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JAPANESE TRANSFORMERS EPISODE GUIDE
This document is my attempt to provide a simple and concise guide to the Japanese Transformers animated adventures. It assumes that you have a passing knowledge of the American Transformers cartoon and characters, and want to learn about the Japanese stories which grew out of them.
My hope is that someone who's unfamiliar with the Japanese cartoons (and they can get very confusing) can read this and see how all of the pieces fit together. It certainly took me some time to get the story straight, and I hope this makes it easier for newcomers to learn about this wonderfully deep Transformers epic which many fans have never seen.
Let me also say that I'm not claiming to be an authority of any kind -- the information on this page was compiled from a myriad of sources, all of whom are dutifully credited at the end. All I'm trying to do here is to present the data that exists into a thorough package. Thanks to all those wonderful TransFans, whose work made it possible for me to even write this stuff
And, of course, if someone more knowledgable than me spots a mistake in this stuff, please email me so I can correct it. Thanks!
The American Cartoon Series
Before we begin talking about the Japanese cartoons, it's essential that we understand the American series. This is because (1) the Japanese series builds on the American one, and (2) the Japanese series has some notable differences from the American story. You can't dismiss the American cartoons outright, but you can't follow it too closely, either.
The American Transformers cartoon continuity is composed of the following parts:
Season 1. The very first Transformers cartoon. Optimus Prime and the Autobots battle Megatron and the Decepticons for the safety of Earth, Cybertron, and everything else. The Autobots' closest ally is the human named Spike Witwicky.
Season 2. A continuation of season 1. More Autobots and Decepticons join the fray, but essentally it's the same struggle for the fate of the universe.
Transformers: The Movie. Taking place in the year 2005 A.D., this story is a pivotal point in the Transformers continuity. A giant "monster planet" called Unicron is introduced. Optimus Prime dies, and Megatron is reformed as Galvatron. New characters appear, most notably the Autobots Hot Rod and Ultra Magnus, and the Decepticons Cyclonus and Scourge. By the end of the movie, Unicron is destroyed, Hot Rod is reformed as the Autobot leader, Rodimus Prime, and the Decepticons have been vanquished from Cybertron.
Season 3. A continuation of the events after the movie, with Galvatron leading the Decepticons against Rodimus Prime and the Autobots. By the end of the third season, Optimus Prime has been resurrected, and is restored to his old position as the Leader of the Autobots. Rodimus Prime steps down and becomes Hot Rod again.
Season 4/"Rebirth." The rarely-seen ending to the American cartoon series, a three-episode epic that threatened to destroy the Earth by making the sun go nova. The essental information to note here are that:
Beast Wars. Occurring hundreds of years after the end of the Great War, this story chronicles the adventures of the descendants of the Autobots and the Decepticons. On a mysterious, primitive planet, Optimus Primal and a rag-tag crew of Maximal explorers must stop the evil Megatron and his Predacons, whose plans to conquer Cybertron escalate into a scheme to alter the course of reality itself...!
Now that we're all clear about the American show, it's time to jump into the Japanese story. I'll mention here that some of the Japanese names are different from their American counterparts, or don't have American equivalents at all. These new names will be marked when they are first encountered.
Okay? Good. Now, clear your mind, and we'll begin with...
Fight! Super Robot Life Transformers (July 6, 1985 to November 7, 1986)
This is the first Transformers cartoon series to appear in Japan. It's essentally Season 1 and Season 2 of the American cartoons, redubbed into Japanese. Some episodes were aired unmodified from their original American productions, while other episodes consisted of scenes from different shows mixed and matched into new stories. The end result is the same, however: Convoy (Optimus Prime) leads the Cybertrons (Autobots) against Megatron and the Destrons (Decepticons), both on Earth and on Seibertron (Cybertron).
Scramble City (1986)
This is a half-hour OAV (original animated video) that bridged the transition from the "contemporary" era of Fight! Super Robot Life Transformers to the year 2006 A.D. It was made by combining original animated footage with existing American cartoon clips into one fight-filled festival. The large combiners (Superion, Menasor, Bruticus, Devastator, and Defensor) played leading roles, while Dinosaurer (Trypticon), Ultra Magnus, and Metroplex make brief appearances. The name comes from the story's premise of "scramble power." Combiners like Superion could rearrange their limbs (swapping an arm for a leg, for instance) to gain advantage in battle.
