Long before they served as a hyper-mechanized backdrop for Megan Fox's glistening, suntanned abdomen, the Transformers were toys, animated and hand-drawn characters, and the basis for a beloved and inspiring childhood mythology. Created in 1984 via a multimedia blitz of Marvel comics, Hasbro action figures and half-hour cartoons, they became instant pop-culture icons and subsequently spawned an animated feature, multiple generations of characters and, eventually, two live-action films directed by Michael Bay.
In anticipation of the forthcoming Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Shout Factory has re-released Transformers: The Complete First Season on DVD. A collection of season-one episodes available several times over thanks to many, many different releases, the set is effectively timed and suitably comprehensive, but it reveals few new or different details about the mythology of the franchise, making this a collection better suited for uninitiated viewers than longtime fans.
The Complete First Season features all 16 of the season-one episodes, including the multipart sagas "More Than Meets the Eye" and "The Ultimate Doom." In terms of presentation, the episodes have been restored to full broadcast length, although it isn't often clear where material has been re-inserted. Blame my faulty memory for Transformers minutiae if you like, but the real reason the "new" footage is indistinguishable from the old (or previously available) is because the mastering quality of the episodes is consistently average or mediocre.
As a fan who purchased the original Rhino Season One Collector's Edition in 2002, I compared the picture quality of the two releases, and one isn't significantly better than the other; worse yet, if I had to pick one over the other, I'd probably choose the '02 set, because the animation cels look more stable, the color quality is more consistent and the images are simply cleaner. Additionally, the '02 set featured a 5.1 audio mix, including a hefty bass track, while this one appears to offer only two-track stereo.
As far as the episodes themselves are concerned, despite the imagination that it took back in 1984 to come up with an entire (literal) universe, the storylines are all pretty one-dimensional: Megatron and the Decepticons try to transform the Earth's resources into Energon cubes, Optimus Prime and the Autobots roll out to stop him, and cliffhanger fight scenes ensue. That said, there's something charmingly quaint about such basic plotting, if only because—like most childhood toys—it recalls a simpler time for kid entertainment, even if it doesn't quite hold up to today's standards. But generally speaking the episodes are satisfying enough to sustain at least one or two viewings, as long as you have something else to occupy your time while you're watching them, anyway.
In terms of extras, the three-disc set offers little in the way of new material, especially for hardcore fans. Included on Disc 3 is a printable script, a rare PSA featuring Bumblebee, archival Hasbro toy commercials and the featurette "Triple Changer: From Toy to Comic to Screen—The Origins of The Transformers." The featurette offers some thorough but basic background information on the creation of the toys and the series, complete with testimonials from series creators and toy designers, but of everything discussed, the most interesting detail that emerges is one of the creators' acknowledgment that they were aware of if not interested in beating Gobots—another childhood favorite—to the punch, commercially speaking. Meanwhile, the toy ads are a fun trip down memory lane, and the PSA is most memorable because Bumblebee says "knowing is half the battle," a subtle if deliberate reference to one of G.I. Joe's trademarked lines.
Just for comparison, the 2002 Rhino set also offered an original script ("Transport to Oblivion," the same as on the Shout edition), bumper ads, animation outtakes, animation tests, a look at Rhino's remastering process, the opening credits of the Japanese version of the show, two animation cels and the featurette "A Taste of Botcon 2001." Mind you, those extras may or may not provide any additional or more substantial background or insights into the world of The Transformers, but they're no worse, and they were produced when the commercial prospects of the show were still unconfirmed. Transformers: The Complete Season One arrives in stores building on the success of that first set, as well as many others, and not one but two live-action movies; in other words, whether or not you're committed to the cult of Cybertron, this set feels like an unnecessary rehash of the same material rather than the ultimate realization of a collection you've been building since, well, before Megan Fox's abs even existed.