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Media Essays: My Transformers Experience (40th Anniversary Special)

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Man, we're at that stage where so many pop-culture juggernauts are celebrating some big anniversary milestones lately, aren't we? Jurassic Park turned 30 last year, Power Rangers also turned 30 last year, Pokémon will turn 30 in a couple more years, The Lion King will turn 30 this year, Disney celebrated its 100th birthday last year, as did Warner Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog is currently 33 years old, the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game turned 25 this year, Star Wars is nearly 50 years old with just a few more years before it reaches that milestone, Doctor Who celebrated its 60th birthday last year and there's so much more to list that I couldn't possibly list them all! Let's face it, we're all old at this point. XD


And now I REALLY feel old because for this essay, I'm talking about a franchise that has just turned 40 this year. That franchise, as you already saw from the title...is Transformers.


Ever since it began in 1984, Transformers has been a global phenomenon that is still massively popular to this day thanks to its many cartoons, series of live-action movies, video-games and of course, its legendary toy line. There are people even to this day who still collect the toys, me being one of them, and the toy line is even celebrating the history of the franchise with the recent Legacy line being all about the Transformers multiverse and basing figures on characters from various continuities from G1-present. Everybody has their own favourite incarnation of Transformers with fans of either G1, Beast Wars, the Unicron Trilogy, the Michael Bay movies or the Aligned continuity.


And that's what I'm here for today, to celebrate 40 years of Transformers by talking about my own experiences with the franchise. That and I don't talk about this franchise enough, so this is the perfect excuse for me to do so.


Where did Transformers begin for me? How did I get into the franchise and what's my favourite incarnation of if? That's what I'm here to talk about. Transform and roll out my friends, for this is my Transformers story...


How I First Discovered Transformers

Transformers RiD 2001

I was a 90's kid, born in 1994 to be precise, so I was WAY too late to get into the franchise back when it started. Due to being a 90's kid, some could say that Beast Wars was my era...except I didn't really grow up watching Beast Wars, nor did I even discover the franchise via Beast Wars. No, I ACTUALLY started with the 2001 Transformers: Robots in Disguise anime. Yeah, the one show everyone forgets about was where I started with this franchise, hence making it memorable to me when it was memorable to nobody else. Weird, isn't it? XD


For those who either have never seen this version of the Transformers or have forgotten about it since, again, this is the Transformers show that very few people ever talk about, even the die-hard fans, Transformers: Robots in Disguise was an anime series released in 2001 under the Japanese title of Transformers: Car Robots while in the West, it was titled Transformers: Robots in Disguise. The show was aired on the defunct Fox Kids channel in Western countries like the US and the UK. As a child growing up in the late 90's and early 2000's, I naturally was one of those people regularly watching channels like Fox Kids at the time, hence how this became my first discovery of the franchise. I can't remember the EXACT details, but I'm sure that the reason I ended up watching the show was because I saw my older brother watching it. That was how I got into a lot of my favourite things back then, I would watch the shows or play the games because my older brother was doing so, hence I thank him immensely for getting me into Transformers. ^^


Anyhow, the show is your typical Transformers cartoon with the Autobots and the Decepticons facing off together, but with some differences. For starters, it's actually the Autobots facing off against the Predacons at first and the Decepticons don't come in until later in the show. Even Megatron himself is depicted as the leader of the Predacons and NOT the Decepticons. I imagine the show was meant to be a bit of a transition period between Beast Wars and the new era, hence the presence of Predacons, but then why were there no Maximals in this show? I believe there were Maximals in the toyline, but never in the show. Another change between continuities was that Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus were depicted as brothers when usually they're not related. They even have their own combined form with Omega Prime. The show had a few different teams of Cybertronians with Optimus Prime and his own team of Autobots, the Build Team, the Spychangers and Team Bullet Train and each of them would have their own gimmick to make them stand out. The Build and Train teams especially had their own combiner forms. The Predacons and the Decepticons weren't as varied but the Decepticons also had a combiner form with Ruination, who was essentially this show's version of Bruticus from the G1 era. With this show being my introduction to Transformers, you can imagine that this was where I learned most of the Transformers lore from too. Autobots, Predacons, Decepticons, their home world being called Cybertron, the whole robots in disguise concept, it was all so cool to my young mind and I was hooked pretty much instantly.


