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"Transformers Cybertron" Best Transformers in a Decade

by on August 8, 2008

Way back in the mid-to-late 90’s, Hasbro decided to make Beast Wars: Transformers to try and save the dying franchise. Well, it worked, largely because the series ended up kicking ass and taking names, especially in its second season. However, since then we’ve had a crapshoot of Transformers series that failed to overtake the highly-rated series. Beast Machines took everything that was great about Beast Wars and replaced it with copious amounts of suck. Robots in Disguise, while decent, was rather forgettable altogether. Armada was essentially a giant robot version of Pokémon, and Energon was just flat-out horrible. Luckily, that tide seems to be flowing the other way, as Transformers Animated is decently fun and the live-action movie, while highly flawed, had some really awesome moments. But lost in the shuffle thanks to its crappy predecessors is Transformers Cybertron.

From out of nowhere, a massive black hole has appeared, steadily getting bigger and sucking more and more planets into its void. Pretty high up on the hitlist is Cybertron, home of the Autobots and Decepticons. Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, is unsure how to stop the black hole when an ancient Transformer known as Vector Prime arrives, sharing information about the great items of power known as the Omega Lock and the four Cyber Planet Keys. Soon enough, the Transformers abandon Cybertron and relocate to Earth while beginning their key hunt. There, they meet three young humans, Coby, Bud, and Lori, who help the Transformers hide their brethren on Earth and search for the Omega Lock. But the evil Megatron wants the Cyber Planet Keys for his own purposes, to power-up the black hole and create his own universe based on his image! Now, the Autobots must travel to other worlds, including Velocitron, the Jungle Planet, and Gigantia, to gain the Cyber Planet Keys before Megatron is able to claim ultimate victory.

Right from the get-go, one of the reasons Cybertron is better than its predecessors is its lack of focus on this particular seasons’ gimmick and more on the story itself. Whereas Armada focused most of its story on the Mini-Cons (and eventually only on a couple groups of Mini-Cons) and Energon was obsessed with linking, the whole Cyber Key business amounts to little more than flashy stock footage to fill up time. In this series, fragments of the Cyber Planet Keys (known as regular Cyber Keys) can be magically inserted into the various Transformers for various power-ups, such as giant lasers or nitro boosters and whatnot. However, this little effect isn’t given much detail outside of the early episodes since much of the Cyber Keys are summoned through force of will instead of hunting for an ancient artifact or other such needless items. This allows the usual toy gimmick to contribute to the story, but not overshadow or get in the way of it. In fact, at times it results in some very cool scenes, usually when a major character gains a new power and shows it off.

ImageOf course, this doesn’t mean a thing if the show itself isn’t any good, but thankfully it is. The writers have thankfully spared us the plucky youngster of the group (previously held by Hotshot in Armada and Ironhide in Energon) and made all the Transformers competent warriors, making the show better right from the get-go. It gets even better by having all these powerful warriors see their own weaknesses and learn to make themselves better, either by trusting their own spark or by learning to control their new powers without the clumsiness seen by the rookies in previous series. And this show has made virtually every character gain a substantial flaw that needs to be corrected by series’ end. In Armada and Energon, aside from the rookies and a handful of veterans, most of the Transformers never really changed from Episode 1 until the very end. But here, at least 2/3 of the cast improve on a character flaw by series end, giving the robots a bit more life to them and making them more relatable to the audience. It also helps that these guys know how to fight, especially Optimus Prime, who needs no further prompting when the time comes to lay the smackdown on Megatron and his goon squad. In fact, this is the most badass Prime has been since Peter Cullen voiced the character back in G1.

The supporting Transformers introduced later on only add to the fun, specifically with the leaders of the alien homeworlds. Override, Scourge, and Metroplex figure heavily into the plot and show off some amazing power, but their personalities drive them above the average Autobot or Decepticon and put them right up there with the larger Transformers in the series like Vector Prime and Starscream. Override’s snarky demeanor and sassy personality lends herself well to the other characters, especially in battle where she regularly switches from robot to vehicle mode to pull off some impressive stunts, especially given that the other Transformers usually use their alt modes just to drive faster. Metroplex arrives late in the game, but has an immediate impact in his first fight, fending off a seemingly invincible character without blinking and giving Optimus Prime a really, really big ax to club people with. Scourge is a particularly hilarious character. Since he’s practically as strong as Megatron and Optimus Prime, he often fights Prime when Megs needs a distraction and otherwise needs 3 or 4 Autobots to compete on the same level. As a result, he has a superiority complex and constantly fireballs the other characters when they act or say something stupid, which results in some classic scenes midway through the series.

