So, we’ve now seen the first 10 episodes of the new Transformers Cartoon, Robots in Disguise. Our shared thoughts after viewing the pilot can be found here. Time for a follow up discussion on how things are shaping up for Bumblebee and the new crew.
R: It’s…. nice. I’m still not crazy in love with it like I was after 10 episodes of Prime, it lacks the depth and intensity of that previous TF series but that isn’t necessarily a failing. Transformers is a franchise of perpetual reinvention and re-imagining so I appreciate that they’ve gone for a different tone here; RID 2015 has been entertaining enough so far with one or two great moments. I’m happy to keep watching although I am pining just a little for a deeper overall character arc. The “teamwork is magic” message that the ‘Bots seem to learn, promptly forget, then relearn every week could get a bit grating soon without further character development.
B: I don’t mind the art style, and none of the voice actors are annoying, but it’s no Prime. To be honest, Prime was probably the darkest incarnation of the Transformers franchise, so a lighter, friendlier RID is a good step forward. I’m reminded of the contrast in Magic the Gathering between Time Spiral and Lorwyn. After a while out of the game, I got back into Magic in time for a colossally dark block of cards with a story that was vast in scale, which Wizards of the Coast (Magic’s publishers) followed up with a light, visually pretty set. The villians in Time Spiral kill planets: the villains in Lorwyn steal pies and hate on ugly folk.
R: Denny Clay! I actually quite like him. I can’t believe I even said that but yes there’s a human character in a Transformers cartoon who doesn’t really annoy me. I’m shocked. While not overstaying his welcome, Denny’s role has been bigger so far than I’d expected and he’s well characterised: I like his exuberant outlook and the way that although the scrapyard is meant to be his business he seems to really hate making any sales (like a much happier and more kid friendly Bernard Black). He’s fun without being completely one note. It’s nice to see the ‘Bots interact with an adult rather than just kids (says the adult TF lover) and I think Denny has been more interesting than the still-rather-generic Russell so far. His rivalry with Fixit, explored in Episode 9, was particularly enjoyable. The two make good buddy pic fodder: it reminded me a bit of that episode of Prime with Ratchet and Wheeljack reluctantly working together.
B: In RID, Grimlock doesn’t have an egregious speech impediment. In the old Marvel TF comics, Grimlock was a thuggish brawn-over-brains type, who preferred actions to words, and was a little bit on the ruthless side as Autobots went. His elite close-range combat specialist squad the Dinobots were misfits among the Autobots – an incarnation of what TVTropes calls “Good is not Nice” – and a nice shade of grey in the otherwise
black and white red and purple spectrum of morality that existed in early incarnations of the TF franchise.
However, in most cartoon incarnations of the character, he gets Flanderized to an imbecile who can barely string a sentence together.
It’s nice to see a Grimlock who can speak full sentences, crack jokes, and actually contribute to the dialogue and the plot in any way besides being comic relief and dishing out beatings. Not that this Grimlock can’t or won’t dish out beatings: his default plan when attempting to capture Decepticon criminals is to “start punching, and see what happens”. But unlike previous animated Grimlocks, he’s got more to his character than just being a brute.
R: Probably Strongarm. I was so excited about her as a character but I don’t feel like she’s had much development beyond being the by-the-book n00b which is a shame. She learns to loosen up but then seems to restore to factory settings between episodes so she can learn it again next time. That said, I’m still enjoying the huge novelty of having a female character as one of the show’s “heavies.” It’s awesome that only Grimlock is bigger than her and it’s a joy to see Strongarm pulling Grimlock on her trailer. She just needs a similarly weighty plotline or two.
B: Strongarm’s compulsive scratching in the episode where she is forced to break the rules(!) and adapt to a new way of life is a nice touch: it seems that she follows Cybertron’s rules and procedures pretty much robotically, and having to work outside of those rules is pretty traumatic for her. When Bumblebee suggests that she sees life on Earth as a new set of rules to learn, her posture is fantastic – a visible slump of relief, followed by a sudden alertness – the animation carries a lot of subtle body language even for a fairly boxy ‘bot like Strongarm.
R: That’s very true. I do enjoy the animation’s characterful touches it’s just a little frustrating how much this feels like a sitcom in terms of the lack of character development. The status quo restores utterly at the end of each episode and lessons learned seem unlearned. I’d just like to see the newest lady bot on the block do something more than learn to loosen up.
R: So, we’re still getting our monster of the week but more than that, accent of the week. RID definitely seems to be exploring the full range of criminal accent stereotypes. We’ve got the smooth and educated evil tones of Steeljaw (will you judge me if I admit I find his voice sexy?…
B: *pulls judgemental face*
R:….the Brooklyn Mafia boss (Thunderhoof), and I thought the Sharkticon Hammerstrike was pretty cockney-sounding but he actually has nothing on Chop Shop, who speaks with full Dick Van Dyke “cor blimey strike a light guv” cockney force.
Chop Shop has been my favourite Decepticon so far, I mean what’s not to love about a five spider mini-con combiner who calls one of his arm spiders “Rightey”? It’s a shame he doesn’t look to be getting a toy because if there was one I’d definitely buy it, which is saying a lot because I don’t like the RID toyline otherwise! Actually we can probably tell which Deceptions are likely to resurface in the plot by which ones are actually getting toys: Steeljaw and Underbite will be back for sure, ’cause they have toys to sell.
B: Bisk’s getting a bunch of Kreo stuff, but not a Warrior class toy, AFAIK. *pulls sad face* I love Bisk, but I’m not about to add him to my collection other than as a transforming robot toy seriously Has/Tak, get on it – selling toys is basically what this cartoon is for. It’s a shame, since I think that the over-competitive lobster-bot wins the award for “Most Fun Decepticon”
R: Don’t you think the portrayal of the Decepticons in this raises a few questions about Cybertronian mental health support, or lack thereof?