If you're curious, this is what Optimus Prime looked like in the show:

Optimus Prime 2001

And this was what Megatron looked like:

Megatron 2001

So for me, THESE were my introductions to these two iconic characters. Optimus Prime was a fire engine and Megatron was a two-headed dragon. Not many people can say that about their first Optimus and Megatron, eh? This also means that unlike most people, Peter Cullen and Frank Welker weren't my original Optimus and Megatron, instead it was Neil Kaplan who voiced this version of Optimus and Daniel Riodoran who voiced this version of Megatron.


If you want me to go any further into the show's plot and characters...eh, I can't help you there. I haven't rewatched the show since childhood so my memories are quite hazy. But I CAN tell you that I feel IMMENSELY nostalgic for this particular iteration of the franchise. This was where it all started for me so of course I feel attached to it in such a way. I may rewatch the show in the future, but for now I can just say that this was the show that got me into the franchise and I collected my first toys from this show's toy line. I remember buying Wedge's figure from Woolworths (remember when that used to exist) and I got Megatron's toy for Christmas while my older brother got Optimus Prime. Sadly, neither me nor him have those toys anymore, which sucks as they were damn good toys and would've been very treasured pieces of my collection...


Despite Robots in Disguise being my introduction to the franchise, I do recall owning some of the Beast Wars toys from back in the day. It was at the time the Transmetals were introduced for I had toys like Transmetal Optimus Primal, Airazor, Terrorsaur and Dinobot II and I also had toys of characters like Depth Charge and Stinkbomb (a skunk Transformer). I remember at least getting Transmetal Terrorsaur as a Boxing Day present, but I don't know how me or my older brother got the rest of the toys I mentioned. I think they were given to us, but I can't remember. Sadly, I no longer own any of those toys either. They were long since given away.


So this was where the franchise began for me, this standalone anime from 2001 of all things. But it wasn't until the next generation when I REALLY got into the franchise...


The Unicron Trilogy

The Unicron Trilogy

Ah yes...this divisive era. I proper picked the weirdest time to get into Transformers, didn't I? I started off with a show barely anyone talks about and what cemented my love for the franchise was this trilogy of shows in where people either love them or hate them. I'm sure many of you fans are pitying me right now. XD


Anyway, as a kid growing up in the 2000's, these shows were where I got my Transformers fill back in the day with Armada and Energon being the ones I watched the most regularly while I never watched Cybertron all the way through. With this trilogy, I was also introduced to my first incarnation of Starscream (and what a debut too considering many, MANY fans consider this to be the best version of Starscream) and the infamous planet-eating monster Unicron and before Bumblebee ever became a thing, Hot Shot was my original yellow kid-appeal character Autobot that I would engage with. Also, this show was my introduction to the dynamic duo of Gary Chalk as Optimus Prime and David Kaye as Megatron. For a long time, these two were my definitive voices of the respective faction leader. It was also with this trilogy where I started collecting the toys more regularly. Me and my older brother would collect some of the toys from Armada and Energon respectively with me mostly buying the Decepticons and my older brother mostly buying the Autobots. I even got the original Armada Megatron for my birthday and I still have it to this day. I pretty much still have all my toys from Armada and Energon even now with the crown jewel of my collection being the Titan-class Unicron toy they made at the time. I remember that being a surprise Christmas present at the time because neither me nor my brothers asked for it, and yet we got it anyway!


As for the shows themselves? I'm fully aware of the reputation Armada and Energon have while Cybertron is considered the best of the trilogy, while nothing special. I tried re-watching Armada one time and pretty much gave up after a while because it really is pretty bad looking back on it. Characters are just introduced left and right and barely given time to develop, the dialogue in the English dub is atrocious and the animation just shows why you can't rush these things. I still feel nostalgic towards Armada (the closing credits here especially give me such childhood flashbacks every time), but I can agree that it's not good. The video-game on the other hand, I haven't replayed in years but I DO remember that being very good. It was also my first Transformers video-game I ever played at the time. Do you want to know something funny? Whenever I played the game, I would use my Tidal Wave toy as a map when navigating inside him in his aircraft carrier mode. Believe me, it works! XD Funnier still, the Tidal Wave toy I have is of his Energon counterpart, not Armada.


