August 13, 2011

Shadowcon Overviews- Transformers Cybertron

Shadowcon Overviews: Transformers Cybertron

With the taste of Energon still in people’s mouths, many questioned arose as to whether there would even be another series, let alone a sequel to one of the most hated Transformers shows ever. Well, apparently the third time’s the charm, because for all the fail that had accumulated from Armada and Energon, Cybertron is actually watchable. It’s not great by any means, but it’s at least a passable television show. Granted, it has problems, but compared to its predecessors, it’s such a fresh-feeling show!

What makes this show tolerable is the fact that the translator from Japanese to English actually worked on the script to help convey the meaning of the original Japanese dialogue, but taking far more liberties to make the English translation sound fluent and not like it was a translation, and the actors were willing to turn in stronger performances. Granted, the freedom of the dub ran the risk of minor continuity errors, but after the amount of horrible concealed in Energon, most were willing to see past this.

Unfortunately, continuity errors still exist, and the ones that do are huge. In Japan, Cybertron, deemed Galaxy Force, was thought of as a standalone show, having no ties to Armada or Energon. This was a smart move: it allowed the show to thrive without having to be bogged down by the plot of the other two shows, and it gave the fans the feeling that the writers were starting over. Unfortunately, the US dub had dialogue to both confirm and contradict its ties to its previous shows. The plot of both the US and Japanese series is that a black hole threatens Cybertron and the Autobots have to stop it, and in order to do that, they have to find four keys to unlock a weapon that will hopefully close the black hole. In Galaxy Force, the black hole was… a black hole, pure and simple. In Cybertron, however, the black hole was the remains of Unicron. Okay, so it’s carrying over the main threat of the other two shows. Fine. But what makes this terribly frustrating is that some of the concepts that were primary in the other two shows, like the Mini Cons in Armada, and the ability for two robots to combine in Energon, are either ignored, or are only discovered by the characters now in the third show!

The characters are also only now evacuating Cybertron and have absolutely no knowledge of Earth! However, dialogue also suggest that the characters have some memory of the past events, as Megatron knows that the black hole is the remains of Unicron, and that he himself is infused with Unicron’s armor, something that his Energon counterpart also had done to him. Optimus Prime also remembers a character from Energon (though in the flashback, the two are in their Cybertron bodies).

Cybertron’s continuity errors aside, the plot is far more “involved” than its predecessor’s, as this series’ setup allows for the show to not run out of plot. The quest for the four Cyber Planet Keys can be broken down into four “seasons”, having about thirteen episodes each. This works for about three out of the four, as the Velocitron story is extremely ponderous, and has its thirteen episodes taken up by generic races in order to win a trophy. If this had been half the length, it would have made the show even stronger, as this would have allowed time for some of the more interesting stories to get told (like the backstory for Planet X and Gigantion), but while this is a blemish, its not nearly as bad as what happened with Energon. But my favorite twist that the show offered us was seeing Starscream succeed in usurping Megatron. While I would have liked to have seen more of this part of the show, it was still a pretty good part of it, and the buildup to it is effective as well.

The human characters are as annoying as the three kids from Armada, though unlike Armada, I don’t really enjoy any one of these three more than the other two. They’re all kind of the same to me, which is one of the weaker points of this show.

Cybertron’s strong point was its ability to remain engaging throughout. Sadly, on most shows, this wouldn’t even be a strong point, because most shows would do this by default; it’s just that Cybertron has to be compared to shows like Armada and Energon, and thus is reduced to being good only by being less ponderous than Energon. That just burns, especially when its weak point is its characters. Optimus Prime is, again, supposed to be large and in charge, but comes off more as a giant oaf, exasperated even more in his title episode, “Optimus”! Damn, that just burns: a character who’s not very good gets his own episode… and in it his character is reduced even more! This was a common occurrence in Energon, and it unfortunately plagues most of the Autobots and all but one of the Decepticons. I’m not kidding; Megatron went from being really badass and cool to being Galvatron (again) and having too much power; Thundercracker, Ransack, Crumplezone, and Thunderblast weren’t interesting to begin with, so I guess they didn’t really have anywhere to de-evolve to (yay…); Scourge went from being a credible threat to being a bumbling good guy (yeah, you’d think that that would be character development, but the writers handle it so that it seems like he loses aspects of his character that everyone enjoyed, and gains all of the bad aspects about being a good guy).  Starscream is stripped of his interesting character from Armada and given a more G1 feel, as he’s forming plans to overthrow Megatron and lead his own army. This actually works, and while his character is more so paying homage to a previous incarnation, it takes a twist as this time he actually succeeds at overthrowing Megatron and gathering an army of his own. The only characters that I really enjoyed throughout for the most part were Hot Shot (yeah…) and Sideways.

Hot Shot’s character seems to be a fusion of the asshole from Armada and the badass soldier from Energon, taking the quirky, rash aspects that the former was supposed to have, but having the confidence of the latter. This Hot Shot is awesome. He’s exactly what the Armada version should have been but wasn’t.

Sideways appeared first in Armada, then went on vacation and didn’t appear in Energon, and then suddenly reappeared in Cybertron, without any explanation. This is further continuity souring, but at least with Sideways it can be choked up to the fact that he’s part of Unicron… the same thing that causes most continuity problems across the board for Transformers, so it’s kind of okay. Nevertheless, this Sideways is awesome for the first and second “seasons” of the show. You buy that he can manipulate both the Autobots and Decepticons and that he has plans within plans. Unfortunately, by the last third of the series, he just went from jokingly insane, and into the realm of complete absurdity. This is mostly brought on by the arrival of his brother Soundwave, who, like Sideways, starts out awesome and promptly turns into a joke. However, I enjoyed the two of them when they were introduced, so that was nice. I just wish that they could have kept the characters consistent throughout.

Another thing that bothered me about the Unicron Trilogy in general was the use of shaded cell CGI. However, unlike Energon, this CGI is pretty good, due in no small part that it was far more advanced than the previous attempts, and while the robots don’t really get to do much more than stand around, as movement is severely limiting and blocky, it definitely feels like a step up from what Energon was prodcing. Fortunately, the animators tried to work in an occasional smirk or growl (hell, Optimus manages to look really mad with his mouthplate up)! While the animation is better than the series’ previous attempts, the show delights in the use of stock footage to pad out episodes. There’s a huge amount of it in every episode; even some of the battle scenes are the same, but with different backgrounds and paraphernalia around the combatants. This results in very tedious battle sequences, and almost makes you weep at the new battle sequences, because you know that these too will be added to the generic battle pile.

Transformers Cybertron is effective at being engaging, not running out of plot (for the most part) and having a better English dubbing than its predecessors. While it has flaws to be sure, at the time it was a breath of fresh air for the audiences of the previous two shows. The Unicron Trilogy (as the three shows have since been dubbed due to the central theme of Unicron) was a huge misstep in the Transformers lore. Unfortunately, these are also the shows that I grew up with, so my mental state is questionable at best. Had the movie not come out a year later, this likely would have killed the franchise for quite some time (granted, Animated was being drafted as Cybertron was finishing up, so the franchise may have lived on, but it certainly would have been a different world for a Transformers fan). Cybertron is by far the best of the three, but it’s only that because things happen throughout the entire show. No Transformers show up until the movies was meant to stand alone, but damn, did the Unicron Trilogy take that to the extreme. If you’re interested in the Unicron Trilogy (God help you), then watch Cybertron… and don’t even bother with the other two… just… don’t.

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