The Tough Topics: Death in Transformers: How Much is Too Much?

Discussion in 'Transformers General Discussion' started by Gojira Prime, Nov 29, 2009.

  1. Gojira Prime

    Gojira Prime Narf

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    Welcome one and all to a series of threads intended for serious, intelligent discussion about various "big idea" topics in the Transformers franchise and fandom. Please note, things might get pretty heavy handed, so if you're not really in the mood for that, come back later, we understand. Tonight's topic comes from the fiction.

    Death is not something you would expect as a major theme in a property based off a toy-line, but ever since the 1986 animated movie, characters in Transformers are killed off on a seemingly daily basis. Recent major examples include:
    -Jazz died in the first live action movie, Optimus in the second.
    -Starscream and Blurr kicked the bucket (for good it looks like) in season 3 of Animated.
    -Ironhide was killed off in issue one of IDW's new ongoing comic series.
    -Others that I'm sure people will remind me of in the topic.

    So the question we are posing here is: is it too much?

    Does having so many deaths in the fiction diminish the impact of them?

    What kind of message does character death en-masse (IE: '86 movie) send to young fans?

    Should Hasbro back off on this for a while?

    Do these deaths seem more like cheap ploys to tug at the heartstrings and excuses to not have characters around for a while than actual important parts of the story?

    Some things to keep in mind while discussing:

    -While primarily aimed at kids, Transformers does have a war setting, and in all war, casualties will happen. Thus, we are not looking at the deaths of background characters and grunts, only main characters.

    -While Beast Wars had quite a few deaths, they were-for the most part-handled in a mature way. To put it short, each death was important.

    -Death for Transformers has always been ambiguous. Characters do not always stay dead, and even when they do, their consciences seem to be able to carry on. This might be an aspect of the fiction which makes death as a whole less impactive than in other series.

    There you have it, let the discussion begin!
     
  2. Optimus Sledge

    Optimus Sledge Yar har fiddle di dee

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    Death in fiction needs to have a meaning, and it needs to be awesome. For example, Prime's death in TF:TM works well. He goes out in a crowning moment (more like sequence) of awesome, with his last ounce of strength single-handedly turns the tide of the battle, and seemingly strikes a fatal blow to his mortal enemy. If you gotta go, that's the way to do it.

    Contrast with the deaths of Soundwave and Blaster in Headmasters. Ok, the fight itself is pretty damn cool. But both characters are resurrected in the next episode! What was the point of all the emotion and drama?

    Contrast further with the casual body count racked up in the Simon Furman stories. Ok, it's a war and people die. But it's pretty frickin' annoying if you're a fan of, say, Nightbeat to see him blow himself up without even mentioning what happens to Muzzle.

    Bottom line: it's fiction. If you're going to kill someone, fine, but do it properly. Oh, and stop killing Optimus Prime. We know he's going to come back, that little trope got old about ten years ago.
     
  3. Brrjit

    Brrjit Fembot in Disguise

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    Children need to learn about death in some way or another. When I was a child, the death of Littlefoot's mother taught me that life ends for everyone eventually. It helps you deal with death later on in life (for example, when a grandparent dies).

    I also think it's important to treat children in a mature fashion sometimes. The world isn't sunshine and lollipops - I like cartoons that are bold enough not to treat kids like idiots. Kids appreciate realistic storytelling; like you said, nearly every Transformers series deals with the issue of war. Character death is bound to happen.

    Dinobot's death scene in Beast Wars was one of the most touching and well-written scenes in the entire TF universe, in my opinion. Optimus Prime's dying words in the 1986 movie still bounce around in my head from time to time. I sat in disbelief at the end of TFA, certain that Prowl was going to come back.

    Overall, I think that deaths in the TF series are essential factors in storytelling. They strike emotional chords and really make us ponder about life and death.

    "Tell my tale to those who ask. Tell it truly...the ill deeds along with the good, and let me be judged accordingly.
    The rest...is silence."
     
