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"The Transformers: The Headmasters" Less Than Meets The Eye

by on November 7, 2011

With Optimus Prime’s life returned, the war between the Autobots and Decepticons waged on. When new heroes and villains from the planet Master make their allegiances known, a new plateau of warfare is reached. Headmasters, powerful warriors who form the heads of larger mechas, might be the superior force needed to decimate one’s foes. Can Chromedome and his allies be the deciding factor in the Autobot’s victory over the Decepticons, or will Scorponok be the death bell for all that fight for good? Shout! Factory has released the first Japanese-exclusive Transformers series in America. Should we be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year, or bury it, as Hasbro desired?

There’s a bit of a history lesson in order to explain what The Headmasters is, and why it’s notable to get a complete series release in America. Essentially, the original Transformers cartoon that we know and love that introduced such facets as Optimus Prime and Megatron fighting weekly on television ran for a while on American TV, had a movie, and continued on TV. In Japan, it aired on TV, had a movie, some more American episodes, and then branched off and did its own thing. Headmasters is where it takes its own storyline and makes it distinct from the American show; in fact, the concept of what makes a Headmaster is drastically different from what we were treated to in America, and instead of Chromedome having one sentence in the American productions, he became the star of the show in Japan.

The show had two possible paths it could have successfully followed, and it completely fails on both. First, it could have engagingly extrapolated the future of the Transformers we know and love. Alternately, it could have embraced new characters and their dynamics. But Headmasters decided to jam both concepts together, to the disappointment of many angry children, becoming a half-transformed beast that begs for the sweet release of death from its Rubiks Cubesian self-abortion.

Are you an old-school fan of the original generation of Transformers, and want to see where Optimus Prime, Ultra Magnus, Galvatron (the upgraded form of Megatron), and Hot Rod (introduced in the movie) are up to? Over the course of the series, they all either die or just opt to leave the show completely. Don’t worry, the episode title card will spoil it for you, with such episodes as “Ultra Magnus Dies!!” or “The Emperor of Destruction Vanishes on an Iceberg”. Well, without those characters, you’ll still see Cybertron (destroyed) and the Matrix of Leadership (forgotten), long-standing or memorable facets of their lives, right?

Maybe you can put your old toys away and play with new ones, like the toy companies so desire. Given the series and its desire to quickly and efficiently phase out classic characters (Optimus Prime soon dies again, Soundwave and Soundblaster both get upgraded forms early on, and so forth) and replace them with more modern ones. It is called “Headmasters” for a reason, with Chromedome, Hardhead, Brainstorm, Highbrow, and eventually Fortress Maximus becoming the four inseparable heroes in the fight against Skullcruncher, Mindwipe, Weirdwolf, and eventually Scorponok, Apeface, and Snapdragon

Notably, there’s no English-language dub of this series on this set. While an English dub exists, it’s both laughably bad (naming some characters such as Metroplex “Phillip” and Spike Witwicky as “Sparkle”, admittedly, not much worse than his real name), whose inclusion Hasbro objected to. Subtitles are included, and are adequate, beyond a few glaring language errors and divisive naming schemes. (While MegaZarak was named Scorponok in America, the “Zarak Shield” retains its original Japanese name… making the “Zarak” part of the name odd.)

Now comes the part of the review where I cover the obscene number of extras. The feature that explains the series up to this point? The mini-documentary covering where the series took a divergent point from its American counterpart? The commentaries by vaunted Transformer fans? Commercials of the toys seen in this series? Clips from the English dub to laugh at?

They’re all great, or would be, if they existed. Instead, we’re treated to a lone line-art section designs of some of the characters. That’s it. No commercials, no interviews, no extra bonus features that weren’t created by scanning images. Thirty-five episodes of a TV series making its first legal debut in America nets 35 seconds of flip-through pictures. The bonus three episodes of the series “Heroic Legend” (clip shows that were direct-to-video) are also absent.

The Transformers: Headmasters will appeal to a very specific niche: the Transformers fan who must have everything or is just plain curious about what happens in this Japanese-exclusive series. For the first, it’ll meet most of your needs, although you won’t get anything beyond the core 35 episodes. For the latter, Mars blows up and that’s about it. Anyone and everyone else–those with a passing interest in the franchise, those who enjoyed the movies, those who enjoyed the original series–should stay far away from this travesty.

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