MRD Review: The Transformers G1 (1984 cartoon)

No Caption Provided

Welcome to my first Transformers show review. Since I’m going in chronological order, it’s only fitting that I start with the original 1984 show that started it all, “The Transformers”, or as it is commonly referred to, Generation 1 or G1 for short. The name of the show was originally just “The Transformers”, but since the toyline after it was called “Generation 2” or G2, everyone just referred to the toyline and everything else that came out before it as G1.

Before the actual review, I’m going to start off with some backstory. The whole idea behind Transformers started when Hasbro partnered with Takara and bought the rights to one of their toylines featuring transforming robots. However, Hasbro, with the help of Marvel, actually went and gave a backstory and characterization to all the robots, thus giving birth to the Transformers franchise. Marvel would also produce a comic series as well as help create the original show that I’m going to review.

No Caption Provided
No Caption Provided

I also want to mention that although this is the first show, I did not actually grow up with this show. Rather, I grew up with Beast Wars and (unfortunately) Beast Machines. I knew of this show for some time but I didn’t actually watch it until around the time of the first live-action Transformers film by Michael Bay. In fact, it was around that time that I really became a more hardcore fan of the franchise, because from the film, I learned of the comics based off of the movie by IDW Publishing and from that I learned that IDW had an ongoing comic series so that’s how I got into the comics, which is probably my favorite medium of the franchise. Now, even though Transformers was based off of a toyline and even though it’s a huge part of the franchise, I actually don’t really collect the figures all that much. This is mostly just because right now I don’t really have the money to collect a lot of the figures. I still have a few figures from the Beast Wars era from when I was a kid, but other than that I don’t have that many of them. Of course, when I can afford it, I will probably start collecting them as well.

Anyway, I think you’ve all had enough of just reading about this, so it’s finally time to get to the actual review.

Let’s start with the plot. The story behind Transformers is centered around a conflict between two warring factions of transforming robots that come from the planet Cybertron. One on hand, there’s the heroic Autobots, lead by Optimus Prime, who fight for the freedom of all. And on the other hand, there’s the evil Decepticons, lead by Megatron, who dream of conquest. Their war wages on for millions of years and eventually their planet becomes barren of all its resources as a result. Desperate to find more resources, particularly energon, the life-blood of all Cybertronians, the Autobots start seeking out other worlds to find the resources they need to restore life to their planet. Eventually, the Autobots locate Earth and travel there on a ship called the Ark. However, the Decepticons managed to learn of their plan and follow them in their flagship, the Nemesis. On the journey to Earth, the two sides continue to battle it out and in the midst of it the Decepticons manage to board the Autobots ship where the battle continues. However, amidst all of this chaos, the Ark loses control and crashes into a volcano, resulting in everyone onboard, both Autobot and Decepticon, going into state of stasis lock.

No Caption Provided

Millions of years later, the volcano known in the modern day as Mt. St. Helens erupts and awakens the robots onboard who then take on the forms of machines on Earth, mostly vehicles, and their battle then continues on this planet. With their war now taking place on Earth, humans start to get caught in the middle of it all. The Autobots try to form a more cordial relationship with the humans by working together with them, while the Decepticons are more hostile and desire to drain the planet of all its resources. Of course, every now and then the Decepticons also ally themselves with some humans who harbor wicked intentions. Among the most notable humans that get involved are Spike Witwicky and his dad Sparkplug (might I ask why he was named that? Seriously, who names their child “Sparkplug”?). Along the way, other humans who get involved include Carly, who would become Spike’s girlfriend and eventually his wife, Chip, a supergenius whose legs are disabled (I think it was meant as a nod to Stephen Hawking), eventually Daniel Witwicky, the son of Spike and Carly, Marissa Faireborne, and as I said earlier, every now and then a human villain who allies themselves with the Decepticons, though there are occasionally villains who work independently.

Now, I’m not going to go too much in depth into the rest of the story since a lot of it is just Decepticons creating new evil plans to get energon and the Autobots having to stop them. Along the way, however, new Autobots and Decepticons are also constantly introduced, including some unique Transformers such as Gestalts, which are Transformers who can combine to form bigger Transformers, and Transformers with multiple alternate forms, like the triple changers. Overall, nothing too plot important happens until the events of the 1986 animated Transformers movie (which I will be reviewing individually after this review), when the old cast was pretty much killed off, including Optimus Prime himself, and a new cast of Autobots and Decepticons was introduced (and all because Hasbro needed to sell toys. How about that? :P). Megatron would also get upgraded and would call himself Galvatron, while the Autobots new leader was Rodimus Prime, who was formerly just Hot Rod but became leader after Prime’s death and after he received the Matrix of Leadership.

