The Transformers (1984 IMDb)

Viewing

Review applies only to the first two seasons.

Categorization

Quickly syndicated “late” Saturday morning cartoon, designed around separate lines of older (Japanese) toys. There are strong post-Valkyrie mecha influences, though the robots are only vehicles when they aren't in their humanoid forms. There's more and more five-piece gattai action (“Form Defensor!”) as the show continues. The series was both animated in and aired with alterations in Japan, but creative control was apparently American so it should not be considered anime.

Subject

After five million years of internecine warfare, several machine intelligences struggle to find the energy they need on their mechanized home planet. Both factions in the war are represented aboard an interstellar ark. During their battle, the ark crashes on Earth and knocks everyone out. After four million years more, the ark is reawakened and repairs the robots, giving them new alternate forms that it deems appropriate as disguises on modern Earth, where the struggle continues.

Commentary

The first stories are outlandish kiddie fare, with bogus units of measurement and such, but there are gradual efforts at discipline down the line. For example, while the Autobots are able to build five new Transformers on Earth during the first season, it is later established that building new Transformers cannot possibly be accomplished so simply. A vague history of the war is eventually offered and there are some journeys to other parts of the galaxy (besides Earth and Cybertron), but of course it never reaches the standards of remotely good science fiction.

Interestingly, there is a silly metafictive episode where the Transformers become protégés of a giant alien boy, who plays with them just as the audience of the show played with the toys. Such sparks of imagination, along with nostalgia and the more pubescent appeal of the movie, seem to motivate a surviving fandom. However, relentless action—including several races with the car forms of the robots—moronic morality (good and evil are a question of how you flick a switch and nobody has credible motives) and toy pushing remain the focus, often with a racist or sexist edge. The character design is so thrifty that most Transformers employ only their mouths to make facial expressions. Shockwave's face is even simpler: one blinking light. A fine example of the common implication that boys should not be emotional.

References here: Cassette Girl (2015).

Japanese production animation series

Sequel:

The Transformers: The Movie (1986 IMDb)

Remake:

Transformers (2007 IMDb)

Commentary

I'd heard it was boyish, but when I got around to seeing it in 2012, I was surprised at how much like the first season of the TV series it really is. This thing goes nowhere, adding only the Christian masochism of Bumblebee's subplot, dull CGI and a government conspiracy in place of science fiction. It's as if someone spent $150,000,000 to illustrate what an 11-year-old boy imagines in solitary play, except that the protagonist is a 21-year-old high school student because Jaws (1975) made a lot of money.

movie