  4. Gojira Prime

    Gojira Prime Narf

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    Off to a great start! I would certainly concer. And let us not forget the immense pileup of "oh, he's dead" deaths in the '86 movie. Prowl, Ratchet, Brawn, Wheeljack, Windcharger, the list goes on. I would have loved if Brawn got a good sendoff, seeing as he was such a badass in the show.

    Take the proverbial +1 for brining up Dinobot and Prowl's deaths. Both of those really struck a chord with me as well.

    And yes, when we're talking about it in things like Beast Wars and Animated, it is important, and it can be a way to teach kids about these bigger ideas. But when you have the kind of thing you see in the shuttle attack in the '86 movie, the death isn't impactive, it's just there. Now, I've got no problem if they do it once and a while, but like Sledge brought up, they do it quite often. If this is a child's first exposure ot the concept of death, the concept will be meaningless, at least until they lose someone in real life. That's not good.
     
  5. ORIO

    ORIO Plant-Based Bot Super Mod News Staff

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    Death is an enjoyable part of Transformers.

    Hate to say it but its true. Prowls death in Animated, Dinobots in Beast Wars and Primes in the 86 movie were amazing. You can't deny that these deaths made the characters that we may have taken for granted, that much more important to us.
     
  6. SwindlesShop

    SwindlesShop Kenny Power's drug dealer

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    I think watching Prowl's death in the 1986 movie sparked alotta pissed off emotions to me, he's one of the coolest characters and he doesnt even get a line before he dies? Season 1 and 2 were the strongest point of the G1 series, after that it got too serious and caught up in itself. In my opinion if their going to kill of characters they needa stay dead and not be reborn as Thundercracker and Skywarp were.
     
  7. Optimus Sledge

    Optimus Sledge Yar har fiddle di dee

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    Yeah, a lot of deaths in the '86 movie fall could have been done better. The offscreen deaths are especially galling. That sort of thing sends a message of "we don't give a fuck about the characters, buy the new toys replacing them." Of course, that WAS the reason for those deaths, but it would be nice if things had improved since then. Looking at the Bayformers films... no. Jazz's death in the first film didn't seem to bother his friends, and the Decepticons seem to have turned into a red shirt army. Bah.
     
  8. deltaprime

    deltaprime The Christian Transfan

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    There have been some pretty good points brought up in here so far. To me, it seems like a character could "die," but have his conscience go on, like Prime's first death in the comics (thanks to a video game of all things.) Then a character could die in the way that his spark is extinguished completely. I don't know, it may sound a bit dumb, but it almost seems like there are two different realms of death for a TF.

    As for killing off a character in the franchise, I think that the writers should slow it down a bit. I know that alot of guys were killed off pointlessly for the sake of selling toys. Hasbro is, afterall, a toy company. I just wish that the fact that they're trying to sell toys didn't mess the fiction up so much. I mean, Prime died in the Marvel comics how many times? And when you think of it, he came back to life around the time the new Powermaster and Actionmaster version of him came out in stores. It's a bit ridiculous.
     
  9. Gojira Prime

    Gojira Prime Narf

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    The Rifftrax crew said it best: "Ahh Jazz, we lost a great sterotype today."

    If I'm not mistaken, he came back AS Powermaster Prime. Now that's just low.
     
  10. Jochimus

    Jochimus Well-Known Member

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    IIRC that was the just the first time, in the comics; he died and came back AGAIN - in his Actionmaster form - just in time for the very last issue.
     
  11. GENOZAUR

    GENOZAUR Banned

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    ad armadaverse screamers death whileyour at it

    it was right up there with dinobots death you ask me
     
  12. Dran0n

    Dran0n Junk male

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    Ditto.
     
  13. Moonscream

    Moonscream YES, We EXIST!

