Friday, January 29, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #2B: The Transformers

Sorry this wasn't up sooner. I've bee sick as I mentioned earlier. Better late than never however. Also if you haven't read "Part One" of this piece there's no point into bothering reading this until you do.

Beta’s Unofficial Transformers Timeline

Part Two

The Unicron Trilogy

Or, “Japan and America: Together Again”

Beast Wars was a hit but Beast Machines was such a flop that Hasbro decided to scrap the planned second sequel Transtech and go in a different direction. Rather than start from scratch yet again they took advantage of the “Anime Boom” that was going on back in 2000 and imported the most recent Japanese Transformers cartoon Car Robots. But to understand car robots we have to go back a little.

Beast Wars II/Neo: Best Wars was a hit in North America and since Transformers were still relevant in Japan it made sense to import it there as well. It was again a hit. The problem was that Japan got tired of waiting for new seasons after the first one dropped and once again decided to make up their own crap. This time it was a mostly unrelated series called Beast Wars II (Pronounced “Beast War Second”) and a sequel called “Beast Wars Neo”. I saw a decent chunk of BW II but it was pretty horrible. The main thing I recall was one of the (robot) characters trying to put out a forest fire by peeing on it. That’s some high brow entertainment there. As time went on the Japanese public, much like the American public, missed the old days of Autobots turning into cars which led to…

Car Robots/Robots In Disguise: Similar in silly tone this show seemed to be something of a spiritual successor to Beast Wars II/Neo. The show took place on a human populated Earth with Autobots turning into cars, hence the title. It was something of a throwback to the good old days of the franchise and probably wouldn’t have made it over here if it wasn’t for Hasbro not wanting to give up on the newly rejuvenated Transformers line. Car Robots was licensed, dubbed in English, and premiered on Fox Kids (Whatever it was called at the time) as Transformers: Robots in Disguise making it the FIRST actual Transformers anime to come to America. This show seemed to be success and paved the way for a renewed collaboration between the East and the West for the first time since Generation 1.

What I got as a follow-up to Beast Wars. Sigh

Transformers Armada/Energon/Cybertron: With Beast Wars now a distant memory in the minds of Hasbro and the children of America once again interested in buying transforming robots in mass. The time was right to strike with more Super Toy Commercials. Now that Japan was back onboard a collaboration cartoon was produced: Transformers Armada in 2002. Oh God, I watched the first episode and I was done. This crap had none of the complexity Beast Wars offered, suffered from terrible dialogue, and featured a team of annoying human side characters that the previous era taught us was unnecessary. This was a cartoon for children…but dumb children (And yes I eventually saw more than the first episode). The cartoon was mostly a Japanese product and suffered from a lot of the problems most anime has when being dubbed. Its sequel Transformers: Energon continued the trend but added “Cell Shading” technology which was being used a lot back in the early 2000’s (Zoids is another example). Taking place ten years after the first series it was a flat out continuation of it predecessor. Then came Transformers: Cybertron that was originally created as a SEPARATE SERIES ALTOGETHER IN A DIFFERENT UNIVERSE but the American cartoon was dubbed to make it seem like it was another sequel and shrugged off all the plot holes from the last two series with a freaking hand wave (Such as dead characters being alive with no reasonable explanation)!

Who cares about plot? We gotta sell them toys!

The CEO of Hasbro

These cartoons have been nicknamed the “Unicron Trilogy” due to the underlying plot of Unicron doing something or other. I didn’t see it all so I don’t know. I guess it had something to do with Unicron existing in every reality at the same time as the same entity or some such nonsense. Except this reality, I assume, because Orson Wells is still totally dead.

The Dark Times

AKA The Modern Era

Transformer in the 2000’s was doing much better than it had in the 90’s, regardless as to whether any of it was well written. But one aspect that wasn’t doing as well was the comics. Part of the revival the franchise can be attributed to the highly publicized Transformers comic book by an unknown publishing company called Dreamwave.

