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

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


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

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.

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.



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.

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 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.

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.

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