What They Say:
Darkness Rising: Part 1 – The return of the Decepticons.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
My relationship with the Transformers franchise is limited in a way. I was of the generation that grew up with the toys just around the time I hit my teens which meant I watched the show and owned a whole lot of the toys. I saw the movie in theaters as well, which was surreal at the time. But once that happened, I fell out of it and never made it back, even with all the various continuations that came out over the years. When it hit the big screen with the new live action movies, I barely made it through the first one, but not because I felt it was raping my childhood, but because I didn’t think it was all that much fun or entertaining. With the new series that Hasbro has gone and worked with Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci that premiered in November as a five part miniseries. Those episodes were actually the first five of the full twenty-six episode series, a norm for Japanese anime productions, and The Hub is showing them again before going to new episodes, so I decided to give it a whirl.
Transformers: Prime gives us a new computer-animated series that doesn’t seem to be tied to any previous series based on what I’ve read so far. It’s been three years since the Autobots have had any dealings with Decepticons on Earth, but that doesn’t mean that the Decepticons haven’t been running around doing things. The show picks up with Cliffjumper, voiced by Dwayne Johnson, and Arcee, voiced by Sumalee Montano, are traveling around looking for new sources of Energon. Amusingly, Cliffjumper comes across a big stash of it sticking out from the ground in crystal form in the western region of the US in the middle of nowhere. The whole thing goes south quickly when the Decepticons do arrive to grab it from him and that alerts them to their presence on Earth again, and has Optimus Prime worried that Megatron may be making an appearance.
Compared to my hazy memories of the original series, there’s a nice twist here in that when Optimus talks about the past, it’s one where he and Megatron were allies in a war on Cybertron but things went awry and Megatron fell more to the dark side of things and became the leader of the Decepticons. That group is operating on Earth for their own mysterious reasons as of this moment, but we see several of them, mostly purple oriented across the board, and they’re keeping close tabs on the Autobots at this point. Enough so that they want to grab both Cliffjumper and Arcee for more information as they tap into more of their communications. The show also makes it clear that at least in some ways, it intends to be a bit rougher with some of its creations as we see Cliffjumper getting torn apart in this episode to further the goals of the Decepticons.
The human element of the show is something that’s always controversial with the fans as many see them as unimportant and not needed, preferring to see the Transformers themselves lead the show. We’re not free of them here, though these have a decent feel to them for the most part. Down on his luck high school student Jack gets caught up in events when he meets Arcee and they help each other escape from pursuit. The pairing works well overall and Jack’s personality is one that feels properly awkward for the age yet really interested in what knowing Arcee could lead to. The least appealing human introduced is that of Raf, a twelve year old stereotypical computer genius geek who as it turns out can understand Bumblebee when nobody else seems to be able to. He doesn’t get too much time here but already you can sense he’s going to be an awkward addition. In the middle of all of this is Miko, a fifteen year old Japanese girl who happens upon events and sees it all as a thrilling adventure that she can latch onto. She’s the cool and hip character, or at least the attempt to make one.
I’m not a huge fan of this particular type of animation which is what’s kept me away from the Transformers world for quite awhile. There’s a certain plastic feel to it in a way that I find unappealing, though mostly that comes in the form of the human characters. The hair is what usually does it in. While it works in anime itself, the computer animated versions like this where it doesn’t move much, if at all, kills it. The important part though is whether the Transformers themselves work here and I think they do for the most part. There’s a good variety here and I like that they give them mouths to work with rather than flat panels through which they would talk if even that. They’re bright and shiny to be sure, but there’s a roughness to them as well with a fair amount of scratches and dirt to make them feel like they really interact with the world. And the world itself is surprisingly dark and grim looking with this western locale. The skies really don’t show any blues, giving it an almost rust feeling. It’s an oppressive setting out in the world as well as within both the Autobots headquarters and that of the Decepticons, which is at least a little colorful with heavy use of blues and purples.
Transformers: Prime looks like it has a fair bit of potential and it’s not playing up a bright and cheery world that’s about to be ruined by the Decepticon scourge. There’s a bit of stunt casting going on with Dwayne Johnson having a walk on role really but overall the cast works well here for everyone, especially since they have kept Peter Cullen and Frank Welker in the mix. The computer animation is decent here but the human side of the equation is going to have to work at it a bit to win me over. Right now the story is just gestating as there isn’t a big hook here beyond the return of Megatron at the end, but it’s added some nice flavor by talking about how he and Optimus Prime were once comrades in arms. What they have here is enough to get me to try out a few episodes to see where it’s all going to go and if there is a larger story really at play. With much of what I saw as a kid being standalone episodic pieces, I have some hopes for a serial storyline that goes somewhere to give it all a bit more weight.