4/20 Fiasco

4/20, a day unofficially recognised as a celebration of all things marijuana, a day to light it up and get high and other such shit. Look, I won’t even ATTEMPT to use the colloquial terms, I’m so square I could lie down flat and get a decent job as a spirit gauge. Point is, if you smoke weed, or even if you just have a general interest in the world beyond your bed, you know what 4/20 is all about. We all have our own ways of celebrating it, though I myself spend it celebrating my brother’s birthday that falls on the same day, but I think the weirdest recent recognition of the day was Snapchat’s Bob Marley filter, a photo filter for selfies that superimposed Bob Marley’s face onto yours and darkened your skin tone to match. Yeah, that does sound weird when you look at a literal description of it. Is this harmless fun? Well…

I want to put up a disclaimer and say I recognise the connection between Bob Marley and marijuana, I’m not an idiot, and my opinions on this are not influenced by the fact I have never smoked anything in my life, closest I get to smoking is salmon. As a liberal man, I support the legalisation of marijuana, it is far less harmful than alcohol, which is legal, and its criminalisation is the result of an idealistic and unenforceable war on drugs, started by our forefathers and fuelled by myths and ignorance. Marijuana is not a gateway drug or chemically addictive substance, it doesn’t blacken lungs or turn you into a violent lunatic, it is a plant that happens to have recreational benefits when set on fire, nuff said. Furthermore, my opinion is in no way influenced by the choice of Bob Marley, I’m not hating on the dude, I am not an avid fan but I do like his music and appreciate the cultural influence of the man. So, with that established, let me explain why personally I’m taken aback by this poor move by Snapback. Cue the non-PC outrage in the comments.

First of all, let’s face it, this is blackface. No, don’t bullshit me, don’t come out with “It’s not blackface, it’s…”, it’s blackface. You are taking a non-black face, putting a black face on top and playing it up for a laugh. Jim from IT is a white dude living with his mother who listens to Weird Al and Stereophonics, his weekends are spent modding Skyrim and he is most certainly not a famous rastafarian musician. Didn’t like that stereotype? Guess what? Black people don’t appreciate the making of Marley into a stereotype of a laidback black man with dreads and a funky hat smoking weed, he is a cultural icon. Snapchat has a history of struggling to accurately represent diversity, evading questions about the percentages of employee races in their company by saying they don’t think of people as numbers. I mean, amen to that but y’know, we kind of need numbers to make sense of what we’re doing, not looking at your bank balance is not the same as making the situation more financially manageable, trust me.

Bob Marley, as a man, was more than just a dude who got stoned and this filter, that immediately slaps his face on yours just because it’s the 20th April, reduces his legacy to his drug habit. Bob Marley was more than just a man who loved his weed and yes he campaigned for its legalisation but that was not all he did, he fought for peace and the fair representation of minorities, he opposed a system that dehumanizes us all but one that especially dehumanised people like him. The music he became famous for showed a love and respect for his culture and his faith, the lyrics of which resonated with the pacifists inside us and went on to influence not only a genre of music as a whole but generations of peaceful protests after him. Also, Marley didn’t smoke weed just for shits and giggles, he did it as a spiritual exercise of meditation, a means of understanding himself.

“When you smoke herb, herb reveal yourself to you. All the wickedness you do, the herb reveal itself to yourself, your conscience, show up yourself clear, because herb make you meditate. Is only a natural t’ing* and it grow like a tree.”

*Source uses ‘t’ing’ instead of ‘thing’, reflecting his accent, I have not changed this text

Read that and understand the difference between what you think he cared about and what he did care about. We far too often recall Bob Marley as just that reggae guy who got high a lot and this filter does nothing to combat that, all it’s done is said “Umm, 4/20, Bob Marley right?”, like some sort of bad joke.

