I was watching Transformers: Armada the other day (*cringe*).
A show I have seen very little of.
It was a rainy sleepy day and I managed to watch ten episodes in a row.
Quite the achievement I’d say.
It’s not a good show, but then it’s not a bad show. Transformers Armada is a fine show for kids. The thing that really struck me about it is how old school the character designs are, and that to me is the thing that most appeals about the show and the toys.
The whole Unicron Trilogy era of shows and toys are not terribly popular these days and while the shows are a bit rubbish, I think most of the toys are fantastic.
They are big and chunky and made of super strong plastic like the later phase Generation One and Generation Two toys of my youth. But they have some improved articulation, being post Beast era toys.
However, compared to the ball jointed Beast Wars era toys from ‘Wars to ‘Neo the Armada toys are kind of bricks by comparison. Bricks with articulation, but still bricks none the less. The characters have some cool redesigns and new looks, like the ever *fabulous* and stylish Starscream here below. But the toys are like taking a step back a decade or so, and then bolting on a couple of modern features post surgery as an afterthought.
And I have to admit that is what I love about the Armada toys. Big strong clackety-clack ratchets that make you go a little bit deaf when you hear them. Satisfyingly chunky proportions and large alt modes for main cast / character toys. Toys that really felt like toys, that you could hurl at a wall in a hissy fit or bludgeon to death your enemies with – and they would still work just fine afterward, battle damage and all.
For me Tidalwave, Megatron and Starscream are the stand out toys in the line in their design, transformation and overall aesthetics. Overload, Demolishor and Jetfire are also great fun. And just look at the color clash and that practically nothing in the entire line has any kind of scale to it. It’s just mental sizes and proportions, but I love it’s technicolor madness and flipping the bird to any sort of coherency in the line.
They are such fun toys. But they are stark raving MAD, just look at them! It’s like Generation Two never ended.
Some of the modern Transformers toys are very pretty and poseable in comparison. But build wise they feel like delicate European Ballerinas, always just one chicken leg away from breaking something. They are not made of “Sterner Stuff”.
Another thing I love about Armada, it continues the very Japanese Super-Robot-Anime tradition of super modes for old Convoy Pants Prime himself.
The super mode for Armada Optimus Prime looks absolutely horrible to me, both in the show and the toy. But it’s still basically a cool toy in design and the play pattern. The toy is more centred around the base mode, and the super mode.
With the “action figure” aspect basically dropped as his legs are not just giant bricks, but bricks that have been built into an impenetrable wall of immobility (for the sake of his trailer gimmick). The little cute Prime on his own (the truck cab) can still move about, and is still somewhat an action figure – but his robot super mode is just a joke. Fine for kids to play with though. And a very strong robust toy that stands up to being played with. But pretty damn ugly to my eyes.
God do I hate the head on that thing. The grill pipe face bits nightmare. Sweet Primus! The super mode’s ugliness is somewhat hypnotizing, but it’s alt mode (which is also fugly) kind of entices you in with the option to have Jetfire on the trailer. It brings to Mind Star Convoy and his fun various combinations with others toys in the line. And Armada Prime’s Super-Pants Super-Modes are undeniably goofy with odd proportions, but it’s still a fun toy despite these issues.
I love that each of the Optimus Primes from the Armada / Energon / Cybertron toy lines and shows have a fun super mode, as well as the Robots in Disguise(2001) Prime, making them the most Super-Robot-Anime flavored Transformers shows that have ever existed in Transformers media. Yes yes Dear Nerdbot 2.0’s… I’m not forgetting the JG1 Trilogy of shows. Ginrai and Star Saber got there first, as did Star Convoy – but they were not the Proud American Optimus toys most of are familiar with, they are more like exotic foreign delicacies you might see once in your lifetime, rather than something you could accidentally find down at the local chain store on a lazy weekend out and about and buy on a whim for the price of a cheap meal, and ramble on to your mates about it afterward.
No doubt I’ll be watching more Transformers Armada this week. (Sweet Zombie Jesus WHY?)
I don’t love it. But I don’t hate it.
It’s part of my mad quest to watch every Transformers TV show ever made in a row. Well it’s a marathon but a slow one over a year or so. I’m thinking of doing diary style posts now and then of the various shows I’m watching. Now here’s a simply horrid Transformers Armada cartoon picture that’s been bizarrely stretched from 4:3 to widescreen on the Youtubes kids love these days to leave you with Phat Bot Nightmare Syndrome. UGH!
Get on a low Energon diet already Fatimus Prime.
Wait, that was Energon Prime’s nick name. What can we call this mucle bound beefcake one then? Roid Rage Prime? Why not, that’ll do.
One of my favourite episodes of the old Marvel/Sunbow Transformers cartoon is The Search for Alpha Trion.
