While I'll always look to the original Marvel comic first as “my” G1, the Sunbow cartoon holds a very special place in my heart as well.
These are my top ten favorite episodes of the original Transformers cartoon!
10. The Autobot Run (Season 2, Episode 7)
|Chip Chase is a FRAUD.|
This episode is really only here as a sentimental favorite. It was the first episode I got to see on TV. Up until that point, I had only watched the Transformers cartoon on VHS tapes rented from my local Major Video, as I had been too young to see the original broadcast of the series.
Unfortunately, it was the Generation 2 version of the episode, so I was also introduced to the “magic” of the Cybernet Space Cube. Still, it remains a sentimental favorite because I remember being excited that Transformers was finally on TV for me to watch right after school.
The episode itself is...not great. As one of the infamous AKOM-produced episodes from Season 2, its animation quality is quite poor. Still, at the time and even now, I find a certain charm in their simplistic style. And the bit where Devastator throws Optimus Prime and Ironhide into a row of houses, yet leaving the one marked “Glass” undamaged always makes me chuckle.
HUFFER: I knew the racing bit was bad news, but would anyone listen to me? Oh, nooo.
(Huffer suddenly cries out as Brawn assails him.)
BRAWN: Stifle it, Huffer! Or I'll put my “footio” in your audio!
9. Dweller in the Depths (Season 3, Episode 22)
|"Paul Dini wrote this episode? I don't knooooow, Mistah Gee!"|
Written by Paul Dini of Batman the Animated Series fame, this was a nice “horror” episode of Transformers. In keeping with the more mature tone of Season 3, there's a lot of heavy material, high stakes, and disturbing images in this one.
The Transorganics and the Dweller are legitimately-horrific creatures. The scarred face of the Quintesson scientist who created the Dweller really unnerved me when I was younger. And of course, everyone the Dweller drained becoming energy vampires/zombies was quite creepy.
Under the talented Mr. Dini, everyone is naturally blessed with on-the-spot characterization. Galvatron continuously sacrificing his own troops to the Dweller in order to escape, only to hesitate when ever-loyal Cyclonus is ensnared remains a choice moment.
GALVATRON: Quintesson! You have betrayed us to the Autobots once before. Why should I trust you?
QUINTESSON: Please, Galvatron, you can't lay one bad experience on the doorstep of the whole Quintesson race. Besides, how can you be so certain that we were the ones who betrayed you?
GALVATRON: Well...you all do look alike.
8. Heavy Metal War (Season 1, episode 16)
|"Prepare to empty your wallets, human parents!"|
Okay, I admit it. As a kid, I only watched this episode so much because OH DEAR GOD BUY ME THESE TOYS SOMEONE. I mean, it's the debut of the Constructicons, and they fight the Dinobots. I would watch that fight over and over again after I had the episode on tape. Since this was in the nebulous time between G1 and G2, those particular toys were no longer available to me no matter how hard I wished, so I had to get my fix visually, if not tangibly.
The episode also has a pretty good battle between Optimus and Megatron, but honestly...I was never that big into either of them. But the animation is certainly an all-around high point in this episode, having been done by one of the better studios. Just don't watch the “Rhino” DVD version of this one...they used a rougher cut of the animation, with is riddled with coloring and layering errors.
The “flanging” effect on the Dinobots' voices seemed especially pronounced in this episode, to the point where they all sound a little...flemmy, I guess. But for some reason, I find that kind of memorable.
(As the Dinobots drive the Constructicons out of the Ark.)
SLUDGE: Sludge not see these Decepticons before.
SNARL: Not see again either, because we dynamite them to pieces!
7. Desertion of the Dinobots, Part 1 (Season 2, Episode 22)
|DO THE MEGATRON.|
This episode is probably the last time in the cartoon the Dinobots function as the dumb, but rebellious powerhouses they started off as. After this point, they mostly become comedy relief in Season 3, where they apparently forget they can transform to robot modes.
