Tag Archives: Hasbro

Transformers: The Last Knight – A Review

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Yeah, yeah, I know, this review is waaay past a day late and a dollar short. But I have been busy, and the film was so poorly reviewed that watching it as soon as it hit DVD was not a priority for this blogger. Not until a friend decided to see it and asked that I join in to watch the (hopefully) entertaining film.

*Sigh.* Mi compadre liked the film; I have mixed feelings about it. There were elements/characters/scenes of The Last Knight which I enjoyed, and then there were things I did not like. I will list the problem parts to get them over and done with quickly before mentioning the positive aspects of the movie:

Problem #1: The Plot – As one reviewer said, if you want to watch this movie, enjoy the robot fight scenes and forget about the plot. Even I, a relatively well-informed Transformers fan who kept (most of) the plot for this film clear, found it switchbacked and retread ground too often. It’s like three or four of the seven people writing this story left in elements from one another’s original script when they should have excised or changed them. There is too much going on that either happens too fast or occurs too slowly.

Problem #2: Not Enough Optimus Prime and Bad Brainwashing – In a continuation of the modern trend to delegitimize heroes Optimus Prime, the noble leader and the father figure in the Autobot faction, gets brainwashed temporarily into attacking and killing some of his allies. Obviously, I didn’t like his being brainwashed to begin with, but I could have handled that if the filmmakers had at least convinced me that he was being influenced by another’s will after enduring severe torture.

However, from what little we see of Optimus before the end of the movie, it looks more like the villainess of the film just talks him into being bad. Having the good guys snap him out of it fast is fine, but how about a little lead up to his being mind-controlled? The Avengers had a MacGuffin (the Mind Stone) which allowed for instantaneous brainwashing, but the bad girl in Last Knight is only shown beating up on Optimus twice. Bottom line, we didn’t see enough of Optimus in this movie, and most of what we did see was negative in the extreme. That’s an automatic demerit in my book.

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Problem #3: Too Much Foul Language – Truth be told, this has been one of my main problems with the Transformers films from the get-go, along with the oversexualization of the main female characters. While Last Knight dropped the more explicit sex stuff, almost everyone in the film had a potty mouth, with the worst offender being Anthony Hopkins.

This is why the Transformers movies rank at the bottom of my entertainment media. The franchise started life as an innocent children’s show, and even in its darker TV incarnations, it isn’t anywhere near this foul. I have never understood, from the POV of a Transformers fan, why the writers decided to sexualize the franchise and allow the characters – human or not – to be foul-mouthed twerps. It’s like they cannot believe anyone would take a film like this seriously unless the humans in it were screaming epithets or hooking up every five scenes.

Hello, bozos, this was a children’s franchise!!! You should have been aiming to please the PG-13 to G rated audience. So what if the critics carp about the films being unrealistic? They are not and never were the ones you had to please to sell your product. Why can’t you respect Transformers fans as much as the guys running Marvel Studios have respected theirs?

Yes, I know this is a relatively useless aside, readers. But I have been holding that paragraph in for years. It is past time I let it out – and it feels soooo good to have done it at last!

Problem #4: Merlin as a Joke and Stanley Tucci Needs a Better Agent – Seriously, the best part I have ever seen Tucci play was in Captain America: The First Avenger. Every time I see him in a new film, he is either playing a foul-mouthed jerk or a washed-up annoyance. He should fire his agent or choose better parts.

Yes, it is true that Merlin appears in The Last Knight, which decided that tying the Transformers to the Pyramids and the moon landings wasn’t enough. Now they have to go back and add Tranformers to the Legends of King Arthur, since mankind is apparently too stupid to figure out knighthood on his own. Rather than being a wise, powerful, and benevolent magician, Merlin is portrayed in the beginning of this film as a drunk and a charlatan. Thanks but no thanks, Hasbro; I like my Merlin to be a respectable magician, not a souse. Go beg for someone else’s money.

