Rob's Pile of Transformers: Manic Rambings

Manic Ramblings and Delirious Ranting
re: "City of Steel"
9/29/00

Welcome to the wonderful world of painful animation, Prime! Let me disclaim everything by saying: I'm only doing this for the good of the fandom! I know it's numbing, but it's got to be done! This is for your own good, ha ha ha! So sit back, relax, don't fight against the restraints, let the sedatives do their job, and let's take a cold, hard look at "City of Steel".

Devastator says:

Laserbeak is taking a flying tour of lower Manhattan. He shoots at a manhole cover, which moves aside so he can fly into the sewer system. Below the streets, he shoots at a set of sliding doors, which also open. LB flies into a Decepticon base and returns to Soundwave's chest slot.

Scavenger rolls past and up a ramp just then, as Hook tells him: "I finished the hard part, Scavenger. You should be able to take it from here." "Wrong as usual, Hook," Scrapper interrupts, operating a panel which lifts Scavenger up a shaft. "Drawing the plans for our new base was the hard part -- plans which the rest of you botched up!" "Silence!" Megatron snaps. "I want you working, not nagging at each other like hyper-driven chatteroids!" "Laserbeak reports no Autobot in vicinity," Soundwave says. Megs orders Scavenger to procede; Scavenger then beats the cieling with his shovel arm. Rocks fall everywhere, which Bonecrusher cleans up: "Remove the debris, Long Haul." "Remove! Remove! Always remove! I didn't join this outfit to be a dump truck!"

"Mixmaster! Finish the job!" "Right right right. Mega Mega Megatron!" [are your eyes bleeding yet? Don't worry, it gets worse!] Mixter blasts the top of Scavenger's hole with chemicals, and the ground begins to fall: "Ooooo, time for Scavenger to scram!" Scavy says, jumping out of the way half a second before a huge slab of rock lands on his platform. "Scrapper! Lower away! Soon all of New York City will be mine!" Megs enthuses. And on the surface, pedestrians are somewhat surprised to see the Empire State Building sink into the ground and disappear.

The Autobots catch a news report about the disappearance and roll out, Prime grimly predicting that "if we don't get to New York City fast, there won't be a city left to get to!" Prime radios back to Sparkplug: "Tell Wheeljack and the others to meet us in Central Park."

"The others" consist of Wheeljack, Mirage, Hound, Sideswipe, and Sunstreaker, who approach via the harbor (using the "crazy waterskis" previously seen in "Dinobot Island" and "The Ultimate Doom".) Laserbeak appears overhead, naturally: "It's that nosey no-goodnicon Laserbeak!" Sideswipe notes. "He'll blab our plans to Megatron!" "Too late to change 'em now. We'll just have to hope we're too fast for him," Mirage replies. Optimus's team, meanwhile, has entered Manhattan. Underground, Megs tells Long Haul and Scavenger that "Your special talents are required for a welcome the Autobots will find terminal!"

The Autobots arrive in Central Park and transform. The 'cons greet them thusly:

Rumble: "Don't you tourists know that hanging out in Central Park...."
Frenzy: "Can be hazardous..."
Soundwave: "To your health!"

"Let's stomp these [something or other] right now!" Ironhide says. "You and who else, Ironbrain?" Rumble says. R&F pile drive the ground before the Autobots can fire, making Ironhide fall over. Below, Scavenger and Megs have located Prime overhead; Scavenger digs out the roof of the base, and Prime falls in, landing in Long Haul's cargo bed. Megatron zaps him with a little pointy thing: "I've severed your motor relays, Prime! Welcome to the wonderful world of suspended animation!" Megs flies out of the hole: "And if you Autobots ever want to see your beloved leader again, you'll leave immediately! From now on Optimus Prime and this city belong to me!"

Scrapper is ready, and raises the ESB back into position: it's now fatter, rounder, purpler, and decidedly Cybertronian-looking. "I want you all to see my new headquarters! The reborn Decepticon city of New Cybertron!" Megs turns to the Autobots, who are apparently just standing around watching: "And if you interfere one mini-cron, I'll melt Optimus Prime down for paper clips!"

