During my enforced rest over the last few months (see previous blog entry for details), to keep myself from total boredom and the creeping onset of ennui, I indulged in watching something that I have been fascinated with since childhood – animated films and serials. Back then I went through the stages of watching series such as Scooby-Doo, Hong Kong Phooey, The Pink Panther, all the Warner Bros cartoon shorts, the slightly obscure DePatie-Freleng version of Dr. Doolittle (does anyone actually remember that?), the various Charlie Brown shows and the full-length ‘classic’ Disney movies. Then I progressed onto longer films like Watership Down, Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (which, perhaps oddly, I absolutely love, despite its very obvious flaws), the same director’s Fritz the Cat and Fire and Ice, the strange and surreal Fantastic Planet (original title: Le Planete Sauvage) and an obcure little porn cartoon called Jungleburger (classic dialogue: the villainess says at the end “So what if I have six tits?”). Add into the mix other obscure gems which I’ve completely forgotten plus, later in my twenties, my discovery of anime, and I must have seen thousands of ‘cartoons’ and suchlike.
However, during that brief restful sojourn, I revisited a couple of series for which I have a particularly fond attachment – The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Ulysses 31. Both of these were French/Japanese co-productions, and both were screened over here in the eighties. Okay, I admit, I was in my early twenties when I watched these shows, programmes that were resolutely aimed at younger teens, but, to be quite frank, I didn’t care. The two shows exhibited a modicum of imagination severely lacking in mainstream British and American productions of the time, a fact which inspired me to watch them in the first place. I would avidly sit down every week and be glued to the TV set to follow the respective character’s adventures.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold was a 39 episode adventure series set against an historical background: the Spanish conquest of South America and the avaricious search for gold (and it didn’t stint on the cruelty exhibited by the conquistadores towards the natives in the greedy search for the yellow metal). The plot mainly centres around three children, Esteban, Zia and Tau, and their search for the fabled seven cities of gold, located somewhere in the impenetrable jungle. The show contrasts rather sharply the reasons for the search – the children want to find family or solve the mystery of who they are and their place in the world, while the adults accompanying or chasing them only want the wealth that will inevitably follow on from finding a city completely made from gold. It paints Western culture as avaricious, superficial and greedy – not as inaccurate a picture as all that, judging from the history of the actual conquest.
Ulysses 31, on the other hand, mixes Greek legend with sci-fi action and adventure. It updates the legend of Oddysseus (Ulysses is the Latin variant of the name) but sets the action in space. Ulysses has angered the gods by destroying Cyclops whilst in the act of saving his son Telemachus – and his punishment is to wander through an unknown part of the Cosmos in his spaceship in order to find the Kingdom of Hades, so that he can eventually return to earth. Simultaneously, Zeus, who hands down the sentence, also puts Ulysses’ crew into suspended animation and they will only be returned to life when the Kingdom of Hades is found. Accompanying our hero and his son is Yumi, a tiny blue-skinned girl from the planet Zotria (her brother Numinor is also there, but he’s in suspended animation along with the rest of the crew) and Nono, a small and very nervous robot. Twenty-six episodes were made, a fairly short number for a Japanese production, but boy did they pack in a lot of action. It’s very typically Japanese fare and, stylistically, is also typical of eighties anime. And of course, there’s that stirring opening theme song… (there are also the tantalising rumours that there will be sequels to the series due in the near future, but who knows…?)
It’s funny how you remember, or not remember, things. I distinctly remember not catching the first episode of either, but coming coming into them with episode two with Cities and three with Ulysses. But, having watched all 39 episodes of the former, I remembered surprisingly little of it, apart from the characters and the Solaris ship and the Golden Condor. I also didn’t remember the short factual films at the end of each show, filling out the historical details of that particular episode. I am only a third through Ulysses and I remember more of that one, but I’ll report back when I’ve seen them all.
Be that as it may, however, what utterly delightful (and thrilling) blasts from the past. Whilst it would be true to say that technically I am more in tune with the anime of today, it was still a hoot watching these shows and reacquainting myself with them after something like thirty years. Back then, of course, I never thought that there’d be any means by which I could see them again, other than the terrestrial channels deigning to rebroadcast them. Which did happen with Cities I think – once. So, I for one say ‘Huzzah for the internet!’…
Now, to make my life complete, I need to find a source for Battle of the Planets or, better still, the original Science Team Gatchaman, which will be miles better than the bastardised Sandy Frank bowdlerisation screened on British TV (7 Zark 7, the robot who ‘starred’ in the linking sequences, was never in the original Japanese version…). Having said that, I’d still watch, if only for the sake of nostalgia…