TRANSFORMERS: VICTORY Cert: U Dir: Yoshikata Arata Starring: Hideyuki Tanaka, Takeshi Aono, Miyako Endo, Kyoko Tongu, Keiichi Nanba FEATURE Transformers: Victory was the third Japanese-exclusive Transformers animated series, originally broadcast in 1989 after ‘88’s Super-God Masterforce and ‘87’s Headmasters, both previously released in similar box sets by Metrodome. As with Masterforce before it, Victory begins a new story that occupies the Generation 1 animated series universe, with an all-new cast of characters at an unidentified point in the near future. But where Masterforce used repainted, recast American toys to forge its characters, Victory’s new faces are almost entirely originally Japanese. The series introduces a new wave of Autobots under the command of Star Saber (Tanaka), protecting the Earth against the advances of the new Decepticon Emperor of Destruction, Deszaras (Aono), who schemes to steal Earth’s energy to reactive his planet-destroying space fortress. In contrast to Masterforce, Victory eschews any kind of real continuing plot, returning to the episodic approach of the American series, with the Autobots thwarting the Decepticons’ daily plots before the series culminates in the much threatened attack of Deszaras’s fortress. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing – it was, like I said, the approach taken by the American series, and I love the American series. Energy imps, mind-control, evil clones, super powers, and all manner of evil intentions and alien devices from electro-cells to flying fortresses always kept the series lively, but the outlandish nature of many of the ideas constantly had the show dancing wildly up and down the quality spectrum. Victory is almost the antithesis of this for its entire first half – there are none of these wacky schemes and plot devices, and the plot is basically the same thing every episode, with the Decepticons attacking a location, and the Autobots turning up to stop them, possibly with the introduction of a new combiner. This keeps the series on a very even keel, not rising or failing in quality, but it’s all terribly flat, and feels very much like a lack of imagination. Thankfully, this doesn’t go on forever. Just before the series reaches the halfway point, the cast is shot off into space for a trip to Planet Micro, providing a change of scenery and a different style of plot (centred on the Decepticon Brestforce’s rescue of one of their number, Gaihawk) that is very refreshing. It’s uphill from there, with the introduction of Liokaiser, the return of God Ginrai from Masterforce, and steadily more and more imaginative single-episode stories in the style of the US series, with concepts as fun and unusual as deadly metal-eating insects and Leozack pretending to be Star Saber. The final trilogy of episodes, in particular, are especially exciting, energetic and eventful, ending the series with one of the top three Transformers one-on-one fights of all time. The characters of Victory are, much like the storytelling of the series itself, a mixed bag. The Japanese production team persist in writing the Autobots into an embarrassingly rigid military structure, with everyone referring to each other with titles (“Yes, Supreme Commander!” “Right away, Lieutenant Commander!”), rather than names, which does nothing but grate. All three members of the Autobot Brainmasters are completely interchangeable in personality, and the Multiforce aren’t much better – pretty much all you can say about them is “Uh, Wingwaver and Blacker didn’t get on that well in one episode.” And Star Saber is the stereotypical J-TF Autobot leader, with all the personality of a Jacob’s Cream Cracker and an unending penchant for “OH BURNING HEART I MUST SUCCEED” speeches about the beauty of peace and nature. I said it before, and I’ll say it again – say what you will about Optimus Prime, but at least he had a gentle sense of humour that kept him accessible and entertaining. Star Saber is about as interesting as watching paint dry – except when he’s totally contradicting his own speeches about how great peace is by kicking epic amounts of ass in battle. Because really, when we get down to it, Victory IS just about kicking ass, in the most thorough and straightforward way possible. It is those characters whose asses are being kicked that inject the show with life and comedy and make it worth watching. You know what you’re in for with the Decepticons when they make their first appearance in the series in the form of the inept Dinosaur Force. This team’s obvious physical comedy may come as a rude shock to some viewers off the bat, because it is so vastly UNLIKE anything that they will have seen in Transformers before now - I know I certainly felt that way, but I personally found them to become genuinely endearing and amusing as the series went on. The other Decepticon team in the series, meanwhile, is the Brestforce, featuring memorable characters like Leozack (Nanba) and Hellbat (Shioya Yoku), Starscream-style schemers who are constantly trying to one-up each other in the eyes of Deszaras, who they are actually both trying to overthrow as well. The show also gets points for its token human character, Jan Minakaze (Endo), who is one of the more intelligently-integrated human characters from the many Transformers series. After the death of his parents when he was just a baby, he was actually raised by the Autobots, and rather than just being the human friend that tags along on mission whether they’re needed or not, is treated as a member of the Autobot army, and is given tasks and missions