In the episode some of the Autobots (mostly red colored ones for no good reason) travel from earth to Cybertron sneakily via the Decepticons dodgy space bridge to search for their mentor.
I don’t know how much “searching” the Autobots actually do in that episode – they find Old Man Freeformer pretty quick if you ask me.
To nobodies surprise the Autobots meet up with the then unknown Autobot sage Alpha Trion and some Autobot fembot resistance fighters lead by the gloriously pink hued Elita-1.
Before I talk more about the fembots, (female Transformers are the main topic of this post) I just wanted to note that yes Alpha Trion does have a beard and only Vector Sigma knows why. For no reason I guess other than to give him a wise old oriental look, like every kung-fu master from every 70s era Kung-Fu movie ever.
Because why does a Cybertronian automaton have facial hair? It’s loveably daft, but has become part of the iconic look of the elder Autobot.
The REAL reason Alpha Trion has a beard? Only Alpha Trion knows, and if you asked him he’d likely tell you it’s because he’s “lived so long I can’t remember”
DESIGNING THE IMAGINED FUTURE
So, back to Elita-1 and her Hellcats… Alpha’s Angels…. ..resistance fighters in the Cybertronian Civil War.
The designs of the female autobots are fairly basic.
In super-robot terms they are not going to win any design awards – but there is an undeniable Retro-Futuristic feel and charm to them. Their bold colors make them even more memorable, and well I just love them for what they are. I hope some day toon-accurate toys get made based on these kick-ass fem-bots, in addition to the various modernized versions and redecos available.
Nothing much happens in the episode, Shockwave is in there, doing dastardly things as usual, and the story is nothing remarkable. It’s really notable for introducing the first in-fiction female Transformers.
I’ll admit the fembot designs are kind of goofy, like someone was making their first ever attempt at Retro-Futurism in robot form – but I still like them.
Did Floro Dery design them? I have no idea who did, totally in the dark. Can’t even find the light switch. Dery did a lot of character design work for the original Transformers show and movie (he also lied and exaggerated a fair about what he actually did) – and the female Autobots do come across as similar to his more organic looking Floro-Formers – such as his ’86 animated movie designs; Cyclonus, Galvatron, Blur etc.
The wise Sage Alpa Trion also has a more humanoid curvy look to him than the big ‘n boxy 1984 O.G. Transformers crowd.
PINKIE PINKERTON AND THE PINK SQUAD
Female Transformers in Transformers fiction were never mentioned before the Alpha Trion / Elita-1 episode (because they didn’t exist). All the toys up until then were basically male looking mecha, and the voices of the characters were male voice actors. It was sort of *assumed* that Transformers were either ALL male, or sexless despite having the physical characteristics and voices of males. Many people either forgot, or never saw the Search for Alpha Trion episode, and later erroneously assumed Arcee to be the first female Transformer in Transfromers: The Movie (1986).
Beast Wars (1996) was notable for being the the first Transformers TV show to have ongoing female characters, such as Black Arachnia.
One sidenote is that Ratchet was originally written to be a female character. The name was inspired by Nurse Ratched in the film version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – but was changed to a male character to fall in line with the rest of the toy line and characters.
Also in the non-canon mini-comics that accompanied the European release of Joustra Diaclone toys, the Pre-Transformers Ratchet toy / Joustra Ambulance was also female. MAZ over at the excellent blog TF-1 covers pretty much everything you could ever want to know about Diaclone toys. I recommend checking out the full article on the Joustra Diaclone Ambulance
Until The Search for Alpha Trionepisode, female Transformers had never been mentioned, or part of the lore (as far as I know, feel free to prove me wrong).
Diaclone toys – the pre-Transformers robot toys from Japan – were piloted mecha, “gender” had no context here (other than the pilots obviously).
Only when the very manly voices of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime and Frank Welker as Megatron were added to the new HASBRO/Sunbow/Marvel Productions cartoon do we get to know our imported Japanese super-robots as re-branded iconic American heroes and villains, with strong hyper-masculine male archetypes in the typical over the top nineteen-eighties action hero fashion.
The lack of female characters (or female voice artists) in Transformers was more marketing decision than anything else.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS (OUR MARKETING EXPERTS TOLD US SO)
Boys – and their parents- tended to buy “boys toys”.
Gender roles and buying habits in decades gone by were assumed to be fixed and unchanging. Something we know not to be true today where girls, women and even some 90 year old women play video games or watch Marvel movies like the Avengers.
even my local Kmart now has about 50/50 split for boys and girls Tshirts with superhero emblems. DC are even getting into the Barbie market with their line of DC Superhero Girls dolls. Times are different from the dawn of Transformers in the eighties when these types of products and characters were previously only marketed to boys.
