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The classic battle between Autobots and Deceptions takes on a different twist 300 years into the future as the heroic Maximals battle the evil Predacons. During one encounter, the two factions end up stranded on a planet in its prehistoric stages of development. The planet is home to an abundant source of energon crystals, which both factions use as a source of power. Too abundant, it seems, as the energon overload threatens to overload their circuits. To compensate, the Maximals and Predacons each take on the forms of the native fauna found on the planet. The Maximals, led by Optimus Primal, take the form of mammals and birds, whereas the Predacons led by Megatron take on insect and dinosaur forms. No matter the form, the clash between good and evil continues.
Growing up, I was always a fan of the first generation of Transformers (known as G1). Obviously, I wasn't the only one, as the franchise has endured for years with movies, toys, cartoons and so one. Back in the mid-90s, however, the franchise was in need of a boost. Kids were no longer interested in vehicles that transformed into robots, it seems. Enter the Beast Wars line of toys, which replaced the vehicle forms of the Transformers with animals. The line eventually grew to be accepted by the demographic and helped the Transformers franchise to regain the place it once had in market. Part of the marketing initiative was the cartoon BEAST WARS (aka BEASTIES in Canada, as we have a no-no regarding war references in the names children's programming), produced by Mainframe Entertainment (the same folks behind the now-classic REBOOT). While I didn't watch BEAST WARS as much as I did the original show, it still had an appeal to me. Now that Shout Factory has begun to release the series on DVD (this set being the first season), does that appeal still exist?
The plot for the show was pretty straightforward, with the occasional progression involving new character being introduced for either faction or new situations arising from the discovery of the planet's background. This kept things interesting but never threatened to water down the original story or the characters. The first season was mainly devoted to establishing characters and their personalities, which was good since it gave fans memorable personalities like Rattrap with his Bronx accent and mannerisms or the young but inexperienced and brash Cheetor, who I found to be the one other kids identified with. As the series progressed, the characters evolved and became even enduring, which was especially noticeable when certain characters were eventually killed off.
Animation-wise, the show was again one of the early adopters of being completely made by computer graphics. Obviously, the limitations of the technology and software are more apparent now, with the textures, polygon counts, particle effects, character animation and so on paling in comparison with today's fully CG shows. But back then, this was top-notch. As for the voice-acting, it was appropriately over-the-top in places, but at the same time helped once again to create the characters and give us some memorable moments. The choice to have certain voice actors sound like the voice actors from the original cartoon was also a plus.
Any sort of negativity that I had towards the show largely consisted of the longing for the original characters from the G1 series to pop up in some shape or form. As the series progressed, this did happen, but those characters were only there as a one-shot deal that helped to give legitimacy to this new series, rather than dwelling on the past success. And yes, at times I was kind of annoyed as a kid that the animation or the look of the characters weren't what I expected, like the obvious clipping of character limbs into the body without appearing as a whole, but that went away once the technology improved. Overall, BEAST WARS wasn't the landmark show that REBOOT was, but that's because REBOOT hit first. That's not to say that BEAST WARS wasn't important, as it did save the franchise. As part of the Transformers universe, BEAST WARS has it's own little niche that still has a section of fans who love the series, and who will love that Shout Factory has brought the series to DVD again (really, no one wants to remember Rhino's attempts), and that's just prime.
Video: Presented in the show's original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio, the transfer retains its look from 15 years ago. The palatte then was still largely washed-out and dull, compared to the vibrant and colourful CG shows of today, but that's how it looked. The sharpness of the picture isn't what you'd expect, either. That said, there's no real ghosting, dust or anything of that nature to be found in the picture, which should please fans immensely.
Audio: Unlike the original Rhino releases, which sported a 5.1 remix, Shout Factory has the original Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track from the show. Again, it retains the quality of the show, without adding anything more. That said, don't expect it to blow your speakers.
The big one is an almost 20-minute doc entitled Maximize! Creating A New Breed Of Transformer. Folks from the show and Hasbro talk about the inception of the show, how it was a challenge to go from animating "square" robots and trucks to animals and organic-looking robots, the reception of the show with the original fans and so on. It's an interesting little doc that leaves you wanting more (which there obviously will be).
Following that is an Art Gallery showing sketches of the characters and initial design drawings.
Rounding things up is Original Character Models, which consists of a reel of turntables of preliminary character designs, animation tests and so on.
Unfortunately, there aren't any commentaries to be found on any of the episodes, which is kind of a shame. The set comes in a transparent snapcase with the inside art listing the episodes on each disc. The set is complete with a slipcase featuring the same art on the front and back of the case.
While it's not exactly the triumphant return of the Transformers line, BEAST WARS is an admirable show in its own right that holds a special place in many fans' hearts. The first season shows off some great beginnings of what was to come, and the extras, while not exactly plentiful, do compliment the series and leave you hankering for more.