More Than Meets The Eye is the forgotten beginning of the Transformers fiction on screen. Released in 1984, it set the tone, and introduced us to key elements of the Transformers storyline. Through this three part pilot, we became familiar with the dark, metal wasteland known as Cybertron and the struggle between a divided race of robots ravaged by years of war. It's target audience was young boys, and it was chock full of heroic cliches and asinine antics, but it was different. There was a darkness to it. The enmity between the Decepticons and Autobots was palpable, and bitter. Each side appeared bent on the complete destruction of the other. As villains, the Decepticons were more ruthless than evil. They were detached from their environment. They were not on Earth to kill humans and behave maniacally, they were there to drain the planet of it's energy. Engagement with the native species was circumstantial. If you got in their way, you would be destroyed, otherwise you were irrelevant. The Autobots on the other hand, were civilians cast into a conflict they were not ready for. They were compassionate, and able to empathize with indigenous lifeforms, even connect with them on a personal level. Desperate, and ill equipped, some of them showed fear, and an unwillingness to fight that was only tempered by a desire to stop the Decepticons, and avoid total annihilation.
The episodes were drawn by Toei, and it made a difference. In Japan, animation has always had a starker, more mature quality, and More Than Meets The Eye profited from this decision. Hasbro's market competitor at the time, Tonka, chose to animate their series, Challenge of The Gobots, with Hanna Barbera, and it proved to be a bad choice. Hanna Barbera had dominated North American TV animation for decades with shows like The Flinstones, Scooby-Doo, and The Yogi Bear Show. These programs, although popular, were mainly tongue-in-cheek comedy. The closest to science fiction the studio had come to was The Jetsons, but it too was merely comedy in a futuristic setting. Like Super Friends in metallic clothing, Challenge of The Gobots lacked depth, and suffered from the flat, sparse animation that was synonymous with Hanna Barbera, and it eventually faded away.
Since More Than Meets The Eye first aired in 1984, the Transformers fiction has grown exponentially. A great debt of that growth being owed to the creators of the original Marvel comic books, and the Beast Wars series of the mid 90s. Beast Wars took it's cue and inspiration from the tone of the original series, and built upon that foundation, adding depth and complexity that would be carried forward into future continuities. This summer, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the sequel to the 2007 live action film Transformers, will be released in theatres across North America. Although it exists in a separate continuum, a direct line can be drawn from More Than Meets The Eye to the movie's present day plot line. Want an example? Watch the Decepticons attack the rocket base in More Than Meets The Eye, and then watch Blackout destroy the US military base in Transformers. The similarities between the two scenes is uncanny.
The Transformers have endured, and the reason for the toyline's twenty five year survival is the compelling, and gutsy fiction that has surrounded the brand. Without it, the Transformers would've went the way of their old rivals, the Gobots (or the Rock Lords for that matter!). Mind you, the Gobots aren't completely dead. In 1991, Hasbro took over Tonka, and absorbed the Gobot trademark. The Gobots now live on within the Transformer fiction, and appear once in awhile within the various comic books and other assorted media! Which isn't very hospitable news if your name is Cy-Kill, because Megatron has a tendency to get a little rough sometimes...