Alright, it's a bit late, but nonetheless, it's time for the review of Transformers Robots in Disguise's mid-season finale, Sideways.
Of course, you wouldn't know it was the mid-season finale if you were looking at the synopsis in Australia or New Zealand, because Cartoon Network decided it'd be funny to make the thirteenth episode appear to be the fourteenth.
As you should know by now, episode fourteen is nowhere in sight at the moment, so just how they managed to bungle that, I'm not really sure. Lest you think they've corrected this since the initial airing, don't worry, they haven't.
Cartoon Network was probably too concerned with finding new ways to make episodes of Adventure Time into new commercials. I like that show, but dammit if they don't shove it down everyone's throats.
Steeljaw, you should be the new Decepticon leader of Robots in Disguise, but Japan isn't having it.
Well, no matter. What we're really worried about is episode thirteen, and if you're worried about it enough, join me after the break for the review of the mid-season finale to Robots in Disguise!
It should come as no surprise to anyone that this episode is one of the best in the season so far, but does it satisfy one enough for a mid-season finale? Heck, until recently, I wasn't even acquainted with the idea of a mid-season finale, so I'm not sure that I am the right person to say how they should or should not be handled. Nonetheless, I'll try.
This episode has a two-fold story - first, we learn that Strongarm has been regularly sneaking off in her free time to who-knows-where; second, we meet the Decepticon off the week, Clampdown, who is hunted by Autobots and Decepticons alike, eventually being forced to side with the Decepticons.
The pre-credits sequence puzzles me. We have two guys racing against each other. One of them, the "Blue Car Driver", is credited (Troy Baker being his voice actor), but the other does not show up in the credits.
Regardless, this whole scene felt completely pointless, and only serves to show Clampdown lashing out, before running off to hide in the sewers.
In fact, this scene was probably the only time Clampdown actually made himself look tough.
Cut to the scrapyard, and we have our introduction to story B: Strongarm's big secret. More importantly, we have the introduction to the stupidest gimmick ever: Decepticon Hunters.
Now, I know what you're thinking - "it's not a stupid gimmick" and "we've seen them before". Let me explain.
Firstly, Fixit and Denny only managed to repair one Decepticon Hunter before, and we've rarely seen it since. They've now managed to repair another two, and they're still barely used throughout the episode - mostly as giant sticks when they are used.
Secondly, these Decepticon Hunters are just being used to replace each Autobot's regular signature weapon, at least in this particular episode.
Sure, they can turn into any weapon, but what's the point in one turning into a crossbow for Strongarm when Strongarm already has a laser crossbow gun thing that looks and functions similarly? Same with Sideswipe, except with a sword. Bumblebee doesn't have a signature weapon, apparently, so he just uses his Decepticon Hunter as a baton.
I guess the bonus is that Decepticon Hunters are more powerful than their regular weapons and look slightly different, but unless they're changing weapons to suit the situation, the whole thing feels completely pointless.
I call this an "introduction" because, if this is all they amount to, this episode finally sums up what the show wanted working Decepticon Hunters for all along. If the writers change that down the line, I'll be more than happy to admit I was wrong.
Obviously, the most important part of the story is Clampdown. I say "important" because the rest of what happens is irrelevant - the status quo is more or less the same as it was at the end of the previous episode.
Clampdown is based on an Earth crab. Bumblebee says as much, and the Autobots catch his horrible crab pun, too. I want to know how this whole team of aliens knows what a crab is, and how a Cybertronian looks like an Earth crab.
Okay, we've been down this road most every time this show airs a single episode, but here's my real question: putting aside the chance that Clampdown just happens to be stylistically like a crab, why would he walk side-to-side?
My only guess is that he must move that way to remain upright, but since he only has two legs, he's not entirely like a crab and his feet are pointy, so I assume he has some sort of gyroscopic stabilisation built into his body to begin with... which would most likely negate the need to walk side-to-side. I dunno. Screw you for making me think, Clampdown.
Oh boy, Clampdown's voice, though - it's fantastic. Somewhere between "Thunderhoof the mob leader" and... well, pick one of pretty much any other Decepticon from the show to stick on the other extreme, because he fits in the middle of most every comparison.
He's a conman and therefore completely untrustworthy. Quite why Steeljaw wants Clampdown on the team is beyond me, but Steeljaw seems to have a thing for recruiting 'cons with "special talents".
Briefly, though, I must mention Clampdown's voice actor, Jim Cummings. I've heard the name plenty of times before, and for good reason.
Not only does Jim play a recurring character in Rescue Bots, but he also voiced Afterburner and Rippersnapper in G1. I guess we've basically come full-circle. Furthermore, Jim Cummings has been the voice of Winnie the Pooh since 1988, a character that will always be near and dear to me (mainly because Pooh is friggin' awesome). He's the voice of Tigger, too (since 1990).
In fact, Jim Cummings has done so many Disney and Warner Bros. roles that if you grew up in the 80s or 90s and haven't heard his voice, you probably don't know what quality television is (hint: it involves children's cartoons being better than House of Cards, but you didn't hear that from me).
"But I don't care about voice actors", I hear you screaming. Or perhaps you're complaining that I write too much. You'd be correct, but you're here to read, so just keep reading, because we're up to the meat of the episode: the Decepticons.
Now, Clampdown has the lowdown (see what I did there...? I'm so sorry) on the Decepticon hideout. Problem is, the place looks identical to their last hideout. If it is the last hideout, the Autobots should have been able to track down the Decepticons with ease. If not, someone decided to make a bunch of buildings that look the same. Wouldn't be the first time.