With that, I think I’ve said enough about the plot. So, what do I think of this show, personally? I think that it has a lot going for it. I love a lot of the characters. I like Optimus Prime, the heroic and noble leader of the Autobots, I like Ironhide, the tough-guy and muscle behind Optimus’ words, I think Megatron is a cool villain. Sure he suffers from 80s villain syndrome, but I like a lot of the evil schemes he has and I like that he’s not just leader of the Decepticons because of his might, but because he’s an excellent strategist as well. There’s also Starscream, the conniving lieutenant of the Decepticons who desires to overthrow Megatron and become their new leader. Of course, he’s not very good at keeping it a secret from Megatron and isn’t that competent so he doesn’t ever really succeed in doing this. Soundwave is pretty much the most loyal of Megatron’s henchmen, and I also really like his voice which is done by Frank Welker (who also voices Megatron himself, as well as half of the cast of this show). The Dinobots are also among my favorites, especially their leader Grimlock. The Dinobots are a team of Autobots who were built to be exactly like dinosaurs, so they are incredibly powerful but not very bright. Then there’s also the cold and calculating Shockwave, another of Megatron’s most loyal henchmen who actually stayed behind on Cybertron as a guardian. I could go on, but generally I like a lot of the characters in this show, though, to be quite honest I’m not too big on the humans. Granted, there are really only a handful of humans in the whole Transformers franchise that I genuinely like, so it’s not like this show is alone in that. I mean, I don’t hate the humans by any means, but I don’t really care for them all that much either. And there are some characters I just despise… particularly an Autobot named Wheelie who is introduced in the 1986 movie. I’m sorry, but Wheelie and his stupid rhymes can die in a fire if you ask me.

Anyway, aside from just the characters, I’d say my favorite thing about this show is just the imagination and ideas present. Despite being a show based off of a toyline and being about robots who just transform that come from a distant planet, I like a lot of the ideas that are used throughout the show. I like seeing the various schemes that Megatron has, I like all the technology at the disposal of the Cybertronians, I love some of the ideas for transformations like some robots who actually turn into cities (i.e. Metroplex and Trypticon) and others who have more than one alternate form, and in general I feel that this show was a wellspring of ideas which can serve as the basis for lots of potential stories.

I also have a lot of respect for this show because it is the original Transformers show. As I stated before, I did not grow up with this show, but having watched it as well as viewing various other Transformers media, I can see how this show had influence in those other media. Without this show, there are a lot of other great shows and comics that we never would have gotten.

However, all that being said, this show has its flaws. The primary issues of this show lie in its plot and a lot of the writing. Honestly, this show’s plot can be very repetitive. Like 80% of the episodes can pretty much be summed up as “Autobots discover something like a new energy resource or invent something new, Decepticons learn about it and plan to steal it and use it for themselves, some more stuff happens, then Autobots and Decepticons engage in battle, there’s some banter between Megatron and Starscream with Starscream trying to say everything would work better if he was in command and Megatron beating him up or just scolding him, then the Decepticons seem to gain the upper hand as they obtain whatever the Autobots discovered, Autobots regroup and retaliate and win at the end of the day, and then it ends with the Decepticons running away like bumbling idiots with the Autobots having a comical laugh, maybe a moral of the story, or something”. Or a lot of the time, it’s just” Decepticons create evil scheme to destroy Autobots and rule Earth or Cybertron or whatever, and the Autobots have to stop them.” While they have different schemes, and I said I do like seeing the different ideas present in each episode, the repetitive plotline can be dull after a while.

In addition to being repetitive, the show’s plot can also become very inconsistent. Let’s take the origins of the Constructicons for example. In their debut episode, they were stated as having been built by the Decepticons as construction robots. However, in a later episode the Autobot Omega Supreme says that they were once Autobots and they were his friends back on Cybertron, where he served as the guardian of a city called Crystal City. Megatron then captured them and brainwashed them with some device and turned them evil, and also gave them the ability to combine into an even bigger robot called Devastator. It was also stated that the brainwashing was permanent and Omega said it could not be reversed…. And then in another episode where the Decepticons are planning to destroy the whole planet with the intention of then gathering all the energy created as a result of the planet’s destruction to use as energon to revive Cybertron, the Autobots manage to actually take control of Devastator to try to use him to stop Megatron’s plan… wait, I thought Omega Supreme said that the brainwashing was irreversible. So how did they do that? And again, what is their origin supposed to be? Are they Decepticon-created robots or were they former Autobots? Oh, and in yet another episode the Constructicons are shown creating Megatron….. Wait, what?

Apparently, these guys were once Autobots. But...
Apparently, these guys were once Autobots. But...
They also created the evil leader of the Decepticons, who would later brainwash them, and then build them when the war takes place on Earth. Makes perfect sense.
They also created the evil leader of the Decepticons, who would later brainwash them, and then build them when the war takes place on Earth. Makes perfect sense.