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Problem #5: Quintessa as Transformer Goddess – Okay, first off, the Quintessons were aliens opposed to BOTH races of Transformers in the original stories, and it was their homeworld which was called Quintessa. Now we get this film revamp where there is only one Quintesson – a female, at that – who claims to be the Transformers’ deity, when even in the previous films it was the Transformers’ deity Primus that made the Autobots and Decepticons? *Author pinches nose and sighs.* Can someone please stop the revisionist train so I can get off now?

Problem #6: Rewriting the Timeline – It’s not as if the films’ series of events was hard to keep track of before the writers decided to redo everything from the ground up. What exactly is the purpose of re-aligning a timeline that you have practically killed already? Your circular logic is giving me a headache, Hollywood!

Problem #7: Planet-wide Devastation? You went with that trope AGAIN?!?! – In this film, the destruction of the moon and many major population centers really hits home in a bad way. Like the X-Men films, this movie focuses on nihilism and despair; although the heroes win in the end, the enormous loss of life and near global destruction makes their victory a Pyrrhic triumph. They lose more than they save – the film ends with more torn up cities, more catastrophic human body counts, and irreparable damage done to the face of the Earth.

This is another problem I have with the TF film franchise. Heroes in most stories always try to minimize the damage the bad guys inflict on innocent civilians. It is a mainstay of the Avengers films AND the Transformers TV shows. The fact that Hollywood has most of the Autobot/Decepticon confrontations occur in large population centers, where they make sure to show massive devastation and imply great loss of life, is directly anathema to the franchise’s roots. The Autobots are supposed to care about and work hard to protect humans, but the films never really demonstrate this – and, in a couple of cases, they directly oppose the idea. This is probably due to the filmmakers’ desire to make the movie franchise “more realistic” than the TV shows.

I’m sorry, but since when were we supposed to take ANYTHING in a movie seriously?! Films are supposed to be a form of escape wherein we (the audience) are encouraged to reach for heights of grace and heroism by following the example(s) of the hero(es). They are not and should not be used as vehicles for nihilism. If that is all you want to feed us in theaters, Hasbro, then you can kiss my money and precious time good-bye. There are much better things for me to spend both those things on.

Okay, with these seven big complaints covered, I can expound on what actually made this film worth my time. Most of the reason I was able to sit through this movie was Mark Walhberg’s performance as Cade Yeager. Whether you love Walhberg or not, the fact is that he did an excellent job in this film. He sold the audience on the idea that he was talking to living, thirty foot tall robots and not tennis balls on sticks. The scenes where he deals with the Autobots under his command/care are the closest this film comes to touching on why children around the world love the Transformers TV franchise(s).

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His character, Cade, has also softened somewhat since we saw him in Age of Extinction. (You can read my review of that film here, if you would like.) Watching this movie, you can almost feel the brotherly camaraderie he has come to share with the Autobots, especially Bee. His relationship with Optimus gets short shrift in this film, but that’s the fault of the writers, not Walhberg. Cade’s transformation (pun not intended) from down-on-his-luck-independent-inventor to trigger-happy Autobot ally and fugitive doesn’t feel particularly forced, either. He is doing what he needs to do to help the Autobots survive until Optimus returns and he will not let anyone – human or Decepticon – dissuade him from his purpose.

Once again, he gives us very few screaming and “freak out” moments than we saw in the previous movies, where Shia Labeuf was always having panic attacks during a battle. The gentleness and compassion he shows to a dying Cybertronian knight in the beginning of the film is especially touching. It cannot have been an easy scene to film, either, given that Wahlberg was probably talking to a lump of plastic and a green screen.

This leads to another great aspect of Cade’s character in the film: the title Last Knight is not a reference to Optimus Prime, but to Cade Yeager. The knightly attributes which allow Cade to help save the world become more and more obvious as the film progresses. It is really nice to finally have a “chaste” character in one of these movies, even though it is too little, too late. Walhberg pulls off a splendid performance here. I have virtually no complaints about his acting, even when he has to use foul language. Given the rest of his presentation, I can put up with that relatively easily.

