TheTF.Net Northern Meet

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Transformers Fall of Cybertron trailer featuring Metroplex

Activision has just released a new trailer for Transformers Fall of Cybertron on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. This trailer features the city sized Autobot Metroplex,… [more]

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The teaser trailer for Transformers Prime on the Nintendo Wii has finally been released. The game, also available on the Nintendo 3DS and DS, is developed… [more]

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Armada Scavenger reviewed by Timey2Wimey

Written by Darren 'Starscream' Jamieson on June 9, 2011 | Armada,Reviews,Toys / Action Figures |

Timey2Wimey takes back in time one more time (that’s a lot of times) to look at one of his favourites (though many disagree, maybe you’re one of them), Armada Scavenger.

You can also discuss this review, if that’s what you want to do, in our Transformers forum. What do you think of Transformers Armada Scavenger? let us know, and let Timey know what you think of his review.

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Review: Transformers: The Reign of Starscream TPB

Written by Big Bot on December 10, 2008 | Reviews |

Following last year’s live action Transformers movie, IDW have continued the story with Transformers: The Reign of Starscream, the official sequel to the film and IDW prequel stories. The 5 issue series was released from May to August of this year.

Despite being a sequel, the story actually begins with Starscream recounting the events during and before the first movie. This brings about an attempt to reconcile the events of IDW’s Prequel series and the Target-sponsored prequel comic, Planetfall, into one definitive continuity, and hopefully puts an end to any debate over the true order of events before the movie starts. Also reinterpreted are some weird plot holes left by the film, like the disappearance of Barricade during the highway scene and what happened did Starscream do between fighting off the jets over Mission City and heading into space?

The answer to that second question is the main catalyst behind The Reign of Starscream. In a bid to restore Cybertron, Starscream hunts down the remains of Frenzy, who download all human records of the AllSpark, to acquire the knowledge to allow him to build a new cube. From here, Starscream flies off into space, as shown in the movie end credit sequence, and begins his quest. As usual, not everything goes to plan, as an Autobot resistance is not going to let Starscream have his way so easily. This introduces a key new character, Arcee, who’s given a fair amount of page time and a nicely rounded story arc.

If criticisms are what you’re after, there aren’t many to find. The story could have done with another issue to help the pacing and flesh out a couple of ideas, and a few less new characters would have been nice, but these don’t affect what is an excellent story. The other problem, which is out of the books control, is that being a comic sequel to a movie, the story, in the grand scheme of things, will not fit in and have to be ignored for continuities sake. Chris Mowry has said the story will fit in with the upcoming Revenge of the Fallen prequels, even as much as pointing out the foreshadowing (page 81) in his commentary, so h

On the art side, Alex Milne continues on drawing duties, having worked on the Transformers: Movie Adaptation, with Josh Perez handling colours. It’s a credit to both that the book has such a familiar feel to both the prequel and adaptation, but feels fresh and different. A major improvement on the two previous titles are the clearer differences between characters

Another area where Reign of Starscream excels is the bonus features. The book is stacked with extra pages that give the series a complete feel. There is a one page introduction by IDW Editor-In-Chief Chris Ryall, who discusses his role in the book and contributions made by others. The usual cover gallery is present with some unused versions.

There are 33 character profiles, focusing only on the robots and humans that appear in this series, written by Mowry and fan contributors, which keeps the writing fresh. As this is just an extra, and not a dedicated Sourcebook, each character gets just a paragraph, which does the job perfectly and prevents the profiles from possibly contradicting any future events. There are also 11 pages of Alex Milne’s design sketches, with a detailed look at Starscream’s head design, the Autobot and Decepticon ships and some weapons. It’s also interesting to see some of Alex’s comments about what he liked and didn’t, and what he felt needed work, but also how he felt the bots would function within his drawings. There is a commentary from Chris Mowry himself, who points out subtle Easter eggs, references and possible hints towards future plots in the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen prequels. Finally, a short guide on the early story drafts that were in the planning before film sequels and common sense got in the way.

The book comes on the usual high quality IDW paper and with an excellent presentation throughout. It would have been nice to have the cover and spine matching the Movie Prequel and Adaptation TPBs, but these are me being picky.

Overall, The Reign of Starscream is an excellent read and should get you hyped for the upcoming Revenge of the Fallen prequels, Alliance and Defiance, with the former arriving later this month. Art and colours are clear with plenty of detail and the extras make the package seem even more of a bargain.

9
Excellent

Review: The Transformers: The Movie – Ultimate Edition (UK R2) DVD

Written by Big Bot on June 4, 2007 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Review by Chris McFeely
Director: Nelson Shin
Starring: Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Eric Idle, Orson Welles, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker

FEATURE
Yeah. It’s the movie. You know it, I know it. That’s not what we’re here for. Let’s move on.

VIDEO
THIS is what we’re here for.

This is Metrodome’s second shot at properly releasing the movie – leaving aside cheapie budget versions that have nothing about them worth speaking of, their previous effort was “Transformers: The Movie – Reconstructed,” which aimed to show every millimetre of footage that was animated by peeling aside the edges of the screen to reveal it. This resulted in a rather misjudged “curtained” image which was fine for widescreen-television owners, but shafted those with regular-size sets. Additionally, the image was taken from the original negative, but was inadvertently converted to NTSC before being converted to PAL, resulting in a badly interlaced image. The colour balance of the thing was all over the place, and the picture was very soft – I recall speaking fairly well of it when it came out, but time has opened my eyes to its flaws.

This “Ultimate Edition” of the film takes it cue from Sony’s 20th Anniversary release last year, which featured a newly-remastered widescreen version of the film, to replicate its original theatrical presentation. This time, Metrodome have succeeded in making a PAL transfer directly from the negative, resulting in smooth video (which, due to PAL speedup, runs a few minutes faster than viewers will be used to, and while the faster speed is not noticeable to my eyes or ears, the quality it brings with it is) that is sharper in Sony’s, with colours that I would describe as… “cooler,” but for the most part, more “correct” to my eyes. Most notably, of course, Hot Rod is no longer the bubblegum-pink of Sony’s version.

All I can do is echo the sentiments of all the other professional reviews that have compared the two, and say that this is the best that the movie has ever looked on DVD.

AUDIO
The audio for the Reconstructed DVD was also a bodge-job, thanks to Magno Sound, who were responsible for adding all those extra noises to the series DVD boxsets (from both Rhino and Metrodome), and did it again for the movie – on both the 5.1 and 2.0 audio tracks. For the Ultimate Edition, the Reconstructed audio was dissected with a fine-toothed comb, and while not every sound could be removed (otherwise it, uh, wouldn’t be 5.1), the most offensive, inappropriate offenders have been ganked the hell out of there. This includes, but is not limited to, those insufferable, overbearing “sizzling whipcracks” that were all over the place in the series, and the pop-gun banging of Prime’s gun. It’s still not QUITE perfect, mind you, because the levels seem not to have been modified following the removal of these sounds – consequently, the actual sound of Prime’s gun is very low.

There is, however, a completely unmolested 2.0 track to enjoy, with nary an extra zip or zap in sight. That’s how I’ll be watching it!

PACKAGING AND PACK-INS
The movie is available in both a single-disc and a two-disc version.

The single disc is packaged in a standard DVD case, with a rather artsy cover image that’s a paintbrushed version of the image of Optimus Prime that Andrew Wildman drew for the Season 1 box set. This version – I don’t have it, so I’m not 100% on this – does not have any extra features beyond the remastered picture and the two audio tracks. It is simply labelled as a “special edition.”

The two-disc set is the “Ultimate Edition.” It consists of a metal case, decorated with the above-mentioned illustration, which opens to reveal a standard DVD case with a different sleeve, bearing the original UK movie poster artwork. This is awesome. It’s nothing against Don Figueroa, but when I look at the Sony set, or the Australian release that he also provided a cover for, it just looks *wrong* to me to have this stylized, modern artwork appearing on the cover of a release of a twenty-year-old film. I’ve always preferred the use of the original poster artwork, be it US or UK, for releases of the movie, and this tin-and-case combo balances new and classic art in just the right way to keep me merry.

Depending on where you buy the two-disc set, there could be one of several different bonuses in store for you when you open the case. Buying it from Play.Com will net you a set of three postcards commemorating the different movie artwork – one displays the US poster, the second the UK poster, and the third the Ultimate Edition cover art. Snag it from HMV, and you’ll find that the sleeve is reversible, with the US artwork on the other side. Pick it up from Virgin, and there’s a set of art cards waiting for you, displaying various images from the film. Woolworths and Toys R US include posters with their versions, but I’ve not seen these, so I don’t know what they’re of.

The set comes with a sixteen-page booklet written by me (I assume this isn’t included with the single-disc version). It serves as an overview of the movie and the DVD, beginning with a personal introduction, then a discussion of the remastering of the video and audio, and a four page “essay” on the making of the movie, discussing the production, writing, animation, actors, soundtrack and distribution. After this, there’s a section on where the movie falls in the chronology of the series, summarising each of the seasons, ending with an explanation of what Scramble City is (it’s included as an extra feature), and thanks from me and Metrodome to various good chaps. In general, as with the commentary discussed below, my aim with the booklet was to put the information across in a clear and descriptive manner and without “familiarity,” if you know what I mean, so that newbies and nostalgics inspired to buy by the live-action movie can read it and understand it without being baffled by terminology or the tendency to take certain things as read, as hardcore fans do, while at the same time, discussing topics and trivia that not even regular online contributors may be aware of.

I also wrote a large selection of actor biographies/filmographies, but there wasn’t room in the booklet for them. I’m told they might appear on the website – http://www.transformersdvd.com – at some point.

MENUS
After the copyright stuff at the start of the disc, the traditional Metrodome logo has been replaced with a Transformers logo, rendered like the live-action movie logo, as if it were tarnished metal (the same effect is employed on the DVD cover), which then “transforms”, like the logo in the LAM trailer, into the word “Metrodome.” This is cute. I like it. 🙂

The menus themselves are fairly simply affairs with clips of the movie running in the centre, and a lot of geometric shapes for buttons that are not *entirely* intuitive. They’re not stunningly attractive, but they are functional, and while not as intricate or impressive and Sony’s shifting design, I’ll take actual footage of the movie over Sony’s use of purse-grabbing Dreamwave art for reasons very similar to those discussed above over the cover.

EXTRAS
The meat and potatoes of it all.

DISC 1

This disc includes a feature-length audio commentary by me. It’s a pretty breathless experience, as I just had *so* much stuff laid out in my notes in front of me that I didn’t have time to let up anywhere. No slight against those that participated in the Sony commentary track, but I felt that it fell into the trap I discussed above – the tendency to be very “familiar”, talking not just about the movie, but Transformers as a whole, as if all the listeners are automatically informed about all of it, and will know what “Diaclone” is, and other such things that are not the province of Joe Public, with the presence of multiple commentators preventing them from dwelling on any one topic long enough to get really specific about it. I go out of my way to begin the whole affair by summarising the creation of the Transformers toyline, going through G.I. Joe, Henshin Cyborg, Microman, Diaclone and MicroChange, so that viewers will understand what I’m talking about when I refer to them, and I always make sure to clarify what characters I’m talking about by saying something like “Dirge, the blue cone-headed jet,” given how few of them are actually named in the film. It’s a very concentrated effort to make the commentary open to everyone, to not confuse those who aren’t as informed as fans on message boards, but at the same time, to include lots of obscure facts, trivia and anecdotes that will ensure that even informed fans get something out of it.

