Yes, I’m doing it, might as well even if it is purely for my own love of writing. For those of you not nerdy enough or not pathetic enough to have read my post about Transformers, you might have noticed a lot of references to something called “The Unicron Trilogy”, a Japanese take on Transformers (Well, three takes out of a dozen but these three are known for being the most widely bought/sold Japanese Transformers toys and amongst the precious few Transformers “animes” to be dubbed in English, though the degree to which you can call them an anime in the typical sense one imagines it is debatable). Basically, three separate continuities designed by a number of animation companies were seen by fans as being linked and indeed, within the continuities themselves, there were arguably some connections (Between Armada and Energon, it’s hard to argue they are not directly related though Cybertron/Galaxy Force’s link to the others is vague at best, that or Optimus Prime and company all have serious processing errors in their hard drives by the third series…). The three continuities are all ones I’m very familiar with and can discuss at length and seeing as I have a blog and whatever the topic, the responses are usually “Oh I’ll have to read that later… MUCH later”, might as well just chill out a bit!
Part one of the trilogy, Armada, generally remembered as both a hobbled together mess of sloppy robot drawings and a bizarre gateway to the world of Transformers for kids growing up in the early 2000s, aka me. Armada was designed to be a reboot, a rebirth for a franchise that had grown stale and weirdly experimenting with concepts that ultimately didn’t take off anywhere other than Japan (Headmasters, Humans inside Transformer suits, blatant Gundam ripoff plots) and whilst this was a sound concept, in execution, ehhh… they stumbled, from a technical standpoint certainly. I’ll go into that later, let’s tackle this topic in three chunks shall we? The lore, the behind-the-scenes and the reception. Awesome, let’s go!
In an attempt to add a new layer to the Cybertronian Civil War, Mini-Cons were introduced as a neutral faction of tiny robots with extraordinarily helpful powers, be that for construction or destruction relied on their Autobot/Decepticon colleagues. Anyway, sick of the futility of war, the Mini-Cons flee on a refugee ship that gets shot down by a Decepticon battle cruiser and crashes into the moon, causing Mini-Con stasis pods to be jettisoned all over the surface of the Earth. What ensues then is a scavenger hunt for Autobot and Decepticon alike to find the Mini-Cons and use these tiny tin toys to gain the edge on the battlefield. However, this is then overshadowed when everyone involved realises there is a larger power in play than any of them could have realised, a planet-devouring giant called Galactu…UNICRON! Yeah, sorry, wrong giant. Erhem, from here, you can perhaps guess what happens – put their differences aside, save the universe, celebrate, realise they actually make great teams working together, war ends, mourn losses and carry on in a new united world. Yay.
As series arcs go, Armada had a funny run. Initially starting slow with a three-part TV movie followed by several dull episodes of “Let’s find the Mini-Con” and a basically flip-the-coin to see who wins at the end of the episode, Armada received lots of shtick when it first came out but then… it got good. The cast expanded with new Autobots and Decepticons, each new introduction was interesting and executed well but no current characters were pushed to the back and then some characters got added depth and the plot started alluding to something bigger whilst tackling themes such as “What does it mean to be a leader of men?” and “Are we born evil?” in a non-pretentious manner (Though perhaps somewhat childish manner but hey, their target audience was literally written as “4-9 year old boys”) However, the series ultimately failed to win hearts, being pushed to 6AM slots in America and by the time the writers were in their element, nobody cared any more. Armada is redeemed by three saving graces:
1. “Hey, CERTAIN CHARACTER had an awesomely emotional death scene, you really felt for them and I cried”
2. “It introduced a whole generation to Transformers”
3. “Transformers Energon was WAAAAAAAY worse”
So a mixed bag – a plot that started slow but at about the midway point of the series, if you’re still watching by then, it becomes much more interesting, adds an actual sense of serious threat to the characters situations and introduces some fun twists and turns before finishing up with a nice lead in for the sequel
Shambles, that’s the first word I think of, shambles. Cartoon Network put a lot of pressure on these guys to deliver on a cartoon to coincide with a line of toys that were coming out and as a result, there was a rush to make this cartoon and it showed in the animation, the voice acting (Actors took like one shot at a line so sometimes they confuse character names, plot points and are even dubbed for the wrong characters at times) and the awfully dull episodes at the start, seeing as the production company were being paid for the work on the condition they had episodes ready to be released alongside new toys so their early work was just “Ehhhhhhh and then Optimus punches Megatron and done, dub it and toss it at the screen like a monkey’s turd”. Armada perhaps came back at a bad time, it’s release coinciding not only with toys but the much better executed return of the TMNT – after all, when your mate drives up in a Mercedes, your little Ford Fiesta looks like a bucket with wheels on next to it. Armada is littered with mistakes and as it was mostly drawn like G1 before it, the characters suffered from wrong colour schemes and hideous disfigurements, sometimes all detail being omitted and instead we got glimpses of colourful talking blocks with faces on that loosely resembled transforming robots. The dialogue is especially atrocious, with the scripts seemingly never having been edited, conversations seemed incoherent and characters would respond either inappropriately (I don’t mean they flopped their cock out, I mean someone would give advice and their response would be “Uh? Hey, what? LEAVE ME ALONE! *pause* So even you would abandon me…”) or, as they often did, just with stock phrases like “What did you say?” and “Huh?”. Seriously, “Huh”, “Wait up!” and “Transform!” are like the holy trinity of Armada dialogue. The series as a whole got polished for the home releases but it was too little too late and Armada sat as well in the hearts of hardcore fans as a dead dog does on your Christmas dinner table…
Of the Unicron Trilogy, Armada had the rough job of trailblazing and whilst for fans of the original Transformers it failed to resonate with them in so far as offending them by being a sloppily made pile of hasty crap, with the kids it struck a chord. I can admit, as a child I never noticed the poor quality and if I ever did, it didn’t stop me loving what was to me, the best thing Saturday had to offer alongside no school, video games and Yu-Gi-Oh cards. The toys, the whole reason Armada existed, sold at such a rate they had to supply the demand by recolouring and renaming old Transformers and claiming they were characters from the extended universe of the Armada series. The demand even prompted Hasbro to think “Maybe Armada wasn’t all bad, as a glorified advert for plastic cars, it did the trick” and thus, Energon and Cybertron were commissioned and further toy lines announced to meet with the ever growing market of new kids getting into Transformers. Energon then, they decided, had to be bigger and better – more effort, more toys, more characters and soon they’d be rolling in the birthday wonga of every kiddy in America.
Armada, to me, tried hard and whilst it started poorly, it recovered in the final lap of the race and in my heart it holds a special place. As I mentioned, it served a dual purpose, introducing my generation to Transformers and selling toys, which it achieved so well they ran out of toys to sell and had to repaint whatever old shit they had lying around and call it something cool like Stormbreaker, Dirtbrawler, Buttscratcher, you get the gist. Of the trilogy, Armada is not the worst, that’s it’s defence in the eyes of the Transformers community, it’s the Fantastic Four of comic based films – Ehhh, it’s not really the best you could’ve done for these characters but hey, it’s not Batman Forever level bad. So that’s that, Armada, part one done! Next time, Energon… oh boy Energon… you thought this was bad? Armada is commonly rescued by the phrase “But Energon was worse” so… prepare for that…