I’ve got a lot of affection for the old G1 Transformers show and toys. I still have many of them in their boxes. So I was pretty hyped for Transformers: Battle For Cybertron, a new series on Netflix.
I was not prepared for a show that was very faithful to the look of that show while being radically different in tone. I suppose I found it a little jarring.
Without going into too many spoilers, this takes place as somewhat of a prequel to the story we are probably most familiar with: Optimus Prime and the Autobots escaping Cybertron and landing on Earth. It shows a lot more of Cybertron and what a desolate place it has become thanks to endless war.
There’s a lot of hints that the Decepticons, who rule this world, having only done so somewhat recently and have done it because they were ruled over by the Autobots. It’s also hinted that the Autobots didn’t treat them very well.
However, Megatron has let the power go to his head. This is Megatron who is not quite as evil as you might think but is definitely breaking bad. Or maybe breaking worse. He’s out to either reprogram all the remaining Autobots to become Decepticons or just outright genocide them.
The rest of the characters are given somewhat short shrift but they are grittier and harder than you might remember. There was a cheerfulness to the original series that is gone here in favor of a depressing warzone. Optimus is followed, and his army is loyal, but they also question him time and time again. Sometimes he comes across a little out of touch with the problems that are going on.
Bumblebee has the most complete character arc, starting out a smuggler and scavenger who wants nothing to do with either side.
Jetfire also has an interesting arc, but there’s not enough to see at the beginning that he might have doubts, so when he switches, it just feels a little rote. He’s Jetfire, he’s the guy who switches sides, so it’s just a matter of counting down until he does it.
The hints at the relations between the two factions and what caused the war are just that, hints. We never get enough reasons why the two ended up like this. If the Autobots were that bad to the Decepticons, they never seem that way. At least a couple of Decepticons are a little more layered.
It’s a way to blur the lines between good and evil and make you question things you shouldn’t need to question. I’m not sure I like it.
Still, as a story, it’s well told. Perhaps I just need to let go of my old impressions of the characters if I want to truly enjoy it. I certainly found myself working my way through the brief 6 twenty-two minute episode. There are two more seasons coming, forming a trilogy.
The animation is also top-notch. The robots look great and return of the transforming sound effect is always welcome. But why do they blink? They are robots! Why are they blinking?!?!
Ok, that’s a nitpick but damn it was distracting. Overall, I recommend it but be prepared for a much different tone than what you might be used to.