So recently, and I use recently in the loosest way possible (and in comparison to my obsession with 20-30 year old nostalgia), I got into a French/Japanese cartoon from the 80s called the Mysterious Cities of Gold. I’m not sure how well known the cartoon is, I have trouble gauging the extent to which some of the cartoons that I love from the 80s have ensconced themselves into pop culture. On the one hand shows like G.I. Joe, the Transformers, He-Man and Thundercats seem very well known (which goes to show why they all had pretty speedy TV on DVD releases and retro merchandising ala Hot Topic or product line relaunches), but then there are other shows that I’m not so sure about, stuff like Turbo Teen, Kidd Video, Count Duckula or Mysterious Cities of Gold. There are fan sites, and Count Duckula even had a season 1 DVD release, but these are also shows that I get questions about from time to time (for example, e-mails asking if I can identify the show with the guy who turns into a car whenever he gets overheated or stressed.)
Mysterious Cities of Gold was certainly off my radar as a kid as I completely missed out on it until about 2001 or so. It originally aired on Nickelodeon around the 1982-1989 timeframe, I’m not sure exactly when. TV.com and IMDB have it listed as 1982, but my friend Kevin (who introduced me to the show) watched it regularly and I doubt it was when he was five, which just seems a bit too early. Wiki doesn’t help as it lists the show as airing in the US in the "later 80s". Either way I missed it, even though I was a Nickelodeon junkie and really dug the foreign cartoons and shows that the station was known to air (like Count Duckula, Danger Mouse, Inspector Gadget, segments of Pinwheel, Belle and Sebastian, etc.) Maybe I was too busy trying to catch You Can’t Do That on Television and Out of Control reruns.
Well like I mentioned above, my friend Kevin was a fan of the show and after he got out of college he picked up a set of bootleg VHS videos off of eBay with all 39 English dub episodes and over the next three years we’d get together occasionally and bang out an episode or two, slowly making our way through the show. That was a really cool experience for me as I got a chance to tag along on a friend’s nostalgia trip, something that I could relate to, yet was still new for me, and in the end I found a sort of lost gem from childhood. Getting together to watch the show was also the beginning of a regular movie night for us, which has been a weekly mainstay for years now, so I’ve sort of attached a retro-nostalgia to the show.
For those who aren’t familiar with the cartoon, or for those who want to get a little spark of nostalgia, the show focused on three children, Esteban, Zia and Tao and their adventures seeking out (say it with me) the mysterious cities of gold in South America in the 1500s. Though there are a lot of fantastical elements (and eventually it devolves into Alien/master race territory), one of the coolest aspects of the show is how grounded in history and reality it is, which is certainly in the grand tradition of 80s cartoons trying to slip in a spoonful educational content with every mouthful of action and adventure. In fact the cartoon was followed by mini live action documentaries on the non-fiction aspects of the show in many of the countries where it originally aired. Add to this the fact that it’s a rare example of a period 80s cartoon with tinges of archeology and fantastic steampunk-esque technology and traps (ala Indiana Jones), it’s hard to deny the appeal of the show.
Unfortunately the show is in a sort of DVD limbo, as it exists in various language dubs that were distributed by a handful of different companies, so there isn’t really one version of the show. There was a French release of the show but it didn’t contain the English dub, and currently it isn’t even known if masters of the English dub even still exist. There are a lot of dedicated bootleggers though and if you look hard enough you can find copies of the show on DVD that have the picture content ripped from the French release mixed with the audio from various English VHS copies that were taped off of Nickelodeon in the 80s. The final product is good but not great.
Anyway, here’s a breakdown of the opening credit sequence along with MP3s of both the
English Theme Song and the
French Version of the Theme Song (in much better quality.)
The show opens with narration describing the setting…
They long to cross uncharted seas and discover unknown countries. To find secret gold on a mountain trail high in the Andes. They dream of following the path of the setting sun that leads to Elderado, and the Mysterious Cities Of Gold.
The song then kicks in while the credit sequence shifts to Esteban. I thought it was interesting that the production on this credit sequence is very similar to that of Danger Mouse and Count Duckula which has elements of animation mixed in with augmented live action shots (made to look psuedo-animated.) It’s both very 80s and very British, ala the Terry Gilliam shorts from Monty Python (and yes I know he’s American, but his work still feels very British to me), as well as the opening credits from You Can’t Do That on TV (a knock off of the Python animations.)
There are also lot of instances of anachronistic ancient technology in the show; one of the coolest being the Golden Condor airship from the end of this credits sequence. It’s definitely a striking element from the show and another example of the myriad of awesome flying machines in shows of the 80s. Between this, the Maraj from the Silverhawks, the Sky Strikers and Rattlers from G.I. Joe, the Veritechs from Robotech, Airwolf, Blue Thunder, the Batwing, and a million others, flying in the 80s was certainly in style.
This is certainly a show that I want to re-watch someday. Hopefully sooner or later an official English dub will surface. Until then this is the perfect example of the positive side of bootlegging, and outlets like Eyebum and Youtube, which help to keep shows like this alive.