Launched in 1984, Hasbro's Transformers toyline was promoted through both a comic book by Marvel Comics and an animated series produced by Sunbow Productions. Although the comic outlived the animated series by a number of years, it was the animated series that truly captured the hearts and minds of children worldwide more so than any other piece of Transformers media from its twenty-four year history. With the original show's conclusion in 1987, original series exclusive to Japan were created which ran until 1990, and the franchise was later re-imagined with the fully CGI Beast Wars in the late 1990s. The 21st Century saw a total reboot of the Transformers universe, as Hasbro collaborated with Japanese Transformers producers Takara to create a new storyline with Transformers: Armada and its sequels, produced in Japan and then dubbed for English-speaking audience. In 2008, Transformers: Animated saw Hasbro take control of the franchise once more through collaboration with Cartoon Network, bringing writing duties back to America, with animation being handled by Japanese studios.
After the Federal Communications Commission did away with regulations that prohibited toy companies from broadcasting cartoons based on their products in 1984, Transformers began with a three-episode miniseries that introduced audiences to Optimus Prime, Megatron and their armies, as they travelled from the metal world of Cybertron to Earth in search of new sources of energy. The final episode ended on an open note, should the series prove popular enough to continue, which it did. A standard season's worth of 13 more episodes was commissioned, expanding the Transformers universe in which the Dinobots, Constructicons and Jetfire (the latter called Skyfire in the series) made their debut. With popularity rising, the second season soon followed in 1985 at a mammoth 49 episodes (in order to bring the total up to 65, for syndication). Dozens of new characters were introduced throughout the season, including the Triple Changers, the combining teams the Aerialbots, Stunticons, Combaticons and Protectobots, and more new Autobot cars and Decepticon planes, while many new ideas and concepts began to establish the history of the cartoon universe.
These 65 episodes were exported to Japan in the same year, where their airing order was rearranged and the series was broadcast under the title of Fight! Super Robot Lifeform Transformers. An OVA exclusive to Japan entitled Scramble City was released which cast focus on the combining teams and introduced Ultra Magnus, Metroplex, Ratbat, Trypticon, Blaster's cassettes although it does not perfectly fit into the continuity of the American series due to its different origin story for Trypticon (known as Dinosaurer in the Japanese version).
1986 marked a huge change for The Transformers with the summer screening of The Transformers: The Movie, which jumped the action forward in time twenty years to the then-future of 2005 and pitted both the Autobots and Decepticons against the menace of the giant planet-eating robot, Unicron. Optimus Prime met his end at Megatron's hands, and Ultra Magnus briefly replaced him as a leader before being succeeded by Rodimus Prime, while Megatron himself was recreated by Unicron as Galvatron. Many more of the old guard fell in battle as their toys departed store shelves to make room for a new cast of characters created for the movie.
1986 also saw the start of the third season of the animated series, which took its cue from the movie, picking up precisely where it had left off with Rodimus in command and the Decepticons in exile with Galvatron missing. The season opened with a five-part mini-series entitled Five Faces of Darkness which saw Galvatron return and brought to prominence the Quintessons, multi-faced aliens introduced in the movie who were revealed to be the creators of the Transformer race, and who became a recurring third factor as the season continued through its setting of 2006. The addition of Flint Dille as story editor saw a strong sci-fi aspect infect the season as the Transformers' battles spanned many alien planets, while continuity between episode was tighter than ever before as plot concepts were revisited and expanded to truly flesh out the show's history. Running to 30 episodes, the third season ended with the two-part Return of Optimus Prime, bringing the legendary Autobot leader back to life. Broadcast in Japan once again, the series was retitled Fight! Super Robot Lifeform Transformers: 2010 (or Transformers: 2010 for short), advancing its setting to the eponymous year.
1987 marked the end of the original American series, mirroring its beginning with a three-part mini-series entitled The Rebirth. Penned by regular series writer David Wise (who had previously written several of the series' mythology-building episodes), this finale story introduced the Headmasters and Targetmasters, as well as several other characters. Concluding with the restoration of Cybertron's Golden Age, the Decepticons stole the final scene of the series to prove that their threat still lingered.