Now, a counter-argument you might have for me is that Bob Marley’s family themselves approved this idea right? Well, hate to break it to you, they’re not the sole representatives of their heritage, it’s not like them saying “It’s not blackface” will make every other black person shrug and walk away like it’s not a problem, who are they to speak for everyone and tell them it’s not offensive or not perhaps cheapening the legacy of a national treasure into a joke? Marley’s image wasn’t a construct like the image of Elvis or Motley Crue, it wasn’t a style picked out to be memorable, he wore the clothes of his spirituality and his culture, making them into easy jokes for stoner humour is like making a Jesus filter for people on Easter. By the way, imagine the shitstorm we’d get if there was a whiteface filter to commemorate a dead white person hey, as a cheap joke no less? World AIDS day, we get Freddie Mercury tashes on everyone. The Marley family are, for want of better words, money-grabbers, licensing the Bob Marley image to everything under the sun they reckon would sell better if it had his face on it. I personally find that disgusting and a forewarning to my children if I ever become famous, if I die and you memorialise me by selling Old Man Wolfe branded soap, I’ll come back from the dead and wash your skulls out with it. Soap. Fucking soap. The man made an entire cultural history of music mainstream and known to the world and his name is stuck on a bar of hemp-scented soap. Fuck me.

I’m not just out to be a stick in the mud but I feel that making this filter was in poor taste, it’s harmless fun to the white would-be hippies amongst us but to those who share in Marley’s heritage, their sacred herb and an icon of their society is being made into a comic fad to amuse idiots. This will all be swept under the rug before the week is out and Snapchat won’t face any real backlash, nor will the Marley brand lose any customers for a lack of integrity, and that in itself is disturbing. We all, in 2016, just blinked at a show of blackface. Bob Marley, forgive us. Please please please forgive us.

The Unicron Trilogy Part Three – Cybertron

The last leg of the trilogy, Cybertron, known in Japan as Transformers Galaxy Force, this series was under a lot of pressure from the offset to not fuck up like Energon and Armada before it, would the world be subjected to three bad shows in a row (Two and a half, Armada did redeem itself in the end) or would Cybertron be the salvation of this trilogy? With the responsibility of making these cartoons put into new hands, Cybertron was conceived as being the sequel to Energon to bring the continuity to a close so we were to expect returning cast members, sly references and so forth. However, what resulted was not pure to that vision, seeming content to dismiss the early fuck ups and stand as a good show on its own merits. So, how well did visions become reality? Allow me to tell you…

Lore

In the aftermath of the second destruction of Unicron, he is truly no more, his dead body blown to smithereens. However, his absence from the universe is causing said universe to collapse in on itself in the form of a supermassive black hole truly worthy of a Muse song. Cybertron is on the verge of falling into this hole so Optimus evacuates the entire planet and hides the refugees on Earth whilst trying to think what can be done for his home world. Vector Prime, an ancient being and guardian of the space-time continuum says the only hope they have is to seek out the four cyber Planet Keys and the Omega Lock into which they fit, that will awaken the heart of Cybertron, Primus, who is the only being capable of stopping such a black hole. Here is your basic premise then, yet another scavenger hunt for relics of extraordinary power whilst dealing with Megatron and Starscream’s nefarious dickbaggery.

Cybertron, in and of itself, went well. The fear of not having enough plot to fill the episodes was never realised, though perhaps because they stretched certain plot points into three episodes when you only needed one for it but at least there were was substantially less filler than Energon beforehand. However, Cybertron, whilst supposedly serving as a continuation of the Energon series, seemed to “forget” a lot of established facts from beforehand – the writers apparently had wanted to retcon all of the previous mistakes and start afresh, much to Hasbro’s annoyance and whilst efforts were made by the localisation team to force it into the “After Energon” space they had prepared, it was jarringly done so we had errors like this:

  • The Autobots have never heard of Earth or humans before, despite being to Earth at least twice
  • All the Autobots human friends from previous series have vanished and no effort is made to contact them
  • Even though humans and Cybertronians coexisted in the open in Energon, Optimus Prime gives everyone strict orders not to allow any humans to notice their presence
  • Jetfire is suddenly an Australian?
  • Red Alert returns, despite being absent from Energon, and likewise we never hear from Ironhide or Rodimus, main characters from Energon
  • When Optimus first combines with a team member, he is utterly confused, stating it’s impossible and astounding, even though the last series was nothing but “We have to combine!”
  • Megatron and Starscream died in Energon but in Cybertron, they’re alive and well and wreaking havoc and nobody even mentions “Hey, weren’t you dead?”. There is no explanation given for how they came back, even in the localisation
  • Hot Shot, who was a youngster in Armada but a veteran by the time of Energon, is now a youngster again

