I like G.I. Joe.
I like Transformers.
I like Inhumanoids.
I love Visionaries.
Coming at the end of the glory years of the Sunbow/Hasbro partnership, and only lasting for thirteen episodes, one season, Visionaries is my favourite of the four big shows they gave us. The gimmick with the toys was holograms on the chests and staffs and vehicles of the characters, showing what they could turn into or project magically. The animation was produced by top Japanese studio TMS, so above 95% of the time it looks fantastic. The writers really put the work in too and the actors throw themselves into the quasi-English knights and warriors characterisation.
The Age of Magic Begins
The world of Prysmos (which I only recently realised was named so because of the light concept with the holograms) is a futuristic society, suddenly struck down by the disabling of all technology, sending it spiralling into a new dark age. The cause is the alignment of the three suns, but there’s also an implication that Merklynn might be responsible too, so that he can hold games and test the skills and mights of the new warriors of Prysmos, both good and evil. On the side of the heroes, Leoric of New Valarak, and on the side of the villains, Darkstorm, who currently keeps in his stable the mercenary Reekon and the sycophantic Mortdredd. They, along with many others, are invited by Merklynn to reach his chambers atop Iron Mountain with the promise of great gifts. Ex-cop Ectar is doubtful, but they still go.
At the base of Iron Mountain the next day, knights gather to attain the prizes within. We get glimpses of people who will become the regular cast to begin, with Galadria climbing around the mountain and the speedy Witterquick eluding traps that many turn away from. Eventually, fourteen men and women reach the lair of Merklynn after having various moments to show off their talents and abilities (Arzon creating a makeshift glider to regain his footing, Cravex scaring off others so that he can pick up their weapons to sell on later, etc.). Merklynn observes this and embues them all with the power to temporarily turn into magical animals, some based in reality and some made up, based on their natural inclinations (the aforementioned Arzon gets the totem form of the eagle to give him real flight, and Cravex becomes the pterodactyl-like phylot, the most vicious airborne scavenger in all of Prysmos).
Eight of the fourteen are allowed to dip their staffs/standard banners into Merklynn’s magical pool, giving them a one-time (until powered up again) occasion to summon on powers like strength, speed, wisdom, knowledge, and decay (the latter is especially interesting, Darkstorm’s power, as it projects a bat-like creature that launches on a target and covers it with his wings, leaving it in an aged state, although Darkstorm can preserve their original state with a counter-spell on occasion). The rest, after a bit of bitching from them, are promised that they’ll find out powers of their own later (being able to operate vehicles that have magical powers, like the awesomely-named Dagger Assault, which Reekon can use the magical dungeon of, which takes away totem powers temporarily). Technically, only the four remaining males can do that, but the two girls are handwaved as being able to too, with Virulina on at least one occasion piloting the Sky Claw and the Dagger Dart.
A truce is called between the yet-to-be named Spectral Knights (seven heroes) and the evil Darkling Lords, but the latter decide to break that immediately to be the strongest of the Visionaries. The first target: Arzon, who is about to be axed by Virulina in disguise! To be continued!
The Dark Hand of Treachery
Arzon is taken down in a seven-on-one attack. Then Witterquick. As Cryotek heads home to the frozen tundra of Northeria for a break, Galadria hitches along with her boyfriend (they’re kinda like a Davey Boy and Diana Smith with the muscles and blonde hair, but without the drugs and butt sex and milk injections) when the villains catch them unawares. Cryotek is taken, Galadria escapes, with Virulina getting the blame and sitting out the rest of the next two episodes except for an animation error or two. Women, hey?
So, the six male Darking Lords head to New Valarak to challenge the four Spectral Knights. Strangely, all the soldiers on duty don’t bother to interfere in the battle, even though they might have a good chance of subduing the invaders in a combined effort. First, young Feryl is bashed in wolf mode with a nice knee lift as he tries to chase Mortdredd and becomes a prisoner. Galadria is the second one down, crying on her knees as she imagines a tidal wave coming over her courtesy of Cravex’s power of fear (women, hey?). The Darkling Lords dogpile Leoric to take him, then Ectar runs off to Iron Mountain with Leoric’s wisdom powerstaff to get help, but is quickly captured by a dragon from the Sky Claw’s wings.
Defeated and locked up in Darkstorm’s dungeon, the Spectral Knights form a lifelong allegiance, following advice given by Leoric’s wisdom staff, dedicated to the Circle of Light, even having their own cool pledge: May the light shine forever (gotta think there’s a bit of Till All Are One in that). Cowardly irritant Lexor literally rains on their parade, flooding the dungeon after they insulted his nasal, brittle voice, as we conclude part two and enter the third part of the trilogy.
Quest for the Dragon’s Eye
The final part of the initial three, with water seeping in, it in a way allows them a method of escape. At the same time, the Darkling Lords argue and brawl among themselves over who will get what. Cravex, who Chris Latta plays as if Starscream and Cobra Commander were turned into a giant berserker, gets to go on a stored up rant that’s epic. The Spectral Knights catch up with them by commandeering two of the other vehicles, the Capture Chariot and Lancer Cycle, which coincidentally are in far more heroic colours than the ones kept by the Darkling Lords. The animation actually takes a little bit of a dip at this point, still good but just not quite as good as what preceded it, although it’s only for this episode and one or two others overall. In a really good bit of fighting, Darkstorm turns into his giant mollusc form, spits lightning at Leoric, who jumps over it and mounts his back, whips him in the head and takes him captive as he’s dazed. The Darkling Lords are sentenced to hard labour, but Merklynn slips them a key to escape with to ensure the balance of good and evil is maintained.
Then, a plot kicks in about farmers struggling to grow crops and the Darking Lords make good their retreat. Everyone ends up at Iron Mountain and to restore everyone’s power Merklynn gives them a quick quest to capture a magic wand from rogue wizard Falkhama, who controls a mechanical dragon. They head to him, beat him together, then come back with the prize, the Spectral Knights getting something extra to benevolently help the farmers. It’s a weird, tacked on last sixth that doesn’t match the rest of the excellent trilogy, as if it replaced something else or needed to be constructed when they ran out of other ideas, but doesn’t necessarily spoil it.
Conclusion: I’ve already said up front that I love this show, so let me expand on that. Great, orchestral score. Brilliant acting by some brilliant actors, like Neil Ross, Bernard Erhard, Peter Cullen, Chris Latta, Roscoe Lee Browne, Jonathan Harris, Jennifer Darling and others. There’s a real richness to everything, things to notice visually and lots of subtle stuff implanted to keep things interesting. I’ll doubtless look at more episodes, which in some cases took growing up to fully appreciate, like the episode where the Darkling Lords have their own adventure and the Spectral Knights are very much supporting characters, plus the one where there are so many different new locales to explore, like a Western town and a monastery and a cave that will not end. FUCKING. LOVE. THIS SHOW.