Length: 6 episodes, 22-24 minutes
Voice Cast: Edward Bosco, Jake Foushee, Todd Haberkorn, Jason Marnocha, Linsay Rousseau, Keith Silverstein, Frank Todaro, Joe Zieja, Jolene Andersen, Jay Sanford, Joseph Houghton, Michael Shwalbe
Released on Netflix on 30 December 2020
Score: 3 out of 5 stars
Being the middle chapter in a trilogy is always tough, even if you're a Transformers series — and Earthrise, sandwiched between Siege (Chapter 1) and Kingdom (Chapter Three), shows us why. Even though it wisely gives centre stage to Optimus Prime and Megatron, it does so at the expense of some other elements in the show, and ultimately isn't as satisfying as it could have been.
Transformers: War for Cybertron Chapter 2: Earthrise continues the story of the Transformers from the first chapter, Siege. The 3D-animated series sees the heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons heading into space as they chase after a powerful artifact that could be the salvation for their race — the AllSpark. However, a mysterious third faction enters the conflict, and their space voyage is not as straightforward as they thought. It remains to be seen whether their home planet of Cybertron will survive this war, or if their entire race will go extinct.
The second chapter focuses firmly on Optimus Prime (Jake Foushee) and Megatron (Jason Marnocha), which it rightfully should, since the entire conflict in Transformers centres around the clash in their ideologies. While Optimus Prime's story arc progresses as would be expected, it's the focus on Megatron that's far more interesting. He's more well-rounded, less cartoonish, and is given more motivation for his actions. You can see him genuinely trying — but as villainous as Megatron is, he is not unsusceptible to manipulation, which is fun to watch. Even as the antagonist, he has weaknesses and impulses that he struggles not to fall prey to, and it's impressive to see that even Megatron has dark desires that he fights desperately against.
Of course, focusing on the leaders of the opposing factions has an opportunity cost — which is that the other Transformers get less air time as a result. Compared to Siege, there are far fewer characters that get less of the spotlight. Bumblebee (Joe Zieja), Elita-1 (Linsay Rousseau), Starscream (Frank Todaro), and Shockwave (Todd Haberkorn) get their moment in the sun, but the other characters are pushed into the background. It's a pity that we don't see the other characters shine, but it does constantly remind us of where the central conflict is.
Part of the reason why it's difficult to give time to the other characters is the premise of this season. The Transformers are on an outer space journey (using futuristic and evocatively named spaceships, the Ark, Nemesis, and Fortune) so it's difficult to find reasons to separate them. So unlike Siege, having separate and divergent plotlines is harder to come by — and those that exist tend to get carelessly forgotten until the final episode. As with the character spotlights, it's a tradeoff between a focused plot and characterisation for more Transformers.
However, even with a more focused plot, the series can be a little lacklustre in pacing. The main issue is that it starts off with a clear premise in mind — the Transformers are racing to get hold of the AllSpark — but this objective gets diluted along the way and we don't really see it coming to fruition. As the middle chapter of a trilogy (Chapter Three, Kingdom, will conclude the series in 2021), it already has the story set up but it can't conclude the series, so it is a difficult balancing act. Unfortunately, because we don't get the payoff we expect by the end, it feels a little bit for naught.
And then there is the whole raison d'etre of any Transformers show — to act as a marketing vehicle for the merchandise. While Siege did a good job of telling a compelling story with its characters, Earthrise falters a little in that department. You can see how some characters are pushed in for an episode (or less) just to showcase them. So it's hard not to have the awareness that they are there to tempt you into buying their respective action figure when they just guest star for one episode. As a fan, and knowing that there's a huge library of Transformers characters out there, it feels that some guest stars were originally written with a character in mind, but swapped out to promote another character instead.
Transformers: War for Cybertron Chapter 2: Earthrise has a tough job on its hands as the second chapter in a trilogy, but it chooses to focus on the elements that define the Transformers franchise. While it may not succeed on all fronts, it still manages to deliver an exciting tale of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, as well as throw in new thrills for long-time fans. After all, who doesn't like watching the fight between Optimus Prime and Megatron?
Transformers: War for Cybertron Chapter 2: Earthrise is out on Netflix on 30 December.
Here are more stills from the series: