TR Review: Transformers Headmasters


?I promised you guys a review of Shout Factory’s DVD set of the first Japan-only Transformers series, and here it is. Ever since my ToyFare days– where I was first exposed to a shit-ton of Japanese Transformers toys of characters who were obviously important but were totally unknown to me — I’ve always been intrigued by the Japanese TF cartoons. I always wanted to know what they were like. Here’s the answer: Transformers Headmasters is crazy, chaotic, makes little to no sense, contains Transformers that are hard to tell apart, and the story is dependent on several macguffins that pop up and then are immediately forgotten about. Sound familiar?

But let me tell you why Headmasters still stands head and shoulders (HYUK HYUK) above Bayformers. First, there’s pretty much only two humans in the series, Spike and Daniel, and neither of them do that much or get that much screen time. Second, that means that every minute of every episode is about the Transformers, which means the Transformers actually have characterizations. It turns out that I can forgive a lot of plot problems when a Transformers movie/show is actually about the Transformers. As for those characters being hard to tell about, that’s mostly the Headmasters, and then only in their robot modes. Last, and most importantly, my standards for a cartoon made in Japan in the ’80s are a lot lower than a major motion picture with a budget of $300 million.

But that’s not to say Headmasters is bad. Sure, it’s goofy in an ’80s cartoon kind of way, and gets more progressively goofy in a Japanese way as the episodes go on, but it’s also epic. In the first six episodes alone you see Optimus, the G1 Autobots, the Decepticons from the movie, the Dinobots, the Stunticons, the Protectobots, the Constructicons, the Terrorcons, every single Autobot and Decepticon cassettes, and more. You get to see all these Transformers, all fighting the war, and it gives the cartoon a scope than the movies can’t match. And since the series was for a Japanese audience, the stakes are much higher than you remember — the previously resurrected Optimus dies pretty quick. Blaster and Soundwave actually beat each other to death (Blaster punches Soundwave through his cassette holder), and that’s way early — there’s plenty more death later. It’s pretty cool. Also cool: getting to characters I’ve known of but never knew, like Soundblaster (he’s a black resurrected Soundwave!), Scorponok (leader of the Decepticon Headmasters), and more. And maybe because I’ve never seen Headmasters before, but I didn’t get that “ugh-it-doesn’t-hold-up” feeling that I’ve had rewatching many other ’80s cartoons. It was nice to just focus on the nostalga.

Now the bad news: The video transfers are hardly pristine, and there’s one lonely extra, an art gallery. But given how old the show is and how it’s never made it to America, that’s both understandable and forgivable to me. And it’s not there’s enough of a market for Headmasters to justify remastering everything, so that’s fine. The real problem is the subtitles — they’re oddly timed, sometimes showing up early or late, occasionally when a different character is still on screen. And there are several typos, too. It’s very uncharacteristic of Shout Factory — I wonder if they bought the subtitles from the old PAL release or something, because Shout never does work like this.

Still, it’s not enough to ruin the experience, and it’s not like there’s going to be another Headmasters collection down the line, so get it now or never. Overall, I thought Headmasters was a lot of fun. If you’re a TF fan, I definitely recommend checking it out. At the very least, there’s not a single frame of John Turturro’s bare ass, so that’s something.