Seibertron.com Editorial - The Other Truly Thrilling 30: Sunbow's Transformers Cartoon Series
Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 4:09pm CDTCategories: Cartoon News, Site Articles, Editorials
Posted by: ScottyP Views: 88,646
Sunbow's Transformers Cartoon Series Turns 30
The day is Monday, September 17th, 1984. The 18th Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney was sworn in, and Reggie Jackson of the California Angels hit his 500th major league home run, becoming only the 13th person at that time to have done so. Not a very exciting day for most, but for some, this would be a day forever remembered.
You're going to see and be able to read a lot of articles today on the internet, specifically in the Transformers Fans' corner of it, and these will be about a certain birthday happening today. This is one of those articles. You're going to read about perspectives from people that were, with a fairly good chance of likelihood, about 5 to 7 years old on that date, who were captured by the premiere of a new cartoon series for the fall season called "The Transformers" on a Monday morning or afternoon. They'll talk very factually and sequentially about the history of the show and where it came from. They'll write well and give good reference for history down the road. This is not entirely one of those articles.
First, some of that base history but not too much, just to give some background. Marvel Comics' run of Transformers books had started in May, 1984, and had seen two published issues with a third to be shortly on the way in October. This was, of course, one channel through which to support the newly imported, rebranded toyline of the same name. The other was a joint production between Marvel Productions and Griffin Bacal's Sunbow Productions, a cartoon series designed to capture the attention of the children in Reagan's America with lots of action, little plot or continuity, and over the top, fun characterizations of the toys they could go have their parents buy on the local store shelves.
It was a simpler, peaceful time, when children ran through quiet streets with gumdrop smiles and wealth trickled down to the middle class and, and, um, wait a minute. I wasn't born yet. What the hell am I writing about?
This is not your typical retrospective, because it can't be. I wasn't born until almost a year after this cartoon premiered. I can't pretend to know what it was like when it came out. Suffice it to say, by the time I was aware of what a Transformer was and could follow along with any sort of cartoon or comic, the show was meandering the random scheduling of syndication and the toyline's only fictional support was in the form of the latter quarter of the Marvel comic run. So how on earth would someone that only hit the rough target age for "The Transformers" in 1990 fall in love with the franchise on a level so deep that close to his own 30th birthday, he still spends countless hours collecting toys, absorbing fiction, and writing long form articles about the brand? How could this happen when things like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were new, hip, and vying for attention? The answer's quite simple: home video.
Through the magic of FHE's home video releases, over and over again even children like me born well in the middle of the heyday of The Transformers' success could relive the spectacle of 24 minute long toy advertisements. Given the rushed production schedule, the efforts of now legendary (within our hobby, at least) names such as Flint Dille, David Wise, Wally Burr, George Bloom, Floro Dery, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, and countless other voice actors and production crew will never be forgotten by, well, probably anyone reading this site and almost definitely anyone bothering to read this article!
The first season enjoyed by so many through either broadcast or VHS gave us some of the most memorable and joyful characterizations of fan favorites such as Optimus Prime, Megatron, Starscream, Ironhide, Bumblebee, Soundwave, Grimlock, the Constructicons, and so many others. For a very young child like what I was at the time, with undeveloped reading skills, these characterizations from the original animated cartoon will always stand out as the original and archetypical examples of those characters within my memory and subconscious.
Of course, the show went on for a good while and eventually would come the event that changed everything, at least at the time. This event is also a fond VHS memory, and yes, it's the first Transformers Movie released in 1986.
Having a copy of this amazing work only brought my interest in Transformers to a fever pitch, as between it, VHS copies of nearly all of season one, the continuing toy line, and the comic I had just begun to be able to understand, a fan for life was born. Regardless of your path, or what kind of fan you may be today, some significance can be found by tracing back to 30 years ago today.
