Cybertronian Damage Control

TransFormers: Energon

I've made it abundantly clear elsewhere how I felt about Transformers: Armada. Having seen the conclusion now, I bear a little less acid towards the series but still cringe at the though of the stiff animation, minimal-violence battles, and oh yeah- those damned kids. So you can understand why I would go into a sequel to the show with caution. Especially the way things wrapped up a little too neatly.

So, it's been a few years since Megatron took the big plunge into Unicron's maw and the war ended, with Autobots and Decepticons skipping through flowery fields and working for the betterment of mankind. Also, the Transformers have all spontaneously grown shiny new 3-D computer generated bodies. But some of the former Decepticons aren't so happy with the energon-mining business. Add to this unrest the sudden appearance of hordes of Terrorcons who devour Energon and carry it back to feed to Unicron (baby bird style, ugh) at the behest of their master Alpha-Q.

New characters this time around include Ironhide, a rather conspicuous SUV with a surfer's accent, and Kicker, a Token Human unique in that he really hates Transformers. But there is more dimension to the kid than that- on close observation he's a lot like a self-insertion character by an author trying to make himself out as a badass. (Special body armor given to him by his father via Optimus' chest, rides Arcee later on, has the Minicons that form the totally new and original Energon Saber following him at all times...) There are also cameos by the old Terrible Trio, who now work at the floating city/mining stations as supervisors or something since they're all growed up now. Alexis matured nicely into a sort of stuck up yet cryptic Ristuko type. Rad's on Cybertron, helping with the mechanics and so on. Carlos is making sandwiches for the Minicons or something. Fatass and Richie Cunningham are nowhere to be seen as far as I know. Also returning is Hot Shot, who's established himself as a real warrior instead of a spunky upstart (Fun fact, in Japan his name was Hot Rod, just like the whiny upstart who would later become the largely unpopular Rodimus Prime.) Optimus has had a huge makeover, though whether it's for better or worse is up for debate. Now he has an enormous gut and a trailer that looks like it was built by the architect of the Leaning Tower. This is of course, all a front for his NEW SUPER COMBINATION! which involves a quartet of odd vehicles sticking to his arms and legs to become more powerful (and more proportional.) Including that perennial staple of all that combines, a drill tank.

What's up with drill tanks, anyway? They're not real as far as I know. Yet the majority of mecha shows out there seem to embrace them as readily as cars and planes. Even the Contructions came with optional drilling attachments. It's a conspiracy, I say. Half these things couldn't really even drill through stuff with all the parts sticking off the sides to get caught.

There's a lot more to like about Energon than its predecessor. The storyline is darker and not so much a fetch quest as it is about protecting what they need to survive. Loyalties are made, changed, and strained as the former Decepticons pick sides (note that you don't see all that many of them among the Terrorcon droves even after Megatron revives.) In addition, there are tons of references to the classic series that older fans will just eat up, like the return of familiar characters like Scorponok, Inferno, Rodimus (cooler than the old one), Shockwave (or Shock Blast in this version) and Prowl. And as always, Unicron and the many-faced Alpha-Q (who is obviously a Quintesson as seen in the original, though he seems to be missing a face.) The Minicons have been pushed into the background though new forms of the skateboard, bike and scooter appear now and again with Kicker.

So, we have a grittier story where they aren't afraid to show mass casualties on both sides, homages to old series, and next to no Minicons. What's the catch? It's the CG. Especially toward the beginning there are blending issues as tends to happen when computer-modeled characters are matted against still painting backdrops with 2-D humans running around at their feet. In particular, the facial animations of the Transformers are pretty lacking. That normally wouldn't be so bad if they didn't ram the camera in the faces of them in tense scenes.

There's also the fact that most of the characterization apparently happens off-screen. The 'coming of age' thing they seem to be trying with Ironhide doesn't really seem to be very forthcoming- when all's said and done he still can barely function without direct orders. Even when he does 'act on his own' it's pretty much due to Kicker chewing him out.

Then there's what happened to Cyclonus, the stupid wisecracking trigger-happy chopper from Armada. He is reformatted into Snow Cat, a mildly retarded robot with a pot belly and a strange tendency to YODEL when excited. Demolishor at least gets to keep his name when he goes from being something that looks like a top-down shooter mid boss.

The last episodes I've seen on Cartoon Network leave off on a sort of cliffhanger when everyone gets sucked into a dimensional rip. If Armada could salvage an entertaining ending (it's a good ending if you try not to think too hard it) I hope that Energon doesn't lead up to a really lame conclusion, as per the beginning of Armada.

To end on an even geekier note, I like some of the toys from this series even better than my old Constructicons (BLASPHEMY). I splurged on a Starscream, and he's a pretty good example of an old character concept given a new spin (his vehicle mode is updated to a YF-22 Raptor, the whole 'ghost' concept owes to numerous incidents in the cartoons where his essence went around possessing people in a power bid beyong the grave, and he just plain looks like his old self transformed.) The Powerlinking Autobot gimmick is alright, they don't look too flexible and so far most of them don't even look right as a SINGLE robot. Still, it's a cool idea. The whole line has an emphasis on interchanging and combining weaponry between characters, even going so far as to leave those Minicon attachment bits so the kiddies who splurged on Armada crap can get a little more play out of 'em. Viva los Cybertronians.



If nothing else, cel shading leads to pretty stills.

Loud, stubborn, and a thorough asshole. Yet still better than Rad.

Starscream comes back from the dead as a ghost ninja. SWEET.

Screenshots are from Ben's World of TransFormers, an excellent site packed with pictures and hands-on toy reviews to the point he kind of scares me.