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By Thomas Wheeler

Ten years!? It's been ten years since Transformers Beast Wars first came on the scene? Because it certainly doesn't seem that long since I started taping the animated series via a timer on weekends because it was on at such a godawful hour of the morning. Oh, well, maybe it has been ten years.

These days, we're used to seeing Transformers overhaul itself about every year. Robots in Disguise, Armada, Energon, Cybertron... And we're just as used to seeing Transformers that can turn into animals as vehicles and weapons. But ten years ago, it was a different matter.

Transformers, now known as "Transformers Generation One", had enjoyed a very healthy run in the toy aisles and had become one of the pop-culture, toy-based legends of the 1980's, right alongside G.I.Joe, Masters of the Universe, and a handful of fondly-remembered others. But by the early 90's, sales had started to slip, and the line was given a year or two off, returning as the short-lived "Transformers Generation 2", which basically brought back the same characters with which we were familiar, in slightly altered forms.

During all this time, the Transformers had never really taken on fully animalistic forms. There were exceptions -- to a degree. But characters such as the Dinobots or the original Predacons were still ROBOTIC animals. No one was terribly likely to mistake them for the real thing. That was about to change.

After a couple of years of absence, it was announced that Transformers would be returning to the toy stores. Only this time, it would be called TRANSFORMERS BEAST WARS, and the robots would turn into -- well, as realistic versions of animals as toy engineering and the need to have the toy transform into a reasonably plausible robot could allow. Gone were the designations "Autobot" and "Decepticon". In their place we had "Maximals" and "Predacons", the latter name taken from what was originally a sub-team within the Decepticons, the former name sounding suspiciously like a variant of "Manimals", a group of transforming aliens that had never quite come out within the G.I.Joe line.

The only marginally recognizable character names were MEGATRON, although it was thought that this was not the original Megatron, and OPTIMUS PRIMAL, clearly a variation of Optimus Prime, but again, not believed to be the original. In fact, the origin and background of these new Transformers was shrouded in mystery. Were they from Cybertron? Why animal forms? The very dedicated fan community was, to put it mildly, skeptical.

Then the animated series aired. Produced by Mainframe Entertainment, the same company that had turned out the computer-animated series REBOOT, the show presented a computer animated world of Transformers the likes of which we had never seen before. Keep in mind this was 1996. The movie "Toy Story" was less than a year old, and had knocked the socks off of everyone that had seen it. George Lucas hadn't started work on his prequel trilogy, although he was beefing up his classic trilogy into their Special Editions. Jurassic Park was only a couple of years old. CGI animation was still a relatively new thing.

The earliest episodes of Transformers Beast Wars didn't answer a lot of questions about the origin of the characters. A small team of Maximals and a small team of Predacons crash-landed on an unknown, primitive, pre- historic world with two moons. Much like the original Transformers, their equipment picked up on dominant life-forms in the area and altered the Transformers to resemble these forms. In this case, it was animals, including insects and dinosaurs.

Acceptance of these new Transformers did not come easily. A lot of fans saw them as a betrayal of the core concept. And yet as the show progressed, connections were made. One of the moons of the mysterious planet was destroyed. It was eventually determined that the world was in fact Earth. The Maximals and Predacons were revealed to be the descendants of the Autobots and the Decepticons. They WERE from the same timeline. Something had thrown them millions of years into the past. The ghost of Starscream turned up in one episode. Then Ravage appeared. To top it off, the Ark was discovered, with the Autobots and Decepticons still in a state of stasis, not to awaken for four million years!

The continuity of the show and the consistency and intelligence of the writing eventually started to win fans over. Now, ten years later, the BEAST WARS are seen as being as legitimate a part of Transformers history as any other major aspect of the concept. IDW Publishing has even started up a long, long overdue Beast Wars comic book.

And, of course, there were the toys. Now that Beast Wars is celebrating its 10th anniversary, it's only fair to bring some of those back, as well
-- which is precisely what Hasbro is doing. Very distinctly tied in to the animated series, far more than the original toys were, Hasbro is offering the BEAST WARS 10TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION. These toys will feature characters that were the most prominent in the animated series -- and in fairness the one thing the series just didn't have the budget or technology to do was to bring EVERYBODY in the original toy line into play -- and each one will include a DVD with one distinct episode of the animated series.

That's almost an aside, since the complete Beast Wars series has been available in boxed sets for some time, and is certainly highly recommended by yours truly.