Dreamwave Comic: Founded by Canadian model fashion designer artist pseudo-artist Pat Lee this company wound up with the rights to make Transformers comics; the first in a while. The first clue that this was a bad idea was that Pat Lee, as a young kid, tried and failed to gain attention from Marvel and DC but managed to catch the eye of Rob Liefeld and was given a job at his Extreme Studio. This is the same Rob Liefeld who is at best an extremely overrated comic book artist and at worst one of the biggest reasons that super hero comic books were universally terrible for a good chunk of the 90s.

There are already numerous things on the internet that can tell you all you need to know about the problems between Pat Lee and the Dreamwave Comic but long story short it was badly drawn and Pat at some point stopped paying his employees right before the company folded taking the comic rights with it. He has become something of a pariah in the TF Fandom, though I’d call him the Uwe Boll of Transformers due to how much he seemed to let the fans get to him and how much the fans despise him.

Comic Books Are a Serious Business!

IDW would eventually start publishing TF comics of their own. It has had mixed reactions.

Kiss Players: Oh boy. This is something of a let’s say odd, entry in the Transformers universe. Basically Kiss Players is a Japanese only toy line, comic, and radio drama that ran between 2006 and 2007. Storyline wise it is set in the G1 universe, specifically the gap between Transformers : The Movie and Fight! Super Robot Lifeform Transformers 2010 (AKA Transformers Season 3). The premise is about girls (Really young looking girls) making-out with kissing Transformers giving the robots power-ups. Oh, and it had a target market of men 15 years old and up. Yeah. This is a good reminder that Americans and Japanese have different sensibilities.

There was a controversy about the comic though: apparently the book was filled with a series of highly sexualized scenes again involving very young looking girls. Seriously Japan? I’ve seen some of the scans and a lot of them are pretty messed up, but seeing how it’s not in my country it’s thankfully not really something I ever have to deal with.

Apparently marriage laws are looser in Japan

Enter Michael Bay

Transformers (2007 Film): If you’ve ever seen a Michael Bay film you may have realized two things about him: #1) He likes explosions and #2) He’s only good at making mindless, soulless summer popcorn action films. By the mid-2000s Hollywood had run out of ideas for new movies and therefore had been licensing anything and everything that they could and turning it into the next big cash cow. Transformers ended up as one of these properties. With some racist Michael Bay at the helm we got this steaming pile of mediocre. It wasn’t terrible and that was the victory, I think. But it was just…lacking? “Not enough giant robots fighting” I screamed. Boy would I eat those words later. Even so virtually none of the titular Transformers said or did anything and they certainly didn’t feel like actual characters. Anyway it starred Shia LaBeouf for some reason as well the amazingly untalented Boobs Magee Megan Fox who is the only person to, after I saw “How to Lose friends and Alienate People”, make me utter the words “I can’t believe that Kirsten Dunst isn’t the worst actor in this flick.” It wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen but it was not at all a good film.

Intelligent Talented Funny Nice Hot

Also yes I was offended by the “Black talking” Autobot Jazz but not as much as when he was killed because then it became an issue of the only heroic robot to die was the black robot. Sigh.

Transformers Animated: Born from a drunken late-night encounter between Transformers and the Teen Titans cartoon Animated was created to ride the wave of popularity of the recent film. Begun n 2008 the cartoon barrowed a few aspects from the film but not that much. This show was supposed to be aimed at a younger than usual audience; the creators warned fans this from the start. Well it turns out that this cartoon has been the one bright spot of the franchise in recent years. Like with Beast Wars it features a smaller cast of characters and had long plotlines and story arcs that could last up to several seasons. It also featured tons of references and shout outs to past series making this something of a love letter to the old school fans. The one problem I had with it was the Autobots would sometimes fight human super villains and they were almost 100% lame…except for Meltdown. He was hardcore.

This show was easily one of the best, if not the best, cartoon based on the Transformers line following many of the examples set by Beast Wars while avoiding the crap from the more recent shows. However despite its quality the sow was abruptly canceled not by its network (Cartoon Network, who seem to like canceling good shows) but by HASBRO because they didn’t want the Animated toys to distract kids from buying the Revenge of the Fallen toys! Do I even need to say it again?!

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: I could write an entire essay about why this movie was one of te worst things ever but instead here’s a quick bullet point list.

