Tag Archives: Gary Chalk

Spotlight: Transformers – Hot Shot

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Transformers: Armada Hot Shot

It is not always easy to describe a character, readers, especially one you enjoy watching. I imagine there are plenty of real people whom we like that we also have difficulty describing. We cannot even describe ourselves accurately, since we hardly know ourselves! Now, describing a character that was featured in three different TV series – readers, that is a tall order. But it is an order that I am going to try to fill in this post about one of my favorite Autobots: Hot Shot.

Hot Shot is a young Autobot rookie in the series Transformers: Armada, a seasoned warrior in Transformers: Energon, and a cocky professional in Transformers: Cybertron. I never saw the original Japanese Transformers: Robots in Disguise all the way through, so I did not “meet” the version of Hot Shot in that series in any meaningful way. Therefore he is not part of today’s discussion.

The four series I described above were written and animated in Japan before they came to the U.S. by way of Canada, where they were translated into English. Armada was the series where I first “met” Hot Shot, whom I liked at once. He was more relatable to me than Red Alert, whose focus, calm, and mostly unemotional demeanor in that series always put me in mind of a Star Trek Vulcan. Optimus, as I stated in the Spotlight! post describing his character, reminded me more of a father-figure than anything else. He was approachable, but you usually went to him when you had a problem or needed something explained.

Hot Shot was still young enough, as I was at the time, to enjoy a good game of tag with the Autobots’ human friends. He was young enough to mouth off at the bad guys, to take insults personally, and to make stunningly stupid mistakes. He also had heart, a determination to defeat the Decepticons, and an easy, endearing manner. I liked him right from the start, and I kept on liking him during Armada’s run.

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Left to right: Energon Inferno, Optimus Prime, and Hot Shot

Admittedly, my favoritism toward the character cooled during the second series: Energon. Hot Shot was an experienced ‘Bot by then, with a more serious and focused deportment than I was accustomed to seeing in him. He still retained his sense of humor and a degree of cockiness, not to mention that loyal spark. But the light-hearted elements of his character and the easy manner were missing. I was rather disappointed that my favorite Autobot had lost his friendlier characteristics in the span of time between Armada and Energon.

But what he lost in Energon, Hot Shot got a double dose of in Cybertron. In that series, he was as cocky and jovial as ever. He also possessed the same act-first-think-later attitude which had caused him so much pain in Armada. But in Cybertron there was a more professional temper to it. This time, instead of charging off like a little kid, he behaved more like a teenager on the very cusp of adulthood. He was a professional warrior who knew his business on the field of battle. So what if he threw in some flair while he did his job? It got done, right? And if it kept the ‘Con down longer, or softened him up more than the traditional attack would have, all the better. When he acted before thinking, it was usually because he was doing the right thing that needed to be done, even if it would get him in trouble with Optimus later on.

I think, though, that one of the things about his performance in Cybertron which REALLY got my attention was the lack of angst. Hot Shot still had his dour, “I’m the worst thing that ever happened to the team,” moments but they did not last nearly as long in Cybertron as they had in Armada. Hot Shot needed fewer wake up calls in Cybertron, both on the angst and the cocky fronts. If he got knocked down, he learned he could get right back up again if he had the determination to do so. Once he learned that, he was literally off to the races.

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Transformers: Cybertron Hot Shot

This also afforded Hot Shot a better teenager-to-adult story arc. Less angst and more determination to keep going no matter what meant that, when Megatron almost killed him and two friends in a battle, Hot Shot remained the only one stubbornly determined to get back up and rejoin the fight. His compatriots gave up at the knowledge of the amount of damage they had sustained, sure that they were going to die.

Only Hot Shot remained firm, saying the damage was “no biggie” and he would get up once the proper repairs were made. His determination and that of the human kids the Autobots had partnered with inspired Red Alert and Scattershot to fight through their injuries as well, which allowed the three of them to acquire enormous upgrades shortly thereafter. This meant that Hot Shot abandoned his favorite race car mode to become a large tank.

Though not as aerodynamic or as fast as his previous alternate mode, Hot Shot’s decision to become a tank was a sign that he had grown up. He was still cocky, still funny, and definitely endearing because of that. But he was also battle-tried and true, with more confidence for having beaten greater odds than he had previously. He wanted to, as Auntie Mame said, “Live, live, live!”, and he was going to do it no matter what happened to him.

It is not hard to see why Optimus always valued Hot Shot in these series. Though the two had their attitude differences (Optimus has never been what one could call cocky after he earned the mantle of Prime), their sparks were always in alignment. They always knew the right thing to do and were willing to do it, no matter the cost to themselves. They knew it would not be easy for them, but because it was the right, true, good, and just thing to do, they were willing to bear the pain and to do their duty.