While the second part is also a solid episode, I think this initial part is the stronger of the two, both from a dramatic standpoint and a humorous one. Having faced their own mortality when Megatron nearly destroys them, the Dinobots angrily abandon the Autobots. Unlike previous episodes, where they were just defiant and difficult for no real reason other than being a little dim, it rings a lot truer this time.
On the comedy side of things, the Autobots and Decepticons have begun suffering various malfunctions as they face a mass-depletion of Cybertonium- a critical element in their natural functions. This leads to some really amusing stuff, like Ironhide freezing himself with his own liquid nitrogen, Megatron briefly developing a speech impediment, and best of all; the Decepticons losing their ability to fly in robot mode. This facilitates a great bit where they all try to leap to the sky and take off, only for all of them to just flop helplessly to the ground. Megatron's attempts to fly are particularly amusing, as the above GIF demonstrates.
(Wheeljack attempts to convince the defiant Dinobots to aid them.)
WHEELJACK: We really need your help. Why won't you give us a hand?
GRIMLOCK: (Rubs chin thoughtfully) Me don't know why not. So we help. This time.
(Everyone is starting to feel the effects of Cybertonium depletion.)
MEGATRON: It's the Auto-burrughr! The Auto-BURRRRRRUGGGGHRR!!!
STARSCREAM: Too bad! He's blown his vocal components. I guess that makes me the new leader!
(Starscream transforms to jet mode, takes off, and immediately crashes to the ground.)
6. Call of the Primitives (Season 3, Episode 26)
|All the pretty drawings in this episode and what I remember most are Abominus' antennae flicking out.|
Anyone will tell you that “Call of the Primitives” is the best-animated episode of Transformers. I'm...actually not so sure. Sure, the individual drawings and character models are very pretty, heavily-stylized and somewhat anime-esque. And there are some wonderfully-animated scenes, like Grimlock falling down the cliff after Tornedron baits him. But if you really pay attention you notice there are a ton of typical “shortcuts” taken with the animation as well and some things, like Predaking disassembling after receiving “the call”, look absolutely horrid.
But I do like this episode on its own merits; it kind of falls into that “one-off where everyone dies” category that I enjoy. The action is intense, the stakes are high and as always, the reliable voice-acting sells it. Grimlock is particularly dopey in this one, but it is a hilarious kind of dopey, and he ends up saving the day in the end. Kind of funny that he and the other Dinobots have so much screen time in this episode, when their toys were probably long gone from shelves by this time.
I don't think I've ever bought into the “Unicron was built by a little monkey-scientist” explanation, but it was nice that they tried to give an origin for Unicron in the actual show.
GRIMLOCK: GRIMLOCK STOMP ENEMIES!!!
SKY LNYX: No! Grimlock!
(Grimlock runs by Sky Lnyx in the most hilarious manner possible to attack Tornedron.)
GRIMLOCK: GRIMLOCK KNOW WHAT HE DOOOOOES!!!
5. The Burden Hardest To Bear (Season 3, Episode 28)
|I lost mah mojo...so I go to a dojo!|
The quintessential “Rodimus Prime doubts himself” episode. Although he does flirt with self-doubt in various other episodes in season 3, this is by far the most acute example, and probably what some fans point to when they accuse Rodimus of being whiny or a poor leader.
Not me, though!
I've always thought Rodimus was a more interesting character than Optimus Prime, and much more relatable to me as a character. And I found that I could certainly relate to being unable to measure up to someone else or being expected to be perfect in a job that I didn't even want to do, especially as I got older.
Above and beyond that, this is a well-written episode and a nice spotlight for Rodimus Prime and Scourge. While I had read “Matrix Quest” in the comics before seeing this episode, I had always thought the concept of a Decepticon using the Matrix as a weapon was a cool one. And while Scourge doesn't really get to effectively use it as well here as Thunderwing did in the comics, it was still a frightful image when the Matrix mutated his body.
It's just too bad that the episode where Rodimus Prime seemingly FINALLY gets over his self-doubt and embraces his role as leader of the Autobots is near-IMMEDIATELY followed up by “The Return of Optimus Prime”. That always struck me as odd and something of a shame, even as a young man.
