Thursday, March 29, 2012
Transformers: Prime (2011) animated series season 1 review
Overall verdict: 9/10
The Good: Superb animation and attention to detail on Transformer characters, well plotted story arc, darker tone, top notch voice acting, all star cast, well developed characters,
The Bad: sub par background and human CGI animation.
Current Availability Status:
season 1 Blu Ray currently only available through online purchase
Code 1 DVD for season one now available at HMV.
This review is based solely on season 1 of this show. Season 2 is currently ongoing
Transformers returns to the CGI world with TRANSFORMERS: PRIME, the first completely computer animated series since Beast Machines. At first sight, they might bear some resemblance to their live action counterparts and having Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman as writer sure does perpetuate that perception. But free from Michael Bay's creative control, the pair turn in what is easily one of the darker and more coherent storylines in Transformers animation history.
How dark is dark? Well how about having a hero gruesomely murdered within the first five minutes of the show. It is THAT dark. The premise is simple though: The Autobots arrive on Earth in the eternal search for Energon with the Decepticons following behind. Years of peace are suddenly shattered when the Autobot Cliffjumper is abducted and killed. While out to avenge their comrade, The Autobot team consisting of Optimus Prime, Arcee, Ratchet, Bulkhead and Bumblebee discover a clandestine Decepticon plot involving the mysterious "Dark energon" and the return of the dreaded Decepticon leader, Megatron.
With a smaller cast, we get a more focused character driven narrative and more room for development. The entire 26 episode season 1 is split into a few sweeping story arcs balanced with character centered episodes in between. It is a nice balance that few animated series seem to appreciate; shows that the characters are just as important as the story, and not just an excuse to sell toys. The Autobots are a combination of typical superhero team archetypes; fearless leader Optimus, action girl Arcee, gentle giant Bulkhead, and such. But over the course of the season, we get a glimpse into each of their personalities' different layers; a look at the bot within. Incidentally, the Decepticons come across as more interesting than the Autobots thanks to the hidden agendas of not just the compulsive backstabber Starscream, but every other decepticon from Soundwave to Airachnid have their own little moments of depth.
Giving life to these well written characters is an all star voice cast featuring popular voice actors like Steve Blum (Starscream), Jeffery Combs (Rachet) and Daran Norris (Knock out) along with returning fan favorites like Peter Cullen and Frank Welker, who reprise their famous roles of Optimus and Megatron. Of particular note is the inclusion of hollywood stars like Kevin Michael Richardson (Bulkhead), Gina Torres (Airachnid), Adam Baldwin (Breakdown), Clancy Brown (Silas) and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson (Cliffjumper)!
Of course, like all transformers shows, we have the mandatory human kids caught in the crossfire: Miko Nakadai, Rafael Esquivel and Jack Darby, .
Now, human characters have always served the purpose of being an "audience vehicle", allowing the viewer to relate to and see themselves in the place of the human characters. Jack, Miko and Raf clearly represent the show's intended target audience: a smart but likable teen, hyper active fan-girl and little genius nerd boy respectively. But the writing never allows the humans to "steal the screen" from the Transformers themselves (something the live action movies are notorious for).Taking a leaf out of its predecessor "Transformers Animated", the humans in TRANSFORMERS: PRIME become naturally integral to the plot rather than a distraction. In fact, a major plot point deals with the real world ramifications of earthlings discovering the presence of alien machines among them.
The TRANSFORMERS themselves remain the stars of the show. You can even see it in how much attention to detail the animation studio, Polygon Pictures, pays to the robots. By the way, Polygon pictures is the japanese CGI studio responsible for the computer generated scenes in works such as "Sky crawlers", as well as the opening cinematics of Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil 5.
Reflections in shiny surfaces, dirt specks, chipped paint, scrapes and scratches. These ARE mechanical soldiers fighting a constant war, and it shows. Whenever they move, fight or transform you can see gears, pistons and other parts moving too. Design wise, they may take some getting used to at first, but the unique look of these Transformers combine the mechanical realism of the live action movies with the almost human yet inhuman "anatomy" of previous animated series.
It is a look that works. A shame the same cannot be said for the human characters or some of the backgrounds. The humans vary from passable in most scenes to downright clunky looking in others.
Their hair look like plastic clumps at times, their clothing lack any folds; They look only slightly better than the designs in Clone Wars. As for the backgrounds, they are inconsistently rendered with the quality varying from episode to episode.
With dynamic action sequences, bursting with breath taking camera angles and even slow motion, TRANSFORMERS: PRIME definitely has all the markings of a high budget production, almost movie-like at times. A rousing score by movie composer Brian Tyler sure helps that impression. A shame that the little slip ups in quality mar what could have been the most beautifully animated CGI series of the past decade.
Now into its second season, TRANSFORMERS PRIME is a franchise that finally learns from its past missteps and combines the best elements of all previous Transformers show.
The superb voice acting and characterisation from Generation 1,
The intense action of the animated movie,
Focused character driven narratives of Beast Wars,
Darker tone and sense of peril from Beast Machines
Galactic scale conflicts of the Unicorn trilogy
And likable human characters of Transformers: animated.
All of this expressed with above average technical competency, barring the occasional inconsistency in quality.
True to its name, this is the Transformers brand at its prime. A new milestone that future productions would be hard pressed to top.
Go For it: to see the combination of all the best elements from previous transformers cartoons resulting in one of the finest productions to ever bear the TRANSFORMERS brand.
Avoid it: if 100% perfection is what you demand or you will not settle for anything less than "Final Fantasy" when it comes to CGI (you snob)
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value: A-