Transformers: Takara - The Headmasters Collection Review
“Transformers - more than meets the camp.”
It’s worth pointing out that in Japan, the fourth series of Transformers as it is known in the west was overlooked entirely, because in effect it wrapped up the legacy and Japanese fans wanted more. In place of series four Japan saw the first of three series which were collectively known as Takara. Headmasters started the craze, followed by Chojin Masterforce and Victory. The Japanese animated series manages to retain the western look, adding its own influences in the process. While fans will instantly recognise several characters they’ll also notice how uniquely different it all is.
The year is 2011 and the Autobots and Decepticons are still fighting. The Decepticons, led by Galvatron decide to attack Cybertron and suddenly the planet’s main computer, Vector Sigma starts to play up a bit. Optimus Prime thinks that something is wrong; while Galvatron goes on about being all powerful once he controls the mainframe. While Galvatron is messing about with his minions, the Auotobots are caught up in an attack involving an unknown space vessel. Piloting this craft are a race of robots known as Headmasters; beings who have perfected their art of transformation over many years, since leaving their home world of Cybertron and setting up shop on the planet Master. Led by Fortress Maximus, the Headmasters decide to help the Autobots in securing their home planet, but several others defect, which means that the fighting is about to heat up and get really really exciting.
Not really, I was lying. Headmasters is about as exciting as shaving. You’d think that with 35 episodes there would be plenty of time to flesh out a storyline which runs longer than your average anime these days. Well you’d be wrong in thinking that here, because the series is a bit of a mess. Although it’s ambitious it lacks a certain amount of focus, preferring to cast off meaningful developments in favour of fight after fight. It’s also dull because despite being conceptually interesting it borrows much from the previous series and feature film. Robots die, but there’s no shock value. You’d think seeing Soundwave and Ultra Magnus dying or getting resurrected would be monumentally harrowing or fun and yet one can’t help but feel that it’s all so desperate. Believe me when I say how difficult it is to sit through these many episodes in succession.
For this series plenty of new characters are introduced, at the expense of losing established ones. Rodimus Prime sods off after a while and Optimus Prime dies again, which makes way for our warriors from the skies, who just fight a lot and talk butch. I’d be inclined to say that change is good, but when characterisation ultimately suffers it makes for some really tedious viewing. The Autobots who we grew up with are treated in a way that feels unjust; they’re basically morons and the scripts and voice acting play a huge part in this. Likewise the majority of Decepticons are plain dull to say the least. I don’t know what happened to Galvatron in the period prior to this, but something turned him into a raving bore; from time to time the big bots run around acting silly and doing really weird stuff. Oh and don’t even get me started on Wheelie and Daniel’s comedy exploits. The new characters, whose special heads are the emphasis here should be a whole lot more engaging, but sadly the storyline tailored for them is pure drivel; it’s as if the writers were conjuring up the kind of storylines that we as children would create when playing with the toys - that means “Argh! You are bad, I must fight you now, take that” and so on. Saying that though the series has something that is typical of its type; initially the first few fights are interesting, but it suffers from repetition. Big robots fighting should be exciting but there’s no magic here, it just doesn’t have the fire of the original series and above all the animated movie.
I wish I could go into details like I normally would, but I honestly feel that I’d be wasting my breath. As further detriment the series is a poor to average animated affair, backed up by some of the worse voice acting I’ve ever heard. And just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about both dubs. The original Japanese dialogue sounds almost as camp as the horrifying English dub; every character sounds the same, there’s no real distinction between any of them, save for maybe Blurr and Wreck Gar. Even then they just sound too funny to be engaging. The English dub will probably go down in history and become a cult favourite for those wanting the occasional laugh; never will it be a respectable replacement for the voices of those we grew up hearing. Even more bizarrely is that the English dub provides on occasion literal translations. What does that mean exactly? Well it means that everyone speaks abnormally; lines of dialogue just end up sounding ludicrous and sometimes backward, which only add to its hilariously awful feel, just as names are pronounced awkwardly such as “Road-imus Prime”. Not only that but characters have unbelievable names: for example Blurr is now Wally, Blaster is Billy - pure craziness. This really is a mystery track put together by mad people who had no clue about what they were working on. The series also has a terrible knack of drawing out dialogue. The robots exchange words back and forth in repetitive fashion, which soon becomes really frustrating because they end up repeating the same sentences that some other bot just said. There’s also plenty of god-awful put downs and shoddy come backs, as if the Autobots and Decepticons were ten-year-olds in a playground, for example:
“Decepticons, I’ll blow you off the face of the Earth.“
“You’ll be the ones who’ll get blown off the face of the Earth.“
Both dubs feature awful scoring and are prone to either bouts of silence or characters emitting sudden dialogue that cuts into each other. To sum up, both tracks are lazy all round.
Metrodome recently acquired a bunch of Transformers series (the ones I mentioned in my intro) and will be releasing them next year on DVD. For now they bring us Headmasters in a fold out digi-pack, which I can’t comment on as I only got check discs. A little side note - the menus are decent but are practically ripped off from the “reconstructed” release, complete with a piece of the film’s score.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio Headmasters is pretty poor looking at best. It appears to be sourced from master tapes, exhibiting some serious issues with softness and washed out colours. Close ups reveal decent amounts of detail but the overall imagine just isn’t well defined. Black levels are largely awful, meaning little depth while grain and wear and tear don’t help to improve it by any means. Those just wishing to see it out of curiosity may not be too affected, but for enthusiasts this is most defiantly below par. These DVDs are also NTSC-PAL transfers from the looks of things.
For sound we get standard Japanese and English 2.0 tracks. Flaws aside (of which there must be hundreds) it’s a fairly stable track. Naturally it’s all forwarded to the front speakers and keeps things tight enough; dialogue is fine and fights sounds alright considering there is no separation whatsoever. There are excruciating high-pitched sounds at times, which are source based it seems but should have been cleaned up. There are moments of cracking and popping which you’ll have to put up with; it does the job, nothing more.
The biggest controversy surrounding this release is how character names have been dealt with. My knowledge of Transformers extends little past the original series and movie so I can’t go into any real detail, however there are obvious, glaring errors when it comes to some names. Fans will pick up on these immediately. Much in the same vain the subtitles provided use Japanese names, which is fair enough I suppose, but when going between Japanese and English dubs it just becomes one big, confusing mess. The subtitles are generally good though; easy to read and well timed.
Audio Commentaries by Chris McFeely
Transformers fan, McFeely provides commentaries for the first three episodes. The guy knows his stuff, I’ll give him that. For fans McFeely provides some decent information with regards to the history of the series. He also provides his own thoughts on continuity, bringing up several questions as a fan which are bound to forever go unanswered. A lot of it is made up of fan-boyish comments, the stuff that would likely fuel debates amongst aficionados. He manages to help make sense of some of the series, just in case any of the Japanese madness went over your head and overall it’s not too shabby for a debut commentary.
These are part of the disc’s DVD-ROM content. These are almost as bizarre as the actual episodes, what with dodgy names etc.
Headmasters truly is a dire creation. Japan’s first foray into producing Transformers for a domestic audience is a huge failure, coming across like it has no respect for its source material or fans. Granted it is typically Japanese, and it’s obviously designed to stray away from the US series, but the shift most definitely doesn’t suit it.
Metrodome has done a decent job with the release in terms of providing some kind of value for money, but unlike their movie release (which is probably a good thing) this hasn’t gone through any remastering. Curious fans may like to see it at least once, but don’t expect to be entertained.