Additionally, a fifth season of sorts was aired in 1988, serving as a kind of "best of" collection of the series. The most notable feature of this twenty-episode run was the new intro and concluding segments added to the episodes, which consisted of Powermaster Optimus Prime (rendered in a mixture of puppetry and stop motion animation) relating the events of the episodes to a human boy named Tommy Kennedy. The opening sequence comprised animation taken from contemporary toy adverts, and Prime occasionally referred to new toy characters like Cloudburst. Apparently never re-run after its original airing, the series aired More Than Meets the Eye Parts 1-3, The Ultimate Doom Parts 1-3, Five Faces of Darkness Parts 1-5, Dark Awakening, the out-of-place Surprise Party, The Return of Optimus Prime Parts 1-2, and most notably, The Transformers: The Movie, split up and aired in five segments, with Stan Bush's music video for The Touch included in the final part.
When a group of rebellious Headmasters led by Lord Zarak joined with Galvatron's Decepticons in an attack on Cybertron, the Autobot Headmasters, led by Fortress returned to their home planet to aid in its defense. The situation soon went from bad to worse when it was revealed that Vector Sigma, the mega-computer at the planet's heart, was destabilizing, and Optimus Prime again sacrificed his life to save Cybertron. This soon proved to be only delaying the inevitable, however, when a bomb attack instigated by Zarak turned Cybertron into a burnt-out, inhospitable husk. Rodimus Prime departed to search for a new planet for the Transformers to live on, leaving Fortress in command, operating from the planet Athenia. Meanwhile, Zarak replaced Galvatron - who had vanished in the explosion - as Decepticon leader, constructing a personal Transtector so that he could battle Fortress's own giant form, Fortress Maximus, and redubbing himself Scorponok.
Although populated mainly with new characters, The Headmasters did continue to feature characters from all previous seasons, including new versions of Soundwave and Blaster, rebuilt after a duel that destroyed them both as Soundblaster and Twincast. Human Daniel Witwicky and his young Autobot friend Wheelie also played major roles in the series, serving as the youthful characters for the audience to identify with. More new characters continued to pour in when Galvatron returned to leadership and the Decepticons embarked on a space voyage, ransacking planets in a chain of stories that introduced the Horrorcons and Autobot and Decepticon Clones. The return to Earth was no less momentous, as the Decepticon ninja six-changer Sixshot killed Ultra Magnus, and the Autobot Headmasters finished off Galvatron. When the Decepticons then returned to Master, refugees from the planet were caught in a plasma bomb accident that fused them to the arms of several Autobots and Decepticons, creating the Targetmasters, and in a final move, Scorponok attempted the destruction of Earth, only to be foiled, thanks in part to a traitorous Sixshot.
Never professionally released in the United States, The Headmasters was dubbed into English in Hong Kong for broadcast on the Malaysian TV channel, RTM 1, and later the Singapore satellite station, StarTV, where it attained greater fame, leading it to often be referred to as the "StarTV dub." The dub is, however, infamous for its poor quality, full of mistranslations and incorrect names, clearly the work of a small group of individuals (literally, less than half-a-dozen actors fill every role) with little knowledge of the material. This dub has seen some DVD releases in the United Kingdom, and the entire series was released in a dual-language format in 2005.
With the departure of the Autobots and Decepticons from Earth at the end of The Headmasters, a small group of Autobots remained to guard the planet, having hidden amongst mankind for thousands of years thanks to their "Pretender" powers, which allowed them to shrink down and adopt the forms of human beings. However, the sudden re-appearance of their formerly-defeated Decepticon counterparts, now in the service of the mysterious energy entity Devil Z, means that the Autobots must drop their disguises and return to battle once more. But this is only the beginning of the most unusual Transformer war yet - as the battle escalates, human beings themselves take sides, and, imbued with the power of the "Masterforce", merge with Transtectors sent to Earth by the Autobots in space to become Transformers themselves as the "Headmaster Juniors." But the Decepticons have Headmaster Juniors of their own, and as the conflict rages, events converge on the creation of the most powerful super-robot lifeforms yet - the Godmasters!
The Godmasters are the Japanese version of the Powermasters, with human begins transforming into engines and combining with Transtectors to transform into robots capable of wielding "Chokon Power," the primal energy of life. Most notably, their ranks include Ginrai, a character based on the Powermaster version of Optimus Prime, reinvented as a Japanese trucker, and the Japanese-exclusive character, Decepticon ambassador of destruction Overlord.
Running to 42 episodes, Super-God Masterforce had six additional clip episodes made after the fact for video release, one of which, serving as an overview of the series, was selected to be broadcast as the 43rd and final episode of the series. The 42 main episodes received the same dub treatment as The Headmasters, but the dubbed version of the series was not included on the DVD release of the series in July 2006.