To be fair, a large number of specialist market action figures and geeky stuff is still primarily marketed to boys today, and most girls and women would likely care more about being treated decently as a human beings in society, over being concerned about the latest mass market toy in a chain-store.
Transformers, like G.I. Joe are about war, combat and power fantasies, and the expression of endless non-stop action and role playing. The fairer sex has been marginalized in most if not all arenas of life for as long as anybody can remember – and of course by male toy/marketing executives with no interest in engaging females in the warrior narrative of fighting super-robots who followed the market and trends of the time.
You’d think that if we temporarily fast forward time a little from them backwards eighties, things would be a little different – and they mostly are –
But in 2007 we got this…
And then in 2011 we got this….
I have no issue with beautiful women in movies hovering around cars, heck they’ve gotta sell those cars somehow, right?
Whether it’s great cinema or junk cinema women being shown primarily as fetishized objects, as eye candy accessories rather than as integral to the plot, than as actual human beings is nothing new.
And nothing really bothers me in the Transformers Bayhem movies in the portrayal of any of the male or female characters, other than the characters all being dumber than bricks. The Transformers Bayhem movies are mainstream movies with simple character archetypes used as shorthand so your brain can go on holiday while explosions happen every five seconds. There is nothing terribly offensive about them. And they did manage to get a female autobot in a film for about five minutes there, I forget which one (Arcee, I forget which film she was in).
I mostly hate the script, the dialogue and how dumb the movies are despite how impressive their (horribly edited) visual spectacle is to watch. No, I just use these examples to show that while some forms of Transformers fiction such as the IDW comics or Transformers: Prime or Transformers RID 2015 are more progressive with female characters (human and robot) being essential elements of the show in vital roles, other aspects of Transformers fiction such as the live action movies reduce females to eye candy. Well, not even progressive, but ordinary in the sense of having a balance of legitimate female characters, rather than as an afterthought in the fiction.
Nothing wrong with eye-candy, I like it, but I’ll take an Ellen Ripley in Alien over a Megan Fox in Transformers any day of the week. Not because of looks, talent or any of that. But because the CHARACTER is interesting. A good story starts with a good character, it’s why Strongarm in RID 2015 is a great character – it all comes from the quality writing, rather than any gimmicks. Megan Fox was alright in Transformers, but her character did not have a whole lot to do, nor did most of the various female characters in the films so far, including blink-and-you’ll-miss-her Arcee.
ACCEPTABLE IN THE 80’S?
Girls have been expected for the longest time to enjoy Barbie, and frilly “girl” things, and that was that. And boys have always been expected to enjoy “manly” things, despite some dudes being really into Barbie or My Little Pony or JEM.
I used to know a guy who had a prominent living room display of vintage original Barbie and tall G.I. Joe dolls, and they they did look quite spectacular the way he had them displayed in glass cabinets.
The closest Pre-Transformers toys have gotten to a female character was the cancelled Waruder mecha “Beet Papil” – who transformed into a Ladybug.
Some of the other Waruder Japanese toys were re-purposed later on as Insecticons and Deluxe Insecticons under the Transformers brand. If this full toy line line had been incorporated into Transformers, we might have seen the first female transformer.
But the toy was never made (as part of the BEETRAS line, or at all) and of course was never directly related to the American Transformers brand. It’s more an oddity/curio thanks to curious internet detectives who took the time to scan the images for other fans to enjoy.
Sadly, this is the best imagine around online of the Waruders I could find. I blew up Ms Bug below for a closer look at those shapely curves and cool colors, but it’s a bit blurry. Still, at lest we can see the deco and basic highlights which are more smooth, detailed and organic looking than your average american Transformer toys of the 80’s era, and even a pixelated image like this is infinitely more impressive than Megan Fox in Transformers ‘Splosionfest 2007.
Beet Papil is More Robocop/Metropolis smooth sexy Mecha streamlined legs and joints than your typical boxy square super-robot. Very cool.
I really like the fembot Ladybug design overall. No joke, I would love for someone to make this toy today, it would be an instant buy for me.
Two changes I would make however – some hinges on the bug shell that allowed it to move up higher in robot mode, so it looked like a cape or cool royal robe, rather than a jacket she’s about to throw on the ground. Or add double hinges on the vertical axis in the middle of each wing, and let it collapse away neatly behind Ms Bug’s back.
While looking up reference images, I found this cool fan-made profile, that re-imagines (or imagineers if you prefer) the cancelled BEET PAPIL toy design into a Transformers style character profile. The profile of Firebomb was created by Hellbat on DeviantARt
An unexpected find, and very cool!
So mecha buglady aside, back to Cybertron… where our heroes and fembots are looking a bit frisky….
What I liked about The Search for Alpha Trion is that in one single episode, we got a lot of lore and world building. Most of it is implied, but it’s there if you want it to be.
