Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Peculiar Olympians: Rodimus Prime

“The Peculiar Olympians” is a series of blog posts about my most favourite fictional characters. They are each here for some combination of sympathy, empathy, inspiration, humour, quality, staying power, and/or significance to my relationship with fandom. These are not all the characters that I like, but they are the ones that have stood out to me the most. The list is also alphabetical and nothing more.

On one side is the Predacon Megatron; on the other, the Autobot Rodimus Prime. In many ways they’re each others’ opposite, which makes them a nice encapsulation of my entire experience with Transformers.

My interest in the franchise started with Beast Wars, but an interest in the then-dormant original Transformers material soon followed. Though there was a lot of it, eventually the third season of the original cartoon emerged as my clear favourite in the 1980s corner. This is not for reasons of quality, since the whole cartoon is pretty bad when seen through adult eyes (and perhaps I should have known better as a teen, too), but there was a peculiar emotional resonance to its main characters that remains strong. This lets me cruise through those episodes at a leisurely pace even now. Any episodes outside of this, though, and forget it.

Rodimus Prime was the second leader of the Autobots during the original cartoon’s run. Originally the “teenage” Hot Rod, he was transformed into Rodimus Prime by the Matrix of Leadership at the eleventh hour to destroy the planet-devouring robot Unicron. In the years that followed, leadership began to take its toll on Rodimus, as he grappled with insecurity over being unable to measure up to his great predecessor, Optimus Prime. Other days Rodimus could handle himself just fine, and displayed a caustic sense of humour that Hot Rod never had. However, Optimus Prime was eventually brought back to life, though, and he became Hot Rod again.

I have a yen for angsty and sarcastic characters, making Rodimus Prime a one-two punch. He became an icon of my very first fandom, and a sign of the times I had there. As an adult, my interest in Rodimus Prime hasn’t changed, and I am also more confident in ignoring those who believe the third season was a fundamental drop in quality. Any flaws in the third season of the Transformers cartoon were intrinsic to the series as a whole.

However, growing older has made me realize that if there is anything wrong with Rodimus’ existence, it is that his insecurities formed no larger arc and resolution. Instead, his problems were solved at the end of an episode, only to emerge again after several episodes without incident, and be solved in the same half hour. Having these problems wasn’t the issue.

It seems almost as if the writers were trying to do something different with the beat-’em-up 80s cartoons, but only half finished it, introducing a character facet not often seen in such shows and presenting it with genuine feeling, but not letting it go anywhere. It’s saddening, but also raises the question of whether one could really have expected the Transformers cartoon to suddenly develop the capacity to do long-term character arcs and character development. Why not just give an “A” for effort?

I do, exactly because Rodimus Prime is still an enjoyable character, and I like watching the third season of the Transformers cartoon for him and other reasons. Any other appearance of Rodimus Prime or Hot Rod in Transformers media, whether it’s the same character or just one with the same name, is nowhere near as fun.

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