In a similar vein, the two girls who appear in the film are not tarts used to titilate/“intrigue” the audience. But while the fourteen year old girl (Izabella) is fun, adding depth to Cade’s character and touching on the childhood wonder of the Transformers, I am not exactly sure her presence was truly needed to complete the film. She wasn’t a bad character, but I do not think she was necessary for the story to work.

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The adult woman in the story, Vivian, has the second-worst potty mouth in the film. Though she is (thankfully) not a trollop, she is a jerk with a chip on her shoulder. It is made abundantly clear from her first appearance onward that she hates men. Normally, that would grate on my nerves and, while I am not fond of her, it was really nice to FINALLY have a female jerk in a Transformers film who did most of the screaming. This meant that I could easily accept her; in a real situation where humans meet thirty foot tall mechanical humanoids, I am fairly sure it would be the women freaking out more often than the men.

Another nice touch to her character is that she is an Oxford professor. While Izabella is given the position of mechanic-in-training, the writers somehow got it into their heads that Vivian should not be mechanically savvy. (YAY!) While Vivian is a fighter, she is not a terribly great one. It is nice to see a strong woman who is rather pathetic at physical combat but who nevertheless has a will of steel. I will take a feminist Oxford professor who fights hard but improperly, who is fluent in medieval languages, and who knows history over the faux Amazonian stereotype any day.

That reminds me, one of the best things about the addition of Vivian to this film is a brief spat she and Cade share in Hopkins’ manor house. Having been “kidnapped” by a young Autobot on Hopkins’ orders so that she can help save the day, Vivian is not in a good mood when the explainations begin. She becomes especially upset when she sees her world-saving partner is a male American fugitive. Vivian tries to slap Cade down at once but he bites back at her, criticizing her education and her dress. “Well, then, perhaps you would like it better if I took [the dress] off?” she snaps waspishly. Clearly, Vivian is expecting Cade to become embarrassed by her retort and to stutter a rejection, giving her leverage against him.

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You can see that he almost falls for the bait – almost. To my infinite delight, Cade instead does a quick one-eighty degree turn and says, “Yes [I would].” He doesn’t actually mean it; if you look at him closely, you can see he is worried that she might carry out her threat to undress in front of everybody. But his decision not to accept Vivian’s abuse quietly leaves her gaping and temporarily at a loss for words. It was probably the best scene in the movie! 😀

This scene is also important because, as she continues to verbally spar with Cade, Vivian starts to grow and change. Cade’s continuous refusal to take her vocal mistreatment makes her soften; she becomes less abrasive and demonstrates more feminine characteristics the longer they work together. In a fascinating reversal of Hollywood trends, Cade is allowed to be a “manly man” and Vivian is allowed to become a real woman. She is not the Femi-Nazi, faux Amazon warrior we are fed too often these days in modern fiction, which is a really nice change – especially for a Transformers film.

Cade and Vivian’s character arcs, while slow, were the best in the film. Bumblebee was good and even Hot Rod, a franchise character I despise, was fun. (Can we get his time gun for the Avengers? They could really use a gizmo like while fighting Thanos!) Seeing so many Autobots hidden around the world was really nice, too, since we got brief glimpses of more Transformers as characters, not just gimmicks. It was a surprisingly touching addition to the film.

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Another nice thing about it was having Josh Duhamel return as Colonel Lennox. (His comment about lawyers and Decepticons was a scream!) He pulled off the weary soldier act very well; my only complaint is that he wasn’t given as much of a chance to show his faith in the Autobots as Cade was. Hopkins’ Transformer butler Cogman was fun, too, if a little foul. The “kidnapping” of Vivian by Hot Rod was a good scene as well.

This is all I can really think of to praise the film for, which isn’t much. As my list of complaints at the top of this post made clear, this movie really isn’t recommended. But that has less to do with the actors’ performances and more to do with the way the story was executed. I will probably watch this film again in the future at some point. But when I do, there will be a lot of scenes I skip, since most of the ones I liked had Cade in them. The rest of the show can go hang; Cade is the star attraction this go around, with Bumblebee a close second.