The city is being evacuated as the Autobots... enter? Leave? It's not really clear; it looks like Wheejack's group, but Ironhide is apparently with them. The Autobots bemoan not making it to Central Park in time. Spike gets an idea, and some of the 'bots take an exit ramp instead of crossing the bridge.

"Your pitiful attempt to stop my conquest of New York City has failed, Prime! And soon the rest of North America will fall to me as well," Megs gloats below ground. "But, even immobilized you worry me. Hook! Disassemble him at once!" "With finesse! And pleasure," Hook says, transforming and igniting a laser sword. A short while later, Long Haul dumps out a pile of Prime parts. "Excellent work, Hook. You're an artist! Don't you agree, Optimus?" Megs comments, picking up Op's head and reactivating him. "As long as power flows through any of my circuits, I'll fight you," Op says, sending out waves that make his arms jump up and knock Megs over. Megs deactivates him and orders the Constructicons to "dispose of his parts any way you choose! But the head is mine."

At the harbor, Ratchet, Mirage, Hound, Bumblebee and Spike enter the sewer tunnels. Mirage turns invisible and goes to scout ahead, with Hound tracking him by sensor.

"I think we've used Optimus Prime's remnants most creatively!" Scrapper tells Long Haul and Hook, holding Prime's gun arm (with the gun still in hand.) "And I've just figure out where this part can do the most... ahhmm... ahhh..." "Damage?" "Just the word I was searching for, Hook!" They transform and head for the surface.

"I feel like I'm in some messy swamp, not under the biggest city in North America!" Ratchet gripes as the group hikes through the sewers. Hound is confused: "My sensors indicater Optimus isn't in front of us anymore; he's behind us!" Mirage rejoins them: "It looks good ahead. But it looks miserable back there!" A mechanical alligator made of red, blue, and white parts charges at them; the Autobots head the other way, Hound still confused about his sensor readings. The group comes to an abandoned subway train blocking the tunnel. Bumblebee: "We'll have to fight him here." Hound: "We can't! The noise will alert the Decepticons! But I've got a plan." Hound rips the back end off the train. Bumblebee and Spike lure it into the train, and Ratchet sends it on its way. "Train now leaving for Madison Avenue, Park Avenue..." Hound pauses to throw a switch, "...Lexington Avenue, and... the river!"

The Constructicons are hard at work rebuilding the city above. "If the Autobots ever drive down this street, they'll be riding down their own grave!" Scrapper comments, in Sideswipe's voice. Skywarp shoves a car into Mixmaster's drum: "See what you can do with this, Mixmaster!" Mixter spits it out as girders: "Only my best, Skywarp, only my best, best!" "It sickens me to say it, Reflector," Starscream comments. "But this one time I have to hand it to Megatron. The place is finally starting to feel like home!"

"My sensors indicate that Prime is now within ten mechano-meters," Hound says; the group blasts into a chamber where Optimus's head is just sitting on a shelf. Ratchet reactivates him. "Thanks Ratchet. Hook disassembled me, but he wasn't very neat. I can sense the presence of my legs. They're nearby." Prime "activates" them, which causes them to come tumbling through the air. A lightbulb goes off over Hound's head: "Wait a minute. That's why my sensors picked up Prime behind us! Because a part of him was!"

The 'bots wrestle with the 'gator for a bit, till Prime says that "Maybe I can help! That is if I'm really part of that jigsaw puzzle of a reptilicon." Prime's telepath waves subdue the beast. "We've got him now," Hound says. Mirage: "Or should we say we've got you!" "This alligator is big and heavy!" Mirage then randomly blurts out in a strangely modulated voice. "From the looks of it I'd say a little of both," Prime notes.

Ratchet reassembles Prime; only his right arm is missing, and Prime senses it above ground. "Mirage, radio the others. Megatron's in for a very large shock."

"This sure isn't little ol' New York anymore," Wheeljack notes, as he, Ironhide, Bluestreak, and Sunstreaker tour the town. "Megatron's turned it into one big fortress!" Bluestreak spots Prime's arm mounted on top of the rebuilt Empire State Building, gun still in hand.

