Chapter 7: Captured
The Terrakors leave the razed oasis, content that the Protectons and their humans died in the inferno. In actuality, they safely submerged themselves in the river, but the heat from the flames is causing even that to boil. They gather as much seaweed as they can as a likely food source, then burrow their way out to safety. When they realize they're unable to contact Argus, Bront takes on a vehicular configuration and races to investigate.
In the mountain vault, Nemesis lords over the now lifeless body of Argus. Using Compucore, he reactivates it with the essence of a Terrakor named Terragar, then they make off with Compucore. Bront and Tauron arrive too late but find a trail and head off in pursuit, making their way across an acid swamp.
The Terrakors regroup. When they discover Bront's approach, Nemesis alters Terragar's voice to sound like Argus and sends him out as a decoy. Bront initially buys into the appearance of his friend, but Tauron recognizes the human traitor in the control console and a fight breaks out. Bront gets his claws on Compucore and takes shelter in a desert of crystals which creates dozens of illusions of himself, but the Terrakors quickly blast through the crystals and surround him.
Chapter 8: The Lost Cities
Narra and Jerrok finally arrive, opening fire on the Terrakors, including Terragar, who Bront fingers as an impostor. Terragar takes a bolt to the head which scrambles his circuits. Venturak manages to keep his cover by pretending to have been taken prisoner, as the Protectons quickly get the upper hand, chasing off the Terrakors and recovering Compucore. Everyone mourns the loss of Argus, until Compucore reveals it still has a backup copy of his essence. Argus is restored, and he sends Compucore's aerial drones out to locate Zanadon, their former capital where parts can be found to assemble additional Robotix.
Despite having lost Compucore, Nemesis feels his next move should be recovering the Terrastar. Steggor disagrees, feeling the Protectons need to be eliminated first, and races off on his own. The remaining Terrakors finally arrive at a patch of frozen wastes, only to discover their capital city, Terrakordia, has been crushed by a glacier, the Terrastar likely pulverized with it. Engraged, Terranix blasts Nemesis off a cliff and assumes leadership. He and Goon set out to rekindle their battle with the Protectons. At the bottom of the cliff, Nemesis dusts himself off and hatches a new plan with Venturak.
The Protectons arrive at Zanadon. Argus orders "Kontor" to power the city up, since "he" was the one who designed it. Venturak asks Bront to help, having the Protecton initiate the power up sequence while he secretly sabotages a connection. The central generator reactivates, but goes into immediate overload, and the city has less than a minute before it explodes.
Chapter 9: Bront Stands Accused
Compucore activates a dome that will prevent the generator explosion from destroying the entire city, then everyone races to get the hell out of there, watching from a hilltop as that sector is vaporized. Venturak tells Bront he shouldn't feel bad about his screwup, which has the other Protectons giving Bront sour looks, but he and Tauron refuse to accept they were at fault. Venturak pushes the idea of him being a traitor to the point where Bront takes a few swings at his friends, but he's stopped by Argus, who feels he has no choice but to lock Bront (and Tauron, for some reason) away until things can be sorted out.
While the Protecons are clearing brush on their way to the next sector, Terranix and Goon sweep in, snatching Compucore. Venturak refuses to help them because of his allegiance to Nemesis, and the other Protectons swoop in as soon as they see the struggle. The Terrakors get the crap kicked out of them, until a still bitter Nemesis joins the fray and retakes his mantle as their leader. Zarru frees Bront, who turns the tide and regains the trust of the others. The Terrakors are beaten into another retreat.
While poking around the next sector, Zarru discovers a factory where another Robotix has been partially constructed. With the city's power source now gone, the factory can't finish the assembly, and some necessary parts are missing. Zarru and Flexor stay behind while the Protectons follow Venturak's claim of knowing where the parts are stored. He tricks them into entering a chamber where they're quickly sealed in, then find themselves on a conveyor belt leading to a massive furnace.
I think I'm starting to like this show a little more. The characters are still bland, with too few of them being defined, but there are some that are starting to stand out. Bront especially, with his "turning traitor" tactic from way back in the very first chapter finally coming into play as Venturak pins the destruction of an entire city sector on him and his angry rebuttals doing little to convince the other Protectons of the truth. It's a strong moment and sets up an arc of him being the grunt of the team that everyone struggles with depending on, but when he has to prove himself, he does so admirably. If only the annoying kid weren't the only one on his side at the time. Thanks, but no thanks, Zarru. I also like how Bront is the lunkheaded brute, but the human he's paired with is the wise and gracefully elderly Tauron. I wish they'd play up this dynamic a little more, but it's still nice and I like Tauron's intellect occasionally popping in when Bront struggles to argue on his own behalf.
Unfortunately, that's the only real human/Robotix pairing that stands out so far. Either the humans are so indistinct we sometimes forget they're there - which is true of half the Terrakors - or they're so in line with the Robotix they're teamed with that there's no dynamic to play off of. The cowardly Nomo being stuck in the Console of the bloodthirsty Steggor has potential, yet still isn't explored.