This is my opinion of Transformers: The Last Knight. It isn’t anywhere near as palatable as Age of Extinction, but it is an improvement over the first three films, and that says a lot about the quality of those movies. There is also some genuine character growth for the humans here, which is a nice change. If none of this makes you want to see Last Knight, though, don’t worry – I understand completely. That’s why I wrote this review; The Mithril Guardian is watching out for you, so that you don’t have to watch bad entertainment to learn something good from it. 😉

‘Til next time, readers – “Autobots, roll out!”

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Spotlight – Zoids: Chaotic Century – Van Flyheight

Last year I promised that I would begin doing Spotlight! posts about the characters from my favorite Zoids series, along with articles about the “mechanical combat units” themselves. Today, I am making good on that promise; here we will discuss the hero of Zoids: Chaotic Century – Van Flyheight.

Van is fourteen at the start of the TV series (the translators in Canada mistakenly have another character in the show say he is seventeen). Raised in the farming town of Wind Colony, Van’s father died five years before the series begins. Imperial soldiers came to the Republican colony when Major Dan Flyheight and a group of Republican soldiers were nearby. The commander of the Imperial division threatened to burn the village to the ground, but Dan Flyheight and his white Command Wolf, Zeke, took the entire unit down single-handedly.

So at the beginning of the show, Van is being raised by his older sister, Maria, in the Wind Colony. Every chance he gets, he sneaks away from her to explore the ruins of nearby military bases. Judging by their appearance, these bases long predate the current war in the show. Van does this to seek adventure and scrounge for scraps of salvage, despite his sister’s constant warnings that this is dangerous – not to mention her insistence that he do his chores.

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Van Flyheight

But come on, what fourteen year old boy who wants to be the greatest zoid pilot ever is going to listen when his big sister tells him to do boring chores? As the village priest tells her, “You can’t stop the boy from wanting to find a zoid of his own.” And that means she cannot stop him from running off to the desert.

Open, energetic, and easily excited (or offended), Van once again escapes his sister to go exploring in the first episode of Chaotic Century: “The Boy From Planet Zi”. But he gets more than he bargained for when a bandit named Bole begins chasing him in a newly acquired blue Guysack (scorpion-type Republican zoid – more on that another day).

Van escapes Bole by the skin of his teeth, hiding in the ruins. Then Bole’s compatriots/babysitters, Bianco and Nero, come to dig their young charge out of the rubble. Before they do that, they shoot at the ruins to trap Van inside so he cannot go running off to tell the villagers he saw them. That would bring the Republican Army down on the Desert Alca Valino Gang, and none of them want official trouble.

Inside the ruins, Van notices a heretofore hidden door which is now askew. He goes down the path to find a secret room with two green stasis pods inside. Accidentally opening the first, he encounters and befriends Zeke.

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Van Flyheight and his organoid, Zeke

More information about their first meeting can be found here and here, readers, if you want to start watching the series. Even all these years later, I absolutely love this show, and Van is a big reason why.

Despite the fact that he starts out reckless, hotheaded, and callow, Van quickly wins a viewer’s affection with his willingness to pick himself up and dust himself off. His kind, selfless nature make up for his naïveté and impulsive behavior. Over time he matures into a stronger boy, eventually becoming a great young man you still want to cheer on.

While it seems like mere luck that Van lives long enough to become the “greatest zoid pilot ever,” there is actually a lot of raw talent backing him up. Van has the potential to be a great pilot right from the start; he is perceptive, inventive, and quick-thinking. All he needs to learn at the beginning of his career as a pilot is how to put that together with his fighting skills instead of charging blindly into a battle.

It must be said that no one viewing the show would love zoids very well without Van Flyheight. A boy “with a strong fascination with zoids,” Van loves the mechanical animals almost as much as he loves those who are related to him or who are his friends. The entire reason he and Raven, his archnemesis through most of the show’s run, begin their feud is because the latter takes pleasure in brutally destroying zoids.

