TV Shows: "Combiner Wars" Episode 3: The Duel Review
Title: The Duel
Air Date: August 16, 2016
Summary (from Go90):
Windblade’s mischief has awoken the concern of the former leader of the Autobots – Optimus Prime! When he explains that he won’t allow her to continue on this path of vengeance against all Combiners, Optimus is left with only one course of action – stop her no matter the cost!
Review (SPOILERS AHEAD):
I watched this episode about four times before writing this. The first time it just went by so fast I rewatched it to make sure I didn't hit "fast forward" by accident. This five minute format is a bit maddening that way. The third time I found myself getting into it and by the fourth I decided that this was the best episode of the show so far. From a narrative standpoint the first two episodes are confusing in their own ways, but this episode was very straight forward from a narrative perspective, and I appreciated that.
At the core of any story, you need motivation for your characters otherwise they may as well just be statues. The first two episodes were repeatedly confounding because no one's motivation was particularly clear. This time out however we know what's going on. Windblade wants vengeance for the destruction on Caminus and Optimus Prime wants to protect the Council to preserve the fragile peace among the Transformers. Both characters say it, they have conflict and then realize there is something larger at work. This is good. This is what this series needs more of. At least I am now clear on the motivations of these two characters.
Windblade's anger is understandable now. Imagine you saw all your friends and family destroyed, your home city wrecked and the perpetrators were never held accountable. This episode was interesting because we got to see Windblade burn through just enough of her anger for Optimus Prime to be able to reason with her. Frankly, the gritted teeth angst thing gets boring after a while and the story needs to move forward. By the end of this episode it looks like we may be getting there.
The episode is a good one, but it is not without its problems from a narrative standpoint. We still don't know just why the Combiners took their war to Caminus. Also the Combiners are spoken of only as the giant form - what of the individuals that form them? Surely they have some kind of say in the matter? Also just where are all the Combiners? We saw two but the prelude videos suggested more than that. I am hoping future installments answer these very basic questions.
From an animation perspective this episode was beautiful. I loved a lot of the lighting and the way the fight was choreographed was reiminiscent of old Kung Fu films where characters would move effortlessly across trees and rocks as if flying. I pictured Optimus as the old, experienced fighter (who usually had a long white beard in those films) deftly dodging a younger, angrier warrior's attacks and then easily showing the younger warrior what real fighting is. This episode did a solid job of calling back to those movies that I was so fond of in my childhood.
The voice work in this episode was very uneven, but I'm not sure I can hold the voice actors responsible. Windblade sounded fine, and I'm happy to see her character get to play something other than "Grrrr angry!" the whole episode. My issue is not so much with Optimus Prime's voice performance, but rather the processing of the voice. It sounds (to me at least) like they processed the voice very differently than they did in the prelude video. It was overdone which subtracted from the performance. I hope future installments throttle back the processing and let Bailey do his thing.
Thanks to some much needed character motivation being explained this is the strongest episode so far. I hope things really take off from here and we can move away from "the Angry Windblade Chronicles" to stories about Combiners and some exciting Transformers action!