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    One thing I see is that the fiction is a chance to introduce kids to the concept of the heroic death - dying for something you know is right or because you love the ones you're sacrificing for. Its not something kids generally get to witness firsthand (and shouldn't!) but watching the characters go through it makes the concept of the ultimate sacrifice easy to understand and a tangible example for them. I wouldn't be at all surprised if a number of military members who've earned honors for heroism in the current conflicts could point to the death of Prime or Dinobot as one of their early influences.

    --Moony
     
  14. Scantron

    Scantron Well-Known Member

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    I don't generally mind death in the TF mythos, in the following circumstances:

    - Heroic Sacrifice - Whatever the character's story arc, it's ended up at a point where the character has to choose to make a sacrifice and, fitting with their character development, they choose to give up their lives. Eg - BW Dinobot, TFA Prowl, Armada Starscream, Optimus Prime in general.
    - "It's the Only Way" - Cases where, really, killing a villain is the only way to stop them. Best example is Unicron, but BW Rampage and TFA Starscream were also cases that would have been difficult to stop any other way.
    - Karmic Death - Cases where the character could be stopped another way, but has earned their fate and anything else happening to them isn't "satisfying" in the story. Eg - Armada Thrust.
    - Casualties of War - It stretches suspension of disbelief if the same small group of characters is able to fight a war for thousands/millions of years and neither side seems to suffer any casualties (ie - the G1 cartoon). Cases where, in the course of battle, someone dies (not counting heroic sacrifices). TFTM07 and RotF have the most of this, including human casualties.
    - Random Death - Cases where the character is just in the wrong place at the wrong time and, hey, life sucks sometimes. Eg - BW Scorponok, BW Terrorsaur, BW Quickstrike, BW Inferno.

    The only times deaths in the TF series really bug me are when it's a mass slaughter, solely to clear out unneeded characters. Sure, sometimes things go pear-shaped and it's reasonable to expect a lot of characters to die (ie - Unicron just showed up). This is just cases where the deaths are almost entirely due to a need to 'clean house' for one reason or another and don't contribute much to the story, usually clearing out characters who don't have toys out any more. Examples: TFTM86, where most of the pre-Movie characters were cleared out for the characters with new toys; The Underbase Saga, killing virtually anyone who wasn't a Pretender or [x]master; Time Wars, clearing out most of Furman's pet characters since he was moving on; Marvel G1 #75, clearing out the Pretenders and [x]masters to make room for the Actionmasters.
     
  15. Ash from Carolina

    Ash from Carolina Junior Smeghead

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    I think death often becomes a gimmick once a writer or writers get on a kick of killing off characters.

    Comic books seem to be the worst at using death as a gimmick to try and sell a few more issues. I remember back when Devils Due got so kill crazy that it became a joke about characters showing up just to get killed. Eventually fans got turned off and deaths lost all their impact.

    Perhaps not playing the death card very often is the way to go because Dinobot really had a lot of impact because death was such an uncommon thing. The once in a blue moon death seems to have more impact that when the deaths are flowing left and right.

    It also seems like an off screen death can have more of an impact than the on screen deaths. I remember an episode of Avatar the Last Airbender where Uncle has a ritual to remember his lost son. Even though we didn't know the kid and all there is to go on was a photograph it seemed like it had a deeper emotional impact than if we had seen how he died.
     
  16. Shelfwarmercon

    Shelfwarmercon Well-Known Member

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    Death sells. As macabre as it is, there's enough real-life examples to show it.

    I think one reason why a lot of character deaths in the animated movie weren't given as much attention as we think they should have is simply an indication of how the creative teams generally used these characters. It wasn't uncommon to have new characters show up without any fanfare, leaving viewers to fill in the blanks on when and how these guys showed up. So why should there be as much fanfare in dropping them from the show?
     
  17. Shockwave 75

    Shockwave 75 Master of the Rules.

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    There have been some good points made so far about exposing kids to the concept of death, and that this series is about war and people die in war.

    But I look at this another way, especially when it comes to the comics, which aren't really read by kids: I'm a paying customer, and I want to get my monthly book to read about my favorite characters in my favorite toyline/universe. Stop killing them!

