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Featured TV on DVD Review: Transformers: The Japanese Collection: Headmasters

June 30th, 2011

Transformers: The Japanese Collection: Headmasters - Buy from Amazon

Transformers is one of the most iconic toy line / cartoon from the 1980s. The cartoon started in 1984, ran for two seasons, and then Transformers: The Movie was released. After that, it ran for one more full season, which is where things get interesting. In the United States, there was a short-run fourth season called Rebirth, which ended the cartoon series. In Japan, they decided to ignore this ending, and continue the show for several more series. The first of these was Headmasters.

The Show

The show begins in the year 2011, six years after the events of the movie, with the war finally over and peace in the galaxy. This peace lasts about three minutes. Galvatron returns to Cybertron to gain control of Vector Sigma, the massive computer at the heart of Cybertron. He's brought along several new warriors, including the Headmasters, transformers that when they transform their heads pop off and become smaller robots. Due to the surprise nature of the attack, the Decepticons quickly gain the upper hand over the Autobots and if it weren't for the arrival of Fortress Maximus, a gigantic spaceship / fortress / robot, and several Autobot friendly Headmasters, the war would have been lost the first episode.

So who are the Headmasters? We learn in the second episode that they are part of a group of Transformers that fled Cybertron when it was engulfed in war four million years ago. They were unable to transform, and so they couldn't help in the war. They fled to a planet called Master, where they taught themselves to transform into giant heads, which would then merge with robots called Transtectors, which they could control. They lived in peace for a long time on Master, till Scorponok, and his three minions, Weirdwolf, Mindwipe, and Skullcruncher, launched a campaign to destroy the good Headmasters. Eventually they left the planet, which is when they met up with Galvatron and pledged their services to the Decepticon leader. The Autobot Headmasters follow them to Cybertron and offer their services.

After the initial battle, Vector Sigma becomes unstable and Optimus Prime travels to the lower levels to Cybertron to fix it. However, without the Matrix of Leadership, his mission is doomed to end in failure. Hot Rod must lead the Autobots on Earth to find the Matrix before it is too late. This won't be easy, because Soundwave is able to learn of this plan and the Decepticons will stop at nothing to defeat the Autobots, even if it means Cybertron will be destroyed.

I think that's enough of the setup and going forward from there does begin to present a lot of spoilers. And there are a lot of spoilers, because this series is used to introduce a lot of new characters, and not just the Headmasters. Because of this, a lot of Generation 1 characters are pushed to the side, and for many fans of the original show, this is a serious weakness. Some of the new characters are compelling, but there are also some that are clearly only there to sell toys. (And this is not just the Headmasters, but Targetmasters, Duocons, Horrorcons, and others.) The overall trade-off is not good, at least in my eyes. (You lose Jazz, which is one of the coolest cartoon characters ever, while the new guys include something called Apeface. Would anyone willing make that trade? And don't get me started on replacing Bumblebee with Wheelie. Whoever made that decision should spend eternity in Hell watching GoBots.)

The main storyline is also stretched over about three dozen episodes with a few too many one-off episodes thrown in. Some of these have some good character development, but some are merely excuses for action. However, the action is well done a lot of the time, not only with the quality of the action, but the dramatic heft. Because this series was made in Japan, it didn't have to worry as much with being deemed too violent for kids, so the fight scenes are more violent and tend to have more at stake. There's an epic batter between Blaster and Soundwave early in the series that is an excellent example of this. Although, after watching this episode, you might wonder why they would ever use their guns in combat, as punching does a lot more damage.

So is Headmasters as good as the original Transformers? No. But I think it's close enough that fans will want to watch it for themselves. The quality of the animation and the voice acting is on par with the earlier series, while there is a grand scope to the overall story. On the down side, some of the characters are a little weak.

The Extras

The only extra on the four-disc set is an image gallery. I would have really liked a featurette on the origins of the show and where it fits into the canon. Also, it is very important to note that this is the original Japanese version of the cartoon, with the original Japanese language track only. This means you will be reading subtitles while watching the show, but the only widely available English dubbed version is so bad, that it is widely regarded as only good for comedic effect.

The Verdict

Transformers: The Japanese Collection: Headmasters is making its North American DVD debut this week and for Hardcore fans of the franchise, this is something they've been waiting for for a long time. For more casual fans, especially those that like Generation One, it is absolutely worth checking out, but the lack of extras is a bit disappointing. If you bought the Matrix of Leadership box set, then you are a big enough fan to want to buy this DVD as well. If you waited for the less expensive Box Set to come out, then start with a rental here. Since there were multiple Japanese shows, there is a chance of a Megaset coming out that could be a better deal and that might include better extras. That's my only concern.

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