ImageBut if there’s one flaw in every Transformers series, its the humans. Rad, Alexis, and Carlos were useless in Armada and Kicker was just plain annoying, but Coby, Bud, and Lori buck the trend in this series. Coby usurps the role of mechanic from Spike’s father in G1 and regularly repairs the Autobots, as well as the various starships and other such technology found later on. In one particularly cool moment, he even takes a Scrapmetal (small automated Transformers that eat anything in sight) and turns it into his own mecha suit. Bud and Lori contribute more to the mental side of things (setting a character down the right path, cheering up the Autobots, etc.) than the physical, but they each have their own impact on the plot, as Bud helps foil Starscream’s plans while Lori sets Scourge straight. Rarely in this series do the kids ever feel useless (the adults Franklin and Suzuki, on the other hand, are useless, but they’re minor characters) and many times they add to the flavor of the show, especially Coby.

Unfortunately, every series has its flaws and Cybertron is no different. One problem is evident in the beginning as the first two episodes are merged together into one half-hour, causing the first episode to become a disjointed mess. The other major fault comes from the dubbing. The biggest hole here is that the black hole was created from the remnants of Unicron after his defeat in Energon, which is a dub creation since this series is separate from the other two series in Japan (except for two odd shots during the final episode). Most of the time, this mainly leads to Megatron gloating over the power of his “Armor of Unicron,” which in itself isn’t that bad (who knows if the Cybertron TFs defeated their own Unicron or something?) but for 2 episodes mid-series, the dub tries to tie the show in with its predecessors and it creates a muddled mess. While there are other faults to the show, mainly in the form of a high volume of extremely convenient plot coupons and plot points, the dubbing, while not atrocious, is still very annoying.

Quite possibly the strongest element in this show is the visuals. Gonzo (Trinity Blood, Last Exile, Burst Angel) is handling the animation now and while the CG isn’t nearly as malleable as in the Mainframe series or the movie, it completely blows Energon‘s CG out of the water, using a special kind of shading that isn’t quite cel-shading but stronger than regular CG shading. When used to its full effect, the results are amazing, although many times the results have the various TFs moving more robotically than ever before. However, the CG is improved by leaps and bounds thanks to the actual designs. Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Landmine, Hotshot, Scattershot, Override, Scourge, and all the other Transformers here have such kickass designs it makes one wonder why they weren’t brought back for any future Transformers media. After the horrendous Armada designs and the lackluster Energon designs, these were a welcome sight and are far and away the best designs since Season 2 of Beast Wars when the Transmetals were first introduced. The only design I didn’t really like was Thunderblast’s design, mainly because when she transforms all she does is take the hull pieces on her back and fold them on her body, making the transformation sequence resemble something from a Happy Meal toy.

While the English dub suffers from dubious plot additions and some minor dubbing errors, overall the voice cast is marvelous. Gary Chalk plays Optimus Prime with a bit more of a sardonic tone reminiscent of his Optimus Primal days, especially whenever Prime takes on Megatron, while David Kaye’s Megatron easily tops his performances in previous series. While most of the cast retained their roles from Energon, Hotshot was recast with Kirby Morrow taking over, and Morrow’s natural energetic performance makes this Hotshot a lot cooler than the previous Hotshots seen elsewhere. The other major new casting was Scott McNeil giving Jetfire an Australian accent, as opposed to his usual “jokester” voice used with characters like Koga in InuYasha and Duo in Gundam Wing. However, the accent works extremely well and adds a bit of personality to the character. Actually, the accents, such as Thundercracker’s Texas accent and the various Gigantians’ Scottish/Irish accents, all add some flavor to the voice cast and diversifies the cast a lot, even if it isn’t all that believable. Really, there isn’t a bad voice in the bunch.

ImageCybertron, unlike the G1, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, and Armada sets, is packed in a 2-disc thinpak set as opposed to the digipak sets of previous releases. The packaging is sleek and cool, fitting right in with the tone of the show, but I do wish they had used CG stock art for the individual discs instead of the softer 2D stock art. As one might expect, there are no extras at all on this set, even though Disc 7 only has four episodes (as opposed to 8 episodes on Discs 1-6), although one of those four episodes could be considered an extra. The final episode packaged, “Inferno,” is a completely whole Episode 2, without all the splicing from the beginning of the series. While much of the episode is rather standard, there are some really funny scenes made even funnier in the dub, the standout being the scene where Scattershot chooses a tank as his alt mode and he and Optimus Prime bicker about the meaning of “blending in.” The biggest problem with this episode is that its at the end of Disc 7 instead of at the beginning of Disc 1 (with a non-spliced Episode 1) like it should have been.

Overall, will this series trump Beast Wars? No. I highly doubt anything from this franchise will ever top Season 2 of that series, but if you’re hankering for some damn good Transformers action, Cybertron‘s right up your alley.

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