Best of British… Sort Of! Cartoons That Were Big in the UK! Deuxième Partie!

Back with some more shows that aren’t British, but were big hits in Britain.

Ulysses 31 – The Black Sphere

Homer’s Odyssey is retold in space in the light of the popularity of Star Wars. The intro tells the story better than I could, so watch that. 26 episodes, 24 of which see Ulysses come close but not close enough to getting himself and his family and friends home, with the Gods always stopping him. This is the second episode. Blind Heratos and young Atina live on a planet by themselves, when Ulysses’ ship approaches. They put out the welcome mat for him, but the Gods demand (played to their funeral dirge-like leitmotif) that Heratos guide Ulysses to the graveyard of wrecks and hulks and sure doom. If he abides by their wishes, he will get his sight back, but if he doesn’t they will destroy him and Atina. Valuing her life, he agrees.

The episodes I looked at yesterday were also animated in Japan like this one and the next show I look at, but not half as beautifully or with as much detail. Great music, very much of its time. The voice actors are a bit over the top a lot of the time, but they successfully convey the doomed feeling that everyone in the show has with just a bit of optimism. The Gods are great as villains, never seen but able to manipulate things to their pleasing. I did love the unseen, ominous villains from shows of this era, who were probably just as much unseen out of a hope of keeping costs low as making them seem even more mysterious.

Ulysses 31 – The Seat of Forgetfulness

Almost halfway into the series now, a strange craft passes the Odyssey, on its way back to the base of the Gods. Ulysses proposes following it as it may give them insight into returning to Earth and awakening their companions for good. Where they arrive, though, is somewhere that will potentially leave them with no memory of wanting to get home at all! They resist the attempt to turn them away and are met with a dire warning – those that didn’t previously have been made slaves to a machine. They wear skull-like helmets and their bodies resemble skeletal frames, with the Gods commenting “Even in death you will find no peace”.

Ulysses is then separated from Telemachus, Yumi and Nono, ending up in an incredibly creepy setting that has to be seen to be believed. There, two chairs drop from the ceiling, one telling him the route home, the other giving him the chance to regain his children, who are trapped in an endless ring of infinity, ready to expire from fatigue. Ulysses chooses to save the children, but the seat he has taken is also the Seat of Forgetfulness, meaning he will forget of his companions, his quest and everything else precious to him. The Fates then appear, sewing and cutting the threads of life. They have female voices and frames under hoods and robes, but no faces. Ulysses fights not to forget as they laugh at him. With just enough fight in him, he keeps some memories of getting home AND rescues his children, but Shirka, the ship’s computer aboard the Odyssey has not been exempt from the power of the Gods – her memory banks have been wiped instead.

Absolutely worth the watch, but trippy as heck! I’m not a regular pot smoker, but I’ve got friends who do and can never say no to sharing a joint with them, and have hoped at times that I might be able to watch this show, and this episode specifically, with them and get high and see how I do at the end of it! You definitely can’t watch this episode without being affected by it, with so much to take in. It’s lucky this series eventually did have a happy ending, because if it didn’t it would be one of the great tragic classics of all time.

Mysterious Cities of Gold – The Nazca Plateau

One from the middle of this series, which is a serial that goes on for 39 episodes! I could’ve picked the first episode, but it doesn’t have all of the main cast present, so even though it’s in the middle of the action it’s at least got some action going on. The intro tells the story for the uninitiated, but a last episode recap tells us that youngsters Esteban, Zia and Tao, alongside unlikely protectors Mendoza, Sancho and Pedro have found the Golden Condor, a giant metallic bird, in the first city of gold, which converts into an early flying ship, powered by the sun, so we have all the elements from the intro in place now. Spanish soldiers become aware of it too and want it for themselves.

The flight takes the Golden Condor over the Nazca Plateau, which the travellers speculate on the creation of and notice how one shape resembles their craft, plus lines indicating directions like a runway as it lands. The show absolutely lives up to the mysterious name by offering no answers to the abundance of questions it provokes. We’ve also got a lot of mature content, with guns being pointed in faces and threats to have heads chopped off. A very simple plot, a capture and escape, but within the midst of the series it’s just one of many events going on within what is kind of a cool down episode. Still incredibly visually impressive, with the production making everything seem magnificent. Kind of unfair to review it in isolation, but it’s a good show of what the series had to offer.

We conclude with a preview of the next episode and more trouble to come, then the famous educational films that were included to let children learn about the history and heritage referenced in the show, in this case the Nazca Plains. The archival footage looked dated then and you can see stuff like reflections and shakiness of the camera in the windows of the plane that the camera crew are filming in. The reality is presented as just as mysterious as the fiction.

The Animals of Farthing Wood – The Wood in Danger

This was more of a series my late sister watched when she was little, while I was watching wrestling and Turtles. A dramatic series, but also with a little bit of a cutesy factor. The animals of Farthing Wood are forced to abandon their home for a new one when builders start to chop it down to build over it. The effect of the humans is presented as quite threatening and scary. The animals can speak and have warm voices and within seconds you think Toad has died, although it’s worked against when you see Owl playing with a dead mouse! I was reminded how annoying Weasel was and how much of an estuary accent Fox had. Ron Moody, Fagin from Oliver!, is the grandad as Badger. It’s really about character establishment in this episode, but it’s also good at suggesting real danger while keeping optimistic. The second series, as I recall, was the one where it got really heavy!

Conclusion: The latter show is one I’m happy to compliment, but it’s not one I have a lot of familiarity with. Ulysses 31 and Mysterious Cities of Gold, however, are classics and definitely worth putting the time aside to check the entire respective series of out.