The details are sparse, but *some* of the greater space saga and lore of the Transformers (expanded on in later fiction such as the 1986 theatrical film and shows such as Beast Wars) is laid down here.
The later ramifications of this episode include Alpha Trion becoming a major significant figure in Transformers fiction (larger mythology) who ties into both Prime, The Matrix and one of the many origins of the Transformers as a race of sentient alien robots.
We find out that not only do female Transformers exist, but apparently a bunch of them, who all seem to have romantic ties to our heroes made obvious by their affection in the show, and the way then run into each others arms. Sorry skeptics – you greet friends with handshakes and hugs, and maybe a kiss on the cheek. Running into someones arms dramatically is usually reserved for your beloved. So don’t play that “they were just really really really good friends”card with me.
ROLL CALL RUMBLE
So just who are these dashing fighting fembots?
We don’t get a good look in the episode at the characters at the same time in full view, so fortunately thanks to some lovely fan art from Dan-the-Art-Guy we see a full view of the basic character models.
From left to right in the image below image we have Moonracer, Firestorm, Elita-1 and Chromia.
Elita-1 is their squad leader in pink, slightly in the foreground.
Thanks to an anonymous fan online who sent me some further images upon request, below is a photo of the model sheets / guides for Chromia and Moonracer which he bought in a private online auction. Model sheets are just guidleines, and so are typically more colorful and detailed, while in show models will be simplified so that they can be animated smoothly (and cheaply!)
Oh, before I forget – there are some other female characters in the background in various scenes too. We don’t get a whole lot of info about them, but they are there. The green character in the image below is called Greenlight.
PRO-BOTS AND ROBOPHOBES
The fighting fembots are mostly forgotten relics from Generation One lore. Chromia would go on star in IDW comics many years later, along with other new female characters such as Windblade. Elita-1 has had some nods from third party and official figures, but mainly as redecos. A few fans have made their own custom versions from various molds, but often they lack a certain something. So far no figure has really gotten close to the original version.
Windblade, Nauticaa and Chromia are the main female characters in the IDW comic book continiuty, which is like a sort Ultimate Marvel reboots of old school character, with new ones mixed in from other shows. The three main IDW fembots follow on from the general flow of the old school G1 fembots.
The sleek more humanoid forms recall Floro Dery’s “Floro-Former”movie designed original characters such as Galvatron, Hot Rod and Blur. Chromia (in blue) in IDW quite similar to her old school appearance, with a few tweaks to modernize her look, but is for all intents and purposes is a new character that is more of an homage to the old character.
The curves of Dery designed Floro-Formers give a real contrast to the square jawed and square shouldered Abe Lincoln / John Wayne body type used for Optimus Prime, and would set the basic look or jumping off point for later designs in various Transformers media. The art for these new wave fembots tends to vary in the comics and animation according to whoever the artist is, and the style of the particular book or show.
SIEGE ON IACON
Free of the robots in disguise earth vehicle design motif, the fembots of Cybertron and 1986 movie-bots were able to be designed with more freedom and experimentation.
Note the curvy legs (on both male and female characters) that stand in stark contrast to the old school square legged super robots style (see Megaton on the left of same image). These new wave bots had smooth lines rather than hard edges, part of the look no doubt influenced by 1950’s concept cars and Retro-Futurism (a topic for another upcoming post).
The square shouldered look of Prime is a staple of super-robot anime, not to mention overly male machismo characters – while the more humanoid look of rounded shoulders are sometimes seen in super-robots, but those curves are more commonly in real-mecha designs where the robot is basically a suit of armor fitting around human anatomy, that has to make both aesthetic and practical movement considerations for human joints etc.
In the above image, we can the contrast of Square and Boxy vs Organic and Round (humanoid) styles in contrast.
The curves tell us two things – that these robots have a more humanoid appearance, mimicking human anatomy and rounded joints, and of course emphasizing feminine curves whether for a male or female character, much in the way 1950’s concept cars used the same motif of sleek curves instead of hard angles. This sort of thing may bother some fans who want to see Galvatron as the ultimate mentally unstable bad-ass villain, and ignore his thigh high sexy ladies street walker boots that once seen, can not be un-seen.
THE SEARCH FOR ELITA-1
The Search for Alpha Trion episode unexpectedly gives us a whole new context to view the Transformers media and Cybertronian civil war through.
In the context of Transformers (the Sunbow/Marvel cartoon), the Autobots and Decepticons were at war. The Autobot group we know as our familiar heroes left – they evacuated the resource depleted Cybertron and became stranded on earth when their ship crash landed after being attacked by Decepticons.
Both the Autobots and Decepticons crash on earth and have a kip for a while (stasis lock), then our lazy snoozers get up a few million years later and resume their quarrelsome shenanigans.
