Three series, found deep within the back closets of Japan, have never before aired in America. Three series offer three widely-different takes on the eras of machine versus machine. Three series, each focusing on successive battles of Autobots and Decepticons, starring three different leaders, three different bad guys, three different gimmicks. The Transformers: The Japanese Collection gathers up the shows Transformers: Headmasters, Transformers: Super God Masterforce, and Transformers: Victory. While they take the first generation of Transformers in a different route than America did, is this bizarre parallel world worth looking into?
The first series in this set, Transformers: Headmasters, has already been covered in great detail. This is the exact same set, minus the slipcover. Nothing’s changed, and if you’ve already picked up that set, you’ll find this one redundant.
Transformers: Super-God Masterforce is the real highlight of the series, for the sheer reason it tries something different. In this series, the cast are primarily humans that can, via using the Masterforce (or later, Godforce), become one with Transtectors. In effect, it allows humanity, not the Autobots, to defend Earth. On the other side of the coin, this means the evil forces are likewise humans with giant robot bodies. Effectively split down the middle, the first half features Shuta, Cab, and Minerva, three normal kids from around the world, helping the Autobot Pretenders fight Devil Z. Once the Godmasters arrive (including a human that becomes what we knew in America as Powermaster Optimus Prime), the series focuses fully on the three kids and the battle for the remaining Godmaster powers. It’s fun, it has a decently-defined human cast, and it stands out from the pack.
Transformers: Victory is a largely bipolar series, leaning more towards the comedic side. The initial villains, the DinoForce (in the original Japanese, “Kyoryuu Sentai”, which for certain fans will bring back memories of “Kyoryuu Sentai Zyuranger”, or what we got in America as “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers”), are largely slapstick, being dinosaur/robot hybrids that bounce between general mayhem and singing the ending theme song. The superior force guiding them is at first Leozack, followed by the mighty Deathsaurus. Leozack is largely Starscream 2.0, and Deathsaurus is Megatron 2.0. The villains have the power of the Chestforce (humorously and memorably named “Breastforce” in the Japanese audio), small robots that affix to their chest to grant them power. Deathsaurus’s goal throughout the series is to gain enough energy to bring his space base out of retirement and destroy Earth. Not a lot going on there, otherwise.
On the heroic side, Star Saber is the new era of Optimus Prime, leading the heroic Autobots into battle. For the requisite child influence, you have Jean, a child whose parents were killed by Decepticons, and he’s been raised since birth by Star Saber and his team. The Autobots have gained the powers of the Brainmasters and Multiforce, the Brainmasters being a variant on the Headmasters concept, and the Multiforce being six robots that can combine into three or one larger robots. Returning from Headmasters is God Ginrai (making a larger link between the two series), who late in the game sacrifices his life to the new form of Victory Leo, which has the power to combine with Star Saber into the Victory Saber combination.
The series are entertaining, but not great. Super-God Masterforce is prone to completely abandoning characters for new ones (a problem the Transformers franchise as a whole has, given the “sell new toys” initiative that drives it). Victory, on the other hand, manages to keep the cast for the most part (just severely underutilizing anyone who’s not Star Saber or a bad guy), but is weighed down by so many random clip shows that you’ll honestly have to start wondering if an episode has been duplicated on the disc. In fact, while the last few episodes of Victory are missing from the set, the fact they exist only as clip shows to pad out numbers means they’re completely forgettable.
The sets aren’t perfect, and there are a few notes when it comes to the subtitles. One whole episode of Victory has the wrong subtitles, but Shout! Factory has offered replacements (on good faith, we’ll assume this is fixed). There’s a few name translations, such as “Breastforce” to “Chestforce” that are Hasbro’s doing, not the DVD producers’. There’s the occasional glitch or mistyping, but they work for the most part. One glaringly missing item is the absence of Transformers Zone, a one-episode series that came after Victory (another Japanese special episode, Scramble City, has been previously released in America).
For the only chance we’ll get at seeing these on DVD in America, the set’s adequate, but far from perfect. Given the obscurity of such a series and release, fans will be happy, but not overjoyed at the set. You know immediately if you’ll want this set; how it’s done regardless of quality, these three series are still available for the first time legally in America. This is for the diehard Transformers fans, but they’re the ones that will nitpick any and all problems with it. For those who want a trilogy of Japanese robot shows from the 1980s, you’ll get exactly what you expect: stock footage, silly moments, and rapidly-replaced characters, all largely entertaining but with flaws.