Transformers: Headmasters Anime Review
トランスフォーマー ザ ヘッドマスターズ
Transformers: The Headmasters
US Release By
35 episodes, 23 minutes each
1987-07-03 - 1988-03-28
The resurrection of Optimus Prime and restoration of his place as commander of the Autobots has helped them gain the upper hand in their millennia-old war against the cruel Decepticons, resulting in several years of relative peace and stability on their home planet Cybertron. But now in the year 2011, the sudden and unexpected re-activation of Cybertron's ancient central computer Vector Sigma has re-ignited the eternal conflict between the two warring factions.
This time, the war is joined by a new generation of Transformers: the Headmasters, whose sentient heads are separate Transformers themselves, enabling them to aid and fight separately from their bodies when they are in vehicle mode. This new type of Transformer will take center stage in the next phase of the conflict, which may well determine the fate both sides once and for all.
Quick ReviewSwitch to Full Review
It took almost 25 years to make it back to the US, but Transformers: The Headmasters is a legitimate and enjoyable extension of the original series, albeit one that doesn't live up to its potential. On the plus side, it brings in a lot great characters who were made after the end of the American series and gives them some excellent roles, while maintaining most of the key elements that made Transformers so good to begin with. It also does a good job of making the episodes feel like an ongoing plot, and it's not afraid to mess with the status quo. The visuals haven't aged well, but in some cases they're still a step up over the older series. For all that it does right, though, it's sadly just not as good as the American series it follows; there are continuity and consistency issues, the characters from the original series are a major downgrade, the story loses some creativity, and the logic problems are significantly worse than before. People who grew up on the American version will also have to adjust to the unfamiliar Japanese voices, which also aren't at all robotic-sounding.
But still, if you're a fan of the original Transformers show, I'd say this is worth your time, as it effectively breathes new life into a long-gone series, a series which is one of the all-time greats.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
What can I say about Transformers? As someone who grew up in the '80s and early '90s during the height of its popularity, Transformers was my favorite toy line, comic book, TV series, and movie. The 1986 animated Transformers film stood apart from the TV series; it was significantly more brutal and violent, to the point that it killed off many of my favorite characters in the first 30 minutes just so they could get them out of the way to sell new toys. Of course, the most notable character death was that of Optimus Prime, which was depicted in such a tragic and realistic manner that it effectively traumatized me and countless others from my generation for life.
After the movie, the TV series kept going, but with Hot Rod (now Rodimus Prime) as Optimus Prime's replacement, a character who wasn't in the series at all before the movie. As expected, it didn't work out very well, and the third season went into a steady decline. By the end of the the third season, the makers felt compelled to bring Optimus back, but it was too late. The fourth season consisted of just three episodes, sadly misnamed "The Rebirth," which wasted most of their time introducing a new line of Transformers called Headmasters and Targetmasters, characters who we would never see again. So the series went off the air for good and took its place in the history books... or did it?
Not exactly. There was actually another season of Transformers, called Transformers: The Headmasters. Why didn't we know about it? Because it was only released in Japan. It turns out, this was Japan's season 4. Takara, the producers of the Japanese toy line, had been importing the American Transformers series during its original run. When they found out it was coming to an end, they decided to keep it going, opting to ditch "The Rebirth" entirely and make their own season four, consisting of 35 episodes in which the new Headmasters would take the lead role (the Targetmasters would be introduced later). Talk about a raw deal. We get three episodes mostly used up by character introductions, while Japan got 35. But it's worse than that. This series wasn't released in the United States for another 24 years, not until July of 2011. This just defies rational explanation. They got our seasons right away, but we were kept waiting almost a quarter of a century? Did someone on their production team really hate America, or did they deliberately plan to release the series taking place in 2011 in the real life year of 2011 as some sort of cruel joke? Either way, we've got it now, and the question is, was it worth the wait?
First of all, any fan of the original series who is getting this now is going to have to make some sacrifices. This is a series made in 1987 being released in 2011, so obviously the animation quality is a bit behind the times. Also, it's somewhat amusing to see a series based in a fictional 2011 that has some technology too advanced for the real one (like space colonization) and some that's too primitive (audio cassette tapes are still used).
Even worse, it seems 24 years wasn't enough time to put together a dubbing crew, so it's only available in subbed form, meaning none of the familiar voices for the Transformers are present, most notably lacking Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime (Cullen voiced Prime in the entire American series, the movie, and the Michael Bay Transformers movies as well). It also means the lovable nostalgic Transformers classic beginning and ending theme songs are gone as well. Some of the names are different in the Japanese version, such as Prime, who is named "Convoy," though this is somewhat mitigated by the subtitle crew, who were polite enough to change them to the American names. Also, some of the main characters in this series are entirely new, such as the Trainbots, who were never in the American series, comic books, or toy line.
