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Toonzone Transformers Week – BEST. EPISODE. EVER! – Transformers Animated

by on June 28, 2011

BEST. EPISODE. EVER! – Transformers Animated

Transformers Animated was the first Transformers cartoon made specifically for English-speaking audiences since Beast Machines in 2000.  Premiering in 2007 and bearing a art design radically unlike any iteration before it, this series ran a solid 42 episode run across three seasons.  Within that time it became one of the most cherished and beloved entries of the franchise, and made its eventual end for Transformers Prime all the more painful.  Filled with great characters, great story, great use of humans, and a great use of the lore that came before it, Animated is both a love letter to the older generation, and a great call to the younger generation to hope aboard the Transformers wagon.
Now we here at Toonzone wish to pay homage to this rather endearing tale with a look at what some of us think are its best episodes ever.  Neo Yi, HellCat, and Juu-kuchi have come up with their final choices on the episodes that make Transformers Animated…  well….  ANIMATED!
So without further ado…
Neo Yi’s Choice – “Nature Calls”

I think Transformers Animated had a near-perfect first season. Most other series spend their first working out the kinks, mucking it up with basic story filler for the heroes to get boringly from Point A to Point B, and trying to find a ground for their characters, TFA got it right the first time by immediately focusing on what I think is the key structure to storytelling: characterization. Transformers Animated didn’t waste any time devoting entire episodes to individual cast so they can play with their idiosyncrasies and flaws to their fullest. Then there are episodes like “Nature Calls” where the spotlight focuses on multiple characters interacting with one another. This is the other thing this series does so well on: chemistry. You could pit the five main Autobots and human girl Sari with any other members of the cast and secondary characters and the show will somehow make them work because they’re all equally interacting and learning from each other.When Optimus sends Prowl and Bumblebee for a recovery mission in the woods (“Think of it as a character builder“, he says), Sari takes advantage of the situation and makes a camping trip out of it. Prowl, being the nature loving guru that he is has no problem blending in with the wilderness. Bumblebee on the other hand thrives off technology and the lack of any drives him bonkers. Hilarity ensues.

The first half of the episode is simply amazing with the way Bumblebee and Prowl play off each other. The two constantly argue over the better lifestyle: technology or nature. Bumblebee spends a good portion of the trip treasuring his unnecessary waves of electronic goodies, all the while generalizing nature as a harbinger of doom. Prowl easily lights a campfire and builds a tent with prideful ease, but constantly befuddles over how anyone, let alone Bumblebee, can’t appreciate the beauty surrounding them. It is Sari who ultimately saves the day with her resourcefulness when a mutant space barnacle—a creature of both metal and biology—attacks and “zombifies” the two. You know it’s embarrassing when an eight-year-old has to tell two highly advanced robots that nature and technology must work together. The episode is also a perfect representation of Sari’s presence in the show, not as the “useless squishy human” she’d expect to be, but one who is just clever enough to get out of tight jams without annoyingly taking over the spotlight with her eagerness.”Nature Calls” is a hilariously fun episode. Sure, some may declare it too “childish” and the camping trip setting might be a tad mundane about a series of giant alien robots. In lesser hands, it could have been. Instead, these simple little moments of our heroes getting into silly jams are not only entertaining, but completely worth it for the growth they all go through.

HellCat’s Choice – “Thrill of the Hunt”

With the success of Japanese animation overseas in the past decade, it was little surprise that Hasbro would use Transformers Japanese roots to their advantage. Working with their partner Takara, they produced a trio of series which would go on to become collectively known as the Unicron Trilogy. Whilst these series have their share of excellent stories and moments, one of the largest criticisms was the lack of characterisation. Autobots tended to be blazing heroes and Decepticons trash talking villains. Whatever was to come next, most hoped it would elicit more of an emotional response.

Animated proved to be the perfect antidote. Whilst obviously intended to sell toys the same as any Transformers show, it returned to the successful Beast Wars formula of two smaller opposing forces and their stories within an implied larger war. This allowed for character arcs which lasted across the series run and beautifully intercrossed to create a larger story. One of the earliest episodes to make this clear was ‘Thrill of the Hunt’.

