Transformers the Manga 01
Date: 2020
Publisher: Viz Media
Series: Transformers the Manga

The classic Transformers manga now available in English for the first time!

Story by: Masumi Kaneda
Art by: Ban Magami

Transformers the Manga 01 review written by Mark Bussler.

As a general rule, I can remember something from 40 years ago better than I can remember what I did yesterday. I think I woke up and did crap yesterday, I’m not entirely sure. But 40 years ago, I clearly remember watching cartoons and reading comic books.

For one year, mid-1984-1985, my parents rented a place that had this really weird wallpaper in the room with the TV. I can date everything from the 80s by the weird wallpaper (WWP). Things are either pre-WWP, WWP, or post-WWP.

G.I. Joe was pre-WWP. Galaxy Rangers was post-WWP. The first time I saw Transformers was WWP.

I remember watching a commercial for The Transformers in the room with the weird wallpaper, the one where the Decepticons are attacking the power station or something. The music, the colors, the lasers, and most importantly, the incredible robot designs blew my mind. Transformers was just about the coolest thing that I ever saw. The cartoon and comic book series debuted in September 1984.

We already had Voltron and Go-Bots in the U.S., but Transformers made Go-Bots look like complete shit. Voltron held its own, but that’s a different story. Nobody wanted Leader One and the lame-ass Go-Bots after Transformers.

Transformers mania erupted in the United States in 1984 through 1985 and, apparently, on the other side of the planet as well! Japan also got the Transformers, along with their very-own Transformers manga series spread throughout Japanese magazines in 1985 that was completely different than the American comic books. Who knew?

Us primitives back in the ‘80s didn’t have the luxury of the Internet and nonstop push alerts on iPhones. We didn’t have to endure endless attention-seeking influencers regurgitating Wikipedia on social media with up-to-the-second updates about current events. In 1985, we only knew what Marvel and Hasbro told us, and they didn’t tell us there was a Transformers manga in Japan.

Well, now you know. And knowing IS half the battle. The other half is buying Transformers the Manga because it’s really good, but for reasons that are different than you might think.

Volume one in the three-part manga series, published by mega-publishers Viz Media and Hasbro, runs 288 pages and collects Transformers stories from Japanese magazines that ran through 1985 and 1986. Sadly, the book doesn’t give readers much backstory on what these Transformers stories are, or why they’re totally different than the American stuff. There is only a short paragraph beneath the table of content explaining that “This manga is an original work, especially for Japanese audiences that establishes a parallel canon to the American G1 series, with different motivations, allegiances, and settings!”

So it’s Transformers but not Transformers? Yeah, that’s about right. But here’s the thing. It looks really cool! So way cool!

If you love Transformers this is a must-have, not because of the story, it’s written for 4-year-olds, Transformers the Manga is great because of the artwork. Illustrated by Ban Magami, Transformers the Manga is a visual tour-de-force of robot manga illustrations and a fresh perspective on the incredible Transformers character designs. The action is thrilling and complete with manga action-lines a plenty. The page designs and the crisp line drawings feature impeccable attention to detail. I love the way Ben Magami draws the vehicles in motion. It’s amazing, but without any of the character personalities that American audiences are familiar with.

The Autobots are “heroic warriors” in name only, because in the first few pages, they require the military guidance of a five-year-old to defeat the Decepticons. If you thought Spike was a dumb inclusion into the Transformers series, just wait ‘till you meet Kenji.

Optimus prime thanks him for effectively “teaching us how to attack,” and gives him an honorary Transformers helmet that he can use to summon them in the future like Ultraman. (Keep in mind, Optimus has been at war for like 4 million years but surely readers won’t notice.)

Transformers the Manga starts with a short prologue that establishes Cybertron and the Transformer’s journey to earth in search of more energy. They crash, the spaceship’s computer system turns them into jets and cars, and they fight because that’s what they do. Fighting sells toys. Nobody wants to buy plastic robots that sit around and chat about world peace.

The manga storylines are like video game cut scenes. Transformers fight. When they’re done fighting they fight more. Why? It doesn’t seem to matter. Perhaps, because the series was published in Japanese magazines, all the storyline segments are very choppy and half-baked compared to the original Marvel series run and television show. You don’t get this book for reading, it’s for looking.

Transformers the Manga is beautiful. I want to run out and buy the Fairlady Z version of Smokescreen right now. But, it’s so bizarre that the stories don’t fit into the decades of Transformers canon that we grew up with in the ‘States. It’s like watching Star Wars only to find out that Darth Vader was voiced by the Micro Machines guy and likes to play marbles instead of Force-choking people.

I continued to read my way through Transformers the Manga not because it’s good reading, but because I love the different perspectives on the action and artwork. It’s a very brisk read, and immediately introduces some of the coolest Transformers like Blitzwing, Trypticon, and the Insecticons, as well as Hot Rod (Rodimus), Galvatron, and the gang from Transformers: The Movie.

Each chapter (they’re all of like, 12 pages long) drops new Transformers into Tokyo like Superion and Menasor to wreck shit because it’s there. “Prime and Magnus Double Finish!” Wait, what? “Four-Wheel Drive Corps Scramblebuster!” Who??? “Double Cross KIIIIIIICK!” Ok… it’s like a video game.

So, if you like Transformers because you love the fact that Optimus Prime is a compassionate leader who makes sacrifices for the greater good, and know that Starscream and Cobra Commander sound exactly the same, this might not be for you. But, if you like Transformers because you get off on the awesome robot designs, love manga, and have a sense of humor, then this is definitely for you.

In the West, the Autobots roll out for battle because Megatron wants to steal energy and smuggle Energon cubes back to Cybertron to fund the war effort (and Starscream’s coke habit.) In the East, the Autobots roll out to fight for the freedom of being a dog. “It’s the Decepticon Combaticon team and they’re bullying a dog!” Nobody bullies a dog on my planet! Fuck the Decepticons, roll out!

Do you know who wins when Metroplex fights Trypticon in a densely populated urban area? Certainly not the people that they squash underfoot…

But wait, there’s more. Transformers don’t just fight for Tokyo and Earth, they also fight for the vast emptiness of space in the “The Story of the Super Robot Life-Forms: The Transformers” chapters.

Transformers the Manga! It’s Transformers aimed at the market that brought us endless fighting games, Gundam, and Godzilla movies, and I love it. Maybe you will too. The artwork is delightful, as are the nonsensical translations and beautiful manga page layouts (if only there were more action lines.)

The hardcover presentation from Viz Media is nice and the cover design is spectacular. It looks great on the shelf next to my Soundwave figure. Transformers the Manga is highly recommended for all Transformers fans who want to see their favorite series through a different lens. There’s even a cool illustration gallery with some concept drawings and full-color artwork from posters and advertisements.

“We won’t let the Decepticons have their way with outer space!” That’s right! Humanoids, roll out and buy Transformers the Manga!