And it’s not just them. Let’s take the Autobot Skyfire. In his debut episode, Skyfire was introduced as an old comrade of Starscream’s who was found buried in the Arctic by the Decepticons, and so he decides to join them initially, but over time he finds himself sympathizing with the Autobots and so he switches to their side. At the end of this episode, he makes a heroic sacrifice to stop the Decepticons evil scheme before crashing and getting buried beneath the arctic yet again. The Autobots and Spike all mourn for him and act like they’ll never forget him… and then the very next episode they apparently just dug him out and he’s apart of their team…. So, what exactly was the point of mourning for him if they were just going to dig him out of the ice and have him join them anyway? The show is just full of inconsistencies. Another example is that Optimus Prime is never shown possessing the Matrix of Leadership until the 1986 animated Transformers movie, and it’s shown he contains it in his chest. Yet there were previous episodes where he was disassembled or analyzed and the matrix was never shown.

But the problems with the writing don’t end there. Some episodes, the writing can get really bad. For example, there’s an episode where Megatron devises this ultra-complicated plan to make a machine that can move the moon to alter the tides to generate energy. Where’s the issue? For his machine to be able to move the moon, it would already require a large amount of energy… so why doesn’t he just use all that energy to do whatever he planned to do, rather than make this ultra-complicated plan to begin with? I get that this is an 80s show and that it’s likely more about imagination and not about being realistic, but there are times I feel I have to question what the writers were thinking when they wrote certain episodes.

However, despite all this, the inconsistent and repetitive plot and questionable writing was tolerable for me mostly because I liked the characters and a lot of the ideas that were present in the show… that is, until season 3. This is the point at which the show really started going downhill. The third season of the show takes place after the 1986 animated movie, so there’s a completely new cast of Autobots and Decepticons. However, there’s honestly only really a handful of episodes from the third season that I genuinely enjoyed, such as the more Decepticon focused episodes, the one featuring a cameo of Cobra Commander himself, and the episodes featuring Optimus Prime’s return, as well as a few others. But for the rest of the season, I really felt that the writers were scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas. There was literally an episode about Daniel wanting to find out when Ultra Magnus’ birthday is so they can give him a huge celebration. However, he doesn’t want to ask him when it is because he wants to keep it a surprise. So this results in him going on a huge adventure which eventually leads to him finding some central database that contains all information about every Cybertronian, and then there’s a huge battle with the Decepticons which results in the destruction of the database, so all the information in it is lost forever. At the end, Magnus asks him why he went through all that trouble and so he tells him, and then Ultra Magnus responds by saying that even he doesn’t know when his own birthday is. So what do they do? They decide to just make his birthday that present day… so their whole adventure was just a huge waste of time. I remember when I first watched that episode, I literally just facepalmed at the ending and I was even cringing throughout the whole episode because the very premise came off as ridiculous to me.

The show also has lots of coloring, animation, and technical errors here and there, but I actually don’t think it’s a big deal. It’s an 80s show so issues like that don’t bother me that much.

Technical errors like this actually don't bother me much. In fact, sometimes they make for unintentional comedy. :P
Technical errors like this actually don't bother me much. In fact, sometimes they make for unintentional comedy. :P

When I first watched this show about 7 years ago, I actually really enjoyed it a lot. And while I still like it, over time as I’ve rewatched some episodes I’ve honestly found that the show got notably worse. There are episodes I initially thought were really cool, which upon rewatching made me realize how flawed the writing was in certain places. Take “The Key to Vector Sigma” for example. When I first saw it, I thought it had a cool premise and I liked the ideas present (and I still do). Then I rewatched it and noticed there’s an instance where Optimus describes how they narrowly avoided a blast… yet we never saw the blast onscreen. I even rewatched it and paid closer attention and still noticed nothing. And this episode is just one example. There are other episodes which were fine at first but were notably worse upon reviewing.

Now, I know this last part of the review sounds very negative and it probably gives you the impression that I don’t like this show. Don’t get me wrong – I still like this show and I have a lot of respect for it for being the first Transformers show. However, I feel that it hasn’t aged that well. Part of the reason I was able to enjoy this show upon my first viewing was because I kept in mind it was an 80s show. There are a lot of people who regard this show as being the best Transformers show ever made. I think that this show may have been awesome back when it first came out, but by today’s standards it honestly isn’t that great. And it’s not just me. I have seen newer fans of the franchise say that they tried to watch this show and they were baffled as to how people could honestly call it the best Transformers show.

So, how do I summarize my opinion of this show? Personally, I do enjoy it despite its flaws but I can’t really recommend it to anyone who isn’t a hardcore Transformers fan who is interested in seeing the beginnings of the franchise, or willing to watch it while keeping in mind that it's an 80's show and shouldn't be held to the same standard as today's shows. I respect the show a lot because it is the foundation for the franchise, and without it there are lots of shows and comics that we never would have gotten. But as just a show in general, I honestly don’t think it’s that great.

I have a feeling quite a few people are going to disagree with this review and that’s fine. As I said before, none of my reviews are meant to convince anyone of anything or change anyone’s mind. If anyone out there considers this to be their favorite Transformers show, that’s fine. I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong or that you can’t like it or consider it to be your favorite. This whole review is just meant to be what I think of the show, not what everyone has to think of it.

With that being said, this is the end of this review and the next review will be of the 1986 animated Transformers movie.

6 Comments