Before I start, I must say how glad I feel to finally view and own this series in its entirety, with the original Japanese soundtrack preserved. Although the subtitlers fucked up in places (in one key instance putting vital spoiler subtitles in the wrong episode), they generally did a decent-enough job of making this series easy to enjoy for UK TransFans. I hope that the upcoming subs for the Masterforce and Victory series raise the standard higher….
For those not in the know, Transformers: The Headmasters, the first 100% Japanese series in the TF canon, picks up shortly after the events which ended the third season of the U.S show; ignoring ‘The Rebirth’ story arc which concluded the cartoon in the States, Headmasters chronicles the adventures of the characters created for the 1987 toyline; chief among this motley crew stand the titular charas – mini-robots transforming into heads in order to utilized larger transector bodies. Other characters like the Targetmasters, Duocons, Japanese-exclusives the Trainbots and the six-changing Decepticon “ninja consultant” Six Shot get in on the action too, resulting in an enjoyable 35-episode battle-fest.
Stuff I liked:
- Unlike the previous American written seasons, Headmasters possesses a strong sense of continuity; whilst most of the episodes can certainly be enjoyed individually, a strong central narrative nonetheless underpins the series. The Japanese team seemed to take the writing process just that little bit more seriously than their American counterparts.
- The opening credit sequence kicks so much ass! Nothing like a great space battle scene overlaid by heroic, uplifting, sing-along vocals (from the guy who sang Dragon Ball Z‘s ‘Cha La Head Cha La’) to fire the enthusiasm! “KA-WA-RE, HE-DOH-MA-SU-TAAH!!! TA-TA-KA-E, HE-DOH-MA-SU-TAAAH!!”
- I especially liked how the interactions within the Decepticon ranks changed from previous instalments – perhaps symbolising the shifting of eras? Galvatron’s “BOW DOWN AND FELLATE THE EMPEROR OF DESTRUCTION!!!!” style of command soon makes way for Scorponok’s more “benign” manner; unlike Megs and Galvy, Scorponok treats those he commands more in the manner of comrades-in-arms, rather than cannon fodder underlings/ punching bags. The rivalry between Galvatron and Scorponok proves not a mere clash of leaders but also of leadership styles. Also Scorponok’s interactions with his army often struck me as more lighthearted than the more authoritarian style of the Autobot leader Fortress. A rather surprising and appreciated element, making the Deceps more likeable (despite the fact, in this instalment, they more thoroughly live up to the evil moniker thrust upon them).
- The clash between main Autobot Headmaster Chromedome and more experienced Targetmaster commander Pointblank worked well (mirrored, on the Decepticon side, by Weirdwolf and Slugslinger respectively). I only wish the Targetmasters had appeared in the show earlier – this dynamic could have played out in more detail.
Stuff I didn’t like so much:
- The background music. After the excellent symphonies of the post-movie series the BGM for this series just disappoints. Actually, taken on its own “merits”, the BGM for this series just disappoints. Silly tunes which don’t fit in at all with a tale depicting giant sentient robots battling each other. I did find a tune I sorta like amongst the muddy mediocrity, but ultimately BLEGH!
- The patchy characterisation. Eyes rolled upon watching sequences where a character suffers a huge loss only for some next character to tell a joke or utter a few words that make everything alright again! “Hey, your friend just detonated before you and so did your home planet – but SMILE!!!” However that’s a minor gripe compared to what they did to Six Shot, one of the best characters in the show; how can a guy, who turns ‘Bots into walking timebombs and massacres key characters suddenly turn round and befriend Daniel Witwicky of all the little fuckers in the universe!?! How can he (in the hilariously tragic English dub) allow himself to be called – guh – “Uncle Six Shot”!?!?
Saying that I wouldn’t mind this so much if events progressed toward it, rather than said episode emerging out of the void as an uncomfortable character shift! The writers fail to provide a motivation for this badass Decepticon ninja suddenly reformatting doting over a kid he and his crew spent a good part of the series trying to kill.
- The artless removal/ fading out of characters deemed “past it” by the writers. Now I understand that Transformers: The Movie did the same thing, but at least all those “obsolete” characters went out with a hint of the grand manner (only for some of them to turn up alive in this show) ; no such dignity in Headmasters! Optimus, in the space of the first three episodes, renders the conclusion to the post-movie season pointless; within eight episodes of retaking command, Rodimus decides, almost on a whim, to up and leave for galaxies far flung (and he did so well up to that point); Cyclonus downgrades from a proud, efficient lieutenant to a cowering little comic relief bitch; Magnus gets flushed down the river; and poor old Galvy, the fearsome Emperor of Destruction, gets frozen out to make way for the Class of ’87. Watching the show hammers the total lack of effort put into many of these departures and downgrades.
- The hilariously atrocious English dub. Good for a laugh or, as the commentator says, downing a shot every time a character growls “Darn it!”, otherwise you’ll swiftly switch to the subs. Prepare to laugh, prepare to cry as “ninja consultant” Six Shot faces Autobot battle base Philip (Metroplex) and communications officer Billy (Blaster). My disdain for sadism prevents me from scribing any more…
As much joy as this show brought me, it at the same time saddens me to see wasted potential dangling in front of my face. I know I could easily write Headmasters so much better, avoiding the pitfalls that pull it down. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that the show made me smile and laugh for many of the right reasons as well as the wrong. Hopefully the Masterforce and Victory shows iron out the creases clearly visible in this otherwise easy-to-wear slab of 80s animé fabric….