Transformers – The Manga Vol. 1 Review

The Transformers. A title that means a lot to many, but in many different ways. The younger ones amongst you might think of the Michael Bay films, the older ones, the CG cartoons from the late 90s, and then the even older ones, like myself, will think of the old cartoon series, or the “G1 era” as it’s often known. If you fall into the latter category, then this lovely hardback manga will be of interest to you!

The Manga was written by Masumi Kaneda (who also oversaw the script for The Movie as well as the anime “Transformers: The Headmasters”) with the artwork coming from Ban Magami, and was originally printed in “TV Magazine” in the late 80s. Due to just being a part of a TV guide the Manga ran in slots, which is why this hardback release is split into three stories: “Fight! Super Robot Lifeform Transformers”, which is 8 chapters (plus a colour prologue!), “The Story of Super Robot Lifeforms: The Transformers”, which is 5 chapters, and finally “The Great Transformer War”, which despite its name making it seem like a big event, is only three chapters long. The first story is set during the first half of the original series’ run, with Optimus Prime battling Megatron and the like, then the latter two are post-The Movie, so feature Rodimus Prime fighting Galvatron.

The only things linking the three stories are it being set in Japan and a Japanese child character called Kenji replacing the cartoon’s American child Spike Witwicky, and though the stories are supposed to be taking place during the cartoon, this is just the “famous American heroes The Transformers” popping over to Japan from time to time. Just like the cartoon, this was all about selling toys, possibly even more blatantly with lines like “If only Metroplex was here at a time like this” (followed by a full body panel shot of Metroplex appearing) and “Woa! It’s the Autobots Minibot Team!”, each chapter is literally a set-up for a new “character” to appear suddenly and look amazing.

Another difference is each chapter seemingly ending with one of the Transformers hitting some special move, which is normally their name, followed by “Dropkick!” or “Punch!”, or my personal favourite “Prime and Magnus Double Finish!”. It’s all very cheesy, and every story is extremely thin on any kind of plot whatsoever. It also gets a little crazy and drops the whole Energon subplot the cartoon relied on and instead has, at one point, Megatron claiming he wants to “turn the Japanese archipelago, then the whole planet into a Transformer!” There’s also an entire chapter devoted to the Decepticons shooting a dog to death, turning it into a “Battle Dog” (that Megatron then refers to a “Copydog” in the next panel) and letting it “spread across the world wreaking havoc”. I thought cartoon Megatron was an idiot… At least the last two multi-chapter parts have more traditional battles between the two forces…

The true standout of the manga itself is Ban Magami’s artwork. It’s very clear, detailed and gets the boxy look of the titular robots perfectly, while Kenji looks like he’s straight from an old-fashioned manga/anime series like Speed Racer, with his pointy sideburns and chubby cheeks. As for the book itself, it also deserves high praise, not just for the hardback cover but for nearly 100 glossy pages of concept and character artwork, with interesting descriptions underneath each one. It’s a very nice book, and looks great on the shelf.

So, who is Transformers – The Manga aimed at? The answer to that is squarely at G1 Transformers fans. If you have no memories of the original 80s cartoon/film then you won’t find much of interest. Hell, I love the G1 era and even I struggled to read more than a couple of chapters at a time due to the simplistic nature of the stories and the hilariously on-the-nose dialogue talking about how amazing the newly released toys are. A fun collector’s item for fans, and that’s it.

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7 / 10

Cold Cobra

Having watched anime since it was airing late night on the Sci-Fi channel in the late 90s, I consider myself... someone who's watched a lot of anime, and then got hired to write reviews about them. Hooray!

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