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Challenge of the Gobots: The Original Miniseries (DVD Review)

9 Jul, 2011 By: John Latchem

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$19.95 DVD
Not rated.

Now that the children of the 1980s have grown into the consumer class of the new millennium, the retro appeal of the toys and cartoons they grew up with is obvious. And no 1980s brand seems to be bigger at the moment than “Transformers” and the hugely successful film series based on the Hasbro toy line.

So what better time to bring back those other giant robots that turn into vehicles, the Gobots? Warner has done just that with its manufactured-on-demand DVD-R of the first five episodes of “Challenge of the Gobots.”

The rivalry between “The Transformers” and “Gobots” was among the most prominent debates involving cartoons about giant robots in the ’80s, owing a lot to their similar histories. Around 1982, Tonka saw that rival Hasbro was preparing a line of Japanese transforming robot toys for release in America. So Tonka found its own Japanese transforming robot toys, dubbed them “Gobots” and rushed them onto Stateside shelves in 1984 before Hasbro could launch its “Transformers” line.

Both companies also released cartoon series starring their toys starting in September 1984, and again “Gobots” managed to hit first, with an animated series from Hanna-Barbera.

Re-watching the early episodes of “Challenge of the Gobots,” I found the episodes hold up a lot better than expected. The five-parter, dubbed “Battle for Gobotron,” features baddie Cy-Kill (who turns into a motorcyle) leading his evil Renegades to Earth to find energy to continue his war effort to conquer the robotic planet of Gobotron. He is opposed in his quest by Leader-1 (a jet plane) and the Guardians, who befriend several humans to help in the fight. So, yeah, it’s pretty much the same basic plot as “Transformers,” but it’s entertaining in its own right for anyone looking for a nostalgia fix. The animation is top-notch, and the restored episodes look great. It should be noted that the episodes include the bumpers that played before and after commercial breaks, and having to watch them over and over gets annoying very quickly.

As for the rivalry, well, “Transformers” quickly dominated “Gobots” at retail and were seen as the superior brand, with better characters and more-complex conversions. The “Gobot” reputation for simplicity (and, some would say, cheapness) became so pronounced among the fan base that 20 years later they would be referred to as “the Kmart Transformers” in Kevin Smith’s Clerks II.

To add insult to injury, Hasbro purchased Tonka in 1991 and acquired the “Gobot” brand, eventually incorporating it into its “Transformers” roster as a sub-line of puny little robots. Ouch.

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