Review: Transformers Classic Animation Optimus Prime and Megatron

Transformers fans come in many stripes. A lot of collectors think the IDW comics are best. Beast Wars commands fierce loyalty. And even the Michael Bay movies now have adult fans who were kids when the first one came out (yes, eleven years have passed there). But most can trace it back to Generation 1, and the ’80s cartoon that introduced Peter Cullen as the classic voice of Optimus Prime. We know it’s not exactly “good” in many ways, but those voice actors led by Cullen commanded our attention. And now they all spark our nostalgic love. Numerous Hasbro releases can qualify as “Transformers classic,” but this year, in time for the holidays, Optimus and arch-enemy Megatron get a classic animation makeover.

War for Cybertron began as a kind of ultimate Transformers line, going back to classic designs but with extra detail, articulation, and a play theme set before the robots come to Earth. So Megatron and Optimus in robot modes were already meant to look like super-detailed versions of those Generation 1 designs anyway. For the 35th anniversary editions, which are Walmart exclusives, they received a repaint to look like they popped straight off an animation cel. No fan would have any doubt, looking at them, who they are. Nor do they include any details like the controversial flames added by Bay to give Optimus a ribcage design effect.

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Due to various laws passed since the ’80s, Megatron cannot legally change into a realistic gun any more. But at least in his robot mode, vestigial elements of the gun transformation remain. His chest looks very much like a chamber, for example. And the arm cannon certainly looks like a Walther sight.

As robots, these toys are great. Arms and legs sport full articulation, with rocker ankles and necks that go back and forth, side to side. Megatron’s sword can become a cannon, and Optimus’ ax can become…an extra gas can, I think? It folds up, anyway. The animation style light ripples add a real cel-shading feel, though we should note this deco only appears on the front of the figures, and not the back.

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The transformations, however, are another story. This is the part where you get reminded that they aren’t actually the Generation 1 versions. Optimus isn’t an Earth truck any more than Megatron resembles a real military tank. The Decepticon leader, as has been his wont of late, mostly looks like Megatron parts squished and reformed into a tank shape it barely holds. Optimus at least gives a convincing cab, but the back of his truck looks like what it is. Two robot legs stretched out.

Look at both from behind and the robot legs are obvious. That is fine on Cybertron, where the alt-mode is to get around quickly and not expected to fool anyone. But it’s not the alternate forms these “animation” designs might lead one to expect.

Still, Transformers toys would disappoint if they couldn’t transform into something. That they have vehicle forms at all is psychologically comforting somehow, even if I’ll never transform them again. Now, as action figures, they do much better. Capturing the feel of a cartoon without dumbing down the detail is rare nowadays, and these guys manage it. They look like the animation while maintaining a level of detail that improves on the drawings and fits in with other toy-first Transformers.

If you’re looking for a similar Optimus with a more realistic truck mode, the Bumblebee movie Studio Series figures is the one. But it’s not in cartoon colors, exactly. The white thighs might make all the difference. It’s up to the buyer to decide if these are worthy of $30 or so apiece. If you seek a gift for the ’80s nostalgic individual in your life, however, these feel like sure things.

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