Transformers: Armada-Volume 4 (2002)
|Year Of Production||2002|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Start Up||Ads Then Menu|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Hidehito Ueda|
Tabitha St. Germain
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.33:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||Yes, Fuzzy Transformers ad at start.|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Welcome to Volume 4 of Transformers: Armada, which includes Episodes 10-12 of the popular animated TV series first shown on the Cartoon Network from 2002-2003. Each of these episodes begins with a short introduction to the series, so I will follow suit here. The story is set in the year 2010 when our three young heroes (Rad, Carlos and Alexis) stumble across a strange underground ruin. It turns out to be the wreckage of a spaceship which crashed on the earth 4 million years ago, scattering a group of inactive robots known as Mini-Cons across the face of the planet. These small robots are now reactivating and are caught up in the war of the robots known as Transformers (check out the advert which opens the DVD if you have not seen a Transformer before). These Transformers are from the planet Cybertron and the good faction (the Autobots) are looking for the Mini-Cons to try and save them from enslavement by the evil robots (the Decepticons).
If you have read my review of Volume 3 you will know that on that disc the producers were branching out with the storyline to keep things fresh. I also had a few concerns about story continuity as there were plot elements in some episodes which had seemingly not been followed-up on. Well, I am pleased to report that a number of these loose story threads are pulled together in the episodes on this disc, particularly in episodes 11-12, and taken in an interesting and unexpected direction. While the story is still not brilliant, it is surprisingly well thought out for an animated show aimed at a younger audience.
The first episode on the DVD, Undergound (runs 21:37), begins much like many of the earlier episodes. A new Mini-Con has been spotted on the Autobots' monitors, and they are again in a race with the Decepticons to get to it first. As before, the three Autobots have to deal with the four Decepticons. I had been wondering about the mismatch and there are some answers on offer here; just who is that mysterious robot who keeps showing up in the episode? There are also some nice touches of humour on offer here - listen carefully when Alexis starts off on one of her "When I'm president ..." rants.
With episodes 11 (Ruin, runs 21:36) and 12 (Prehistory, runs 21:37) the story really begins to break new ground. A mysterious video signal shows a waif-like girl asking for help, just as another Mini-Con is found underwater. Who is the girl, and what is her link to the Mini-Cons? The final episode also does a good job of linking all of the story elements in the series to date into one greater whole. We find that the Mini-Cons have a much more complex role to play in the war between the Transformers than we thought, and the story in the two episodes is linked, which has not happened before. The animation also shows good variation in these episodes - the girl could have come straight out of your favourite piece of anime.
I must say that I am encouraged by the direction the story is taking - it looks like a great saga could be in the making, which will add interest to the rest of the series, as long as there is still enough of an individual story in each episode to make it stand on its own as well. Production values remain good, though still not up to the standard of earlier episodes (Rad's hair changes colour several times during episode 10). The translators also need a good talking-to, as they continue to get the names of the robots wrong at times. In spite of these minor faults, my sample audience (ages 5-11) were excited by this one, and quickly moved on to Volume 5 to check out developments, so the prognosis is good if you rent or buy this disc for your kids. Personally, I also enjoyed the (short) viewing experience, and am also eager to see what transpires in future episodes, so join me shortly for my review of Volume 5.
(Footnote: there is a moment in most episodes where the Autobots 'warp' out of their base to go looking for the Mini-Con of the moment. The animation which accompanies this is quite effective, though of course by the 10th time it is starting to wear a bit thin (see it happen again at 2:24 in episode 10). For those who remember the Batman TV series, it is reminiscent of the Batmobile zooming out of the Batcave and down the road to Gotham City. The makers of both series have certainly got a lot of value out of one short piece of film).
As with Volume 3 the picture on this disc looks a little faded, but there are still no signs of damage.
The aspect ratio of the show is 1.33:1, non 16x9 enhanced, which is the way it was shown on TV.
The picture is sharp, and there are some examples of good animated shadow detail in the tunnels in episode 10 (and also in the shot of the underwater city at 4:05 in episode 11). There is no low level noise to worry about.
Colours occasionally appear faded on this disc though there are still times when the mix of colours can look quite vibrant. As before there are some good effects shots and the backgrounds are still pleasing.
Aliasing is minimal on the disc, but at times the picture jitters (1:18 in episode 1 and 8:53 in episode 3 are examples). Close inspection of the image reveals that the major cause is telecine wobble, though one instance is caused by interlacing. While the "jitters" are brief, they eventually become annoying enough on this DVD that I have marked the Video and Overall ratings down half a star as a result. There is no other physical damage to be seen on the transfer.
There are no subtitles and there is no layer change. Each episode comes with the music and accompanying video leading into and out of the mid-episode advertising break.
The audio transfer on the disc is quite good, though once again there is little surround activity on offer.
There is only one audio track on the DVD, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track encoded at 224 Kb/s.
Dialogue is very clear at all times and audio sync appears to be fine, though as with the rest of this series (and dubbed animation generally) it is difficult to be certain with the speech as it is English dubbed over Japanese animation.
The music by Hayato Matsuo is again effective on the disc - his technique seems to have improved with each episode. The music varies in style and can be quite exciting in some of the action scenes (and yes, I'm still humming the title tune).
The stereo soundtrack is consistent with the other discs, and again has little in the way of surround presence. Switching to Pro-Logic mode does little to improve it. The highlight of the sound is generally the effects which are added during battles, with lasers and the like swishing nicely. There is also a nice effect accompanying the kids as they don their uniforms (listen at 2:02 in episode 10). Subwoofer activity is minimal, though it does add bass to the explosions (as at 4:57 in episode 11) and also some bottom end to the music.
|Surround Channel Use|
None. I give up hoping. Santa, where are you?
Static menu, two options: Play All episodes, Select an Episode.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
These episodes do not seem to be readily available in any other Region as I write (except for Japan), making the Region 4 the version of choice.
Once again we have some nice animation on offer, with some interesting experimentation in style. The story is starting to branch out even more than before (and I am keen to find out what happens next). The sound is effective without being brilliant, but the occasional picture wobble mars the otherwise good picture. As with the other volumes in the series this one is a good rental (and wouldn't a handful of weekly rentals at discount price get the kids excited?). It is a shame that the series is not available in a boxed set, as it seems a little expensive the way it is packaged at the moment.
|DVD||Toshiba SD-K350, using Component output|
|Display||SONY VPL-HS10 LCD projector, ABI 280cm 16x9 screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Kenwood. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|