Love in the Time of Giant Robots: Transformers and My Marriage
My husband and I just celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary. It marks a little over half of the full time we've been together. Our relationship has a lot of the same qualities I see in other happy, committed couples: respect, trust, affection, and a desire to continue growing and improving together. But we also have our share of unique elements in our relationship. One of these is a shared appreciation for transforming robots.
Transformers, the well-known transforming robot toys, and the media surrounding them have been a constant in my relationship with my husband. Weird as it may seem, the toys and shows have had a role in our courtship and marriage. Here are a few of the highlights.
When Andrew and I first started dating, Beast Wars was in its first season. The computer animated TV series had ongoing storylines and character arcs that grew more complex as the show progressed, and callbacks to the original series; things which are common in animated television today, but more of a rarity in the 90s. On top of that, you had solid writing, top notch voice acting, and what was cutting edge animation for TV at the time. Having a Transformers show that was actually quite good gave us something to share and talk about, discussing character motivations and theories on what might happen next. It helped me to feel more of a connection to the action figures my then-boyfriend was frequently searching for. The visuals, including the gratuitous use of 360 degree camera moves in season one, have become dated, but the acting and storytelling remain impressive and still remind me of the geeky romance of my younger years.
Transformers (The Original Series)
I think that Andrew introduced me to Beast Wars first and then backtracked into the 1980s series, but we're talking roughly twenty years ago, so I don't quite remember. However it happened, I did end up seeing the first Transformers cartoon. While it didn't have the sophistication and story arcs that Beast Wars was developing, the older show was entertaining. Our conversations were less about character motivations and more about the varied methods for creating new Transformers and keeping track of the enormous cast. Andrew also made the very smart move of telling me how to approach certain episodes to best enjoy them. Imagine that you're seeing "Dark Awakening" as a seven year old and it becomes a totally different experience.
Transformers: The Movie
I eventually started attending the Transformers convention BotCon with Andrew. This wasn't the first time I saw the 1986 animated movie, but it was the first time I saw it in a theater with an audience. Special screenings and limited theatrical rereleases of older movies have become more common in recent years, but at this point, it meant someone tracking down a print of the film to screen for a crowd of enthusiastic fans. As I'll explain in the next section, the moviegoing experience can have a big effect on how I feel about the film in question, from the moments that just work better on a bigger screen to the emotion of the audience in general and the happiness of my boyfriend in particular.
The first Michael Bay Transformers - the only one of the live action Transformers movies I have seen - is not good. That said, it is entirely possible to have a great time watching a movie that is not good, even when you aren't there to mock it. When Andrew and I saw Transformers, we were at a special screening at another BotCon. The entire audience was people who wanted to love this movie, including several friends of ours. My own expectations were no higher than "I want to see robots transform into convincing vehicles" and if nothing else, the movie does deliver that. And Peter Cullen, the original voice of Optimus Prime who reprises the role in the movie, was a guest that year. So no, the movie isn't good, but that experience was. I also realized that even though I hadn't grown up with these characters, hearing Peter Cullen's voice now meant something to me that went beyond just knowing how happy it made Andrew. It had become part of our shared experience.
After Beast Wars, the quality of Transformers on television began to decline for a while. The followup Beast Machines had its moments, but never completely recaptured the sharp writing of its predecessor. Later series ranged from okay to unwatchable as character and story took a back seat to formula and cliche. It wasn't until the oddly named Transformers Animated that we had a Transformers series we could sink our teeth into again. Ditching the computer graphics and anime look of the prior shows, Animated went for a more stylized, hand-drawn aesthetic that allowed for more expressive character animation. It also went back to focusing on character and storytelling, crafting a whole new Transformers universe while still throwing in Easter eggs for the fans. Once again, we were invested in the world and rediscovering it together.
Do you have your own tales of robots and romance? Or maybe another series that played a role in one of your relationships? Let us know about it in the comments.