At least, uh, I hope. /: )

Next on the list is a familiar feature from the Reconstructed list of extras – a compare-and-contrast of the differences between the US and UK versions, offering clips of the opening, closing and Spike’s expletive. Twelve TV spots for the movie follow (in contrast to Sony’s eight), alongside the US theatrical trailer and the Japanese “trade trailer” with Diaclone Magnus. Both Sony and Metrodome include the “final title check” and “cinex check” reels, the former featuring the Superman-style flying text cast credits, and the latter featuring several animation effects, including a “clean open” version of Laserbeak’s approach to Cybertron, without text.

After that, there are a selection of character biographies – these appeared previously on the Reconstructed disc, and actually come from the Australian release, but whereas Reconstructed just literally cropped the screens of text and pasted them in, background and all, this version reproduces the text with a new design. Profiles included are for Arcee, Blurr, Hot Rod, Kup, Springer, Ultra Magnus, Brawn, Ironhide, Optimus Prime, Prowl, Ratchet, Wheeljack, Windcharger, Cyclonus, Galvatron, Scourge, Bombshell, Kickback, Megatron, Shrapnel, Skywarp, Starscream, Thundercracker and Unicron. The presence of so many unimportant characters, only included to give a sort of “book of the dead” side to the profiles, is sort of bothersome when characters like Wreck-Gar, Grimlock and Perceptor go unmentioned, as is the sweeping statement that Skywarp unequivocally became Cyclonus, or the *ridiculous* notion that one of Galvatron’s weaknesses is a “reliance on Unicron,” but overall, they’re as nice as they ever were.

The final extra on this disc is a rather nifty little trailer that Metrodome created to promote this DVD release.

DISC 2

As I haven’t mentioned it before, this would be a good time to point out that this disc features the original, fullscreen version of the film. It is an unremastered version, the same version included on those budget releases you can pick up for £2 in any store, hence it is entirely unremarkable – kinda dark, but watchable anyway, and certainly nicer looking that the fullscreen version on the Sony disc, where the colours are all *over* the place. What is notable is that is it the UK version of the film, with the opening text crawl, no swear and Caroli’s closing narration, thereby making both versions of the movie available in one set. Nice!

After this, the disc includes a 25-minute interview featurette with story consultant Flint Dille, then a 20-minute video of Peter Cullen’s Q&A session from… I don’t know what convention this is from, I’m afraid, but the video comes courtesy of Evantainment.Com. Both men talk about their history in the industry and their involvement in Transformers, coming across as likeable blokes, with Cullen getting emotional in a few spots.

The next feature is Scramble City, the big draw of which is that – unlike Sony’s version – it contains the original Japanese audio and subtitles, as well as a new commentary from me. The subs, it must be said, are “hard” subs, permanently on-screen, which cannot be turned off – I believe this is a rip of that bootleg that goes about. The subs are functional, conveying the action and intent decently, and thankfully, were already translated into English terminology, talkin’ about Optimus Prime, Autobots, Decepticons, etc, rather than Convoy, Cybertrons and Destrons. I don’t think they use an apostrophe correctly in all 30 minutes, though. VERY disappointingly, however, something has gone horribly wrong with the video. The individual disc I received of the episode during production of the DVD was of the same sort of quality as the version included on Sony’s – however, somewhere between that disc and the final release, the video has become washed out and greenish throughout, looking like a bad VHS dump. I mean, yeeeeah, audio and subs, but… what *happened*? I’m playing detective on this one right now…

Next on the list is the “Alternative and Deleted Footage” also seen on Sony’s disc – a lot of stunningly unremarkable footage that is either missing some luminous effects or small overlays, or not immediately distinguishable from the finished affair, and then the sole second or two of ACTUAL deleted footage that has been uncovered. This has no audio, so I provide some colour commentary, as Paul Hitchens did on the Sony disc… there is not a lot to say, so I try to spice it up by talking about how the luminous effects are created and such things.

The first theatrical trailer for the live-action movie is also included here, as opposed to the Mars Rover teaser on the Sony disc. After that, the animated storyboards feature on the Sony disc, courtesy of Paul Hitchens, put in an appearance here, with storyboard stills of Hot Rod and Daniel’s fishing sequence, the Decepticon attack on Autobot City and Optimus Prime and Megatron’s battle set to the audio of the finished sequences, as well as one “deleted scene,” when Magnus, Tracks, Sideswipe and Red Alert attack Devastator, and Red buys it. Also featured on the disc are the original movie script (the ACTUAL original script, featuring all the wacky stuff that didn’t get into the finished movie, not the transcript included on Reconstructed), and the “5.1 breakdown” I made singling out all the added noises from the Reconstructed audio. Beware of snideness!

OVERALL
The disc offers a superior video presentation to Sony’s, so that is a major plus to it. Beyond that, it really comes down to a battle of the extra features, and what is present and what is not. Metrodome’s version lacks some extras that Sony has, due to the dissolution of Sony BGM making their acquisition challenging, but features some of their own unique extras which Sony did not have. For starters, the Flint Dille, Nelson Shin and Susan Blu commentary is absent, as are the collection of featurettes with that trio, Jay Bacal and Tom Griffin – however, Dille was the only real reason to listen to the commentary, and he covers the same basic stuff in his interview (unique to Metrodome’s version), while the inclusion of a Peter Cullen segment is a worthy substitute for any featurette, given his complete absence from the Sony disc (also, I’m not afraid to mention that I culled a bunch of stuff out of the featurettes for use in the commentary, so a chunk of what was talked about in there is already covered on the set in some way). Sony also included some toy commercials and a gallery of production art that are not here, but Metrodome features the original script, more TV spots, audio and subs for Scramble City and two different versions of the movie. I don’t really think that any one selection of extras is particular better than the other – Sony has some good things Metrodome don’t, Metrodome has some good things Sony don’t. This one’s a judgement call for all y’all out there, but if you’re basing it on the video, then Metrodome wins.

Review: Transformers The Takara Collection Volume 3 – Victory (R2 UK) DVD

Written by Big Bot on December 31, 2006 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Review by Chris McFeely
Director: Yoshikata Arata
Starring: Hideyuki Tanaka, Takeshi Aono, Miyako Endo, Kyoko Tongu, Keiichi Nanba

FEATURE
Transformers: Victory was the third Japanese-exclusive Transformers animated series, originally broadcast in 1989 after ‘88’s Super-God Masterforce and ‘87’s Headmasters, both previously released in similar box sets by Metrodome. As with Masterforce before it, Victory begins a new story that occupies the Generation 1 animated series universe, with an all-new cast of characters at an unidentified point in the near future. But where Masterforce used repainted, recast American toys to forge its characters, Victory’s new faces are almost entirely originally Japanese. The series introduces a new wave of Autobots under the command of Star Saber (Tanaka), protecting the Earth against the advances of the new Decepticon Emperor of Destruction, Deszaras (Aono), who schemes to steal Earth’s energy to reactive his planet-destroying space fortress.

In contrast to Masterforce, Victory eschews any kind of real continuing plot, returning to the episodic approach of the American series, with the Autobots thwarting the Decepticons’ daily plots before the series culminates in the much threatened attack of Deszaras’s fortress. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing – it was, like I said, the approach taken by the American series, and I love the American series. Energy imps, mind-control, evil clones, super powers, and all manner of evil intentions and alien devices from electro-cells to flying fortresses always kept the series lively, but the outlandish nature of many of the ideas constantly had the show dancing wildly up and down the quality spectrum. Victory is almost the antithesis of this for its entire first half – there are none of these wacky schemes and plot devices, and the plot is basically the same thing every episode, with the Decepticons attacking a location, and the Autobots turning up to stop them, possibly with the introduction of a new combiner. This keeps the series on a very even keel, not rising or failing in quality, but it’s all terribly flat, and feels very much like a lack of imagination.

Thankfully, this doesn’t go on forever. Just before the series reaches the halfway point, the cast is shot off into space for a trip to Planet Micro, providing a change of scenery and a different style of plot (centred on the Decepticon Brestforce’s rescue of one of their number, Gaihawk) that is very refreshing. It’s uphill from there, with the introduction of Liokaiser, the return of God Ginrai from Masterforce, and steadily more and more imaginative single-episode stories in the style of the US series, with concepts as fun and unusual as deadly metal-eating insects and Leozack pretending to be Star Saber. The final trilogy of episodes, in particular, are especially exciting, energetic and eventful, ending the series with one of the top three Transformers one-on-one fights of all time.

The characters of Victory are, much like the storytelling of the series itself, a mixed bag. The Japanese production team persist in writing the Autobots into an embarrassingly rigid military structure, with everyone referring to each other with titles (“Yes, Supreme Commander!” “Right away, Lieutenant Commander!”), rather than names, which does nothing but grate. All three members of the Autobot Brainmasters are completely interchangeable in personality, and the Multiforce aren’t much better – pretty much all you can say about them is “Uh, Wingwaver and Blacker didn’t get on that well in one episode.” And Star Saber is the stereotypical J-TF Autobot leader, with all the personality of a Jacob’s Cream Cracker and an unending penchant for “OH BURNING HEART I MUST SUCCEED” speeches about the beauty of peace and nature. I said it before, and I’ll say it again – say what you will about Optimus Prime, but at least he had a gentle sense of humour that kept him accessible and entertaining. Star Saber is about as interesting as watching paint dry – except when he’s totally contradicting his own speeches about how great peace is by kicking epic amounts of ass in battle.

Because really, when we get down to it, Victory IS just about kicking ass, in the most thorough and straightforward way possible.

It is those characters whose asses are being kicked that inject the show with life and comedy and make it worth watching. You know what you’re in for with the Decepticons when they make their first appearance in the series in the form of the inept Dinosaur Force. This team’s obvious physical comedy may come as a rude shock to some viewers off the bat, because it is so vastly UNLIKE anything that they will have seen in Transformers before now – I know I certainly felt that way, but I personally found them to become genuinely endearing and amusing as the series went on. The other Decepticon team in the series, meanwhile, is the Brestforce, featuring memorable characters like Leozack (Nanba) and Hellbat (Shioya Yoku), Starscream-style schemers who are constantly trying to one-up each other in the eyes of Deszaras, who they are actually both trying to overthrow as well.

The show also gets points for its token human character, Jan Minakaze (Endo), who is one of the more intelligently-integrated human characters from the many Transformers series. After the death of his parents when he was just a baby, he was actually raised by the Autobots, and rather than just being the human friend that tags along on mission whether they’re needed or not, is treated as a member of the Autobot army, and is given tasks and missions of his own. Ultimately, he IS only usually involved in crowd control alongside his Micromaster chum Holi (Tongu), but it’s great seeing a human character with a defined reason for being there, who is important in his own, consistent, believable way – this stuff is a far cry from Spike suddenly being able to rally the Autobots to action by grabbing Jazz’s gun and planning to fight the Decepticons himself, or the Armada kids being brought into war zones for absolutely no reason.

And of course, a review of Victory would be remiss if it did not mention that it is the most JAPANESE of all the Eastern G1 shows – not just because of the unique characters and toys, but because of the anime facefaults constantly used by the Dinosaur Force, the crazy, super-deformed “chibi” versions of the characters that populate the commercial bumpers and closing sequence, and the closing theme music itself, a bizarre, cheeky tune that constantly chirrups “Chichichichichin pui!” and features an infant Star Saber wetting the bed and using the soiled sheet as a superhero cape.

Mm-hmn.

