#216 : Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light

Technology has fallen… society has collapsed. Retrograding to a more medieval type of life, the people of the planet of Prysmos adjust to a more ‘primitive’ existence. Cars and high rise skyscrapers have ‘evolved’ into horse and buggy and fortified castles and the once beloved technologies that many of us in our modern world are dependent on has been superseded by another form of wonder, the wonder of magic. As the intro states, “Those who control the magic, control destiny. They are the Visionaries.” A short run toy show that was and still is one of my favorite Saturday morning pastimes. Behold Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light.

Vis_01Sunbow, the once fabled production studio has created many propaganda toy shows that at their hearts were to promote mainly the products of Hasbro. Yet somehow with Sunbow, the shows are in my opinion more superior than the toys. They take on a life of their own as a whole world is created around each toy line and supersedes the predominantly plastic creations with an organic mythology. Am I interested in collecting vintage Hasbro lines? No, I prefer to watch The Transformers, G.I. Joe, Jem and the Holograms and the little brother from 1987, Visionaries. An action figure line that also included holographic elements… magical light!

Vis_02Truth be told I did have two of the holographic chest plated figures as a child, Leoric and Arzon. Those two have since left my existence, but the show where both of these gentlemen originated is still a part of my viewing rotation. The plot is a simple one of two factions, the Spectral Knights and the Darkling Lords, who either uphold justice, or raise trouble on the planet Prismos. Yet there is also a third wheel as well, a neutral maverick, the wizard Merklin, who gave each Knight and Lord their specific magic. He is almost like a dungeon master from the veins of Dungeons and Dragons who sets the mood and pace periodically and is perhaps the most valuable character to the whole plot.

Vis_03What makes Visionaries so great is that for only a 13 episode run you get some of the most bang for your buck in terms of an 80s cartoon. Every episode has it’s merit! Why is this so? Mythology and interesting characters, simple. The world of Visionaries is much like more Earth based sci-fi like Vampire Hunter D, or Fist of the North Star. Mix this with a strong medieval themes and you get something a little different from the era. Almost like Aura Battler Dunbine without the robot mecha… though Visionaries does have a couple vehicles that can qualify as a type of mecha. … or maybe if one mixed LEGO’s Classic Space and Castle themes together?… Each character has their own personality archetype which adds to the plot line and is reminiscent of the first initial seasons of say The Transformers, or G.I. Joe when everything was small and simple.

Vis_04Then there is the presentation which is very polished. Visually we have to thank a Japanese studio for the grunt work of creating the ocular quality that is present in Visionaries. Take a guess which studio got the job? It’s a personal favorite of mine… TMS, Tokyo Movie Shinsha. Yet again we have another cartoon which got to use the talents of this studio and trust me it will not be the last time we hear from them again. TMS after all was contracted from time to time well into the 1990s. Could Sunbow have used TMS for The Transformers, or G.I. Joe, or Jem instead of relying on Toei and AKOM? Maybe, but no need to argue over what has passed.

When it comes to toy shows, there are plenty that filled the landscape of 1980s popular culture. Many new heroes and villains often came out of nowhere and sparked the imagination of a particular generation. Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light was among this crowd and is sadly in the more cult status position due to the limited run. This was a solid action adventure that still showcases the previously mentioned great stories and visual treatments. Yet there was also voice acting too as actors made these characters come to life in many ways. Can Visionaries be one of the best Saturday Morning Cartoons of all time? I vote YES!

#215e : The Transformers (Season 4)

Three episodes! Just three? How can this be considered a season? …that sounds more like a miniseries to me. And alas, The Transformers here in the west would receive a proper finale and in a hurry as well with a trilogy of episodes. Better this than nothing at all, but seriously who cheapened out on the potential here? Then again here is another perspective, maybe The Transformers here in the west were running out of gas? Perhaps ready to retire? In any case let’s properly finish this classic show!

TF_S4_11987, the fall… oh I remember it very well. New episodes of The Transformers were ready for viewing except this batch would be the very last. For real?! Coming in at a total of 98 by the end of this fourth season, The Transformers was a long ride I enjoyed viewing during the prime years of my childhood. This final trilogy would be known as The Rebirth and how does it clean up all the loose ends, while leaving the ending a little open ended. Fun and action packed, being another new season we get another grouping of more characters to watch… I am beginning to lose count here. We get a double spy, twins, the Throttlebots, the Targetmasters, the Headmasters and even one who can transform into six different modes. SIX! Kinda makes me miss the good old days of robot becoming a car, or an airplane. Still, these new types of characters are very creative and innovative.