But the good news is this series is still Transformers, and it still rocks. Most of the best parts of the original series are still present: great action on in a host of different settings and planets, great characters, superb music (the new theme songs are almost as good as the old ones) and a fairly good story. Most importantly of all, it's still giant robots fighting each other with every type of warfare imaginable, from bare fists and swords to guns and combat vehicles. Need I say more on that? This series features a ton of new characters, and unlike "The rebirth," it actually has enough time to show off their personalities, special powers, and traits. But it's nice enough to keep around a decent amount of the older bots, showing special affinity for the groups of Transformers who form their own giant superbot (such as the Technobots, Aerialbots, Protectobots, Terrorcons, Combaticons, and Predacons), while also showing off some of the more classic models as well, such as Trypticon, Metroplex, Blaster, Soundwave, and their respective tape-transforming warriors.
Most of the new Transformers they introduce are pretty impressive, such as Fortress Maximus and Scorponok, two giant Super Headmasters who transform into mobile battle stations and eventually end up assuming command of their respective Autobot/Decepticon factions. The rank-and-file Headmasters are also pretty well utilized. The Autobots get the best of them, such as Hardhead and Chromedome, two powerfully built warriors whose heavy armament and aggressiveness is rare among the Autobots. The Decepticon headmasters aren't quite as interesting, but are good enough for the most part. Mindwipe, for example, can take over the opposing Autobots with his mind control abilities in addition to his traditional fighting moves. By far the best new Decepticon character is Sixshot, a dynamic new warrior who can transform into six different vehicle forms!
The series also effectively uses some of the lesser known Transformers from late in the toy line's run, such as Punch, an Autobot double agent who can transform into Decepticon mode to work behind enemy lines, and the "Duocons" Battletrap and Flywheels, Decepticons who can turn into two different vehicles from a single robot form. A lot of these characters, especially Mindwipe and Sixshot, were some of my favorite of the Transformer toys, so to finally get to see them heavily involved in the animated series was a welcome sight indeed.
I also really liked that this series isn't afraid to mess with the status quo and change things up. There are quite a few major character deaths, and the leadership of each faction goes through some big changes. Even a few major planets get obliterated. "Headmasters" also features a bit more continuity between episodes than the original series. There isn't as much filler, and episodes for the most part feel genuinely connected and progressive in their events. I really got the sense the series was going somewhere and progressing to a legitimate conclusion, which to its credit it actually does have. The lack of a proper ending is a major recurring problem in anime, so I was really glad to see this one didn't fall into that category.
The production values leave a few things to complain about, but they were still often better than what I was used to from seasons past. The animation is pretty good for its time--and generally better than what was in the prior seasons--while the giant ships and vehicles look dynamic and impressive. I also liked the wide range of planets featured throughout the series, in addition to action in the void of space, most of which provide their own unique settings and environments. The accompanying sounds of battle--the gun blasts, explosions and fights--are done effectively enough.
It's not all good news in this department though. There was at least one major animation error where two different Chromedomes were shown in the same shot, while one leftover issue from the American series still remains: the fact that the Transformers rarely show battle damage no matter how many hits they take. They are almost always depicted as in perfect condition or incapacitated, with little in between. For some reason, the movie was the only thing other than the comic book series where this wasn't a problem. Also, most of the voices don't sound robotic enough. For too many characters, their voices sound 100% human, which certainly doesn't contribute to the show's atmosphere.
You can see that "Headmasters" has a lot going for it, but the unfortunate fact is that it does not measure up to the original series overall.
First of all, the continuity doesn't always line up with the American seasons it's supposed to be extension of, while many concepts it uses are just ripped off from prior events. Many of the characters who died before and are brought back are killed off again, sometimes in almost the exact same manner.
Probably the worst consistency/ripoff issue is Hot Rod, who is shown re-morphing into Rodimus Prime and re-assuming command of the Autobots for a while, in the same way he did in the movie. Um, excuse me, but when did he ever stop being Rodimus Prime? Just because Optimus Prime was resurrected and retook command of the Autobots at the end of season three doesn't mean Rodimus returned to being Hot Rod. Just to be sure, I re-watched the end of season three to check, and, just as I remembered, it did not.
A few of the character deaths are even done in a totally inane and pointless manner. One episode features an epic battle in which two of the most famous characters from the original series on both sides bite the dust... only to have them restored a few episodes later with different names in bodies and with personalities that are virtually identical to their old selves. What the hell was the point of that?
In general, "Headmasters" just has a lot of logic and consistency issues, particularly in regard to what it takes to permanently kill a Transformer as opposed to just putting them out of action and in need of repair. To be fair, the original series and movie had this problem too, but here it's significantly worse. One character actually manages to survive being right next to a bomb that detonates with a blast powerful enough to destroy an entire planet! He just goes away for several episodes, and then returns in perfect condition without any explanation whatsoever.
Another logic issue is a recurring scene showing the Transformers in a gym working out. I'm not kidding, it actually shows them in a traditional weight room lifting weights and running laps! Since when does working out help a robot? What are they trying to do, build robot muscle mass? Lose robot weight?
