Transformers Cyberverse is the most recent, and at the time of writing, the currently airing Transformers show. It’s a show that I passed on at first after being turned off by the early episodes – and what a mistake that was.
I came back to Transformers Cyberverse due to current events giving me plenty of time to catch up on some TV viewing. When I watched the show’s second and especially third seasons, my opinion of Transformers Cyberverse was changed completely. It has become one of my favourite Transformers shows ever made. It will never dethrone the mighty Beast Wars or Transformers Animated in my heart, but it is a solid top five show.
Read on for an exploration of why that is, and why you really need to give Transformers Cyberverse your attention.
First of all, some key facts:
- Each episode is only ten minutes long.
- The show has a serialised format – it is an ongoing story told over multiple episodes, with occasional self-contained vignettes.
- The voice cast is largely new to Transformers.
- There are (almost) no humans in this show.
- Each season has a shift in setting, tone and style.
- Season 1 starts out as “the Bumblebee and Windblade show”, but season 2 adds a lot of other characters and season 3 greatly reduces Bumblebee’s screentime (ironically, this is when the show starts calling itself “Bumblebee: Cyberverse Adventures”. Marketing!)
These are some important points. The short runtime made the series feel rushed, at first, especially coming off of 22 minute episodes which had a lot more exposition and buildup. Cyberverse skips a lot of exposition and worldbuilding to get straight into the story. It can be jarring at first, especially in the very early episodes. At first, I wasn’t a fan of the more compressed format.
I’m not sure when my opinion changed. But by the time I got to season 2 I realised that Cyberverse’s ten minute episode format was doing a lot of good. By halving the runtime of episodes the show maintained a punchy pace – an episode needed to set up the conflict of the week and resolve it. Even slower moments or episodes where the tension deescalated were excellent, because those moments were loaded with character-developing scenes (I loved the running gag where Rack ‘n’ Ruin would be stacking crates in his spare time, for example).
Did I mention the absolute lack of humans? The story takes place on Earth and there’s a few brilliant scenes acknowledging humanity in season 2 (Megatron streaming on Twitch, and a Youtube “robot fails” video). There’s no humans hanging around the main cast, though, and almost no on-screen appearances by humans anywhere in the show. I’m not sure if the one occasion you see humans even counts, given it is very brief and in a flashback.
After finishing Cyberverse I decided to go back and watch season 3 of Robots in Disguise. I found the 22 minute episodes really dragged after watching the much more tightly written Cyberverse. It cemented in my mind how much Cyberverse did right with its short form format.
On the negative – some of the voices do fall a bit flat. Some, not all. Marc Thompson does an excellent take on Megatron, particularly as his character gets more to do later in the show. I wasn’t a fan of his performance at first but he definitely grew in the role. Jake Tillman does a brilliant Optimus Prime which I can only describe as a mix of Peter Cullen’s Optimus Prime’s heroism and Garry Chalk’s Optimus Primal’s humanity. Again, it is a role that I warmed up to as the series progressed. But others aren’t quite so great – Travis Artz does a decent job as Hot Rod but I always cringed a bit whenever the script called for him to shout “NO!”, as the delivery often fell flat.
But overall – the show’s format and cast works in its favour. And the whole thing is supported by some absolutely brilliant writing, especially in the latter part of season 2 and throughout season 3.
Transformers Cyberverse does a lot of interesting things with its overarching plot. The serialised approach that the show takes is definitely the right one, given the ten minute runtime, as it allows an ongoing story. The ongoing story has a few good twists, some expected and some less expected. It also manages to keep things simple throughout. The plot never gets too complicated but this works in the show’s favour as it allows space for character focus episodes, which is where the show shines brightest.
Each season has its own storyline. Season 1 is all about Bumblebee, his quest to recover his lost memories, and the mission to find the other Autobots. I wasn’t a fan of this. Bumblebee was portrayed as an irresponsible kid sidekick character – Armada Hot Shot without a voice – which was like taking the worst aspects of the “yellow Autobot” character from the franchise’s recent history and blending them all into one character. It wasn’t a character who I wanted to spend a lot of time with. But things got better as the story developed. Case in point: season 2.
Season 2 takes place after a timeskip, the result of which is the Autobots and Decepticons are well established on Earth, waging their battles to destroy each other. Bumblebee even found the time to get his voice fixed. The story shifts, and it isn’t Bumblebee’s story any more: it’s the story of the Autobots. It’s essentially a rebooted version of Generation 1 both in style and in execution.
Part way through season 2 the action moves into outer space as both sides return to Cybertron, and season 3 then shows the battle for Cybertron itself before taking a sudden swerve with the introduction of a new version of the Quintessons. Each new iteration of the story adds new elements, shaking things up. As a series, Cyberverse isn’t shy about killing off characters, either – both minor and major characters die throughout, and others undergo major changes.
