As one of the most successful franchises in American pop culture, The Transformers has already passed the quarter-century mark. Based on Hasbro's toy line of the same name (which, in turn, was adapted from a Japanese toy line by Takara), their success established a lasting connection between animation and marketing to younger audiences. Case in point: Hasbro's own G.I. Joe was relaunched in 1982---just two years prior to The Transformers---and after an FCC regulation was dropped in 1984 (prohibiting companies from broadcasting product-based animated shows), it was open season on parents' wallets. The swift success of The Transformers that year was also due to a Marvel Comics line based on the toys, which led to an avalanche of sales, spin-offs...and, of course, the infamous 1986 motion picture. Without question, you'd be hard-pressed to find a thirty-something not familiar with the franchise.
Transformers Prime is an ambitious CGI series that quickly won me over during the first season, thanks to a mixture of fun writing, great characters, excellent voice acting and plenty of action. It became obvious that most of the creative team grew up as huge fans of "G1" in the 1980s, since a number of familiar details were sprinkled in to keep nostalgic fans happy. From familiar voices to throwback sound effects and plenty of recurring character dynamics, Prime does an excellent job of celebrating the past without coming off like a pandering imitation. This kind of approach to entertainment works more often than not...and like the best examples of the genre, it can be enjoyed by parents in equal measure.
The formula continues into this year's second season; it aired from February through November on the Hub network, with a third season scheduled for next spring. 26 episodes are part of this four-disc set available on DVD and Blu-Ray; the latter features a solid A/V effort but fewer extras than last year. Before we get to the technical portion of the review, let's take a look at Season Two as a whole.
After the events of Season One, in which the gallant Autobots and dastardly Decepticons briefly joined forces to save Earth from Unicron, Autobot leader Optimus Prime becomes a victim of amnesia and reverts back to the identity of "Orion Pax" from his younger days. The three-part series opener doesn't waste time in exploring this malfunction, and it's not long before the former Prime is tricked into playing for the wrong team. Optimus' loyalties are questioned again later in the season during "Nemesis Prime" when a clone of the Autobot leader is discovered and wreaks havok on a military base. Season Two is hardly all about Prime, however: Bumblebee gets time to shine, while relationships between the kids and their Autobot guardians are also given room to breathe. On the other side of the coin, Starscream has gone rogue and his gradual journey back to the hopeful rank of sniveling, backstabbing Decepticon First Lieutenant is one of Season Two's many highlights. All things considered, this is a strong collection of episodes that enjoyably builds on Season One without painting itself into as tight of a corner.
Complete List of Season Two Episodes & Summaries (via Wikipedia)
Once again, Shout! Factory serves up a solid four-disc Blu-Ray collection, but it doesn't come cheap. The Limited Edition first season package included 26 episodes, a graphic novel, more than a dozen audio commentaries and a few minor extras for just over $60. That's a steep cost by any stretch, especially considering the DVD version retailed for half price. Season Two, unfortunately, skimps a little on the extras, doesn't include a graphic novel and features a similar price tag...so if you're a young fan on a budget, tough luck. Luckily, this release's saving grace is the content itself: these are uniformly strong episodes and the limited bonus features are of good quality. Transform and roll out, or whatever.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Transformers Prime: Season Two is good but not quite perfect. To be fair, a few small problems are inherently due to the source material, including mild aliasing and jagged edges. Mild compression artifacts can also been spotted along the way, which seems like more of an authoring issue than anything else. Otherwise, there's very little to complain about: the image is typically razor sharp with vivid, striking colors, crisp textures and strong black levels. So while there's a little room for improvement, I'd imagine that most fans of Prime will be pleased.
HEADS UP: This images in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's fancy-pants 1080p resolution.
The audio is a bit more consistent, as each episode arrives with your choice of DTS-HD 5.1 or LPCM 2.0 mixes. The former creates an enveloping and dynamic soundstage from start to finish, often filled with plenty of surround activity once the action heats up. A bit more low end would've helped to sell some of the action, as well as some more "punch" for the gunfire. Dialogue is crisp and Brian Tyler's score sounds excellent with no obvious sync issues. Overall, fans should appreciate the work that went into Prime's sound design, as this ambitious audio presentation is leaps and bounds above most animated TV shows.
Packaging, Presentation & Menu Design
Seen below, this four-disc set is housed in a multi-hubbed keepcase with a matching slipcover, and it's a standard height unlike the Season One Limited Edition. The menu is easy to navigate, though an endless sea of commercials must be skipped beforehand. Each 22-minute episode is divided into five chapters, no obvious layer changes were detected and this Blu-Ray appears to be locked for Region "A" players only.
Not much compared to Season One, but at least what's here is of good quality. "A Look Back"
(22:37) includes comments from Shout! Factory's Brian Ward, Hasbro president Stephen Davis, executive director Brian Lenard and Hasbro VP of Development Mike Vogel, executive produce Jeff Kline, producer/story editor Duane Capizzi, writer Stephen Melching, supervising director David Hartman, supervising color designer Christophe Vacher, art director Jose Lopez, background supervisor Vince Toyama, and episode directors Shaunt Nigoghossian, Vinton Heuck, Todd Waterman and Scooter Tidwell. All participants are obviously big fans of G1; among other topics, they discuss their roles is the current series, what initially drew them to the project, the development and production of this second season and where it's headed from here. A few implied spoilers are shown, so you should check out this piece after the episodes.
"Optimus Prime: Up Close & Personal" (28:04) was created for this years San Diego Comic Con; featuring Larry King and Peter Cullen, this lively Q&A dissects Cullen's life and how he ended up being a prolific voice actor. King obviously does a fine job as moderator and has no trouble pulling great answers out of his subject, while the audience supplies a number of questions during the second half of the event. Both extras are presented in 1080p but, unfortunately, do not include optional Closed Captions or subtitles.
Transformers Prime is obviously a labor of love, and I can't imagine any G1 fans (or their kids) rejecting what it brings to the table. Solid writing, terrific music, tons of action, great voice acting and colorful characters are but a few of Prime's highlights...and if there's any fault to this release, it falls squarely under the Blu-Ray specs. The A/V presentation is passable, but a lack of extras makes the price tag a little tough to swallow (especially in comparison to Season One, which included a comic book and more than a dozen audio commentaries). Die-hard fans will likely pick this up with hesitation, though casual viewers should just DVR the episodes or opt for the cheaper DVD release. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two in his spare time. Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD-DVDs and writing stuff in third person.