One of Animated’s more unique concepts was the idea that the Autobot and Decepticon war was already over, leaving us with a team of idealistic rookies and jaded veterans. The latter personality was true of Ratchet, who initially could have been mistake for the stereotype grumpy old guy. It’s this episode that began to shed some light on things.

The Autobots are engaged in their nightly patrol helping the police and emergency services, when they become aware of a black muscle car causing trouble. The car is soon revealed to be Lockdown, a Cybertronian bounty hunter hired to capture Optimus for his believed role in the ‘death’ of Megatron. However, Ratchet has already encountered the hired gun before at the height of the war, in an event that ended in tragedy. As the remaining Autobots attempt to rescue their commander, the doc-bot must try work past his demons or risk a fresh horror.

There’s a lot of good to be had here. For starters, how often do you see a kids show focus on a medic? Ratchet is a doctor, not a soldier and his flashbacks across the episode go to show why. It’s pretty common for the Transformers conflict to be depicted as ‘heroic Autobots vs evil Decepticons’ but Ratchet’s tragedy is split between the two. We get our first hints that the Autobots of this continuity may very well be corrupt and that war is not about heroic crusades. Trapped in all this are guys like Ratchet, who simply want to save lives.

Lockdown is an interesting antagonist, with a ghastly habit of wearing the best features of his killed targets to improve his own abilities. It’s the perfect habit to rile medicine bot Ratchet and viewers will definitely want to see him gain some justice.

Many of the themes and plot points introduced in this episode would be explored and expanded on as the show continued, but even as a stand alone this episode works fairly well. Each of the main Autobots inAnimated had a story which lead them to be where we first met them but Ratchet’s is easily one of the most poignant. It proved that he wasn’t the typical ‘grumpy old supporting character’ in a kid series but a major player in his own right and that the staff were aiming for a story with a well constructed depth.

Juu-kuchi’s Choice – “Megatron Rising Pts. 1 and 2”

The first season of Transformers Animatedwas unconventional in handling its protagonists and antagonists. In previous series the Autobots and Decepticons were firmly established within episodes from the premiere. Here, the   former team is fully-formed from the get go, while the latter take until the season finale. Megatron, always a prominent figure, had to remain in the shadows, as he plotted to destroy the Autobots and find a way to utilize the AllSpark for his own evil ends. But in this two parter everything changes as, thanks to some misfortune based on the decisions of Optimus Prime, Megatron rebuilds himself using Sari’s key, and raises the stakes in the Decepticons’s favor.

It is thanks to two particular factors in “Megatron Rising” that make it one of the best set of episodes in Animated. First is of course Megatron. For the first time the Decepticon leader is rendered as a legitimate threat, helped in no small part to Corey Burton’s subdued, menacing, performance. Cold, calculating, business-like in his quest for power, and truly intolerant of betrayal; he is a far cry from the overacting, rasping, 80s iteration. This is firmly established when Animated Megatron did something which took the G1version 65 episodes, a movie, and a reincarnation as a different character to do: Kill Starscream for his backstabbing ways. What follows is a tense affair which exemplifies his implacable and compelling drive to achieve his goals by any means necessary.

The second is the Autobots. With Megatron online, they face their first fight against a now organized Decepticon faction on Earth. It is quite unlike most of the first season where they fought only scattered remnants, rogue agents, and many superpowered humans. While underwhelming compared to any and all previous series which gets things rolling as they begin, that approach works to this series advantage. It allowed the Autobots to learn through hard knocks how to effectively survive as a unit. But the looming Decepticon threat causes friction among the ranks as Optimus doubts his role as a leader. As a result he begins to enact rather heartless decisions like taking Sari’s key, lashing out at his comrades who protest his decisions while rationalizes them as much as he possibly can. Predictably this comes back to haunt him, but given how well-meaning and inexperienced he is, it works so well that his plight is understandable. It makes the small arc where he loses and wins back his team’s confidence to save the day all the more satisfying. By the episode’s end they have essentially bonded into a family who are underdogs in the truest sense of the word and we would not have it any other  way.

When these factors came together, we got a wholly satisfying end to Season 1, and a warm introduction to the Earth theatre of this ages old war.

Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to have at with regards to YOUR Best Episode Ever of Transformers Animated.

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