Transformers Headmasters DVD (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, July 12, 2011
By 1988 the Transformers toy line had waned in popularity in the U.S. and the TV series was canceled after 98 episodes. However, the Transformers continued to be enormously popular in Japan and three new series were produced between 1987 and 1989: Transformers: Headmasters, Transformers: Super-God Masterforce, and Transformers Victory. The three series totaled 115 episodes but previously had only been available through cheap bootlegs. Finally, after over 20 years these series’ are being released on DVD in the U.S. with Transformers: Headmasters being the first to arrive.
Headmasters virtually ignores the three-part “Rebirth” storyline that ended the U.S. series. Instead it picks up a year or so after the events in “The Return of Optimus Prime”. There is relative peace on Cyberton and Earth but it doesn’t last long. We meet the Headmasters who are small Transformers who left Cybertron millions of years earlier and arrive at a planet called “master”. There they constructed large bodies they called Transectors and merged with them by becoming their heads. Galvatron recruits the evil Headmasters (Mindwipe, Skullcruncher, and Weirdwolf) in his plan to try and take control of Cybertron’s supercomputer Vector Sigma. Meanwhile the Autobots are aided by the good Headmasters: Chromdome, Brainstorm, Hardhead, and Highbrow, along with the Headmaster leader Cerebros, who is the Headmaster of Fortress Maximus.
There are many differences between the American and Japanese series’ right off the bat. First off, many of the familiar characters of the original series like Ironhide, Jazz, Bumblebee, Starscream, Trailbreaker, Grapple, etc…are nowhere to found in Headmasters or VERY minimally in background shots. Instead as the name implies this series focuses on the Headmasters as well as the various combiners like The Aerialbots, Technobots, Trainbots (known as Raiden in Japan ), Stunticons, Terrorcons, Combaticons, and Predacons. Later on in the series we’ll see the Autobot and Decepticon Targetmasters. One of the other key characters is the ninja Sixshot who can change into six forms and is among the most deadly of the Decepticons.
Another difference is the more minor role that humans play. Spike Witwicky is now an adult and his son Daniel is the “kids appeal” of the series along with the young Autobot Wheelie. While they appear throughout the series their importance is far less important than in the original series. Finally, the Headmasters is a darker, more mature series. There’s mild profanity used and several characters are killed off over the length of the show. This is underscored in episode #2 “The Mystery of Planet Master” when rivals Soundwave and Blaster battle in a fight that results in both of their deaths. Later, Blaster will be reborn as Twincast and Soundwave reborn as Soundblaster.
The leadership of the Autobots is transferred from Optimus Prime to Rodimus Prime early on while Galvatron has to contend with Scorponok for control of the Decepticons. The series is truly galaxy-spanning and bounces from planet-to-planet including: Cybertron, Earth, Charr (Decepticon base), Master, Athenia (an Autobot base), Hive, Mars, and several others. Fortress Maximus is used strictly has a giant spacecraft and Autobot base until Episode #13 “Head On, Fortress Maximus”, when Cerebros transforms him into his robot form for the first time to battle a giant carnivorous plant on Earth, stunning the rest of the Autobots with his gigantic form. It’s one of the great geek-out moments of the show when you see him transform for the first time. While the stories due tend to jump around a lot you generally get the feeling that Headmasters was more about the stories and characters than they were about trying to sell toys. This might explain why the Transformers remained more popular in Japan than in the U.S. The series concludes with the two-part episode “The Final Showdown on Earth” as Fortress Maximas faces off one final time with his archenemy Scorponok with the fate of Earth in the balance. The Autobots gain an unexpected and welcome ally!
The series is in its original Japanese language with English subtitles and it brings out one of the series’ few weaknesses. The Japanese voice actors don’t do as good a job at distinguishing the many characters differently as the U.S. voice actors did. Some voices tend run together making them difficult to tell apart. Other voices are simply just annoying such as Blurr’s rapid fire delivery of every line and I wondered if even those who understand the language can figure out what he’s saying. Then there is darling little Daniel Witwicky. By the fourth episode I was hoping an Autobot would step on him. Daniel sounds like he was voiced by a four year-old girl and even worse, he breaks into tears at the drop of a hat making him a candidate for the worst character to ever appear in a Transformers series. The series doesn’t appear to have been re-mastered for its U.S. DVD release. It looks good it’s not standout. If definitely looks like a 1980s cartoon.
Transformers: Headmasters is a worthy sequel to the original Transformers show. It carries on the tradition with new and exciting stories and introduces a slew of new characters as it took the Transformers into the future. Simply a must own for any Transformers fan!
Unfortunately there are no extras in the set. It would have been great to see some interviews with some of the Japanese creators of show to get their viewpoints on continuing the series.
Mania Grade: A-
DVD TV Series: Transformers Headmasters
Starring (Voices): Various
Written By: Various
Directed By: Katsutoshi Nakano, Shoji Tajima
Distributor: Shout Factory
Original Year of Release: 1987-1988