2009 marks the 25th anniversary of Hasbro’s Transformers line. They’re celebrating with a TON of new toys all marked with special commemorative packaging in the Transformers Universe line. The Universe will feature the already established updates of beloved G1 characters, but also branched out into the Beast era by the end of the first quarter. This year we’ll also see a sequel to the 2007 blockbuster Transformers movie and a new season of Cartoon Network’s Transformers Animated. With Hasbro pulling out all the stops, we here at Panels on Pages thought it was only appropriate to pay our respects with a look back at every era of Transformers history. So Lee went nuts and did this. For 2 weeks, he’ll be looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly of both the TV shows and toys and even the comics that we’ve been eating up for two and half decades. It wasn’t always great, but it was always Transformers. So strap in and roll out!
Day 6 – Transformers Cybertron (2005-2006)
There’s an interesting beginning to the Cybertron story. Originally, Takara had intended the new series to be a brand new beginning to a new continuity with no ties to Micron Legend or Super Link. Hasbro, on the other hand, was looking for an Energon sequel. The result was Transformers Cybertron and Transformers Galaxy Force. The shows were pretty similar and there wasn’t too much to differentiate them, but it’s worth mentioning regardless. What’s interesting is that when Galaxy Force was released on DVD, the liner notes seemed to attempt to reconcile it as a part of the Micron timeline, effectively retconning the entire series. Go figure.
But what did that mean for American audiences? Why should we care? First off, unlike its predecessors, Cybertron debuted in the US after the Japanese premiere. I know what you’re thinking. “What? You mean they actually had time to get their act together and not put forward a rushed product?” That’s exactly what that means. As a result, the show is actually pretty good. Sure, some of it doesn’t always gel since the writers were trying to create ties to the previous shows, but for the most part, the weird dialogue madness is gone. However, some of the larger plot issues don’t always make sense. Characters are alive that should be dead or characters with huge roles before completely disappear and no one seems to really care. Also, the Transformers presence on Earth is a surprise to the humans, despite having two entire series to deal with it. There are several weird inconsistencies like this, but it all stems from the fact that Hasbro was trying to make the show do something it wasn’t originally intended to do.
The plot for Cybertron tells a story where Unicron’s destruction at the end of Energon created a black hole that threatens to consume the entire universe. The ancient Transformer Vector Prime returns to tell the tale of the Cyber Planet Keys that can be used to save them all from destruction. So the show is about the race to collect the Cyber Planet Keys from all over the universe and use them with the Omega Lock before it is destroyed. This was a pretty cool device to introduce some new planets and Transformer races to the series. The keys would be stolen and recovered numerous times. Characters would be reformatted and general hijinks would ensue.
One of the lingering threads from Energon that they were able to touch on in Cybertron was Primus. Eventually, the Autobots use the Cyber Planet Keys and Omega Lock and awaken the ancient deity whose body is made up of Cybertron itself. In Energon, he was only seen as the sentient core of the planet, but never really given a proper form. Cybertron rectified that, and he was pretty awesome. The sight of a giant planet-sized Starscream battling it out with Primus is pretty exciting. Because yes, Starscream grew to planet size and got in a fight with Primus. Believe it or not, it really is pretty badass.
Despite the extreme advances in quality, Cybertron wasn’t without its flaws. For the first time in the Unicron Trilogy, however, the blame for these shortcomings falls almost exclusively on the Japanese development team. The CGI models used in this series are more advanced than those in its predecessors, but by and large they suffer from the same flaws. There wasn’t a great deal of improvement in that department. This show also suffers from extreme use of stock footage, but the American dub even pokes fun at that sometimes. Even so, Cybertron is easily the best of the trilogy and was the first to receive a complete series DVD release.