The final major one I remember is an absurd episode where Daniel Witwicky (who is still a kid and somehow hasn't gotten any older during the years between this series and the last) and Sixshot get stranded on a hostile planet and end up befriending each other. The theme of enemies being stranded and becoming friends has been used in a lot of films and shows before, and it often works out really well, but in this case it's done without any logic, reason or believability. Sixshot has no legitimate reason to gain affection for Daniel, either because of their personalities or for pragmatic reasons to survive, seeing as Daniel is nothing but a burden. It just happens out of nowhere and makes no sense at all. These are the kind of things that doesn't get a free pass just because the series is made for kids, since even a kid would question the logic behind them.
And as much as I enjoyed the new characters, some of the old ones got a major downgrade. One clear example of this is Arcee, the only "female" Transformer in the show. In the movie and the American series, she was a topnotch fighter, but in this she's depicted as a glorified secretary who never participates in combat. But the worst depiction by far is Daniel and his friendship with the mini-Autobot Wheelie. It seemed like an attempt to recreate the relationship of Spike and Bumblebee from the first few seasons, but here it fails miserably because both of them are so unbearable. They're just whiny, immature, annoying, and for the most part useless. The sad thing is, Wheelie is even more useless than Daniel. When you get one-upped by a human child, you know you are one hell of a lousy excuse for a Transformer. I really hate to say this, but Wheelie is the Autobot equivalent of Majic from Sorcerous Stabber Orphen. Just the fact that he could be compared to that character really says it all, and it's especially disappointing since both Daniel and Wheelie were okay when they made their first appearance in the 1986 film.
Finally, the story behind the Headmasters and Targetmasters gets a major alteration, and not in a good way. Originally, they were Transformers linked with humans or similar humanoid beings called "Nebulons" who wore robotic exoskeletons and formed their heads and weapons in robot form, and assisted them as operators when they are in vehicle or animal mode. It represented the ultimate alliance between organic and robotic life, bringing a unique new Transformer/organic hybrid that had never been seen before. But in this series, they changed it so that their sentient transforming heads and weapons are just other smaller Transformers themselves. So now they are just a combination of two Transformers. There is nothing special or unique about that at all--Transformers using this combination had existed since the first toy line was produced. It's bitterly ironic that "The Rebirth" does a much better job of showing the creativity and uniqueness of the Headmasters/Targetmasters, and the story behind them, in three episodes, than "The Headmasters" does in 35.
In the end, Transformers: The Headmasters is a legitimate and enjoyable extension of the original series. It brings in a lot great characters who were made after the end of the American series and gives them some excellent roles, while maintaining most of the key elements that made Transformers so good to begin with. But the fact of the matter is that it's clearly not as good as the American series, and certainly not the kind of thing we should have had to spend 24 years wondering about. I was hoping adding the anime theme to the Transformers would be a major improvement, but it didn't help at all. The characters from the original series, story, and logic problems are all significantly worse than before. But still, if you're a fan of the original Transformers show, I'd say this is worth your time, as it effectively breathes new life into a long-gone series, a series which is clearly one of the all-time greats.
Have something to say about this anime? Join our newly-resurrected forums and speak your mind.
While there are plenty of anime shows and films about giants robots blowing each other apart, I can't think of any that involve sentient robots doing so without the aid of human operators, let alone ones that turn into different forms. In the anime world, Transformers is truly one of a kind.
The only thing similar in America was Hanna-Barbera's bland low-budget series "Challenge of the Gobots."
Notes and Trivia
This series is a fourth-season sequel to the "Generation 1" American cartoon series Transformers, which accompanied the Hasbro toy line of the same name. The American cartoon aired for three seasons and a total of 95 episodes from 1984 to 1987 before sales and Hasbro's funding started to peter out; a final, short-lived "season four" consisting of three episodes that introduced the Headmasters and Targetmasters was produced for American broadcast bringing the total to 98 episodes. This "alternate" season four was produced exclusively for the Japanese market as a direct sequel to the American season three, and ignores the short American season four entirely. The 1986 Transformers movie also fits into this continuity, and there was also a "season 5" consisting of re-edited material from the movie and previously aired episodes.
While the US-release DVDs don't feature an English audio track, an English dub was produced for broadcast in Asia. It has some notoriety for being colorful and sloppy, so it's not surprising Shout! Factory stayed away from it for their US release.
US DVD Review
The DVD set, from Shout! Factory, is packaged nicely and well priced, but has no special features other than an art gallery and is only available in subbed form.
It's a kids' show, but there are a fair amount of deaths in it, and not just robot ones.
Violence: 2 - Quite a few character deaths, including some humanoid lifeforms.
Nudity: 0 - Nothing.
Sex/Mature Themes: 0 - Nothing.
Language: 0 - Nothing of note.
Available in North America on a single four-disc set from Shout! Factory, which is both efficient in a standard DVD case and affordable. I got it on the day it was released for just 30 dollars, a superb deal of less than one dollar per episode.