"What do people see in Transformers" Half rant, half essay?

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"What do people see in Transformers" Half rant, half essay?

Postby Skritz » Mon Nov 13, 2017 9:27 pm

Okay so, this is going to be quite the ramble but it's one which has been brewing in my mind for some time by now. I'm sure most of the points being made here will be a major 'no ****' by most long-term fans, but nonetheless, these are a few which I believe may very well be worth spelling out for some people. Or maybe I'm completely wrong and you're into this franchise for entirely different reasons. By all means, tell me.

So why this rant, why now? Well, its simple to be quite honest: I was asked IRL what the hell I 'saw in Transformers'. After all, its a 30 years-old toy franchise with cheesy cartoons to sell overpriced toys and its most famous incarnation today is a serie of frankly terrible live action movies. However, this ramble (and realization) on what people 'see' in the franchise was in fact an epiphany which was brought upon to me by bashing the dead horse that are the Michael Bay films. Which I don't actually hate anywhere as bad some people. They're still terrible movies in most respect safe for some special effects but this is not the point I'm trying to make here.

So what do people see in Transformers? Well, in my extremely personal opinion, I do think to some extent that Transformers' enduring popularity entirely revolves around its characters. But I'm sure many will go "But these characters are silly cardboard cutouts!" And yes to an extent barring some comics and the oddball genuinely fascinating character who appear in the cartoons (looking at you, Dinobot) its true. On a surface level there really isn't much to Transformers characters. Autobots are good, Decepticons are evil. Most get at best, or at lead had for years, nothing more than tech specs and some lines in a cartoon to count as characterization. So why do I think its the characters?

Simple: its the sheer volume of characters you can boil down to a few essentials, be they some personality traits, design elements or gimmicks. And this is not necessarily a bad thing because, when you think about it, many superheroes can certainly be boiled down to that! Oh sure, most have decades of milestone comics written by talented author who define and redefine the characters but you can still boil down the 'core essence' of each superhero to a few sentences and a design which different series can interpret in different ways.

And the thing is, there is a Transformers out there for everyone, or at least one or two characters which fans will latch on to as a personal favorite, be it for their landmark role in a TV serie or simply as some fan-favorite C-lister. Or maybe they just had the toy as a kid. Or maybe they even just picked up a modern rendition of the characters in a recent toyline.

So really, its not that Transformers characters have depth so much as they often excel at being cool and/or memorable. Optimus ia the heroic leader, a big red-and-blue truck. Megatron is evil and a gun (or a tank, or a jet or...look he's had a lot of alt-modes over the years!) and Starscream is a slimy bastard backstabbing jet. Dinobot is an honorable and conflicted turncoat. Waspinator is a chewtoy. The Stunticons are combining cars who make a bigger robot. Blitzwing is a jet who is also a tank. Dinobots are **** ROBOT DINOSAURS! Yes, half of these are gimmicks and often barely count for characterization. But its catchy, its punchy and its memorable.

While it can try to be good or even try to have a good story, it doesn't necessarily need it. A huge portion of the franchise merely hinge on the very simple fact that it need to be cool and memorable and...that's it. Giant transforming robots with neat designs and sometimes memorable traits. That's all there is to it.

But that's not a bad thing. If it was, Hasbro would have canned those toylines years ago...

Edit: And yes I am aware there are very cynical marketing reasons as to why it became like that but it doesn't change my theory.
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Re: "What do people see in Transformers" Half rant, half essay?

Postby ScottyP » Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:16 pm

Weapon: Battle Blades
Cool mode changing fighting robots is an appealing hook, but that's still all it is in the long haul. It's when you start to scavenge around in the scraps of fiction that you see the masterful mix of aesthetic and character work come together. Sometimes you have to trudge through bonecrushingly bad material, which can be devastating, but there really are some objectively well made, thoughtful, and constructive iterations that you can uncombine from the overall franchise to reveal more than meets the eye, as the tagline says.

I have better thoughts on this, I promise. Just started typing and the above came out so figured I'd save more for a phase 2?
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Re: "What do people see in Transformers" Half rant, half essay?

Postby Wingz » Sun Nov 19, 2017 5:58 pm

Motto: "Let the trails lead where they may. I will follow."
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I’ve thought on this lately, also, having been an esoteric Transformers fan for the past 12 or 13 years. I believe one big catch to be the variation in transferable application. Large transforming robots who take the forms of various machinery in order to fight wars. Do you like cars? Catch! Do you like art? Interesting angles and 3D application. Do you like to write? A variety of continuities, characters, and plots to play with. While the same can be said for just about any superhero concept, as you mentioned, there is just something unique and inspiring surrounding Transformers. Some people might find that inspiration in another series, altogether. In this sense, the joy in Transformers over something else could be sparked by life experiences or personality.

When someone asks me what I see in Transformers, I just ask them what they know about it. Typically, it's not a whole lot. There are a lot of things people like that I don’t understand the fascination in. Whatever the reason, it’s personal to them. Whatever my reason for loving Transformers, it’s personal to me. It's a good thing I don't live for their approval. ;)
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