"Combiner Wars" Episode 8: Destruction's Dawn
Title: Destruction's Dawn
Air Date: September 20, 2016
Summary (from Go90):
The end is truly near unless one who is powerful enough to defeat Starscream can be awakened.
Review (SPOILER ALERT):
So let's recap. Optimus Prime, Megatron and Windblade team up to destroy the Enigma of Combination. Starscream takes it for himself instead, using the Combiners as extensions of himself to form one giant powerful Blob of Energy(tm). It's taken us seven five minute episodes to get to this point and what does "Combiner Wars" do? It has a Titan save the day.
Seriously. The conclusion of this series is that Windblade finally embraces her role as the Cityspeaker, gets Metroplex to wake up and he becomes key in defeating Starscream. My problem is, most of the solution in this episode makes no sense based on the previous narrative in this series. Starscream is defeated because Metroplex grabs him, holds him so Megatron can blast him (or Megatron via Optimus Prime if you prefer). My problem is just how this happens. When Starscream first took the power of the Enigma, Megatron outright blasted at him with zero effect. Did Metroplex holding him somehow make him weaker? Is it because he had already blasted energy from his mouth a couple times? Does Megatron's blast become more powerful in gun mode? None of this is explained, leaving me scratching my head at the end.
As a complete aside, is Metroplex just lying down under the city? Because his arm does not so much transform into existence as it looks like a road opens up and lets the arm pop out. Odd.
The other major source of disappointment for me is that "Combiner Wars" ends because a Titan intervened. I was really hoping the Combiners themselves would somehow be the key to defeating Starscream. Perhaps their disparate personalities would be part of that solution? Perhaps their unique nature as beings formed by several personalities into a whole would have played a role? Nope. They are basically just used as energy boosters and then at the end they come back to basically say goodbye and leave.
When we do see the Combiners again, Victorion has somehow become their chosen leader. No logic is given to this. No rationale is provided as to why Menasor and Devastator, who were basically raging lunatics earlier in the series are suddenly cool with hanging out with Computron and Victorion. Previously we learned Starscream had sent Computron to stop Menasor. Now Computron seems content hanging out with Victorion and gang. And he's just going to hang out now with the guy that literally killed him? I'm not saying I can't buy the Combiners all deciding to walk off into the sunset but there is no continuity bridging the moment Starscream takes them over and then seeing them decide to be a group. Also, just where are the Combiners going? Is there a Combiner territory on Cybertron? Is there a planet for them? Were they living there together already? I found this entire sequence confounding.
From an animation standpoint this episode was one of the stronger ones. The sequence where Metroplex's arm rises up is truly thrilling, and it's fun to see the "Generations" Titan Class model used. It was great to see Optimus Prime and Megatron work together and that shot of Optimus holding Megatron in gun mode was very classic Anime in design. It was also great seeing the Combiners together in one shot. It really drove home what a colorful group they are visually and their varied designs looked great together. I also appreciated the overal colors used to light up the city. It was very 80's and looked like something that could have come out of "Transformers: The Movie".
The only animation sequence that bothered me was Victorion taking "in" the Enigma of Combination. It was such a strange sequence. I liked Windblade giving her the Enigma. From a story standpoint it was cool and appropriate. Why shouldn't the Combiners have the very artifact of Primus that can create and/or control them? I saw the Enigma as analagous to the Matrix of Leadership but when Victorion seemed to struggle to force it into her chest I have to admit the sequence just made me uncomfortable (along with her struggling noises). I mean, why not just have her carry it off into the sunset with her? It was such an odd scene.
The voice work in this episode was good. Jason Marnocha's Megatron shines again and somehow manages to deliver the "More than meets the eye" line without making me roll my eyes. Jon Bailey's Optimus Prime sound good and thankfully is not over-processed this time. Abby Trott has a thankless job as Windblade having to scream a lot and deliver some of the more groan worthy lines of the series, but she puts her all into it and I appreciate that. I found myself liking the way Anna Akana played Victorion here since she gets to sound a bit more like a wise leader instead of someone jumping into a fight. I would say the voice cast is one of the better parts of this episode and they really give it their all.
It is fair to say "Combiner Wars" had a lot of expectations heaped on top of it long before any of it aired. Its writing pedigree is great with fantastic credits behind it (Megas XLR remains one of my favorite cartoons ever). The talent behind it ranges in experience, but they all really gave it a go. I also find almost every shot in this series screen capture worthy. Unforunately the series never answers a lot of the questions it sets up (hey, why did Menasor go to Caminus? We still don't know.) and for a series called "Combiner Wars" the Combiners themselves do very little. Indeed, we never actually see a Combiner Combine.
I think if this series had been marketed more as a "post-G1" cartoon, without the expectation of the Combiners featuring heavily I would have viewed the show through a different lens. Then it would have been more of a story about Starscream betraying the Council. Don't get me wrong, there would still be tons of questions hanging in the air by the end, but at least the expectation of the Combiners playing a more active role would not have been an issue.
"Combiner Wars" is an interesting experiment. There are good things about the show, but overall it leaves a lot of potential on the table. It seems like this episode is setting up a "Titans Return" series so I am hoping for significant improvement in the next series.