- Mangaka : Masumi Kaneda (Story), Ban Magami (Art)
- Publisher : VIZ Media
- Genre : Shojo, Romance
- Published : March 2020
The mid 1980s may have been one of the best times for cartoons as an American kid. You didn’t have YouTube, streaming services, or even cable (in most places). You had 4 maybe 5 channels and we guarantee 75% were still showing soap operas at 3 in the afternoon. So, the channel that had cartoons on in the afternoon was watched by every elementary schooler, every afternoon. We had G.I. Joe, He-Man, Care Bears, and from Japan (though we didn’t know it) Transformers. We would rush home after school so we could watch them as they aired (not that we had a choice DVR’s didn’t exist). We’d then go out on the playground and pretend to be our animated heroes even if they were sentient robots.
36 years later Transformers is a franchise that is still going strong with film, TV, and various spinoffs, not to mention the toys, and now VIZ Media has just released Transformers: The Manga. The 288-page story follows a young boy named Kenji as he gets caught up in the millennia-old civil war between the Autobots and Decepticons. You could say the Transformers finally come home since the story’s take place in Japan where the toys they were based on were created. We find out that conveniently the Autobots have a Japan branch and are working with the governments of the world to stop their mortal enemy. We now take a look at Transformers: The Manga to see if it’s just nostalgia or there is more than meets the eye.
We used the term nostalgia several times in this article, so we thought we’d define it for you- “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” We will take a good look at the good and bad elements of nostalgia and the reasons you might like or just want to stay away from this new but old vision of the 36-year-old franchise.
1.“Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.”- Optimist Prime -Generation 1
The robot reminds us of our humanity. We live in a world where it's popular to root for an antihero. The Autobots are the embodiment of good. Prime stands for Freedom and Justice as opposed to Megatron who said, “Peace through tyranny.” We have characters in Prime, Bumblebee, and Smoke Screen (a Nissan Fairlady Z to be exact) that wouldn’t think that the ends justify the means. The Decepticons are the bad guys and the bad guys lose in the end. You may not know how long it will take but the bad guys lose, and the good guys win. We occasionally need that reassurance that there are people, even if they are robots, that act unselfishly.
2.“There’s a thin line between being a hero and being a memory.” –Optimist Prime-Generation 1
The events and plotlines of an afternoon cartoon designed to sell toys may not be the easiest things to recall 36 years later but a story like this helps recapture that youthful exuberance. The character of Kenji is us. He is the us we were as children on the playground with our friends. He is our dream of getting swept up in an adventure larger than our little world dominated by tag and kickball. We enjoy this manga because it reminds us that we once had adventures of the imagination, adventures that for many of us have fallen by the wayside as we’ve fallen into the adult world.
1."POWER FLOWS TO THE ONE WHO KNOWS HOW. DESIRE ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH." -Megatron -Generation 1
We do not have a Michael Bay-style action thriller in the pages of this manga. The focus for many years has been to make the characters from Transformers more complex and their history more convoluted, yes, we’re looking at you Transformers: Last Knight. We do not have the moral ambiguity of characters in these pages or an effort to go deeper emotionally in either human or Transformer. You get a surface treatment of the character personalities; in many cases, they are just simply defined by their actions, not by their thoughts. The best analogy is this Transformers manga is Allan West’s Batman, not Christian Bale’s.
2."SUCH HEROIC NONSENSE..."- Megatron- Generation 1
You can call him Kenji but it should be Mary Sue. We pointed out in the previous paragraphs that Kenji is representative of us as we were as children as in not bound by logic or the words, “that doesn’t make sense”. Kenji first meets the Autobots and is rescued during a battle by Optimist Prime himself. He then starts advising the Autobots on how to stage a counter-attack while in protective custody (the driver seat of Smoke Screen). By the time he and the Autobots part Prime tosses him a helmet like Joe Green does a jersey telling him, “You’re an honorary Autobot” and if anything happens to contact them and they’ll be there right away. The rest of the manga is filled with this Mary Sue like adventure as he is caught up in the conflict, again and again, each time rising to the challenge and becoming the key to victory.
Transformers: The Manga is nostalgia in the best way. The moment you open the book and see the character design of Kenji you know Ban Magami’s inspiration was manga from the 1980’s like Plawres Sanshiro or Ranma ½ . The story was simple and something you could share with the youngest readers. You can share your excitement for Transformers with an easy to follow story that lets someone new to the story get as excited as you were on your way home from elementary school. You can also use this manga to expose someone unfamiliar with the manga format to manga with a familiar story.
We need to read more stories like this one. We don’t always need the complexity and moral flexibility that we get with a lot of modern characters. The idea that there are absolute rights and wrongs are important in a society filled with so many challenging ideas. We also noticed something when reading Transformers: The Manga that must have gone over our heads as children the Decepticons were all weapons of war while the Autobots were everyday vehicles. We now wonder if that was a subtle message to help shape young minds. The storylines and their moral imperative don’t end there either. We could go on talking about how the war destroyed the Transformers homeworld Cybertron or that the Decepticons just want to steal energy from the earth and don’t care if it’s a finite resource. It’s like we said we “could” talk about all that but it's not really in the manga. We hope you pick up this piece of nostalgia and share it with a young or new reader and until next time, “Transform and roll out.”