Speaking of Energon, I haven't re-watched it in years but I'm willing to bet that if I did, I might end up agreeing with everyone on how bad it is. I've read TFWiki's page on the show and the GREAT amount of detail given as to why the show is bad and it never ceases to fascinate me on the ways that it's bad. I mean how do you have a show that doesn't have enough plot to fill in 52 episodes? Or spelling errors in the titles? Or you pretty much have people asking what's the need to even transform? I might end up being more forgiving than most if I re-watch Energon, but needless to say I think I'll end up the same was with Armada in where it's not as good as I remember. How many of you fans are going to feel sorry for me that I grew up watching what is widely considered the worst Transformers cartoon ever made?


Regardless of the quality of these shows, the Unicron Trilogy was what cemented my status as a Transformers fan and I can't really hate it for that, can I?


I skipped over Transformers Animated with the main reason being that the character designs were really off-putting. Even now I still consider Animated to have the worst choice of art-style for a Transformers cartoon. I mean why was this ever chosen? The designs look way too cartoonish for the type of franchise Transformers is and half of them don't even look like Transformers! They just look like cartoon characters in Transformers cosplay to me! And yet watching a few episodes, namely any episode with Lockdown in it, Blackarachnia's debut and Soundwave's debut, the show isn't as silly or goofy as it looks and the writing is among the show's most praised aspects. I may watch Animated in full one of these days to see what I've missed out on. I did collect some of the toys, namely Blackarachnia, Shockwave, Prowl, Blitzwing, Soundwave, Waspinator and Lockdown, but aside from that, I didn't have a lot of exposure or interaction with this incarnation of the series.


Now let's move on to...


The Movies

Transformers 2007

(long heavy sigh)


Unfortunately, I must confess that I too have experienced the Michael Bay Transformers movies. And looking back, I wish these things never existed because they've only turned the franchise into a joke thanks to Michael Bay being the absolute wrong kind of guy to be directing these films. He somehow looks at Transformers and thinks we want sex jokes, racist stereotypes, sexualized female characters and juvenile humour that only college dropouts would think is funny. Oh and he idiotically thinks we watch the movies for the human characters, hence the movies keep overly focusing on them instead of, you know, the Transformers themselves? Now thanks to him, people think this is what Transformers is like. I also hate how the movies have impacted the franchise to the point where Bumblebee is the star of everything nowadays instead of Optimus and Megatron, the ACTUAL main characters. Bumblebee is NOT the face of Transformers guys, so stop trying to act like he is!


For my experience with the movies, I watched the first movie and the second, third and fourth films while skipping The Last Knight entirely. By the time of Age of Extinction, I was just done with these stupid films and wanted no more of them. My criticisms are the same as everyone else's: they're formulaic to a ridiculous degree, there's too much focus on the humans, the human characters are annoying as f***, Optimus Prime is a bloodthirsty psychopath unworthy of carrying the name of "Prime", many fan-favourite characters get shafted, the Decepticons are nothing but cannon-fodder, Megatron keeps playing second-fiddle to another villain, there's too much action and not enough story, the Transformers themselves are barely given any personality, the humour is garbage and Michael Bay keeps casting actresses who are clearly there to look pretty, not because they can act. I know they're bad and YOU know they're bad! The only Transformers movie that doesn't suck in my eyes is Bumblebee, and that's because it wasn't directed by Michael Bay and was focused on one character with a smaller scale story and a less crowded cast. Sadly, the sequel Transformers: Rise of the Beasts felt like it fell back on old habits and wasn't as great as Bumblebee was. And considering I said Bumblebee is the only good Transformers movie, yes that means I actually think the G1 movie is crap too. I haven't re-watched it in a while, but I doubt my opinion will change if I do. Honestly, all these Transformers movies and only one of them doesn't suck...


