How does someone even begin to review a book as big and deep as the "Transformers: A Visual History"? At 9 x 12 inches (22.86cm x 30.5cm) and 408 pages, this is book is literally heavy, weighing over 5 lbs, with Transformers art covering the 35 years since they came to Earth in 1984. What has been long over-due may seem too late for the digital-age that the Internet has brought on. Quite the opposite, this book is really the only thing that could be better. Printed in the highest resolution, pretty much all of the what is shown in the book has never been available at this "Art Book" quality level before. Not to forget, it also presents a lot of things rarely seen online.
It would be tedious to do a review that wouldn't leave out your favorites. So I will cover how the book is presented chapter wise more than taking inventory of the actual art content. Starting with the book's packaging, I am going to again refer to the "Art Book" classification as this is not another trade-style softback. Those who purchased the Collector's Edition will also appreciate the luxurious Autobot and Decepticon themed box with a glossy covering, embossed faction symbols, special lenticular book cover print of Optimus Prime and Megatron, and the magnetic-latched case made to hold the book and exclusive prints that will keep your book in perfect condition for years, possibly generations to come. It doesn't stop there, the top-notch cloth sewn binding with laser-cut, silver gilded pages, show every indication publisher VIZ Media went all out to make this the best it could be. This is a lot of book for your bucks. It is so big and heavy, you won't be curling up by the fire with this 5 pounds of book. Find a table and few friends because this the thing is so lengthy it sucks you in with page after page of crisp, glossy images to drool over.
Inside the cover, the book is presented in eight chapters / sections that consolidate the many iterations over the years starting with Pre-Transformers, to as recent as the Cyberverse and War For Cybertron: SIEGE Transformers' series. Beginning with a forward by Transformers Artist, Ken Christensen, and introduction by the book author, Jim Sorensen. This book begins with a big warm hug, as this fan can totally relate to their love for the Transformers in their very eloquent words about how they came to be involved with these Cybertronian beings. From there, the book launches into Packaging, followed by Comics, Animation, Video Games, Movies, and finally all the help the book had with a closing Acknowledgements section.
The Packaging chapter opens with an informative historical overview of the Transformers toys from Hasbro's licensing of Takara's toy lines, Microchange and Dialone, to how and what was done to create a whole Universe around the amazing feature of these toys that can change from a vehicle to robot. Every aspect of the packaging was designed to engage kids with this idea. Because they could only show one form in the package, the box art showing the robot mode was extremely important in communicating there really were two toys inside. Thankfully, much of the artwork for the initial toys developed by Takara was used wholesale; permanently making the fabulous Japanese Mecha air-brushed style a part of the Transformers ever since. The overview takes the reader through the G1 and reformatted G2, followed by the tectonic shifts through Beast Wars, Beast Machines, Armada, Cybertron, Animated, Movies and everything in-between up to the present day SIEGE series. Once again, this is total Art Book territory with page after page of the highest resolution reproductions presented in their entirety without backgrounds or cropping. Lastly, the chapter offers a look at the design side of packing showing examples of the style guides Hasbro and Takara use to design toys such as Powemaster Optimus Prime, Sixshot, Targetmaster Hot Rod and many others.
The Comics chapter is no less impressive, maybe even more so because we generally see the comics in small formal, the older the lower resolution, comic books with with the art chunked out into small squares. While the early comics have been reprinted a number of times, here we get to see much of the comic artwork out of context of the story line. The author's chapter intro walks us through the Transformers comics produced over the years talks about how the comics were integral to launching and establishing the Transformers characters and origins highlighting the true artistry behind these works. What a small horde of artists have envisions for the Transformers over the decades is no less than stunning. Starting with Marvel's G1 comics, the chapter follows on to the neon-tinged G2 comics that were not produced in large quantities due to fading interest. From there, the Transformers comics took off in many directions, some in tandem with a TV show and some not. Allowing Hasbro and Takara to both develop new ideas and refine existing ones with help from publishers such as Studio OX, Dreamwave, and IDW who have expanded the Transformers comics into new places fans never imagined.
While its always been about the toys, most people know the Transformers cartoon from the immensely successful, "Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye", theme that promoted the cartoons. This chapter goes deep into what is a really complicated mix of American and Japanese productions that were often for the same toy line, but were tailored for their country often with different names, and another changes. This complicated dichotomy could be confusing as things didn't always translate well, or were not released at all in one country or another. With an all new Transformers show every 2-3 years since the G1 cartoon began, there is a lot of ground to cover and surely why this chapter is so broad. Its a real treat to see what are usually moving images on a screen, presented in Art Book quality. The Computer Animated shows are the most appealing to me as the now low-res CGI shows from 20 years ago are published here in stunning clarity with hardly a pixel visible. The Beast Machines and Transformers Prime stills are simply gorgeous. But even the 2D works are so vivid in their realization of the Transformers, they instantly transport you back to these shows that we all know and love. Like the packaging chapter, we also get a look at the design side of things with images of character style-guides used in the development of the show.
Closing out the book we get two scoops of Sentient Robot goodness in the Video Game and Movies chapters. These alternate realities have given fans some of their most intense encounters with the Transformers franchise. Opening up new worlds and dimensions as only games can do gave fans a chance to take their favorite Transformer into battle. While the game play results have varied over the years, the art work has always been fabulous. On the page, high-resolution reproductions are much more dramatic than on the screen. Much the same, the fast-paced action and intricate designs Industrial Light and Magic created for Micheal Bay's films made it hard to really see them with the seemingly infinite details and fancy contortions into real-life vehicles. They are presented here in all their wonderfully rendered glory. Most interesting, are some of images that came from the pre-production artists concept art showing how characters transitioned from art work to the character on the screen.
Rounding things up, this book really is a visual history for the hardcore fan and Transformers new comer alike. The chronological presentation of imagery combined with Jim Sorensen's editorial focus and concise introductions for each chapter make this not just an artistic showcase, but a excellent crash course on the Transformers franchise from inception into the present. A must-have for fans of not just of the Transformers, but pretty much anyone who's interested in giant robots, science-fiction, and or Japanese mecha style art will soon be lost is what is arguably, one of the greatest galactic space operas of all time.
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If you would like to know more about the "Transformers: A Visual History" book, be sure to read our Exclusive Interview with author, Jim Sorensen
about the book.
TFormers wishes to thank VIZ Media for supplying us with this review copy of the "Transformers: A Visual History". The book is available now from our sponsor BigBadToyStore and book retailers such as Amazon.