Transformers, of course, has continued on persistently in some new animated form ever since, barring the time from 1988 through the start of Beast Wars in 1996 where only repackaged episodes of the original show were still used for various purposes. Even these new evolutions of the brand borrow heavily in spirit from the original show, with characters reusing lines, traits, and sometimes even actual voice actors.
Even now if we look ahead, 2015 will bring us yet another cartoon series and the second one to be titled "Robots in Disguise", and this will surely be the crux of the franchise's focus next year. Transformers has taken many branching paths and become a multimedia force in Hasbro's brand stable, with never ending toy releases, ongoing comics, frequent video game releases, and of course live action movies. Despite all that, the brand persists on as big and as well as it does because of the cartoons and their influence. Television is a powerful medium, and it's unlikely that The Transformers will ever divorce itself from that medium for very long every again.
I'd be remiss to not also remember some of the fantastic voice contributors to the original cartoon that we've lost over the years, here on a day where we learned the sad news that Buster Jones, the iconic voice of Blaster, is no longer with us. Here's to also remembering the good times brought to us all by such amazing artists as Chris Latta, Scatman Crothers, Casey Kasem, Orson Welles, and others that I may have forgotten.
The legacy of the first Transformers cartoon is undeniable. Hopefully in another 30 years, I'll be back to write another one of these as a crotchety old man, still surrounded by rotting 60 year old plastic toys.
Tell your story in the comment thread below. Why did you, and why do you still, enjoy the original cartoon? Maybe you hate it, that's ok too. Either way, there's no denying the impact it has had, which must have been so unimaginable 30 years ago to the day.
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Posted by Nemesis Maximo on September 17th, 2014 @ 4:34pm CDT
Then, and this may have happened beforehand, my father once came home from work, and after visiting whatever amounted to F.Y.E. back in the late 90s, gave me and my brother Transformers: The Movie. Sadly, that VHS didn't work. So the next day, he exchanged it for one that did.
To this day I still have that VHS, with the nice hard plastic shell for a cover as opposed to a cardboard sleeve. I have played it so much that it no longer works, not that I have a VCR anyways! (For those of you that don't know what that is (looking at you, Madeus Prime), that is what we used instead of DVDs. Giant cassettes. Burn knows what's up. )
But now that I have the 20th Anniversary DVD, I still watch that movie all the time. For a movie about giant robots that beat each other up and eat planets, it still has some really cool animation and amazing voice work, even if the plot and the tropes and the idioms don't always stand the test of time so well.
Happy 30th Birthday, Transformers. May your wires never cross and your luster never dull.
Posted by Rodimus Prime on September 17th, 2014 @ 4:40pm CDT
I was 2 1/2 weeks past my 2nd birthday, September 17th, 1984. I already loved cartoons back then! Still love them (and especially Transformers!) even today. I'll admit it wasn't the "best" as far as quality and story is concerned, but it was definitely very effective in selling toys!
Posted by Sabrblade on September 17th, 2014 @ 5:03pm CDT
Posted by Gallifreyan Autobot on September 17th, 2014 @ 6:13pm CDT
and a happy anniversary to one of the best franchises out there IMHO
Posted by Ultra Markus on September 17th, 2014 @ 6:33pm CDT
Posted by welcometothedarksyde on September 17th, 2014 @ 6:53pm CDT
Posted by 1984forever on September 17th, 2014 @ 7:13pm CDT
Posted by steeljaw2.0 on September 17th, 2014 @ 7:31pm CDT
Posted by SideswipeSkywarp on September 17th, 2014 @ 7:54pm CDT
Posted by RK_Striker_JK_5 on September 17th, 2014 @ 9:02pm CDT
Happy birthday, Transformers. And thirty more!