In summation, Victory is a show that tests you. By which I mean, it tests your patience. Very little of the first half of the show is worth watching on the strength of the story, but if you give up on it then, you’ll be missing out on the much better stuff that comes along in the second half. Similarly, the protagonists are completely uninteresting, with the Decepticons easily being the most enjoyable characters to watch – except they’re not fully assembled, and their characters not fully realised, until that same latter portion of the series. The first half is a slog, but it pays off – if nothing else, you can switch your brain off and just enjoy the fun noises and pretty pictures, since Victory sports a strong soundtrack, and some of the most consistently strong animation of the G1 era. Despite all the hoo-hah the series is smothered in online, however, in no way, shape or form do I consider it to be the best Japanese series – Masterforce still wears that crown.

DISC SPECS
Thirty-two episodes across four discs, in groups of eight. The video is unremastered, but perfectly watchable, and is complete, with all commercial bumpers and previews. The only audio stream available is the original Japanese audio, with English subtitles translated by Jordan L. Derber, that have previously seen use on TV Nihon’s online fansubs of the series. The subs have undergone a bit of work by me for purposes of Anglicization, changing American spellings and slang to Commonwealth and switching out a few Japanese terms for English ones.

As some may be aware, Victory originally consisted of thirty-EIGHT broadcast episodes, a preposterous SIX of which (including the final ep of the series) were clip shows. Given their lack of any new footage and general utter pointlessness (which is evidenced, I think, by the fact that TV Nihon did not even bother to sub them all), they have been excised from this DVD set, leaving only the main 32 episodes of story. Their removal affects nothing, and the previews for them on the relevant episodes have been jigged around and replaced with the previews for the next main episode to allow the series to seamlessly move forward. If you didn’t know they existed, you’d have no idea they were missing.

PACKAGING
The set is contained within a cardboard sleeve, bearing a lovely bit of work by Nick Roche (by now well know as one of IDW’s artists) that depicts Star Saber, Deszaras, Road Caesar, Liokaiser, Landcross, Dinoking and Jan. It continues the “space background” theme of the previous two sets, rendered this time in magenta, which looks very nice on a shelf with the purple Headmasters and blue Masterforce.

Within the sleeve is a cardboard fold-out tray, holding the four discs and the accompanying booklet. The tray is decorated with Autobot and Decepticon symbols, Roche’s art and images of Star Saber, Dezsaras and the Brestforce (redrawn from screenshots of the show); the discs also bear these images to keep the pictures complete when they are in place in the tray.

The booklet (penned by me) runs to sixteen pages in length, containing a brief introduction to the series; an episode guide (divided by disc and spotlighting those episodes with audio commentary); details on the clip episodes, their content and their original placement with the series; and a short guide to the three series which came after Victory (Zone, Battlestars and Operation: Combination). The same re-drawn images that decorated the packaging, along with one of the Brainmasters, illustrate the booklet, rendered in white and yellow text on the magenta space-background of the box.

EXTRAS
The only extra features on Victory are three audio commentaries for the first episode, “Brave Hero of the Universe, Star Saber,” episode 16 (the mid-point of the series), “Get Back Gaihawk!” and the final episode, “Showdown! The Fortress VS the Victory Unification.” Victory is no Masterforce when it comes to plot, so the commentaries are perhaps not as enlightening or in-depth as that show’s, but I cover all the basic stuff about the show and its characters, the toys, their relation to American fiction, the stories of the Victory manga, and, in the final episode, lengthy discussion of Zone, Battlestars and Operation: Combination. I do trip over my words in a few places (I think I say “Breastmasters” at some point, and I get Sixtrain and Sixliner’s names the wrong way around and had to correct myself in the booklet), but hopefully I’ve learned enough from what I’ve done before to make these easy enough to listen to.

Review: Transformers The Takara Collection Volume 2 – Super-God Masterforce (R2 UK) DVD

Written by Big Bot on July 3, 2006 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Review by Chris McFeely
Dir: Tetsuo Imazawa
Starring: Hiroshi Takemura, Keiichi Noda, Katsuji Mori, Hidekatsu Shibata

FEATURE

Released in 1988, Transformers: Super-God Masterforce is the second Japanese-exclusive Transformers animated series, and hence the second instalment in Metrodome’s “Takara Series” of boxsets, finally released today (July 3rd), nearly a year after its predecessor, Transformers: Headmasters.

Although set in the same continuity as the previous Transformers cartoons, there is a very clear effort by head writer Masumi Kaneda to make a “fresh start” with Masterforce – whereas Headmasters followed directly on from the third American season, using older characters and introducing new ones, allowing them to interact before pushing the old aside, Masterforce is all new from the get-go. Set a few years after the conclusion of Headmasters, the Autobot and Decepticon armies are currently warring in space, and while Earth appears to have left the conflict at last, a group of Autobot Pretenders remain in residence on the planet, using their powers of disguise to hide in plain sight as human beings. The Pretenders, led by Metalhawk (Mori) have been hidden this way for thousands of years, quietly guiding the evolution of human society, but in the modern day, when their formerly-defeated Decepticon foes suddenly reappear in the service of the mysterious entity, Devil Z (Shibata), the Autobots are forced to return to battle once more. But this is merely the beginning of a new kind of Transformer war… in which human beings themselves must rise to the defence of their own planet as it comes under attack from their own kind. Imbued with the power of the Masterforce, groups of young people find themselves drawn into the conflict on both sides, merging their minds and bodies with Transtectors to become Transformers themselves, leading to the creation of the most powerful super-robot lifeform yet – the Godmasters!

The vast majority of toys released in the Masterforce line also graced toy shelves in the west in 1988, albeit some with altered colour schemes, but the characters, concepts and storylines behind them were often wildly different – most specifically, the Headmasters and Powermasters, who became the “Headmaster Juniors” and “Godmasters” in Japan. While the head and engine components of these toys were aliens from the planet Nebulos who bonded with Transformers in western fiction, in Japan, they are human beings, and – just as the small robots that form the heads in Headmasters were the only mind involved in that process – these humans are the only minds involved here. Although true robots are in no way in short supply in Masterforce, human beings dominate the series, which is immediately off-putting to fans who are… well, I don’t want to say “close-minded,” but I honestly can’t think of another word. The recent preponderance of scene-stealing humans in modern Transformers cartoons has engendered a deep dislike of the presence of fleshlings in the minds of some Transfans, so Masterforce immediately sounds like anathema to them. In some ways, though, I feel this stems from a misconception that these human beings in some way “pilot” the robots from a “Rebirth”-like cockpit, in some sort of “Power Rangers” style, but this is not accurate – the humans merge absolutely with the Transtectors. They ARE the Transtectors. They ARE Transformers. The Transformers in Masterforce are as alive as in any other series – it is just that the soul within them is that of a being from Earth, not Cybertron.

It would be pointless to deny, however, that as the series progresses and more Godmasters are introduced that they DO begin to steal the show away from the Pretenders, who are sadly left to languish on the sidelines, receiving no real focus in the latter portion of the series. What makes this especially disappointing is that they’re all really good characters. Well, except maybe Phoenix, he does very little in general, you don’t get a good sense of him as a character. But the other Pretenders are all particularly well characterised and enjoyable to watch in the series – so to see colourful individuals like ladies-man Lander and arrogant Dauros shoved to the sidelines in favour of personality-free non-characters like Ranger and Road King is grating at the best of times.

In a way, Ginrai (Takemura) epitomises this shift from quality characters to bland ones on his own – we are introduced to him as a loner, a Japanese emigrant who moved to America to work as a trucker due to the solitary nature of the job. When he suddenly finds himself with a Transtector, he faces some tough choices that really shake up the way he views and treats his life, and the progression of the character makes for good viewing. However, when he is suddenly (even arbitrarily) appointed leader of the Autobots, he immediately falls into the same group as most other Japanese-written Autobot leaders – the complete and total cardboard cut-out. Say what you will about Optimus Prime, but while he might have been a by-the-numbers leader, he had a gentleness and sense of humour that distinguished him. Japanese Autobot leaders… do not. Indeed, A LOT of Japanese-written Autobots fall into this stiff, generic soldier cookie-cutter archetype, always speaking in very formal sentences and using titles for their comrades (Victory is especially bad for this), which was simply not the way things were done in the US G1 series. But, anyway, I’m getting off the point… Ginrai suddenly shifts from being an unwilling combatant, shedding his personality and falling into this stiff military cut-out group, droning on endlessly about the “beauty of the blue Earth” and the “wonder in the soul of humanity” and all that other flowery rubbish. When he explains the power of mankind to Sixknight before his promotion to commander, his words ring true… in his role as commander, he simply goes on about it so much that it loses meaning.

In stark contrast to this, however, the Decepticon Overlord (Noda), moves in precisely the OPPOSITE direction. When we are introduced to them, and for much of their role in the series, Giga and Mega – the two humans who form Overlord – come across as little more than depth-free cackling super-villains (there is some attempt to cast them in a “mother and father” role to the other Decepticons, but it is scarcely touched). Then, slowly, another side of their characters is explored – as Devil Z’s hatred of humanity comes out and he desires the extermination of the race, Giga and Mega reveal their own desire to CELEBRATE their humanity, adding a new dimension to their characters and actions that makes you appreciate them in a new way, unexpected so late in the series. And when THEY advocate the qualities of humanity, for some reason, the concept seems much more palatable than when post-promotion Ginrai launches into his little speeches.

Throughout all this, the constants are most definitely the Headmaster Juniors of both factions. They are the heart of the show, the young characters with whom the kids at home can identify, but who are not limited to cheering on the sidelines – they truly enter the battles, and fight for their own reasons and goals, with their own hang-ups and limitations. While on the one hand, you really feel that you get to know the kids, at the same time, the situation that Cancer of the Decepticons is placed in as the series progresses leaves you unsure of how he will act, and how his story – and by extension, that of his fellow Decepticon Juniors – will resolve itself. Although the basic outcome is not shocking or unpredictable, it is the individual, emotional character-based reactions that keep things at their most interesting.

Masterforce’s story is in a constant state of moving forward – while Headmasters lacked any real sense of an ultimate direction, operating instead in a series of small bunches of episodes that reached their own resolutions before carrying the story on in a different direction, Masterforce is a story that begins with a smattering of single-episode stories, gradually introducing the cast members, then carrying on gradually into a building story arc that, in truth, has rather begun before you even realise it. While it is the halfway mark of the series which truly marks the beginning of the greater story which runs to the conclusion of the show, everything that has gone before has assembled the players and established concepts, questions and conflicts that play important parts and contribute all the way up to the end. It does, on occasion, hurt itself through an unusual failing – a total failure to explain, in-story, some of the most important concepts of the series, such as the origin of the Godmaster Transtectors and what Devil Z is. These were later dealt with in a clip episode produced for video, but the fact that they could not work them into the show is baffling – made all the worse by the fact that the one origin story the show DOES offer for the Godmasters is the contorted version served up by Giga, filled with the lies and half-truths told to him by Devil Z. The audio commentary on the set, however, deals heavily in these and other untouched concepts, hopefully helping to clarify as much as possible for the viewers.

On the audio side of things, Masterforce is also easily the superior of Headmasters – whereas in that series, the limited range of characterisation left many characters sounding overly similar and uninteresting (excepting Banjo Ginga’s sinister Zarak), the cast of Masterforce, or at least those members that are well defined (lookin’ at you, Ranger, Road King), distinguish themselves well with unique, well-chosen voices that stand out amongst each other. The background music, meanwhile, starts out sounding like recycled Headmasters, but soon develops its own tunes and style, and whereas Headmasters had a grand total of two insert songs, which were barely distinguishable from each other, Masterforce has twice that number, each quite unique, from the gentle melody of “We Believe Tomorrow” to my personal favourite, the energetic, pumping “Super Ginrai’s Theme.”