In contrast to The Headmasters and Super-God Masterforce, both of which had an over-arcing plot direction, the majority of Victory is directionless, returning to the episodic adventure tradition of the original American series which culminates in the much-threatened attack of Deszaras's planet-destroying fortress. In another difference, the characters and toys of Victory are predominantly unique to Japan, and those that are not are remoulded in unique, distinguishing ways - the series debuts the Brainmasters, Brestforce and Multiforce, all new toys, as well as the Dinoforce, remoulded versions of the American Monster Pretenders. Micromasters also make their debut in Victory.
Of the 38 episodes of Victory broadcast, six are clip episodes containing no new footage, leaving 32 main episodes, which comprise the DVD collection released in the United Kingdom in September 2006. Six further clip episodes were produced for video, taking the total to 44. Victory also received the "StarTV dub" treatment - when the three Japanese series were broadcast on StarTV, it was under the umbrella title of "Transformers Takara," and all three were branded with Victory's opening sequence.
The cast of Zone is heavily composed of Micromasters, who also made up much of the toyline. Dai Atlas is a "Powered Master," so named for his motorized gimmick, as is his combining partner Sonic Bomber - the toyline also featured another partner for them, Roadfire, who was not in the episode. The solitary Decepticons in the toyline were the Race Car Patrol, and Metrotitan, a redeco of the Autobot city Metroplex, neither of whom appeared in animated form. They absent parties did go on to appear, however, in the pages of the Japanese publication, TV Magazine - this monthly magazine had always included Transformers manga and "story pages" (splash page illustrations and prose text) from the beginning, and although no manga was released for Zone (barring a single chapter available through mail-away which simply re-told the episode), its tale was completed through the story pages.
Running to 26 episodes, 1996's first season of Beast Wars began with an unintentional parallel to the original animated series, introducing the viewers to Maximal Optimus Primal, Predacon Megatron and their crews as their ships crashed onto an alien planet, where they warred over the energon they found there. While mostly a scattershot affair of episodic stories, the first season of Beast Wars focused heavily on characterisation, endowing its cast with consistent, developing personalities and naturalistic voice acting that brought the show to life. Additionally, amidst the one-shot adventures, a plot thread began to grow involving a race of mysterious aliens who were conducting experiments on the planet that occasionally intersected with the Beast Warriors' stories. This eventually culminated in a two-part conclusion to the season, ending on a cliffhanger that led into 1997's 13-episode season. Many of the characters were upgraded into new "Transmetal" forms, and the conflict reached a new level with an exceptionally tightly-plotted story arc that included the revelation that the planet was Earth, the death of Dinobot and more alien conflicts. Story elements laid through the season once again came to a head with a three-part conclusion that firmly tied Beast Wars to the Generation 1 timeline, featuring guest appearances from Transformers of that era and displaying that the Beast Warriors came from their future, and were currently in the prehistoric past. This link proved key to the third and final season in 1998, running to another 13 episodes, in which the Maximals had to defend their past and future against Megatron's attempts to alter history. Longtime Transformers comic scribe Simon Furman was brought on board to script the final episode, which concluded with the end of the Beast Wars, and the Maximal's departure for Cybertron.
Although controversial among fans in its early days due to its complete re-imagining of the Transformers concept, today, it is not uncommon to find long-time Transformers fans - even those who have grown up with the franchise since 1984 - who consider Beast Wars to be their favorite Transformers series
Although largely looked down upon for its very light-hearted approach when compared to the darker North American series, Beast Wars II proved successful enough to spawn a theatrical movie, consisting of three "acts". The first act was a recap of the original Beast Wars television show up to that point, while the second was the undubbed, English-language episode, "Bad Spark", from the show's second season, to serve as a showcase for the upcoming release of the season in Japan. The third act was Lio Convoy in Imminent Danger, a new, original story that saw Optimus Primal pulled forward in time to team up with Lio Convoy to stop the monstrous Majin Zarak.
With the end of Beast Wars Neo, the third season of the North American series had been completed, and it was subsequently combined with the second season and dubbed for Japanese release as Beast Wars Metals.
