The Challenges of Adapting Transformers: Cybertron

One of the show's writers reveals why the Transformers: Cybertron animated series differed from its Japanese counterpart.

When Michael Bay’s first big budget Transformers movie was released in 2007 it completely changed the face of the franchise. While the series had cemented its legendary pop culture status with the original ’80s series and movie, in the years preceeeding the live action film, Transformers was on a bit of downturn. The only series on the air in America were several “anime” Transformers series including Transformers: Armada (known as Super Robot Life-Form Transformers: Legend of the Microns in Japan) and Transformers: Energon (a translation of Japan’s Transformers: Superlink), which each had 52 episode runs.

Produced completely in Japan, these series were often viewed by fans as somewhat inferior to the American series that had come before. The plots weren’t as strong, the animation wasn’t anything to write home about, and they didn’t tie into the legendary G1 continuity. When these Transformers anime were brought over to America they were all dubbed, sticking very close to the original Japanese versions.

In 2005 the last of these ‘Anime Transformers’ was released, titled Transformers: Galaxy Force in Japan and Transformers: Cybertron in America. Rather then being just a straight up dub, Cybertron was more of an adaption. The plots of the two shows, while similar, varied in some key points. One of the writers on that series, James W. Bates, described the process. 

“We were dealing with translations that came from scripts but the footage we were getting didn’t always match (the scripts),” Bates told us.

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It’s a common occurrence in animation that storyboard artists and directors will change certain parts of a script throughout production but this lead to complications in writing the English version. “We were dealing not with translations of the Japanese episodes (as they aired), I believe we were dealing with translations of the final scripts, which was not the final airing transcription,” Bates says. “So there were scenes where you had to completely change things.”

This helps to explain some of the differences between the two versions of the show. In Cybertron, the plot was tied into the previous two series, Transformers Armada and Transformers Energon. In Japan, Galaxy Force had intitally been announced as sharing continuity with those two series but when it finally aired it stood alone. Cybertron‘s placement in the timeline of the previous shows could very well have been because of access to these original scripts.

Bates also wrote a large chunk of the series, scripting 17 of the episodes. “It was cool to write the final episode of that show. I got to adapt it! I got to write Primus appearing. Who doesn’t want to write for Optimus Prime?”

Bates has fond memories of working on the show and how it stood apart from other shows he’s worked on, “It was such a good show, where unlike some shows you have to adapt, no one was peeing on each other.”

Watch Transformers: Cybertron on DVD

After Michael Bay’s Transformers movies took the world by storm, American companies came back in to take control of Transformers on television with such series as Transformers: Animated and Transformers: Prime. To this day there hasn’t been another fully Japanese Transformersseries, making Transformers: Cybertron the last of its kind.

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