In summary, if it wasn’t obvious, Super-God Masterforce really is a top-quality show. Although some characters have trouble sustaining themselves, or being sustained by the story, throughout the show, and the approach may be too “Japanese” for fans to traditional western animation to take (the animation, incidentally, is entirely anime-styled at this point, and of a consistently good quality), the depth of story, concept and character puts it head-and-shoulders above a goodly-sized chunk of other TF fiction. It is a terrible pity, then, that its wildly different and unusual approach leaves it as a series that is… well, heck, even Masumi Kaneda fully admits that, if you were basically to remove “Autobot” and “Decepticon” from the script, you would have a show that is BARELY Transformers. It is disheartening that this is likely to dissuade a certain type of fan, leaving them deprived of one of the better animated series under the Transformers banner. It is, by a wide margin, certainly the best Japanese-written Transformers series there is.

DISC SPECS
In a surprise move, this five-disc set has turned out to be Region 2 – not region free, as previously expected, given that Headmasters was. So any Americans wanting to play this will require a multi-region DVD player.

The 42 episodes of the series are split across the discs in groups of 8, 9, 8, 9 and 8, with one audio track – the original Japanese – and accompanying English subtitles. The infamous “StarTV” English dub is NOT included on this set for reasons of cost.

The subtitles will be essentially familiar to some fans, as the translations are the work of Jordan “Buster Darkwings” Derber and previously appeared on TV-Nihon’s online fansubs of the series. They are not EXACTLY the same, however, having been modified by my hand in certain ways – although the characters have retained their Japanese names throughout (don’t worry, Ginrai’s not Optimus Prime!), the western “Autobot” and “Decepticon” terms have been used to promote familiarity and continuity with previous releases (and hardly ill-fitting, as the word “Decepticon” actually appears in text in the animation at one point). Additional changes include the removal of the vast majority of explanatory notes (a few still remain, as does the dual-language format of subs for the assorted songs in the series), and general Anglicisation of the text – replacing the various untranslated curses from the original subs (Onore, yatsu-ra, kisama, etc) and amending the text to English spellings. Even as I observe the subs once more while writing this review, though, I see that a few American spellings have slipped through the cracks – I never professed to be a talented proof-reader, and I guess my frequent exposure to Yank spellings through my regular Inter-nettery blinded me to a few. I doubt they’ll prove in anyway distracting, and it merely serves to galvanise me to do a better job on Victory.

The video of the episodes are not remastered in any way, but are still perfectly watchable. They are complete this time around, with all pre-title-card sequences (which is an especially good thing, as all Masterforce episodes have them, and they are essential parts of the stories), and all next-episode previews.

PACKAGING AND PACK-INS
(Although his review is based on the unpackaged check discs, since I’ve yet to get my finished packaged copies, this description should be accurate.)

The discs are mounted on a card tray, decorated with re-drawn screenshots from the series, with the discs themselves forming parts of the background images. The tray folds up to slide inside a cardboard sleeve, designed in the same style as the Headmasters set with the “Takara Collection” and original Japanese series logo – the cover depicts God Ginrai and Overlord clashing in the centre, with Grand Maximus, BlackZarak and Devil Z in the background while Metalhawk and the Autobot and Decepticon Headmaster Juniors (in human form) run across the bottom. The art is the work of fellow Irishman Nick Roche, a name that will be familiar to members of the UK fan community as a regular artist for the Transmasters group, convention magazines and more – US fans are getting exposure to Nick’s work through his covers to IDW’s Transformers Generations, and he’ll be pencilling the upcoming Spotlight series of one-shots.

Nick’s illustration also adorns the cover of the accompanying 16-page booklet, written by me. An introduction to the series and a quick table to explain which western character corresponds to which Masterforce character kicks things off, and the rest of the booklet contains an episode guide for the series (separated out per disc this time).

SPECIAL FEATURES
As with Headmasters before it, Masterforce is light on extras – the only features included are three audio commentaries on episodes 1, 27 and 35. Once again, as on Headmasters, I am the commentary voice, and I’m really very happy with these ones, if I do say so myself. They’re wall-to-wall chatter – I’m never stuck for anything to say, and Masterforce is a series with plenty to talk about, thanks to articles that have found their way online like the interview with Masumi Kaneda from the Japanese Transformers: Generations book. Episode 1 covers Pretenders, Seacons and other basic series concepts, episode 27 is mainly about Japanese-exclusive toys, and episode 35 is about Godmasters and “everything else.” I think – I hope, at least – that these will actually prove informative even to Transfans – although I think I sound a bit too “earnest” in my manner of speech sometimes, and I did goof my words up a couple of times, saying “season” where I meant “episode” once, calling Dreadwind and Darkwing “Pretenders” instead of “Powermasters,” and mixing the mispronounced “Devil ZEE” (damn my Sesame Street upbringing!) and “Gin-RAY” (should be “Gin-RYE”) in with the correct way. Y’all can ignore the bit where I gripe about how much I want an Overlord, though, since I got m’self one last week. Hurray!

Nick’s illustration gets a little more mileage as part of the Extras menu, bolstered with pieces of background music from the series. The main menu itself plays “Burn! Transformer,” the show’s closing theme, though it’s got a very basic design with a slightly misplaced “Volume 2,” which refers to its place in the Takara Collection, but which made me think I’d just put the second disc in the first time I saw it. The set’s easter egg, however, offers you an opportunity to see another way it could have been – on any of the five discs, go to the extras menu, highlight “main menu,” and on discs 1, 3 and 5, press right twice, and on discs 2 and 4, press left twice. This activates the egg, which is a string of alternate menu designs – which, quite frankly, I prefer!

Review: Transformers The Takara Collection Volume 1 – Headmasters (R2 UK) DVD

Written by Big Bot on September 17, 2005 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Review by Chris McFeely
Starring: Ikuya Sawaki, Banjou Ginga, Michihiro Ikemizu, Hori Hideyuki, Seizo Kato, Tesshou Genda, Hiroya Ishimaru

FEATURE
As anyone who buys this boxset will quickly become aware, although “The Rebirth” marked the end of Transformers in the West, Japan continued to produce their own series, supplanting that final three-parter, first with Headmasters, the series collected here, and then further with Super God Masterforce and Victory. The very prospect of one of these series getting a release in the west seemed preposterous, but Metrodome is here to prove everyone wrong.

It is the year 2011, and the Decepticons have not been seen since the temporary truce called by Galvatron (Kato) following the resurrection of Optimus Prime (Genda). But now, the release of the Matrix’s energy has caused Vector Sigma to destabilise, and the war erupts again in the battle for Cybertron – as a new breed of warrior enters the fray! Witness the death of Optimus Prime, the rebirth of Rodimus Prime (Ishimaru), and the coming of the mighty Headmasters, as Fortress Maximus (Sawaki) and Scorponok (Ginga) face off in the greatest adventure you’ve never seen!

Thirty-five episodes in length, Headmasters is immediately accessible as a continuation of the American series, featuring characters from both before and after the movie, as well as introducing the Headmasters to the universe in a different way. What almost instantly sets it apart from its predecessors, however, is its ongoing story – while the American series was content to tell stories that, by and large, operated independently of one another or occasionally referenced past events, Headmasters steadily moves in a (not always clear) direction, with changing situations and events leading on from one episode to the other, building to assorted conclusions across the length of the series. At the same time, however, episodes regularly function strongly as distinct, single stories, rather than blurring into one another – a malady recent Japanese Transformers shows like Armada and Energon have suffered from. In general, it is enjoyable to watch, although it is not unusual to find emphasis placed too heavily on battle scenes to move the plot forward, requiring the Autobots to sit around and wait for the Decepticons to make their next move.

In shaping a story which actually advances, Headmasters features characterisation of a much stronger and more consistent nature than its American predecessors. Chromedome, in particular, is often in the spotlight, and the poor bastard just seems to go through endless amounts of trouble and tragedy in the series, usually at the hands of Sixshot, the other particularly strong character.

However, it’s not all good, because two of the characters at the forefront of the series are the much-maligned Wheelie and Daniel. Now, personally speaking, I never had much a problem with these two characters in Season Three – they were very clearly ill-concieved, skewing younger than Spike and Bumblebee in a season that skewed older, but they were not actually in a lot of episodes. In that respect, it’s all change for Headmasters, as they become two of the series’ main characters, and quickly and easily get right on your nerves (not helped by the fact that Daniel has been regressed to acting much younger than he ever did in the American series). It embodies the Japanese preoccupation with including an intrusive human child character in their stories, right down to the show’s closing theme music. In a way, a lot of Headmasters is about Daniel growing up… but that’s not a good thing. Oh, and Wheelie doesn’t talk in rhyme or have a particularly annoying voice… he’s just a freakin’ jerk.

Visually, there is clearly an effort from the animators to mimic the animation style of the American series, rather than employing a more traditional “anime” style one might expect from a uniquely Japanese production. Mind you, that’s about where it stops, because a lot of other aspects of Headmasters – from Hardheard drunkenly slurring a karaoke version of the closing theme to the Headmasters linking hands and using the “power of friendship” – are very “Japanese” concepts that one would not have seen in the American series. You remember all those mechanical noises you heard used for comedic effect in Dexter’s Lab? This is the kind of show where they get used seriously.

It is not unusual for the dialogue in Headmasters to beat around the bush

The dialogue beats around the bush?

Just like that. The dozenth time that Fortress says something, and one of the four Headmasters repeats it back at him in the form of a question, you really will want to rub your forehead and sigh. And nobody can come up with an original threat. If a Decepticon screams “I’m going to send you to hell!” the best an Autobot can come back with is “You’re the one who’s going to be sent to hell!” And so on. And so forth. Man, it’s a good thing subtitles get a bit of leniency when it comes to formality of dialogue, because this stuff would never fly if it were spoken in the English language.

Overall, Headmasters is a fairly enjoyable show, although some of the cultural difference between it and its American big brother may be a bit of a hurdle for G1 fans that haven’t experienced any of the recent Japanese shows (and I’m sure that this will be the case with many buyers in the UK). The series is bursting with characters both old and new, and holds a lot of appeal purely by being a continuation of G1 that offers viewers the chance to see classic characters again, but it is often dragged down by the grating presence of Daniel and Wheelie. All in all, it’s probably more notable for the simple fact that it’s been released on DVD, rather than for the actual content of the show, but there’s still fun to be had if you’re willing.

DISC SPECS
Thirty-five episodes split up across four discs in groups of nine, nine, nine and eight. The menus are designed in the same sort of visual style as the recent “Transformers: The Movie – Reconstructed” release, which would work okay, except for the out-of-place use of Unicron’s theme as the background music.

The visuals have not been remastered, and are consequently not especially sharp, but remain colourful and perfectly watchable. However, for some unfathomable reason, the master copies that Metrodome received were not quite complete – the “next episode” previews are missing from each episode. Similarly, for any episode which had a sequence before its title card, that sequence is also kaputski. There’s not really any negative effect here – when you have the whole series in a boxset, recaps and previews are decidedly inessential. The main episode afflicted by this is the first one, since it featured a short summary of events with new animation. The absence of this sequence and any information it contains (specifically, the existence of the Athenia base) has been noted in the booklet, with appropriate regret (although any regular Metrodome customers can still see the sequence for themselves, as the first dubbed Headmasters episode, with this sequence intact, is available as an Easter Egg on the Season 2, Part 2 boxset).

