August 7, 2011

Shadowcon Overviews- Transformers Energon

Shadowcon Overviews: Transformers Energon

Y’know, sometimes it’s best to just let pain settle before beginning another activity. Apparently, the writers of Armada just didn’t know when to quit, because Energon is just so, so bad! It tries so very hard to avoid the problems that plagued Armada, and for the first twenty or so episodes, it succeeds… and then the writers realize that they have to crank out thirty more episodes.

This all stems from the fact that the plot (yeah…) has to pick up with Unicron reenergizing by draining Earth’s resources, because Unicron was the only credible threat in Armada, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It also has to have the Decepticons either in shambles or as part of the alliance with Earth and the Autobots (the writers for the show chose the latter choice). As such, the first half of the show was awesome, with a great rush of excitement as audiences tuned in to see where Unicron was in getting back to his breakfast, or where Optimus was with trying to contend with the growing unrest with the Decepticon men under his command. This was a pretty decent setup, and had the writers thought this out, could have been a good character-driven show, with intense action along the way. The Autobots and Decepticons could have been at each other’s throats behind Optimus’ back, thus making for very good dynamic character interaction. The plot with Unicron could have still been told, but with far more of a winning crescendo of a reactivation. Unicron could have still sent out a legion of drones to Earth to suck all of its resources dry, but the impact on Earth could have been far more substantial. This would have been great… and it was. It’s just that, for you to enjoy the good Energon, you had to buy a comic every month. What did the show do? That, only to an absurdly less degree of awesome.

Then the first twenty episodes were completed, and Unicron had been resurrected and defeated. With the show’s main objective completed, there was nowhere to go! The show was done. Great, but there were still thirty episodes left. So what were the writers to do? The answer for them was, apparently, to repeat what had already happened, and for Unicron to be reactivated again only for him to be destroyed again. But this still leaves thirteen more episodes for the series, and thus, the story takes a nosedive into complete absurdity, introducing boring characters and resurrecting original characters... only for them to do nothing for the remainder of the series.

What makes this even more infuriating is that the show is primarily set in space. Transformers have always been about… transforming, and while spaceship and airplane alt-modes are fine for a space-based show, cars and snowmobiles are not. The setting makes the entire point of Transformers completely moot, as the characters now have absolutely no reason to transform, and are just as capable of moving through space in robot mode as they are in vehicle mode. Also, on occasions that the people might actually need to transform, they run on foot. As such, logic and common sense are tossed out the window.

All of this is of course to sell and promote the toys, and since the toyline needed toys to transform, the cartoon needed to be at least partially centered around that aspect of the toys themselves. The Energon toyline had the gimmick of having two toys combine into a single fighter, and the cartoon followed suit. Unfortunately, the logic behind why they needed to do this is anyone’s guess, as the combining of the two soldiers doesn’t appear to give the robots any extra strength, and it means that you have fewer guns to fire at the enemy… and, no the guns didn’t combine into a single gun. No, the robots would only use one of the two guns in most cases, and it was only Optimus Prime who had any kind of ordnance that was better than what he had when he was not combined with another character. Not only did the gimmick not make sense in the cartoon, but it also padded out episodes with stock footage to an amazing degree. Episodes contained at minimum three stock footage sequences, and the entire concept didn’t really hit it off very well at all.

The cast is mixed up just enough to give you a sense of continuity between the two series, which is good. Unfortunately, the character’s plots and story arcs would be resolved by memory loss, death, or… memory loss by the writers.

Notable examples of characters de-evolving include:

  • Demolishor's uncertainty in the Decepticon cause? "Resolved" by having him sacrifice himself to save Megatron, then having Megatron resurrect him with no memories.
  • Inferno's struggle against Megatron's Decepticon programming? Brought to an end by having him kill himself, then be resurrected, only to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the series.
  • Kicker's hatred of Transformers? Vanishes with no explanation after roughly two episodes, save for the occasional kick to Ironhide.
  • Rodimus and Optimus Prime's ideological feud over whether Unicron should be destroyed? Rodimus puts himself under Optimus's command for the mission to defeat Galvatron, and the argument never comes up again.
  • Wing Saber's dedication to capturing Shockblast? Well, he captures him… but when Shockblast escapes again, Wing Saber doesn't say a word.