·Starring Megan Fox who’s become a worst actress since the first film

·Twice as many action spots, half as many character moments with the bots

·A running time of roughly three and a half years (Or at least it felt that way)

·Continuity between scenes is only present if Bay felt like it

·Juvenile humor that distract from the movie as a whole

·Racist caricatures that serve no role in the film itself

·Lack of acknowledgment of the fact that there were racist caricatures in the freaking movie after it premiered!

More Talented Than Megen Fox

Also Voiced By Frank Welker

The only other thing I’ll say is that no one seems to believe this was a good movie yet somehow it made a lot more money than the better received Star Trek despite it being written by the same writing team. The only X factor: Michael Bay.

And now here we are. The future does have a lot in store for the franchise, such as a Unreal Tournament inspired video game called War for Cybertrton due out this year. I doubt Transformers will be going anywhere anytime soon and Hasbro will continue to try to trick me into buying the latest Megatron action figure. I’m stronger willed than-

What's that? He turns into a tank and a gun? You win this round Hasbro!

For more info on Transformers check out the best wiki on the internet Transformers Wiki

For more Saturday Morning Cartoon Show stuff click here

Saturday, January 23, 2010

SMCS Companion Piece #2A: The Transformers

Transformers is probably the one piece of fiction that impacted my childhood the most and therefore it is one of the most important factors in the shaping of my personality today. This is a bad thing. No girl wants to marry a guy who is all about Robots in Disguise. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but the point I’m trying to make is that I’m a big Transformers fan and I suspect that to be the main source of all my other nerdy habits. Transformers may have ruined my life. But hey it could be worse. I spend roughly zero percent of my funds on toys these days so I never risk not having food (Well truthfully food money goes to comic books, but still…).

This week on the Saturday Morning Cartoon Show DJ Muppet and I are watching “The Transformers”, the original cartoon from the eighties, so I figured I throw up a blog about my favorite robotic war mongers who are more than meets the eyes. I thought about what exactly I should cover here but my roommate Travis suggested I do a sort of timeline going through what I recall about the franchise from day one up until the present (AKA “The Dark Time”). Sure, why not? I’ll go through what I recall and try to be as brief as possible. But before we start I think there are a few things I should mention:

-Hasbro, the makers of Transformers, is concerned only with getting your children to buy toys and getting you to buy toys in that order. Everything, from the cartoons to the comics to the movies, anything that has “The Transformers” branded on it exists so you’ll buy an action figure or two. Sure sometimes some valid fiction can be created but I assure you it’s basically a happy side effect and never the intent. They want your money, kids.

-Kind of like the Godzilla movies there is no long continuity that is spans all of the franchise. Just about all the different toy lines and cartoons and whatever are separate timelines that do not have any relations to each other for the most part. Think of it as the “Multiverse”. The original Transformers cartoon has nothing to do with the recent “Transformers: Animated” nor does it relate to the current IDW comic books. I will point out any relationship between universes should I be aware of one.

NOTE: It turns out I had a lot to say about this subject. I've had to split this into TWO parts! For crying out loud...
Beta’s Unofficial Transformers Timeline
Part One
Generation 1: 1984 – 1991
Toy Line: Way back in the ancient past of 1983 American Toy Company Hasbro joined forces with Japanese Toy Company Takara to rob youngsters of their precious cash repackage the Japanese only Diaclone and Microchangers line of toys in America (And Japan) as a new product, a business decision that clearly still has weight today. Basically the original action figures were previously released toys that had really only one thing in common: vehicles (And a giant gun) that turned into giant robots. Some of these guys weren’t originally suppose to be living, thinking machines but rather drivable “Real Robots” akin to Mobile Suit Gundam. If you ever owned an original TF toy and thought you were missing a little pilot figure you probably were. Despite the Japanese origin the conflict between Autobots and Decepticons, detailed on the backs of the packaging, and the biographies of the various characters were written with mostly American input.