Indeed, the show was happy to just do whatever it pleased and leave Energon and Armada firmly in the past. Whilst disappearing cast members happened between Armada and Energon, this was explained with a ten year gap between the two series so obviously different characters had been assigned to different tasks or aged or whatever but Cybertron never states what time it is set in so who knows? It has to be after Energon surely because Unicron is no more, that much is clarified, but how long after we can’t tell and somehow the futuristic human society of Energon is replaced by what was considered a modern one in 2006.

Now, I’m going to add a new section here because whilst Armada and Energon are little more than running a Japanese cartoon through Google Translate and recording the results, Cybertron had a full writing team working to make the cartoon relevant to the West and much more interesting so exclusive to Cybertron, let’s look at some changes in the translation between Galaxy Force and Cybertron.

Differences

Transformers cartoons in Japan are batshit insane to say the least. You’d imagine they’d be even more action packed and dialogue heavy right? Nope. Every character is an interchangeable humourless bore, save characters who exist for no other reason than to be comic relief, and they barely say much beyond announcing their names, transformations and life goals on a loop. Galaxy Force wasn’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but Cybertron did a fair bit of modification and honestly, for the better. Usually you think of American dubs as being a bastardization of a good show but because Energon and Armada had been such flops, Hasbro left nothing to chance and upped their game, fixing anything that could possibly disappoint fans.

For the most part, what they changed was dialogue, adding flavour to the lines and giving each robot a distinct personality, albeit a gimmicky one. Jetfire is an Australian stereotype, Scattershot is a little trigger happy but also sort of anxious, Red Alert is a stick in the mud, Overhaul is a macho man, Landmine is a veteran and Optimus Prime has developed a sense of humour. No two characters could be muddled up and the voice actors seemed to give much stronger performances with these scripts that had been crafted with much more care and attention, even going so far as to slip in some jokes. Cybertron took itself seriously about plot but not about execution – when it became apparent that fight scenes between Optimus and Megatron were usually them punching each other and fists meeting midway, a joke is added in which they both pause in silence and Optimus just says “Wait for it…” before a stock explosion clip is added, like it had been the last three times they did that same thing. Characters often talk as they transform too, seeing as each episode dedicated a lot of runtime to transformation sequences so sometimes they just babble, sometimes they repeat plot points or sometimes, often Optimus, they will make a joking statement or witty retort.

Other than that, the plot got some tweaks. Mainly the humans, who two of which were meant to come from unhealthy home environments but that’s omitted and instead of Coby being afraid of his Dad, he more respects him but his Dad is something of an authoritarian, made light of at times and he’s given funny Dad-like irks (He is distracted from scolding Coby because his wife tells him someone doesn’t believe he’s the best fisherman ever). The humans are also given a use beyond being culture consultants with the plot element of the Omega Frequency, a high-pitched whine the Omega Lock gives off that is so high only children can hear it. There were some minor changes made to diversify the cast, Nitro Convoy became the female Override. Many changes existed but it’d be hard to cover every last one – it was mainly reducing the amount of unfriendly content and adding in lots of quips and one-liners. Thunderblast, a female Transformer, is considerably less sexualised in America than in Japan, her Japanese counterpart referred to as a Siren but her American instead called a jokester. Finally, Burning Justice, characters had a tendency to burst into flames when enraged and whilst the only explanation given in Japan is it is the flames of justice igniting in the soul of the said Transformer, American dubs explained it was either the character was powering up, really damn pissed or occasionally they would remark “Why the fuck am I on fire now?”, just in PG language…

