By Ed Sum
Transformers Prime is an animated series that is inherently dark. With Beast Hunters being the final season of this saga, Cartoon Network is putting a close to what is perhaps the best of all the re-imaging of Hasbro’s flagship product. Some fans may feel disappointed, and others will have to wonder what will become of the Autobots in their darkest hour. With seven more episodes remaining to be broadcast, hopefully that will be enough to wrap up everything that this series is cumulating to. With Predaking around, the big question is when will Grimlock and the Dinobots appear? IDW Publishing has a comic book featuring this mighty dinosaur. But as for this series, the character of Grimwing has yet to make a full appearance (since he exists as a toy). The battle with the Decepticons is not looking too good with when there is dissention in the air with Ultra Magnus now part of the team.
Unlike the Generation 1 cartoon which emphasized selling a product than telling a grandiose space odyssey, the saga took on a different direction when the 1986 movie was made. When the television series resumed, the story-arcs became far more interesting when the back story—the origins of the world of Cyberton—was revealed. Both the film and the later seasons cemented the series’ lasting legacy because of three main characters.
In the Transformers Prime series, Optimus Prime is a legend straight out of Earth history. His wisdom is second to that of Buddha. The values he extols are something that Confucius would say. And there is poetry in the wisdom of the ancients being offered. Some of the words this version of Optimus extols makes people think. Some might consider him the perfect knight. Quite often, Optimus will offer his hand in friendship to those he recognizes as noble in heart. But not only that, he is often generous to those in need, courteous to even his enemies and dutiful in understanding what he represents to both enemy and friends alike.
And for those viewers looking for a cultural or literary connection, the fact that the team of Autobots are comprised of five individuals is in verbatim with many Sentai products from Japan. The heroes are always comprised of five warriors, and each of them represents a key virtue like courage, righteousness, benevolence, respect and loyalty. While the bushido code consists of seven traits and three additional virtues, the fact that their numbers match is interesting. By the third season, Wheeljack, Smokescreen and Ultra Magnus are considered to be part of Optimus’ special league of warriors. These star travelers have arrived on Earth to replace those who have fallen, and this connection to the ways of the samurai goes without saying.
Even though the rest of the Autobot team are characters of varying virtue, they often heed Optimus’ advice and benefit. But no leader is ever perfect when the knights of the table round are asked to partake in a Grail Quest. Throughout the series, a few of these warriors have embarked on their own spiritual journey in order to learn how to become that perfect knight. Some will fail. Others will succeed. Thankfully, this series has no Guinevere subplot, otherwise Camelot/Cybertron is truly doomed.
And the way this series progresses is more in league with how the historical Arthur protected his land from the invading Romans, led by Megatronus—the name this leader of the Decepticons used before the war started (“One Shall Rise, part 3”).
In contrast to everything the Autobots represents, Megatron is a Roman warrior at heart. In terms of how he rose to power, it is through a similar life-path to Caligula’s. He’s the type of character who tends to keep followers nearby, so he can feel confident about his soldiers supporting his next grandiose plan. But, according to Optimus, all he knows is how to dominate. Even when he tries to ally with Unicron, his attempt at being humble is stomped on when the planet-destroyer rejects him (“One Shall Rise, part 1”). Interestingly he attempts to satisfy his own ego, if not restore his own odd sense of honor, by going to the Autobots to forge an uneasy alliance to put away the chaos bringer.
But there is more to this character than meets the eye. His zeal tends to be his undoing, and that is evidenced in how he become the leader of the Decepticons. He rose to prominence in the gladiatorial Pits of Kaon (“Orion Pax”). In combat, he quickly learned how forcing opponents into submission will win a fight. And he feels that’s how he can rule when he changed careers, by trying to change from being a fighter to becoming a senator. He wanted equality for all classes to live in Cybertron. But because he only knew one approach, some might say he was laughed out of HIgh Council. He thought he could simply overthrow them through force and become the next Prime, a spiritual leader for all.
The way he was discarded may well be like how Hitler tried to overthrow his own German government in his first attempt. But in due time, Megatron would eventually succeed. Perhaps, to end the series with a bang, in the war to end all wars, the leader of the Decepticons will create his own demise and peace will fall upon the world of Earth and bring about a reawakening of Cybertron.
Another character that defies convention is Starscream. Viewers know that he will always be a second banana to the Decepticon cause. He yearns to be just like Megatron, to lead huge armies like Caesar, but he behaves more like Brutus. There’s a streak in him which makes him more of a vile coward than a brilliant military tactician. The irony is that when he blunders, he’s the first to run (“Rock Bottom”). If he could only be more confident in attaining his goals, then just maybe he might obtain a few victories. Quite often, viewers will find him asking himself why he has often failed. His soliloquies are right out of Shakespearean styled theatre (“Scatterzone”). There are times where he is tapping against the fourth wall than breaking it to give viewers insight to his way of thinking.
If this series can be considered to be a look at the best and worst of how these characters, historical or not, can behave, then the message it leaves is chilling. War over resource management is just one aspect that made this series franchise interesting, but for other viewers, they will find the matter of might and attrition particularly ironic. The Transformers Prime series paints a landscape where the Autobots are few and the Decepticons are many. Despite the fact that many Vehicons are damaged, if not destroyed, in a fight, they always come back.
While the fight for precious resources is often the reason for many a war, when its gone, no one wins. The survival of the fittest may well be an outdated theory. But if a Cybertronian cannot be fit enough to carry forward selective traits to the next generation, then why are the Decepticons relying on using an ancient terror—a Predacon—to track down Autobot survivors in season three? They must have lost a primal instinct to successfully do the job themselves. This detail may well be a foreshadow of what’s to come at the end of the series.
In season three’s episode, “Scattered,” Shockwave reveals how he has played God by re-sequencing cyber-nucleic acid. He successfully cloned a bio-technological unit that he can control but not necessarily placate. He sends the Predaking to do the deed of tracking down the Autobots.
Ultimately, if there is a final secret to discover, it will have to be in uncovering a key. The Autobots might have to reawaken Primus himself in order to reboot the world of Cybertron. Biology instead of technology is going to be the answer of what may happen in the final episodes of this saga.