But what doesn't suck about these films is the toy line. The movies gave us some of the best toys to ever be sold in shops and I have many of them in my possession to this day. It was around the time of Revenge of the Fallen when me and my younger brother, Captain Conroy, were REALLY into collecting the toys. We got SO many of the toys from that toy line and you better believe we wasted no time getting the updated new toys from the Studio Series line. The movies have many creative and cool character designs that make for some awesome toys, and it made collecting many of them so fun. My personal favourite of the Studio Series line would have to be Studio Series Shockwave. That toy looks so damn awesome, and I love displaying it on my computer desk. :D


Also the video-game spin-offs were better than the movies themselves too. The video-game adaptation of Transformers 2007 especially ranks as among the best Transformers games out there in my eyes and the video-game adaptation of Revenge of the Fallen is a lot of fun too.


As is, I do not look back on the movies very fondly. The toy line and games yes, but NOT the movies. I'm aware there are worse things in this franchise (including a certain Japanese manga I will not mention), but the movies except for Bumblebee are still hot garbage and should be disregarded as nothing more than useless scrap.


Now onto my personal favourite iteration of the franchise...


The Aligned Continuity

Transformers Prime

Hell yeah! This was the franchise peak for me!


The Aligned continuity was one interesting experiment. From 2010-2015, Hasbro essentially tried to make all their Transformers media aligned together in one big expanded universe with cartoons, comics, novels and even video-games all telling stories that were set in the same universe. The results were...mixed to say the least. It's clear the media wasn't as aligned as it could've been given the numerous continuity errors between the various content and how certain characters seem to have differing personalities depending on the property. Need I bring up Grimlock anyone? So after 2015, they pretty much stopped doing that and now all Transformers media is more standalone. It's a pity really as it was cool to see everything being connected together, but it's for the best if it isn't as it allows more flexibility with writing and creating content for the franchise.


My experiences with the Aligned continuity include watching Transformers: Prime and Transformers: Robots in Disguise 2015 and playing the War For Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron games. Transformers: Prime to me stands as THE quintessential Transformers cartoon. No TF show has ever come close to matching its level of quality or being anywhere near as engaging as this one has. Its darker tone, epic scale, incredible world-building, great use of the franchise's lore, amazing voice-acting and surprisingly beautiful animation for a show on a TV budget made it an incredibly engaging watch and I'll forever use this show as the example all Transformers shows should follow. It's not perfect by any means due to some pacing issues and the budget does hold it back somewhat by forcing them to get rid of characters to save money and the third season felt incredibly rushed due to being much shorter, but it's by far the best of any Transformers cartoon I've watched with Beast Wars as a close second.


The sequel show, Robots in Disguise on the other hand...is pure junk. Seriously, they had a sequel series to Prime and this was the best they could give us? This watered-down monster-of-the-week formula that is way too childish to be enjoyable and has none of the deep, rich character development or complex plotting that made Prime so good? This show was a snooze-fest to watch I swear and it's so annoying because anytime it threatens to get good or interesting, it goes back to playing it overly safe and going back to that same boring monster-of-the-week formula. The only reason I even watched this pathetic excuse for a show all the way to the end was because Steeljaw was such a cool, charismatic and intriguing villain and he at least made the show worth watching whenever he was onscreen. As is, I find it so sad that after the epic show that was Prime, we got this mediocre shlock as a follow-up and it ended the aligned continuity on a massive whimper.


As for the games, both War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron are fantastic games, easily the best in the franchise, and are so much fun to play with the many different characters on offer, the beautiful graphics, the interchangeable weapons and so much more. I recommend them to gamers in general, not just Transformers fans because they're so much fun.


As for the toy line? I did collect a good chunk of the toys from Prime, managing to get near enough every character in the show and some of the toy line exclusive ones, and I even got a handful of toys from Robots in Disguise. And yes, I got Steeljaw's toy. ;) I got a couple of the Legacy toys that are based on the Prime versions of the characters, namely Bulkhead, Knockout and Skyquake. I got some of the toys based on the War for Cybertron characters too, even recently getting the Studio Series Gamer Editions of Optimus, Megatron, Barricade and Cliffjumper.