SENSEI: You are troubled, Autoboto-san?
HOT ROD: Who, me? Nah.
SENSEI: You are lying, Autoboto-san.
HOT ROD: Yeah. I am.
4. Five Faces of Darkness, Part 1 (Season 3, Episode 1)
|"Yay, they're gonna go rescue me! Waitaminute..."|
Five Faces of Darkness was basically the sequel to Transformers: The Movie for me. As another VHS rented as a child, I remember the somewhat-incongruous cover that showed Mainframe, Cloudburst and Powermaster Optimus Prime posing dramatically as a giant Quintesson face loomed ominously in the background. Of course, none of those characters were actually IN Five Faces of Darkness, aside from Optimus Prime if I'm being charitable. But I don't think it bothered me too much as a kid since the content was so memorable. It is an AKOM episode, and thus is mostly quite poor in the animation department, but they do their job and even create some memorable images (and gaffes, as the picture above shows).
This episode was the start of Season 3, and it performed admirably in that capacity. Rodimus Prime, Ultra Magnus, Kup, Arcee, Springer, Cyclonus, Scourge, the Quintessons...all fixtures of Season 3, are ably established here. And there were plenty of speaking roles and cameos from characters from the previous two seasons as well. It really was something of a drastic departure from Transformers as many had known it up until the movie, but I don't think I had any trouble following along or accepting the new cast.
The pathetic state of the Decepticons is portrayed extremely effectively and Cyclonus, after having virtually no lines in the movie, emerges as one of the most compelling characters to watch for the rest of the season.
Similarly, Rodimus Prime quickly showcases how different a leader he is from Optimus Prime, and as I've said before, I found it much easier to relate to him. And laugh with him too, as Rodimus had a dry wit that contrasted with Optimus Prime's “safer” sense of humor. While many fans, including myself, may hear Judd Nelson's voice when they think of Hot Rod, I think it is safe to say many hear Dick Gautier for Rodimus Prime.
Finally, one last thing about this episode...
(To officially open the Galactic Olympics, Ultra Magnus turns things over to Rodimus Prime.)
RODIMUS: Let's do it!
MAGNUS: Didn't you want to say something about “concord” and “tranquility” in the galaxy?
RODIMUS: Aw, gimme a break. START THE GAMES!
(Rodimus and Grimlock observe the poor state of the Decepticons on Charr.)
RODIMUS: These guys are hurtin'. I never thought I'd feel sorry for the Decepticons.
GRIMLOCK: Me Grimlock not feel sorry. Me Grimlock laugh! (Does so)
3. More Than Meets the Eye, Part 1 (Season 1, Episode 1)
|Flying Autobots are the "Spider-Man's marriage" of the original cartoon.|
The first episode of Transformers that I personally ever watched was “Fire in the Sky”. It was a VHS rental and I guess it is a little odd that I never “imprinted” on Skyfire or any of the characters that were given a lot of screen time in that episode. But the cartoon's debut three-parter, “More Than Meets The Eye”, was probably one of the very next things I got to see, and thankfully the VHS contained the entire story. I must have found it much more riveting than Fire in the Sky, because I often re-rented MTMTE to watch many times when I was younger, whereas I seldom if EVER rented “Fire” again.
While I had read some of the comics before seeing this episode, I don't think I had gotten to read the first issue of Marvel's Transformers yet. So this was my default “origin” story for Transformers as a lad.
The debut episode does a good job at establishing the rules and feel of the cartoon continuity. Re-watching it nowadays, it does seem a little by-the-numbers and simplistic in its aims. And the leaden dialogue is only saved through the wonderful voice-acting. The animation at least is very nice and clean, particularly evident in the transformation sequences during Jazz's roll call towards the end of the episode.
For pure nostalgic value and historical significance, this episode kind of had to be here. Even turning a critical eye to it, I always enjoy a re-watch.
