Length: 22-24 minutes
Voice Cast: Edward Bosco, Brook Chalmers, Jake Foushee, Rafael Goldstein, Todd Haberkorn, Jason Marnocha, Linsay Rousseau, Keith Silverstein, Frank Todaro, Joe Zieja
Score: 4 out of 5 stars
With a showrunner (F.J. DeSanto) who's a long-time fan, Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy is made for fans, by fans. The animated show, released on Netflix on Thursday (30 July), has the most adult-oriented tone of all the Transformers series thus far, which will delight fans who grew up with the original series in the '80s. Although it's still family friendly enough for viewers of all ages, the series has been given a modern, mature treatment that has made it grow up alongside fans who have loved it so much.
The first six-episodes of the action adventure 3D-animated trilogy is subtitled Siege, and revolves around the war between a race of transforming robots. As the factions clash on the alien, robotic planet of Cybertron, the respective leaders of both sides — Optimus Prime and Megatron — find themselves thrust into difficult, painful decisions . They soon find themselves on a desperate quest to win the war, but how far will each leader go to ensure victory, and what will be the cost?
What's most striking about the series is the effort it puts into developing solid character arcs for all the main Transformers. Optimus Prime (Jake Foushee) begins the series as a leader who doesn't command all that much respect and makes suboptimal choices, while Megatron (Jason Marnocha) is presented as an idealistic, even sympathetic leader who only wants the best for the Transformers race. But as the series continues, we see them grow into the characters that we know they’ll become, with each character making choices that define their personalities even more clearly as the episodes progress.
What's interesting is that this treatment is also extended to characters like Bumblebee (Joe Zieja), who starts off refusing to pledge allegiance to any faction. While it's not a radical change, it's interesting to see how certain characters choose the Autobot and Decepticon factions, and how they have to overcome the stereotypes of their original faction when they make the switch. It gives them their own plot lines beyond saving the day and defeating evil, even if we all know how the series is supposed to end.
But the most fascinating character is, of course, the one that has had the least development in the Transformers mythos — Elita-1 (Linsay Rousseau). She's a female commander for the Autobot forces, and serves as a companion, advisor, love interest, and sometimes rival to Optimus Prime. In a series with mostly male characters, it's wonderful to see female representation in the form of Elita-1, a strong female Autobot who can equal, or even exceed her male peers.
As a prequel series, it could have stumbled because it's difficult to weave a tale when audiences already know the conclusion. But that's what Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy is all about — the journey, not the destination. And the series is not afraid to kill off characters, so you might be surprised by which characters survive and which don't. Whether they be Autobot or Decepticon, both sides see their fair share of body counts, which shows that the series is not afraid to slaughter some sacred cows of the franchise. However, some deaths do seem gratuitous for the sake of being more adult-oriented, but given that new characters will have to be introduced in Earthrise and Kingdom, the second and third parts of the trilogy respectively, it's understandable why the show has to make room in such a fashion.
The series is set entirely on the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron, and previous 3D-animated series (such as Beast Machines and Transformers: Prime) have struggled to depict it in an interesting and varied way. But even though the setting is a metallic, alien wasteland, the series manages to give the different locations in Cybertron their own character, whether it be in terms of colour, size, design, and even the inhabitants of the said locations.
There are also plenty of nods and references to older Transformers series, starting with the very first scene of the premiere episode. There are so many sly winks to other beloved characters that don't overpower the significance of the main storyline, and in this sense, this first instalment of the Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy is like a coded love letter to fans — if you know it, you'll know it.
The animation quality is superb, and more importantly, the character models are as toy accurate as can be (sans screws and ball joints, of course). It's clear that the series had a much bigger budget to work with than any other previous Transformers series, given that so many characters are depicted in just six episodes. However, the animation does fall prey to some rescaling issues — the black outlines of character models are sometimes not rescaled when the shot sizes change, resulting in distracting thick black outlines for certain close-ups.
As a result of the more adult-oriented tone, the series progresses at a cinematic pace, which is really what it is — a two-hour long movie that's parsed into six episodes. While conflict occurs and the plot unfolds fairly rapidly, it could have done with a little more action and fewer pensive moments, although the fight scenes are delightfully done (especially in the final episode, which gives fans exactly what they want to see).
Fan or not, Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy gives you everything you'd expect in an animated series about feuding transforming robots. While it has some minor flaws, it's still a polished gem for animation aficionados, and more importantly — adult fans. It's a modern series for a modern age, and yes, you're going to want to buy all the toys when you're done watching the show.
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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