Megs observes that Prime is rebuilt; he has Soundwave blast the 'bots with Prime's gun. "And continue firing until Optimus Prime and the Autobots are terminally destroyed!!" he says, as Soundwave sits there pressing the fire button over and over and over and over. "Autobots -- scatter, and transform!" Prime orders. "There's no place to run, Prime! Nothing can save you now!" Megs gloats.

Bluestreak and Hound drive right into a very large hole, and land on some subway tracks. "You're just in time to take the A train!" says an off-screen voice that's probably supposed to be Scrapper. "Before it takes you!" Frenzy says, driving a sub train at them. Hound and Bluestreak blow up the train. "Phew! That train blew just in time. One more bolt, and I'd've been too pooped to zap!"

"Looks good so far," Bumblebee says, driving along with Sideswipe and Sunstreaker. Spike sees taxicabs in the rear view mirror, which sprout dinky-looking lasers from their roofs: "Not any more! More Constructicon handiwork coming up!" "Right you are, human! Soundwave -- send our battle taxis into action!" Megs says from his bunker. The 'bots run into another group and jump over them. Optimus watches from nearby, still grim as ever: "I may not have a weapon, but I can still transform, and roll!" The Constructicons are sitting nearby in little battle bunkers. Mixmaster: "Here they come! Auto Auto Autobots!" "Things are looking bad!" Sunstreaker moans. "But they're startin' to sound good! Here that?" Swiper replies, as Prime drives into view. Prime smashes the taxis and the bunker. Sideswipe: "Even with one arm, Prime is primo!"

"That's the way to cool it, Ironhide," Op says arriving back at the ESB. "Now it's time to lend myself a hand, and an arm as well!" He, Ratchet, and Ironhide begin rapelling up the side of the building; Bumblebee and Spike go to help. Megs sends the jets to attack Prime's group. "They can't miss!" Ratchet says. "Neither can we!" Ironhide answers. The jets fly right through the building; Thundercracker sounds very surprised when he calls out "Starscream, we're damaged!" Skywarp: "We gotta land!" Starscream: "Cowardly weaklings! I'll crush them like tin foil!" "Wanna bet?" says Sideswipe, taking off and landing on Starscream's back. "Say uncle or I'll shove your nose in your afterburner!" "Uncle!" Starscream cries out like a little girl, and Swiper drops him into the harbor. "Gee! I didn't know Decepticons had uncles!"

"The Autobots are getting closer Megatron," Soundwave reports. "Scrapper! Unleash the ultimate weapon!" "Constructicons, transform - phase one! Now, unite!" Wheeljack comes around a corner and looks up... up... up at Devastator.

"Devastator says, surrender or perish! Devastator wants vengeance! Devastator wants Optimus Prime!" Megs watches as Dev starts climbing the building, while behind him Bumblebee and Spike enter through an elevator. "Intruders! Intruder!" Soundwave says, pointing with a finger drawn in immaculate one-point perspective. Megs chases them, firing repeatedly. "You'll never catch us, Megaclutz!" Spike says. "Megaclutz? You dare to insult me in my own command post?" They run across Soundwave's controls as Megs fires again, destroying it. "The console is now inoperative. I can no longer maintain weapon control," Soundwave says, as Spike and Bum hightail it out the door. "No matter! Send Buzzsaw and Laserbeak to take care of the Earth pests! Devastator will destroy Prime, and I shall be master of all!"

Devastator makes a strange growling noise, grabs Prime, and swats Ratchet and Ironhide so they go flying *into* the building. "Devastator says your end is near!" Wheeljack activates some remote-control helicopters: "I saw this once when I linked my data bank to an earth television transmission. I think it was called 'King Kong'. And Devastator reminds me of that big baboon!" Dev swats the choppers. "Don't let it get to you, Wheeljack; maybe Devastator saw the same picture!" Hound says cheerily.

"Destroy them Devastator! Destroy!!" Megatron shouts. Ratchet and Ironhide, just recovering from being swatted, here this from above; they smile and blast the cieling. Soundwave and Megs come crashing through it and on through the floor. "Nice shootin', sport," Ratchet says, shaking Ironhide's hand. Spike tells Prime that "We wrecked Soundwave's control of your arm!" Prime shoots his arm with telepathic rays, which makes it bat Buzzsaw and Laserbeak aside (good think they flew within ten feet of it.) "It will take more than your puny arm to stop Devastator!" "Right. Which is why it's lucky the hand at the end of that arm is holding a gun!" Prime's telepathic powers work on the gun itself this time (apparently he couldn't just have his finger pull the trigger), and Dev gets blasted off the building.

