I remember when this trailer first dropped that people on alt.toys.transformers, the Transformers newsgroup I was part of at the time, freaked out. While some were on board with this possibly being the theme song (at the time I think I was one of them but at this point I’ve changed my mind and I’m glad they didn’t) a lot of voices were really hoping it wasn’t. They got their wish, but this was how the show, previously in syndication in the US, was announced as coming to Fox Kids.
The show was really controversial at the time too. You can do a full read-up of the series here, but here’s the short version. Bob Skir took most of the punishment from fans because he had a Q&A series on the fansite BigBot.com, which was itself occasionally controversial, but he and Marty Isenberg, who went on to work on the more well received Transformers Animated, had been told to ignore previous continuity despite being a direct spinoff from Beast Wars which was in the G1 universe. This should not surprise you when I tell you who their boss was…Dan DiDio. It was also a darker take on the series, which I am willing to also blame on DiDio given the horrors he’s unleashed on DC comics and their characters. However, it was Hasbro that wanted a more spiritual element, which led to the Oracle, the concept of technorganic Maximals versus drone Vehicons and Megatron’s generals, Megatron for some reason now hating all organic life while the Maximals were trying to create a balanced world between organic and technological, and was a big source of that same controversy during Optimus Primal’s brief journey into extremism. Also, it gave us Nightscream, the only Transformer who can join Kicker, Fred & Billy, and Miko on the list of I NEVER WANT TO SEE THIS EVER AGAIN! (Miko has her moments but I still find it hard to like her. I like more than Nightscrap or the other losers though.)
All that said, it was a well-told story that built on the idea of what a “spark” is in Transformers, was some of Mainframe’s best CG at the time as they continued to evolve as animators, and in the end is a pretty good show. While “Evolution Revolution” isn’t the song they went with what we got wasn’t too bad.
For some reason they added in someone going “Beast Machines” when the logo comes up. It’s not as bad as Conan The Adventurer‘s intro tossing “feel the power” in there but it seems unnecessary. Otherwise it’s the same so I won’t bother posting it. The only high quality version I found with deep diving into YouTube stretched the aspect ratio to modern monitors rather than leave it at the TV size of the time and I really hate that. It makes it look bad just because someone wants the whole screen filled. This is an argument I’ve had with my dad by the way. I stumbled across this one while looking for the Japanese intro.
The theme song they ended up with was “Phat Planet” a song not created for the show, which is rare for American intros. Leftfield (not to be confused with Liefeld because we’ve already had one saddening connection to comics in this article) didn’t make the song for the show and it was latter used in a German beer ad. You can find the full version online. It’s actually a fitting piece, a fusion of jungle and techno that certainly matches the theme of the show. The intro is again just clips of the show, but it doesn’t really show off transforming, or even the technorganic Maximals “transmuation” (as the trailer called it). It isn’t horrible but I feel like they could have done more with this. There was a second intro but…
YTV, the Canadian channel that carried the Beast shows (they were the ones who got the “Beasties” intro for Beast Wars), showed the entire series straight through, but Fox Kids wanted to turn it into two seasons. Meanwhile Hasbro had a subline within the Beast Machines line called “Battle For The Spark”, not the last time we’ll see this but it is the first. Even the Headmasters onward were technically part of the G1 Transformers line and not a subline. The only real difference was that the spark crystal gimmick was now turned into an action button feature. I discussed this over on my other site when I reviewed the Beast Machines and Universe versions of Snarl and the Universe recolor of Night Slash Cheetor for two examples. That’s pretty much it. Of course we do have one more intro before we go. This will actually be the first time I’ve seen it.
Wait, seriously? It’s just “Phat Planet” with different clips (some better choices but not necessarily good choices) and the logo for the Japanese name? Granted Super Lifeform Transformers: Beast Wars Returns wasn’t exactly a large release, first going out on a satellite-exclusive channel (I only know these exist because of hotels and hospitals I’ve stayed in having them), but that’s not like Japan. Unfortunately like Japan was that Yoshikazu Iwanami was still there and gave it his usual comic makeover. The Vehicon Generals’ secret former selves were shown in advance as he kept the same voice actors and quirks for them like he did the other Maximals and the Vehicons were all chanting away. While the TF Wiki I linked to at the start of this article doesn’t say what happened to Botanica or if Noble still had Megatron’s quirks when he was trapped in that body (it does note that all the drama parts were more comedic, something even Abridged series don’t screw up), we do learn that Nightscream got the worst of it, and while I hate the little jerk, this is just wrong.
Perhaps most troubling of this satirical and humor-driven dub was Nightscream’s characterization. Nightscream was turned into a flaming homosexual stereotype, lifting many quirks from the then-popular “Hard Gay” persona of comedian Masaki Sumitani (including ripping off his catchphrase, “Fuu!”). Other homosexual stereotypes attached to Nightscream included a new obsession with fashion and style, highly effeminate petnames for other characters (such as calling Rattrap “Aunty”), and a more lustful infatuation with the character Noble. While effeminate, vaguely homosexual characters are not uncommon in Japanese Transformers cartoons (many Japanese incarnations of Starscream are preeeeetty gay), the portrayal of Nightscream in this manner was not particularly respectful. For example, as they were both flyers, Silverbolt often spent more time with Nightscream than he did Blackarachnia. Already feeling jilted due to Silverbolt’s new standoffish personality, this regularly incited angry commentary from the jealous fembot, who derisively referred to Nightscream and Silverbolt as the “gay boys” (“homo-tachi”).
In case you thought the brooding angry punk kids who actually gets worse as the series goes on instead of better (for the record I hate Nightscrap more than Kicker) couldn’t have a more annoying personality, there you go.
Hasbro had considered continuing this franchise with technorganic vehicles. I’m not sure how that would have worked or why Hasbro dropped it but to fill the gap it actually brought over one of the Japan exclusives to bridge the gap between the animals they had been working with and vehicles. It was actually Beast Machines in reverse. Next time we look at Car Robots, probably known to most of you as the original Robots In Disguise. This will be really short. There are only two intros!