Scramble City is a source of considerable confusion for many Transformers fans (myself included). This is largely because the Scramble City story was never finished -- the OAV ends on a clifhanger, as Ultra Magnus, Metroplex, and the Autobots watch in amazement as Dinosaurer rises out of the ocean. A resolution to this story was never released, though rumors abound of a "sequel" assembled from American cartoon clips that ended with the deaths of Convoy and Megatron.
A second Scramble City episode was eventually made, but using stop-motion animation of the toys themselves instead of cel animation. This story does not directly follow the first Scramble City OAV, but served to show Rodimus Convoy (Rodimus Prime) and Galvatron becoming the leaders of the Cybertrons and Destrons. Eventually, the beginning of the Headmasters series in 1987 briefly explained Convoy's death/resurrection and Megatron's transformation into Galvatron.
Transformers: 2010 (November 14, 1986 to June 26, 1987)
This is the same as Season 3 of the American cartoons. As with Fight! Super Robot Life Transformers, some of the shows were simply redubbed with Japanese voices, while others were formed by mixing footage from several shows into new stories. As with the American series, the series ends with the resurrection of Convoy, while Rodimus Convoy becomes Hot Rodimus (Hot Rod) again.
(July 3, 1987 to March 28, 1988)
So far, you're probably unimpressed. "Okay, so the Japanese Transformers cartoons were recycled American stuff. Why's everyone so excited over them?"
Well, to be honest, no one is. Only the die-hard purist American collectors are interested in collecting Fight! Super Robot Life Transformers or Transformers: 2010, and the market for them is very small (the demand for Scramble City is a bit higher, simply because it has some new material that Americans haven't seen already). It's what follows which gets the fans excited.
Transformers: Headmasters is the start of Japan's original cartoons. This story takes place in the year 2011, after Transformers: 2010. An important thing to note here is that, in the Japanese cartoon continuity, the American "Rebirth" series does not occur. While Headmasters and Targetmasters show up, Nebulans do not.
Headmasters starts with Galvatron leading a new batch of Destrons to wage war on Seibertron, the Destron Headmasters. The Cybertrons are rescued by the arrival of the Cybertron Headmasters, led by Fortress (Cerebros, the head of Fortress Maximus). It is revealed that Fortress left Seibertron millions of years ago in search of energy, and have finally managed to come home. He explains that the Headmasters are from a planet called Master; the human-sized robots who live there built themselves Transformers-sized bodies. They can then transform themselves into the heads of the robots, and have now joined the Cybertron-Destron war.
Lots of things happen in Headmasters. Convoy dies (again), so Hot Rodimus resumes his leadership role as Rodimus Convoy. Soundwave and Blaster fight each other, die, and are resurrected as Soundblaster and Twincast, respectively. Seibertron is destroyed(!), so Rodimus Convoy leads a team to find a new home world, and he leaves Fortress in charge. Mars is destroyed, Ultra Magnus dies, and Galvatron is buried in an arctic avalanche. Scorponok becomes the Leader of the Destrons, and eventually gets himself a more powerful body called Megazarak. After more encounters, the Cybertrons foil a Destron plan to destroy the Earth, Fortress kill Megazarak, and the Destrons are driven away from Earth.
Other major characters in Headmasters are:
Of the different Japanese animated series, Headmasters is considered the weakest by most viewers. The animation is not of the high standards of most Japanese shows (there apears to be a conscious effort to duplicate the simpler style of the American cartoon), overemphasis of fighting over characterization, and too many stories where the Cybertrons merely waited for the Destrons to do something.
This was a laserdisc released in Japan after the en d of Headmasters and before the start of Transformers: Super God Masterforce. It included summaries of the previous Japanese Transformers shows, a trailer for Transformers: The Movie, and a preview of the first four episodes of Masterforce. It is of some interest to American fans as a novelty item.
