Sometimes You Can Go Home Again

I grew up in the era when, if you wanted to watch cartoons, you either had to (a) rush home from school to catch them in the afternoon, or (b) wake up early on Saturday morning. Now in retrospect, the 1980s cartoons were clearly wholesale 30-minute advertisements for toys, but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of them. In particular:

Oh, yeah. This was my sweet spot when it came to cartoons, on par with Robotech and Starblazers. And then if this wasn’t enough, we got this absolute gem in 1986:

I mean, just absolutely mindblowing. I’ve even rewatched the movie in recent years and it holds up surprisingly well. Not so much the original G1 cartoon, unfortunately, but the television series was a product of its time and the animation resources that were available to a show that was 90% about selling toys and 10% about telling a cool story. But with that 10% it still managed to punch well above its weight, imo.

Why am I waxing nostalgic about 80s cartoons? Because of this!

This has been on my watchlist for a while now and boy do I regret not watching it sooner. The series is in three parts, Siege, Earthrise, and Kingdom. The events of War for Cybertron take place prior to the Transformers arrival at earth in the original cartoon. It tells the story of the original fight between the Autobots and Decepticons that leads to the Autobots fleeing from Cybertron.

So, it’s a prequel, yes?

Oh no, it’s so much more. Honestly, as good as War for Cybertron is (I’m finished with Siege, and partway into Earthrise), I’m struck by how amazing it could have been, with just a few tweaks. (Not that I don’t love it!)

(I should also state here that I have not read any of the comic books, nor have I watched any of the intervening cartoons that aired between G1 and now. I just didn’t care for the quality of the CGI from that era. If you’ve watched any of those shows and feel the stories are worthwhile, let me know in the comments!)

First off, check out these character designs!

From the first episode of the G1 series, we knew the Autobots and Decepticons were at war. But, everyone was clean and shiny, because, toys. Now, in War for Cybertron, we get transformers who are clearly invovled in a brutal conflict. Everyone is damaged and marked with scars.

And the scars aren’t just physical. In the original show, the Decepticons were Bad Guys. The Autobots were Good Guys. Again, toys.

In this series, there’s some actual nuance to these characters. The Autobots and Decepticons have internal conflicts (beyond the perennial Megatron vs Starscream). Bumblebee is a spiritually crushed cynic at the start of this series, and wants nothing to do with the rebellion. Shockwave is a flat out psychopath, having removed his emotion circuits, playing the part of the morally-unhinged scientist whispering in Megatron’s ear.

The best improvement to the series, though, are the hints at the backstory that lead to the transformers revolution. There are tons of little tidbits, about the Decepticons being oppressed as a class of manual labor, while the Autobots enjoyed lives of ease. Passing mentions of gladiator pits, and how Megatron was a champion gladiator, who came to symbolize the revolution, for Autobots and Decepticons alike. And of course, the eventual crumbling of the alliance between them, leading to further war after the revolution.

Oh my goodness, it’s so good! So good, in fact, that there are scenes where Megatron is clearly struggling with trying to align his initial impetus for the revolution, with where he is now, and clearly hating the decisions he’s made. I would have never expected Megatron, of all, to be a sympathetic villain, but there you have it.

And. And!

Ah, yes. The female Autobots. In fact, the four who showed up in the original series episode, The Search for Alpha Trion. And this time, Elita-One provides another viewpoint to counter Optimus Prime’s devotion to the cause of the rebellion. Elita isn’t about to capitulate to Megatron, but neither does she think that an endless war is the solution.

There are a few spotty patches in these otherwise wonderful episodes. The dialogue can be awful at times, and downright nonsensical. (See: Autobots’ interrogation of Jet Fire.) There is also a lot less…transforming than I would have expected. In fact, there’s a lot of Autobots running around and punching each other, instead of driving around and shooting. Not sure where the decision making on that came from, maybe it was a production issue? But I find it had to believe a bunch of Autobots, fleeing from flying Decepticons, wouldn’t immediately transform to drive faster than they could (clank clank) run.

It’s these small details that bump me out of the story occasionally. If not for those, I’d probably have binged the whole thing in one go. It reminds me that as a writer, paying attention to the small details will often buy you a lot more cred with your readers than you could anticipate. Even with these lapses, I’m planning to finish the series and look into the others that are available. Which is then a lesson on how much a fan of your story will forgive your oopsies and still love what you’ve created. 😊

Transformers: War for Cybertron – 4.5/5, would transform and roll out!

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