Transformers have seen a lot of incarnations over the years and with each one came a new way to see our favourite alien neighbours. This time around, the robots from beyond the stars take on a more child friendly appearance, saving Earth just as they always do. Don’t be fooled though, just because it looks childish, doesn’t mean it has a weak story. It’ll surprise you if you give it the chance.
Stationed in the far reaches of space, Optimus and his crew of humble workers are performing just another menial task in their completely normal Cybertronian lives. Though the series wouldn’t be very engaging if that’s all that happened now would it? After stumbling upon the legendary All Spark, the Decepticons reappear, having remained dormant for the decades after the original Autobot/Decepticon conflict (circa Generation 1). After a brief and climactic clash, the Autobots wind up crash landing on Earth, only to fall into stasis for 50 years (circa Generation 1 once more). Awakening just in time to save the day, we meet the next in a long line of human sidekicks: Sari Sumdac.
Though she doesn’t exactly look like the greatest addition to the Autobot forces, Sari is in fact one of the most useful humans to take part in the exploits of the Cybertronians. Possessing the power of the All Spark itself, she serves as the teams living cure all to injuries and disease. A handy way to give our heroes the second wind they often need to best their foes. So basically she exists as a walking Deus ex Machina, one of the tradeoffs of this being a much more light hearted series than its predecessors. This is also reinforced by Sari’s additional duty: teaching the Autobots the ways of the world. Being aliens (a term rarely used to describe them) the Autobots are rather confused by the society we have built. At one point, Sari even has to have “the birds and the bees” talk with Optimus…which I gotta say is a first for the Transformers franchise.
Contrasting most of his previous incarnations, the Optimus of the Animated Universe is rather keen on the concept of heroism. His interest in the heroes of the past leads him to be a tad dramatic in his daily life, describing their menial labour as just another cog in the great machine of Cybertronian existence (or something along those lines). Of course this tendency irks his more laid back compatriots, at least until the Decepticons return. It is also at this time that Optimus showcases his true skillset, having been trained as a warrior sometime in the past. The combination of said training with his now labour driven lifestyle, creates a rather interesting Autobot Leader, especially where combat is concerned. Rather than simply being the powerful warrior that the original Prime was, this Optimus utilises much more improvisational and resourceful tactics, serving to drive the point home that the Autbots are primarily a labour force.
In an effort to create a quirkier series that would appeal to younger audiences, the Autobots ironically wind up facing far more threats than any other incarnation. It should also be noted that quite a number of these enemies are not of Cybertronian origin, instead being born right here on Earth. Though “born” might be to simple a word. Despite the core demographic of the series, when you really think about it, a majority of these villains are the result of some serious body horror. Regardless of how they are created, or how effective they are, these foes all serve to draw the Autobots further into Earth culture than you may be used to. It’s kind of refreshing to see the Transformers branch out in their quest for justice.
The smaller cast of Animated allows the series to focus on each character and develop their backstory with a fairly reasonable amount of detail. This development also serves to create an interesting dynamic between the Autobots. One of the earliest of these explored would be the one between Ratchet and Optimus. As the the resident war veteran of the group, Ratchet serves as a foil to Optimus’ youthful exuberance, imparting knowledge on the would be Leader and encouraging his growth. Other characters will also often attempt to teach their comrades how to better fight evil. It’s definitely an improvement over the more traditional “Fight, retreat, regroup, fight again” strategy usually employed by Transformers. Though this may also have something to do with their more public status within Earth’s society. Unable to simply hide and fight in the shadows and countless desolate environments of Earth, their duties as Detroit’s local superheroes force them to factor citizens and buildings into their attack strategies. Though some do this better than others…
Literally the first thing you will notice about this series and the main thing that sets it apart from others within the franchise. True to its name, the series adopts a heavily stylised animated style, lending itself well to this more humorous take on the Transformers mythos. Both Autobot and Decpticon trade detail for personality where design is concerned and possess a more organic style that allows them to express a large range of emotions via both facial expressions and body language. Each design also directly relates to each Transformers’ personal style. For example, classic “strong guy” Bulkhead cuts a much…fuller figure than the rest of his fellow Autobots. This concept is ramped up exponentially by certain characters meant to represent archetypal designs. Blitzwing is of course the most obvious culprit, who is clearly derived from the idea of a German soldier. Optimus also possesses an appearance akin to a superhero, showcasing his leadership qualities. Broad shoulders. Unnecessarily dramatic posing. Strong jawline. Seriously, why do robots even need such pronounced chins?
It’s not only the robotic characters who receive this stylistic treatment, each and every human presented onscreen are also clearly distinct from one another. Just as with the Transformers, the variance in physical appearances serve to keep things interesting to look at. Seriously, Sari is like 50% eyes.
Following on from the visuals, each character also receives a distinctly different voice (or voices in some cases). One that Transformers fans will definitely take notice of is the return of franchise mainstay David Kaye. Only this time around it is not Megatron that he voices, but Optimus instead. Kaye’s performance as the Autobot Leader comes with an odd sense of regality, whilst still retaining the idea that he is youthful and inexperienced, chasing after the shadow of his namesake. Tara Strong also delivers a solid performance as Sari…and too many background characters to count. Her vocal talent also prevents Sari from falling into the “annoying little girl” category of cartoon characters. At least from an audio standpoint. Sure she can be annoying, but that’s more about her personality than the way she sounds.
That of course isn’t to say that the other characters don’t sound good. Each character’s voice is a good match for their appearance. It would also seem that accents are in fact universal, case in point: Blitzwing. For each of his three personalities, a German voice follows. Interesting. Bizarre. Funny. In a similar vein, dialogue itself is often geared towards humour. Thinly veiled insults, such as”Blow it out your actuator” positively litter the series. It’s kind of awesome.
Another audio aspect of note would be the series theme song. Though the same tune has been used time and time again since G!, this incarnation is one of the few times we get to hear the entirety of the lyrics. Nostalgic.
Just in case the series was not enough Transformers for you, the DVD release contains two additional Animated shorts that focus on the less than explosive daily lives of two of our Autobot heroes. One even manages to ask a question that has been plaguing Transformers fans for decades: Where does Optimus’ trailer go when he transforms? Of course we don’t get an answer, but at leas the question exists in official media. Also included is a sneak peek gallery for Season Two and your standard fare trailers…but seriously, where does his trailer go?
Transformers Animated is an interesting interpretation of a world that has been so thoroughly explored throughout the years. The decision to be so outwardly “childish” was one that opened up a barrel of possibilities, not only in the visual sense. The more comedic style imbued the Transformers with a substantial amount of personality, creating situations not usually present within the confines of an interplanetary war. Combined with the cast of human villains, the Transformers presented in Animated feel much more personable than some of their more serious incarnations. It is also these same villains, along with the heroic humans of course, that serve to keep humanity relevant within the plot at large, something that is often lost in order to focus on more Cybertronian combat. Though despite all of its youthful charm, Animated also carries some serious plot elements when you really think about it. And with happened in the finale, things are bound to get a whole lot more intense.
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