Posted by Sabrblade on September 17th, 2014 @ 9:41pm CDT
It was Beast Wars that got me introduced to the TF franchise before any other, in 1996. At the time, I had a friend who had told me that there used to be another show called just "Transformers" (as opposed to "Beast Wars: Transformers", which was what I only knew of at the time), and that that show had the characters called "Autobots" and "Decepticons", who turned into vehicles (cars and trucks for the good guys, and jets and tanks for the bad guys) instead of animals, and were the giant ancestors of the Maximals and Predacons (who were more human-sized). And that the Autobots' leader was called "Optimus Prime" instead of " Optimus Primal", and that he turned into a truck, large enough for a person sit inside. This info intrigued me, but I didn't look into it any further since Beast Wars was what really appealed to me at the time.
Some short time after this, the Machine Wars toyline started showing up at KB Toys and, because these toys matched everything that had been told to me before (with the exception of the toys being called "Machine Wars: Transformers" instead of just "Transformers"), I assumed that these were rereleases of the older characters that were the ancestors of Beast Wars cast, and that my friend got his info wrong on the series being called just "Transformers" instead of "Machine Wars: Transformers". At that time, I assumed that Machine Wars was G1. I now look back and chuckle at that mistake.
Though, I gradually began to notice that some things did not add up. Like, when the episode where Starscream possessed Waspinator reaired, I noticed how Starscream in that episode's flashbacks looked different from the Machine Wars Starscream toy. And then much later, when "The Agenda" three-parter aired, I noticed how Ravage was described as being a former Decepticon and yet had no Machine Wars toy. And in the third part of that three-part episode, I saw how G1 Optimus Prime barely resembled his Machine Wars toy counterpart as well (at that time, I also thought the idea of mouthplates was silly, since none of the BW cast had them--I assumed Optimus Primal's was just a "mouth cover" that he wore only when necessary; and the Machine Wars Prime toy didn't have a mouthplate either). And finally, during the season 3 episode "Master Blaster", I caught how the original Megatron in that episode didn't look that much like his Machine Wars toy either. So, what did I tell myself to make sense of all these discrepencies? I simply brushed them off as cartoon mistakes and took the Machine Wars version as the "correct" versions (and assumed that Ravage had been a non-toy character, or that his toy was not included in the Machine Wars "rereleases"). Silly naive me.
Finally, circa 2001, Beast Machines was coming to a close and I had by then forgotten about the short-lived Machine Wars toyline and then came to see the first commercials for a new cartoon called "Transformers: Robots in Disguise". Such a name and look resurfaced memories of old. Memories of what I had been told before of a series just called "Transformers". I saw that, to me, the Optimus Prime in this show looked close enough to the one seen in the Ark during Beast Wars, but I still figured that that Megatron lying in the Ark was animation error. After seeing these commercials for and episode 1 of RiD, I assumed once again that this was G1, and that the whole "Decepticon" thing had been some kind of mistake (since the main bad guys here were still Predacons). Yes, I had then momentarily forgotten about Ravage and the stasis locked Decepticons on the Ark in BW. But then when they introduced the Decepticons for real in RiD, I retreated my previous assumption and just figured that the Decepticons would later become the dominant faction later on, with the Preds disappearing and new Preds showing up again later as the Decepticons' descendants.
By 2002, however, my belief of RiD having been G1 was ultimately killed by two factors.
1. Hasbro.com began promoting a new series called "Transformers: Armada", and I was like "Huh? What is this? I thought they already had a show like this. Why are they making another series with Autobots and Decepticons? Is this a sequel or something?"
2. I stumbled upon VHS tapes of a show called "The Original Transformers" at a local video store. I later picked up a few, watched'em, read the back cover descriptions of how these were episode from a 1980s cartoon, and gradually came to understand that this was the original series after all, and that both Machine Wars and RiD were just their own things.
Once I came to understand how the concept of reboots worked, I was able to warm up better to Armada than my initial reactions had been. Though, this was still long before the Armada cartoon came out. After having watched a fair number of G1 video tapes, I began to notice some fanwank references added in to the RiD cartoon, like how RiD Optimus and RiD Ultra Magnus were built by "Alpha Trion", and how RiD Optimus had been given "the Matrix" by "Vector Sigma".