But as I said, there's still some individual threads that are good. I love the dissolving of the Terrakors, where we finally get the constant backstabbings common to the Sunbow dark side. First you get Steggor going rogue, then Terranix beats the crap out of Nemesis and assumes the leadership mantle, then the spy Venturak refuses to go along with this as he maintains his loyalty to Nemesis (mainly because Nemesis is likely to kill him, otherwise). Villains are always at their most fun when they're playing against both one another and the heroes, and I like that we get that here.
I also like that Compucore is totally not a character. It has no will and, thus, no allegiance, and will follow the orders of anyone who commands it, Protecton and Terrakor alike. This creates an interesting dynamic as, unlike Merklin in Visionaries, where he'd intentionally play the sides against one another for his own gain, Compucore instead becomes the key to controlling powers that everyone wants to get their hands on. I dislike the idea of having a random backup of Argus's essence, though. That was a cheap way out and it would have made a stronger show to lose him and have someone like Narra or Bront have to step up and try to lead the team. But this is an 80s kids show and Argus is the closest this franchise had to an Optimus Prime style figurehead, so, fine, I get that's too much to hope for.
While the designs are still nothing to write home about, I still love the odd configurations that are taken and the odd tactics and battles they lead to. You can really see the designers playing around with as many different combinations as they can, and it's always a unique experience when they pull something new out of their hat. This is the highlight of the show and it would have been interesting to see it continue being explored over time (likely escalating to the idea of multiple Robotix merging or swapping components), as I'm guessing this level of open customization is what's kept the toyline running to this very day.
Another aspect I like is how this series doesn't mind promising hope, then ripping it away. There's the torched oasis which ultimately provides nothing in terms of food but some quickly gathered seaweed. Or the shelter of the crystal desert, a longstanding natural wonder of Skalorr, which is blasted into dust in a matter of seconds. Or the city that's now largely useless because the powersource of its machines just went up in a huge explosion (except for the conveyor belt and furnace, which is a glaring cliffhanger plothole). Or even the villains finally reaching their capital and battleship, only to find both completely destroyed by a glacier. These are some big, bold twists for this series to take, always keeping the characters and audience on their toes and keeping easy sollutions just out of reach. Which, admittedly, also makes the resurrection of Argos all the more frustrating.
This is still far from a lost classic, with its lackluster designs and weak characters, but I really do appreciate a lot of the plotting gusto it offers, and the immaginative use of configurations continues to impress me. For all its problems, I find myself pretty thoroughly hooked by this story and I'm curious to see where they take it next.
Robotix is quickly becoming the Eric of animated shows. Wait, that probably doesn’t make any sense to you. Let me explain. You see, Eric is a guy I work with. He’s a really good person, and I’m quite fond of him, but turning the corner and finding him sitting in the break room is enough to make me want to forfeit my break and go back to work. Why? Because Eric likes to talk. I mean he really likes to talk, moving from random subject to random subject like a fly at a picnic (or like me in one of my blog posts). All I want to do is sit quietly and read the paper for 15 minutes, but no matter how many times I mumble “mmm-hmm” in response he never takes the hint. At some point, after switching from sports to work, back to sports, and then to what he did the night before, I tune him out. It’s not so much a conscious choice as it is a defense mechanism. I sit and stare blankly ahead, scarcely aware of what he’s talking about. God knows what sorts of things I’ve mmm-hmm’ed to over the years. What does any of this have to do with Robotix? At about the half way point of episode 9, I found my self zoning out in similar fashion. By the time I snapped out of it, the episode was over and I had to fight the instinct to go clock back in.
Let me be clear - it’s not that Robotix is bad, it’s that too often it isn’t compelling. The animation is fine, the voice work is standard Sunbow (I like to play a little game I call “Spot Michael Bell”), and Compucore is a solid enough McGuffin. It’s just all so damn boring. The bulk of the blame lies with the milquetoast characters, especially the heroes. It’s been a common complaint of ours, but it’s never been this bad. These guys make the Visionaries look like Will Rogers and it just sinks the whole thing. Take the “Bront the traitor” arc. Good stuff, but as Noel mentioned, they stick him with the kid. If there’s one universal truth, it’s this: kids ruin everything. And so it goes with the rest of the noble Protectons and their equally noble human counterparts (I was way off in my original assessment of Captain Galaxon, who is as boring as his name is ridiculous). It was only when the focus shifted to the very Decepticon-like politics of the Terrakors that I began to perk up a bit.
It must be said that Noel is 100% right when he commends the fact that, just as it looks like our heroes find a simple and convenient solution to their problems, something comes along to squash their hopes. But I chalk it up to the serialized nature of the show and a need to stretch out this dilemma, more than I would bravo risk-taking on the writer’s part. Had the series moved forward into a more traditional format, I seriously doubt this element would’ve remained.
Well, my 15 minutes are up and it’s time to go back to work. Maybe during my next break, Eric’s stories will be a bit more exciting. But I think I’ll bring my paper with me just in case.
Tune in next Sunday as we take a look at chapters 10-12 of Robotix.