The Girl Who Loved Powerglide

Wait wait wait no this is about Transformers.

Transformers, in the 1980s, was a toy commercial. It was a toy commercial in the purest sense; every component that made it up was made in service of its purpose as a commercial material that was meant to frame commercials around it. It was, in the way that modern creators are struggling to avoid mentioning, hash-tag-content. There’s a standard opening, a standard ending, and three bumpers for just before The Commercials (Transformers Will Be Back, After These Messages) but those messages weren’t important. Those messages were other people paying Transformers money for making Transformers, but Transformers was double dipping. They were getting paid money to sell the space for these advertisements in their advertisement, for their toys. These bumpers were so important that in some episodes, the third bumper would appear, then an ad break and you’d wait through the ad break to come back to just watch the ending credits of the show. Got me again, there!

A screencap from the TV episode 'The Girl Who Loved Powerglide.' It shows Powerglide in flight.

These toys imposed a material demand on Transformers as a cartoon. Episodes wanted to focus on the toys that you could buy, and this meant that people got attached to toys with certain trends. For example, while there was Fortress Maximus, that toy had an original price tag of around $99 United States Eaglebucks, and as a result, there were maybe four or five episodes of the show that bothered to show you anything to do with Fortress Maximus despite him being basically a city they lived in.

By comparison there was a line of toys, the cheaper, more accessible ones that were priced more like a GI Joe, and those characters showed up more in the cartoon. If you recognise the names Bumblebee, Cliffjumper, Seaspray, Beachcomber, Warpath or Windcharger, yeah, it’s those critters. There are other high prominence toys – Grimlock, Optimus Prime, Grimlock, Wheeljack, Grimlock, that kinda thing, but in a lot of cases, those characters were central to stories because they proved useful.

Basically, there were some toys where they were ubiquitous; lots of people had them, to the point where even I had one or two of them because they wound up in the second hand store for a really cheap price. The toys were simple, they didn’t break terribly easily, or if they broke it was in forgiveable ways. One of those names, in that space, is the unfortunately-named-in-hindsight character Powerglide.

A screencap from the TV episode 'The Girl Who Loved Powerglide.' It shows Powerglide diving.

There’s a whole lot I could say about Powerglide as a character. The fact that he’s one of the most incredibly recognised warplanes in the world, which was then given a writeup by one of the seven people in the world who didn’t seem to recognise him, and gave him a completely incongruous description and identity? That’s pretty funny and there’s a whole history of how that design has been repeated because it’s so distinctive. And what about that personality? Well, he’s a bit of a tool, really, because it’s 1980s cartoons and they’re mostly being written by guys who are angling for more of what the voice actors can easily convey than any kind of long-term character narrative with development.

And this is the character that for some reason, an episode of the Transformers cartoon decided to make the centerpiece of a story about a boy, a girl, and an attempted kidnapping by giant alien robots.

A screencap from the TV episode 'The Girl Who Loved Powerglide.' It shows Astoria standing around inside Powerglide.

It’s one episode of the story, in which a CEO of some company or another, Astoria, gets almost-kidnapped from her rooftop birthday party by a trio of Decepticon seekers. Astoria is a comically awful character, like, she’s a woman written like a girl as imagined a four year old might understand, and her quirky trait is that machines around her fail and break. Which you might imagine could be expressed by some kind of field or magical power, but it also seems to be related to her being a clumsy goof who shoves and pushes things and ignores people telling her to stop.

Just to be clear, Astoria is awful. She demands business leaders attend her birthday party then complains they’re not having fun. She sucks. Even as she fails to instil The Party Mood with this demand, she asserts ‘it’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,’ which yes, I guess it is!

I don’t like rubbishing on women in media, but this is very important to this episode, that Astoria isn’t a misunderstood character. She just is a straight up jerk who does unpleasant things to peope. And Powerglide is also a dork who talks down to her, so, you know, match made in heaven.

A screencap from the TV episode 'The Girl Who Loved Powerglide.' It shows Powerglide holding his chest open to show flashing lights in a heart shape. He has a really tiny hand.

Anyway, Powerglide rescues her from a kidnapping, then another kidnapping attempt, then gets injured failing to rescue her from another kidnapping attempt, and in the process gets injured. But he’s not content with going down! He gets a bit of medical help and then flies off to help her, before Astoria gets her brains scrambled by a Decepticon brain-scrambler machine. There’s a climactic ‘fight,’ Astoria’s ability to break things becomes important to her breaking the base they’re in, the Decepticons wind up at the bottom of the sea, and Powerglide flies Astoria off to rescue. Astoria goes back to her life, and Powerglide goes back to his own – but not before opening his chest up and showing us, the audience, a flashing set of lights in his chest in the shape of a heart.

This is goofy, and I like it, but it’s undeniably a story where you have to look at the shape of it rather than the execution. It’s not like these characters kiss or have an ongoing relationship. Astoria doesn’t show up in the series again and she’s a joke reference at the best of times. After all, if she was going to show up again, as a person who could just inherently jam machines and who’s strong enough to get punched and thrown around by computers, and laugh off a brain scrambler that finds her brain to be empty – I mean, this seems a character who’d be somewhat significant.

I assume.

A screencap from the TV episode 'The Girl Who Loved Powerglide.' It shows Powerglide and Astoria riding a merry go round.

This is a fun little story in the context of Transformers but what makes it really funny is that it’s not even the only time that the original G1 series made a romance between a totally normal – ostensibly – human and a popular cheap toy-line transformer. It’s just this one is particularly funny because no two ways about it, both Astoria and Powerglide suck.