Prime, Ironhide, Inferno and Powerglide being reunited with their female compatriots (or more likely partners / girlfriends) on Cybertron was like soldiers coming back from the war. Women during our real world WW2 were at home, and running the factories, and doing just about everything else useful in society while the majority of men were sent away overseas.
The Search for Alpha Trion had that sort of feel about it for me, and made sense in the context that their war had moved to earth, and they had no clue what has happening back on Cybertron. The Autobots did not see their compatriots for “million of years” due to being stranded on earth during the civil war era.
One thing to note here is this episode isthat Cybertron itself was not as empty and barren as we were lead to believe. We know Shockwave was there, fighting against Elita-1 and her underground resistance but there is something more hinted at, and it only raises more questions.
Was the sector Shockwave resides in mostly empty due to his having taken strategic control of assets like the spacebridge? Was Elita-1’s fighting force the ONLY underground resistance, what other power struggles may have been taking place off screen, on other parts of Cybertron? Did other Autobots and Decepticreeps evacuate Cybertron like our Heroes did in the first episode of the show, and where might they be now?
What is implied is that perhaps what we are seeing is just a small window into the world of Transformers and Cybertron, that there may have been other evacuations, and more battles still going on both overt and covert. It seems obvious when you think about it, the planet was at war and obviously the population was bigger than just our humble heroes and their foes.
The Transformers Origins as outlined by Jim Shooter was intended to encapsulate the beginning of the shared Transformers lore for the comics, cartoon and toy line. Expansive world building was still a long way off. Nobody could have predicted the success of the Transformers brand in the short or long term. What we take for granted today with multiple shows, movies and mass media projects was mostly not even considered in the early days, there was no reason to, other than the general plot of the shows which often contradicted every other episode.
Enough lore was created week to week to get a show together and something for the characters to do, episodes were made intentionally to be screened in any order (as happens on syndicated network TV, particularly with repeats), the exception being several multi part episodes that suffered cruel confusing fates when played out of order.
FEMBOTS ARE GO!
The legacy of female characters continued in the Transformers franchise with notable characters such a Black Arachnia in Beast Wars (year), Arcee in Transformers: The Movie (1986), Airachnid and a new version of Arcee in Transformers: Prime (year), Strongarm and Windblade in Robots in Disguise (2015), and of course fun characters such as Nauticaa and Chromia in the IDW comics, with each of these various characters receiving *mostly* decent toys.
That about does it for this rambling article, below is some images of toys and art of various female Transformers.
The legacy of The Search for Alpha Trion is introducing the first ever female Transformers to the fiction, and it way too long for HASBRO to catch up and realize how appealing female characters and toys were to both male and female audiences members of all ages.
Windblade, G1 Arcee and Chromia toys (above). Arcee was notable for not receiving a 1986 move tie in toy (her toy was cancelled) and did not receive a proper toy until well after a decade after her appearance in the cinema.
Strongarm and Sideswipe from Transformers Robots in Disguise toy line. Strongarm and Grimlock are easily my favourite character from Robots in Disguise.
Strongarm as featured in the Robots in Disguise cartoon. This is some lovely fan art by Raikoh. The RID show has some fantastic visual design, including the bright energon glow highlights on characters giving it a really unique look.
Nightbird, Black Arachnia and Slipstream from various Transformers toy lines
Some fan art of Arcee by Goddess Mechanic. On the left is Arcee from Transformers: Animated, in the middle Transformers:Prime and on the right classic movie or comic book Arcee.
I’ve been slowly working my way through every Transformers TV show ever made over the least year or so (as you do).
Previously I had only watched the 80’s Marvel/Sunbow show, the 1986 theatrical film, and a few episodes (but not all) of Beast Wars.
While I’ve seen random episodes of various shows over the years, I have not followed/watched any Transformers show since…
well since when I was a kid really.
Mostly due to work / life commitments, but also out of general disinterest for most of the shows (or lack of options to watch any of them). Plus those years where I did not own a television and wandered the earth like Caine in Kung-Fu.
“THAT’S TOO MANY ROBOTS JOHN!”
Now in 2017 I am spoilt for choice.
Home PC, Tablet and fancypants TV – all of which I use to watch various shows.
Cartoons in particular look great on the small HD tablet screen, and subtitles are easier to read. As of April this year, I have now watched all of:
half of Master Force and Victory, [sub]
few episodes in to Beast Wars,
Car Robots and Beast Wars II [sub]
While I am still working through some of the Japanese shows, I’ve just finished watching RID 2015 Season 1 – with no real prior knowledge of the show – other than still images online, and the odd toy I have picked up from the lines. Yes I am a toy addict, and buy way too many TF toys, so this show has me picking up even more.