Overall it’s a straightforward but enjoyable storyline with enough twists to surprise audiences and keep things from getting stale. I’m intentionally avoiding spoilers, but there are lots of pleasing moments in Cyberverse, including a radical new interpretation of the Quintessons which is superior to any of their previous depictions. It’s possibly the best use of the Quintessons ever, and an element I want to see pass into wider Transformers lore. The show makes some other fantastic additions to Transformers lore, including an onscreen appearance by Maccadam (with a significant addition to his backstory), the introduction of two new Titans one of whom I would absolutely want to see jump into Generations and getting a Titan Class toy, and best of all: an acknowledgement of the Transformers franchise being a multiverse. To say more on this point risks spoilers.
The heart of any Transformers show is in the cast of characters. And early on, that cast is limited to a dynamic duo – Bumblebee and Windblade – fighting hordes of generic Decepticon Seekers led by Slipstream.
I’ve already expressed my dislike of Bumblebee in the early episodes. Windblade wasn’t so grating, but it felt like she was stealing attention from characters who’d had a lot more time to become established.
But then we had the antagonist. Slipstream made her debut in Transformers Animated and this was her first real outing since that show. Her role is to act as a foil to Windblade and Bumblebee, and she quickly became an interesting character who had to balance her loyalty to the cause with meeting the expectations of her masters.
In other words, we get to see what it is like to be a squad captain working for Megatron’s lieutenants, and the use of a less-known character was a brilliant move.
As the show progresses more characters are introduced. We get familiar versions of characters like Shockwave (who is very similar to his Transformers Prime incarnation), Megatron, Optimus Prime, and the rest. We also get some great new versions of old characters, like a Grimlock who is smart and well-mannered in robot mode, but turns into the Grimlock we know and love when he transforms. We get an Arcee who is obsessed with posting selfies of herself on Instagram and who loves big guns. And we get lots of new characters, such as the tortured Shadow Striker who is a master assassin rebuilt from bits of scrap after she nearly died, and Clobber who looks like Lugnut from Animated, but has a very different personality that quickly establishes her as her own individual. Clobber comes into her own in season 3.
The choice of characters itself is also worth remarking on. Not only do we have the “usual faces” but also some real leftfield choices. Season 2 has Sky Byte make a welcome return alongside new versions of Lockdown and Lugnut (aka Clobber), plus in their first-ever animated appearances, Rack ‘n’ Ruin and Bludgeon. Season 3 adds Whirl, Dead End, Repugnus… Cyberverse definitely is not a show to shy away from featuring less mainstream characters. Story director Randolph Heard is on record saying the writing staff looked at lists of “top 10 weirdest” and “top 10 worst” Transformers to find characters to rehabilitate. That really comes through in the show with some fantastic cameos along the way.
What I think works best is that every one of these characters has their own identity. And very quickly in season 2, we get something that hasn’t happened in Transformers for a long time: an ensemble cast.
Season 2’s plot is a great way to showcase an ensemble cast. The ongoing plot is a simple quest to find an ancient artefact, which creates a lot of scope for character focused episodes. There’s an episode where Shockwave and Soundwave are trying to outdo each other which does more for their individual characters in ten minutes than whole seasons have done previously (I once again contrast Cyberverse with Robots in Disguise Season 3 in this department, in respect of Soundwave). There’s an episode where Wheeljack gets kidnapped by Shockwave and you get to see Shockwave interact with someone as smart as he is (hint: he feels Megatron doesn’t appreciate his genius). Even Optimus Prime and Megatron get more to do than just be heroic leaders, with Optimus Prime showing just how awkward he can be when he tries to unwind and relax (a great example is in the episode Party Down). Likewise Megatron shows he will actually and quite reasonably work with the Autobots when the occasion demands it, showing there is some pragmatism to the character. He even respects Optimus Prime as an old friend from the days before they were rivals.
In short: the show starts from humble beginnings, but it continues to improve and escalate, quickly establishing a cast of characters all of whom have their individual quirks and play off of each other in surprising and interesting ways. I never, ever thought I’d get excited for Grimlock and Arcee as a team, but their spotlight episode established them as an awesome team. Forget Optimus Prime – I want to see more of Arcee riding into battle on the back of Grimlock!
It’s worth saying, again, that the ten minute format really helps with these character focus episodes – they don’t last so long that the characters ever outstay their welcome and don’t bloat stories with unnecessary B-plots.
As should be evident from this article, I truly enjoyed Transformers Cyberverse. While the first season will not be to everyone’s tastes, the second season brings the show back to Transformers’ roots in Generation 1 with some fantastic callbacks to the original cartoon, while introducing enough new elements to keep it from being a complete retread of the original show. Season 3 takes it further, going in a new direction that explores the wider Transformers universe and introduces some great elements to the mythos.
Overall, I’d strongly recommend anyone interested check out a few episodes. The short format makes the show extremely accessible, and with a ten minute runtime, it’s something anyone can find a little time to check out. I’d recommend Terminal Velocity, an early and self-contained season 1 episode that shows where the series was headed, the season 2 episodes Secret Science and Perfect Storm, or the upcoming Season 3 episode Wild, Wild Wheel as good places to sample what the series has to offer.
Like me, you might find a new top five cartoon and be left wishing for more seasons when the credits roll on the series finale.