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Author has written 10 stories for Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Animorphs, Pokémon, King Kong, Lion King, and Transformers/Beast Wars.
Transformers Animated VS Transformers Prime, plus my thoughts on Transformers Prime in general
When setting out to write Transformers Animated, Marty Isenberg brought many rennovations into the show. These included: (1) give the main cast distinct personalities, complex relationships and a team dynamic (2) don't feature the Decepticons in combat every episode otherwise they'll lose all their menace (3) do the unexpected, shake up the status quo and take risks. These are three of the main features that give Transformers Animated its strength. There also three things Transformers Prime falls short on.
(1) The main cast of Autobots in Transformers Prime are, at best, mildly interesting. Of all of them, I think only Arcee holds any real intrigue or depth. We're never quite sure what she'll do, which is a good thing. As for the others: Bulkhead and Bumblebee are entirely one-dimensional. They never delve into anything beyond Bumblebee being the cute little R2-D2 type character and Bulkhead being big, tough and clumsy. Optimus is dull, dull, dull. When Marty Isenberg began work on Transformers Animated, Optimus was presented to him as the classic Autobot Commander super soldier. He immediately went against this, pointing out that this would make Optimus exceptionally boring.
And he was right. Why should we relate to this classic rendition of Optimus Prime? Just because he's Optimus Prime? Because he's voiced by Peter Cullen? Vague feelings of nostalgia? He's utterly inhuman. He needs to have something to prove. He needs to have complex relationships with his comrades beyond "I fight alongside you, my old friend". He needs to be flawed. He needs to have regrets. And real regrets and flaws, not "I'm just too compassionate, I should never have let the bad guy escape, I can't help but be self-sacrificing", etc. Your main character's flaws should not be that he is too heroic. Where's the drama in that?
Ratchet in Prime is a classic example of why copy and paste doesn't work in writing. The assumption was "People like Animated Ratchet, who is cranky, let's make Prime Ratchet cranky". Unfortunately, Animated Ratchet also came with a lot more in tow: a bad attitude that went beyond his age, trauma, regret, loss, self-contempt, affection, humour, self-doubt. It becomes apparent that Animated Ratchet's bad attitude is a response to everything he's experienced: he's become cynical and jaded. But he's still a good guy and an idealist at heart: no scene in Transformers: Prime can compare with the sheer emotion of Ratchet's confession that he does care to Sari in "Lost and Found", or his heartfelt admission to Omega Supreme that he doesn't agree with the "we do what we must" sensibilites of his Autobot bosses in "Transwarped". Animated Ratchet is arguably the most well-developed character in Transformers history. How can Transformers: Prime Ratchet compare to that?
You can map out all the unique relationships between the Autobots in detail in Animated - Bulkhead and Bumblebee, Optimus and Prowl, Ratchet and Optimus, Bumblebee and Prowl. Even some of the ones that would seem harder to nail down, like Prowl and Ratchet, get a spotlight shone on them. Transformers Prime is already 41 episodes in - Transformers Animated only had 42 in its entirety. In Prime, can you describe the relationships between all of the principal characters in the same level of detail you could in Animated in less than 13 episodes?
(2) Not much needs to be said regarding the Decepticons, but to summarize I think the action in Prime utterly validates the theories behind Transformers Animated. When the Autobots go up against the Cons in Animated, it's a moment you've been waiting for. The protagonists are utterly outgunned by vastly superior opponents and must use their wits, teamwork and what tools they have to triumph. In Transformers Prime, every episode you basically get the Autobots smashing their way through a seemingly infinite army of Decepticon stormtroopers.
(3) The fandom generally howled with outrage upon the reveal of Animated. A strange art style? Optimus Prime not the leader of the Autobots? A focus on humour? Decepticons only in it occassionally? The fandom was shocked and chagrined. Yet these are the things that made the show work. Transformers Prime is just predictable. Optimus Prime is that Optimus Prime. The setting is a never-ending robot war. Unicron is in it. These are all from the A-Z guide for writing a Transformers show. I can only recall a few moments in Transformers Prime that genuinely surprised me. In Animated, I got several shocks per episode.
The point is that Transformers Prime is exactly what the fans want, and that's not a good thing. It immediately declares its intention to be dark by killing off a character we know nothing about within five minutes of the first episode starting. Being dark in tone is, of course, is a requirement fans have for their ideal Transformers show. But 'dark' does not necessarily mean sophisticated or clever. Better to lull viewers into complacency with a seemingly cheerful show that is still very sophisticated, and then hit the audience with the dark stuff when they've earnt it.
Now, does all this mean that Transformers Prime is bad? Not necessarily. Unlike, for instance, the Unicron Trilogy, I find Transformers Prime reasonable entertainment. It has its good points - Arcee has great potential, and so did Starscream, before he was relegated into something a comic relief villain. And to be fair Animated was a tough act to follow. I am merely comparing the two shows to demonstrate how Animated's ethos worked out, and how pandering to the fans isn't always the right solution.
I'm a guy from Wales (that little bit next to England). Please ignore all of my awful older fanfiction.
Favourite movies: Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, The Lord of the Rings, Ghostbusters, Jaws, Aliens, Rogue, Black Water, Burning Bright.
Favourite shows: Transformers: Animated, Blackadder, Hey Arnold!, the Simpsons, Look Around You, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Favourite books: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton, The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, many Terry Pratchett Discworld novels, Animal Farm by George Orwell.
Favorite artists: Xzibit, Dr Dre, Nate Dogg, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Ice Cube, NWA (No, I don't like heavy metal or rock, I like rap. Sue me).
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