The Transformers

.....After the success of the initial five episodes of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Hasbro quickly approved a slew of Sunbow series, including one for the Joes (which first manifested itself as The Revenge Of Cobra in the fall of 1984), a miniseries (and subsequent series) for the girls' toyline My Little Pony, and finally, a series based on Hasbro's newest action figure line, which itself was loosely based off a number of toylines produced by Japanese toymaker Takara.
.....This line, dubbed The Transformers, quickly became a hit, not only because of the well-oiled Griffin-Bacal advertising machine, but because of the gimmick involved: the toys turned from everyday cars, planes, and cassettes into robots. Animation quickly boosted the fortunes of Marvel's comic and the toys, and by September, things were really rolling for the all-important Christmas season.
.....Enter The Transformers. Airing on weekends beginning in September of 1984 (in some cases, such as Channel 22 in Burlington, Vermont, and Channel 8 in Portland, Maine, the series aired prior to the network lineup of Saturday morning cartoons), and was an immediate and rousing success, blowing Tonka's similar (and earlier released) line, the Go-Bots, out of the water. Even more crucial was that Sunbow's Transformers beat Hanna-Barbera's highly inferior Go-Bots series to the air by a full year, and was using a very solid writing staff (which included future G.I. Joe writers Doug Booth and Donald F. Glut, with "additional dialogue" by Ron Friedman), plus the Sunbow "regulars"-the same production crew behind G.I. Joe's first two miniseries, including Toei, the near monolithic, Disney-sized (well, before the Eisner expansion years, at least) studio behind many Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions series, in addition to the series that was used to create the lion (and possibly the vehicle) edition of Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Oh, and did I fail to mention Dragon Ball, Dragon Ball Z, and Fist of the North Star?
.....By the next fall, Sunbow had produced a number of episodes for the second season, and unleashed it, along with G.I. Joe, on the weekday market (dominated at that point by Filmation's He-Man and the Masters of the Universe), and quickly became the champions that dictated the terms of animation: fully animated, highly detailed, expensive, and action-packed. Like its sister series, The Transformers saved its best stories for two-parters, and delivered greatly, having the Dinobots exiled to a prehistoric paradise ("Dinobot Island"), having Megatron fool everyone into believing that the Autobots were evil ("Megatron's Master Plan"), seeing all the Cybertonian Transformers fall to the mercy of a diminished supply of the rare element Cybertonium ("Desertion of the Dinobots"), and introducing the second and third Transformer gestalts, Menasor and Superion ("The Key to Vector Sigma").
.....Unfortunately, the greatest success of The Transformers turned stunningly, horrifyingly, terribly into its greatest failure, one that would help to destroy the entire Marvel/Sunbow empire. That failure was Transformers: The Movie. Hyped as being so exciting, "you need to see it twice!" the film also keyed in on Hasbro's desire to "clean out" the older characters in its lines. When G.I. Joe's story editor, Buzz Dixon, had asked for, and got, permission to kill Duke in his story for the G.I. Joe movie, which was planned for release sometime after Transformers: The Movie (as events in the film were dependent on the 1986 season), he gave Hasbro the idea to push an idea for the other boys movie: kill off the original Transformers. In the first 35 minutes of the film, many Autobots were brutally slaughtered in an attack on the Autobot City, and Megatron, Skywarp, Thundercracker, and the Insecticons are changed into new beings: Galvatron, Cyclonus, Scourge, and the Sweeps. Starscream is totally vaporized a few minutes later. Suffice it to say, the movie bombed, and devastated children all over the country, as the younger (than G.I. Joe's) audience was devastated to see Optimus Prime and the other Autobots (including Huffer, Wheeljack, Ratchet, Windcharger, Prowl, and, like the Insecticons, the dubious destruction of Brawn) destroyed, and Transformers: The Movie earned a paltry $6 million at the box office, which the dreck-fest Pokemon: The First Movie easily surpassed in its first week in theatres.
.....Of course, such an amazing change in the series' motif (to say nothing of the shift from the present day to the early 21st Century) needed a major change in personnel. Flint Dille, who had served as Associate Producer for much of Season 2 and had contributed a number of uncredited re-writes to the movie, called in Steve Gerber and Marv Wolfman to help story edit the third season, and tried to move on. However, as fan outcry for Optimus' return grew, such a script was quickly written and animated. The resulting two-part episode, "The Return of Optimus Prime", was spectacularly animated and written (although it made the error of continuing Rodimus Prime's anxiety as Autobot Leader, which had been solved in the preceding episode), and brought back the hero, ending the war for the day, and earning Galvatron's respect.
.....Unfortunately, most of the country never saw the final three episodes of the series, titled "The Rebirth". It introduced the Headmasters and Targetmasters (Hasbro's new Transformer subgroups), and returned Cybertron to it's "Golden Age", setting up new adventures focusing on the world of Nebulos. But, perhaps it's better that way. The awful "computer enhanced" re-released version of The Transformers (titled Transformers: Generation 2) and the even more nauseous series that followed (to say nothing of the awful live-action film, which pandered to Sunbow fans by casting Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime) can never really take away or top the final moments of "The Return of Optimus Prime": Optimus Prime, alive again, announcing, "Autobots! Transform, and roll out!" as he leads them back to base once again.
.....Episodes are listed in their proper order of continuity.

Seasons (listed chronologically)

1984-1985: First Season
1985-1986: Second Season
1986:          Transformers: The Movie
1986-1987: Third Season
1987:          "The Rebirth"


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Transformers Links

Open Directory Project (Transformers Section)-This is a huge, fan-created, list of links for every version of the Transformers-G1, G2, Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Robots in Disguise, Armada, and their various media incarnations.


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