There are two audio tracks on offer (or three, in the case of the first three episodes, see Special Features) – the original Japanese audio, and the infamous “StarTV” English dub. A product of Hong Kong, the dub was first found airing on the Malaysian TV channel, RTM 1, in the early 90’s, but is more famous for its airing on the StarTV satellite channel, where it was grouped with Victory and Masterforce under the umbrella title of “Transformers Takara,” and were all labelled with Victory’s opening, and a peculiar pseudo-American closing. Thankfully, since the Japanese animation was used for this DVD, the series’ unique opening and closing remains. But even that doesn’t save the pure awfulness of the English dub, which was clearly done by a small group of people with little knowledge and less talent. The mistake-riddle scripts – in both the names of characters and the translation of the dialogue – and the stilted, flat delivery all combine to produce something so atrocious… that it’s absolutely hilarious, and Metrodome know it. Best used as fodder for a drinking game – take a shot every time someone says “Darnit!” That said, however, in transplanting the English audio on to the Japanese master animation, there have been some slip ups – the soundtrack of episodes 7 and 14 are very out of synch, while episodes 4, 20, 22 and 32 are similarly iffy, to a lesser degree.

To accompany the original Japanese audio track, a new set of subtitles have been created by SDI Media UK. As has previously been noted – and hotly debated – the subtitles have been rewritten to use the English-language names for assorted characters and concepts that have different monikers in Japan. Not being Transformers fans themselves, of course, there was great possibility for some translation cock-ups from SDI, so I provided a list of important info and names, and went on to proof-read the finished subtitle scripts, catching and correcting assorted errors that they had made, that one would not expect a non-TF-fan to get.

Ahem.

NOT A SINGLE F**KING ONE OF MY CORRECTIONS HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTED FOR THE FINISHED BOX SET.

Having spent quite an amount of time reading through and correcting the scripts, this leaves me both disappointed and frustrated. This should not have happened.

Sigh… but… gnng… anyway, my personal frustrations aside… the subtitles really are fine 95% of the time. Mostly, the mistakes are just TF-specific naming things – Hot Rod, for example, is consistently called “Rodimus,” because the dialogue did not refer to him as “Hot Rodimus,” so when the subtitlers search for that term to replace, they got nothing. Intermittently, the Autobots are the “Cybertrons,” generally when referring to their bases. Episode Three is saddled with the title, “Birth of Double Optimus Prime,” because they translated “Convoy” to be “Optimus Prime” (although the booklet and menu refer to it by my re-written title, “Birth of Double Prime”). Or how the Techbots/Technobots are twice called the “Headbots” because the subtitler misheard the name. Or Superion being called “Spellion” once. And my re-writing of Grimlock’s dialogue to be in his traditional style… ffft.

Mind you, occasionally, there is just dumb stuff, like the way that “the Matrix” is just referred to as “Matrix” for most of episodes two and three. Or that one fleeting reference to “Optimus Maximus.” Or how the city of Lemuria is referred to once as “Demonia” and once as “Lebelia” in the same episode. There are some more errors like this that are not TF-specific, but just the result bad translations, but, thankfully, they are very limited (literally, I picked out maybe ten in the whole series). There one was utterly bizarre occurrence, though, in episode 21, when two subtitles from another episode flashed up onscreen. I haven’t seen this occur anywhere else yet, thankfully.

But, anyway, like I said, personal issues notwithstanding, I don’t think that what mistakes there are will be enough to actually spoil enjoyment of the show. It just really burns me to know that they had a correct version, and ignored it.

PACKAGING AND PACK-INS
The slipcase of the Headmasters set bears an attractive image of Fortress Maximus and Scorponok by noted UK Transformers artist Andy Wildman (though the expansive, featureless “outer space” background lessens its impact), proclaiming it as “Volume One” of “The Takara Collection,” foreshadowing the oncoming Masterforce and Victory releases. In a particularly nice touch, the Japanese Headmasters logo is also on show. The blurb on the rear of the slipcase was penned by me, and summarises the nature and story of the show, and shows how it fits into continuity. I had also included a line about the “infamous English dub, which must be heard to be believed,” just as a qualifier for those who didn’t know what to expect, but it’s been snipped.

Unlike previous Metrodome boxsets, this slipcase does not contain individual DVD boxes – the four discs of Headmasters are presented on a fold out carboard tray, also decorated with Wildman’s image and faction symbols, and some illustrations of Sixshot, Ultra Magnus and Rodimus and Optimus Prime, decently redrawn from stills of the show, mirrored on the discs themselves.

The standard booklet is also included, written by me. It features a brief introduction to the series, a note about the missing previews, an explanation of the origins of the dub and the choices made regarding the subtitles, as well as a comparative table of names and concepts appearing the series with different names in English and Japanese, including Katakana translations. An episode guide fills out the rest of the booklet’s 16 pages. Metrodome have employed a particularly nice design for this booklet that looks nicer than their G1 efforts.

SPECIAL FEATURES
Special features are minimal for Headmasters – the primary one is the audio commentary for episodes one, two and three by me. I really didn’t want to listen to myself, but I bit the bullet and did it, which turned out to be worthwhile, since I can note that they cut some of what I said – namely, when I ragged on the narrator, and when I espoused the value of the dub as a drinking game, which I think it fair enough. I don’t, however, agree with the one other cut, though, from the start of the first episode, when I explained about the absence of the previews and the pre-title-card sequence. That just felt like trying to cover up one the set’s flaws. It’s still covered in the booklet, at least. But, anyway, regarding the rest of the commentary, I’ll just say that I doubt I’ll be telling serious Transfans anything they don’t already know, and that I hope I don’t sound like too much of a rampant dingus.

The second and final special feature is one of Metrodome’s staples – episode scripts as DVD Rom content. Each disc contains the respect scripts of the episodes on it, and features both the new subtitle script (again, not my rewrites, and episode 14 appears twice, once in place of episode 15, but the subtitles on the episode itself are fine) in MSWord format, and the script of the StarTV dub in PDF format, in assorted states of production, with lines crossed over and written out… makes you realise these things could have actually been worse, with Scoroponok/Zarak being called “Bronco,” Scourge being “Garth,” and the Autobot and Decepticon Clones being the “Nicks” and “Bens” Brothers, among others. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.

Interestingly, however, although the set makes no note of it, the StarTV dub scripts for episodes 1-6 are not present, and in their place are what I think appear to be (very bad) translations of the original Japanese scripts themselves in MSWord format – looking at episode 1, the presence of some additional scenes, including the Throttlebots protecting Spike and Carly as they take the spacebridge to Athenia, would seem to support this notion.

OVERALL
So that’s Headmasters, folks. It’s no work of art, but the sheer fact that it has been released on DVD for anyone to see is truly a milestone. Of all the Japanese Transformer series, it’s easily the least-talked about, and least-documented, and now, people who have only been able to hear vague stories about it and some bad screenshots online can see and enjoy the whole thing, in its original language, no less. What mistakes there are in the subtitles are the only real detrimental factor in the set (and are, to me, at least, particularly infuriating), but things can only get better as Masterforce and Victory approach.

Now, I just want to add a little something. As should now be apparent to those who didn’t know before, I had quite a heavy degree of involvement with the production of this DVD, and its been a great experience. However, I incredibly ignorantly neglected to include any thanks in the booklet, for which I profusely apologise. Metrodome have inserted some of their own thanks, but I would now like to add some of my own. My thanks go out to Jordan L. Derber, Doug Dlin, Hydra, Tim Finn, Jon Talpur, Groundsplitter, Nevermore, the whole gang at TheTransformers.Net and everyone who voted in the subtitle polls for all the input, advice, help and general support you guys gave in the last couple of months. You all rock.

Review: Transformers The Movie – Reconstructed (UK R0) DVD

Written by Big Bot on September 6, 2005 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Review by Chris McFeely
Director: Neslon Shin
Starring: Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Stack, Lionel Stander, Orson Welles, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker

FEATURE
I shall not waste your time or mine doing an extensive review of a film we have all seen many times over. Suffice to say that it’s a cheesey, fun movie that stands out as one of the biggest Transformers stories, which set in motion a series of story concepts that have constantly been mirrored in the fiction to this day. The story’s a bit lurching, and completely derails itself in the third quarter as the writer indulges his imagination with pace-disrupting sequences on Quintessa and Junkion, but it remains an enjoyably watchable affair, moreso if you are a fan.

DISC SPECS
Okay, now, this is where it’s at.

I do not know the technical terms. I do not know the first thing about “interlacing” or “artifacting,” or even what those are. So this is going to be in layman’s terms, which I hope is enough.

VIDEO
For years, fans have debated the existence or not of a true widescreen version of the movie, since no such version has ever been released. It has, eventually, been realised that is because no such version does exist – the film was animated in fullscreen (4:3, the size of a regular TV screen), and for its theatrical release, was cropped into a widescreen (16:9) ratio. However, what is also apparent is that there is a small amount of additional footage in existence around all four edges of the picture, which has previously been cropped off.

And this, my friends, is where the “Reconstructed” subtitle of this movie comes into play. Using assorted technical jiggery pokery, Metrodome have had the movie image resized, to fit as much of this additional image into the frame as possible. And they have succeeded greatly.

The resulting image is not full widescreen, but is, however, somewhat wider than a normal, fullscreen 4:3 image. To accommodate this, the DVD is presented in a widescreen format, with the image “curtained” on both sides with narrow black bars. Consequently, if viewed on a widescreen television, these black bars will be the only empty space on the screen. However – and this is the negative result of this process – if viewed on a regular, fullscreen television, you will have to adjust your TV setting to a widescreen aspect ratio to view the film without stretching, meaning that black bars will appear on the top and bottom, working with the side bars to completely frame the image. Thankfully, I myself have a widescreen TV, so this does not affect me, but I understand that this will surely be rather off-putting to some viewers.

Additionally, there were early conflicting reports that the aspect ratio of the active picture image might change from scene to scene, as a result of each one being filmed differently. Well, you’d need to be looking very, very closely to spot it – any fluctuation in the size of the image width is barely perceptible though it does occur. And when I say barely perceptible, I mean, I had to hold something with a straight edge up against the screen to be absolutely sure if the picture was overlapping it at times. Rest assured, the image is not jumping from widescreen to fullscreen, as initial fears suggested.

There are, however, one or two moments where the picture resizing reveals reasons why it wasn’t done before. The glowing line on the edge of the title sequence, for example. Or when Grimlock growls at a Sharkticon, you can see, just at the very bottom of the screen, the un-delineated bottom of the animation cel, where the paint fades out – basically, it’s a part of the movie that wasn’t properly animated, because it was never truly intended to be on the screen. Although in all honesty? I can only tell you it’s there because I was made aware of it beforehand. I doubt I would have noticed it so readily had I not, and it’s miniscule anyway.

Hopefully, I have sufficiently explained all this.

But on top of all this picture resizing, the actual video itself has also been remastered, the only other DVD release of the movie to have done this being Rhino’s R1 version, which I do not own, but have seen images of, and have heard to be criticised for being overly dark. Well, that is certainly not a problem with Metrodome’s version. Admittedly, the opening scene of Unicron’s fly-by does not immediately fill the viewer with confidence – the colour balance is way off, with the blacks of space and shadow possessing a distinctly greenish hue. Thankfully, it’s not something that’s repeated – everything soon falls into line, and results in a very nice looking version of the movie that’s bright, sharp and colourful; the screencaps on Metrodome’s messageboard did not do it justice. There are times, mind you, when it seems a little too light, occasionally appearing a little washed out, and there are occasional moments where scenes and shots seem unremastered – for example, Astrotrain’s take off seems very saturated and blurry. But in this case, I’ll take the bad with the good – when all is said and done, I really like how the majority of the film appears.