Steeljaw is very keen to put aside everyone's differences, especially when he finds out that Thunderhoof and Clampdown have a not-so-smooth past relationship. Interestingly, Thunderhoof is almost submissive to Steeljaw - he clearly respects him, but just how good a leader Steeljaw actually is remains to be seen.
After all, he has his own band of misfits, just like Bumblebee. Clearly an intentional parallel.
There's obviously something intimidating about Steeljaw besides the obvious, though, because Clampdown wants out. The dude seems even to favour a stasis cell over hanging with the other Decepticons, and one has to wonder why.
Steeljaw seems like the kind of person who becomes psychotic in an instant, but is otherwise calm, cool and collected. We've seen this a tad with Megatron before, but the approach here is a little more interesting and rather unique, at least for Transformers.
Still, he's cunning; boy is he ever. The Autobots handcuff all the Decepticons yet Steeljaw still manages to escape. I suppose they're a far cry from Animated's stasis cuffs, but those handcuffs apparently do the job... unless they're restraining Steeljaw.
Steeljaw frees a barge, the Autobots save it from crashing into another barge, Steeljaw escapes and takes the Decepticons with him, end of story A.
Story B, on the other hand, hasn't quite wrapped up. Remember Strongarm's secret? It's only rubbed in our face throughout the episode. I think it's a nice bit of insight into her character, although nothing we haven't seen before. The presentation is a little heavy-handed and a lot cliché, though.
One part that I absolutely have to mention is when the Autobots go to cuff Clampdown for the first time. Bumblebee asks Sideswipe to do it, as if he'd have handcuffs. Perhaps they all carry them now (though I doubt Grimlock would), but it seems silly for Bumblebee's first choice to be Sideswipe. Wouldn't he ask the second-in-command, who he knows is a cop, to do the cuffing?
This whole piece just felt like a forced addition to what I'm calling "story B".
The whole B-plot comes to a conclusion with Strongarm's big secret being revealed: she spends time at a carwash to relax. Sideswipe says it's a boring secret (it is - way to subvert half the episode for that), and Bumblebee spends his time enjoying it, too.
Maybe it's just because I have a sick mind, but there's something about the whole Autobot-in-a-carwash thing that seems erotic to me. I'm also not one who likes robo-porn, so I try not to think about the carwash scene.
Finally, there are a few tidbits to point out. One would be the Minicons. They're back (two of them, anyway), but missing a voice actor. Now, I mentioned last time that there were two voice actors for the Minicons - Khary Payton for Divebomb and Roger Craig Smith for the other three.
Clearly, Divebomb and Airazor have an almost-identical - if not identical - snarl in this episode, and as it turns out, only one of the two voice actors showed up for the Minicons in this episode.
Funnily enough, they didn't just get Khary Payton to play Divebomb - they got Roger Craig Smith in just for a line or two of dialogue from Aerator. I assume this was recorded in the same session(s) as the previous episode.
Liam O'Brien returned for some Underbite badassery, including a nice piece of new information - Underbite weakens if he eats plastic. I don't blame you if you don't like Underbite (actually, I do), but he is great. I'm so glad he's still around.
Thunderhoof is still kicking, too, with Frank Stallone rocking that fantastic voice.
All-in-all, this felt like an all-star episode with some awesome yet oh-so-short scenes.
So was this the big finale-but-not-finale we were looking for? It didn't feel like it to me, truth be told. Yeah, we finally got a whole bunch of Decepticons in one episode, with a bunch of dialogue, which is rare for this show (so far), but it's not unheard of (at all) in past Transformers shows. It may feel like an all-star episode now, but would it not be the norm later on? I suppose the important part is that it isn't the norm now.
The B-plot of Sideways was mostly unnecessary, but at the same time feels like a plot that might have become a whole episode, so I prefer it this way.
Oh, and before I forget - the title is quite clever. Yes, it relates to how Clampdown moves, but tying into what I said before, this episode retains the status quo and feels like a sidestep in the overarching story.
In that regard, I think the episode is aptly named, and perhaps the episode is just a stepping stone in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps this is all a mid-season finale should be. After all, the Decepticons have run off to who-knows-where and have finally assembled a team capable of conquering a planet.
That's it. We've come to the end of the uh... the middle of the season. That's so weird to say or even type, but it's true.
I'd say the show is off to a good start, with most of the episodes being quite good, whilst the not-so-good ones are still good episodes. For a show I expected to hate, it's very hard for me to honestly say there's a single episode I actually straight-out dislike.
Thanks to Cartoon Network's stupid mistakes, we already know the title (Out of Focus) for the next episode and we have the synopsis to go with it. I don't mind a break, though, and I'm sure the show ill come back full-force later in the year. Maybe we can finally put to rest some of the spoiliferic nonsense that Transformers Adventure in Japan deemed necessary to dump on us. Seriously, spoilers in intros suck (even if they look cool).
Until episode fourteen hits the airwaves, I'm done here for now. Don't worry, though, because I'll have more content coming, including reviews of the toys to go with this lovely show, and my opinions on them much reflect how I felt and now feel about the cartoon. It won't be all Transformers all the time, by the way.
Thank you so much for reading, and please share this with all your friends and haters alike if you enjoyed it (or you want to torture someone's eyeballs - I hear my writing is good for that).
Now that I've got a little bit of extra time (joke's on me, I'm still playing Final Fantasy XIV daily for some reason), I'm going to spend more time on my video projects. Please check out my YouTube channel for all the current content and that which will be on its way in the near future!