Behind The Scenes

Conceived as a final installment in a trilogy, the Japanese writing team didn’t like this idea and went their own way, ignoring the previous lore in the writing and animating stage. Hasbro caught wind of this and were pissed, it had already been advertised as the third part of a trilogy and here it was, it was not. Imagine if Return of the Jedi wasn’t Luke’s triumph over Vader and the Emperor but instead we have ourselves Luke Skywalker back on Tatooine only everyone is played by different actors and the story is still the same but just different enough to make you seventeen shades of uncomfortable. Hasbro brought in a new writing team for the American dub, no longer would they rely on rushed translation jobs, this had to be good and somehow, had to line up with the events of Energon. Bless them, they tried, but the cartoon wasn’t made to be part of Energon so they couldn’t explain why continuity errors all that well – there was a comic series released which had Vector Prime explain characters have forgotten the events of Energon because the black hole has altered time and space and warped the memories of everyone on Cybertron, explaining why Optimus doesn’t recall ever beating Megatron or ever combining with Wing Saber and so on.

We saw the use of CGI animation again, much better executed than Energon beforehand, though limitations still shone through – characters had rather emotionless faces but there efforts made to show them smirking when they made jokes and somehow Optimus looks furious with his face guard up but otherwise they were essentially very large slow moving statues made to perform minimal movements. Characters would walk a bit or raise an arm or whatever, if they did anything more dynamic it was against a colourful anime background of blurred purple speed lines so the clip could be reused in any episode. The colouring was off as well, being perhaps a little too bright and bold compared to the less colourful backdrops and humans who dressed in more subtle tones of blues and greens. All in all though, Cybertron was much better put together and if you could look past the little “But wait…” moments that cropped up, you had yourself an enjoyable cartoon.

Reception

Cybertron had a lot to do to prove itself to the fans, who had twice been disappointed by sub-par rushed jobs of cheap dubs and to the credit of Cybertron, it did well. The toys sold pretty well, not with the immediate rush of Armada but the hype train was long since dead by Cybertron, the “catch them whilst they’re young” plan had worked a treat for Armada but new fans were slow to get into Cybertron and TV networks were reluctant to give Transformers much space considering how they’d used it previously to half-heartedly sell toys using twenty minute commercials. However, Cybertron had done well enough to redeem the franchise, justify its renewal in further incarnations and Hasbro ensured no shortage of merchandise was ever an issue as toys galore were made, pretty much every name in the bank got used for at least one toy.

As a cartoon, Cybertron sat well with fans, the dub had been given some actual work to make it enjoyable and the actors all gave much stronger performances in a project that returned Transformers to the roots – campy robot fights full of painful one-liners and “And then something cooler happened” moments. Fans of Galaxy Force were miffed that the localisation was so far removed from the original Japanese cartoon but otherwise, Cybertron is generally seen as the “best” of the trilogy and is one of the most well remembered cartoons based on Transformers. Cybertron paid homage to pop culture, Transformers history and not only did it draw inspiration and learn from the past, it improved on it, providing a colorful cast of unique characters in a plot that was never content to sit and repeat itself to death like Energon or bumble around in boredom like Armada.

Conclusion

Cybertron was what captured me in the fandom at a young age, Armada was the worm on the hook but Cybertron reeled me in and got me interested in knowing more about the history of the franchise, as is my obsession with my obsessions. Though not necessarily the most sophisticated and adult interpretation of the characters, Cybertron was made by people who cared, by voice actors who enjoyed the work and for an audience who wanted to believe Transformers had not yet seen its eternal decline. After this, Transformers went onto become a big deal thanks to Michael Bay’s own interpretation and the countless works inspired by the renewed brand value of shapeshifting machines firing pew-pew lasers at each other. Cybertron was not what we expected but considering what it was, that turned out to be a good thing.

The Unicron Trilogy Part Two – Energon

Carrying on from the previous article, for those of you who find yourself interested in this esoteric topic, today’s article will look over the second installment in this trilogy of Transformers cartoons, Transformers Energon (Known as Transformers: Super Link in Japan). Made in Japan but dubbed first in English and then sent back to Japan to be redubbed in Japanese, the series was devised as a direct sequel to Armada before it and to avoid the failings of the crude animation of Armada, it was animated primarily in cel-shaded CGI with hand-drawn animation being reserved for the human characters and backgrounds. However, though efforts were made to make Energon much more dynamic, exciting and altogether ‘better’ than Armada, what resulted was not so and Energon is remembered as a low-point of the franchise and the shitty little sibling of big brothers Armada and Cybertron. So let us now analyse it using the same three-stage formula utilised in my Armada retrospective!