Transformers: Super God Masterforce
(April 12, 1988 to March 7, 1989)
The next Japanese Transformers series was Transformers: Super God Masterforce, and is even better than Headmasters. Although the Destrons have been driven off Earth, a small team of Cybertron Pretenders have remained behind, just in case. Led by Metalhawk ("Hawk" in his human identity), the Pretenders live among the humans, using their Pretender shells to assume human size and appearance. The Cybertrons caution is rewarded: Destron Pretenders soon appear, led by a mysterious force called Devil Z. The Cybertrons and Destrons soon build up their forces, recruiting humans to become Junior Headmasters and Godmasters (Powermasters).
Note that, aside from the Pretenders and Devil Z, the main characters in Masterforce are humans. The humans are given a pair of bracelets; by snapping them together, an exo-suit appears. The human then transforms into a head or an engine, combine with his transtector (Transformer body), then transform into a robot. A long-running plot throughout the series was the discovery of these transtectors -- where did they come from, and who hid them? It is eventually revealed that they were stolen by Devil Z from a distant galaxy, who hid them on Earth so he could use them for a later date to conquer the universe.
There were lots of prominent characters in Masterforce. Some of them were released in America under different names, but the others were either exclusive to Japan or were only sold in Europe:
At the end of Masterforce, the surviving Cybertrons gain self-awareness and no longer need their human hosts, so they leave to join their Cybertron allies. This series is a long-time favorite with fans familiar with the Japanese series, both for its beautiful animation and for its complex writing. But as good as Masterforce was, it was soon overshadowed by an even better show, Transformers: Victory...
(March 14, 1989 to December 19, 1989)
The pinnacle of the Japanese Transformers shows was Transformers: Victory. Whether it's because the characters and toys were never released outside of Japan (thus keeping them fresh), or whether it's because of the beautiful animation and rich storytelling involved, it's hard to find a fan of the Japanese Transformers stories who does not rank this among their favorites.
Set in 2025 A.D., Victory introduces us to Star Saber, the mightiest Cybertron warrior and the greatest swordsman in the galaxy. The Destrons are continuing to invade planets throughout the universe, so the Cybertrons have joined with the humans to form the Space Defense Force, with Star Saber as its leader. Leading the Destrons is Deathsaurus, who has targeted Earth as the next planet to plunder, which means much of Victory takes place on our planet.
Unlike Masterforce, there aren't too many mysteries in Victory. The bulk of the series focuses on Deathsaurus' long-running campaign against Earth and Star Saber -- much like the original Megatron vs. Convoy conflict -- and perhaps it's that no-nonsense confrontation that appeals to the fans. Planet Micro is briefly introduced, as the home world for the Micromasters.
Victory does introduce two new ideas to the toys, however. Though there's no mention of the planet Master (from Headmasters), the Cybertrons had Brainmasters. A small figure goes into the chest of the robot. Then, when the chest was closed, the figure rose into the robot's head, forming its face. In contrast, the Destrons had Breastforce -- each member had a breastplate (hence the name) that they wore. The plate could be removed and transformed into either a weapon or an animal attack partner. And anyone who's seen the Breastforcers fight know that you do not want to snicker at the name...
Main players in Victory were:
This was the Japanese release of Transformers: The Movie. In essence, it was the same as the American version, but with three differences:
The opening title included a Star Wars-style scrolling text prologue, setting the background for the story.
A few seconds of extra footage were added, including additional shots of Unicron eating Lithone, and the transformation of Autobot City.
In traditional Japanese style, the first appearance of each character had his/her name listed in katakana at the bottom of the screen.
A Japanese laserdisc version of the movie was eventually released, and the changes can be seen there.
Only a single 30-minute episode of Transformers: Zone was ever created. It was released in Japan as an OAV (original animated video), and the rest of the story was told in TV Magazine, a Japanese publication for children that told weekly stories based on television characters.
In Transformers: Zone, a three-faced nebulous being called Violenjiger has resurrected the "Nine Great Destron Generals" -- Devastator, Menasor, Bruticus, Abominus, Dinosaurer, Predaking, Overlord, Black Zarak, and King Poseidon -- and is leading them. Volenjiger is after several gems containing something called "Zodiac Power." The first scene of the first (and only) episode features the Destrons completely destroying a planet to get one of those gems -- that's how determined they are. Victory Saber (from Victory) is severely wounded in the first attack, so the Cybertrons are led by Dai Atlas, a Micromaster base.