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Raven vs. Van Flyheight

And when I say brutal, readers, I mean brutal. Van rightly calls Raven’s attacks evil, but we would not really notice how evil they were if not for our hero’s instinctive reaction to Raven’s fighting style. This brings another characteristic of his to light; much like Captain America/Steve Rogers, Van has a heightened sense of right and wrong. He may not be able to explain how he knows the difference between good and evil on occasion, but when he sees some wrong being committed – no matter how small it may be – he instantly recognizes it and acts to correct the transgression.

Of course, some will ask how I can say this, given Van’s penchant for sneaking away from his sister and disobeying her. First, it is important to remember that I did not say Van was a saint. I said he was good – about as good as Captain America, though he may be a few bars lower on the scale. Besides, avoiding chores does not make anyone a criminal-in-training; it certainly seems that Van was obedient most of the time. And who knows where we would be if he had not snuck out to play in the desert every once in a while? Zi would be worse off if he had stayed home, I can assure you!

This exemplary standard of goodness in Van has a profound effect on those he meets. They are impressed, either immediately or over time, by his innate goodness, his determination, and his no-quit attitude. We see this most in the first adult friends he makes outside Wind Colony: Irvine and Moonbay.

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Irvine

Irvine and Van meet in the episode “Memory.” A wandering mercenary who fights or “protects” for money, he is in the area when Van and Fiona get lost in a sandstorm. On the hunt for an organoid to increase his power and strength, Irvine decides to try and steal Zeke from Van. You would think this would make them enemies and, for a while, they certainly are not friends.

But Irvine is not yet so far down the Dark Path that he is immune to Van’s inborn decency. Before you know it, he is traveling along with Van, Zeke, Fiona, and Moonbay. Though he says several times he is just waiting to find an opportunity to steal Zeke, it quickly becomes apparent this is no truer than Han’s statement in A New Hope when he says he is only interested in the money. Van’s goodness awakens and enhances Irvine’s, bringing it to the fore and making him a better person. The two eventually become brothers – not just in the sense of being fellow pilots of high skill, but in the fact that they watch out for, care about, and protect each other.

Moonbay fills the role of mother for Van in the beginning, a little like Hera Syndulla does for the crew in Star Wars Rebels. But where Hera is calm, cool, and very hard to ruffle, Moonbay can and will raise her voice in fury when someone ticks her off. Like Irvine, she has also become jaded by “real life” and she has a mercenary streak. More than once we see her wheeling and dealing on the side to earn more money than others think she needs. Van only directly confronts her once during one of these deals when she almost pulls a genuine swindle, telling her that he “can’t explain it using big fancy words but… [he] sure know[s] the difference between right and wrong!”

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Moonbay

In reality, Moonbay is not much of a mercenary. She just loves traveling, which means that she needs enough money to support herself – not to mention the rest of the gang while they are roving along with her. As a disciplinarian, she is able to get more and better results out of Van than Maria for the simple reason that she is not his older sister. She treats him like the kid he is and tells him off when he deserves it – sometimes with a punch, if she feels he has earned one. At the same time, Van’s goodness keeps Moonbay honest and makes her strive to be better, even if she won’t necessarily admit that out loud.

Zeke remains Van’s best friend and fellow combatant throughout the series. The two are devoted to each other, almost like twin brothers (as opposed to the older brother/younger brother relationship Van and Irvine share). Much like Van, Zeke seems to be possessed of an inherent gentleness and goodness. Where others might have beaten this out of him, Van’s natural kindness enhances Zeke’s and keeps him innocent.

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Van and Fiona

Finally, we come to the relationship Van has with Fiona Elisi (Alicia?) Linnet, the Ancient Zoidian girl he finds in the same ruins where Zeke is hidden. When Fiona is released from her stasis pod, she initially has no memory of who she is or where she came from. She cannot remember her real name (Elisi Linnet), only the name “Fiona.” Despite being irritated by her constant questions in the first two episodes, Van immediately works to help Fiona, taking her to his village so she can be safe.

