DVD REVIEW: Transformers - The Complete Japanese Collection
Three classic Transformers series finally arrive in the U.S...
Transformers: The Japanese Collection is currently available directly from Shout! Factory's official online store ShoutFactoryStore.com .
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In 1984 Transformers revolutionized animated storytelling with the now familiar war between the heroic Autobots and the villainous Decepticons. This first generation would go on to span three seasons, an animated feature film, and a closing three-part miniseries, finally drawing to an end in 1987. While Americans would wait nine years before getting new Transformers animation, Japanese fans were treated to three additional series: Headmasters, Super-God Masterforce, and Victory! Consisting of over 100 episodes, these series brought whole new aspects, characters, planets, and storylines to the Transformers franchise. For a variety of reasons, these Japanese series have not been commercially available in the U.S., forcing fans to seek out bootlegs and convention airings. All of that changed this year with Shout! Factory's release of TRANSFORMERS: THE JAPANESE COLLECTION, a DVD box set containing all three series complete with original Japanese audio tracks, English subtitles, and a bonus art gallery!
Transformers: The Japanese Collection comes packaged in the style you’ve come to know and love from Shout! Factory’s other TF releases. A sturdy outer box features a grayscale front cover depicting Victory’s Star Saber behind the set’s name; this matches the boxes used previously for their Transformers: Complete Series and Transformers Beast Wars: Complete Series. The side panel of the Japanese Collection is a more embellished version of the banner on the cover with the Transformers logo (complete with Autobot symbol) and titles of the three shows over a bluish star field. The back cover of the outer box has a brief history of the Transformers franchise, two small images, and a breakdown of the set’s features. Inside, you’ll find three DVD cases (one for each series) holding 4, 5, and 4 discs respectively. Each one has a full-color image on the front and stills with a description of the show on the back. Within the cases you’ll find episode breakdowns for each disc and even more imagery.
At the end of 1987’s Transformers run the final miniseries “Rebirth” introduced viewers to a variety of new types of Autobots and Decepticons like Headmasters and Targetmasters while essentially keeping the status quo of the never ending battle. In Japan, Takara opted not to air the Rebirth finale, instead creating a new saga called Headmasters. Though it takes places only one year after the return of Optimus Prime, Headmasters once again kills off Optimus in a noble sacrifice, placing leadership of the Autobots in Rodimus Prime’s hands.
The action takes place on multiple planets with different factions of Transformers, from Earth to Cybertron, Athenia, Chaar, and Master. Both sides of the conflict are bolstered by new allies including the Headmasters themselves (in this version they’re small Cybertronians who build large Transtector bodies/vehicles to pilot) as well as Targetmasters (Transformers paired with smaller Cybertronians who turn into weapons). For even more information on the Headmasters series, see our review on the individual DVD release HERE.
While American TV shows and cartoons tend to run on and on until they’re cancelled, other countries tend to quit while they’re ahead or change things up rather than get stale. This is what happened with Transformers in Japan. Head writer Masumi Kaneda felt that Headmasters concluded what we now think of as the Generation 1 era, and so embarked upon something new and different when he began the next series: Super-God Masterforce.
Jumping forward in time again, years have passed since Cybertronians made warfare on Earth and peace reigns. That is, until a secret faction of “undercover” Decepticons appears, forcing their Autobot counterparts to get involved. These are all-new “Pretenders,” Transformers who can shift in size and have organic forms (human for Autobot, monstrous for Decepticons). Joining them are “Headmaster Juniors,” human youths outfitted with alien technology allowing them to transform and join with Transtector bodies, and finally “Godmasters,” similar to the former archetype but with the humans forming Transtector engines for ultimate power. As the arms escalation continues both Decepticon and Autobot forces receive reinforcements from space, and the final battle between BlackZarak and God Ginrai will determine the fate of Earth!
While Masterforce brought the Transformers franchise to a whole new level, its successor would take it back to its roots with Autobots and Decepticons battling it out on Earth. Victory moves the timeline forward again all the way to 2025 with Earth and the Autobots in a Federation of Planets-style conglomerate opposed to Decepticons across the galaxy. The evil forces under the control of Deathsaurus once again convene on Earth to strip it of much-needed resources, coming into direct conflict with the heroic leader Star Saber and his troops. As usual both sides get additional allies (Micromasters, Breastforce) and upgrades (Liokaiser, Victory Leo) during the series leading to a final battle in which once again good triumphs over evil!
The animation in these three series is very good for their era, though it looks its age. You won’t mistake this for cartoons on television these days, and of course everything is in 4:3 and not widescreen (let alone HD). If you’re a fan of classic cartoons you won’t have any issues, but if all you’re used to is what’s new on TV now you may have a slight adjustment period. It’s interesting to note that because these were cartoons made for a Japanese audience, they contain a lot of elements you’d normally find in anime like exaggerated features on kids, slapstick humor, nervous sweating and other physiological gags on robots, etc. Similarly, the voices are very (some might say over) emotional and what you might come to expect from Japanese cartoons twenty years ago. The English subtitles are good overall, utilizing familiar character and place names while making sense of some of these series’ strange concepts. Here and there you might catch a grammatical error or something that doesn’t read right, but that’s definitely the exception. Extras consist of art galleries with some really cool line art and other images.
Stateside Transformers fans have been waiting for these series to become available on video for many years, and this set absolutely does not disappoint. It looks and sounds great (especially considering the age of the animation), and the subtitles are far and above the early fan attempts to translate these shows. Take note, however, that because these series were never shown here in the U.S., they do not have “original” English dubs; there is NO English audio in this set. And, sadly, there aren’t many easily obtainable toys from these shows, though with the never-ending popularity of Transformers in Japan there are some. Headmasters, Super-God Masterforce, and Victory represented gaping holes in our collective Transformers history until now, and best of all they’re packaged together in one set. Transformers: The Japanese Collection is currently available directly from Shout! Factory's official online store ShoutFactoryStore.com . It’s currently on sale for 10% off the MSRP of $99.99 and it comes with a bonus lithograph of Fortress Maximus!
Review by Scott Rubin
Review Sample Courtesy of Shout! Factory