Detailed information on Transformers: Zone is scanty, because the issues of TV Magazine which detail the entire story are hard to find. In general, however, the series revolves around Dai Atlas leading the numerous Cybertron Micromaster Patrols against Violenjiger and his forces. Violenjiger himself can split into three robotic insects, and at the story's climax, uses the spirits of the dead Destron Generals to turn himself into a phoenix. Rumors persist that as many as five episodes of Zone may have been produced, and the missing shows are in a storage vault somewhere in Takara's Japanese headquarters.
Characters of note in Zone were:
Speculation on why Zone was never produced as a full season will probably never ben answered, though the declining popularity of Transformers in Japan at the time was undoubtedly a factor. Even with only one episode, the animation in Zone is considered to be the best of all of the Japanese series, though its brevity keeps it from ever matching Transformers: Victory for overall popularity.
Transformers: Return of Convoy/Battlestars
Like Transformers: Zone, this story was told in the pages of TV Magazine, without an accompanying animated series. As the title indicates, a major focus of this tale is the return of Convoy -- using Zone energy (a plot device from Zone, natch), the great Cybertron Leader is revived as Star Convoy, a large halftrack missile carrier and Micromaster base. At around the same time, an evil force called Dark Nova (who looks a lot like Unicron) revives Megatron and rebuilds him into Super Megatron, a flying cannon. Super Megatron goes out to destroy Galvatron (last seen buried in ice in Transformers: Headmasters), then attacks the Cybertrons.
In response, Star Convoy teams up with his friends, Sky Garry and Grandus (both of whom are also Micromaster bases). They destroy Super Megatron, but he gets resurrected once more as Ultra Megatron. The Cybertrons clobber Megatron once again; this time, Dark Nova merges with Megatron to form Star Giant. The Cybertrons destroy Star Giant anyway, and then Battlestars ends.
Aside from the main Cybertrons listed above, none of the characters in Battlestars were released as toys. On the other hand, that may be a plus -- fans agree that the characters looked better on the page than their toy counterparts, with Super Megatron inspiring a fair bit of fan-created artwork.
Transformers: Operation Combination
Once again, the lack of sufficient consumer interest relegated Transformers: Operation Combination to the pages of TV Magazine. Details about this story are almost non-existent; as best as can be determined, the Destron Battle Gaea (recolored Bruticus) is wreaking havoc on Earth, and the Cybertrons must stop him. The heroes here are Guard City (recolored Defensor), who lead the Micromaster Sixcombiners -- Sixbuilder, Sixliner, Sixtrain, Sixturbo, and Sixwing. Each Sixcombiner is composed of six Micromaster vehicles that combine to form one large robot.
Though details are rare, one can imagine the basic plot: after a lot of running to and fro, the Cybertrons stop Battle Gaea and save Earth once again. Of course, if someone has a detailed description of this story, I'd like to hear from you...
Beast Wars: Super Lifeform Transformers
(September 1997 to March 1998)
With the success of the Beast Wars toy line and cartoon in America, it was not surprising that the franchise would be imported to Japan. Therefore, in the fall of 1997, Takara began airing Japanese-dubbed episodes of the Beast Wars computer-animated cartoon in Japan.
The stories are mostly identical to their Western counterparts, aside from some differences in names, and a more comical/jovial slant to the dialog. To briefly summarize, Megatron and a team of Destron criminals have stolen a Golden Disc, and plan to use its information to conquer their home planet of Seibertron. They are intercepted by Convoy (Optimus Primal) and a team of Cybertron explorers, pursued through a space/time vortex, and become stranded on a mysterious planet. While the two sides battle, they assume beast forms to protect themselves from the planet's dangerously overabundant energon fields.
Some of the Beast Warriors' names have been changed for the Japanese series. The differences are:
Black Widow -- Blackarachnia
Convoy -- Optimus Primal
Chiitasu -- Cheetor
Rattor/Rattle -- Rattrap
Scorpos -- Scorponok
Taransu -- Tarantulas
Waspittar -- Waspinator
While the American Beast Wars series clearly specifies that Optimus Primal and Megatron are not latter-day versions of the original Optimus Prime and Megatron, the Japanese episodes have so far been ambiguous on the topic. Though Takara has contacted Japanese Transformers fans for information and questions about the original series, they have also been mostly apathethic about contradictions in the mythos.
