Yes, it’s certainly been a giant transforming robot sort of year, kids. Not only did we get the opportunity to waste our money on yet another Michael Bay film filled with numerous explosions, but they boys and girls over at Shout! Factory have actually given us something to save up for. First there was that Beast Wars: Transformers collection — which fans of the franchise gobbled up like there was no tomorrow. And now, Shout! has brought us an additional collectable for any and all aficionados of the big morphin’ ‘bots: Transformers: Headmasters – The Japanese Collection.
As a lot of you may recall, the original Transformers series first aired on American television back in the ‘80s. The original show that we all know and love(d) — though based off of the Japanese-made line of Takara toys — was written and recorded in America but animated in South Korea and Japan. The show was then dubbed and broadcast on Japanese TV for several seasons until that three-part excuse of a fourth season (“The Rebirth”) came to pass. Takara evidently didn’t like what was going on, so they decided to branch out and start making several series of their own, the first of which was Transformers: Headmasters.
As such, Transformers: Headmasters doesn’t acknowledge anything made past the third season of the US series — creating its own alternate universe tale (something the Japanese are quite fond of doing with their animated franchises). While the title might give one the odd impression that this is some sort of reboot that takes place in a robot elementary school, Transformers: Headmasters instead takes place a year after Season Three of the original US series (which took place in the future, following the events of The Transformers: The Movie), wherein a new group of mechanical wonders (the Headmasters) emerged.
Essentially, these automaton critters are small robots with the ability to transform into the heads of the series’ larger characters. Much like its American/Japanese cousin, Transformers: Headmasters – The Japanese Collection has that classic ‘80s animation and charm to it (read: campy). There’s even the proverbial weird human character and an even stranger monkey-critter-thing to give you nightmares should you need them. Between the great music, intriguing (and mostly new to us) storylines and the slew of new characters, this is a fun ride through an alternate universe that a lot of fans in the US never really had the opportunity to explore. There’s even the proverbial weird human character and an even stranger monkey-critter-thing to give you nightmares should you need them.
Since this 35-episode series was never broadcast in America (the Transformers trend had died by the time this series was produced, while the fad was still big in Japan), it has never seen an official release here. There was, however, a poorly-translated dub produced for English-speaking audiences in parts of Southern Asia. Often referred to by fans as the “StarTV Dub,” the laughable English-language track accompanied the series when it was finally made available in the United States via bootlegged copies.
Fortunately for all (though I confess there’s noting like a hilarious dub sometimes), Shout! Factory has chosen to release Transformers: Headmasters – The Japanese Collection in its original Japanese-language incarnation with English subtitles and not include the infamous “StarTV Dub.” Sadly, though, time has not been all-that-kind to the original elements that Shout! has used here — that, or the elements weren’t all that hot to begin with) — as Transformers: Headmasters – The Japanese Collection is a fairly foggy affair. The video quality isn’t the best I’ve seen (although I’m sure it’s a vast improvement over what was present on the bootlegs). The audio quality is substantially better, but may irk some of you perfectionists out there. Another thing that might frustrate some of you is the fact that the only special features present with this 4-disc release are some art galleries.
Despite all of those minor annoyances, however, Transformers: Headmasters – The Japanese Collection still emerges as a winner. It’s thirteen hours of good retro fun for geeks from all walks of life.