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|“||...we feel action should be emphasized over plot —- especially avoiding any complicated story lines -— to ensure the success of this series with its intended viewers.||”|
——Bryce Malek and Dick Robbins, Transformers story editors, Marvel Productions internal correspondence.
More than any other of the many media which Transformers have invaded in the past 25 years, it is The Transformers, the original cartoon that ran from 1984 to 1987, which captured the imagination of children and children-at-heart worldwide.
The Transformers is the bedrock foundation for TFUMUX's theme.
The cartoon (along with the Marvel comics) set up the basic story of Transformers that most other incarnations were to follow: two warring factions of robots on the planet Cybertron leave in search of resources. The factions crash-land on Earth and, millions of years later, begin their battle anew in Reagan-era America and across the globe.
Once established, the cartoon rarely took any steps to upset its status quo. Plots generally centered on a Decepticon plot or invention of the week, which would be used to gather energy or Defeat The Autobots FOREVER!!, and the Autobots' efforts to stop the plan. Most of the time the Decepticons were forced into retreat, and the Autobots drove off victorious. At most, a new character or team was added to one side or the other. Plots became a bit less formulaic during Season 3, though character death and true plot upheaval remained a rarity.
Through its 98-episode run, this series took viewers around the globe and to many strange places and times: across the alien Cybertron, the Earth's prehistoric past, the Earth's then-future of 2005, the Metropolis-like society of Nebulos, and more. It is not the best animated series ever to air, but it stimulated viewers with its concept at the time, and continued to do so in the years to come.
Writing and distribution for this series were handled as a joint effort by Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions. Animation was produced overseas, by Toei, AKOM, Tokyo Movie Shinsha (supposedly) and an unknown studio from the Philippines.
The original 30 or so characters were heavily modified from their toy designs for aesthetics and ease of animation. Among the artists involved in the original designs are Shōhei Kohara and Floro Dery. Other known production artists include Dell Barras, who worked on second season backgrounds.
Story editors for the series included Dick Robbins, Bryce Malek, Flint Dille, Marv Wolfman, and Steve Gerber. Episode scripts were written by a large array of freelance writers. Writers notable for writing numerous episodes include Donald F. Glut and David Wise.
The series was animated on an enormously rushed schedule, due to the need to get episodes on the air in sync with the toys appearing on shelves. That, combined with the vast number of characters and the difficulties involved with the overseas animation process, resulted in a cartoon that is notoriously riddled with animation errors and other mistakes. The producers were often aware of these mistakes, but tight deadlines left them no time to correct them.
Another byproduct of the rushed production is that the show tends not to be very self-referential. Continuity between episodes is minimal, with most acting as self-contained, standalone stories, though a few Season Two and Season Three stories did build on previous episodes. Within each season, the addition of new characters is the only common change to the status quo.
Mistakes or not, the show is fondly remembered by many fans for the high quality of its voice acting. Indeed, many characters, lacking any significant plot developments or screen time, were brought to life solely by their unique voices and inflection styles. Voice direction for the series was provided by Wally Burr, notorious for driving his performers to the limit. One of the performers in his stable, Susan Blu, would later go on to work as voice director for Beast Wars, Beast Machines, and Transformers Animated.
The sinister voice of Victor Caroli provided narration for the entire series, most commonly heard on the commercial bumpers: "The Transformers will return after these messages!" Caroli's voice also provided occasional introductory narration, recap segments for multi-part episodes, and the Secret Files of Teletraan II segments which ran before the credits of Season 3.
In addition to the show's iconic theme song, Transformers featured a great variety of background music, composed by Robert J. Walsh. Walsh had previously worked on the G.I. Joe cartoon, and many of those pieces were reused for Transformers. New pieces were composed as well, many incorporating the melody of the show's theme song. Walsh composed new music for 2nd and 3rd seasons, each in a different style, further distinguishing the three main seasons from one another.
The show also originated the concept of the iconic "symbol flip" serving as a transition between scenes, a tradition carried on by some of the later series.
These episodes are listed in production order rather than original airdate. In a few instances, this means that episodes are not in the correct chronological story order, the specifics of which are noted in their own articles. Note that Season 3, in particular, suffers from this—the Kid Rhino DVD release of the season reordered the episodes in question so that they were in order, but also reordered many episodes that did not have any placement problems, throwing off the whole shebang. Conversely, the Region 2 Metrodome release of the season just reorganized the problematic ones.
The first season is primarily set on Earth, with a few excursions to Cybertron. It started with the 1984 toys as its characters, and introduced the early wave of 1985 toys as it progressed—the Constructicons, Dinobots, Insecticons, and Skyfire.