(Wheeljack and Bumblebee are under attack.)
BUMBLEBEE: Prime told me there'd be days like this!
WHEELJACK: And you didn't believe him?
BUMBLEBEE: I do now!
2. Dark Awakening (Season 3, Episode 8)
|"I'll be back. Unfortunately."|
You can kind of take this episode as a sign of how little Hasbro and whomever was managing the Transformers property was aware of how much Optimus Prime meant to people at the time. If this episode had come later in the season it might have well been scrapped. For the two previous seasons, Optimus Prime was a hero, a beloved icon, and even a father figure not just to the Autobots, but to the kids watching him every day on TV.
This episode brought that beloved icon and father figure back as a horrific walking corpse that betrays and attacks his loved ones, before sacrificing himself again for the common good. That's pretty ballsy for this or any cartoon aimed at kids and like I stated; it might not have been approved if anyone had any idea at the time just how much Optimus Prime's death affected people.
As anyone familiar with Transformers knows, parent and kid outcry over Optimus Prime's death forced Hasbro to bring him back. And in subsequent re-airings of this episode, clumsy narration was placed over the touching final scene. Our imitable narrator Victor Caroli, without a shred of irony, proclaims “Is this really the end of Optimus Prime? Find out in tomorrow's exciting episode, “The Return of Optimus Prime”!”
Still, taken on its own, this is one of the best episodes of the series, despite the fact that it is yet another AKOM effort and has piss-poor animation. Even so, there is some unforgettable imagery in here, and Peter Cullen gives a haunting, touching, and even inspirational “final” (hahahahaha) performance as Optimus Prime.
(Optimus comes back to his senses and returns the Matrix to Hot Rod.)
OPTIMUS: Monsters. They made me a weapon, to destroy the very ones I loved in life. But you will save them...Rodimus Prime.
1. Webworld (Season 3, Episode 16)
|"My mother was a real pistol! NYAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!"|
As a kid, this episode was pretty dumb. As as an adult, it's probably the funniest episode in the entire series.
Not just funny; this episode is a stellar bit of characterization for both Galvatron and Cyclonus and is my favorite episode of the original cartoon. The premise sounds goofy and simple enough; Cyclonus checks Galvatron into a mental institution. But everything from that point on is alternately very amusing or surprisingly heavy for a kids' cartoon.
Bits like Cyclonus having to fill out a ridiculous amount of forms to admit Galvatron are clearly aimed at an audience above the usual fare. And when the Torkuli finally decide that the only cure for Galvatron's madness is a complete lobotomy, things becomes deadly serious.
Cyclonus' loyalty and...uh...affection for Galvatron is never more apparent in this episode. Conversely, the fact that Galvatron does not immediately kill Cyclonus after being released speaks volumes. Some part of Galvatron recognizes that Cyclonus just wanted what was best for him and is possibly his only friend. And Cyclonus learns to just accept Galvatron for who he is- “He IS crazy!”
It is actually kind of touching, which is weird for a near-totally Decepticon-centric outing. Of course, the episode ends with Galvatron's madness decimating the entire planet of Torkulon and things going back to normal as they gleefully go off to hunt some more Autobots down. It's a happy ending!
I think my favorite bit, as evidenced by the GIF above is when Galvatron is undergoing therapy and is given the chance to assemble something physical to “aid in reconstructing his damaged psyche”. Of course, Galvatron (somehow!) builds a GUN and starts shooting the place up. I love that scene for all its absurdity. How did he build a gun? Why wouldn't he just use his arm cannon, which is still attached for no logical reason? How did they get Galvatron to even comply with the treatment? It is hilarious and ridiculous and makes me laugh every time.
CYCLONUS: Mighty Galvatron, please! We must use strategy!
GALVATRON: Strategy is for COWARDS!
(After decimating Torkulon.)
GALVATRON: This, Cyclonus, is beauty. Devastation wrought with precision and care!
And those are my favorite episodes of the original cartoon! Comments? Questions? Kudos? I'll accept 'em all.