Lore

Ten years on since Armada, Megatron is no more and the Autobots and Decepticons co-exist in an uneasy truce with their kind living on both Earth and Cybertron, making efforts to rebuild from the aftermath of war. However, the peace does not last when rogue Decepticons, dedicated to the revival of their leader Megatron, start harnessing powers beyond their comprehension and soon enough, Megatron is reborn and the war begins anew. Like Armada beforehand, there is a looming threat in the form of Unicron, thought dead but somehow still functional but what is new to this series is the other threat, a mysterious alien called Alpha Quientesson (Hardcore fans of G1 may recognise the name), who leads legions of ravenous beasts called Terrorcons with the goal of harvesting all the Energon in the universe so as to revive Unicron’s hollowed out shell as his own personal weapon of mass destruction.

Whilst Armada started shite and got good, Energon was the opposite, a series that started strongly with hints of serious character development to be had was lost as the series went on and though there were 51 episodes made, the plot came to a standstill by around episode 20, giving us 31 episodes of “Unicron is destroyed… wait no, no it’s not… Ok now it is… damnit nope… Oh look a shiny coin!” Armada added depth as it went on but Energon seemed to lose it, despite starting out with some seriously interesting points:

  • Demolishor, a previously loyal Decepticon, doubts whether or not he actually believes in Megatron’s vision anymore. This made us think perhaps he’ll change sides right? Nope, he’s killed off and brought back by Megatron as a mindless drone.
  • Inferno, an Autobot but with a Decepticon past, struggles to resist the will of Megatron within his own head. Resolved by Inferno killing himself to silence the voice inside his head only to then be brought back from the dead and relegated to the background for the rest of the series.
  • Kicker, a human, hates Transformers despite being assigned as their ally. However, it’s never explained in clear detail WHY he hates them and his hatred for their kind is forgotten about two episodes after his introduction to the series
  • Rodimus, an Autobot leader in his own right, constantly fights with Optimus Prime about differing ideologies. Is this the start of a huge topic for debate? Nope, Rodimus gives up his side of the argument and says “Well Optimus is in charge so I guess he knows best…”
  • Wing Saber is dedicated to capturing his nemesis Shockblast, which he succeeds in doing but only briefly. Shockblast escapes and how does Wing Saber react? He doesn’t, he says nothing and his rivalry with Shockblast is never mentioned again

Individual episodes are then essentially filled with useless footage of thirty second long Transformation sequences and whilst the cast is expanded like Armada, new characters add nothing to the team and are just shameless excuses to promote toys. There is also a lot of time dedicated to having characters Skype each other to repeat plot points the audience is already aware of. There were a myriad of other poor choices too – most action sequences took place in outer space so the characters had no reason to transform most of the time, combiner teams (the central gimmick of the series) were only ever there to be combined into an ultimate robot and had no personalities beyond “We are a team of robots that combine into one big one”. Energon then, fell short of greatness by not so much a gnat’s wing as a dinosaur’s meat shaft…

Behind-The-Scenes

If Armada was a rush, Energon was a blur. We are talking artistic mistakes, typos in episode titles, repeated stock footage to fill gaps in episodes, Energon was about as lovingly crafted as one lovingly crafts their own turds. Energon suffered from consistently poor choices of character colour schemes (that made them hard to differentiate at a glance), gimmicky and wooden performances from their bulky character models and background designs that were poorly considered (i.e Unicron is mostly black in colour, as is the background he is set against in his scenes and when characters are inside his body, it is too dark to see who is doing what at any given moment… for 30 episodes, characters are fumbling in the dark trying to do a thing we stopped caring about them doing ages ago). The CGI, whilst allowing a consistent standard of animation hand-drawn animation could not, was sub-par and character faces were hard to read for any emotion. As a result, the movement of faces was limited to them opening and closing their robotic lips in sync with what they were saying but you could not visibly tell if a character was happy, sad, angry or pensive, they all just constantly looked somewhat perplexed… as did the audience. In defense of the animators, their budget was miniscule.