Ironhide and Ratchet grab Prime out of the air as Dev falls past in XTREEM SLO MOTION; Dev lands far below and creates a big pothole. The battered Constructicons fly out of it and away. Megs gives his farewell speech: "The Autobots may have destroyed our city of New Cybertron, but I have not been defeated. I shall return, do you hear me? I shall return!" He and Soundwave fly away.

"Well, Optimus?" Ratchet asks, as Prime tests his arm out. "Just as it always was. Like the rest of New York City. Autobots, transform, and roll out!" The Autobots do so, the camera closing on an "I (heart) New York" bumper sticker on Bumblebee as we fade out.

Rob says:

Oh man. I don't know where to start. There is SO MUCH about this episode that is excruciatingly bad, and so little that is good -- the mind boggles. I couldn't even finish the summary without ragging on it. I guess a pet peave is as good a place as any to start.

Namely: Mixmaster in this episode has a bizarre and very annoying speech quirk ("Mega Mega Megatron!" Kinda like Shrapnel in reverse.) It ONLY showed up in this episode, thank god. But, it seems like the fandom has nevertheless latched onto it as how Mixmaster talks all the time. So the annoyance not only exists, it is perpetuated in fanfic as well. Arrrrrg!

This episode, as Phil Zeman pointed out to me, takes itself *waaaay* too seriously. I think we're supposed to regard kiddie plot devices like the battle taxis and Optimus's renagade arm as dangerous and threatening. I mean, look at the title. If you put aside years of Transfans ragging on the episode it represents, the title "City of Steel" sounds all serious an' stuff.

A major plot point is that Prime is *gasp* MISSING AN ARM!!! Oh no! I mean... it CERTAINLY wouldn't be possible for him to have another one made! That might sever the unique telepathic relationship Prime has with all his various body parts, up to and including his gun...

I mean, normally I quote dialogue because it's *good*. Here, some lines I just had to include because they were so freaking *bad*. Like... Ratchet and Ironhide shooting the floor out from under Megs was *funny*. I laughed at it. But then they go and ruin it with this "Nice shootin' sport!" line. Just a simple "Heh heh heh" from Ironhide would've cemented it, but nooooo.... "Nice shootin', sport!" *facepalm*

Then there's little "cool" bits, like Spike's "NOW, Bumblebee!" when they burst into Megs' HQ. What does Spike think Bumblebee's gonna do, just STAND there? And Spike says it like it's the penultimate point of some elaborate military strategy -- "Okay. We'll sneak into their headquarters, and then when the elevator door opens -- we burst in and RUN AROUND!!! Ready? Set? NOW, Bumblebee!" Megs not slaughtering the two of them instantly is one of the most severe cases of plot-dependent aim that the series has ever seen. I wish we could have seen the overhead shot of that scene: Bum and Spike running in a little circle; Megs running in a little circle right behind them, firing and missing; Soundwave just sitting at his console ignoring all this. Heh heh.

Okay. Keep in sequence. Story first.

The basic plot is completely absurd, and I mean absurd even by G1's somewhat lenient standards. This scheme makes the remote-control cars in "Make Tracks" seem like standard army maneuvers. The Decepticons rebuild New York City into a giant fortress and/or Cybertronian city. What *good* does this do them? Do they really think the Autobots won't notice? Why do it in the middle of a human city? If they want a fortress or city, why not pick a spot where there's no humans aroud? I guess NYC *does* offer a huge supply of raw materials... and I guess making a human city into a fortress kinda draws the Autobots into a fortified position. But nothing like that is hinted at in the show.. it's just "Let's make a big fortress! Wheee!" Maybe this ep came right after the 'cons undersea HQ got flooded for the umpteenth time, and Megs decided he'd simply had enough.