Um...That's sort of cool. I suppose

Marvel Comic: Started in 1984 and ending in 1991 this, and not the cartoon, was the original Transformers fiction. Originally a miniseries it ended up lasting much longer than planned. Many fans still to this day consider the characterizations of the various robots to be the standard to which all others are judged against. And why not? The comic was darker and more serious than the cartoon ever was and many of the writers who worked on the comic also wrote much of the bio stuff with the toy line making the relationships between the robots and their toy counterparts a little stronger. That said Hasbro had their hands in the soup all the time and often dictated whether some characters lived or died (Often depending if their toy was still in rotation). For people who started with the cartoon but not the comic it can be…a little strange to say the least. Ravage could talk, Grimlock was a cunning but ruthless and ambitious warrior (And leader of the Autobots for a time) and Spider-Man sometimes came to visit. Wait, what?

Spider-Man Versus Megatron:
An Ultimate Battle of Ultimate Destiny

Now I never really read the book mainly because I was, well, not born when it hit stands. That said everything I’ve read of the old comic I did not like enough to seek more out. I’m no expert on the subject at all.

The Transformers: The first cartoon, first broadcasted later in 1984 lasting until 1987 with five four basically three seasons. Having little relation with the already established comic the cartoon was aimed at a dumber younger audience with the toy commercial aspect turned way up. This is what most people are familiar with when they think about Transformers: Optimus Prime and his heroic Autobots wage their battles to destroy the evil forces of Megatron and the Decepticons. The list of characters kept getting larger and harder to follow as time went on and most of the cast barely had anything other than token two dimensional personalities. The first season was complete crap especially the earliest episodes. Season Two ended up being much better having some truly wonderful episodes (“The Golden Lagoon”, “The Secret of Omega Supreme”) and truly dreadful piles of garbage (“Triple Takeover”). Season Three took place after the movie and therefore the status quo was much different. Optimus was dead in his place some guy named “Rodimus Prime”, they fought in space and many different alien worlds, and it all took place in the far future of 2005. Season Four was actually only a three episode miniseries called “The Rebirth” (AKA “The Headmasters) that served as an extremely unsatisfying ending to the cartoon. Season Five was just some random kid talking to a puppet or something and replays of old episodes.

The Transformers (1986 Film): “Beyond Good. Beyond Evil. Beyond Your Wildest Imagination.” The tagline for the One True TF Movie (Eat it, Bay!) even to this day makes zero sense to me. Beyond good and evil? When does that even happen in the film? It’s like suggesting there’s some complex moral dilemma that’s seen through the eyes of sentient machines and apparently not an hour and a half of robots shooting each other to death. SPOILER ALERT: It is totally just robots shooting each other to death. Released in 1986 this movie was the turning point in the cartoon series as it took place about twenty years in the future and over the course of the film they killed off most of the original cast and replaced them sleek looking new breed replacements including the awesome old man Kup, the awesome psychotic nut job Galvatron and…Wheelie. Who was pink. And rhymed. Awesome?

Also voiced by Frank Welker

The movie was indeed darker than the cartoon it was based on and featured a pretty impressive (For its time) celebrity cast including Judd Nelson as Hot Rod, Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, Eric Idle as Wreck-Gar, and Orson Wells as Unicron (His last role before his death. Poor guy). None of them returned for Season Three of the show. This movie is filled with weird animation errors and won’t make sense to anyone who wasn’t already familiar with the franchise. It is still a thousand times better than the 2007 and 2009 movies.
The best line from the movie:

Spike: [After seeing that blowing up a whole moon wasn’t enough to kill the villain] Aw shit! What are we gonna do now?!

Hahaha, I love children’s movies.

Transformers End; Japan Doesn’t Notice
Again it must be said that the Transformers is a mostly American made product in terms of names and story. The cartoon, for example, is American and was later dubbed into Japanese (“Fight! Super Robot Lifeform Transformers!”) When the end of Season Three came that was pretty much it for transforming robot cartoons for us but in Japan they said “Meh. Screw ‘em” and started making their own cartoons without input from their Americans partners. Disregarding “The Rebirth” they created the original “The Headmasters” cartoon which followed the American cartoon in continuity. Several series were made over the years including but not limited to “Super God Masterforce” (What the hell?) and “Victory”. None of these shows made it over the US but most of the toys sure did. So basically for the next few years after the American cartoon ended we kept getting more and more toys but without the fiction it was based on. Damn you Hasbro!