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Optimus’ position as Hot Shot’s mentor and father-figure is likely one of the reasons I always associated him with that role. The two got on in that manner, and Hot Shot never failed Optimus, even when he made a spectacular mistake or disobeyed orders. Although he might be annoyed or disappointed, Optimus never stopped believing in Hot Shot, never gave up hope that he could become a great ‘Bot with the right encouragement. For his part, Hot Shot remained loyal to Optimus in everything, even when the two disagreed or Hot Shot goofed up magnificently.

I have always been saddened by the fact that Hot Shot is absent from the American Transformers series. This is understandable; the Japanese put Hot Shot in Bumblebee’s place for their stories. I do not know why they did this – maybe there was and remains some kind of licensing disagreement with their Hasbro branch and ours, or something like that. I cannot say. I only know that Bumblebee traditionally has a filial relationship with Optimus in America, for generally the same reasons that Hot Shot does in Japan.

While I admire and like Bumblebee, I have always missed having Hot Shot around in the American Transformers series. Bumblebee is not the same character as Hot Shot; the two are not interchangeable. What you gain with one, you lose with the other, and vice versa. Bumblebee has always had a cooler head than Hot Shot, shown by the fact that he is not a very big fan of racing as Hot Shot always has been. Bumblebee is more fascinated with the intricacies of human society and humanity itself. Hot Shot has never failed to befriend the humans present in the Japanese series, but he acts more like their big brother than an intrigued social scientist. He would happily spend a day just hanging out with humans, talking about their shared interests, while Bumblebee tends to be more concerned with finding out the whys and the hows of human life.

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I like Bumblebee pretty well, but I know which character I would rather have an afternoon chat with: Hot Shot. Until Japan’s Hasbro branch makes a new Transformers series, however, it seems unlikely that I will be seeing Hot Shot again anytime soon. Besides, I would hate to see our writers on this side of the Pacific manhandle such a great character. Even the Japanese had to try three times to get a version of him that struck just the right balance with this viewer!

Another character who may be associated with Hot Shot is Hot Rod. But the fact of the matter is that Hot Shot is NOTHING like Hot Rod. While they share similar names, have a fascination with racing, and both transform into race cars, that is about as far as the similarities between them go. Hot Rod is cocky, but his swagger strikes a far more abrasive tone than Hot Shot’s does. Hot Shot’s bravado is endearing while Hot Rod’s is aggravating; Hot Rod earns the mantle of Prime not through mentoring under Optimus, but through simple luck. Hot Shot earns his leadership skills in battle, taking pointers from Optimus and abiding by his commander’s wisdom. No matter which series you find him in, Hot Rod has either no relationship with Optimus or it is so strained that it is not worth being designated a relationship.

This is a difference for which I am thankful. I am no fan of Hot Rod, anymore than my friend who admires Optimus Prime is. We both find him irritating, with no redeemable qualities whatsoever. The idea that some would put Hot Shot and Hot Rod in the same class, and I think they might be tempted to do this, does not rest well with me. Compare apples and oranges if you must, readers, but at least admit that they are apples and oranges! They are both nutritious, round fruits, but that is where their likenesses end!

This is not a terribly extensive Spotlight! post, readers. Hot Shot deserves better than I have given him, but this is the best that I am capable of at this time. Suffice it to say that Hot Shot is an Autobot I wish we had more of in current and upcoming Transformers series. He is a worthwhile character and, while not interchangeable with Bumblebee, I think the two would be excellent friends in a series. There is no law saying Optimus cannot have two protégés, after all, and I think Hot Shot and Bee would get along like a house on fire!

Accordingly, I therefore cede the floor to Optimus Prime, so that he may have the last word:

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“Autobots, roll out!”

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Spotlight: Transformers – Optimus Prime

The Original Optimus Prime

The Original Optimus Prime

A friend of mine is very into the Transformers franchise. I would be remiss if I did not admit that part of this fascination is my fault; I was – and remain – a fan of the Transformers mythos myself. I have not abandoned the franchise, though I must admit, I think my enthusiasm for it has cooled a fair bit. The writers for Transformers, whether they are working on the TV shows or its other media, seem to be writing things higgledy-piggledy these days. It makes the stories somewhat confusing.

Anyway, my friend’s favorite Transformer is the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime. (This post is written about that character in part to please my friend.) I can relate to my friend’s love of the Autobot leader, in a small way. He was never my favorite Autobot, but I could not imagine any other leader for the Autobots than him.

I first got to know Optimus, really and truly, through the Japanese series Transformers: Armada. It came out around 2001, having been translated into English in Canada, much as the Zoids series were. Though Transformers is an American story idea, it is very popular in Japan as well. The Japanese have created at least four TV series for the franchise (that I know of).

The voice actor for Optimus Prime in the Armada series was Gary Chalk. A Canadian actor, Mr. Chalk’s voice was the one that I thought fit Optimus best. Since hearing Peter Cullen voice the character again, Mr. Chalk has slipped into second place.

