Transformers the Manga Volume 1 Review

Story by Masumi Kaneda. Art by Ban Magami. From Viz Media and Hasbro.

For the first time ever, the Japanese manga featuring the 1980s favorite transforming robots has been translated and brought over to American soil.

As a child of the 80s I grew up watching Transformers and having a couple of them. It was never my number one or two franchise but I enjoyed it as part of my syndicated after school block of cartoons. The older I got the more I saw how complicated the line was and became. There are seasons of the show that were never brought over to America. Headmasters seems to be where the big split comes, but those showed up as toys and comics. Then there were Beast Wars and Generation 2 and I don’t know what is going on anymore. The Marvel comic had a different timeline from the cartoons. Then this manga has it’s own chronology.

I made a mental call years ago for some franchises, and Transformers falls under this as well. As long as I understand the basic premise everything else is extra for me to enjoy or ignore as it’s own story and not part of one grand unified tale. Adam West Batman has nothing to do with Christian Bale Batman and neither has nothing to do with the animated series which has nothing to do with the comic. As long as every version is still true to what Batman is, I enjoy them as their own works and don’t worry about how or if they tie into each other. So this Transformers comic is just the works here. Autobots vs Decepticons. Some humans help sometimes. Eventually we go back to their home planet of Cybertron.

And it’s still complicated.

The art is incredible. That is true for many mangas but especially so here. The detail on every car, truck, plane, tank, or whatever else that then transforms into a humanoid robot is astounding. Even later vehicle forms on Cybertron, which aren’t based on Earth vehicles, look real.

Those later forms are an issue though. Where did all of these new Transformers come from? I mean the simple answer is, these are the new toys. But within the story line where were they? I guess some were still on Cybertron and others were on missions elsewhere in the galaxy. But by shoehorning new characters into what is already established it muddies up everything. The Transformers had to leave Cybertron to find more energy, then crashed on Earth and were in stasis for millions of years. But Cybertron is still there? How are you about to run out of energy but millions of years later have the same problem? By that time you’ve either solved the problem or you’re dead. How did all of the female characters go off on other adventures instead of landing on Earth? At least other 80s cartoons added new characters in ways that made sense. GI Joe had new recruits. Thundercats had three missing cats on another ship that was thrown off course. These new Transformers were just off camera.

All that said, I don’t think this volume contains everything in order. This feels more like highlights from a larger work. To go from Bumblebee to Ultra Magnus to Rodimus Prime, Predaking, the Quintessons, and more. Optimus Prime zombie. Starscream’s ghost. Unicron. This book is 280 pages and that is not enough space to tell this entire Transformers mythos in text let alone comic.

The black and white format also shows the need for color in Transformers. Hear that, Michael Bay? Thundercracker, Starscream, and SKywarp look exactly alike other than color differences. The art is easier to follow than the aforementioned Bay movies are, but I still need some more colors and details.

All of that out of the way, I still had a blast reading this. This first volume gives so much to intrigue and it’s maddening there’s not more. I would love to read the entire Transformers story in order and in English. A very simple start that got crazier for the animate movie and then grew even bigger. If this is more like volume zero, or a preview, I can be in for a series telling all of these stories in order. But if every volume is just going to be a highlight reel from other stories I’ll pass in favor of those other stories in their entirety.

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