Oh, and finally, one more thing about this release makes it unique for the UK – it’s actually the US version of the film, featuring the cast instead of the Star Wars scrolling text and Victor Caroli’s narration, Spike’s expletive, and no closing narration assuring us that Prime would return. As far as I know, this version has never been released in the UK before.

AUDIO
Ah, hereby hangs a tale.

Everyone remembers Rhino’s season boxsets, right? How the 5.1 audio tracks were filled to overflowing with oppressive, excessive new sound effects, which either by accident or design, sometimes wound up on the 2.0 audio tracks, which were supposed to contain the original, unmodified soundtrack of the show? Sure you do.

But do you also remember how, when questioned about this, they claimed that these sounds were always there, and that we just hadn’t been able to hear them before now?

That is, of course, a load of the purest arse.

But that’s what we’re hearing again.

Transformers: The Movie – Reconstructed presents two audio options – 5.1 and 2.0. And both soundtracks have been mixed by the same sound studio – “Magno,” I believed the name is – who did Rhino’s sets. And surprise surprise, they both feature a collection of new noises not in the original film, matching those inserted into the season sets, and the studio (notably, NOT Metrodome, but the studio themselves) is proclaiming they were always there.

Déjà vu.

Well, anyway, there is at least something positive to be said about all of this – the sound effects this time around are, to my ears, suitably more subtle and better integrated to the original audio than on the season boxsets. Well, on the 2.0 track, anyway – I don’t have a 5.1 sound system, so I can’t really comment on what it sounds like coming out of that. And in truth, some of the new sounds do work well. Starscream’s death, in particular, I feel gains a bit of oomph from the remixed sound, which is done well enough that I genuinely had to check an older copy of the movie to make sure that it was remixed (something that I had never had to do when dealing with these new sounds before).

The most noticeable alteration – and what is probably the most awful one – is during the “Touch” scene when Optimus Prime blasts through the Decepticons to get to Megatron. As he opens fire on the ‘Cons, the nigh-iconic blaster noise is supplanted with a ghastly “banging” sound, like miniature explosions, or a pop-gun. It’s just not right. And even though rest of the remix is not hugely objectionable, I would still have desired that at least the 2.0 track remain unmodified in the name of accuracy to the original. But that seems to be the furthest thing from the studio’s mind.

PACKAGING AND PACK-INS
The packaging consists of a standard, blue-coloured DVD case. The regular, widely-available sleeve that goes in this case features the US poster artwork for its cover, while UK retailer Silverscreen is offering an exclusive reversible cover, featuring both the US poster artwork, and the UK’s version. This might have been done as a result of the negative reaction a lot of UK fans had to the use of the US artwork, but y’know what? I still support the decision to use it. Sure, the UK version might be better drawn, but Optimus Prime’s back is not a great focal point, and the image is messy and busy. The US poster better reflects the movie (even if it doesn’t even show robot-mode Hot Rod), and again, I don’t think it’s ever been used as a cover for a DVD or video in the UK, making it stand out (Maverick’s video release of the movie a good couple of years back did use a nastily-redrawn version of this cover, though).

Included inside the box is a sixteen-page booklet primarily written by Metrodome’s Jezz Vernon, covering the reconstruction process, the extra features, a run-down of the cast, how the movie fits into the series timeline and some notes on its production. Vernon intelligently and accurately gets the information across – a very good job for someone who is not actually a Transformers fan. The booklet is rounded out by three short pieces of writing from three fans (Seibertron.Com’s Raymond T., TheTransformers.Net’s Darren Jamieson, and me) about what the movie means to them, and then with an advert for the upcoming release of the Headmasters boxset, advertising its feature, and snipping some of the text I wrote for it’s booklet and packaging.

SPECIAL FEATURES
And at last, we come to all’a this. So lets hit them one by one.

Well, the first special feature isn’t on the features menu – by selecting the icon in the Transformers logo on the main menu, you can choose between an Autobot and Decepticon theme for the main menu, nicely accompanied by a G1-cartoon-style scene transition when you switch designs.

The first option on the Special Features menu is “Compare and Contrast” – a section which gives you the opportunity to look at the alternate scenes from the UK version of the movie, as discussed above (the Stars Wars text and narration, no swearing and closing narrative). This is a great idea, but when there was originally talk of creating a branching version of the movie that would allow you to watch either version you chose in context with the movie, this doesn’t quite live up to that. It’s still a really good extra, though.

Next on the list is the disc’s ROM feature – a despicably bad transcript of the movie, which the menu incorrectly calls the original script. What was really necessary here was the real original script that’s around online. This thing is, in all honesty, just a bit of a mess.

“Trailers and TV Spots” lifts things up a little, though. In additional to the US Theatrical Trailer, and the extended, four-minute Japanese affair with the additional shots of Unicron eating Lithone and Diaclone-colours Ultra Magnus, there are twelve TV adverts for the movie, including a tie-in sweepstakes competition, an ad for the Ultra Magnus and Galvatron toys, and a series of ads for the Sharkticon toys. Admittedly, it all gets a bit repetitive, and a few of the ads clearly came from low-quality VHS sources.

The next option is a series of animation tests, showing the final test of the opening credits (the cast names flying around), and then a series of further colour and exposure tests, including various pieces of animation. Mostly notably among these is what would be called a “Clean Opening” – the shots of Laserbeak’s approach to Cybertron’s moon sans the credit text that appears over them in the finished film.

Character Biographies are up next, split into Autobots and Decepticons, covering the living and the dead. Arcee, Blurr, Hot Rod, Kup, Springer, Ultra Magnus, Brawn, Ironhide, Optimus Prime, Prowl, Wheeljack, Ratchet, Windcharger, Galvatron, Cyclonus, Scourge, Bombshell, Kickback, Megatron, Shrapnel, Skywarp, Starscream, Thundercracker, and out in his own section, Unicron, all get covered, although these are simply the profiles which previously appeared on Madman Entertainment’s R4 Australian release of the movie (happily claiming that Skywarp is Cyclonus – something that I personally agree with, but wouldn’t state so factually if it were me).

The final extra is the big ‘un. When the previous licence-holders, Maverick Entertainment, released their version of the movie, they included as an extra the first episode of the Japanese-exclusive series, “Headmasters,” in its wretchedly dubbed form. Well, Metrodome have done them one better – as an advertisement for the upcoming complete Headmasters boxset, they’ve included the first episode as well, this time in it’s original Japanese language (with the correct opening and closing) with a set of newly-created subtitles. There’s no dub option here, but there will be on the set.

However, it should be noted for anyone concerned that the subtitle script used for this episodes is an early one, from before I got my hands on it to correct any spelling or TF-based errors or inconsistencies. So if you see any (there are a few) don’t worry, ‘cause they should be gone on the boxset itself. Take that very British line, for example – “I’m Grimlock and I’ll do you all in!” I turned that line into “Me Grimlock smash you!” 🙂

And that is Transformers: The Movie – Reconstructed. It’s clearly a very fan-targeted project, and in general, it’s a film that looks very nice and holds a lot of curiosity value for those who have a copy already. The audio is main the hiccup, and the extras are not as hot as they could be, but there is already talk of another version in the future. There is no region information printed on the sleeve that I can see, but I assume that it has indeed been released with Region 0 encoding, meaning that our interested cousins across the pond can import with minimal concern.

Review: Transformers The Movie (R2 UK) UMD

Written by Big Bot on September 2, 2005 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

With the release of Sony’s Playstation Portable in Europe on 1st September, Metrodome sublicensed the rights of Transformers The Movie to Pink Entertainment Ltd, for a release on UMD (Universal Media Disk).

Now to the most important bits; there is no re-mastering, no editing and no reconstructing. The film is presented in exactly the same format that was shown in the UK cinemas back in 1986. This includes the BBFC rating information at the beginning of the film (this is shown for every film at a UK cinema), the Rank Films Distribution logo and the Sunbow/Marvel logo appearing with no sound. The film also has the Star Wars opening, no swearing from Spike and the narrated ending.

Video
The 4:3 aspect ratio means there are black bars on either side of the PSP’s widescreen screen, but this does not distract from watching the movie itself. The image is mostly crisp, not nearly as fuzzy as the Maverick DVD, and the sound is as good as it could possibly be without being edited. The impressive thing is, compared to previous DVD editions of Transformers the Movie, bits of the dialogue and sound effects are a lot clearer. For example, when Unicron first meets Megatron, Unicron says ‘Megatron’ TWICE, but often the first cannot be heard due to the dialogue being too quite. This is not the case here.

Extras
There are no extras on the disk, but while on the move, all you want to watch and listen to is the movie itself.

The packaging cover is the same as the first edition of the Prism Movie release, except they have used the proper logo. Also a nice piece of info on the back for customers reads: ‘Due to the original nature of the film source material the publisher has elected to run this film on a 4:3 aspect ratio. This will ensure that the user views the film as the Director intended it to be seen.’ All credit to Metrodome for looking for the ultimate copy of the movie, but editing the original source is never the cleverest. Disappointingly, there is an image from a G1 episode on the back of the packaging, which has little relevance and in the main menu, there is an image of Armada Optimus Prime. There is also the drawing of Optimus Prime from The Ultimate Guide on the PSP main menu preview screen. The scene selection only has 12 chapter points, which is not nearly enough for a movie which needs around 20.

Overall, this is an alright package, but with this game being sold at a discount when bought with other PSP products, it could become quite popular with the general public. A booklet would have been nice, but for the first ever Transformers media on UMD, it’s not exactly needed.

Review: Transformers Season 3 and 4 (R2 UK) DVD

Written by Big Bot on July 30, 2004 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Written by Chris McFeely

With the threat of Unicron defeated, life goes on for the Autobots and Decepticons – but while the Autobots, and their new leader, Rodimus Prime (Gautier) have retaken their home plant of Cybertron and begun a new age of peace, the destitute, starving Decepticons, without their leader, Galvatron (Welker) are in dire straits… until the arrival of the mysterious Quintessons, who have an agenda all of their own. In the third season of Transformers, the future is now, and the saga of the robots in disguise continues!

The third season of the Transformers marked the biggest shake-up to the status quo imaginable. Taking its cue from the events of “Transformers: The Movie,” the third season leaped forward to the year 2006, with a new cast and surprisingly changed premise. It’s surely no coincidence that the addition of Flint Dille – grandson of the creator of defining sci-fi show, Buck Rogers – saw the series itself transform, from genial robot action to grim sci-fi adventure, with many outer space and alien world settings, giving a much broader scope to the season, and following it up with some of the show’s grittiest, most mature stories. Continuity between episodes became stronger than it had ever been as plot concepts and locations were revisited and threads from episodes would carry over into others, creating a more coherent universe, in a season that finally fully fleshed out the history of Cybertron and the Transformer race.

In addition to this, a smaller core cast was formed that the show would revolve around, with peripheral characters being alternated in and out, as opposed to the previous season’s method of largely just selecting a random group of characters to go with Optimus Prime or Megatron, or giving one or two characters an episode to themselves. This allowed for more development of the characters’ personalities and relationships, in a way that didn’t feel as forced or short-sighted as the character-focal episodes that peppered the second season. Of course, this wasn’t a perfect idea – it resulted in the abandonment of a metric ton of Autobots from the previous two seasons (in addition to the ones who died during the movie), which creates a rather jarring disconnect between the second and third seasons (even moreso than a twenty-year jump). But where we lost old characters, we gained new ones – and also a third party that shook up the basic nature of the show’s war. The introduction of the Quintessons as a third force, playing both sides off against each other, attacking both at once, and working towards their own agenda added a factor to the show that this reviewer thinks was much-needed. The season even worked in some crossovers with fellow Hasbro property, “G.I. Joe,” without actually explaining them in dialogue – an elderly Flint appears as the father of Marissa Faireborn in “The Killing Jar,” and the ever-popular Cobra Commander plays a major role in the unique “Only Human,” which revolves around Synthoid technology from the “G.I. Joe” series.

