same non-violent massacres as in G.I. Joe or He-Man. There’s a lot of laser fire going around, but even when it hits a bot, it does little damage and only tends to slow down the characters when the plot calls for it. Most of the characters are only really identifiable by their voice, though a lot of that has to do with just how gigantic the cast is (more on that later), and while I know the show is called Transformers, it’d be nice if the military could be at least semi-competent. I think the armies in Dragonball Z were more effective.
A big problem the show continually has is the Decepticon “army.” If you ask somebody to list their favorite Decepticons from this season, virtually every single list will include Megatron, Starscream, Soundwave, Devastator, and Bombshell in some order, with maybe Rumble sneaking in there. That’s because that’s all the Decepticons really have. Megs, Starscream, and Soundwave eat up the lion’s share of the villains’ time, leaving little for others. Thundercracker and Skywarp at least get a few shots here or there along with their 2 or 3 lines per month, but lesser Decepticons such as Ramjet or Blitzkrieg (who appears in the opening no less) get little, if any, screen time and even less speaking time. Sure, you could argue the side-teams beef up the Decepticons, but the Insecticons only appear once out of every 5 or 6 episodes and the Constructicons are only notable because they are 6 giant robots that turn into one really freaking huge robot (that doesn’t have a personality). It’s sad when Laserbeak, who is essentially a glorified spy camera and doesn’t even speak, has more personality and gets more screen time than the majority of the Decepticons. It doesn’t really help that both Megatron and Starscream are complete morons as leaders. In “Dinobot Island,” Starscream warns Megs of weird energy fluctuations which could destabilize the planet, which Megatron brushes off only to have them bite him in his shiny metal ass later. Then, in “A Prime Problem,” Megs decides to clone Optimus (remember, the Matrix doesn’t exist right now), but not only doesn’t he imprison the real Optimus, but he can’t even remember the names of the Autobots in charge! If Megatron ever did rule the world, the universe would implode because he ignored some weird energy reading yet again.
The Autobots get a bit better in this regard. As opposed to the 5 or 6 Decepticons who get screentime, the Autobots get Optimus, Ironhide, Bumblebee, Wheeljack, and Ratchet as stars, with Jazz, Cliffjumper, Brawn, and the Dinobots getting in their share of screen time. Even the C-List Autobots like Perceptor, Hoist, Grapple, and Beachcomber all get spotlight episodes to themselves, even though from then on they’re all just background filler. However, when you look at all the Autobots that get a spotlight moment and just how many Autobots appear out of nowhere (I’m looking at you, Tracks, Mirage, Gears, and Seaspray) you wonder why the hell the Decepticons are still around. If Optimus were to take his entire Autobot squadron, (not counting the Dinobots, because they would just be overkill) and invade Nemesis, they’d outnumber the Decepticons 3-to-1 and finally be rid of them once and for all. Obviously, we wouldn’t have a show then, but the ridiculous number of Autobots on the show makes one appreciate the smaller casts on shows such as Beast Wars even more. And that’s not even counting Skyfire, who’s bigger than Devastator yet appears almost as often as Ramjet. Ramjet.
With all the crappiness being flung about and logic holes the size of Siberia, there’s still some good to be seen on this volume. “Dinobot Island” has a ton of awesome moments, though all of them take place on the island itself. “Megatron’s Master Plan” is a wonderful two-parter once you get over how easy it was for Megatron to dispatch the Autobots. The real winner on this set, however, is “Desertion of the Dinobots,” a two-parter where the rest of the Autobots are taken out of commission and the Dinobots do their own thing. Now, the reason for the Autobots being brought down is too much of a plot convenience and its resolution is the same, but the middle, where the Dinobots roam Cybertron while Spike and Carlee search for them, gives one enough reason to see just why kids would like Transformers in the first place. (Not to mention Spike and Carlee did more in this episode than any of the kids ever did in Armada or Energon.) And while many of the episodes are indeed cringe-inducing, as I could only watch 2 or 3 episodes before squirming in my seat, they are overall better than in the horrible, horrible Season 1. It still doesn’t compare to Beast Wars, Cybertron, or Animated, but it’s getting there.
When Rhino released the series a few years ago, many fans complained because the video was still rather grainy, certain scenes had been cut or trimmed, and there were many, many animation and audio errors that had been fixed on various VHS releases from way back when. Well, Shout! Factory once again shows just how awesome they are with this newly remastered set. Most of the animation and audio errors were fixed so that Starscream is actually red and silver instead of black and grey, and all the glowing effects (such as Wheeljack’s side mouth things and Energon cubes) are positioned correctly. All this adds up to a great looking product that makes the show look better than it has in years. Colors are bright and crisp, animation looks more fluid than it used to, and everybody speaks clearly with no audio fuzz to be found. There are certain sections which were cut out of previous releases and restored to the episodes, but because they were on a different film material than the rest of the episode masters, the footage comes across as a lot softer and fuzzier than the rest of the episodes (a full explanation is provided in the episode guide booklet), but these scenes happen so infrequently, it’s not a major issue.
As far as the voice cast is concerned, there’s only one name you really need to know: Peter Cullen. The man, quite simply, IS Optimus Prime and lends such authority and humanity to the character that it’s no wonder the fanbase back in the 80′s erupted when they killed him off in the movie. Cullen’s awesomeness made many episodes a lot better than they should be, which is one reason why he was brought back for the live-action movies (and if you note, the majority of the scenes people have a problem with either don’t have enough Cullen or no Cullen at all). The rest of the voice cast does an admirable enough job, though the only voices that really stand out are Ironhide, Wheeljack, Starscream, and Soundwave, but I’ve heard a lot worse voice casts. As far as music goes, one wonders just how the hell the original theme song got to be so popular, as the original rendition is utter crap. The music is a mess, the lyrics are about as uninspired as you can get, and the visuals have flow at all. Not only did G.I. Joe have a better theme, but the remixes of the original theme used in the Movie as well as the last few reboots (Armada, Energon, Cybertron, and Animated) are all worlds better than the original song. In fact, the instrumental used during the closing credits was better than the opening! Just…ugh.
In the previous release, we got a shiny silver digipak case with an episode guide booklet and a short documentary about the animation of the series. Here, we get a thinpak case with 2 2-disc thinpaks, an episode guide booklet, and an insert advertising the G.I. Joe DVD sets and the Transformers comic books. Yep, we get zilch on the actual discs themselves. You would think it’d be easy to make extras for a Transformers release (Hell, just film TFCon and you got a 20-30 minute documentary right there) but here we got nothing, which is the only real negative about Shout! Factory’s release. The packaging is as awesome as you can get, with well-done updated art featuring the classic characters lined everywhere. My only problem with the packaging is Optimus and Megatron on the front cover. The cover looked fine with Devastator taking on the Dinobots, but having Optimus and Megs floating in the air like that (using stock art no less) just ruins the image.
If you even slightly enjoyed the first season of Transformers, Season 2 Volume 1 will be right up your alley. If you already own the Rhino sets, I’d say go ahead and double-dip, even without any on-disc extras. If you’ve never even seen the original series, I’d suggest renting it. Don’t be expecting a piece of great literature though, and if you manage to marathon this series, you are a heartier soul than I am.