Editing and script-work wise, we had ourselves a hastily mashed together assortment of fight scenes, banter exchanges and transformation sequences. Nothing flowed naturally and as a result, the episodes were confusing, seeming to be twenty minute chunks of a single long flowing film that didn’t do much in the way of establishing shots so we’re just expected to go “Oh, we’re at this point in the plot, I remember”, meaning you had to watch EVERY episode to make any sense of anything – that or wait for Optimus Prime to recap the plot but even then he only stated the obvious. The scripts were rushed translations of a Japanese writing team’s work and so many lines didn’t make sense in English, may characters were named incorrectly, sometimes multiple times in a single episode and the performance of the actors reflected a lack of understanding of the script. Energon also had some deadpan silences where clearly nothing had been written in and actors improvised… badly, often saying stuff just to fill the gap. Given all of this, Transformers Energon left a sour taste in the mouths of fans who still hadn’t gotten over how much of a dud Armada was.

Reception

Transformers Armada was a mess that defied expectation, it started bad but redeemed itself whereas Transformers Energon had a hopeful start but condemned itself to the slot of “Worst thing to come out of the franchise, shit I’ll watch Michael Bay’s stuff over this” in the eyes of fans. Energon was released in line with the 20th anniversary of Transformers but came as a real smear on the honour of the franchise, a hapless shambles of a poorly strung together plot pushing toys nobody wanted all that badly (The toys themselves did not sell as well as Armada before them and many characters sat on shelves for so long, they were eventually repurposed into discount multipacks given new names and sold off as minor characters from other continuities). Energon has been fixed rather recently, 2014 saw the release of a re-mastered version of all 51 episodes as a DVD box set with the script retweaked and awkward silences filled with something more than just “So…” and typos/colouring errors were fixed but at the time of release and for years afterward, Energon was seen as an abomination and efforts made it to fix it have been too little too late to save it from being a lowpoint in the franchise.

Conclusion

Energon lost me too, it wasn’t on any channels I had access to as a little kid so I never really got into it, having never really had the chance. I owned some Energon figures simply because they were cool looking Transformers. Energon was sold around the gimmick of combining characters together – most of the cast could transform into goliath sized wrecking machines by combining together, be it two robots, three or even five and Optimus Prime himself seemed capable of combining with just about anything he touched. Energon had grand ambitions but failed to deliver and ultimately did more harm than good, in fact Energon’s redeeming grace was that it was so shit, Hasbro asked a different company to make the next series of Transformers and what they delivered was gold-dust, especially by comparison. So next time, let’s draw this to a close with what fans consider the best thing to come out of the Unicron Trilogy, Transformers Cybertron, a series that definitely learned from the past to make big strides in the right direction.

The Unicron Trilogy Part One – Armada

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!

Lore

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

Behind-The-Scenes

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…

Reception

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.

Conclusion

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…

Millions of Minions

I’m going to go out there and say it – I fucking hate the Minions by now. What had originally been adorable yellow jelly beans waddling around the background of an enjoyable kids film has become a marketing campaign drawn to ungodly lengths and bloated into such disgusting proportions, there were actually people in a position of wealth and movie-making authority who said “You know what? Give them their own film”. Minions have outstayed their welcome, their yellow cyclopean forms appearing on lunchboxes, phone cases and even underwear for children and adults alike and honestly, I think that has ruined what charm they had and exposed them for what they always were – the most marketable and palatable bland shite in the entire Despicable Me franchise. I’m disproportionately annoyed by these talking tic-tac twatbags so allow me to vent for your amusement, if you so please.