Sadly, that was mostly it after the Aligned Continuity. Ever since it ended, I haven't really engaged that much in any recent Transformers continuity. I haven't watched Cyberverse and I couldn't even get past one episode of Earthspark. I hate how the franchise has become too kid-friendly since the Aligned Continuity and it's making the new shows uninteresting to check out as a result. Even the trailer for that upcoming Transformers One movie suggests it's going to be too overly kid-friendly for my tastes and has me hesitant to check it out. Yes, this franchise is for kids, but it's also for adults too. Transformers appeals to all ages and the franchise is at its best when it does so. If it's going to overly appeal to kids, then I'm not going to check out anything new anytime soon...


Other Experiences With The Franchise

Transformers: Beast Wars

Now for some miscellaneous other info to add.


While I didn't grow up with the Beast Era while it was on TV, I did own some of the toys from that era as mentioned earlier. It wasn't until around my teen years when I watched Beast Wars for the first time. I only watched the first season and then just stopped for some reason. I tried again and this time, I got up to Season 2 and then stopped. I'm still yet to actually watch Season 3. Why is it I can NEVER finish this damn show? Anyhow, I agree with the fandom that Beast Wars is a damn good show. They didn't need to go so hard with it, but they did anyway and gave us a show that could be funny, engaging, intense, heart-breaking and epic at times. Yes, the animation has aged poorly and looks like an early 90's video-game, but that oddly adds to the show's charm in my eyes. If you're curious to know, my favourite character is Dinobot. And yes, I was gutted when he died, even though I knew it was happening. Man Code of Hero was such a gut-puncher...


As for the toys, I only really own Beast Wars Megatron from the very original Beast Wars toy line. Most of the others, I own from the Kingdom/Legacy toy lines when they would release new updated versions of the Beast Wars cast. And what updates they are too! I swear the Beast Wars cast have never looked better with these new toys. :D


I also checked out the Netflix War for Cybertron cartoon series they made that was based on the trilogy of toy lines at the time (Siege, Earthrise and Kingdom). It was...alright but nothing that special really. Six episodes per season was NOT enough for this show to reach its true potential and that voice-acting was...yeah, not great. ^^; The animation was fantastic at least, but that only gets you so far. Not terrible, but not great either. If they had more episodes to work with, it could've been even better.


And...that wraps it up. That's my whole experience with the Transformers franchise as I'm writing this post.


Conclusion


I've had a lot of experiences and made so many memories with this franchise. Some were great, some were not so great but overall, I cherish all my memories of Transformers, even the bad media I've watched. Why? Because they're memories of a franchise I hold dear to my heart and they're an example of how even as an adult I still enjoy Transformers so much. Watching the shows, playing the games, collecting the toys, it's been a blast and I just can't imagine my life without this franchise.


Happy Anniversary Transformers, and thank you for all the memories. Here's hoping I can make more with you sometime soon... ^^


And that's all I have for this review. I hope you enjoyed it and I invite you to share your comments down below. What's your experience with Transformers like? Which continuity is your favourite? I'd love to hear all about it.

Next week I'll be reviewing the lesser known animated movie Help! I'm A Fish. See you then media fans!

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4 comentarios


My introduction to Transformers was Cybertron as this show aired back on TV where I was from during that time. Then I saw the Michael Bay movie afterwards and even as a kid I hated it. I don't remember much after that

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Transformers is a big favorite for me. ^^


I especially like Animated, the first Micheal Bay movie, and Bumblebee to be exact. :D

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Well it is quite a nice history you have with Transformers. :)

As for my history, I am more familiar with Animated, TF Prime and the RiD 2015 series, plus the Bumblebee film as those are like my TF experience.

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Glad to learn more about your experiences.


Didn't watch the original Robots in Disguise so can't judge, I only know a little from research.


I did watch Armada, which was a distraction at best. Energon was not good so I stopped. I think I saw one or two episodes of Cybertron, but that was it. Not a lot going on.


I did watch Animated and it is one of my favs. The art style takes getting used to but the voice acting and storyline are on point for the most part and when you decide to finally decide to fully it watch I can guarantee...it is a lot better then it looks.


Prime was a great cartoon, most of us…


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