The entire episode is filled with improbable physics and dubious plot devices. The Decepticons remove the Empire State Building by pulling it into the ground? It's over a thousand freaking feet tall! Think how huge of a pit the 'cons would have to construct just to pull this off! (The Decepticons also have bizarre entry systems to their bases: To Enter, Shoot Door for Five Minutes Till Door Magically Floats Aside. How long can an entryway that operates by being shot at really last? :] The 'con underground base is improbably gigantic, considering it runs from the ESB up to Central Park. But I guess if they could dig a thousand feet down, a mile or two sideways underground isn't so unlikely.

Also -- moving the entire building like that would probably destroy it -- the structure of a building is designed to resist static loads (ie, it just sits there and holds the building up against gravity.) Active loads -- like if the structure has to support the entire building PLUS the added momentum of it dropping into the ground or rising back out of it -- place a much greater stress on it. In other words, *boom*, no more ESB. And that's not mentioning all the water, sewer, gas, and electrical connections to the building that would be violently severed when it was pulled underground. Natural gas leak = another big boom.

And then, at the end, the Autobots restore everything to normal, just like nothing happened! It's just --- it's just -- well, maybe it's not impossible with Autobot technology, but it seems highly unlikely. Apparently the purple stuff on the ESB was an outer coating, which doesn't make much sense, considering how little interior space this would give the Decepticons. Or did they strip it down to the frame and rebuild it? In any case, the exterior of the ESB would be considerably damaged, probably beyond repair, and what was put back up on the skyline would be a largely or all-new facimile.

Lesser instances of Dubious Physics can also be seen here and there. Bumblebee, Sunstreaker, and Sideswipe just spontaneously *fly* over the battle taxis. Devastator's "fall" last a good five or ten seconds, and he's moving at a walking pace as he passes Ironhide and Ratchet.

The artwork of this ep is, stylisticly, among the worst in the series, IMO. This, "The Core", and "The Autobot Run" all seem to have been done by the same studio (and, curiously, all have writing that ranges from mediocre to extremely juvenile.) Collectively, they're like a "Transformers: Junior" series targeted at younger viewers. The TF characters tend to have fewer sharp corners and hard edges; the colors are very bright and cheery. Several of the characters also have strange coloring conventions in these eps: Optimus's backpack is white; Chip Chase (when he appears) is wearing a blue jacket instead of brown; Megatron's gun barrel is dark grey instead of light grey; Laserbeak's beak is the same color as the rest of his face instead of light grey; Bumblebee tends to have unusually large rear tires, and the circle on his back is dark grey instead of yellow.

There's also some other bits which highlight why people call these the Hanna-Barbara eps: check out the sewer water when Laserbeak first goes underground; Mixmaster's stream of chemicals when he zaps the ESB; Megatron's fusion canon just bouncing merrily along while the background scrolls past near the end; Megatron walking up to sever Prime's relays (again, the scrolling background);

The animation does have a certain fluid quality to it in places -- watch Scavenger roll onto the ramp, for instance. It's a very high frame rate. But somehow it just looks *wrong*. And in other places, it's painful to watch. Perhaps the worst instance is the odd pause right before and after the 'cons raise the rebuilt ESB into place; there's a shot of it still in the hole, just sitting there (complete with frozen smoke). Then it rises into position. Then they show the same shot again of it sitting in the hole!

Here's some instances of horrid animation: Soundwave shooting car-mode Bumblebee in Central Park. Bumblebee just kind of inexplicably jumps forward.... Frenzy walking out from behind the trees, same scene -- he looks like he's slumping.... the Autobots in the same scene, who are also slumping... Ironhide's reaction to Rumble and Frenzy's pile driving -- he just walks along and suddenly falls over for no apparent reason!

Another great animation bit is Scavenger whacking the ceiling under Central Park -- the fracture lines are drawn OVER his shovel. He broke himself! Heh heh! And... certain parties who shall remain nameless have pointed out to me that if you watch Megatron as he laughs after delivering his line to Long Haul and Scavenger about "special talents", it looks like he's... ahem... pulling his own trigger. :o

Rob says, Devastator should not talk in third person. Rob says, it's very annoying. Rob says, the writers should be terminally destroyed!

I think there might have been some kind of pop culture reference near the end... like, to an old movie or something... it was really subtle... I think it just flew way over my head. Anyone else pick up on it?

