Transformers: Headmasters - Takara Collection Vol. #1 -

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Mania Grade: C+

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  • Audio Rating: B-
  • Video Rating: D
  • Packaging Rating: B
  • Menus Rating: B-
  • Extras Rating: B
  • Age Rating: 12 & Up
  • Region: 2 - Japan
  • Released By: Other
  • MSRP: �29.99
  • Running time: 765
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
  • Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
  • Series: Transformers

Transformers: Headmasters - Takara Collection Vol. #1

By Dani Moure     November 30, 2005
Release Date: September 26, 2005

Transformers: Headmasters - Takara Collection Vol. #1
© Other

What They Say
This exclusive release marks the first time this legendary, much sought after but little seen 35-episode series has ever been officially released in its entirety in the West!

Features the show's original Japanese language version with newly commissioned remastered English subtitles, new artwork and a special collector's booklet on The Takara Collection.

The Review!
The first of the three original Transformers series finally receives an official release outside Japan and Asia, but is it worth the wait?

For my main review I listened to the Japanese stereo track. Being an old show the mix is nothing exceptional. There are a few moments of hissing and a couple of other problems but they seem to come from the source. The English language dub is also provided here, and while I describe the dub a bit more in the Content portion of the review, suffice it to say, it's absolutely awful and the track should only be listened to as a joke. I do applaud Metrodome for giving us the option of both though.

The transfer is pretty poor. It looks like it has come from very old masters, and is really showing its age. It's full of grain, the odd nicks and scratches and colours just look all washed out. In this respect it's very disappointing, but it would've been unrealistic to expect a remastered version or anything like that considering the budget Metrodome would've had for the release.

Subtitles are in a clear to read white font, though they're not problem free. Frequently they are out of sync, not to terrible proportions but sometimes it can get a bit confusing when multiple characters are talking and there's a bit of a lag from when the subtitles appear to when they speak, so you're reading ahead of what they're saying. Since some of the voices sound similar, it can become hard to distinguish who is talking.

Not only that, but Metrodome also took up the task of replacing most of the Japanese characters' names with their English equivalents where they have one. While this is a good thing, and what the fans asked for, it does leave the subtitles with a few mistakes. Some names are missed, some end up going wrong but the most glaring thing is the find and replace used for planet Cybertron and the word Autobot. Since in the Japanese version the Autobots are called Cybertrons, sometimes they accidentally replace the name of the planet Cybertron with Autobot, and sometimes they leave Cybertron in when meaning Autobots. The biggest error comes in Episode 21, entitled "Find Scorponok's Weak Spot". Some subtitles from a later episode appear mixed in with the subtitles for this episode at one point later on in the episode. While it's a glaring error it's made even worse by the fact that these later subtitles actually reveal the location of Scorponok's weak spot. Not exactly ideal.

No packaging was included as this was a check disc.

The menu begins with a brief introduction before going into a fairly static screen with Cybertron in the background and all the selections on the right side of the screen. Some theme music from Transformers The Movie plays over each menu, and that's apparently where these menu designs were lifted from. Despite that, everything is quick and easy to access.

There are only two real extras with this release. The first is a nice booklet written by fan Chris McFeely, introducing the show and giving a bit of background to the language tracks and name changes before swooping in to some episode summaries. This is a really essential piece for any casual fans who might pick this up based on the Transformers name alone, so is a very welcome addition.

There's also a commentary track running from episodes 1-3 with the same fan. They're fairly informative again on the history of the series and how it's made its way to a UK release.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
While the US run of the original Transformers series ended in 1986, with the three-part "fourth season" episode "The Rebirth" completing the run of the show in the US until well into the next decade in November 1987, the Japanese continued their love of Transformers long after. Three further series were produced, Headmasters being the first, airing straight after the third season of the show at the end of which one Optimus Prime returned to action.

The series has had an interesting past. It was little known outside of Japan until it was discovered airing on a TV station in Malaysia and Singapore, in English to boot. While that may sound like a good thing, it isn't necessarily. Because this dub was actually recorded in Singapore in pseudo-English, with one of the worst translations you may have ever heard. You think 4Kids are bad? Wait until you hear the dub. The names are absurd, and the things people say often make no sense. When you compare it to the literal translation, it's just even worse. But thankfully, Metrodome give us the original Japanese audio with English subtitles as well, which is quite frankly a must for these series.

Headmasters features many of your old favourites back in action again, at least in the beginning, but by no means does that mean this is the Transformers you know and love. It's important to realise that the tone of this series is completely different from the Transformers that was so popular in the Western world in the 80s. The Transformers themselves just as well be human considering they spend considerable time going on about their feelings and things. Daniel plays a far bigger part in the series than he ever did in the US version. And it's no clearer that things aren't the same than when one of the Autobots does karaoke to the opening theme song in an early episode. It's hilarious in quite a bad way, but the series has been heavily "Japanified" as a whole.

That doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing, but in the case of Headmasters, it kind of is. The series has a lot of fantastic ideas, but the execution is pretty poor and they amount to nothing because of it. The series explores some heavy themes, such as death, friendship, loyalty and the implications of war, but it doesn't tackle it with any depth, even when you consider that this is a children's show.