of his own. Ultimately, he IS only usually involved in crowd control alongside his Micromaster chum Holi (Tongu), but it’s great seeing a human character with a defined reason for being there, who is important in his own, consistent, believable way – this stuff is a far cry from Spike suddenly being able to rally the Autobots to action by grabbing Jazz’s gun and planning to fight the Decepticons himself, or the Armada kids being brought into war zones for absolutely no reason. And of course, a review of Victory would be remiss if it did not mention that it is the most JAPANESE of all the Eastern G1 shows – not just because of the unique characters and toys, but because of the anime facefaults constantly used by the Dinosaur Force, the crazy, super-deformed “chibi” versions of the characters that populate the commercial bumpers and closing sequence, and the closing theme music itself, a bizarre, cheeky tune that constantly chirrups “Chichichichichin pui!” and features an infant Star Saber wetting the bed and using the soiled sheet as a superhero cape. Mm-hmn. In summation, Victory is a show that tests you. By which I mean, it tests your patience. Very little of the first half of the show is worth watching on the strength of the story, but if you give up on it then, you’ll be missing out on the much better stuff that comes along in the second half. Similarly, the protagonists are completely uninteresting, with the Decepticons easily being the most enjoyable characters to watch – except they’re not fully assembled, and their characters not fully realised, until that same latter portion of the series. The first half is a slog, but it pays off – if nothing else, you can switch your brain off and just enjoy the fun noises and pretty pictures, since Victory sports a strong soundtrack, and some of the most consistently strong animation of the G1 era. Despite all the hoo-hah the series is smothered in online, however, in no way, shape or form do I consider it to be the best Japanese series – Masterforce still wears that crown. DISC SPECS Thirty-two episodes across four discs, in groups of eight. The video is unremastered, but perfectly watchable, and is complete, with all commercial bumpers and previews. The only audio stream available is the original Japanese audio, with English subtitles translated by Jordan L. Derber, that have previously seen use on TV Nihon’s online fansubs of the series. The subs have undergone a bit of work by me for purposes of Anglicization, changing American spellings and slang to Commonwealth and switching out a few Japanese terms for English ones. As some may be aware, Victory originally consisted of thirty-EIGHT broadcast episodes, a preposterous SIX of which (including the final ep of the series) were clip shows. Given their lack of any new footage and general utter pointlessness (which is evidenced, I think, by the fact that TV Nihon did not even bother to sub them all), they have been excised from this DVD set, leaving only the main 32 episodes of story. Their removal affects nothing, and the previews for them on the relevant episodes have been jigged around and replaced with the previews for the next main episode to allow the series to seamlessly move forward. If you didn’t know they existed, you’d have no idea they were missing. PACKAGING The set is contained within a cardboard sleeve, bearing a lovely bit of work by Nick Roche (by now well know as one of IDW’s artists) that depicts Star Saber, Deszaras, Road Caesar, Liokaiser, Landcross, Dinoking and Jan. It continues the “space background” theme of the previous two sets, rendered this time in magenta, which looks very nice on a shelf with the purple Headmasters and blue Masterforce. Within the sleeve is a cardboard fold-out tray, holding the four discs and the accompanying booklet. The tray is decorated with Autobot and Decepticon symbols, Roche’s art and images of Star Saber, Dezsaras and the Brestforce (redrawn from screenshots of the show); the discs also bear these images to keep the pictures complete when they are in place in the tray. The booklet (penned by me) runs to sixteen pages in length, containing a brief introduction to the series; an episode guide (divided by disc and spotlighting those episodes with audio commentary); details on the clip episodes, their content and their original placement with the series; and a short guide to the three series which came after Victory (Zone, Battlestars and Operation: Combination). The same re-drawn images that decorated the packaging, along with one of the Brainmasters, illustrate the booklet, rendered in white and yellow text on the magenta space-background of the box. EXTRAS The only extra features on Victory are three audio commentaries for the first episode, “Brave Hero of the Universe, Star Saber,” episode 16 (the mid-point of the series), “Get Back Gaihawk!” and the final episode, “Showdown! The Fortress VS the Victory Unification.” Victory is no Masterforce when it comes to plot, so the commentaries are perhaps not as enlightening or in-depth as that show’s, but I cover all the basic stuff about the show and its characters, the toys, their relation to American fiction, the stories of the Victory manga, and, in the final episode, lengthy discussion of Zone, Battlestars and Operation: Combination. I do trip over my words in a few places (I think I say “Breastmasters” at some point, and I get Sixtrain and Sixliner’s names the wrong way around and had to correct myself in the booklet), but hopefully I’ve learned enough from what I’ve done before to make these easy enough to listen to.