I bring up Mr. Chalk because, as I said, he was the Optimus I knew and loved for – ooh, goodness, eight or so years. He voiced Optimus over three TV series that I watched almost regularly when they came out: Transformers: Armada, Transformers: Energon, and Transformers: Cybertron. (I lost interest in Energon after one episode, and so I stopped watching it. Armada and Cybertron I watched from beginning to end.)

Voices are something which has always enthralled me. I can remember, when I was five years old, listening to people on TV, on the radio, or in the room just because I liked the sound of their voices. The words blurred together and became meaningless as I simply sat and listened to the tone and resonance of their voices.

In the case of Mr. Chalk’s performance as Optimus Prime, his calm, gentle, fatherly manner in Armada struck me deeply. I came to regard him rather like I regarded Professor X of the X-Men. But my affection for Optimus was and is much deeper and warmer than it has been or ever will be for the Prof. (Sorry, Charles.)

That brings me to the point of this post. I do not know how others view Optimus Prime, but he seems to have the same sort of publicity problem these days that Cap does. Once, he had no such trouble at all, but I will mention that in a bit.

Since the 1984 series, Optimus Prime has transformed into a red, white, and blue truck. The truck model has varied – he was Freightliner in the original series, but over the years he has also transformed into firetrucks, Peterbuilts, and now a Western Star with six outrageous smoke stacks in Transformers: Age of Extinction. But his paint scheme has never shifted from his original red, white, and blue – even when the red dominates the other two colors.

This tells me that Optimus was conceived as a ra-ra America kind of character. To some degree, the writers have left him that way. His paint scheme is still red, white, and blue, after all. The only other character in a modern franchise that wears the same colors and is as popular is Captain America. Just like Cap, Optimus values friends, freedom, and fidelity above all else. He is a kind, compassionate leader who respects life. And not just Cybertronian life; Optimus has always taken special interest in and care of the humans who interact with the Autobots and Decepticons in the franchise serials.

Peter Cullen, the voice actor for Optimus Prime in the original series as well as the new shows Transformers Prime, Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and Transformers: Rescue Bots likes to tell the story of how he became Optimus Prime. Mr. Cullen says he based Optimus’ voice after the voice of his older brother, a veteran U.S. Marine captain who served in Vietnam.

The day that Mr. Cullen was to audition for the part of Optimus Prime, he spoke to his older brother, Larry. When Larry was told his younger brother was going to voice a truck, both Larry and Peter Cullen got a laugh out of it. Mr. Cullen has since admitted that at the time they “had no idea” what they were in for. After having their good laugh, Captain Cullen sobered and asked his brother to portray the character not as a typical shouting Hollywood hero, but as someone “strong enough to be gentle.”

His older brother’s request stayed with Mr. Cullen, and when he read over the script for the first episode of Transformers, he said it was like hearing Larry Cullen speak. So he imitated his brother’s voice, adding a dash of John Wayne just to make it interesting, and Optimus Prime rolled into the hearts of viewers everywhere. Children all over the U.S. wrote letters to Optimus Prime and sent them to the studio, which for some bizarre reason never passed the notes on to Mr. Cullen.

My point in bringing this up, readers, is the request Peter Cullen’s brother made of him: “Be strong enough to be gentle.”

I think that this is why I have always had a particular fondness for Optimus Prime. Even when Gary Chalk was voicing Optimus, the character did not lack for gentleness in his speech. Or at least, he did not in Transformers: Armada. In the latter two series, Energon and Cybertron, Mr. Chalk stopped imitating Mr. Cullen after a point. He did not lose much of the gentleness in his voice, but his characterization of Optimus became more… in tune with popular attitudes. This is something Mr. Cullen prefers to avoid when voicing Optimus Prime. I do not know why Mr. Chalk began reading his lines this way; I simply know that his voice changed over the years. Not by much, but it did.

It is this strength, this firm but gentle quality which Optimus Prime has that I remember and love most. This is the reason I have never lost my particular love for the character, though I have lost my patience with his, ummm…..handlers. (Mr. Cullen has never been among those, thankfully.) When asked to voice Optimus in comedy skits, he has declined, stating he has too much respect for the character to treat him so trivially. It is too bad other, similar characters do not have performers who treat them so!!!

Optimus’ character is rooted in “Peace through strength.” He is a kind character who maintains his dignity in everything he does. Optimus Prime is not only strong enough to fight Megatron and the Decepticons; he is strong enough to be gentle to those weaker than himself, whether they are humans or Autobots.

This is not quite the post I hoped it would be, readers. I seem to have a great deal of trouble describing Optimus, much as some people have a hard time discussing Captain America. It is perhaps because they are so alike; there is never a doubt where Cap stands on an issue. Just as you never have to guess where Optimus will be standing in an argument – at the head of his Autobots.

I still regard Optimus the same way I did as a child. He is a father-type character, one whose strength of arms is equaled only by the strength in his spark. There is really nothing more to say.

Autobots, roll out!

The Mithril Guardian

Transformers Prime