Generation 2 (1992-1995)
So you may have heard the original cartoon, toys and comic sometimes referred to as “Generation One” or “G1”. Well this part of the history is the reason. TF toys weren’t selling like they used to. Hasbro decided to repackage the franchise for the modern consumer. Many old toys were re-released with shiny new colors and many new toys were created with gimmicks like water induced color change. They called it “Transformers: Generation 2” and therefore we now refer to the first line stuff as “Generation 1”.

Toy sales didn’t really improve and by ’95, after 11 years of existence, Transformers was gone from all toy stores. Good job guys.

Kill them all! Primus will recognize his own!

There was also a comic and “new” cartoon introduced during this time. The “Generation 2” comic was again published by Marvel and, more or less, continued the story from the previous series. I read an issue or two when it first came out. It, like 85% of all comics made during the first half the 90s, was dark, overly violent, full of machine guns, and barely lasted a whole year before being canceled. We will not speak of it again. The cartoon was literally just the old episodes with a new theme song. The hell? Why not just dub the freaking Japanese shows? At least that way we could have seen something new! Damn you Hasbro!
Beast Era: 1996-2000
Toyline: So Transformers was gone from toy shelves and pretty much dead outside of Japan. But then something funny happened: Hasbro devoured bought its competitor Kenner. Instead of just scrapping the company they gave them specific franchises to work on, one of which was the now irrelevant TF toys. The logic was that kids didn’t like the toys anyway so they might as well do a massive overhaul. Be well aware: if it wasn’t for this line of thinking Transformers would not be around today. This decision saved the franchise…but also resulted in Michael Boy making those terrible movies. Suddenly I’m torn.
Anyway Kenner did indeed make a new version of Transformers in which the heroic Maximals, who turned into mostly mammals like apes, bats and cheetahs fought against the evil Predacons, who were bugs and lizards. Not only that but new technologies in toy making added unprecedented articulation to the figures making them arguably superior to their ancestors. They called it “Beast Wars” and it was a hit. A cartoon soon followed.

Beast Wars: Transformers: Called “Beasties” in Canada, because Canadian watch groups are obviously heatless monsters, Beast Wars was the first original North American Transformers cartoon in years. It ran from 1996 to 1999. Using computer generated images instead of traditional cell animation we now know just how ahead of its time the show was (Although the graphics are rather dated by today’s standards. Painfully so, in fact). The toyline’s story implied the characters were retrofitted versions of G1 robots, but the cartoon decided to make the claim that they were not only completely different characters but that they were actually descendant from the Autobots and Decepticons and their war took place sometime in the far future (Though the setting as still ancient Earth for some reason). The show had a complex plot with a rich background (Taking story elements from both the old cartoon and the comic) and featured a very small cast that made character development much easier than in the previous series. The first two seasons rocked once the writers found their footing. Season Three however was plagued with inference from Hasbro who wanted to insert tons of new characters in order to SELL MORE TOYS which resulted in a string of characters that did nothing for the plot and in some cases were introduced in one episode and then killed in the next! Damn you Hasbro! The series ended on a fairly definitive note while leaving the door open for a sequel.

Pictured: Rattrap w/ Dignity

One unbelievably stupid interesting tidbit about the TF fandom during this era was a controversy in regards to the character changing into animals rather than vehicles. Optimus Primal, leader of the Maximals and apparently not the original Optimus Prime, was the poster child in the “Trukk not munky” debate. That was not a typo by the way; it’s an Internet Meme. Also something about evolution. Meh.
Beast Machine: This show sucked.

What, you want a little more than that? Fine. In 1999 a sequel to Beast Wars came out called Beast Machines where most of the dynamics between the characters was drastically altered, as was the setting. The cartoon is a bit hard to explain but basically Optimus Primal became a guru, Rattrap became a worthless load of a children’s appeal character and Megatron became a psychotic with no real motivation for his literally genocidal madness. Also it turns out the Transformers home planet of Cybertron was once a organic planet just like Earth. Let’s move on.

Pictured: Rattrap w/o Dignity
That's it for today. Tune in later for Part B of the Timeline, which should be up within the next 24 Hours.

The Transformers is scheduled be on The Saturday Morning Cartoon Show January 23rd 2010, 9:00 AM Eastern Time on 89.1 WIDR Kalamazoo

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