Has it really been 25 years since Transformers hit the airwaves? Well, technically not until September but to commemorate the 25th anniversary, The Shout Factory has released this 3 DVD set that features all 16 episodes from the first season along with a third disc of extras. The Transformers was a groundbreaking TV show. The series ran for four years and an incredible 98 episodes. What set the Transformers apart from other cartoons of the era was it’s more complex and ongoing storylines, multi-part story arcs, and the huge cast of characters. Sure, on one hand it was a 22 minute commercial for Hasbro’s toy line but on the other hand there was a lot of depth to the series. While it was a bit of a one-trick pony in terms of its basic Autobots Vs. Decepticons plot, the writers always seemed to be able to come up with ideas to keep the show fresh. Of course, having an almost inexhaustible supply of new Transformers helped a great deal.
Transformers employed a host of well known writers including comic writers Don Glut, Gerry Conway, Paul Dini, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman, although most of the episodes were written by less familiar names like David Wise and Douglas Booth. The series begins with the three part “More than Meets the Eye”. This details the history of Cybertron and the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. Led by Optimus Prime, the Autobots set out to find a new energy sources, eventually arriving at Earth four million years in the past with the Decepticons right behind them. The two sides are left deactivated until they awake in the present time period and scan Earth’s vehicles to transform and disguise themselves. I’ve always thought this story arc to be well crafted and even a bit lucky if you will. The Transformers coming to Earth in the distant past would eventually play a part in the later Beast Wars series. Here they meet their first humans Spike Witwicky and his father Sparkplug.
Now, here is where the planning was so clever. This show started off with a huge number of Transformers: Optimus Prime, Brawn, Bluestreak, Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Gears, Hound, Huffer, Ironhide, Jazz, Mirage, Prowl, Ratchet, Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Trailbreaker,and Wheeljack, along with Decepticons Megatron, Starscream, Skywarp, Thundercracker, Reflector, Soundwave, Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Ravage, Rumble, Frenzy, and Shockwave who remained behind on Cyberton. And of course the kids had to have all these toys so you really have to give it up for the marketing people at Hasbro.
“Fire in the Sky” introduced “Skyfire”, better known in the toy line as Jetfire (In actuality a Macross VF-1S Valkyrie) but due to a tangled web of legalities that’s too long to discuss here, he was referred to as Skyfire. It’s revealed that Skyfire and Starscream had been scientists at one time and had come to Earth previously where Skyfire was lost in the Arctic and frozen until discovered by the Decepticons many years later.
In “S.O.S. Dinobots” Ratchet and Weheeljack build transformers based upon the bones of dinosaur fossils and thus Grimlock, Slag, and Sludge (some of the best toys ever!) are born. The Dinbots are not too bright but they are incredibly powerful and cause Megatron’s forces to quickly retreat. They would next appear in “War of the Dinobots” as two new Dinobots were added, Swoop and Snarl.
Episode 15 introduced the Insecticons in “Plague of the Insecticons” and the final episode of season, “Heavy Metal War” introduced the largest Transformer yet, the Constructicon combiner known as Devastator!
It’s been a long time since I’ve watched the original show but I was surprised at how well it still plays. I’m still a fan of 2D animation and loved seeing these characters transform and battle it out. One thing though…I’ve always thought that Soundwaves’s more robotic voice should have gone to Shockwave since he was the most robotic looking of any Transformer. The great Peter Cullen was superb as the voice of Optimus Prime and you can’t overlook Frank Welker as Megatron (Not too mention various other Transformers) I can’t wait until the entire series is released. Now if someone could just release Headmasters, Super-God Force, and Victory here in the states, I could die happy.
The extras for a 25th anniversary set are a little under whelming.
Triple Changers: From Toy to Comic to Screen is a 20-minute documentary that traces the complete origins of the Transformers and features interviews with various Hasbro reps, series directors and writers, and comic writer Bob Budiansky. We hear how Hasbro marking reps traveled to Japan and originally bought the rights to Takara’s Diaclone and Microman line and renamed them Transformers. The toys had no back-story and didn’t even have names. Marvel Comics writer Bob Budiansky is the man who eventually named most of the transformers and created their back-story. Budiansky also wrote the Transformers comic book published by Marvel for 52 issues and wrote many of the tech specs that appear on Transformers toy packaging. This is a wonderful documentary even if you are already familiar with the history.
Unfortunately there’s not much more on the extras disc. There is a .pdf file that allows you to print out the complete script to the “Transport to Oblivion” episode and some vintage Transformers TV commercials for the toys, but that’s about it. I would have like to have had some commentary tracks on a few episodes. Even with the moderate extras, this is a set that Transformers fans have to have.