The follow up to the Transformers Armada and Transformers Energon animated series', Transformers Cybertron is an interesting American-Japanese co-production that blends computer generated and traditional cell animation with fairly successful results. Developed by Takara animation in conjunction with Hasbro Toys, this recent series continues the trend of bringing the eighties cartoon and toy sensation into the modern day and keeping it front and center in the minds of toy buying kids everywhere and of all ages!
The basic premise of the series is that since Unicron (a giant space traveling robot who eats planets!) was destroyed, a black hole has formed in the universe and it threatens to devour the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron. In order to survive, the entire population of the planet - Autobots and Decepticons alike - makes a mass exodus to Earth. Here they disguise themselves as everyday Earth vehicles to essentially hide in plain sight of the humans who dominate the planet.
While all of this is going on, the Autobots, lead by Optimus Prime, are visited by an ancient robot named Vector Prime who tells them of the Cyber Planet Keys. These are essentially ancient relics that, if found and used properly, will be able to stop the black hole from swallowing up their beloved home planet and basically allow them to return home. The problem is, the four Cyber Planet Keys are scattered across the universe, each one hidden somewhere on a different planet than the other. Vector Prime at one point had a map, but the Decepticon's leader, Megatron, has stolen it so that he and his army of evil Transformers can get to the Cyber Planet Keys before the Autobots do.
With that set up out of the way, basically the series follows the race between the Autobots and the Decepticons to trump one another in the quest for the Cyber Planet Keys. As the series progresses, we meet three Earth kids - Bod, Coby, and Lori - who help the Autobots by aiding them in locating the Omega Lock, a strange device that will allow them to focus the power of the keys. Two adult humans also show up from time to time to help fight the good fight - Professor Lucy Suzuki (who studies alien life forms) and Colonel Mitch Franklin (who was saved by an Autobot and is now sympathetic to their cause). The race spans the universe and takes the Transformers across many different planets and puts them into many different scenarios where they have to battle one another to decide who will control Cybertron and the Cyber Planet Keys once and for all.
The fifty-two episodes that make up the series are spread across the seven discs in this set as follows:
Disc One: Fallen / Haven / Hidden / Landmine / Space / Rush / Speed / Collapse
Disc Two: Time / Search / Deep / Ship / Hero / Race / Detour / Savage
Disc Three: Sand / Champion / Ice / Honor / Primal / Trust / Trap / Invasion
Disc Four: Retreat / Revelation / Critical / Assault / Starscream / United / Cybertron / Balance
Disc Five: Darkness / Memory / Escape / Family / Titans / Warp / Giant / Fury
Disc Six: City / Ambush / Challenge / Scourge / Optimus / Showdown / Guardian / Homecoming
Disc Seven: End / Unfinished / Beginning / Inferno
Transformers Cybertron is a decent show, but it's also quite repetitive. Once the set up is out of the way the episodes don't differ from one another all that much and many of them follow the same formula. That said, there are a few stand out story arcs where various characters will betray one another for different reasons and a few more specific moments involving Megatron's attempts to control the Decepticons, some of whom are starting to see in Starscream a far more qualified leader.
Bringing the three kids into many of the different storylines gives the series a human edge that will probably appeal to younger viewers, but the stars of every Transformers series, film or spin-off have always been the robots. On that level, Transformers Cybertron delivers pretty much exactly what you'd want out of the series, and that's plenty of robot on robot combat. If the battles get redundant after watching a few episodes in a row, at least the robot designs are sleek and interesting and many of the Transformers characters still retain a lot of the personality that made them interesting when they first debuted back in the eighties.
Despite an abundance of fights and a bit of violence, the series is definitely good for kids. Each episode has a lesson or moral to it and things generally end on a positive and upbeat note. The Autobots, more often than not, will win the day by working together with one another while many times the Decepticons will aid in their own downfall by showcasing negative traits such as selfishness and dishonesty. In many ways, these traits mirror those from the original series. Despite the fact that this series picks up where Armada and it's sequel, Energon left off, there aren't really any issues with continuity and younger viewers should have absolutely no problem at all jumping into the series and getting a good grip on what's happening and why. Obviously watching the pilot episode first is a good idea but once that's out of the way with you can more or less jump on with any episode and figure out what's going on almost immediately despite the fact that many of the stories in this series span multiple episodes. The writers have done quite a good job of making this material very accessible for kids.
The animation itself is interesting in that it's obvious that much more care and thought was put into the robot characters than into the human characters. The Transformers are quite detailed, colorful and interesting to watch while the three kids are generally rather drab looking and not really remarkable in the least. The voice work compliments the animation nicely and all of the core key characters have got their own unique personality that not only makes the show a lot more interesting than it would be otherwise but which also makes the various robots much easier to tell apart.
The series isn't in the least bit subtle and many times it is truly an exercise in CGI style over substance - but younger audiences will probably enjoy the show for its flashy visuals and quick, to the point, storylines. A little more depth and character development probably would have endeared the series to older fans of the original 'robots in disguise' but regardless, as far as kids' shows go, Transformers Cybertron is at least enjoyable on a superficial level.
Transformers Cybertron: The Ultimate Collection arrives on DVD in its original 1.33.1 aspect ratio. Aside from the fact that the transfers are all interlaced, they look pretty good. Colors are nice and bright and black levels stay deep and strong. There aren't any problems with mpeg compression artifacts nor is there much in the way of edge enhancement to complain about either. Some of the scenes with really fast action and motion in them look a little bit soft but that's because of the animation style used, not because of the transfer. Overall, the series looks quite good.
The only audio option provided for this set is an English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track. There are no alternate language tracks or subtitles provided although there is an English closed captioning track available. Overall, the audio quality is quite good. There are some moments that provide nice channel separation and the dialogue is always clean and clear. There are no problems to report with hiss or distortion and sound effects come through with a nice amount of punch.
Aside from static menus and episode selection, this seven disc set is completely barebones.
If you're a fan of the series or of the Transformers in general, then you'll want to add Transformers Cybertron - The Ultimate Collection to your video library regardless of its barebones presentation. Fans might be upset that there aren't any supplements here, and that's a legitimate complaint, but at least the entire series is available in one convenient and attractive package. Recommended for fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.