Finally, one of the most significant differences between the original Beast Wars series and the Japanese translations is that Airazor is described as a male character in Japan, albeit a slightly effeminate one. This is a decision driven by the Japanese toy market; action figures for female characters do not sell very well, and toys of female characters are produced in smaller numbers to avoid overstock. Airazor's gender was therefore changed in the series (and related merchandising and manga publications) to improve sales.
Here is a list of the known Japanese episodes that have been shown to date, with their corresponding original episode title:
Transformers: Beast Wars Second
(April 1, 1998 to January 27, 1999)
After the end of the first season of Beast Wars in Japan, Takara had a problem: the second season of the American Beast Wars show was not yet available for dubbing into Japanese. Even worse, the second season was only thirteen episodes long, considered too short for a weekly series.
In response, Takara developed Transformers: Beast Wars Second, a traditional cel-animated cartoon series that is serving as a "filler" series in Japan. Once more episodes of the American Beast Wars show are available, then Takara will return to the use of dubbed computer-animated episodes. It is believed that this will occurr in 1999, after the second and third seasons of Beast Wars have been produced (for a total of 26 episodes).
Beast Wars Second occurs in parallel with Beast Wars, with sidelong references to that show. The series takes place on the planet Gaea, a world with a natural supply of Angorumoa energy. The Destrons want to conquer the planet and turn it into a stronghold, but are challenged by the Cybertrons, who are determined to protect the world. On the way to Gaea, the Cybertrons' ship is shot down; they eject and land safely, but discover that the planet's environment is potentially lethal, and must fuse with the DNA of local life forms. This sets up Beast Wars Second as a battle between the organtic-formed Cybertrons and the mechanical-formed Destrons.
As expected, Takara also released a line of Beast Wars Second toys. Almost all of the toys are recolored versions of older Beast Wars, Machine Wars, and Transformers: Generation 2 toys, with names and allegiances changed to support the series' "organtic versus mechanical" theme.
The characters of Beast Wars Second are as follows:
As alluded to earlier, the plot of Beast Wars Second focuses on the struggle between the Cybertrons and Destrons for control of Gaea's Angorumoa energy. After assorted planet-bound campaigns, Galvatron summons a planet-sized warship to Gaea and forcibly siphons off the Angorumoa. In a final, epic battle -- with numerous deaths on both sides, along with the destruction of the warship and Gaea's moon -- the Cybertrons stop him. In the end, Lioconvoy manages to seal the Angorumoa into capsules, then scatter them across the universe, keeping it from ever being used for evil.
Japanese fan reaction to Beast Wars Second was mixed at best -- Beast Wars Second is even more comical and silly than the Japanese-dubbed Beast wars cartoon, ostensibly to help it appeal to younger viewers. Unfortunately, this required simplistic plots and stere ot ypical characters to support such a tone. Couple this with the uninspired animation used in the series, and it is not a surprise to learn that most of the older fans were not impressed with the show.
Beast Wars Special Super Lifeform Transformers
(December 19, 1998)
Capitalizing on the popularity of Beast Wars Second, Takara released in December 1998 a Beast Wars "movie special." This was not a "movie" in the traditional sense of the term -- instead of a feature-length production, the special consisted of three parts:
"Lioconvoy Kiki Ippatsu!" begins when a mysterious space ship crash-lands on Gaea. It contains a powerful artifact called the Teleport Gate, which is retrieved by Galvatron after he deceives the youngest Cybertron, LioJunior. Galvatron uses the Gate to summon Majin-Zarak, an immense battle station, and uses it to attack the Cybertrons. While the other Cybertrons are being attacked, Magnaboss activates the Gate and summons Convoy (Optimus Primal) to rescue them. But while Convoy, Magnaboss, and Tasmania Kid temporarily subdue Majin-Zarak, it soon transforms into a more powerful bio-mechanical monster. To stop it, Convoy and LioConvoy unleash their full powers, turning into Burning Convoy and Flash LioConvoy, then destroy Majin-Zarak together. Diver then reveals that repeated use of the Gate will disrupt the space-time continuum; after using it to send Convoy home, the Cybertrons destroy it.
"Bad Spark" was presented almost identical to its original form in the West. The single most notable difference is that the episode began with Rhinox explaining to everyone how Convoy survived the explosion at the end of "Other Voices," along with the arrival of the new Fuzor and TransMetal characters. Comically, after Rhinox's exposition, Convoy deadpans that all this was news to him...
