When I was a kid growing up in the 80s some of my most prized childhood possessions consisted of some Transformer or another. Whether it was Optimus Prime, Megatron or Jazz (always a favorite of mine, no idea why) these action figures were something special. I'm definitely not alone in that because just about every adolescent male around that time period had a pile of Transformers and could manipulate their forms with your eyes closed. Sure the show was a glorified commercial, like many cartoons were those days, but the series marched to a different drummer and really caught the imagination.
Over the years several attempts have been made to bring the Transformers back to their glory days. Any fan worth their salt could tell you as much as possible about the upcoming film directed by Michael Bay but over the years many animated series have graced both American and Japanese televisions. While Armada may not be the most liberal member in the franchise (that award probably goes to Beast Wars) it is certainly a departure from what fans of the original show are used to.
Transformers: Armada began in 2002 as a joint effort between American and Japanese proprietors. In case you aren't already privy to the information, this series takes place outside of the Generation 1 universe. That being the case, Armada could be considered a spin-off of sorts and is essentially a variation on the original with a few twists. Anyone that was ever into the Highlander movie franchise knows what I'm talking about.
In Armada the two prime forces are still squaring off with one another. The Autobots find themselves under the guidance of Optimus Prime while the Decepticons are rule by the metallic fist of Megatron. The twist with this series is the inclusion of transformers known as Mini-Cons which are little guys that add special powers to the bigger transformers who find them (or humans, whatever). The battle wages on as the two sides search for the Mini-Cons and try to harness enough power to gain dominance over the other. If you haven't figured it out yet, Armada basically boils down to the collect-a-thon style cartoon that is oh-so-popular these days. In other words it can get pretty redundant after a while and is very monotonous for anyone over a particular age group.
Anyone interested in the series though will most likely want to check out the DVDs released by Rhino. Some time ago the first half of season one was released and if you've been waiting for the second part to come out your prayers have been answered.
Unfortunately for the sake of this release Armada's potential audience seems to be split right down the middle between people who like it and people who don't. Each camp has their reasons why it succeeds (or fails) but if you approach the series with an open mind and no preconceptions about it being different from the Generation 1 universe then chances are you'll enjoy it on some level. To be fair though, the first half of the show (26 episodes) didn't make getting into the series all that easy. It became repetitive entirely too quickly and in many ways it made Transformers a watered down shadow of its former self. With this in mind does the second half fair any better?
In order to answer that question I really had to look at what was important to me as a viewer and what my expectations were. I have already admitted to being a fan of the original series so going into this rendition I knew it was going to be an uphill battle. The collect-them-all mentality that stems from the Mini-Cons was just something that I could never latch on to because; let's face it, if you're older than nine you won't be caught by that hook. The character development up to this point had been pretty stagnant to say the least which caused the show to feel lacking in a big way.
Fortunately for the show the content in episodes 27 through 52 feels more solid. Sure the Mini-Con quest is still at the forefront of the series but some solid continuity, character development and plot progression help the show gain some weight. More dramatic notes are hit this time around than in the first half and it certainly helps the atmosphere. Don't get too excited just yet though; there isn't anything too groundbreaking or surprising. This is a kid's show after all.
The set starts out with the deception of Sideways as he seemingly switches sides, though it's quite blatant that he has an ulterior motive. His character becomes pivotal to the quest for the Mini-Con weapons and there's quite a decent amount of development over the course of this season. In the meantime the two forces go head to head when a gigantic Decepticon known as Tidal Wave appears. The battle gets pretty intense and there is much hullabaloo over a particular group of Mini-Cons.
The end result is the impending doom of Earth which finds itself on the receiving end of a shot from the Hydra Cannon. It takes the noble sacrifice of an Autobot of importance to save the world. I'm not going to spoil it for you but just keep in mind if you check this set out that episode descriptions appear on the DVD case. It blatantly says who bites the dust. Though I doubt kids would care I found this to be kind of irritating to say the least.
Long time fans of Transformers will also recognize Unicron (see source of ultimate evil) who rears his ugly head in Armada as well. To say that a lot happens would be an understatement but let's just leave it at slightly predictable. The rise of Unicron impacts both sides of the Transformer's world and the action heats up as the season comes to a close. In fact the ending is a bit of a cliffhanger and leaves the door open for the sequel series Transformers: Energon.
The second half of Armada was definitely a step in the right direction in terms of story telling and the overall quality raised the bar. It in no way reaches the echelon that the Generation 1 universe hit but it comes around and proves to be entertaining at parts. The Mini-Con collecting thing never really did it for me and most of the development here was paper thing but if you're looking for a "decent" installment in the Transformers saga Armada may fit the bill. Keep an open mind and come with the understanding that this is a children's show and you'll walk away satisfied in some way.
Despite the fact that Transformers: Armada was produced in 2002 the video quality on the DVD makes it appear that the show predates that. Filled with grain, dirt and a sometimes less-than-vibrant sheen the image is nowhere near as brilliant as it should have been. The animation quality is a little lower than I'm used to with animated shows but this could have had a lot to do with budget and time constraints. In the end the series looks just okay on DVD but the transfer here is nothing to get excited about.
As far as audio presentation is concerned all you're going to get is a lackluster and crowded 2.0 stereo English track. The soundstage offers precious little channel separation and for the bulk of the show everything comes through at the same volume. Voices are often overshadowed by sound effects and/or music. The quality of the English dub is fair but many of the actors leave something to be desired in the end. No subtitles are included on this release.
The only "extra" featured on this release is a menu of Transformers that you can transform by pressing a button. That's it. This particular inclusion may entertain the kiddies for all over three minutes but if you are a serious fan looking for something more involved you're sadly left out in the cold.
Compared to the first half of Transformers: Armada, the second is a success. The Mini-Con plotline is still here in spades but the character and plot development take more dramatic shifts. There may not be anything groundbreaking here but compared to some other children's shows this Transformers turns out to be decent in the end. The all around quality is kind of lacking though with much left to be desired in terms of presentation. Still, Armada is a unique spin on an old concept that more or less succeeds and is worth checking out (as a rental) if you're a fan of Transformers.