Warning: This article contains some mild hints and spoilers. You have been warned.
Before we go any further, I should probably come clean and tell you that outside of Beast Wars and its awful, awful sequel (we’ll get to that), I’ve never watched any other incarnation of Transformers other than of bits and pieces of both the 1986 and Michael Bay films.
I was too young to have watched the original series when it was on the air, and I was far too young to give a single shit about the apparently fierce “TRUKK NOT MUNKY” debates. What the fuck guys? I don’t like monkeys either, but give the show a chance.
Beast Wars was beamed into our awful, square, standard definition televisions that were probably purchased from Sears in 1996, and ran for three seasons. Well, unless you lived in Canada, where the show was broadcast under the title of Beasties because I guess it was just too much for a show featuring warfare to have the word war in the title. GASP! THINK OF THE CHILDREN!
That’s why we Canadian children grew up watching movies like Star Disagreements and Kerfuffle of the Worlds. Oh, wait, no we didn’t.
It’s a real testament to how stupid that title is that I can’t even find a screengrab of the Canadian title card. Not to mention we all got American networks that showed it with the proper title. Not to mention the toys all said Beast Wars on the packaging, and even the DVDs have the correct name.
Instead of the Go-Bots and Mega Blocks or whatever the fuck went on in the ’80s, Beast Wars was set many years in the future of the original series timeline, where the two factions have become the Maximals and the Predacons.
Anyway, the Predacons violate the peace treaty and steal a thingamajig from the whatever the fuck on Cybertron. The Maximals come after them, there’s a space battle, they fall through some sort of lame-ass space anomaly, and both ships crash land on some primitive backwater planet.
So, both sides scan the local wildlife and take the form of the various animals as their alternate modes, and continue to do their very best to bash the crap out of each other. Optimus, the aforementioned munky and leader of the Maximals, decides to call the conflict the Beast Wars, because hey, we need to work the title in there somewhere.
I will try to avoid too many spoilers, since Beast Wars is very much arc-driven, especially for a children’s show. The Earth thing is technically supposed to be a reveal, but since the only wildlife are Earth animals, most people with basic motor functions should be able to guess that one. Oh, but this earth has two moons. Ooh, spooky.
The voice acting was just as good as it had been on ReBoot, every actor really nails their characters, and not only that, they fit the animal forms too. Rattrap sounds like a ’40s snitch, Terrorsaur can get all screechy, Waspinator has a bit of a buzz and so on. I know y’all motherfuckers like you some Frank Welker, but Beast Wars‘ Megatron is played by David Kaye, and he’s absolutely delicious.
Waspinator’s a lot of fun too. He’s basically a chew toy for the whole universe. Motherfucker never does catch a break.
And Inferno…well, Inferno has to be seen to be believed. Addressing Megatron as “my queen” will endear you to me forever.
To throw a further wrench into the monkey, the series becomes really interesting with the introduction of the Vok, an extremely advanced, and terribly mysterious alien race of energy beings who apparently have some grand design for the planet. Their artifacts and weird shit are all over the goddamn place including 2001-style stone monoliths, golden discs, and a floating island.
So, now we’ve got a complex, engaging story with multiple factions, and even individuals within those factions pursuing their own agendas (I’m looking at you, Tarantulas). This is a far cry from any rolling out the Autobots may or may not have done.
Like ReBoot, Beast Wars was subjected to a lot of meddling from executives at both Hasbro and YTV, but this time around it actually helped the show become as great as it was. Since everyone was a robot, Mainframe could be about as violent as they liked and no one would care because machines aren’t people, right?
CG animation was still expensive, so the cast of characters had to be kept small, and as a result there’s a lot of very impressive character development, and it does a good job of making you care about a bunch of robots beyond the ooh-shiny factor. On top of that, Hasbro, surprise surprise, kept making new Beast Wars toys they wanted Mainframe to pimp, so that meant major character deaths were pretty frequent.
Seriously, Mainframe was pretty damn bloodthirsty with this show, even with various constraints from networks and toy companies. This was one of the first TV series I ever saw with such a huge death toll and it certainly made an impression. By the end, well over half the entire cast has kicked the bucket. This is some Gundam-level shit right here.
At the end of the first season, it’s revealed that Earth’s second moon is actually a ginormous gun built by the Vok to destroy the planet.
Much like what happened at the end of ReBoot‘s second season, the Maximals and Predacons formed a temporary alliance to combat the threat, and much like Megabyte, the Preds, being the assholes they are, stab the Maximals in the back.
Optimus’ plan had been to fly a pod loaded with explosives into the moon battle station and bail at the last second. Megatron accidentally-on purpose jammed the lock so Optimus was trapped inside, and he seemingly blows up along with the weapon.
This caused a Treknobabble quantum wave that altered some of the transformer’s genetic (?) makeup, which was basically just Hasbro’s excuse to give some of the characters a chrome job. Except Rhinox. Nobody likes Rhinox.
This is a prime (heh heh) example of the genius way Mainframe would take the demands of toy line promotion and turn it into a great storytelling opportunity. It was also at this point in the series Beast Wars‘ relation to the original series started to become clearer. This would become a very important plot thread throughout the final season.
In addition to Charles Foster Kane up there, we also got appearances from Starscream, the Ark, and even the original Optimus Prime. I had no idea what any of these things meant at the time, but even then I knew it was something cool. My ignorance of previous Transformers material was kind of an asset. Knowing that these references were ancient things that had come long before this series but not what they were exactly sparked my imagination and curiosity. If I had known, my reaction would’ve likely amounted to, “oh, cool.”
In Japan, people aren’t used to having to wait between seasons. Not having new episodes to air is pretty much the same thing as being canceled. It’s getting more common to have shows go on break and come back, but even now it’s pretty unusual, and in some cases the wait can be ridiculously long. For example, there was a seven year wait between seasons of Last Exile. And you thought two years between The Sopranos seasons was bad.
Anyway, to fill the gap between seasons of Beast Wars, Japan just kind of…made their own anime seasons, Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo. They’re weird, they don’t make sense, and they contradict both the official Beast Wars canon and each other. You could probably write a whole article about this odd fuckness, but for now, I’ll just show you the credits for Neo.
This series will always have a place in my geeky heart, and it’s really worth giving it a chance, even if you were firmly on the TRUKK side of the fandom. It’s an intriguing story with great action, great character development and even an endearing romance between two toys.
Thankfully, unlike ReBoot, Beast Wars was given the chance to end properly, and all the various plot threads coming to a very satisfying conclusion.
Until the sequel.
Part 3 of our series on Mainframe Entertainment goes up next Tuesday. Shadow Raiders, the cartoon that everyone forgot.