B: Yeah, Springload and Filch in particular just need help. Those two are mental patients more than they are criminals. I seriously doubt that Springload is even aware of the crimes he has committed. He’s apparently unaware that he has left Cybertron and arrived on Earth. He’s clearly unable to recognise the two Autobot police officers following him as being any other than equally obsessed treasure hunters. Filch may be even worse. She can barely say any words that aren’t “SHINY!” and “MINE!”, lives in a nest lined with shiny trash, and gets so distracted by any new shiny object she sees that she completely forgets what she was doing before.
Both of these ‘cons are clearly dangerous individuals who can’t possibly be allowed to walk (or fly) free, but I’d question whether they need imprisoning among mobsters and thugs. They clearly need to be in some sort of residential care, wherein their severe mental illnesses can be treated.
Are Minicons Sentient?
B: In Episode 4: More than Meets the Eye, Strongarm tells Fixit that Minicons are forbidden to leave their work station, when he asks if he can go out. And in Episode 10, Sidewswipe calls Fixit a “drone”. This makes me wonder whether Minicons are Sentient in the RID continuity. It’s not inconceivable that Autobot technology allows them to create robots (as opposed to Autobots) that seem to be intelligent independent individuals, but are actually just cleverly-programmed machines. It makes more sense to send a cleverly-programmed machine as caretaker of a largely-automated prison-spaceship wherein all the prisoners are kept in stasis: why would you send a sentient being on a years-long journey with nothing to do but monitor continually the status of the machines? Ironically, the guard would be more imprisoned than the prisoners, given that the guard would be unabel to leave a forced to live to an extremely rigid routine, whilst the prisoners sleep their way through the whole journey. Thing is, if Fixit is a non-sentient machine, he has a lot of personality and character – I’m unsure whether he’d pass or fail a Turing test. Maybe Fixit’s quirks are just a result of his faulty wiring, and a non-broken Minicon would be a simple drone.
R: Interesting question! I’d feared Fixit was going to be one of the show’s more irritating characters but actually I really like him. The show’s creators have wisely reined in his glitchy speech impediment to once or twice an episode – enough to be characterful without overdoing it. I like his mixture of pride and needy eagerness to please. Is he sentient? My gut reaction says yes. He certainly strikes me as more of a Chappie than a J.A.R.V.I.S. but that’s hardly a scientific analysis (is it possible to do a scientific analysis of a transforming robot cartoon?)
Looking elsewhere in the TF franchise seems to give us mixed messages about Minicons. In the G1 cartoon the notion of Minicons as a separate species hasn’t surfaced yet. Soundwave’s deployers, for instance, are just smaller regular Transformers and they’re certainly sentient. But in Prime, Laserbeak just seems like an extension of Soundwave; an impression that becomes more potent when we remember that Soundwave himself transforms into a military drone in that incarnation.
B: … and in the Unicron Trilogy, the Minicons are fully sentient, but don’t originate from Cybertron – they are an entirely separate lineage of transforming robots. Minicons were a big deal in that continuity: the Japanese name for Transformers: Armada was Transformers: Legends of the Microns (Minicons)… OK, pedants, it was actually 超ロボット生命体トランスフォーマー マイクロン伝説, but it meant Transformers: Legends of the Microns (Minicons). In that storyline, the Minicons were never intended by their creator Unicron to be sentient – they were supposed to be mindless but cleverly-designed tools that pretended to be sentient, but they accidentally gained sentience and free will via interdimensional connection to the “soul dimension”. Once they had become sentient, they weren’t so enthusiastic about being used as living batteries in a plan to turn the Cybertronian civil war into self-genocide on behalf of a robotic Galactus-wannabe.
R: I’m not sure about Chop Shop, RID’s Minicon combiner, either: are the 5 cockney spiders individually sentient – like the various Combaticons etc are – or do they have some kind of single consciousness, even a hive mind? We didn’t see enough of Chop Shop really to tell. I hope they bring him back. Though I guess there’s enough sense of individuality in his components for Rightey to be regarded as a “no good widget.”
B: I can’t imagine that a society that idolizes Optimus Prime as much as RID’s Cybertron does would possibly use sentient slaves. Optimus’s motto in almost every incarnation of the franchise is “Freedom is the Right of All Sentient Beings”. So I guess there’re more questions to be answered in RID as yet. Maybe those answers will come in the last 3 episodes of this series.
R: Or maybe, y’know, we’re vastly over thinking this and the last 3 episodes will only teach us yet again that team work is simultaneously magic and forgettable.
Hopes for the next episodes
R: More Chop Shop! Unlikely, I know – although he does still have one loose
limb end to tie up. But hopefully there will be a few surprises in the final few episodes. I’d like to think it’s building towards a bigger clash with Steeljaw and the gang he seems to be recruiting but there hasn’t been much sense of momentum in that respect. I know there are a few ‘cons we’ve yet to meet, including Fracture and his deployers. I’d like to see the ‘cons forming more of a group so that we can enjoy a bit more classic infighting and back -stabbery. As a Starscream fangirl (I’m not afraid to admit it) I do enjoy a good dose of Decepticon infighting. RID needs more of this – maybe this will happen if the show gets a series 2, after all it was only in the 2 and 3rd seasons of Prime that the Decepticon intrigue levels really achieved their full treacherous majesty. Is it wrong that this is what I want most from my TF toons?
B: I’m sure the Decepticons will be betraying each other in due time. Betrayal is pretty much what they do.
My main hope for the last 3 episodes of the first series, is this: I hope Drift is a cool character, because his Warrior class toy is the nicest thing in the RID toy-line by a long way.