The opening arc of the series runs through the first ten or so episodes, and focuses on stories surrounding the characters we all know from the previous series. Optimus Prime and then Rodimus Prime take charge of the Autobots, Ultra Magnus, Arcee, Cup, Blurr and many other old favourites are ever present on the good side, with Galvatron leading the charge along with Scourge, Cyclonus, Soundwave and so on for the Decepticons. Several new characters are also introduced, many who debuted in the Western episode "The Rebirth". This of course includes the titular Headmasters.

This first arc just goes to highlight several of the flaws that remain apparent throughout the series. One noticeable and extremely frustrating one being that while the writers go to great lengths to kill people off for dramatic effect, they have a tendency to bring them back from the dead one too many times. I might be able to buy it once or twice, but when someone goes missing or seems to die then returns for the umpteenth time, it gets frustrating. And of course the deaths of Soundwave and Blaster are the most ludicrous of all, as within a couple of episodes both are reborn. Oh, and since it happens early I might as well mention, Optimus Prime dies again. Not that it matters, since he hands the Matrix over to Hot Rod again, but Rodimus Prime leaves at the end of the first arc anyway.

The next set of episodes revolve around introducing Scorponok, Zarak's latest creation (that again, Western fans will be familiar with), and on the Autobot side shift the focus over to Fortress, who heads up (literally) Fortress Maximus and takes charge of the Autobots. Once Scorponok finally appears, something of a power struggle emerges in the Decepticon ranks between Zarak and Galvatron, and while it's quite amusing it's also rather predictable.

With Scorponok firmly on the rampage, the next set of episodes in the mid 20s sees Galvatron go missing as well, and the focus switches for the Autobots to finding the weak spot of Scorponok. The final arc of sorts then thrusts things towards the final battle, introducing the Targetmasters and seeing the Autobots pursuing Scorponok as Zarak tries to execute his evil plan to rule the universe.

While there is a clear direction in the story, and it's clear when it changes direction, that doesn't mean it's completely plot-heavy on one story at any given point. Indeed it couldn't be, because then there wouldn't be room for sixteen billion fights. But anyway, the changes in the overall story arc are complemented with a lot of stand-alone stories that give some of the characters a bit of depth. And yes, it's not that great, and often doesn't make too much sense, but there is a clear effort made to inject a lot of the characters with feelings and make them seem far more three-dimensional than most characters ever appeared in the US version.

A great example is actually episode 32, which shows us a completely different side to Sixshot. It is a bit out of the blue, granted, since he's always been one of the more loyal Decepticons, but nonetheless it's a nice effort. The only problem with it is that generally the focus is always on the same bunch of people. While I can understand the need to home in on certain characters since the cast is extraordinarily large, it's a bit frustrating seeing so much time and effort spent on Daniel and Wheelie, especially when they're as annoying as they can be at times. I even started to get annoyed by Chromedome, who started to come off as a bit of an idiot.

But if that's one of the nice ideas that isn't quite right in terms of execution, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. Granted, it's a Japanese children's show, so the dialogue is going to be a bit more friendly than you'd usually expect, but I've not heard so many bad insults flung around as the Autobots and Decepticons use in a long time. And to make matters worse, the dialogue is repetitive to the point of annoyance. An Autobot will throw out an insult, and the best the Decepticon can come back with is the same thing. It strangely reminded me of being back at school when people couldn't think of an insult back so just said the same one instead. And even plans of action aren't safe. Wait until you hear Fortress give an order only for an Autobot to repeat what he said back as a question. I mean, really, that's taking order confirmation a bit too far.

It's also important to realise when going in to Headmasters that because of the show's nature, there's a lot of stupidity on show. Things frequently make little sense, not because they're confusing, but because you wonder why characters would do such stupid things. It got quite frustrating when, for the tenth time in a row, you'd see a Decepticon spying on the Autobots by hiding on Fortress Maximus. Haven't they heard of sensors? Really?

Another thing the characters have a habit of doing is acting completely illogically just to start a fight. Because at least 80% of what happens in Headmasters only happens to lead to a fight in the end, which only makes things more annoying that almost every time, unless someone's going to die, they all end in stalemates anyway and one group just flies off. For a bunch that hate war, the Autobots sure like to go in all guns blazing at times.

But for all these flaws, and there are a lot, there is some enjoyment to be had from the series. It's something hardcore fans of Transformers will probably enjoy, and should at least see once. You do get to see some of your old favourites back, at least for a time, and the new characters are quite interesting. The concept behind the Headmasters was always interesting, and I loved the "Rebirth" story that first introduced me to it, so I was always intrigued to see how this series would start afresh with the concept and carry on far longer. It may be a bit of train wreck at times, but you do get used to its quirks and start to realise that perhaps it's not so bad after all.

In Summary:
It's very difficult to recommend Headmasters to anyone but the hardcore Transformers fans, as even casual fans may be put off. For most fans though, it's at least worth a rental just so you can actually watch it. With such a low retail price for the whole series as well you can't knock Metrodome as they're providing good value, especially since they spent some money out to get the first official English subtitled translation on the discs (and although the production isn't perfect, it's a good first effort). Thankfully we do have the opportunity to see these series in their original form, and now my curiosity on the series has been satisfied I look forward to the release of the next series Masterforce, as that is said to be far better. Headmasters itself gets little more than a rental recommendation from me though.

Japanese Language (2.0),English Language (2.0),English Subtitles,Commentary on Episodes 1-3,Episode Scripts (DVD-ROM)

Review Equipment
Philips 28" Pure Flat Widescreen TV, Pioneer DV-464 code free DVD player, JVC gold-plated RGB SCART cable, standard stereo sound.


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