In the original Despicable Me films, the Minions served the purpose of comic relief, side distractions to keep the kids paying attention to the film and appealing to the goldfish mentality of some audiences. Face it, if a film isn’t constantly gripping you, you can drift off, change channel or relegate it to background noise whilst you do something more interesting like Angry Birds or picking your nose. I enjoyed their role, adding a little laugh between scenes but never taking the spotlight for very long, serving more as means to an end for a joke. The focus was always on Gru and his girls, the more interesting characters who needed to be developed and had stories to follow, the Minions are just comedy fodder. However, starting with the second film making Minions central to the end scheme of the antagonist, the Minions began taking more of the limelight away from Gru, a character I actually like (A loveable baddy-turned-daddy that punches sharks in the face? I love it) and soon enough, Despicable Me 3 isn’t a thing but the Minions get their own film? Who gives a film to a mass of moronic herd-like creatures that can’t speak a coherent language? That sounds like a formula for UKIP: The Movie!

The Minions put me in mind of the now faded in obscurity characters of the Rabbids from Rayman, background characters from a Rayman party game that became so popular due to their stupid antics and lack of clear communication, they got their own game and lo and behold, the magic surrounding them faded and soon enough they exhausted every joke in their arsenal, only to be swept under the rug and Rayman resumed his post as the big money in that franchise (Which they rebooted to wipe the memory of Rabbids from the continuity and good on them for doing so, new age Rayman is brilliant stuff – a comedy platformer combining nostalgia with innovation). I wish Minions would go the same way and maybe they will but for now they seem to be firmly stuck to the shelves, the world of cinema and our social networks. Why? Well, I have some ideas.

So the Minion design is minimalistic and interchangeable but with some iconic features that instantly make them stand out as part of the brand – goggles, tic-tac shaped body, funny sounding babble – this makes them characters we can easily modify and project onto, such is the way of lasting marketing characters. Compare the Meerkat uses this same effect, put a meerkat in a shirt and tie, it’s Sergei, put it in a smoking jacket, Alexander, onesie, Baby Oleg, you get the picture. This allows your audience to play with your logo, to cling to it and use it as they see fit and whilst they think they’ve come up with something clever, cute and original, from a marketing standpoint, they’ve basically declared “I am a mindless consumer of your cut-and-paste crap”. Minions have leaked into memes, philosophical quotes, heck, Minion porn is a thing, look it up… NO! WAIT! SHIT! DON’T DO THAT! They’re just easy to use, easy to draw, easy to customise and appealing to the “I’m so quirky” type adults and the “I like to eat crayons” type children. A well designed brand is exactly that though, a simple symbol you can slap on anything and people know what it is – Marvel’s logo, McDonald’s logo, Nike’s logo – something small and easy to recognise so people see what its slapped onto and consume it with the ravenous hunger of a zombified dachshund.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the Minions, I thought they were fun but they were fun in small doses, they’re comic relief, not central characters. Minions are a side order to the meal of a good film, you can have a bucket of mashed potato and call it a meal if you want but how many of you would really do that, especially when you know the place serves some decent steak or whatever you prefer this metaphorical menu to serve. There shouldn’t be a Minion craze as there is but here it is, an easy way to tramp stamp any fucking thing it touches. I just find it to be such a poisonous inescapable influence, I’d have to unfriend almost every friend on my social media accounts to escape their yellow smug faces tacked onto posts like “Every family has a crazy one. If you don’t know who, it’s you” or “I could be a Monday person if Monday didn’t start until 2PM!”, you know the types, the ones shared by the likes of Debbie or Laura, she says size matters because nobody likes small glasses of wine and she’s a right proper random bitch lol… Shudder. Maybe I’m a horrid miseryguts who doesn’t see the appeal of these jovial jellybeans any more for his shit-tinted shades he wears all day but to me, they outstayed their welcome and their quirks became annoying and I do not believe they ever deserved their own film (Which is a contrived mess of puerile gimmicks clearly meant only to entertain children, I understand it’s intended for children but making shit films and excusing them as being for kids is something so irritating to me, it’s a blog post in itself)

Okay, anger dispelled, can we just collectively ween ourselves off sticking Minions on every shareable picture on the internet and agree that if this trend won’t end, let it live on as another Despicable Me film, not Minions 2. Seriously, how cool would it be to see the girls grow up in Gru’s footsteps? Have a kiddie friendly Charlie’s Angels style romp with Gru’s kids and work some Minions into that somehow. I’d watch it.

DESPICABLE ME 3 – GRU’D AND EVIL. MAKE IT HAPPEN