The third season catches a lot of flak for having weak animation – courtesy of Korean animation studio, AKOM – but when one actually watches it in a set like this, you realise that this reputation is not actually that true. While about half the season IS animated in this sub-par manner (on a ratio, yes, that’s more than any other season), the other episodes break this up well, and give the season a pretty dichotomous look, as they contain some of the BEST animation the series has – “Call of the Primitives” is undisputedly the best animated Transformers episode there is, while episodes like “The Dweller in the Depths,” “Chaos” and “The Killing Jar” have some particularly excellent visuals. Most episodes that are not AKOM work are actually above the average set by past seasons. And when animation was weak, story would often pick up the pace – the opening “Five Faces of Darkness” mini-series features some incredibly shoddy animation which only worsens as it goes on, but features the most ambitious, complex story of the entire G1 cartoon, which weaves multiple plotlines in and out of each other with skill, slowly revealing the mystery the story is built around, with some of the best dialogue of the series.

Of course, the writing wasn’t going to be great all the time, and there are a few clunkers in the mix – take “Surprise Party,” with the unpleasant, ill-conceived characters of Daniel Witwicky and Wheelie taking centre stage in a completely pointless story, or in a more general sense, applying to episodes of various qualities, the infuriating regression of Grimlock, a serious, gruff self-serving character in the previous seasons, into a goofy, kid-friendly sidekick character. And I would be remiss if I did not mention “Carnage in C-Minor,” the worst-animated episode of the series, with a horrible execution of a concept that was dodgy in the first place.

The season ends with the “Return of Optimus Prime” two-parter, which, despite it’s good animation, is executed somewhat clumsily, and laboured with a plot device which could have been played for some pretty grim subject matter, but instead resulted in a return to the more colourful, straightforward superheroics of past seasons, lacking the ‘edge’ that much of the season before it benefited from.

The third season of Transformers is, by and large, the least popular with both serious and casual fans. I’d have to say – beyond the dislike many have for the Quintesson origin of the Transformers, preferring instead the origin story crafted in the Marvel comics – this probably largely comes from childhood experience of the season, from the massive change in premise it underwent, coupled with the discarding of many familiar characters, particularly Optimus Prime, leading to a wide dislike of Rodimus Prime, seen as a transitional leader and labelled a “whiner” by most. Of course, what some will call “whining,” others will call “actually having a personality and problems,” which was more than Optimus Prime ever did. Optimus may have been a great leader, but Rodimus was a better character (and when everyone’s singing the praises of Simon Furman’s comic-book portrayal of a self-doubting Optimus Prime, they seem to forget Rodimus did it first). Anyway, to get back down off the soap-box… I think the best way to describe season three is: it was Transformers, Jim, but not as we knew it. And that, in that day and age, was where it went wrong, producing something that, in both principle and exercise, was the superior of it’s predecessors, but changed too much to be accessible to the established fan base, who couldn’t accept a lot of the radical differences. Rodimus and Galvatron may not be as iconic as Optimus Prime and Megatron, but try looking back on it now. I think – I hope – you’ll be surprised.

After season three comes the three-part mini-series, “The Rebirth,” which is the entirety of the show’s fourth season. It was conceived and written to be the end of the series, though it was cut down from five episodes to three, which results in it being a little rushed, at least in it’s introduction of the new toy characters, bringing in around two dozen of them, with all but two of them showing up in the first episode alone (and that’s not even counting the Nebulons). It’s a fairly straightforward tale that suffers from having to give excessive time over to introducing the toyline’s latest gimmick, with more of AKOM’s sub-par animation, but an open, yet fairly satisfying – if slightly syrupy – ending.

DISC SPECS
33 episodes on four discs, each with six chapter points. Split up over the discs in groups of 9, 9, 9 and 6.

Two audio options – a remixed 5.1 audio track containing extra sound effects not in the original show, and a 2.0 stereo track, without ‘em. This DVD also restores the original ending to “Dark Awakening,” not on Rhino’s American release.

When season three originally aired, several episodes were broadcast out of order, disrupting the chronological story order of the series. This DVD set puts the errant episodes in their proper place so viewers can enjoy the stories in order, but otherwise preserves the original airing order, unlike its American counterpart.

PACKAGE AND PACK-INS
Collected in four standard DVD cases in a silver card slip case bearing Galvatron’s head, drawn in the style of the Autobot and Decepticon symbols. The cover to each case bears the image of Galvatron and Rodimus as a background, with some odd choices for central characters – Bruticus, Defensor, Superion and Blaster. All art is by Andy Wildman, which probably goes some way to explaining the characters, as the art had probably been already drawn. Note that the Bruticus image isn’t used anywhere else, while the others grace postcards (below).

This set contains a booklet with episodes synopses and an intro by TheTF.Net webmaster Darren Jamieson, a set of six postcards, and the second instalment of the fan comic, “The Beast Within.”

The synopses booklet is standard (I wrote the summaries for “The Rebirth”), but where Jamieson’s intros have been energetic and excited before, he seems unable to muster much enthusiasm for season three, simply pointing out the lack of knowledge about it in the UK, and it’s poor animation. And I can’t agree even for a second with his belief that the shift to space-bound stories was just because space was easier for the animators to draw.

Six postcards come with this set, instead of the four that have been with previous sets, four decorated pieces of art by Andy Wildman (Galvatron, Rodimus, Menasor and Defensor) – why does no-one have a faction symbol? Galvatron and Rodimus’s chests look positively barren without them! – and the remaining two featuring the winning images from the fan art contest Metrodome held.

This ‘issue’ of “The Beast Within,” subtitled “Consequences,” once again proves to be a very uneven affair. Artist Dylan Gibson turns in vastly superior work this time around, as he has ditched the Pat Lee mimicry that hurt the previous instalment, and produced a grimmer looking story that would have befitted the first part more. The lettering appears to be done by hand, which has at least resulted in the proper use of full stops this time (still lots of dropped commas, though). The story itself, however, is terribly unsatisfying – limited greatly by its six-page length, it progresses nicely up until a hideously rushed final page which crams in more panels that is comfortable, ending suddenly and anticlimactically. Additionally, this part’s sudden shift in focus from the torment of Grimlock in the first part to the bland heroics and clichéd dialogue of Optimus Prime does it no favours, leaving the Beast feeling like little more than a generic monster.

SPECIAL FEATURES
The fourth disc of the set contains the special features.

Starting it off are the staple character profiles, this time for Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus, Kup, Blurr, Arcee, Galvatron, Cyclonus and Scourge, with art by fan-turned-pro, Simon Williams, who illustrated some of the UK Armada comic.

Next is a 20-question quiz, with some genuinely hard ones in the mix that even serious Transfans will be given pause over. Making it more challenging is the new set-up, where you don’t discover your score until the end, meaning you’ll have to go back to the start to try again, abandoning the previous method of letting you try over and over again until you got each question right.

In the vein of the other sets, a fan art gallery is included, with some particularly nice pieces, but it’s notably smaller than other sets’ offerings.

Thoroughly trouncing Season 2, Part 1’s Auto Assembly footage is the film from the 2004 convention. Presented – just a smidge nervously, methinks – by Omar Shefta, a.k.a. Overload from TheTF.Net forums, it’s full of clips from events at the ‘con (including the panels, with Wally Wingert’s camp Grimlock impression), little chats with fans, and interviews with TF luminaries Simon Furman, Lee Sullivan and Andrew Wildman, as well as the above-mentioned Simon Williams. It’s followed up by the full-length interviews with Furman, Sullivan and Wildman, of which only clips appear in the main film. It totals about 40mins.

The DVD-Rom content of the set is where it shines, presenting all 33 original episode scripts, allowing fans to see things that were cut and changed (although two parts of “The Rebirth” have clearly been recreated from the finished episodes). Also included is a Cast List and Synopses for the entire series, containing more interesting titbits, a selection of desktops, and some simple kids’ masks (made from the images that adorn the covers of all four season box sets).

On the main menu of disk four, highlighting “Episode Selection” and pressing up twice reveals the link – hit enter for the egg, which is the second version of the episode, “Dark Awakening,” containing the re-dubbed ending narration advertising “The Return of Optimus Prime” (this version of the episode was on Rhino’s set). It’s a bit excessive to include the entire episode when the only change is basically the replacement of three words at the very end, but a nice attention to detail.

Once again, as with Season 2, Part 2, it’s not the quantity of extras, but the care with which they are handled and presented that makes them quality. They top off a great DVD set of a great and underrated part of TF history.

PREVIEW DISK ODDITIES
This review is based on as set of preview disks that I received, which had a few flubs on them. Primarily, the original ending to “Dark Awakening” was only on the 5.1 audio track of the episode, while the re-dubbed ending was on the 2.0 track. It was supposed to be on both. This is the main flaw that Metrodome plan to fix, which has resulted in the set being held back two weeks. Also, “The Face of the Nijika” was missing its ‘trailer’ and end credits, and, as was the case with the Rhino disks, the unique “Five Faces of Darkness” opening sequence is only on parts 3 and 5, with the regular season three sequence on parts 1, 2 and 4. Whether or not this and the “Nijika” error will also be fixed during the extended time remains to be seen.

Review: Transformers: The Ultimate Guide

Written by Big Bot on July 8, 2004 | Reviews |

INFO PAGE | REVIEW

Written by: Chris McFeely

This book’s got balls. Its back cover heralds it as “the first fully authoritative history” of the Transformers, and the introductory page describes the G1 section as “the one true history” of the era. Immediately, that should set off some alarm bells, because it’s phrased… well, rather insultingly, to be honest. It just sounds *so* much like the comics and cartoon are going to be dismissed, and that this guide is going to lay it down as it is, was, and should be. Thankfully, it’s not like that. What must simply be explained out of the gate is that the G1 section treats the Dreamwave Comics G1 universe as “the” G1. Which, while perhaps rather disrespectful to the cartoons and comics that actually CREATED the universe in the first place, is fairly understandable – it’s what Hasbro wants. So, what we have, then, for the bulk of the G1 section, is history, profiles, maps, technical specs and storylines that all drawn on the DW series where necessary, and in some places, shape that universe, expand on events we’ve already seen in it, or hint at future developments. But make no mistake – the original cartoons and comics are NOT disregarded, with sections of their own.

So let’s hit it.