As Beast Machines begins, viewers rejoin Optimus Primal and his Maximals as they return to Cybertron, amnesiac and unable to recall how they got there, only to discover that the planet is now under Megatron's rule, its cities deserted, its occupants stripped of their sparks. An encounter with the ancient Cybertronian computer, the Oracle, sees them reformatted into new technorganic bodies that blend their mechanical natures with the organic material they acquired on Earth, and as the story of the show develops, an organic past to Cybertron is steadily revealed, as is the story of the Maximal's missing memories and friends. Influences from the original Transformers began to creep into the show as they had with Beast Wars before it, until more obscure concepts such as the key to Vector Sigma and the Plasma Energy Chamber played major roles in the series, each one exemplifying one of the mantras espoused - Primal's dedication to seeing the organic flourish, and Megatron's desire for unfeeling, unthinking technological perfection. The clash between these two powers marked the end of the first season, and served to provide Primal with the revelation that drove the second - that he had been wrong, and that the Oracle desired not the domination of one power over the other, but a balance between the organic and the technological. The second season of the show dove headlong into the storyline, with Megatron body-swapping repeatedly, and the concept of the show allowing for such left-field creations as an entirely organic Transformer that changed from beast to beast, and a Maximal who transformed into a plant. The series concluded with a drawn-out battle between Primal and Megatron, which ultimately concluded with their deaths, allowing the planet-wide reformatting of Cybertron into a technorganic paradise.
The concept of technorganic Transformers who needed to concentrate to move between modes and an organic beginning to Cybertron rankled with many fans at the time, viewed as flying in the face of much of the established history of Transformers. Opinions were violently expressed and many bad feelings over the series exist to this day, ranging from the way the characters changed since their Beast Wars days - Rhinox being warped into a villain, Rattrap becoming the team's tech-support, Silverbolt's experiences turning him into an aggressive vengeance-seeker, and Megatron abruptly changing from a complex villain into a more stereotypical "world domination" type - to the ending, ambitiously and permanently altering the nature of Cybertron as it had been understood for nearly twenty years.
Beast Machines was not exported to Japan for several years, finally reaching the country in 2004 under the title of Beast Wars Returns.
Renamed Transformers: Robots in Disguise (regularly referred to with the acronym of RiD by fans) the series stands alone, unconnected to any of the previous continuities as a complete, self-contained universe. Conceptually, the show united ideas from across the G1 and Beast eras by pitting the vehicular Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, against the bestial Predacons, led by Megatron, and through the inclusion of classic concepts such as Headmaster and combining technology; dubbed into English by Saban Entertainment, many fan-friendly references to the previous continiuities were also added. The first story arc of the series is a series of episodic adventures introducing the majority of the cast - like the original animated series, it was very Autobot-heavy, with most characters being newly designed (bar the Spy Changers, repainted versions of Generation 2 figures, and Tow-Line and Skid-Z, repainted Machine Wars toys), while on the Predacon side, only Megatron was a new mould, with his troops being repaints of Beast Wars Transmetal 2 toys. The trend continued into the second story arc, which introduced RiD's version of the Decepticons - redecos of the G1 Combaticons and G2 "Laser Optimus Prime" toy - and Optimus Prime's bitter brother, Ultra Magnus. This led smoothly into the third and final arc of the show, which saw Magnus and Prime merge into Omega Prime, and Decepticon leader Scourge began his plot to wrest the power of the ancient battle station, Fortress Maximus, away from both Megatron and the Autobots.
Its airing schedule heavily disrupted by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Robots in Disguise had to be re-edited in several ways for content, and several of its episodes aired out of order, or not at all in America. Although initially derided by some fans for its especially light-hearted, joke-filled nature, demand is high for the series to be released on DVD in North America; although available in the United Kingdom, it has yet to see a release in America due to the Walt Disney Company's acquisition of Saban and its products.
In addition to drawing on and re-imagining familiar elements from Generation 1, such as the Matrix of Leadership, Armada's defining trait was the introduction of a third faction of Transformers - the diminutive robots known as Mini-Cons (the eponymous "Microns" in Japan). Mini-Cons can "powerlink" to larger Transformers, increasing their powers, and consequently became a sought-after commodity in the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. Eventually, however, the Mini-Cons fled Cybertron in a starship, which warped into the Solar system and crashed on Earth. The series then begins in the year 2010, when three teenagers - Rad, Carlos and Alexis - find and reactivate the buried hulk of the Mini-Con ship, sending out a signal that brings Optimus Prime, Megatron and their troops to Earth.
The Autobots and Decepticons begin scouring the planet to find the stasis panels containing the dormant Mini-Cons, thought to be located in hellnoville, but soon, the existence of three powerful weapons - each formed from the fusion of three separate Mini-Cons - comes to light. Thanks to the schemes of the mysterious, allegiance-shifting Sideways, the weapons are formed and constantly shift hands, until, through manipulation of the self-doubting Starscream, all three are finally within Decepticon hands. Through the power of these weapons, the ancient evil, Unicron is reawakened, as the mysteries of the show, the origins of the Mini-Cons and the nature of the Transformers' war are explored in a final story arc entitled "The Unicron Battles."