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While they start out as friends, over the course of the show the two obviously fall in love. Though we only see them kiss once (when Fiona has to talk to Van via a psychic image and/or hologram), the rapport between the two is not that of a brother and sister or of two friends traveling together. It is most definitely romantic, and in the best kind of way. This is made blatantly clear in episodes such as “A Voice from Afar” and “New Liger,” where Van can hear Fiona’s voice in his mind. The two early on show signs of developing a romantic bond, which seems to be the basis for the psychic tie that arises between them.

But the relationship which has the most profound impact on Van’s character is one we never see. This is his bond with his father, Major Dan Flyheight. Though we never watch them interact on screen, Van’s dedication to becoming “the greatest zoid pilot ever” is due entirely to his admiration of, and his love for, his deceased father.

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Dan Flyheight

We only see Dan Flyheight once in a flashback in the episode “The Distant Stars.” However, that brief glimpse shows us where Van gets not only his piloting skills, but also his kindness, gentleness, and strong sense of right and wrong. Dan’s last words – his last thoughts – are for the two children he will leave behind, showing that the strength of Van’s love for his family and friends was learned at his father’s knee. He even names his best friend Zeke after his father’s zoid. In a world where the power of the father is laughed off and derided as unnecessary, Van proves the exact opposite with his fond remembrance of the father he lost too early.

The plot for Zoids: Chaotic Century is the joys and travails not only of a boy becoming a man, but of a page becoming a knight. Van is needed now more than ever for viewers, boys and girls both. Girls will learn what really makes a man by watching this series, while at the same time boys learn the virtues which will be their guides and friends throughout their lives.

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If, as is possible, someone intends to make a film (or a series of them) about Zoids: Chaotic Century, they HAVE to get Van Flyheight right. If they do not do that, then the movie(s) they make will be worthless, or very close to it. Along with Captain America, Aragorn, Optimus Prime, and Sir Galahad, the one character in the universe who you CANNOT mess with is Van Flyheight, readers.

But you do not need to take my word for it; just visit the posts I have about the show to see what will be lost if Van is not brought to life properly. Or, better yet, hunt down Zoids: Chaotic Century’s eleven DVDs on www.amazon.com and watch the show yourselves. If you hate it, I will be surprised. If you love it – welcome to Zi, readers! We’re happy to have you on the battlefield!

Catch ya later! 😉

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Spotlight: Zoids – The Dibison

Welcome back to Spotlight! And yes, this is another post about a zoid. Yeah, yeah, so what if the series has been off the airwaves for the last ten or more years? It is still a good series!!!

All right, down to “tacks of brass,” as North put it in Rise of the Guardians. Today’s zoid is the Dibison. The Dibison is a buffalo-type zoid. That is, it is designed to resemble a North American buffalo. Before I get to the zoid’s stats, here is a video of the Dibison in action for you to watch:

Impressive, isn’t it?

The Dibison is a heavily armored yet maneuverable zoid. Most of the zoid’s armor is concentrated on its front half, like most of a real buffalo’s weight is in the forward half of its body. This means that the zoid can, like a buffalo, charge forward and slam into an opposing “mechanical combat unit.” Oh, and those horns on the Dibison’s head? They are called the Twin Crasher Horns. They are as deadly as they look. The horns are strong enough to pierce Iron Kong armor in the right situation, and a pilot can use them to pick up and toss lighter zoids sky high – where they are easily shot.

You may also notice, readers, that this zoid has a three barrel cannon on its chest between its forelegs, just as the Shield Liger and the Zaber Fang have between their forelegs. The Dibison, like the Shield Liger, was built by the Helic Republic after that nation’s long war with the Guylos Empire came to an end. It would seem, however, that the Republic is still determined to pack as much firepower into their zoids as possible, despite the cessation of hostilities between the two nations.

Some things never change. 🙂

The cockpit for the Dibison is in its head, behind those angry orange eyes. If you are curious about those strange silver boxes on the zoid’s “cheeks,” they are eight shot missile pods. They are not to be laughed at, readers – unless you want to eat your laughter when the missiles hit you. Though I have never seen (to the best of my recollection) a Dibison using its hooves on another zoid, I imagine the appendages would bring down an opponent with finality.