Before you ask, I do intend to watch the “Unicron Trilogy” – last of all –
…as I have a brain I *wish* to continue using and know the risks of it turning to mush while watching said non-trilogy.
May go with the native language of those shows too and hopefully my brain will not melt into a pile of protoplasmic goo during the process. But don’t get your hopes up too high, I’m not a miracle-bot.
RID IN THE PLACE TO BE!
So far for a show aimed at a younger audience that I really did not have much expectations for – I’m loving this show.
It’s colorful, vibrant and fun. It’s funny, like Transformers Animated was. It’s exactly the kind of kids / all ages show that I enjoy.
Because I’m stupid like that. Or smart. Take your pick.
FREE STATE OF MOANS
While I get some “fans” (COMPLAIN-A-TRON alert!) are not into it – as a fan of not just Transformers, but all forms of animation and super-robots – I can say that with super confidence and an invincible clenched fist ready to destroy my enemies in just one punch…
…that RID 2015 is a really smart, well written, entertaining show that engages its audience.
Robots in Disguise uses character archetypes well, it uses character silhouettes and rather importantly COLOR very well. It might seem overly simple to say it here, but those factors are immensely important in creating animated characters that resonate with young children in televison and cinema.
Disney know this. Pixar knows. Studio Ghibli know this.
In fact I’d even say the visual design, color schemes and highlights are better than any other Transformers show in existence.
Transformers Prime was a beautiful show too but it’s muted color palette, older age demographic, mature themes and desert-apocalypse-sheik visuals make it not so appealing to younger kids. I would have loved it as a kid, but then I like dark fucked up shit, horror and existentialist movies etc.
And I am sure there are plenty of kids that DO love TF:Prime, but it was the most mature sort of stories and themes we’ve seen yet in a Transformers… anything…outside of the 1986 movie, and, well, parts of Beast Wars. Yeah Beast Wars was the first of the TV shows to do more mature themes in a kids show, got to give credit where it’s due.
Anyway, you know what I’m getting at. In Transformers: Prime Bumblebee stabs Megatron in the chest with a giant sword! Predacons try to eat everything. Optimus died again. The earth was nearly terraformed into another Cybertron, yadda yadda yadda – the show was kinda dark thematically and visually.
Robots in Disguise (yes the colorful one) is like Skittles and primary colored Transformers got together inside the Willy Wonka factory and exploded. It’s a day-glo technicolor dreamcoat of wild unfettered imagination. It has the cel-shaded visuals on top of 3D high polgyon count models look I love, with glowy-TRON inspired highlights giving us that beautiful energon glow that the War for Cybertron games were famous for.
The show is so pretty that I had to use “glow” in that last sentence twice, and I refuse to remove it, despite being terrible, terrible grammar.
CHOCK FULL OF GLOWY GOODNESS
If Transfomers: Animated was a love letter to the franchise, then Robots in Disguise is an addendum to that love letter.
The subtle influences and easter eggs in RID were a welcome surprise for me. Odd nods to other shows and obscure characters. Like in one episode – a minor non-essential to the plot mini-con happens to look like a tiny cute version of Destron leader Deathsaurus from the JG1 Victory cartoon.
Anyhow, the colors!
RID is terribly successful at being bright and gaudy and catching the eye of its younger target audience in the show and toyline.
And that to me is a key part of what makes it great. Younger kids don’t have the finer discretion that adults do. They are more immediately engaged with their environment and all types of play. Most adults are turned off by either the art, or “kiddie” tone of the show, and may miss that it also has consistently good storytelling and character design at its heart, with all the other bells and whistles on top of that.
I prefer my Mad Max to Powerpuff Girls generally speaking, but hell I love both with a passion, each has its own purpose and equally beautiful unique rich aesthetic. You might think they are totally different things. But they are not. They are both “hero/heroine” stories in different clothing.
I’m a story and character person.
I don’t care who made it, what it’s about or whatever.
Give me boring characters but a great story and I will read/watch it.
Give me a terrible production but with some amazing character who really pulls you into that world, and I’ll take a look.
Give me both and I am not leaving the house until I’ve finished that story. Sorry outside world, you can get fucked. Well at least until I’m done. I may need food and Robo-Snacks from time to time.
But some folks can’t see past a certain aesthetic, or a certain gimmick or hook, or a particular new interpretation of an old character they love – and so they miss out on good stuff that they may really enjoy because they never give it a chance.
I am not saying if you are diehard adult G1 fan that you will enjoy RID. Most likely you will not, based on the comments I’ve seen online from the more hardcore old school fans. I happen to BE one of those fans too, (I was born in 1980) but I also love other stuff.
Why limit myself? Why waste time hating anything? It’s just toxic, I’m too busy enjoying life and fun cartoons and toys.
I don’t care who likes what or why. But it does bother me sometimes to read ignorant opinions about what Transformers media “should” or “should not be”.
