When it comes to anime genres, I’ve always leaned heavily towards mecha. The first anime I dove into full-bore was Gundam Wing. I’ve only branched out from there, whether it’s older series like Gunbuster and The Big O or newer ones like Gurren Lagann and SSSS.Gridman. But that love for giant robots has to start somewhere, and for me, it began 4 million years ago on the distant planet Cybertron.
I’m definitely a child of the ‘80s, and loved all the toyetic series aimed at young boys at that time. But the one that hit me the most was Transformers. I loved the duality of the toys – one minute, you’re making Sideswipe and Bumblebee drag race across your living room floor, but when Starscream comes flying in to cause trouble, change them into their robot modes and start the throwdown! On top of that, though, they did an incredible job of bringing depth to the characters, thanks to Hasbro’s collaboration with Marvel when they designed the line. Each character had multiple paragraphs of combat history, special weapons and personality quirks. It imbued the toys with so much depth that you couldn’t help but bond with each one. To a point, it was almost too much – I’m still haunted by the time I took Optimus Prime to kindergarten show and tell, only to have a classmate toss him back to me. I wasn’t ready to catch it, dropped the leader of the Autobots on the thinly-carpeted concrete below, and cried for hours when his leg snapped off.
After I found out that Viz was finally bringing stateside a translation of the original ‘80s manga, I jumped at the chance to do the review. I’ve always been curious about a uniquely Japanese take on the franchise that started there, was reworked by Americans, then thrived in Japan, even cranking out toys years after the original Generation 1 line dried up in the US. It turns out that maybe I should’ve remembered the target audience.
Writer Masumi Kaneda was a writer on the Japanese version of the Transformers TV series and supervising producer on Transformers: The Movie, so he tied the manga in strongly to the show’s continuity. The story opens with the Autobots’ travails in Japan, where, after saving a young boy named Kenji from a Decepticon attack, they recruit him to let them know when the Decepticons are committing any treachery while the Autobots are back in America. That establishes the simple structure that’s repeated throughout the book. Kenji, often riding along with an Autobot, witnesses the Decepticons, calls for backup, and then robots fight until the Autobots win, typically with some sort of dropkick. Repeat ad nauseam. It’s an easy plot for younger children, but nothing remotely as deep as the American comics.
Where this book shines, though, is in the art of Ban Magami. Magami, who apprenticed under the legendary Leiji Matsumoto, eventually would team up with Kaneda to design the characters for the Japan-only continuations of the animated series, Super-God Masterforce and Transformers Zone. Reading the book almost feels like Magami’s application for the job, as he renders the Cybertronian combatants with a wonderful attention to detail, yet imbues them with energy and emotion. As an added bonus, the final 70+ pages of the book feature art Magami drew for TV Magazine, where the manga appeared in the ‘80s, to promote the animated series. The character sketches – many in color – and recaps of episodes give an extra depth to the world of Transformers that the book’s writing lacks.
Nostalgia can make us forgive a lot of shortcomings, and that’s no different with the first volume of Transformers. If you go in expecting a simplistic story aimed at children, it’ll help you appreciate the top notch artwork on display. If you grew up with the original series like I did, this book is definitely worth checking out. ‘Til all are one!
Originally serialized in Japan’s TV Magazine, these classic stories from the Generation 1 era of Transformers are now available in English for the first time!
The Autobots and Decepticons have been locked in a brutal civil war for eons, and now their battle has come to Earth! The Autobots seek peace and coexistence, while the Decepticons seek power and control. Earth and its populace are caught between the two as these mighty factions go head-to-head. Transformers took the world by storm shortly after their debut, and these previously uncollected stories were a vital part of that takeover!