For the last few years it’s been a wonderful time for fans of 80s cartoons. Between the lovely Filmation sets released by the now sadly defunct BCI Eclipse, Warner Bros. stepping up to the plate and offering action cartoons like Thundercats and the Silverhawks, WEP/Anime Works/Media Blasters releasing the complete series of Voltron, Time Life releasing the complete Real Ghostbusters, and Shout! Factory picking up dropped licenses for a ton of DiC and now Sunbow cartoons, releasing 30-odd episode sets instead of the paltry 4 episode discs for shows like C.O.P.S. and Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, it’s just been great.
With the recently released Transformers season one 25th anniversary edition, Shout! Factory has stepped up its game and taken on a tent-pole series, looking to correct the mistakes in the show’s past DVD releases (both in terms of price point, attractive packaging and actual animation and sound snafus from the 2002 Rhino releases.) Taking a nod from Time Life and their release of the Real Ghostbusters, Shout! is putting together multiple DVD sets that’ll hopefully appease both casual and hardcore fans. This set is the first of 4 individual releases that will comprise the complete Transformers cartoon.
This first set includes all 16 episodes from season one, a 20 minute documentary featurette featuring a lot of the creative team responsible for the original toy line, the Marvel comics series, and the cartoon, a G.I. Joe-style "Knowing is half the battle…" PSA featuring Bumblebee, three archival Hasbro toy commercials, a printable script for the episode "Transport to Oblivion", and a large b&w Autobot magnet. For the most part, these episodes are from the same masters that Rhino used in the 2002 releases, but Brian Ward and his team painstakingly researched the discrepancies between the original masters and the broadcast versions, and replaced most of the incorrect footage (and sound) with the correct sections from the 1" broadcast tapes. For casual fans these changes will be transparent, but for longtime viewers, these new DVDs are the closest we’ve gotten to how the show was originally shown on TV. Unfortunately, the 1" tapes segments tend to stick out a bit, and can be a bit jarring as the animation flows between the crisp sequences of the original masters and the softer, slightly duller 1" broadcast tape. On the whole though, knowing that the original broadcast versions are preserved far outweighs the visual bumpiness.
Here’s an example of the corrected animation from the episode "Fire in the Sky". Look to the missing Decepticon symbol on Skyfire’s chest in the original master footage from the 2002 Rhino release on the left, and the newly inserted footage from the 1" broadcast tape on the new Shout! DVD on the right…
The episodes included on disc 1:
-More Than Meets the Eye: Part 1
-More Than Meets the Eye: Part 2
-More Than Meets the Eye: Part 3
-Transport to Oblivion
-Roll for It
-Divide and Conquer
-Fire in the Sky
The episodes included on disc 2:
-Fire on the Mountain
-War of the Dinobots
-The Ultimate Doom: Part 1
-The Ultimate Doom: Part 2
-The Ultimate Doom: Part 3
-Countdown to Extinction
-A Plague of Insecticons
-Heavy Metal War
As far as the packaging, presentation and bonus materials go, I was very impressed by the attention to detail and that Shout! had and eye on the style of the original toy packaging when designing the slipcase, sleeve inserts, disc art and the episode guide. The foil embossed slipcase is brilliant and just plain beautiful (especially compared to the rather dull silver digipaks of the original 2002 Rhino release.) This is the best work I’ve seen from Shout! when it comes to their 80s cartoon releases. The menu navigation is light years better than the old Rhino DVDs as well, with an included feature to play multi-part episodes together without interrupting the flow of the cartoon by cutting out the opening and closing credits on the in-between episodes. The 20 minute "From Toy to Comic to Screen" featurette takes its cue from the docs that Andy Mangels did for the BCI Eclipse He-Man, She-Ra, and Dungeons and Dragons sets, and is well produced. The main focus of the doc centers around Hasbro acquiring the toy license from Takara, the development of the Marvel comic series, and eventually how the story-lines for the three platforms differed, and features creative talent that worked for Marvel, Hasbro and Sunbow past and present. It’s not quite as in-depth as I was hoping, skirting talk of the production of the series for the most part, but according to the specs of the Complete series set, we can expect two more docs in these individual sets, as well as two additional and exclusive docs on the complete set (including a voice actor reunion), so there’s room for more down the road. Also, it was kind of weird that the interviewees hid all mention of Marvel when talking about the comics, they’d just refer to "a comic company", or "that comic series". As for the toy commercials, two of them pertain to G1 toys, while a third is for the G2 Optimus Prime re-release. It’s really interesting seeing these, though it can be distracting while watching them because the child actor’s faces were blurred (I’m guessing for rights or residuals issues.) There’s also a glimpse of the Sunbow Marvel comics commercial in the documentary which kind of makes me hope that these will be included on future sets or maybe the complete set, but I’m not holding my breath…
All in all, for a set retailing between $20-30, fans couldn’t really ask for anything better considering the Rhino DVDs have been out of print and fetching upwards of $100 a set. This is the first time the Transformers series has been released with this much loving detail at such an affordable price in the US, and hopefully it’s just the icing on the cake as there are three more sets, as well as the G.I. Joe series to look forward to. Brian Ward and the team at Shout really did a great job with this set.