As if everything should be made purely for specific fans, only to please them. It’s a rather immature and selfish attitude imo. It’s fine to have discretion and good taste. I get it. It’s fine to nit pick about shitty toys that fall apart in the damn packet. That’s quite legitimate in my world view. But some fans seem to think they should be consulted personally on everything that happens, as if they were CEO of Hasbro or something.
However, Robots in Disguise was not made for me, nor older TF fans, yet – I still love it.
I love it like I love classic Disney Donald Duck cartoons, or the more modern Duck Tales, or Astro Boy or like I love Brad Bird’s Iron Giant film. RID is a cartoon that wears it influences on its sleeve. (And I am not saying those particular things are an influence at all, well maybe a little Iron Giant….).
In contrast to our heroes, the CONS in this show are a rag tag non-group of escaped convicts spread throughout the country. Our heroes track them down one by one, usually getting their asses kicked by the tougher, more skilled and ruthless Con of the week. It’s a similar formula to that used in Transformers: Animated, and it works.
Adding a little spice to the mix are the varied Decepticon designs, which are mostly vehicle alt modes, with Beast-Bot modes. It’s an odd mix of Carbot and Beast, but it works. While our heroes are fairly standard humanoid designs the CONS are a diverse mix of weirdo’s and oddities.
A tree frog, a reindeer, wolf, giant worm-insect thing, a crab, a lobster guy named “Bisk” a dragon-eagle and host of other unique cool characters that make each encounter / battle between the Cons and Bots a little bit special. I didn’t even mention the mini-cons, who are both weapons and plot devices throughout the series.
THE DEATH OF SERIOUS-NESS
The basic set up of RID is that some Autobots are accidentally stranded on earth (what are the chances?) and a prison ship of Decepticons has left stasis pods all over the place, and the Autobots track down a CON-of-the-week.
Our heroes live in a junk/scrapyard and are pretty much adopted and protected from the world at large by junkyard dweller Denny and his son Russell. These autobots are pretty green (inexperienced) often losing in battle, forcing them to evolve better solo and team tactics. There is room for the characters to develop, and episodes play out great as solo stories, but also inter-connect like one long animated movie, similar to how Transformers: Prime rolled when it was on our screens.
The tone of the show is light hearted and fun, but more serious when it comes to battles.
Look at that grim menace from Fracture below! These CONS don’t mess around and kick a lot of Autobot-behind on a daily basis.
Another element of the show I really enjoy is RID’s unashamed nostalgia and goofiness. It’s most apparent with Denny Clay – who lives in a junk yard full of Americana.
THIS SHOW IS FULL OF JUNK!
Curios, oddities and forgotten antiquities from America’s most successful economic years in the post World War II years litter his mancave / sanctum sanctorum. This junk is better than money, gold or Treasure to Denny – they are artifacts and cultural knick nacks and out dated technology and raw materials for his inventions and contraptions. They also provide a convenient hiding space, and a place to train for the Autobots on the outskirts of the city.
The scrapyard is a strangely relevant idea for a Transformers show and yet rather odd. The only reason the core of the show is set in the junkyard, is that the Autobots ship is stranded there. Otherwise it just comes across as one of those wacky writer ideas somebody threw at a wall:
“Hey, what if they live in a junk yard?”
It sounds stupid, but again, it works. Robots in Disguise: super-cybertronian tech – surrounded by earth junk and outdated technology. RID seems to specialize in the unorthodox, and is a better show for it. It takes chances and mostly succeeds.
Denny is like a visual mash up mix of comic actor Zach Galafiniakis and noted Transformers expert (Transformarian?) Chris McFeely – and Denny sometimes dresses like Magnum P.I. cosplaying Indiana Jones, as well as other odd “disguises”.
I swear I’m not making any of that up, just look at the screen grab here and below.
And I swear I have never EVER abused the power of the internet to ask annoying fanboy questions of Chris McFeely…..as far as you know.
Denny’s taste in fashion -like everything else – is antiquated and eccentric and loveable and unique. He also happens to possibly be named after the guy who named Optimus Prime. How that’s for obscure fan trivia.
Okay, so that’s not true. I totally made that bit up. I kind of wanted it to be true though, would have been cool. He’s REALLY named after those god awful diners where you can get rubbish food and bad service any time you like. And he really DOES look like a mash up of McFeely and Galafiniakis.
BUILD IT – TEST IT – BREAK IT- SMASH IT…REBUILD IT
Denny is the cliche prototypical lost in his own thoughts do-it-yourself backyard boffin mechanic/inventor who often works with Autobot Fixit on various projects.
He’s scatter brained, rambles on about stuff lost in his own world, kind of reckless how he keeps endangering his own son with his stupid projects and reckless ways. But he’s also a big kid at heart, and smart with anything mechanical.