Bad techno-babble abounds in this ep: Mini-crons, mechano-meters, hyper-driven chatteroids. And need I mention alligatacons, reptillicons, and no-goodnicons?

For guys who whip up incredible buildings and forts and stuff, the Constructicons spend an awful lot of time standing around doing nothing. I think they go into some kind of high-gear building frenzy when they're off-cam.

The Constructicons' voices are frequently off during this ep. Scrapper sounds like Sideswipe; Scavenger sounds like Ratchet; Bonecrusher just sounds dumb.

Prime should really keep his motor relays in a less-vunerable spot. The same spot, incidentally, also seems to activate his Random Eye Flicker generator.

When Prime's Magic Telepathy Waves turn off after he subudes the alligator, they do so with a sound effect that's normally reserved for an impact or laser gun. Weird.

This ep contains one of Optimus Prime's best non-sequitirs. As the Autobots struggle with the alligator, Mirage (several of him, in fact) feels compelled to comment that "This alligator is big and heavy!" Prime sagely responds that "From the looks of it, I'd say a little of both." It's fairly evident that this line was meant to follow the preceeding one, "Now we've got him!" "Or should we say, we've got *you*!", referring to the fact that the 'gator is made of Prime parts.

Prime's line about "holding a gun!" would NEVER pass PC muster today, I'd bet. :]

NYC nitpicks: "Meet us in Central Park"??? Does Prime have any idea how freaking HUGE Central Park is? Not to mention that there's essentially nowhere within it to park a vehicle?... Why did Wheeljack's group approach by going through the harbor? Like ten bazillion cars go in and out of Manhattan by road every day, yet the Autobots take the most visible route possible in a way that's sure to call attention to themselves. Maybe they just didn't feel like paying the tolls... "The biggest city in North America"? I thought Mexico City was bigger than NYC...

And what the hell? Prime apparently just got his arm back at the very end, AFTER the Autobots have undone all the damage to the city? Prime just SAT there with one arm the whole time? "No, no, Ratchet, continue rebuilding the city. I can wait. I'll just stay here, and... supervise. Yeah."

Legends of the Incomprehensible Cartoon Lines: "You know, I ________ against that big robot reptile, I can feel it in my microcomputers!"

Exactly which cowardly weaklings is Starscream planning to crush like tin foil -- the Autobots, or Skywarp and Thundercracker? Those cowards! How DARE they be damaged by flying through a building!

Okay. That's out of my system. What in this episode *didn't* suck? Holy cow, there's not much.

Hound's conductor bit comes to mind. "Madison Avenue, and... the riverrrr!" Heh heh. I like Hound.... he's so cheerful. He gets a lot of air time in this ep... poor guy. Sideswipe beating Starscream into the ground was good -- but then, *anyone* beating Starscream into the ground is good. :] Swiper's follow-up line was rather corny, though. In fact, practically every one of Sideswipe's lines was lame. It takes *talent* to give a bad line to Sideswipe.

Is Mirage in charge of the group of Autobots? I kinda like the idea of him being a field commander. He's generally more serious-minded than of the 'bots.

There's some decent interaction among the Constructicons, who I've kind of taken a liking to lately. Scrapper IS the leader, by the way. Let there be no doubt about this. Hook is just his trusty lieutenent. Megatron actually seems rather proud of the group (well, except for Scavenger, who he dismisses as "you fool".) Still, I think he was being facetious in calling Hook an "artist" -- his disassembly of Optimus was rather messy (how did Ratchet find all those little extra bits and pieces that came loose, anyway?)

There's a funny little detail as Megatron blasts the console, of Soundwave jumping out of the way and covering his head. Heh heh.

I like the way Laserbeak pauses briefly, before drawing in his wings to enter the manhole. I also like Soundwave's grunt when Prime throws him to the ground. Soundwave making incoherent noises is always cool. Soundwave making ANY noise is cool. :]

Overall: Oh man. This episode is absolutely the bottom of the Transformers barrel. It has a special place in my heart, right alongside "Carnage in C Minor" and the comics adaptation of The Movie and "Big Broadcast of 2006". I hope nobody takes this as a typical G1 episode, because it really is putrid in ways that very few other G1 eps can even begin to approach.

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