Following the five-part “Darkness Rising” miniseries, the Autobots and the Decepticons continue their battle over the precious remains of Energon on Earth. With Jack, Miko, and Raf as their human companions, the Autobots defend the planet from Starscream and his Decepticons. Megatron’s return to power might be a major threat, but could the embodiment of destruction, Unicron, be enough to unite the forces of Cybertron to save the planet?
As stated earlier, Shout! Factory released the first five episodes of the series, the “Darkness Rising” story, edited together as a movie in a single-disc release. This Season One set includes the episodes as they were individually created, along with 21 additional episodes. A Limited Edition version of the set is available, adding a graphic novel to the box. This set is also available in both Blu-Ray and DVD versions (not a combo pack); this is a review of the Blu-Ray set, but content should be consistent with the DVD version, outside of being higher-quality footage.
Darkness Rising was an appropriate beginning for the series, but had enough faults that the rest of the series would have to make up for to justify its existence. Thankfully, the rest of the season does fix some of the issues, but the plot and writing alone make the series worthwhile, and by the time there season is over, you’ll be anxiously awaiting the next season’s premiere (teased in the extras, and having already aired on television).
Many of the problems with the series stem from its computer-animated nature; in fact, you can trace these problems back to ReBoot and the Beast Wars/Beast Machines era of Transformers. It’s not as easy to build a whole new character in computer animation as it is in traditional animation, so the cast really does stay small throughout the series; in fact, only a few episodes feature humans beyond the main three kids, and the cityscape always seems barren and empty. This allows for greater character focus moments, and undoubtedly, the show’s existence to sell toys leads to the Autobots and Decepticons being the focus of the series, with new characters popping up in spotlight episodes before (potentially) returning to regular cast.
Surprisingly (or in despite of), while the cast is male-centric, Miko and Arcee actually get a fair amount of developmental focus. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider Arcee one of the strongest and well-rounded characters, with an established backstory, motivation, and character traits that don’t make her just a supporting character or the damsel in distress that she could easily be. Beyond her, Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Starscream all fall into roles they’re comfortable in, if not the most creative. No characters beyond Arcee truly stand out, although Knock Out (the Decepticon medic) seems to have garnered a fair amount of fandom online.
Nor is there a single bad voice actor in the lot, whether it be the traditional voice actors Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, and Steve Blum, or celebrities like Dwayne Johnson, John Noble, and Jeffrey Combs. Matching these voice actors are some good visuals (beyond the admitted faults above), and the final arc features some incredible paintings that are used as a narrative device. The show is well produced within the confines of a CG show.
The plot definitely kicks up a bit, especially with the longer arcs, and roughly half the series would be multi-parters, if not necessary numbered as such. This allows more space for some epic stories, and at the same time, the single-episode story lines allow for more introspection on the part of the individual characters. It’s a good balance that works well towards defining the world and the characters, something that’s almost requisite for a first season.
Shout! Factory has definitely upped the ante on special features on this set, giving it a treatment major network releases get at times. The sheer number of commentaries in this set is more than most animated series ever get. Beyond that, there’s roughly a half-hour of a Making Of special, a toy featuerette, and a preview of the second season. The Limited Edition also comes with a 96-page graphic novel from IDW that recollects how Cliffjumper and Arcee made it to Earth and meet with the rest of the Autobots. While a nice bonus feature, it actually somewhat deflates Arcee’s strength in the series by having her, while being the smarter of the duo, taking a backseat in a fight due to injuries; it just seems that, while it may show that she can take some hits, they need to leave the fight to the “male” characters. If anything, it’s probably unintentional and fixed by the series, but just stands out as an odd moment.
Transformers Prime has rolled out farther than the original story led one to believe. Characters grew, plots got interesting, and while it has the faults of the medium, it’s more than enough of a good story to ignore them. The series might not be the Transformers at their prime, but they are definitely finely-tuned and road ready.