The very long second season greatly expanded the cartoon's scope and cast. The second season tends to feature more character-driven episodes than the first season, with many characters getting their own "spotlight" episode. It also features a recurring theme of the Autobots assimilating Earth culture, such the Autobots playing basketball and football and even watching a soap opera. Excursions to alien civilizations popped up occasionally as well. The second season also saw the introduction of concepts and characters that would spread out to other fictions, including the mystic Alpha Trion, the ancient Vector Sigma supercomputer and its circuit key, and the first appearance of Female Transformers within official fiction.
Didn't they make Optimus Prime play soccer or something once? Man, that was dumb.The second season also marked a move from weekly airings (usually on Saturday mornings) to a "stripped" show, aired Monday through Friday, either in the morning or afternoon. Some markets also scheduled it in conjunction with daily episodes of G.I. Joe.
Season 2 intro
A battle is taking place on Earth in an area with rocky, desert like terrain. The Decepticons are getting their chassis handed to them by the Dinobots and Omega Supreme. The Insecticons are hiding out in a crevasse and display the ability to float on molten lava. The scene then shifts to a stylized computer grid where Optimus Prime and Megatron square off with some of their loyal troops nearby. The grid then swallows up Optimus and Megatron.
Season Two breaks down very roughly into three segments:
The first dozen episodes feature (primarily) the Season One cast. A large second batch of episodes brings in the remainder of the 1985 toys. The final ten episodes introduce the four combiner teams that formed the early entries in the 1986 line.
The Transformers: The Movie is in continuity with the cartoon series, occurring 20 years after the end of Season 2. It was the single biggest turning point for the series, and remains controversial. The movie saw the introductions of Unicron, the Quintessons, and the Matrix of Leadership, all of which would play important roles in Season 3. It made radical changes to the show's cast, killing off many characters and introducing new ones—a shock to young viewers who were used to their heroes driving off into the sunset at the end of every adventure.
Despite its unconventional place in the cartoon canon, it remains the best-known representation of the cartoon series among fans.
Season 3 transformed the whole premise of the show. Gone were the two teams stranded on Earth, along with many of the characters that composed those teams. In their place was a galaxy-spanning tale of battles on alien worlds. With the Autobots in firm control of Cybertron, the Decepticons, though still a threat, were somewhat reduced as villains; new enemies in the form of the Quintessons were introduced. Plots often centered on the ultra-powerful city-bots, Metroplex and Trypticon.
Season 3 has a mixed reputation. It contains some of the most mistake-laden episodes of the entire franchise ("Five Faces of Darkness", "Carnage in C Minor", the introduction sequence at right) most of which can be laid at the feet of AKOM. But some of its episodes are among the best as well, both in animation and scripting; "Dark Awakening", "Chaos", "Webworld", and "Dweller in the Depths" are all heavy fan favorites.
Late in Season 3, as in Season 2, the forerunners of the 1987 toy line were introduced: the Terrorcons, Technobots, and Throttlebots, and (very briefly) the cassettes Slugfest and Overkill. The season concluded with the resurrection of Optimus Prime, spurred on by a massive campaign on the part of fans, who were displeased by his death and subsequent "evil" resurrection.
According to David Wise, he was contacted by Sunbow Productions to write a five-part series finale which would introduce a deluge of new characters while simultaneously tying up the series. Shortly after Wise completed the five-episode outline, however, a budget cutback reduced it to a three-parter. This created a massive headache for the writer, who did the math and claimed that they'd be introducing a new character just about every 28 or 90 seconds. Dan Gilvezan also expressed his confusion at the truncated season, as 98 episodes didn't fit into a syndicated weekday broadcast schedule (which needed to be divisible by 5).
In the end, 25 brand new Transformers and 22 Nebulans, that's 47 new characters in all, were introduced across these final three episodes. Well, that's assuming you count Fortress Maximus and Scorponok as separate characters from Cerebros and Zarak... and Punch and Counterpunch as one guy.
While the previous three seasons each featured fully original title sequences, season 4's title sequence was more economically cobbled together. By combining animation taken from toy commercials (produced by Toei) and animation from the season 3 title sequence (produced by AKOM), they crafted a "new" title sequence (which used the season 3 rendition of the theme song). A clever ploy, though the difference in animation quality and art style between segments produced by Toei and AKOM leads to the footage blending rather poorly.
- 1985 net.comics review
- Aaron Marsh's Transformers Episode Guide — Including variants and repackagings
- Transformers on Facebook - Includes information on Matrix of Leadership Box Set