After an intro by Furman and the intro for the G1 section, our first chunk of G1 lore is the geography and history of Cybertron in CYBERTRON, THE CITY OF IACON, CIVIL WAR and THE ARK. A map of the planet is given, featuring lots of known locations, including stuff like the Rust Sea, and the Sonic Canyons from Siren’s tech spec. A DW-verse timeline is given for historical events, and the Ark’s got a brilliant cutaway design based on its Marvel comics’ appearance, with its golden cartoon colour. The DW reason for the Ark launch is an adapted version of the “asteroid” origin from the Marvel comics, with clever use of the Space Bridge. Irritant – in this entry, and throughout the book, the name of the Ark’s computer, Teletraan I, is mis-spelled as Teletran-1. In fairness to Furman, the incorrect spelling IS the more commonly used one…

Next, we get some character-specific focus, with entries for OPTIMUS PRIME, MEGATRON, AUTOBOT OFFICERS, AUTOBOT TROOPERS, DECEPTICONS and SOUNDWAVE AND CO. In addition to the obviously named ones, we get looks at Bumblebee, Ratchet, Prowl, Jazz, Sideswipe, Sunstreaker, Wheeljack, Ironhide, Arcee, Shockwave, Skywarp, the Insecticons, Starscream, Octane, Soundwave, Rumble, Frenzy, Laserbeak, Ravage and Squawkbox. The entries are largely generally-written, not being specific to any one universe, except in the instance of Octane and Shockwave. As you can see, there are a few odd inclusions – Arcee, Octane and Squawkbox? They seem very out of place amongst these season 1 characters, and while Arcee’s clearly been included for her unusual nature as a female Autobot, Octane was surely the last choice to include as a representative of the Triple Changers, especially since Blitzwing and Astrotrain don’t get profiles. And Buzzsaw is bizarrely bumped for a pair of no-name combiner cassettes.

The DINOBOTS entry is a nicely-done one, giving individual profiles to the five ‘bots (Grimlock taking centre stage, of course), with a study of their faction-shifting in the DW-verse history, and an inset box comparing their contrasting cartoon and Marvel comic origins. Another subgroup gets studied in the next entry, on COMBINERS, the Constructicons, with individual profiles and coverage of combiner tech.

As I said above, the cartoon hasn’t been discarded – there isn’t room to cover EVERY episode of the TV series, so the TV SEASON 1 and TV SEASON 2 pages contained selected key episodes from both seasons to look at. They’ve chosen well, too, hitting most, if not all, of the important stories and points from the first two seasons. Inset boxes talk about the human characters (another silly mispelling with “Carlee”), Omega Supreme (episode title mispelled as “Blaster’s Blues”) and Alpha Trion. This is followed up with THE MOVIE, which goes over the film’s story, gives entries to Galvatron and Ultra Magnus, but has a surprisingly small inset box for Rodimus Prime (with a picture of Hot Rod beside it. Hot Rod/Rodimus gets shockingly little coverage in the book!). The comics get a similar treatment in US COMICS 1 and 2, and UK COMICS 1 and 2, featuring nice little timelines with simple overviews of the events of groups of issues, and more specific looks at certain events. Then, it’s back to the cartoons for TV SEASONS 3 & 4, again featuring a selection of key episodes from the end of the cartoon series. More good choices.

UNICRON is a striking entry, with great cutaway art of the chaos bringer, with the latest interpretation of his origin for the DW universe, drawing on assorted fragments of the origin as given in other comics and the Armada trading cards. I’m mildly irked at the way Furman is clearly doing this, at least in part, to make Unicron be the way he himself wants him to be, but I’m softening on the issue. The Fallen gets an inset box which makes “The Dark Ages” series make sense.

The QUINTESSONS entry is irksome, with arbitrarily-assigned new names for the faces, rather than searching for the existing information on what they represent, and veiled hints at the events of the upcoming “Age of Wrath” WW series.

PRIMUS! Yeah, he got an entry! His art is a newly coloured version of the unused WW transformed-Cybertron design. Toys with his origin as it did Unicron’s, to a slightly greater extent.

Gimmicks rule over this final chunk of the G1 section, with looks at SPECIAL TEAMS, HEADMASTERS AND TARGETMASTERS, POWERMASTER PRIME and PRETENDERS. The Aerialbots fill up the Special Team entry with individual profiles, and an inset looking at the other pre-movie Scramble City teams, while the Headmasters entry looks at Scorponok and Fortress Maximus, along with Sureshot. The details of this and the Powermaster Prime entry come from the Marvel comic, but only Prime’s makes it clear that the events took place in an universe different from the DW-verse, so whether or not this reflects what DW’s take on the Headmasters remains to be seen. The Pretenders entry looks at Cloudburst, Bomb-Burst and Bludgeon, and has insets on Action Masters and Micromasters.

Rounding out the G1 section is a look at the toys, with JAPANESE G1 TOYS, GENERATION 1 TOYS and OTHER G1 TOYS. First, there’s a brief look at Diaclone and Microman, pre-TF versions of some toys, as well as the Japanese versions of the Transformers-brand toys. A red Bumblebee is mislabelled as Cliffjumper. The US toys looked at are, of course, Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Grimlock, Galvatron, Prowl, Soundwave, repetitive Dinobot use with Slag, and to represent combiners and Headmasters, Defensor and Scorponok, and finally, Metroplex. Some choices feel a little odd… Devastator feels like he should be here.

Next is the GENERATION 2 section, opening with a double-spread of Derek Yaniger art, and leading in with VERSUS G.I. JOE. Using the G2/Joe intro crossover as its starting point, this entry looks at the other US 4-issue crossover, the UK’s “Ancient Relics,” and Dreamwave and Devil’s Due’s offerings, as well. Frankly, it’s completely needless here, and these two pages would have been better saved for use elsewhere.

G2 COMICS and BEYOND GENERATION 2 summaries the events of the G2 comic, then take a look at the future of G2 that never was, talking about Alignment and fanfiction. Once again, these two pages are a waste – I don’t think fanfiction really has a place in a guide like this.

Finally, we’ve got GENERATION 2 TOYS, checking out Megatron, Pyro, Clench, Flash, Scorch, Boss and Hurricane. Laser Rods? No? Okay.

After that slightly disappointing section we get BEAST WARS, beginning with James Raiz’s BW art from the massive lithograph, dominated by Megatron. Having nothing to do with DW, this section is all about the cartoon series and recounts it faithfully with some additions and new interpretations. THE ARRIVAL covers the coming of the Beast Warriors to the planet, with info on the Golden Disk, Energon, Stasis Pods, Transwarp and Mainfraime Animation. Single-page profiles for OPTIMUS PRIMAL and MEGATRON follow, then double-page entries for MAXIMALS and PREDACONS, dominated by large pics of Rhinox and Blackarachnia, but also profiling Cheetor, Rattrape, Airazor, Dinobot, Terrorsaur, Tarantulas, Scorponok and Waspinator.

As with G1, we get TV SEASON 1, looking at key episodes from season 1, and the same again for TV SEASONS 2 & 3 after an entry for FUZORS AND TRANSMETALS. Then, BEAST WARS TOYS is an unfortunately low-content look at the toyline, with Optimus Primal and Blackarachnia covering standard toys, Silverbolt and Quickstrike representing Fuzors, the Japanese Jaguar (Ravage) toy for Transmetals, and Optimus friggin’ Minor to represent TM2s. Seriously, no Megatron? Whatever.

This, of course, logically leads into BEAST MACHINES, beginning with Mainframe art for the intro page, then THE REFORMATTING to summarise the setup of the show, giving info on Vehicons, the Oracle and the Diagnostic Drone. MAXIMALS profiles Primal, Cheetor, Blackarachnia, Nightscream and Rattrap, and VEHICONS looks at Megatron (including a brief look at the ship mode of his Big Head form), Thrust, Jetstorm, Tankor and Obsidian, though oddly, no Strika (odd, since she’s the only other one).

Ending the BM section is TV SEASON 1 & 2, with more key episode entries, and pics, if not info, on Noble and Botanica, then BEAST MACHINES TOYS, selecting some of the best toys of the line with Tank Drone, Battle Unicorn, Blast Punch Optimus Primal, Motorcycle Drone and Night Slash Cheetor.

TRANSFORMERS ROBOTS IN DISGUISE leaves a bad taste in one’s mouth, as it is simply a four-page section that looks at the toys, and briefly explains the international nature of the TV show and toyline, thought without actually doing any story or character coverage. A NEW WAVE and AUTOBOTS AND DECEPTICONS give Prime, the Spychangers, the Autobot Brothers, Team Bullet Train, Spychanger Ultra Magnus, the Build Team, Mega-Octane, Storm Jet, Megatron and Sky-Byte’s toys entries, and while that’s a fair cross-section, some pictures are mis-transformed or missing accessories – nothing too excessive, thankfully, but I’ll bet good money that the only reason Spychanger Magnus is the one they’ve chosen to show is because they couldn’t get a better picture than that hideously mis-transformed mess we’ve all got etched into our brains. Why do I bet this? Because the Prime, Spychanger and Autobot Brothers pics are all from the same ad as it was.

It has been speculated that there was on TV info in this section because Disney, who now own the RiD show, wouldn’t let Dorling Kindersly, who they consider an competitor, have access to the show in time. However, Furman’s comments at Auto Assembly make it seem that they just decided to bump the RiD section for Energon. Which would annoy me quite a bit, after the waste of space that was most of the G2 section.

But enough sour grapes. Next, getting us up to date, is TRANSFORMERS ARMADA & ENERGON, with James Raiz’s wraparound cover art for Armada #1 gracing the intro page. CYBERTRON REVISTED sets up the Armada status quo, as per the US Armada comic, then AUTOBOTS, DECEPTICONS AND MINI-CONS profiles Optimus Prime, Red Alert, Scavenger, Smokescreen, Hot Shot, Megatron, Cyclonus, Demolishor, Starscream, Thrust, the Air Defence Team, The Street Action Team, Sparkplug, Longarm, Swindle, Leader-1, and rather oddly, Iceberg and Ransack, but not the third member of the Adventure Team, Dunerunner. THE TV SERIES once again, chooses key episodes to look at, with an inset box for the Star Saber and sidebar illustrations of Galvatron and Laserbeak. ARMADA TOYS showcases Optimus Prime, Demolishor, Thrust, Red Alert, Galvatron and Laserbeak. The absence of even one Mini-Con team and pivotal characters like Starscream and Hot Shot is… well, a bit silly.

This leads directly into ENERGON, little more than a general overview of the concept, given when this was written. Don Figeuroa’s Unicron drawing dominates the entry, with some unrecognisable art for Prime, Megatron and Scorponok gracing their small entries. A single page each for AUTOBOTS and DECEPTICONS looks at Hot Shot, Inferno, the Omnicons (Strongarm pictured), Starscream, Battle Ravage and Divebomb. ENERGON TOYS looks at Prime, Scorponok, Unicron, Tidal Wave and Hot Shot.

The final section, DREAMWAVE COMICS, opens with Guido Guidi’s striking Predaking litho for it’s intro art, and then GENERATION 1, THE WAR WITHIN and ARMADA & ENERGON take quick looks at the stories of the individual series. The G1 entry contains quite a few mistakes, which reflects poorly on Furman, as it’s the only one he DIDN’T write, that he hasn’t bothered to look up on.

The book ends with an index and thanks page.

*yawns and stretches* My god! That ran on for a while, eh? So, how to summarise it all…

While this is a great book that I definitely recommend, it has had one or two odd and/or annoying editorial choices made in its content. And while it’s a brilliant overview, it’s still far from being “Ultimate.” It baffles me that the Marvel and DC guides can be so brilliantly comprehensive with 40 and 60 years of continuity, and yet with only 20 for Transformers, loads gets squeezed into this book, and yet there’s still a feeling that more could have gone in – most specifically in my mind would be some kind of reference to the further Japanese series, like Headmasters up to Beast Wars Neo. As I said at the start, it is also vaguely irritating that a universe so young and presently not-too-developed as the DW-verse gets regarded as THE G1, but it’s understandable, and ultimately, probably does make for more interesting reading, as we don’t know everything about that universe yet, while there’s little new stuff we can be told about the others.

So, to conclude – buy it!

Right – now I’m off to actually sit and start reading this thing cover-to-cover instead of repetitive flipping! There’s loads more to uncover!

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