Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege
Netflix just released the six episodes a new Transformers series that they are calling Transformers: War For Cybertron Trilogy. These six episodes make up a miniseries called Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege.
Since the series was announced, I’ve wondered who this series is for. The trailer made it clear that it was the G1 aesthetic and reminiscent of the original miniseries, so it wasn’t for adults who grew up on Beast Wars, Armada, Prime, Animated… There have been a lot of Transformers cartoons. But was it for adults at all? Or could Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege be for the same age group as the original Transformers animated series, like Netflix’s Voltron and She-Ra series?
Having now watched all six episodes, I have some answers.
Who Is This For?
Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege is for people who:
- Really liked the first five minutes of the original Transformers animated series
- Can take or leave the transforming part of Transformers
- Like more real war allegory in their robot war
- Want a more nuanced Megatron
- And also more overall nuanced Decepticons
- The newer comics featuring these characters are your jam
- Aren’t huge fans of Optimus Prime.
The First Five Minutes of the Original Transformers
Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege is set on Cybertron. I was going to say “not surprising, given the title” but I don’t think there’s technically a siege in the entire miniseries, so what do titles even mean?
Like the original miniseries, we open with Wheeljack and Bumble scavenging for energon, some Seekers are involved, it’s a whole thing. Given the cast of characters the show was working with, this throwback is deliberate and, honestly, appreciated. One thing I like about the original version of a lot of the 80s properties that went on to become bigger franchises is that no one was a popular or obscure character yet.
Wheeljack has a fraction of the recognition of Bumblebee, but I’ve always been a fan. Maybe because he’s the first Transformer we see in animation, so my 5-year-old brain latched onto him. I’m glad Siege didn’t replace him with a more recognizable character.
When the Seekers clue in on Bumblebee and Wheeljack’s whereabouts, the Autobot and a half get away from them by hiding behind junk. Which makes sense. This being Cybertron, a couple of cars are as conspicuous as a couple of robots.
The majority of series, the Transformers are in robot mode. When you take out the “in disguise” aspect of having an alternate mode, and the robot modes are more maneuverable and have better weapons, vehicle mode is mostly just to get places faster. Some episodes do not feature a on-screen single transformation, and maybe of the character’s alt modes are never seen.
This isn’t new. Apparently Optimus Prime only transformers on screen in two of the Michael Bay directed Transformers movies. But as much flack as those movies get and deserve, there are a lot of clever uses of mid-combat transformation in the first film. There’s none of that in Siege. If a character appears in both robot and alt mode within a scene, it’s because they transformed on arrival or departure.
Look, Siege is not Saving Private Ryan, but the main way depth is added to familiar characters is by looking at them through the lens of war. Bumblebee isn’t an Autobot when we meet him. He’s trying to get the word out there that he’s mostly neutral, even if he wants the war to end and prefers the Autobot ideology. As a result, the Autobots resent him for not choosing a side, and the Decepticons treat him like an Autobot anyway. It’s a relatable position in an increasingly bipartisan world.
Med Alert and Rachet are both in the show. Two medics? I know! Cartoons usually only have room for one smart team member. We meet Med Alert first. He’s resentful that being an Autobot means whatever role he has on the team, he is also a soldier. When we meet Ratchet, he’s dug his heels in that he is a doctor first, an Autobot second. Rachet’s scenes might be my favourite from the series.
A Nuanced Megatron
Nuanced is not a word that suits maybe 80s cartoon villains (maybe Destro). Back in the day, Megatron’s whole deal was that he’s the bad guy. He leads the bad guys, and together they do bad things.
Siege Megatron stands against class predetermining life. Seemingly. Megatron talks a good game, claiming to dislike violence and blaming the Autobots for the war. But when other characters allude to his past, they bring up Transformers he’s murdered, and bids for power. Plus, even though he claims to dislike violence, a lot of Decepticons seem more than OK with it. There’s a field of Autobot heads on pikes. Even if we never see Megatron address it, his soldiers mounted those heads in his name.
Even if “Decepticons” is the bluntest faction name this side of Crooks, the Siege Decepticons as a whole are as nuanced as their leader.
A little Transformers history: Hasbro sourced a variety of Takara toy lines for the initial Transformers releases. That’s why the scales are all over the place. Hasbro decided that cars would be Autobots (hence “auto”), and war machines and equipment (such as a tape deck) would be Decepticons. Within a year, these rules went out the window, but this dividing line informs the Siege Decepticon’s motives.
Of the Decepticons we get to know, some are straight bag guys happy to have a cause that allows them to be violent. Starscream. Shockwave. A fighter jet and a gun. Others buy into Megatron’s mission statement, that being a drill shouldn’t mean having to be a tool. Impactor, a character from the comics, embodies this side of the Decepticons in one of the show’s strongest subplots.
The Comics Are Your Jam
As mentioned, Impactor is imported from the comics. He was a introduced just to be killed off for Springer’s character development, which gave him a cult-appeal for fans and later comic writers looking for a deep cut blank slate.
Moreover, the backstory mirrors the IDW origins of Megatron (I want to say from the All Hail Megatron storyline), where Megatron builds an army of disgruntled workers frustrated that their station in life was predetermined by what they transform into.
The fact that Siege Megatron turns into a tank (my preferred Megatron alt mode, don’t @ me) implies that Megatron might not be looking out for the little guy but is actually using them to fulfill his predetermined purpose of war.
And Then There’s Optimus
Siege Optimus Prime is the worst.
His version of leadership involves dismissing all tactical advice in favour of vague feelings he has but never defines. He isn’t the straightforward hero type from the cartoons. He isn’t even the reluctant leader that Rodimus Prime was after Transformers The Movie. Siege Optimus leads with confidence, but no substance.
Individual Autobots are fascinating and enjoyable, but the faction as a whole lacks depth. Part of the problem is that, unlike the Decepticons, we don’t get a sense of what the Autobots are fighting for, other than survival. If the Decepticons worked the scrappy jobs based on their alt modes, does that mean the large number of Autobot race cars were just playing around while the Decepticons did all the work? And if they were, are they the heroes because they learned their lesson but the Decepticons went too far?
Maybe if Peter Cullen returned, his snake charmer voice might have hypnotised me into overlooking Optimus Prime’s flawed characterization (it made me forgive “Give me your face!” in Revenge of the Fallen). Not that I blame Jake Foushee. He just couldn’t turn the humdrum dialogue and dour characterization he was given into something compelling. Or even likeable.
But Is It A Kids Show?
Going back to my original question, I’m still not sure what age group this is for. The series is weirdly paced. Scenes seem slow and dragged out, yet episodes feel densely packed. The tone avoids the reboot cliché of being dark and gritty, opting for the more subtle sad and tired. The violence is never over the top, and although characters die, it’s less than one an episode.
Netflix has Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege in the Kids section, and I don’t think that’s inappropriate. I just don’t know if kids will have the patience for this series. It may not be Rick and Morty or even The Simpsons in terms of adult-oriented animation, but I think the strengths of the series lean more towards adult interests.
The best thing I can say about Transformers: War For Cybertron – Siege is that it made me think. That’s certainly not something the Transformers movies have done.