Unfortunately, the two zoid pilots I have seen in a Dibison’s cockpit do not favor such creative tactics – not for the most part, anyway. Lieutenant Thomas Richard Schubaltz and Blitz Team member Lena Toros each piloted a Dibison. Thomas was the pilot of the Dibison in Zoids: Chaotic Century, while Lena had a bison for her first few episodes in Zoids: New Century Zero. Later, Lena exchanged her Dibison for a Gun Sniper loaded down with an excessive amount of artillery.

Both Thomas and Lena favored the Dibison for its most noticeable weapons: the seventeen shot assault cannons embedded in the hump on the zoid’s back.

These cannons are deadly, especially when fired all at once (Thomas called such a shot a “Megalow Max”). The seventeen shot assault cannons are, arguably, the Dibison’s main weapons in combat. Though the bison was built to be a multi-use zoid, the pilots in its cockpit almost always favor using the cannons in every battle they participate in. Here they are, sitting in a zoid with the ability to do so much – and yet they insist continually on using the cannons first and foremost in almost every battle.   It never occurs to them, apparently, that one of the smaller cannons, the horns, or a hoof would do the job more neatly. No, they believe that the best way to win a battle is with their finger pulling back the trigger.

I guess this penchant for using the cannons is understandable. At least it seems so, given that the two pilots I have seen in a Dibison each have a thing for pyrotechnics, explosions, and a wide field of damage. If all one wants to do is blow the surrounding countryside and everything in it to kingdom come, then the Dibison is a good zoid for the job. As long as you have ammo for the cannons on the zoid’s back, you can shoot just about everything on the battlefield you want.

But if that is the case, then you had better hope no zoids charge into you or otherwise attack your bison. However good the Dibison is as a fixed weapon, its front heavy armor lowers its speed significantly. The Dibison is maneuverable, but only up to a point. That hump will not bend after a while, and the bison is not nearly as quick and nimble as the predator-type zoids naturally are. In close combat, the Dibison has a good reaction time. But it cannot turn, duck, or lunge on a dime like a Liger, a Command Wolf, or a Zaber can.

And because the weight of the Dibison’s armor makes it so much slower than predator-style zoids, if you have to get out of Dodge in a hurry, you really have to push the bison to get going. It is not a long distance sprinter; it cannot lope, only huff and puff to keep the faster zoids ahead of it a few bison lengths away. This can be a severe disadvantage in a battle, and it is the limiting factor for the Dibison that weighs most on my mind.

Admittedly, while I am not a fan of either Thomas Schubaltz or Lena Toros, Thomas’ skill with the Dibison far outstrips hers. Lena is, in some ways, a certifiable nut job. She loves ammunition and guns. Throughout New Century Zero she is constantly begging her father, Dr. Toros, for more munitions or bigger cannons. And when she is beaten by a more nimble opponent who uses their zoid’s weapons and abilities in a conservative manner, her reaction is to yell and scream childishly.

Usually she promises that she will get her revenge, or screams that the battle was not a fair one. Well excuse me, aren’t we mature? Her battle tactics are determined by her pride, which says she does not need skill to win an engagement with another team, just an endless supply of ammo.

Yeah. Sure. You would think she would have learned a thing or two after being dumped on her tail every other episode in New Century Zero. But noooo, not Lena Toros! She is the best there is – when no one is cheating her out of her rightful winnings, of course! (*Insert irritated eye roll here, please, readers.*)

While Thomas also has an excessive love of blowing things to smithereens, he has successfully used his Dibison in close combat situations several times. I have to give credit where credit is due, and the fact is that while Thomas Shubaltz is annoying and something of a snob, he is not a horrible pilot. He is not one of the best zoid pilots out there, in my opinion… but he is a competent one. Until I see better, he is the one Dibison pilot I can point to as an example of how the zoid ought to be used in combat.

Well, readers, I have to sign off for now. Tune in next time for something new – hopefully!

See you on the battlefield!

The Mithril Guardian

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