Animation Review: Transformers Prime Season One
For the tl;dr crowd: Transformers Prime is great, go watch it. For those of you who want a little of my reasoning behind that statement, take a seat.
Transformers Prime is the latest in a long line of animated series based on the 80’s franchise. From Generation One, to Generation Two, through Head Masters, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, The Bayformers, Transformers Animated and others, these sentient robotic organisms from the planet Cybertron have been a staple of popular culture for almost as long as I have lived.
I was somewhat let down by Transformers: Animated. I liked the look of it, but the series itself was like many re-iterations of beloved childhood franchises, pretty shallow and well and truly aimed at a younger viewership. Not so with Transformers Prime.
Minor spoilers for Season One follow.
I came to TFP late, the first season was already over by the time I decided to give it a shot and as such I was able to more or less blaze through it from start to finish. I watched the first five episodes earlier in the year, and really enjoyed them, but then set them aside for a while to pursue other goals. Honestly I forgot all about the series, until this last week when I was suddenly consumed by all things Cybertronian.
The series follows the exploits of the Autobots; Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), Bumblebee (voiced by a Casio synthesiser, it would seem), Cliffjumper (voiced by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and sadly not a long lived character, he’s killed off in the first episode), Ratchet, Arcee and Bulkhead and their human companions Raf, Miko and Jack. While their companions are all children (the oldest is in his early teens), the series never panders to that, and has quite a serious tone at times, which we’ll address in a moment. As liaison is Agent Fowler (voiced by Ernie Hudson).
Meeting the Autobots head-on are the Decepticons, as always lead by the illustrious Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker). Joining him are the duplicitous Starscream (voiced by Stephen Blum) and the oddly mute Soundwave, who apparently can speak, but doesn’t, Breakdown, Knockout and Arachnid (voiced by Gina Torres) and an army of Vehicons, which transform into either a car or a jet depending on who is leading them at the time.
Keep an ear out for John Noble, as the voice of a familiar enemy later in the series.
While the Autobots are few, the casting is brilliant and the voice acting is exceptional. This in combination with some of my favourite animation of the moment – a style very similar to that of Star Wars: Clone Wars, another series I greatly enjoy – leads to some impressive performances.
Having series favourites Cullen and Welker as the voices of Prime and Megatron respectively – characters they both voiced in the original cartoon, and which Cullen has voiced in almost every Transformers series to date – gives a level of geek credibility. Adding to this is the design of the bots – they’re sort of a half way point between the blocky, brightly coloured G1 and the modern, overly complicated Bayformers. In robot form, many of their faces are reminiscent of the traditional G1 styles, with once-off characters like Wheeljack having an almost identical look to his G1 counterpart.
This is also the first series where it feels like there is a kind of sense behind Arcee. I’ve always been a staunch proponent of the idea that female robots are dumb, because the “others aren’t male, they’re just robots” but this series gives the characters enough personality to really make it work. Plus Arcee is pretty badass, which sells it. She’s probably one of my favourite characters now.
It’s not all perfect though. As a huge Soundwave fan, his use is not always to my liking. While I think his vehicle form of a predator drone is much more logical than a satellite or a Mercedes Benz, the fact that Soundwave never speaks is a little disappointing. Particularly when you have his original voice actor (Frank Welker voiced Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave, amongst others, in the G1 series) right there. This is of extreme disappointment during the final episode of season one, when a perfect opportuinity is provided for Soundwave to speak in his iconic monotone, but is sadly passed up.
The limited number of characters is also a bit of a let-down. It’d be nice if they expanded it a bit, but throughout the season when a new Autobot arrives, it’s only for the episode. There is the addition of Smokescreen in season two, but I miss mainstays like Ironhide, Hound and Jetfire. Mostly because none of the Autobots can fly. Which is weird.
The episodes of season one are largely in the monster-of-the-week format, but unlike most children’s television these days, the series does have an overall plot ribbon linking even the standalones and there are both two-parters, and an epic four-part finale. This gives the series a bit more depth. Everything isn’t all back to normal at the end of the 25 minute episodes, with no consequences later. Even when Starscream loses an arm, and regains it by the following episode the loss is mentioned by another character, so it still had consequence.
There’s also, as mentioned earlier, quite a dark tone considering the shows TV-Y7 rating. The heroes regularly kill countless Vehicons in each episode, human characters are repeatedly threatened with harm and there are even scenes of torture on more than one occasion. Although the violence does largely effect robot characters, given their displayed humanity you can’t help but feel for them. I genuinely winced when MECH (an antagonistic group of humans who mostly want to disassemble the Transformers and gain new tech to sell, or use, for their own benefit) was hacking up Breakdown in one episode.
Transformers Prime is among the best animated series in recent years and the best Transformers entry since Beast Wars. If you like Transformers, you’ll probably enjoy this and if you’re a fan of other great contemporary animated series like Avatar: The Last Airbender (or it’s amazing sequel, Legend of Korra), Adventure Time and so on, then give it a shot. You might be surprised.
It’s one I am going to pick up on BluRay for sure.
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