“You’ve looked at Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines and Inhumanoids, are you going to look at Robotix and Jem?”, I was asked.
“Sure!”, I replied. Let’s start with Robotix. Jem might be a little further off as I’m not as familiar with it because it was a “girly” show (even though I loved She-Ra, and more on that on Wednesday), but I’ll get there. We’ll have to get through Visionaries and Dino-Riders before that, though.
What I can tell you off the top of my head about Robotix is minimal. Two warring alien races downloaded their minds and essences into massive robot bodies, which coincidentally are the same as a Milton Bradley construction/robot toyline. On another planet they team up with two feuding groups of humans respectively.
And that is about as deep as it goes. The awesome narrator Victor Caroli rushes through a brief explanation in the intro about Protectons and Terrakors. Then we get into the episode with a dogfight between two spaceships, manned by a team of people who through one line of dialogue each manage to convey some particular character trait (heroic, antagonistic, optimistic, intelligent), but all have names that you’d probably spell wrong if you tried to write them down (Exeter? Kin’nock? Zaroo?).
Almost as soon as they’ve crashed, we get the appearance of some robots who through their colour or voice or name are clearly defined (Nemesis – must be a bad guy. Stegor – doesn’t look like a stegosaurus, but looks like a snake – must be bad. Bront – he’s white/silver – he’s a hero!). Two big battles before we really start to get any context, in a flashback that reveals the Protectons were once ape-like beings and the Terrakors were lizard-like warriors. It’s actually pretty effective as the history of their doomed planet Skalorr, which under cataclysmic circumstances falls apart (two Protectons grasp at their throats as they’re overwhelmed by radiation fumes and fall, before the Terrakors begin looting stores and creating havoc), necessitating all being transferred into status pods. When further trouble occurs, a small group are transferred into Robotix from their old bodies in order to protect. Argus gives an anguished yell when he realises what has happened to him.
The animation is great, between depicting the destruction of the planet and the transformation of the Robotix, who being robots can bash each other to bits and then be rebuilt. The voice actors, including the likes of Peter Cullen, Corey Burton, Frank Welker and Arthur Burghardt, sink their teeth into their lines. The incidental music usage is mixed, with some new pieces but also some reused pieces that don’t really fit from the likes of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero. The writing is ambitious, but it’s a victim of the format. Trying to stitch together fifteen segments that last six minutes each, with an action moment in each, means it’s pretty relentless. You’re constantly running to keep up with it.
I described Bigfoot and the Muscle Machines as flawed, and this show is flawed too, but in a different way. Not having the traditional half hour episodes of a Visionaries or Transformers means not everything sinks in. Characters end up being unmemorable despite being presented well, if a little on the nose. Also, the names are problematic. While there are people who watched something like Thundercats at the time and only then and now remember names like Lion-Man and Cheetah-Girl and Mummy-Man, being remembered wrong is a step above not being remembered at all.
So, a couple of things that would’ve helped include:
- Not starting in the middle of the action.
- Going in chronological order, using the flashback as the first part of the story.
- Utilising character profiles at the end of each longer episode (“From the files of Compu-Core…”, inspired by Transformers’ “From the files of Teletraan II”).
There’s a lot of potential that this show had. I think part of the blame probably has to go on the toy company, who I would imagine wanted as many toys shown in it as possible, as soon as possible, rather than a slow rollout. This means the writer has to do too much, too soon, which doesn’t stick, because as much as they probably hoped they’d be, the characters aren’t as strong as the ones on Transformers.