Additionally, each Beast Wars toy will feature one segment of a character never before made as a toy -- TRANSMUTATE -- from the episode of the same name. This was a Transformer protoform that malfunctioned. He/she/it emerged from the stasis pod too soon, and was malformed. Having a rough humanoid form, the strange being caused a fair amount of havoc for both the Maximals and the Predacons for one episode, before its tragic destruction. Although never my favorite episode of the series, it's one of the highlights in the minds of many, and now they'll be able to own a toy of the character.

I discovered the BEAST WARS toys one morning at a local Target in early January. At $14.99 apiece, I couldn't afford all three that were present
-- Cheetor, Rhinox, and Waspinator -- so I decided to pick up Cheetor.

I'd like to add an aside here, in that I used to own a substantial Beast Wars collection. Unfortunately, ongoing financial problems forced me to sell them several years ago. One of several eBay decisions I regret to this day -- that and selling my ExoSquad toys, especially.

So, to whatever degree that I can recover at least a handful of the characters as I'm able to afford to, I think I'm going to do my best. And I've decided to start with CHEETOR. I always liked the look of the toy, and the character was pretty cool in the series, as well.

The file card for Cheetor on the package is a little harsh on the character, as far as I'm concerned. It reads as follows: "The youngest of the Maximal crew, Cheetor is fiery, impulsive, and just plain dumb sometimes. Youthful overconfidence combined with incredible speed can quickly get him into deep trouble from which he lacks the skill to escape. Still, beneath his reckless desire to impress his fellow Maximals is the heart of an honorable and capable warrior, and great potential as a future leader."

Eh, I'd never call Cheetor "dumb". And frankly the one most likely to get into trouble on the Maximals team was Rattrap, mostly because of his cockiness. Fiery and impulsive do qualify for Cheetor, however. No argument there.

The toy is pretty cool, as well. Although the overall structure of the toy resulted in a fairly bulky cheetah, the detail is excellent. And it's worth noting that the Beast Wars line was when Hasbro (and by association, Takara) really started upping the articulation levels in these toys, a practice which maintains to this day. Transforming Cheetor from animal into robot isn't too laborious, and the toy looks good in both formats.

There's a few slight differences between the original and the new Cheetor. For one thing, Hasbro has indicated that they want these new toys to resemble their animated counterparts as closely as possible. That's resulted in some slight color alterations, although on Cheetor it's relatively minimal, although I do like the bright green eyes with the visible pupils.

One other distinct new feature is the presence of the Maximal symbol on the shoulder of Cheetor in his animal form. This wasn't something that the original Beast Wars had. It looks pretty cool, even if the deep sculpting of the fur on the shoulder kept it from coming out quite as distinct as it should have.

Cheetor's tail converts to a laser pistol that he can use when in robot form, but the figure also includes a water-squiter that can best be put to use in the animal form. I don't offhand recall the character ever using this feature in the animated series. Probably just as well since I suspect it would've made for too many bad jokes and one episode like "The Low Road" was abundantly enough, thank you.

A comment should be made about the packaging. It's excellent. While the original Cheetor was carded, this Cheetor is boxed. Granted this is to help accommodate the DVD and the Transmutate piece, but the overall package design is really superb. It's a sort of blending of Beast Wars and Cybertron, in that the box has an unusual polygonal shape to it, and has quite a bit of white on it. And yet also prominent is the well-known "scaly red" background known for Beast Wars. The original "Beast Wars" logo is on the box, along with a 10th anniversary logo. Interestingly, the Transformers logo used on the package is not the one from Beast Wars or current Transformers products. It's the original Generation One Transformers logo!

The side of the package gives a brief overview of the Beast Wars
storyline: "Cut off from Cybertron and trapped on a primitive planet, Optimus Primal and his crew are forced to become warriors in defense of a helpless world. The rogue Predacon leader Megatron and his deadly clan of lunatics have come to gather vast quantities of Energon, but the discovery of alien artifacts leaves Megatron with another goal: use the power of the Golden Disk to alter the future and return to Cybertron as conquerors!"

And that's actually a pretty decent description of the concept, really.

Do I recommend these toys? Absolutely, especially if you've never had any of the Beast Wars toys before. Granted, if you did, and still have your collection, there probably isn't a lot of reason to pick these up, unless you want them for the sake of completion or to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of Beast Wars. But if you never had the Beast Wars toys, or pulled a boneheaded stunt like I did and sold off your collection, then do what you can to save a bit of money and start bringing in the BEAST WARS!

And CHEETOR isn't a bad one to start with at all!