In the 1980’s on toy department shelves across the country, life existed. But not life as we know it today. The pegs of toy stores and departments were inhabited by two races of living robots who could think, feel, and reconfigure their bodies into vehicles. The were called Transformers and GoBots!
Truly the 80’s was America’s golden age of transforming robots. There was room enough on the market for GoBots and Transformers for years and both sold like crazy! At the time kids (including myself) couldn’t get enough of either. Not only did their success lead to the import of more big transforming robots from Japan like Voltron and Robotech, it also spawned numerous knock-off imitators. You couldn’t go through a Wal-mart check-out that didn’t have the little carded Gobots knock-offs with the pull-back motors. It wasn’t until a few years later, GoBots seemed to become “retroactively uncool” as the Transformers toyline carried on with increasingly goofy gimmicks and GoBots gradually faded away. GoBots were increasingly remembered as cheap knock-off Transformers even though Tonka’s distribution of the recycled Bandai Machine Robo toys into GoBots had beaten Hasbro’s repackaging of Takara’s Diaclone into Transformers by nearly 2 years. Eventually, Hasbro acquired Tonka and the GoBots name and characters effectively ending forever even the potential for renewed competition between the toylines. But this is not a comparative review of the two franchises themselves, just background to understand the mindset that has spawned 2 decades of debate between the fans of Transformers and the significantly outnumbered (yet fiercely loyal) GoBots fans.
Even though I primarily consider myself a Transformers fan, I was thrilled to see that Challenge of the GoBots was finally making it to DVD. I was subsequently disappointed however to find out it was only the initial 5-episode mini-series. Being that it has been at least 15 years since my local Blockbuster clearanced out their GoBots VHS’s and only this mini-series is fresh in my mind, I will only use said mini-series as the basis for this review.
Leader-1- Typical superhero/ good guy leader. Typical incorruptible, selfless do-gooder. Boring.
Turbo- Loud, fearless, somewhat reckless good guy warrior. Probably most likable of the heroes.
Scooter- Obnoxious, cowardly little good guy prick. Also pretty clever and devious with disguise powers that make him possibly the most useful of the good guy Guardians. (Voiced by Frank Welker in what may be his only voice more annoying than Wheelie.)
Nick, Matt, & AJ (The Humans)- Squishy plot devices that have little personality and sadly don’t get trampled.
Cy-Kill- What can be more bad-ass than a motorcycle that turns into a giant robot with a 5 o’clock shadow? How about a bad guy leader who’s generally more ruthless and competent than Megatron? (And that’s without a fusion cannon!)
Cop-Tur- Your average silent thug.
Crasher- Your average cackling, psychopath who can cause tremors with her stomps. Pretty badass herself, actually.
Zod- Big, blue, chompy robot dragon thing.
Dr Braxis- Your average mad scientist who betrays the human race to help giant robots invade the earth. (Voiced by Rene Auberjonois).
Cy-kill escapes his home planet Gobotron to Earth amid the war between Guardians and his fellow Renegades, taking Crasher, Cop-tur, and Zod with him. As Leader-1 and his crew pursue Cy-Kill aboard the Command Center, a shuttle crew of 3 NASA astronauts (Nick, Matt, and AJ) get caught in the middle of the battle. After Turbo is critically wounded in battle protecting AJ, the Guardians are forced to give up pursuit of the Renegades to concentrate on saving him. The 3 astronauts are suspended from duty, having crashed their shuttle and then claimed it was destroyed by giant alien robots no one else saw. As Turbo’s condition worsens, Nick and Scooter sneak into NASA to steal parts necessary for his repair. There they learn that Dr Braxis is working with the Renegades to steal a substance called Sorium from a Russian scientist. They manage to escape as the Renegades pursue and get the parts back in time to save Turbo. As the plot progresses, it turns out Cy-Kill’s master plan is to use the Sorium to power a mind control machine to take over the human race and use them to build an army of hundreds of duplicate Zods. Then he’ll return to finally conquer Gobotron with his army of big, blue, chompy robot dragon thingies. Cy-Kill manages to capture Leader-1 and drop him into a junkyard, where already wounded and weakened he is forced to battle Zod to stay alive. Zod chomps him up pretty good in a fairly memorable fight (I remembered this scene from my childhood) before Leader-1 finally lures Zod into a compactor, where the monster’s head gets crushed. This effectively distracts him for long enough for Leader-1 to exploit Zod’s only weakness: a BIG, RED, CONSPICUOUS “OFF” BUTTON on his belly! The other Guardians, who have meanwhile freed their human friends, arrive in time to save Leader-1 by recharging him before he succumbs to his wounds. The heroes then sneak into Cy-Kill’s base, beat up his henchmen, and disable his mind control machine. Cy-Kill throws a big hissy tantrum and destabilizes the remaining Sorium, the resulting explosion of which will apparently destroy the planet (Or at least the base, this was a little unclear. Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention.) Cy-Kill escapes via his Astro-beam, but the heroes manage to neutralize the Sorium and and self-destruct the army of Zods. Dr Braxis, Cop-tur and Crasher are taken into custody by their respective authorities and the 3 astronauts take the Guardians up on an offer to visit Gobotron and help them track down Cy-Kill, rather than face the bureaucratic nightmare of the upcoming investigation of recent events.
How Does It Stack Up?
Well, let’s start with the value: $14.99 for the first 5-episode mini-series? What the crap? Have we reverted to VHS prices? Personally, the process of digital remastering seems wasted on GoBots. I’d have much rather skipped the enhanced picture and had the whole series for $40-50.
Now to the actual episodes. I would have to say GoBots is about on par with most of your 80’s cartoons. Mediocre animation, super simplistic stories, and fairly two-dimensional characters. Some of the characters especially, Cy-Kill and Crasher do really stand out as brimming with personality and acted (or over-acted, if you wish) by brilliant voice artists. Cy-Kill particularly distinguishes himself as generally more interesting than most versions of his Transformers counterpart Megatron. The show also does an admirable job of keeping a narrow main cast so that you do get to know them a bit. Three Guardians,three renegades, four main humans, and a few odd other GoBots who show up for support in a few scenes. By contrast, the 3-part Transformers premiere crammed 17 Autobots, 10 Decepticons (12 depending how you count Reflector), and 2 major humans. While some characters stood out in the Transformers premiere, others didn’t even have a speaking role til nearly the end of the season. Interestingly, nearly every animated incarnation of Transformers since has learned to stick to GoBots formula for cast size with about 5-7 of each faction. As for the plot of GoBots, while over the span of the five episodes there is a pretty involved story arc, the actual story could probably have been compressed into 3 episodes at the cost of a lot action sequences. Of course sacrificing said action sequences would have gutted the very essence of the GoBots for advertising purposes. Many 80’s cartoons have been branded half-hour toy commercials, and admittedly GoBots has got to be one of the worst offenders. Is GoBots an animated masterpiece? No. Nostalgia is what drew me to this DVD not the quality of the cartoons on it. Now I absolutely do not regret ordering this, but I do regret that it is only the first five episodes.