This weeks Your Nerd Side Show:
The Transformers franchise is going strong, though it's still largely tied to the 1980s. Referred to as "Generation One," the classic iteration of the series would end in different ways in the property's two main regions: North America and Japan. Both were rather ignominious, given how powerful it had been, with Japan, in particular, having a decidedly truncated goodbye to G1.
The Japanese Transformers shows ended with the release of Transformers: Zone, which was a mere OVA, despite the plans for it to be a full-fledged series. Its relative failure and the brand's decreasing popularity in Japan followed several changes to the formula, which removed what had made it special. Thus, it would take even longer for Transformers to regain any sort of prominence in the country that had birthed it. Zone ended the Japanese Generation One anime on a whimper.
Transformers: Zone Was the Last Generation One Anime
Transformers: Zone was released in 1990, which was years after the G1 cartoon continuity had ended in North America. There, things came to a close with "The Rebirth," which was a three-episode fourth season of the original TV series The Transformers. Introducing Headmasters, Targetmasters, and a whole host of powerful new Transformers, such as Fortress Maximus and his Decepticon rival Scorponok, this final season has been criticized by fans for simply throwing all the latest "toys" into the narrative at once. Thankfully, Japan took a different approach with how it continued the franchise. Instead of dubbing "The Rebirth," it did an entirely new anime series that handled these newer concepts in a more fitting manner. Said series was Transformers: The Headmasters, which was followed up by the vastly different Transformers: Masterforce and the more jovial Transformers: Victory.
The next entry was Transformers: Zone, which introduced the new Autobot leader, Dai Atlas. A member of the gigantic "Powered Masters" group, he and his Autobot forces face off against the evil Violen Jiger (a mysterious alien entity) and his revived Nine Demon Generals. Said generals were powerful Decepticon combiners, such as Devastator, or Titan Transformers, like the aforementioned Scorponok. The two teams battled for the powerful Zone Energy, which seemed to be an evolution of the hunt for energon in the past. Sadly, the show's story never went beyond this, as it was only one episode long. This final G1 Transformers anime was only released as a single OVA, and while the animation was quite good because of its OVA status, its sole episode meant that the story ended on a massive cliffhanger.
Transformers: Zone's Failure Can Be Blamed On the Franchise's Evolution In Japan
One of the big reasons why Zone was such a minute series is that the toys didn't meet sales goals. This can be traced back to how the franchise, as a whole, was changing by the time the OVA was released. It's worth noting that among mecha and pseudo-mecha anime, Transformers is unique in that the villains receive as many toys and merchandise as the heroes. The only similar series in this regard is the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, with more colorful "Super Robot" anime usually having the mecha fight random monsters that don't amount to much beyond a single episode. The usual Transformers formula remained the same in Headmasters and Masterforce, but Victory was a definite step in the wrong direction. From the designs to the narrative, the series felt much more like a generic lighthearted Super Robot anime. The Decepticons were focused on less than ever, and there were also fewer toys produced for them. Conversely, the prevailing gimmick of the series had become the diminutive Micromasters. Referred to as "Micro Transformers" in Japanese media, these toys were all released as Autobots in Japan, further limiting the number of Decepticons and the inherent conflict in the series.
When combined with the series focusing more on combining than ever and the alternate modes largely eschewing realistic vehicle modes, Transformers was a far cry from how it had been when Optimus Prime and Megatron were the main faces of the franchise. Thus, with the brand no longer a major powerhouse, its animated portion was brought to an end. Rumors have persisted that further episodes were produced and simply unreleased, though there's nothing to back any of this up. It all simply felt like a situation in which a once-hot property had suddenly lost all steam, with Takara promptly prioritizing it less. Despite the anime part of G1 being over, however, the original incarnation of Transformers would still continue in Japan for a little while longer.
Transformers Limped Along for a Few Years After Zone
The next part of the Transformers franchise in Japan was Transformers: Return of Convoy, which brought Optimus Prime back to life once more to face Super Megatron and the new threat of Dark Nova (a gigantic planet Transformer similar to the Chaos Bringer Unicron). Receiving toys and a brief manga tie-in, this subseries eschewed animation entirely. The same went for Operation Combination, which had even less media. It did, however, actually have a few Decepticon figures, something that its immediate predecessor lacked. This again points to where the franchise had begun to falter, with Transformers honing in too much on gimmicky Micromasters that rarely actually received much in the way of characterization or depth.
After the end of the Operation Combination toyline in 1992, Transformers was completely dead in Japan for three years. Its next form was Transformers: G-2. This was a brief Japanese release for the Transformers: Generation 2 toyline, though it was even more of a misstep in Japan than it was in the West. After 1995, the franchise again took another Japanese hiatus before coming back in 1997 through the rebooted Beast Wars line. Not only was the Western series dubbed as in the days of G1, but Japan would develop its own Beast Wars anime shows with corresponding toylines.
The first of these would even have a theatrical movie special, showing just how much the franchise has regained a semblance of its former glory. These have actually become somewhat popular among fans, namely due to characters such as Lio Convoy/Leo Prime. In the interim between the end of G1 and the next iterations of the Transformers franchise, Takara would fill the proverbial void with the Brave mecha anime series. This is most well-known for its final entry (GaoGaiGar), which has had several appearances in video games such as Super Robot Wars. Sadly, Transformers: Zone has been almost completely forgotten outside its infamy as a one-episode wonder. Even Autobot leader Dai Atlas has rarely been utilized or referenced since then. This means that it was ultimately a very poor way to end the G1 anime, as its impact on the franchise as a whole is entirely negligible.