TL;DR – While presenting some new ideas and context for this Transformers world, I couldn’t help but walk away feeling hollow by the experience.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
When it comes to the little franchise that could, Transformers has always been the one ready to well transform itself and come back as something new. From the original Gen 1 to the hit and miss movies, and all the many animated shows in-between. No matter the case, it always has ready to put on a new coat of paint, or fathers and scales that one time, and now is no different. Today we will be looking at a show that takes us right back to the beginning with the War for Cybertron.
So to set the scene, we open amid a millennia-long civil war between the Decepticons led by Megatron (Jason Marnocha) and the Autobots led by Optimus Prime (Jake Foushee). Cybertron, once an ecumenopolis of shining lights is now rubble pocketed with the damage of the conflict. The Autobots however, have been on the losing side of this war, and now are struggling to survive. They need energon to escape on their Arc, but Megatron is planning something worse that may destroy them where they stand, and no one will be able to hide from it. Now we will be looking at the series as a whole, and as such there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead.
Right from the start, I did like that they took the time to explore something that is usually glossed over. Most series starting point is with the landing of the Transformers on Earth, with what they were leaving more of a footnote than anything else. They have also taken what is usually a simple binary conflict and created some depth about it. Recasting Megatron and Optimus Prime more in the vein of Magneto and Professor X, where it is their methods, not their goals that separate them (well at least at the start).
It is also a show that is touching on several political concepts order v chaos, freedom v strength, honour v victory. This once again adds more depth, but maybe not as much as it could have. It was good to see them there; indeed, we get discussions about class and revolution, with both of the main characters being on the same side at some point in the past. However, while the show wants to raise these issues, it only does so in a superficial kind of way, and that was a missed opportunity.
The art style harkens back to that Gen 1 style, which given the response to visual changes and the warm reception from the latest Bumblebee film, was probably the right choice. While the art style is in the classic presentation, the type of animation is reminiscent of a lot of Rooster Teeth productions. I like the detail that has gone into a lot of the hero models, with scratches and dents reminiscent of a protracted conflict. That layer of distressing helps sell the visuals. However, it all starts to fall apart when the Transformer’s start to talk. Lip flap animations are not something that usually bothers me, but there was something here that did not translate well, becoming more uncanny valley than anything else. You also do start to see a lot of the shortcuts they used, like that nearly all transforming sequences, happen in the deep background or covered by smoke and things like that.
The story is another area where I feel it just does not reach its potential. When you are doing what is essentially a prequel to a story a lot of people already know about, it is a hard act to pull off. This is because we know the outcome, so it undercuts any of the tension you could make. There was never a chance that the Arc was not going to survive its trip, so putting all the focus on that never went anywhere for me. There were also a lot of new exciting characters added like Elita-1 (Linsay Rousseau) who unsurprisingly get left behind at the end. Just in general it felt cluttered and given it is only six 24 minute episodes, that is saying something.
In the end, do we recommend Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy Chapter One? Well? Look, I don’t think it reached its potential, and it set up more than it could deliver. However, the voice acting is fine, the animation is mostly okay, and there is a reasonably solid arc across the episodes. I just came away from the show feeling more hollow than anything else, and hopefully, Chapter Two is a step up from this.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy
Directed by – Takashi Kamei
Written by – F.J. Desanto, George Krstic, Gavin Hignight & Brandon Easton
Created by – James Barbatano & Drew Hopper
Based on – Transformers by Hasbro
Production/Distribution Companies – Hasbro, Rooster Teeth Studios, Polygon Pictures & Netflix
Starring – Jake Foushee, Jason Marnocha, Linsay Rousseau, Frank Todaro, Keith Silverstein, Edward Bosco, Bill Rogers, Todd Haberkorn, Mark Whitten, Georgia Reed, Joe Zieja, Shawn Hawkins, Jimmie Stafford, Brook Chalmers, Rafael Goldstein, Aaron Veach & Kaiser Johnson