The toys were pretty nice, too, and were also superior to their Energon counterparts in many cases. There was some combination, but it wasn’t the main focus of the line. The main gimmick in this series was the Cyber Planet Key. Every figure came with a key and the keys triggered functions similar to the way Minicons did back in the Armada series. In fact, several Armada figures were repainted and rereleased in the Cybertron line and retooled to replace their Minicon pegs with key slots. The figures were also broken down by planet and each planet’s figures shared some unifying thematic elements. The Jungle Planet figures, for example, were all animal forms and the Speed Planet figures were race car types. It was a nice touch and a good tie-in with the show. As with any Transformers series, there were various hits and misses, but for the most part, these were nice figures.
It seems like the leaders always get exceptional attention, and rightly so. Despite not having much in the way of Cyber Planet Key features, both Optimus Prime and Megatron’s new toys were really cool this time around. But then again they had cool designs in the show. Despite being Earth Planet figures, both of these guys look pretty alien, especially Megatron. Optimus is a futuristic fire truck type thing and Megatron pulls double duty with two alt modes, a dragster and a jet.
Optimus Prime’s Cybertornian fire truck design was pretty cool. Like other Primes before it, the main truck became the body while the “trailer” became a battle station and then could combine to form a super mode. The trailer could also fold out wings for a flight mode when in truck form. Those same wings were a prominent feature on the super mode. The Cyber Planet Key triggered some lights and sounds and brought out the big guns. In a first for an Optimus figure, there was a lever on the back of his head that could move the mouthpiece over his face, giving him a more traditional G1 look over the lipped Beast Wars style face Optimus had normally. One of the neatest elements of Optimus’s design in Cybertron was the desire to evoke the G1 essence of the character. His robot mode has the iconic windshield chest and grill stomach, despite the windshield and grill from the fire truck being on his shoulders. The designers hid the elements that would be most prominent in his robot form completely in his vehicle mode. It’s an interesting design choice, but one that ultimately works in creating a pretty striking version of a character that’s seen over a dozen forms in two and a half decades.
Megatron’s design was equally cool. The goal was to evoke Unicron in certain elements and to a degree it works. They have similar shoulders and “wings.” Any homage aside, the design works well on its own. The figure has REALLY good articulation now that his design is so much more streamlined than the previous Armada and Energon designs. Cyber planet Key functionality was decent, giving some new weapon features from hidden panels and a big engine in car mode. As good as the Megatron figure is, the Galvatron figure is even better. Though the same mold, the repainted figure is far superior. Megatron had a whacked-out color palette with greens and oranges and purple, but Galvatron was a G1 throwback, casting the Decepticon leader in the familiar silver, black and red color scheme of old. It’s a striking color scheme that serves the equally-striking character design much better than its original.
Cybertron also gave us something to pit against our Unicrons in the form of a Primus figure. As a planet, Primus is FAR superior to his evil counterpart, going so far as to feature prominent Cybertronian cities recognizable from the comics and cartoons on his surface. The various towers and antennae also serve as a stand so that he can actually be displayed effectively in planet form. He’s chock full of cyber key key goodness and comes packaged with the Omega Lock. As cool as the Unicron figure was, Primus trumped it in nearly every way (with the obvious exception of the “Holy crap, I have a Unicron figure” factor). He may have been a kibbly in robot mode, but it didn’t really matter. You knew this thing was going to kick skid-plates and take designations, regardless.
Before we close the book on the Unicron Trilogy, we should point out the other main contribution that Cybertron gave to the ongoing toy line. Originally dubbed “Legends of Cybertron,” the Cybertron toy line gave birth to the Legends class of figures. The Legends figures are a mere three inches tall, but are completely transformable. The transformations are naturally far simpler than their larger counterparts, but even so, many collectors love these little guys. Even after the cancellation of the Cybertron line, Legends figures started creeping in to the Classics line and now the Universe line and some of the new ones are pretty nice.
And thus ends our look into the Unicron Trilogy. What next? There wasn’t a new show slated for release in late 2006 or 2007 at all. What was Hasbro to do to ensure that they had Transformers product on the shelves? The solution would prove to be one of the best moves for the franchise in a long time, and in 2007, the Transformers would get real.
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