Since then, I went on to collect the Kid Rhino DVD sets of G1 around 2003-2004 and watched them all from start to finish. And having watched the G1 movie during this DVD watch, I finally understood who Unicron was and what his appearances in Beast Wars were about. That fake flashback with him killing Starscream and his giant golden head being projected by the Vok finally made sense to me.
So, yeah, if it hadn't been for Armada and Kid Rhino, I probably wouldn't have discovered G1 as early as I did.
Posted by padfoo on September 17th, 2014 @ 10:16pm CDT
Sabrblade wrote:Wow. I didn't realize the image amount in my previous post totaled to 101. Yikes!
WOW what an amazing compilation of images, so many transformations of the brand in 30 years!
Posted by chuckdawg1999 on September 18th, 2014 @ 12:37am CDT
Posted by Darkman20xx on September 18th, 2014 @ 1:41am CDT
Didn't really get into any thing else on that level until Captain Power came out. If they ever bring those things out again god help my wallet.
Posted by Bluespindash97 on September 18th, 2014 @ 2:41am CDT
Posted by RK_Striker_JK_5 on September 18th, 2014 @ 7:13am CDT
Posted by Sabrblade on September 18th, 2014 @ 7:54am CDT
Agent Fowler of Unit:E, who was a fantastic character in his own right.RK_Striker_JK_5 wrote:If anything, G1 animated has some of the best human/Autobot interaction and human characters. And I'll take the EDC over NEST or... whatever the hell they've got in Prime, if anything.
Posted by RK_Striker_JK_5 on September 18th, 2014 @ 8:26am CDT
Sabrblade wrote:Agent Fowler of Unit:E, who was a fantastic character in his own right.RK_Striker_JK_5 wrote:If anything, G1 animated has some of the best human/Autobot interaction and human characters. And I'll take the EDC over NEST or... whatever the hell they've got in Prime, if anything.
Yeah, he was good. I'll still take Marissa and the EDC over him.
Posted by DarkEnergon on September 18th, 2014 @ 8:57am CDT
I was zombified in afternoons at home alone after school in front of the TV: He-Man, Transformers, GI Joe.
My little sister oddly was the one who loved robots, and *she* got Soundwave for christmas, and I got... Ratchet. With the head behind the windshield who looked nothing like TV/comics. And neither me or my dad could transform him easily.
But I also got Wheeljack, Windcharger, and Bumblebee. And those three with Soundwave got a lot of use!! Wheeljack to this day is my favorite character - and he remains one of the few "inventor/scientist" characters in all of fiction who wasn't a Big Nerd (him and Tony Stark, right?).
I remember playing with friends, and everyone being in awe of the Jetfire toy, and when we saw Kup and Blurr in these cool "Cybertron" modes, that was a big deal too.
I can remember when the cartoon came out and the toys came out, every kid in school talking about them and some bringing them in to show them off. I remember showing them to bewildered and amazed uncles and cousins.
I also remember not being allowed to see the movie!!! I just saw it this year! My mom later told me it was because she heard Optimus Prime died and her friends complaining how it upset their kids! After two years I had added Megatron, Shockwave, Perceptor, Warpath, Seaspray, Tracks, and that was about it Then I was 12 and collected GI Joe in secret because it wasn't cool to play with toys when in middle school
So then for like 20 years I didn't think about Transformers, and the movie comes out, and my 5 yr old son is all into robots, someone gives him one of those giant bumblebee's that talks and doesn't transform, buy the movie toys seem to absolutely suck to me, but then we discover Animated - toys with solid parts, not shards - and I'm sucked right back in!!! My boys are like the only kids at their school who know anything about transformers. Everyone else is all ninjago and star wars!
(and eventually I come around to appreciate many of the movie toys as a grownup with advanced dexterity
Posted by ScottyP on September 18th, 2014 @ 10:39am CDT