Monday, September 17, 2012

28th Anniversary of the Transformers Cartoon

OK. I admit it. When I was detailing all sorts of important Transformers anniversaries back in 2009, the 25th anniversary of the franchise, I gave the cartoon short-shrift, mentioning the 25th anniversary of the first appearance of the Dinobots, but ignoring the first airing of the cartoon altogether in favor of the release date of the first issue of the comic book. I even honored the 25th anniversary of the 1986 release of The Transformers: The Movie to movie theaters when the appropriate time came up in 2011. While it's well-known that I'm biased in favor of the comic book interpretation of what we now call "Generation One" as specifically opposed to the cartoon, this is simply unfair. So, although the "28th anniversary" is nowhere near as cool-sounding as "25th," I'm going to try to do something about it now, on the anniversary of the first episode of "More than Meets the Eye", the three-part story that kicked off the cartoon version of The Transformers.*

As innovative and intriguing as the toys themselves were (and are!), and as much as I do prefer the comic book, I don't think it's unfair to suggest that the concept of the Transformers would never have reached the heights of popularity that it has if it weren't for the cartoon that was created to promote it. While such a practice is by no means uncommon today, it was fairly controversial at the time of the mid-1980s to create a children's cartoon around a toy franchise. Concerned parents (and others who sought to promote the welfare of children) complained about the proliferation of half-hour "commercials," which arguably became even more widespread in that era than even today. I'm not entirely sure that such advocates were wrong, but that hardly diminished my enjoyment of the cartoon at all, and I'm not especially interested in discussing the merits of that debate here.

My preference for the comic notwithstanding, make no mistake, I did enjoy the Transformers cartoon. Most of the mistakes and continuity errors that the TFWiki takes such care to document were entirely lost on me at the time (and I'm sure I'd still miss more than a few of them even today, although I do have much more discerning eyes than my pre-teen self ever did). I just enjoyed the iconic struggle between good and evil, caught up in the science-fiction trappings of a group of alien robots who could change their forms for the purposes of disguise or utility. With all due respect to NBC's Thursday night block, this was "must see TV."

Say what one will about the cartoon, this is the version of the Transformers concept that most people will remember if you mention "Transformers" to them. How could it be otherwise? The cartoon was broadcast, for free, to televisions all around the world. The comic book (just to use my favorite example) was limited to the physical copies produced (in the mere tens of thousands, or the very low hundreds of thousands at the absolute most) and cost hard-earned allowance money to buy. This is, it probably goes without saying, one of the main reasons why current homage toys to long-standing Transformers characters often more closely resemble the cartoon animation models than the toys they homage, and why in cases of conflict between cartoon and other media, certain toys (such as the upcoming Rumble homage) are now beginning to default to the cartoon colors, despite a long-standing reality that only the cartoon followed the "FIRRIB" side of the debate until quite recently.

The cartoon has more than proven its influence over a generation, and as such, I'm happy to finally give it its due recognition.

*Yeah, I suppose I could wait a couple of years when the 30th anniversary comes around, but who knows what I'll be doing then? Besides, if "justice delayed is justice deferred," as modern civil rights leader Wade Henderson is reported to have said, I really shouldn't wait on this.

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