Optimus Prime, arguably more famous than C3PO or any other robot, is the leader of the Autobots. If there was ever a leader people (bots) would follow into hell and back, it would be him. Transformers have had quite an extensive history across toys, comics, video games, and movies, but for this post I’ll be sticking to the animated incarnations.
Generation 1, the first animated series, ran from 1984 – 1987. The premise had Megatron and his ship, the Nemesis, fleeing their wartorn home world of Cybertron. Optimus and his crew were in pursuit in the Ark. Both ships crashed on a prehistoric Earth, only to be awoken in 1985. The series ran for 98 episodes and saw a theatrical release. The Transformers movie was an interesting beast (songs performed by Weird Al), bringing with it many controversial changes. The Transfomers are back on Cybertron, still warring. The planet transformer Unicron (voiced by Orson Welles!) is headed to Cybertron to destroy it. Before he arrives, Megatron is flung into space where Unicron finds him and changes him into his herald, Galvatron (voiced by Leonard Nimoy). What divided the fanbase was the death of Optimus. As he lay dying, he passed the Matrix of leadership on to Ultra Magnus, but before Magnus could reach it, it fell into Hot Rod’s hands, who then became Rodimus Prime.
Hasbro received an incredibly violent backlash from the death of Optimus (mind you, this was pre-internet meaning they had to be really pissed to take the time to write and mail a letter). Because of this, they opted to change the then in production (but already animated) G.I. Joe movie, where Duke was supposed to (and clearly animated) die, but instead ‘fainted.’
The next incarnation came from Beast War: Transformers. Many years after the civil war ended and new Megatron and his crew stole an artifact and Optimus Primal and his Maximals were in pursuit. They crashed on a foreign world with two moons, and so much Energon (Transformers energy supply), that their equipment wouldn’t function. They assumed guises of local creatures (gorillas, cheetahs, etc.). The series suffered because of it’s limited cast and toy mandate from Hasbro. To accomodate this, they had many of the characters go through what amounts to mutations to have new models for toys. Despite this, there was an excellent story underneath. Eventually we find out this world was a science experiment from an ancient race. With the experiment tainted, they opt to destroy the world. The 2nd moon was in fact a canon. They managed to destroy the moon, and in doing so realized where they were; a prehistoric Earth. They found the Ark (Optimus’ ship), with it’s crew in hibernation. Their mission became to protect the Ark, as they were their ancestors, and it would create a paradox that would destroy them all. I loved it.
There was a sequel series with the same characters called Beast Machines. It was abhorrent and thankfully lasted one season. In the early 2000’s a new series debuted called the Unicron trilogy with Transformers: Armada, Energon, and Cybertron. I watched it a little but didn’t care for it. Mini-cons and some other nonsense.
Finally we have Transformers: Prime, currently running on The Hub in it’s third and final season. Not directly following, but in the same vein as the movies, the story has the similar setup to the movies and original series, albeit with a smaller cast. Peter Cullen and Frank Welker have returned to reprise their rolls as Optimus and Megatron respectively. I really enjoy it, and if you’re looking for a good Transformers show, this is the best on yet.
I have a minor squabble with Transformers as a whole. There is an incessant need to shove a human friend characters (Sam Witwicky…) down our throats in practically every iteration. This has never made sense to me, no matter how they explain it (story wise, not production wise). It is what it is.
I know there is a few I am missing a few minor ones (Animated, Japanese incarnations, etc), but covered the bigger series. Fun fact: Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) is also Eeyore.
What’s your favorite version of Transformers? Have a favorite character other than Bumble Bee? Comment or tweet! If you enjoyed what you read, please share.
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