All in all, Beast Wars Special Super Lifeform Transformers was fairly well-received by Japanese fans. "Lioconvoy Kiki Ippatsu!" was especially welcomed for offering writing and animation that was significantly higher-quality than that used on the regular Beast Wars Second series.
Transformers: Beast Wars Neo
(February 1999 - September 1999)
Continuing to build on the resurgent Transformers franchise, in February 1999 Takara premiered Beast Wars Neo, a direct sequel to Beast Wars Second. Although Lioconvoy managed to stop Galvatron's plans for exploiting the powerful Angorumoa energy, the Destrons refused to be deterred. Rallied by their new leader, the Destrons are attacking entire galactic quadrants in a hunt for the scattered capsules of Angorumoa. In response, the Cybertron elders appoint a powerful leader gather a team of heroes and stop the Destrons' plans.
Where Beast Wars Second offered a "nature versus machinery" theme, Beast Wars Neo used a "mammals (Cybertrons) versus dinosaurs (Destrons)" division. As with Beast Wars Second, the characters and toys are a mix of previously-released American Beast Wars toys and new designs.
The characters of Beast Wars Neo are as follows:
The story for Beast Wars Neo starts off relatively predictable: the Destrons are out scouring the universe for capsules of Angorumoa energy, while the Cybertrons are fighting to stop them from doing so. But matters are soon complicated by a mysterious third faction, the Blentrons. Composed of Drancron (Skyshadow), Elephaorta (Torca), and Raatoraata (Injector), the Blentrons succeed in stealing Angorumoa capsules from both Cybertrons and Destrons alike.
Eventually, the Transformers learn that the Blentrons are actually agents of the planet-eating Chaos-bringer, Unicron! It turns out that -- following the events of Transformers: The Movie -- the Angorumoa energy is really Unicron's imprisoned life force, with Gaea serving as his new "prison". Now freed, Unicron is sending the Blentrons to collect it for him; once they have gathered enough Angorumoa, he will live again and endanger the universe -- unless the Cybertrons and Destrons can set their differences aside and stop their common enemy once more...
Transformers: Beast Wars Metals
(October 1999 - 2000)
After keeping fans in suspense for eighteen months to the fate of the original Beast Wars characters, Takara premiered Beast Wars Metals in October 1999. This show is a direct continuation of the Japanese Beast Wars series, and (once again) utilized dubbed-and-edited episodes of the computer-animated television program from Mainframe.
For the most part, Beast Wars Metals seems to closely follow the Western series' plots and ideas, aside from some story simplification and minor changes (Optimus Primal and Megatron are now called Metals Lord Convoy and Metals Lord Megatron, for example). The most unusual change goes to Rattor (Rattrap) -- in an attempt to ride the tremendous popularity of Pokemon, the new Metals Rattor is now a high-pitched, whiny, squeaky-voiced brat, borrowing lots of mannerisms from Pokemon's Pikachu. In fact, tie-in manga (comic books) like Comics Bom-Bom even draw him as a rotund metal mascot...!
(Metals Rattor image courtesy Dave Van Domelen)
Transformers: Car Robots
With declining sales of Beast Wars toys in Japan, Takara brought its Transformers franchise back to its roots in the 2000 toy lineup. As the title indicates, Transformers: Car Robots features the return of transforming cars and vehicles to the Japanese toy market.
Details are sketchy at this point, but the basic plot has already been announced in various promotional catalogs from Takara. The Destrons (now called Destrongers for some reason) have decided to strike in the past. A strike team of mecha-beasts, led by Gigatron, time-travel to Earth in the year 2000, and plan to destroy the planet and alter the future. They are challenged by Fire Convoy and his team of Car Robots, who must stop the Destrons while remaining hidden from Earth's human populace...
The characters of Transformers: Car Robots already known are:
As always, more information will be provided as it becomes available...
Credits and Thanks
As we mentioned in the beginning, we didn't do all of this work ourselves. We wish to acknowledge and thank the following TransFans, whose information files we compiled for this reasonably accurate and consistent guide:
This page hand-crafted by Robert A. Jung & edited by Cory K "CK17"!
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