Shadowcon Overviews: Transformers Armada
Transformers Armada is arguably the worst series to bear the “Transformers” title, with the only other contender being Transformers Engergn, though most render this point moot and put the two on an equal level of suck as each other. I might review some of the episodes contained in this series (there’s enough awful in here to fill a book), but that would require me to actually watch some of them again. This was the first Transformers series since 1992 to feature all vehicular alternate modes for the robots, and was advertised as being the grand revival of the Transformers of the ‘80s. Boy, did they get that wrong.
The series has familiar names mixed with unfamiliar character traits. Optimus Prime is not so much a leader as he is a programmed drone for most of the series. In fact, all of the Autobots (with the exception of Hot Shot) could be switched around and you’d not even need to change the dialogue. They don’t have any distinct personalities. The cast is pretty thin at the beginning, which contributes to the slow start, but fills out in an ensemble of sorts, enabling more elaborate fights and would have been a great way to give the characters chemistry. Sadly, we’re only ever going to care about a character for his introductory episode, and then forget about him because he’ll become a mindless drone.
The Decepticons don’t fair much better, but they do have one thing going for them: Starscream! The Armada Starscream is one of my favorite incarnations of Starscream ever. He is one of the only characters that evolve throughout the series. By the end of the show, he’s defected to the Autobots, believing Megatron to have lost his way. Starscream is one of the only saving graces of the show, and unfortunately his arc doesn’t really pick up until a good third of the series has past. The rest of the ‘Cons are blank slates, given cutout personas. Megatron isn’t threatening (this is not due to David Key, however, just the writing), and his interactions with the other Decepticons are almost nonexistent.
As mentioned above, the only Autobot to get any development is a character who is regarded by the fans as one of the most annoying characters in the Transformers universe: Hot Shot. This guy is such an asshole. He’s supposed to be rash, but he comes off more as stupid and underprepared. He’s supposedly got a chance at being leader, but if you were to follow someone into battle, I think you’d want someone who didn’t completely let their guard down when seeing a bunch of funny faces. Hot Shot does develop in between the three series that make up the Unicron Trilogy, as he’s less of a pain in Energon, but that’s it. Plus, his plastic representation is horrible, so that doesn’t really help this guy’s case.
Plot? Yeah… It’s safe to say that Transformers in general isn’t known for it’s plot arcs in fiction. Over the years it’s gotten better, with Beast Wars being a fine example of how to write a goddamn script for a Transformers show, and the hugely successful IDW Transformers series having a good grasp on plot and characters. Here in Transformers Armada, though, we get a very slow beginning with plodding episodes, until the last third finally brings in Unicron. The last third brought in a plot element that worked. The last THIRD!!! What makes this even worse is that you don’t even have to watch the other two thirds to know what’s going on with everyone (again, with the exception of Starscream), which not only makes the journey completely pointless, but now the writers have pissed off the pour soles that tuned in every week to watch the cartoon over the past year!
Basically, the Autobots and Decepticons are looking for a smaller race of Transformers called Mini Cons in order to boost their power and help deploy in-built weapons. These Mini Cons are scattered throughout the universe because they left in a space craft in order to escape slavery. So, the Transformers are looking for these guys just so they don’t have to build bigger guns and so that they can have help deploying built-in weapons? That would be like if I needed an ant’s help when typing. Sure, the ant might add a minute amount of strength that I lacked without it, but I could still perform the same function with or without the ant. What makes this even more obnoxious is that the Transformers discover these weapons when the Mini Con first combines with them. That would be like if I didn’t know I had fingers and the ant came onto my hand and I noticed the ant… and only then did I notice that I had fingers! This means that the Transformers either didn’t know that they had weapons strapped to their bodies in the first place, or the Mini Con built a gun and strapped it to their body and neither the Mini Con nor the bigger Transformer noticed. Either way you slice it, its still ridiculous.
As I said, the plot thickens a little bit at the end, with the introducing of Unicron and Starscream’s redemption. This is the only reason to watch this series. The Unicron Battles (that’s the story arc title) is pretty palpable both in action and cogent dialogue, and brings an atmosphere of hopelessness to the series, which is more than the nothing that the rest of the show gave us. Optimus and Megatron are finally true to their names as they bicker and fight just as in the old cartoon. Megatron gets a nice closing to his character, one which almost makes you want to weep at what his character could have been with the thought and care that was put into the closure.
The voice acting is okay, but could have been so much better. Garry Chalk and David Kaye deliver solid performances, as they had voiced Optimus and Megatron previously on Beast Wars and Beast Machines, so they’re okay. Scott McNeil is also a fantastic Starscream, and all three of these guys will be great for their five-year run together. The rest of the cast isn’t really special to listen to. None of the voices stand out, and the tones and emotions that they convey are ones of boredom and monotones.
This is not entirely the casts’ fault. See, Transformers Armada was an American version of the Japanese series Transformers Micron Legends, and as such, had to be dubbed into English in order for the majority of American children to be tortured by it. Unfortunately, the Japanese anime was not ready to air until six months after the American dub had been on the air. This is not to say that the Japanese version looks any better; it doesn’t. The only thing that the Japanese version has over the American version is the dialogue. The American dub was rushed along with the schedule, and as such, results in characters delivering semi-cogent monologues and reacting comically to a statement, sometimes waiting a whole six seconds before responding with a remark that, in a normal conversation, should have taken about a second to come up with. This is all because the translations were, at best, looked over and translated very roughly. The scripts were never really given any re-writes to fit with a Western audience. As such, dialogue is prone to only roughly clarify what is happening on screen.
Half the time the characters will get people’s names wrong (particularly with the Mini Cons), and this happens so frequently throughout the show, you could make it a drinking game (if you’re not already drunk by the third episode). The writing for the show is horrible. There are copious amounts of plot-holes and continuity errors throughout, and characters will sometimes forget what they said not two lines ago! About 80% of the episodes center around finding Mini Cons and fending off Decepticons, with no real arc being made (again, except with Starscream).
The dub and plot are not the only things wrong with the series. Some of the artistic transitions from Japan to the US were odd ones, as seen in this image here:
As you can see, the entire back row of robots has either been recolored or entirely different models have replaced characters. This is not a deliberate artistic choice; it’s just lazy animation and bad editing. Some of the animation was cleaned up for the broadcast in Japan (the episode “Link Up” is of particular note), but this tidiness is marginal, and the animation tends to look just as bad in the Japanese version as it does in the US version.
Overall, the series was a complete wreck. It’s wrought with continuity errors, dubbing issues, subpar voice acting, and a plot that is only good for the last third or fourth of the series. And what could make this even worse?