    I know that there are tons of B and C characters that no one really cares about to kill off if need be, and sure "why should we care about the death of a character that we didn't care about in the first place?", but really!

    I liken it to the Justice League book. As soon as most of or all of "the big 7" left, I dropped the book. And so do most people judging by the sales. Why? Cuz when I read JLA I want to see Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, et al kicking ass, not the second and third stringers!
    Sure some of them are interesting characters, and even I have some favorites among them; Red Tornado for example.

    Basically all I'd advocate is to leave the "core" characters alone, and if we simply must kill off someone, I say rotate up one of the B/C characters, make us love them, then gank them!

    If you kill off all the characters we love, what's the point of the book then? To read the adventures of Guzzle, Moonrock, and Rad as they battle against Airwave, Excavator, and Jolt? I don't think so.
    Even if it was really well written, without the "core" characters in the mix, no one would care.

    Beisdes, I have always maintained that the very nature of the TF's makes true death very difficult. You don't even have to kill them, have them damaged beyond belief and disappear for a while, thus giving other, perhaps less known characters time to shine.

    Sometimes I think we take this fiction a little too seriously. This isn't Shakespear after all. People don't have to die every other issue for it to be well written.

    Cripes, the TF books have been such a downer for a REALLY long time now, I'd like to see the fun come back!
     
  18. Pravus Prime

    Pravus Prime Sorcerer

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    This is an issue to which I'm really of two minds.

    On the one hand, war is hell, and a prolonged TF war seems to be more about a war of attrition then anything else. Given that we have at this point thousands of characters, while it would annoy certain hardcore obscure fan favorites, killing off several characters over the course of a series would be far more realilistic then anything we've seen. Take for example G1. While we start with a set first season cast, over the course of the season certain characters die, however both sides also get re-enforcements in the S2 characters, and so forth. There's a changing roster and sometimes the characters deaths are important, but sometimes they just die in battle. However, unlike the presentation in the movie, instead of a clean sweep, say characters like Ironhide and Ratchet and others would've stuck around into well into the "fourth" or "fifth" season, so to say. Gimmick groups could be treated as units coming in to aide their respective teams at certain points. It would also allow for some interesting character/development angles in a situation with a high mortality rate. How would the Combaticons handle the death of Blast Off? Would Hot Rod be court martialed if he made an impulsive move which saved the Autobot base but left Chromedome without backup which got him killed? Would Starscream change if he lost 3/4 of the Seeker forces who were following his ego-based orders? Would Ratchet start taking longer to repair his fellow bots after he realizes how fast they go back out and perish? Besides opening up new storytelling avenues it would also be far more realilistic, both sides are in a war[/]. Furthermore while heroic deaths can be great stories, not every character should get a heroic death, after all, how many people die one? Not many.

    On the other hand, as mentioned, when rare, some of the character deaths are the best stories in the franchise. Dinobot, G1 prime, TFA Prowl. As mentioned previously, while there are thousands of characters, killing them off just to tell a death filled story can also really annoy fans of certain characters. For example, if a new series brought in Cosmos, then later killed him off because war is hell, I'd be unhappy with it. Plus, as a childrens oriented franchise, killing off too many characters, especially for no reason, probably won't win over an audience or please parents. In addition there's always that weird disconnect between an A lister and "the fodder" characters that also can make a series disjointed; we don't want to make a bunch of named characters the equivalent of Red Shirts.
     
  19. Valkysas

    Valkysas Attack Buffalo

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    What?

    that was one of the lamest fights ever to be animated.

    they stood right in front of each other, shot randomly, bent down, and then punched each other, and that was it.
     
  20. Optimus Sledge

    Optimus Sledge Yar har fiddle di dee

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    Ok, ok, the CONCEPT of the fight was cool. Even if I did prefer the fight in Autobop.

    Which Soundwave WON, by the way. Blaster's a cheater.
     

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