Transformers: The Headmasters Review
Transformers - as many of you are already aware of - was an animated TV show (and corresponding toy range) that spawned from the successful range of toys by the same name. It was all about the eternal struggle between the good Autobot robots and the evil Decepticon robots. The novelty lay in the fact that each character was capable of changing from standard man-based robot form into an alternative shape - normally a vehicle. To this day, I think few toys have achieved the same level of originality and innovation. To further add to this merchandising goldmine there was also a Marvel series of comics produced which captured a more gritty side to the ongoing clash, but most fondly remembered are probably the cartoon exploits of these machines.
The US originally produced two seasons of Transformers, followed by the movie, followed by a third season and then a three-episode fourth series (Rebirth) that basically ended the saga. In Japan, they were not as keen on discontinuing such a lucrative franchise, so they changed the setting of the third season from 2006 to 2010 and just ignored the fourth season, instead introducing Transformers: Headmasters into the equation, set in 2011, as far as the timeline is concerned.
The third season ended with the return of the original Autobot leader - and generally most revered Transformer - Optimus Prime (who was out of the picture ever since his climactic clash with the original Decepticon leader, Megatron, during the movie). Transformers Headmasters kicks off with a bang as we see the Autobots and the Decepticons once again battling it out on their home planet of Cybertron. For some time Cybertron had been protected from the Decepticons by an energy source called Vector Sigma, but the release of the Matrix energy core at the end of Season 3 saw Vector Sigma's balance shifted so as to inadvertently allow the Decepticons to attack.
Transformers Headmasters - as you can probably guess by the title - is actually almost entirely about a new breed of Transformers, so after the opening three-parter deals with most of the loose ends from the previous season (and the first quarter of the series sees the departure of many original characters, including - once again - Optimus Prime) the rest of the season basically focuses on the new characters. The Headmasters are a break-away variation on the standard Transformers, explained here as being so small in size that they were forced to develop larger robot bodies in order to survive the environmental conditions. When in robot form, the pilots themselves transform into the heads to control the robot bodies but when the bodies convert into their alternative forms, the heads transform back and 'pilot' the vehicles.
As I've stated, most of the original characters have either disappeared (after what happens to Cybertron, Rodimus just decides to run away), been killed off (Ultra Magnus attempts an Optimus Prime-like exit), been converted into new variations (as with SoundWave - now Soundblaster and BroadCast - now TwinCast) or - more often than not - are relegated to behind the scenes strategy and communications roles (as with RC, Cup et al.). It is largely up to the new additions (some of whom get no introduction whatsoever) to do the actual fighting and drive the stories themselves - which is probably one of the major problems with this series - The Headmasters are simply not as good as their predecessors and are not strong enough characters to carry a season (and it does not help that they make the older Transformers behave stupidly in order to make the Headmasters look better). It's not just the Headmasters as well, the strange new Beast creatures (whom you will come across from the Beast Planet episode) are lame, the giant Venus fly-trap attack is silly and the odd new enemies - like Mindwipe - who has weird hypnotic powers that enable him to put other Transformers to sleep, are also stupid characters to have thought up and introduced. Between that and the ridiculous behaviour of some of the original Autobots and Decepticons that were favourites with the fans, the resulting episodes are left feeling poorly balanced.
The next - and possibly the most significant - issue is the sound format. Normally I would only bring this up in the audio section but it is so dreadful that it affects the enjoyment of the show enough to warrant a mention here. Many have been used to the American-voiced original US series, so will be keen on continuing on with that trend here and listening to the US-dubbed version of the Headmasters series, which was obviously originally done in Japanese. There are several problems with the US dub however - firstly, the voice actors chosen are terrible, not least for important characters like Optimus Prime who has gone from being bold and gravely to posh and proper; secondly, the dub itself is amateur at best, done by people who have little to no knowledge of the Transformers universe (character names are more wrong than right). Unfortunately, if you chose the Japanese version instead, despite the subtitles being more accurate, they still do not convey the story in a completely coherent manner and the voices chosen are still pretty silly. You can't win.
So, overall, this is a slightly unnecessary addition to the Transformers universe. Perhaps it all should have ended with the season 3 finale of Optimus Prime returning and the matrix being released or perhaps the more conclusive fourth season should have remained, but this new alternative dimension to the Transformers world is disappointing at best. Apart from a few fights (the Fortress Maximus vs. Scorpinok, Soundwave vs. Broadcast, Ultra Magnus vs. Six-Shot and Rodimus Prime vs. Galvatron ongoing feuds and endless combiner-battles are entertaining but simply do not have the same edge as the classic Prime/Megatron fisticuffs) there is little here to keep you interested. The stories are weak (the decision to have Six Shot and Scorpinok lurk in the shadows during the first half of the season as if nobody would recognise them is just stupid), the dialogue - as I've explained - is unforgivably bad and the actions of the characters are sometimes inexplicably strange. That said, I really should not be surprised - Transformers itself was a show made largely for kids and everybody knows that revisiting childrens' TV can often be a disappointing experience. In the case of Transformers: The Movie, clearly an exception can be made, but in the case of Transformers: Headmasters, clearly the rule stands. Hardcore Transformers fans are still likely to be happy that this show is finally seeing a DVD release but, be warned, it is not as good as it could and should have been.