The English-language version of Armada is infamous for having been produced in haste for several reasons, most prominently the fact that Cartoon Network would not sign off on the series without a certain number of episodes already completed. To meet this demand, the dubbing studio was forced to work with only partially complete episodes, with animation of a wildly varying quality, containing many errors that were later corrected for the Japanese broadcast. Additionally, there was rarely even enough time to produce more than a first draft of the translated script, leading to many errors in translation making it into the finished product, including incorrect character names, flat, transliterated speech, and at times, utterly nonsensical dialogue that did not match the action onscreen.
A companion comic book was included with the Japanese DVD releases of the series titled Linkage, which focused on the side story of a group of Mini-Cons whose adventures happened concurrently with the animated series. The comic takes the time to flesh out some unexplained plot points from the series, as well as providing an in-depth explanation on the nature of Mini-Cons.
Picking up ten years after the end of Armada, Energon focuses on the quest for the titular energy-rich mineral, the Transformers' power source. The Autobots and Decepticons, allied since the conclusion of Armada, have entered into an alliance with humankind in order to mine for energon on Earth, and now operate out of massive "Cybertron Cities" in strategic locations around the world. But, out in the void of space, the damaged, deactivated body of Unicron now serves the staging base of the deranged alien being Alpha Q, who sends armies of robotic Terrorcons to steal Energon for his own purposes. But those purposes are not as sinister as they seem, and soon pale in comparison to the evil of the resurrected Megatron!
The Autobots of Energon are empowered with the "Spark of Combination," which allows them to link their bodies together in various configurations - a power that gives the series its Japanese title, Transformers: Superlink - while the Decepticons possess "hyper modes" with excesses of weaponry. The series also introduces the aforementioned Terrorcons, and their Autobot counterparts the Omnicons, robots with the ability to handle and shape energon into power-enhancing stars and weapons such as spears and axes.
The story of Cybertron centres on a gigantic black hole, created by the destruction of Unicron at the conclusion of Energon, which threatens to consume Cybertron and the rest of the universe. This danger brings the ancient Transformer, Vector Prime, back to Cybertron, where he sets the Autobots on a quest for the four Cyber Planet Keys, legendary artifacts of power that can seal the black hole. The keys, however, are scattered on planets throughout the galaxy, and the Autobots must now race from world to world to acquire their power before the Decepticons. Aided with new "Cyber Key Powers" of their own, the Transformers makes allies and enemies on each wildly different world they visit, from the racing-obsessed Velocitron to the bestial Jungle Planet and beyond, on an adventure that has its roots in the ancient past, and sculpts a new future for Cybertron.
Cybertron's English language adaptation flouts Unicron Trilogy convention by being competently produced. More than simply a translation of the Japanese version, Cybertron features large amounts of new dialogue, be it to form connections with Armada and Energon, to pay homage to many classic Generation 1 quotes (several lines from The Transformers: The Movie are re-used, in particular, and there are also a few quotes and references to the Beast Era), or simply to fill the many prolonged sequences of silence in the Japanese version, an artefact of the show's excessive use of stock footage transformation, combination and transportation sequences.
The core Autobot team is led by Optimus Prime (voiced by David Kaye, famous for voicing the Megatrons of the Beast Era and Unicron Trilogy) and consists of the speedy, wise-cracking Bumblebee, gentle giant Bulkhead, aged, ornery medic Ratchet and loner ninja Prowl. Early antagonists in the series will be super-human villains, some of whom will obtain powers through Transformer technology, with the scattered Decepticons (Starscream, Blackarachnia, Lugnut and Blitzwing) periodically arriving on Earth in their search for Megatron and the Allspark. The series will also feature many other additional Transformers characters in guest appearances and recurring roles, including Arcee, Blurr, bounty hunter Lockdown, Earth machines brought to life by the Allspark such as the Dinobots, the Constructicons and Wreck-Gar, and the Autobot Cybertron Elite Guard, including Ultra Magnus (Supreme Commander of the Autobots), Sentinel Prime, Ironhide and Jazz.
The show's supervising director is Matt Youngberg (Teen Titans, The Batman), with Cartoon Network vice-president Sam Register as executive producer and Vincent Aniceto as line producer. Beast Machines writer Marty Isenberg returned to Transformers as the story editor/head writer for this series, and it is voice-directed by Susan Blu, the original voice of G1 Arcee, who will be voicing the character again in this series. Art director/lead character designer Derrick Wyatt (Teen Titans, Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, Legion of Super Heroes) has created a "brand new look" unlike anything seen in Transformers before. The series is being distributed internationally by Entertainment Rights.