Exclusive: ‘Transformers: Combiner Wars’ is the ‘Game of Thrones’ of animation

Before the official Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before the rebirth of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the bizarre commodification of everything 80s into a movie (looking at you Battleship and Pixels), there was Transformers. The 2007 remake of the classic cartoon might have been divisive, but no one can say it didn”t propel the Autobots and the Decepticons back into the pop culture spotlight.

Would Windblade exist without Michael Bay? Would the new female-centric Machinima show Transformers: Combiner Wars without nearly a decade of increasingly ridiculous live-action films? Probably not. So I guess I have to be at least a little bit grateful to the mind-numbing insanity that is Bay”s bombastic Transformers.

Premiering on August 2, 2016, Combiner Wars is an 8-part arc that sees Windblade on a mission of vengeance. Over four decades after the end of the ‘Great War” between Autobots and Decepticons, Cybertron is held in a tenuous peace by a council made up of Rodimus Prime (Autobot), Starscream (Decepticons), and the Mistress of Flame (Caminus). Optimus Prime and Megatron are forgotten relics of another time. However, the Combiner Transformers continue to wreak havoc. When Windblade suffers an unimaginable loss, she turns her sights on the inept council in a rage, only to find herself working alongside two old, familiar faces.

Combiner Wars takes on a more nuanced tone than either the original Transformers cartoon or its live-action counterpart. Executive producer Eric Caldron explained how the more mature tone came about to HitFix Harpy. “The order from Hasbro and from Machinima was to make the first ever adult-focused Transformers series.”

But making something for adults to enjoy didn”t mean making it too much for kids to handle or understand. Caldron said, “When we talk about adult animation, it's really about story sophistication. It's about moral complexity multidimensional characters. It's not really about, ‘hey, let's be more violent.” It's just asking how sophisticated a story can we tell? I like to think about it as our robot version of Game of Thrones. Every character has a different kind of motivation and different goals, and when those motivations and goals clash with each other? That's when story happens.

“In the case of Windblade, she is really on a dark mission of revenge because she feels that the council in charge isn't doing anything as Combiners are running rampant and causing damage and killing other Transformers. She is called the Cityspeaker, which means there are these giant Titans that can't speak anymore, and she is supposed to telepathically interpret their messages. We had this amazing looking female ninja with this light sword and these awesome wings. [I thought she looks like] she is made to fight. She is made to be a much more active character.”

And just like in Game of Thrones, Windblade is motivated by a tragedy in her life. The loss of her friend Maxima. But Amy Johnston, who voiced Maxima, has hopes for the return of her character. When asked if perhaps Windblade and Maxima were in a relationship, Johnston didn”t rule it out.

“[Maxima] is a character that has some sort of relation to Windblade, maybe like a sister or just somebody they work closely together. It's always nice to see that more vulnerable side of the female characters as well you know? I think it would be really fun to maybe tap into their back story or their history of some sort.”

Even with so many female faces taking center stage in Combiner Wars, no Transformers property would be complete without Optimus Prime. For Machinima, the obvious choice was Screen Junkies” John Bailey. For Bailey, it was a dream come true.

“I”ve been a fan of Hasbro since I was a kid. It was Optimus Prime's voice is what inspired me to become a professional voice actor in the very first place. It's been on my list of things to do as a professional voice actor,” Bailey told me. “[One thing] I”ve always loved about Transformers is it literally transforms itself as the years go by to keep fans happy and get new fans interested. But it always retains the spirit of the original show, which boils down to good versus evil. It's the underdogs versus overpowered bad guys. When I look back at it now, I'm like, ‘Man, the Autobots were just a bunch of cars, just regular old everyday cars. And all the bad guys were these super high-tech military vehicles. They didn't have a chance!” [The new take] has its roots in the original series, which I love because they feel like the old characters. We haven't had something like this, as an animated cartoon, in a while.”

You can catch Transformers: Combiner Wars every Tuesday on Machinima!