I may be the wrong guy to review a Transformers comic – I grew up with Japanese giant robot anime, so I always thought Transformers was a US toy company trying to ape them. I consider the Michael Bay movies crimes against Cinema and Storytelling. But I never sniffed at the fans – I envied the joy they got from the franchise that I didn't.
I do know my manga though, so Viz Media sent me a copy of Transformers: The Manga Vol. 1 to review. The Transformers getting a manga version from back in the 1980s feels like the franchise coming full circle. Writer Masami Kaneda also wrote the Transformers anime, so he knows what he's doing. Artist Ban Magami is a prolific journeyman of the old school, so this manga would never be less than exactly what it should be.
Optimus Prime declares "We are Transformers from America!" to an awestruck Japanese boy. That pretty much sums it up for me.
Transformers for Shonen
The manga collects two separate serials. The first, "The Great Transformer War", brings them to Japan where they enlist a boy named Kenji to help them out. He gets a helmet that looks like Optimus Prime's head that helps him communicate with them. I wonder if they sold a plastic toy helmet in real life to go along with the manga. The second half of the book is "Fight! Super Robot LifeForm Transformers", which is the most manga title possible. It's a spinoff story about Rodimus Prime vs. Galvatron with a human starship crew as the supporting cast.
These are stories for kids, mainly boys, always the target audience of the franchise. Kaneda and Magami are all about the rah-rah-let's-fight-evil ethos of shonen manga that every 8-year-old boy dreams about. This being manga, the action has a dynamism and flow that the more clunky US comics lack. The stories are what boys come up with when they mash their action figures together to create combo fight moves and transforming robots. There's no deep philosophical or existential subtexts that crept into the US comics. It's all about the mashup robot fighting here.
Transformers fans will like this manga if this is the type of thing they like. There's a directness in the robot-fighting mayhem that lacks the self-consciousness of the US version, which is interesting.
Transformer: The Manga Volume 1 is now out in bookstores.