I think it’s safe to say that this series of events is like catnip for Jo. What could be better than learning about the before times versions of someone she knows?
I finally started watching my Transformers Headmasters DVDs. The whole series, not just the high points. For those of you not in to Transformers lore let me give you a quick primer (spoilers all up in this bitch):
When the American series ended they went to a planet where the Headmasters were Cybertronians that underwent a procedure to become symbiotic with the indigenous peoples. Also, Spike’s son Daniel had to be saved by becoming bonded to Arcee. In Japan they never aired those episodes. Instead they decided to continue the series for a few more seasons. In their version Headmasters were Cybertronians who were trying to escape the millenia long war between Autobots (Cybertrons) and Decepticons (Destrons) and crashed on a planet that was incredibly harsh. These refugees were much smaller than most Cybertronians; about the size of adult humans. In order to more effectively survive on the new world some of them built transectors, which are vehicles they can combine with to become regular transformer scale robots. The Masters, as they are sometimes called, form the heads for the transector’s robot mode. Hence, Headmasters.
This series is much more Japanese than the previous ones. The writing is… not great. It’s a bit less good than the original series and tends to be a little more slapstick. The returning cast members are slightly different than their American incarnations. Arcee, for example, basically becomes an obedient secretary. Wheelie doesn’t talk in his annoying rhyming, but he still manages to be fairly irritating. Not quite as irritating as Daniel, who has a shrill voice and spends a lot of time screaming and crying. His father also goes from being a typical American dad to a typical Japanese dad, which means being slightly distant and emotionless. In fact, any character who fills a leadership role, or is fatherly in any way, exhibits these traits.
Another Japanese quirk that becomes ubiqutous is the “silent reaction”. Rather than answering certain questions many times the person being asked will just stand there. Sometimes you get a varient of the silent reaction which is the “noncommittal noise”. It’s the same reaction except with a grunt of some type that’s suposed to convey subtle layers of meaning. The Japanese are, generaly, a people of subtely, so this seem normal to them, but to my America sensabilities this comes across as lazy writing. The fact that the robot faces don’t help convey nuance doesn’t help anything. I’ve watched a lot of anime, and read a lot of manga, and this kind of thing is really typical of Japanses writing. Done well it works. Done like this is seems odd.
The Decepticons go theoug some changes too. Galvatron’s henchmen Cyclonus and Scourge basically become comic relief. For most of the old series they were as competent as could be allowed, and feared most of the time. In Headmasters they eventually become so useless that they vanish towards the end. Galvatron himself remains basically insane with constant rage, which allows the Decepticon Headmaster leader to manipulate him. Of course he never ends up having to usurp power because Galvatron does a fine job of getting killed all by himself when he runs to the core of Cybertron when it’s going to explode. He is at the epicenter of the blast when it happens. This will be important later.
After the destruction of their homeworld Rodimus decided he needs to go on a log trip suddenly. He takes all the robots with him that they don’t make toys of anymore. Of course by this time all those guys are so pointless you’re glad to see them go. Unfortunately they leave Wheelie and Daniel.
The character Chromedome suffers from fiery youth syndrome. A comon malady in fictional characters that is praticularly pronounced in Japan since mostly they are a chill group. Fucking Chromedome is perpetually running around punching shit, breaking rules, disobeying orders, and messing things up. All of the headmasters have this problem to one degree or another, excepting for Cerebros, but Chromedome is all backstory and rage. Sixshot is constantly killing his friends, and generally being his nemesis, to the point of Chromedome actually saying, unironically, that he is his eternal rival. Anyway, Chromedome causes about as many problems as he solves over the course of the series.
Another strange thing about the show is that they spend a lot of time going from one place to another by way of space trains. Apparently the space bridge is never working so they have to commute. This bizarre fixation on riding the train is so Japanese I could hardly stand it. Almost as soon as they would get to a place they would have to get back on the train and fart off halfway across the galaxy again. There are episodes where the most of the actual action is seconds long while the rest of the time is various groups of robots commuting… They must have stopped making the trainbots midway through the series because eventually they start riding Fortress Maximus around instead. Although there are still a few times when they just HAVE to get there by train. Ironically, the trains become one of the most awesome of the combiner robots ever. You never get much of a chance to get to know the individual robots though. They are too busy either transporting the Headmasters someplace, or fighting other combiners.
Now after Galvatron had been dead a while Zarak had assumed command and everything was cool for him. Then suddenly Galvatron shows back up, after having survived the explosion of an entire planet made of metal, TOTALLY FINE. He spends a few episodes being a dick again and rubbing everyone the wrong way on all sides, then dies again. Here’s the thing though… he falls into icey water and is covered by icebergs. As far as everyone is concerned he is deadn. A robot who came back UNSCATHED after being at the heart of the explosion of a PLANET OF METAL is frozen and crushed by ice…? Who could possibly believe he’s dead? Shit, even the good guys might have made a pass and looked for his body or something. In a series full of ridiculous plot holes this has to be the biggest blackest densest one of all. I kept waiting for him to fly out of the water and be like “Oh hey, it was just chilly! I’m fine, guys!” -_-
At one point they introduce the Targetmasters, who are seasoned veterans, and way stronger than anybody on the show, save for Cerebros. These dicks spend a lot of time telling everyone else that they are too undiciplined and greeen to be effective warriors. Except they don’t do it in the way I just did. They do it in a Japanese way that has to be a million times more infuriating if you’re on the recieving end. It’s kind of backhanded and blunt at the same time. This character trope is actually pretty common in japanses stuff. What’s more is that in almost every case they are RIGHT. The headmasters are always doing some damn thing that is clearly the worst choice in war. Like letting a human child come along on every mission even when they KNOW it’s too dangerous for him. Why they take Wheelie and Daniel along at all is mystifying. I know that they are the in for a kid watching the show, but logically this has always been a problem with Transformers shows. Some just handle it better than others. At least in this version they actually give the little fucker a gun that works. Anyway, if I had to boil down the Targetmasters to a single phrase it would be “Everyone sucks but us!”
One of the bad guys also pulls a Vegeta. Sixshot is a total murdering bastard through the whole series, but at the end he is forced to spend time with Daniel. Rather than just killing the little fuck, which I would have a hard time not doing, he bonds with him. Daniel somehow forgets that this is the same dude WHO KILLED HIS FRIEND ULTRA MAGNUS and gets all chummy with him. To their credit the rest of the cast still thinks Sixshot is a fucker. Sixshot’s choice to switch allegiances makes sense at least, having been betrayed and left for dead by the new Decepticon leader. In fact, one of the best scenes in the whole show is Sixshot showing up at the new base and freaking out Zarak.
Eventually the Autobots drive the Decepticons back in to space, pulling all forces out to continue the pursuit, and leave the earthlings to clean shit up. That’s the last earth will see of the Cybertronians… Or is it!?!?!?!
I stressed the Japanses sensability of this series for a reason, because in the series that comes after it they doubled the fuck down on Japaneseness. Headmasters may as well be a story about an apple pie that transforms into a giant robot by comparison, but I’ll get to Super God Masterforce later.