The Autobots’ replacement for Hot Shot, who they’ve made into a hardened soldier, is Ironhide who, in the original 1984 cartoon, was a… hardened soldier (yeah, the mismatching of names and character traits continues here, folks). The Decepticons’ only strength (Starscream) is now a ghost, and he’s turned into a groveler at Megatron’s feet, thus making our safety net into to mush. Really disappointing.

Oh yeah, Megatron got resurrected after making that sacrifice that was supposed to show that he had grown as a character over the course of Armada. Of course, Megatron comes back as the default asshole bad guy that he was at the beginning of Armada. See, this is the problem with most of the Transformers series: none of the characters actually grow, they just reboot, and while that may work for a reboot show, that doesn’t work when you have a growing series, with storylines that have to continue. Megatron’s sacrifice is barely mentioned, and when it is, he isn’t remembered as a hero, just as a villain who shot Optimus in chest twice so he could die.

In keeping with his character, you would think that he would approach Optimus and congratulate him on his fantastic established peace with Earth and how everyone is happy and then maybe attack him because he wants to run the peaceful universe and not have to worry about serving under Optimus. That would have made him keep his longing for peace that he had at the end of Armada, and it would give Optimus something to actually do for the first time in the trilogy! Instead, Megatron is back to his default settings, while Optimus is looking like he has very bad memory.

The human ally for the show this time is the most hated human by the Transformers fandom. This is Kicker Jones, who has the stupidest name on the planet. “Kicker”? Seriously? The guy’s a teenager, so there’s already a weak point for him, but he also has all of the characteristics of a teenager cranked up to eleven. He’s arrogant, impatient, and throws tantrums by kicking Ironhide. Unfortunately, he’s a key plot device, because he has the ability to sense Energon, the substance that Unicron needs, and that is also conveniently covering Earth’s surface. You would think that he would be incredulous because of his use as an Energon detector, but instead he’s incredulous because he’s supposed to be rash. Rash? That doesn’t even begin to describe this kid’s behavior. More like “impetuous” or “unthinking”. Once again, his character could have been okay if they gave him something to be angry and impetuous about (like being an Energon detector with legs), but, alas, it was not meant to be.

The animation in Armada was, at worst, horrible, and at best, subpar. Energon’s animation is better than it’s predecessor, but that’s not saying much. The robots are done up in really bad cell-CGI, which is the same kind of animation used as the revered Beast Wars, but this animation makes Beast Wars’ cell-CGI look like it was made by Industrial Lights & Magic, and keep in mind that Beast Wars came before Energon! Some of the robots look very odd from some angles, and the “dull surprise” expression is used copiously in the show. The rest of the landscapes and humans are hand-drawn, and aren’t that much better than the art of Armada. This is yet another weakness for the show.

Editing in Energon is horrible. The dub in the series appears to be given an even more rushed once-over than Armada’s, and while naming of characters is less of an issue, the amount of mistakes remains copious nonetheless. Misha, a human character, gets three different names throughout the show! Downshift and Cliffjumper’s names are constantly mismatched between them. The characters continue to react to things very strangely, and also have to yell out every other line. Energon is famous for having typos in its episode title cards. “Imprisoned Inferno” is spelt as “Improsoned Inferno”. That’s just a stupid mistake, and Energon has a million other kinks in its horribly acidic armor.

About the only good thing in Energon is the music. The score is pretty good, with symphonic and techno tones layered over each other to make a very badass, top-notch score. Unfortunately, this score is put over scenes that make no sense for it; action scenes are accompanied by a layer of touching music while somber events are given a cheery tune.

Energon is horrible. It’s worse than Armada, and what makes this even more grating is the fact that the show had potential, but fell into the same traps as Armada, namely, that of really lazy writing and editing! If you want to watch the show, then watch the last third of Armada first, and then watch the first third of Energon. It’ll feel like a bad show, but it’s far more watchable than either of its components.

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