Oh, this is Fixit if you didn’t already know…
Fixit is a roughly human sized bot who is a good friend to Denny and Russell, when he is not also endangering their lives…he pretty much takes the place that Bumblebee traditionally has in Transformers fiction, with a soft spot for humans. Fixit is also a mechanical /engineering genius, but he has brain damage, and the one time Denny tried to fix him, Fixit tried to kill everyone, so Fixit lives on and makes peace with his defects.
Denny is mechanically smart, and a very loving nurturing father. He’s also his own worst enemy in that Doc Brown sort of way, where he just happens to be regularly working with dangerous things that could easily kill him.
But what modern man doesn’t crave at least a little danger? I can think of mates who tinker in their own back yards, usually solo with heavy equipment and cars and what have you, and often with things that are quite dangerous. Yet they do alright.
The junkyard, aka The Treasure Yard or just “Fortress of Socialization”, is also a mini-fortress, a base and well….
A home for Denny, his son Russell and the Cybertronian refugees who are stuck on earth, well at least the Bots (and one former Con, Grimlock) who reside there. They are a family of sorts, who always support each other, despite their differences. Their bravery and naivety go hand in hand.
THE MORALITY AND HONOR….OF KICKING ASS
I love that Robots in Disguise emphasizes simple life lessons and moral stories, it’s a show that allows room for its lead characters to make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. These Bots are not battle hardened soldiers. There is room to breathe, to explore new territory in this show.
The Autobots are green, inexperienced blunderers, who basically learn one mistake at a time, and they are terrible at fighting. Like, woefully incompetent.
So terrible that half way thorough the the first season, the lack of fighting skills from our Autobot heroes really started to bother me. The way they charged recklessly into battle, making the same stupid mistakes over and over, getting their whole teams robo-behinds kicked by one measly Con, damn it was irritating! And repetitive. I started to think it was some greedy/lazy writing.
But then as the story progressed, the characters started using more strategy in their battle, and they started fighting better in close range, instead of like a pack of un-coordinated idiots.
So this gang of no hopers who could not fight their way out of a paper bag…
I realized just how GREEN these guys (and gals) were, and that their lack of combat experience was an essential element of the show. It gives more room for the characters to grow in different directions. Their cups are empty rather than overflowing.
We already know Grimlock is a big strong bruiser, but what happens when a smaller opponent merely sidesteps his attacks? He has to get smarter in his attack, and use effective teamwork to succeed – not unlike team sports – where incremental skill progression both on and off the field is necessary to improve both as a single unit, and as part of a team. It’s a joy to see these slack-jawed bumblers improve throughout the season into a real team of kick ass Autobots.
When fembot Strongarm faces down Steeljaw, and he expects another easy win to his (and our surprise) not only does Strongarm hold her own, but totally dominates her opponent who is double her size in height and likely stronger too. Previously Strongarm was among the worst in combat, but with persistence, practice and determination she improves, and takes advantage of her foes over-confidence.
I genuinely enjoyed that masterful fight scene as much as I’ve enjoyed a good Ronda Rousey fight in days gone by in the UFC. I was literally jumping out of my seat and cheering on Strongarm.
To see Strongarm move beyond her old limitations and progress and learn new ways of being, of expressing herself themselves is just awe-inspiring. I also love that we now have a modern Transformers show with a strong tough female character who can stand side by side with any of the male characters and not look weak or pathetic, or be the boring “damsel in distress” cliche. Well two fembots characters, Windblade is in the mix now too in later episodes.
COLD IN THE SPARK
However you look at it, RID has a lot of heart (or Spark if you prefer).
It’s fun colorful and nostalgic – yet contemporary.
It has engaging characters who grow and learn through each season.
RID is simply gorgeous, a visually stunning show that is super stylish and cool.
Of course kids are growing (literally) and learning new things all the time, I wish more adults were like that. As human beings, we never stop learning, and I believe that the more open and loving and happy we are in life, the more enjoyable life is. One you stop playing, you stop learning, you get old and boring and rigid very fast.
Robots in Disguise is a happy show. RID is surprisingly very smart and well made.
It’s the opposite of cynical lazy shows made on a super low budget. The characters are wonderfully expressive, the body language is masterful and the fights have real impact to them, you can really feel the weight of the characters smashing together. It’s got fun, vibrant memorable characters, and the most diverse innovative original CONS yet seen in any Transformers show so far.
RID has passion, guts and heart (and great action and humor).
What more could you ask for?
CONFESSION TIME: Confession time: I finished Robots in Disguise Season One while writing this article and started binging on Season 2, and could not resist adding some images from those episodes, so you caught. Now hand me my cup of dark energon poison and shut up already, I got me shows to watch.