The A to Z of THE TRANSFORMERS - A is for Animated - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The A to Z of THE TRANSFORMERS - A is for Animated

Scott Harris and Stacy Przybysz present another 'A' installment in their A to Z of the Transformers.


Transformers Animated (originally conceived as Transformers Heroes) debuted in December 2007 as part of an effort to revitalise the franchise in the West, as roughly between the years 2000 and 2005 it had relied solely on Japanese exports. Coinciding with the release of the live action film series, and arguably better received by fans, it saw the franchise returning to its roots. No Mini-Cons, Cyber Planet Keys or other collectable gimmicks introduced during the previous years. Just robots walloping the hell out of one another for our entertainment…and for the fate of all life in the universe, of course, but let’s not stress the details.

On its initial reveal, in what has become a dubious tradition in itself, fans were outraged by the bulky, sharp-cornered designs, brilliant colours, seemingly younger target demographic, and the fact that the series was helmed by the same creative group that had masterminded Teen Titans, which ended the previous year. According to purists Animated would, “ruin Transformers forever!” but when people got to see the first promo for themselves, reactions were distinctly more enthusiastic. There is little doubt that Tom Kenny is literally channelling the ghost of Chris Latta into the voice of Starscream, and Corey Burton and David Kaye bring their experience as veterans to the table with aplomb.

Kneel before the might of SpongeBob SquarePants, Dale from Rescue Rangers and Lord Sesshomaru.

Chock full of tongue-in-cheek references to previous iterations, including a rocking rendition of the classic theme tune and the return of the iconic transformation sound effect, Animated was as much a love letter as it was its own series, designed to cater to long-time fans while also being appealing to newcomers with exciting stories and light-hearted humour. Characters from all over the series’ long history were featured, from Generation 1’s Huffer (who received a Super Mario-esque redesign along with his repaint Pipes as Luigi), fan-favourites Perceptor, Wheeljack (closely resembling Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame) and Tracks, to Beast Machines’ Botanica and even obscure characters from the Japanese entries such as Grandus and Sky Garry.

Art director Derrick J. Wyatt's interpretations of Rodimus Prime (vehicle mode), Sky Garry, Grandus, fleshling toy reviewer Vangelus, Huffer, Pipes, Botanica, Tap-Out, Zaur, Slapper, Sundor, Flip-Sides and Shockwave.

There were also very special guest stars in the form of Susan Blu and John Moschitta, Jr. reprising their roles as Arcee and Blurr from the Generation 1 cartoon. Blu spent years working behind the scenes as a voice director but had not voiced the character in twenty-one years, while Moschitta proved his mouth could still motor with the best of them. Replacing Monty Python's Eric Idle as the loveable scrapheap warrior Wreck-Gar was none other than "Weird Al" Yankovic, who had provided his song Dare to be Stupid for the 1986 animated film.

Basically, if you're a TransFan, there was a time when this image equalled your life being a complete and happy one.

It was also unafraid to touch upon darker subject matter. In episode one, Professor Isaac Sumdac mentions the continuing search for the cure to cancer, a simple throwaway line but surprising to hear in a children’s programme. The horrific psychological trauma of Blackarachnia’s unique condition and the hideous results of her eugenics experiments, not to mention the restrictive, xenophobic policies of the Autobot regime, are all presented as serious issues within the show.

One of the series’ most distinctive traits was its vibrant, Saturday morning atmosphere that allowed the writers to tell action-packed, entertaining stories while breathing a real sense of fun back into the franchise. The Autobots were not simply survivors of a far off alien war, but superheroes who defended their adopted home from all manner of threats, and of course every superhero needs a Rogues Gallery of freaks, geeks and monsters to face. Human villains like the super-fast Nanosec, bad news beatnik Slo-Mo, lethal radioactive mutant Meltdown, LARP devotee the Angry Archer and others, each with their own bizarre talents that allowed them to stand up to the futuristic powers wielded by the Autobots. This booming abundance of foes meant the Decepticons were not always the first and last things on everyone’s minds, a potentially risky creative decision that paid off quite handsomely.

Another way in which Animated differed from its predecessors was that the Decepticons had a smaller presence during the first two years. According to the backstory, the Great War had already been fought and won, and the remnants of the Decepticon armies had vanished into the ether, becoming little more than a myth. When they did return, it was in a big way, with Megatron in one of his most frightening and ruthless incarnations yet. Even Starscream, undoubtedly the weakest of Megs’s personal entourage, was an apex predator. Towering over Optimus Prime, Screamer arguably succeeded in killing the Autobot leader in episode three, which was the writers’ way of getting that particular hallmark resolved as quickly as possible. Here was a colourful world where the Autobots truly were the underdogs, a handful of miners and engineers who did not carry arms and instead used their tools and their wits, while their counterparts were big, mean and utterly without mercy. If the Decepticons showed up to cause trouble, it was more than just another hare-brained scheme of the week. They were a lurking, ever-present horror, and their involvement meant the stakes were high and the margin for error low. The reintroduction of the idea that Decepticons achieved air superiority, something which had long been forgotten about, added to the danger they represented.

At the end of its life, Animated finally made its way to Japan, and characteristic of their contributions to the mythology, the result gave many Western fans pause. For one, despite very little on-screen evidence, it was decided that the Japanese interpretation of the series not only coincided with the live action films, but took place in the exact same universe. Strangely, the traditional Japanese naming conventions (i.e. Convoy, Cybertrons, Destrons, planet Seibertron, etc.) were eschewed in favour of their Western equivalents, although Bulkhead was renamed “Ironhide” due to the inclusion of the character of the same name in the films. How they planned to explain Bumblebee being able to speak, the fact an Ironhide already existed in the Animated universe, or any one of a number of certain spanners that can be thrown in certain works, we the writers are not entirely certain. We can only assume that Alpha Trion did it. Much like the 1990s X-Men cartoon, Animated received a new and polished opening title sequence, which we admit is kind of cool.

Balancing an exciting melody with bonkers lyrics. Can only be Japanese.

Ultimately, for all its strengths, the greatest tragedy that came out of Animated was the production team’s overconfidence. Unlike Beast Wars, in which as many plot threads as possible were tied up before the end of each year, Animated set itself up for a fourth series before one could be confirmed. It unfortunately succumbed to the “three year curse” that plagues many shows based on Hasbro properties (which has only just recently been broken with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic confirmed for a fifth series next year). Animated started out brilliantly and continued on in this way throughout its lifetime, with the story becoming all the more intense but remaining that bright and exciting adventure that was necessary in a mythology that continues to seek out darker, more cerebral avenues for storytelling. Although the Autobots would go on to achieve victory, there was too much unsaid and undone to call it a truly satisfactory conclusion.

Although looking at the state of Megs in the back there, we can't really argue with the results.

A is for Autobots

Tomorrow Scott and Stacy take a look at Allspark as they continue their A to Z of The Transformers.

Scott is a writer and life-long science-fiction fan who lives in Essex, England. He co-produces audio dramas based on the BBC's Doctor Who for C.P. Studios. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook. Stacy, also a writer, lives in Buffalo, N.Y. and prefers fantasy but is being patiently tutored in the Ways of Sci-Fi.

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