TF_S4_2Don’t expect too much plot here besides saving Cybertron and restoring the plasma energy chamber. Remember this is only three episodes. The first release of DVDs here in North America from Rhino had an interview with the writer of The Rebirth, David Wise, who gave his take on the process of making this last season work. Originally this was slated as five episodes, then cut to three. If you can find this interview it is a great watch to see the nuts and bolts behind making a show like this. What to expect then is a run and gun approach by bringing in a character, or several, to cameo for maybe a couple seconds then moving on to the next scene, etc. etc. It is very watchable and entertaining, but wow talk about a rush to promote the entire 1987 toy line. At least we get a true and proper ending for The Transformers, a true “That’s all folks!” for us fans. Very few cartoons ever get this type of treatment. The Transformers not only got to walk away at the top of its game, but it also did it in a polished way… that was also rushed.

TF_S4_3And now for something completely different, Japan would release their own version of the season depicting the 1987 toyline. An alternative version of The Rebirth and yet not quite. The Headmasters would have a full 35 episodes telling a completely different take on the mythology which begs the questions, which one is canon? Take your pick… I say both… alternate universes as a theory. I slightly prefer The Headmasters in terms of the larger plot line and direction it took, but The Rebirth is still entertaining. Japan, Toei and Takara would pick up the torch abandoned by Sunbow, AKOM and Hasbro to continue the G1 animation outings for a few more runs showing that The Transformers were far from dead at the end of 1987. Then again, either way you look at it, the beginnings from way back in 1984 were completed in both series to a certain degree. Time to ride out into the sunset. ~ FIN

Introduction Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Season 4

#215d : The Transformers (Season 3)

The Transformers: The Movie was a game changer for me. I got to see my beloved Transformers in a high quality presentation, set in the then future and with some intense drama. Of course I considered it the greatest movie ever made at the time; I was very young then. Now I see it as a beautiful example of traditional cel animation. The fall of 1986 would bring yet another season of The Transformers with elements from this new movie. Exciting! Time for some totally new changes in the mythos of The Transformers. Yet at heart this is still the same show, just continuing on during a new era.

TF_S3_1Remember when the year of 2006 seemed like a far off future? Decades unreachable at one time, but when viewed now that year is more like a distant memory. I am sure some of you may not have been born yet? The film ended, but there was more to tell in terms of what was introduced in the summer of 1986. With all of these new and older elements in place one can see season three as a mixed bag. I am sure many do not like this season for the fact of all the changes and the unfamiliarity… and some characters. Yet the more that we change we stay the same. The third season would continue the more imaginative sci-fi and fantasy that was introduced the previous year except now we are in the future (that has past us now) with many new characters including the first full-time female Autobot lead (we love you Arcee!) and stories. The downside in some ways was the writing and characterizations which at times are not the strongest in certain episodes, but there are some things that this third season did very well.

TF_S3_2Darker themes would begin to creep into some of the plots lines. Rodimus Prime being the new leader of the Autobots lacked the confidence of Optimus Prime. He was more human and vulnerable and as a character I appreciate him sometimes more than the idolized Autobot champion. Death also plays a heavy role as seeing the ghost of certain fallen Autobots and Decepticons from the movie make their presence as well. Dark Awakening being one of the more unpolished episodes visually is perhaps one of the best episodes that expressed the heavier mood. Even the Quintessons are creepy and always so super serious! Not to say there was not humor as well. Think Grimlock’s New Brain, which is a favorite episode of mine for the fact that the Technobots were born during this half hour.

TF_S3_3Our new cast is vast and many get only a handful of showings that are short lived. Many new faces did however get some time in the sun to show themselves. None more so than Cyclonus and Scourge who only got brief moments to even say a line, or two, in the movie. Cyclonus is a particular favorite of mine. He has a nobility and a sense of honor that lacks in many of the Decepticons. Almost like the dark twin of Ultra Magnus? Talk about a departure for the Decepticons second in command, almost like an inverse of Starscream. Sadly some of the new characters are just kind of dull, or overly cartoonish, and can be seen as window decoration. Marissa Fairborne of Earth Defense Command is a welcome addition to the human group of characters. Is she really Flint’s daughter, from G.I. Joe? And speaking of G.I. Joe, there is some guy who looks and sounds way too much like Cobra Commander… a nice cross over moment.

TF_S3_4Highlighting this season are the opening and closing episodes, which are multi-parters. The quintet of Five Faces of Darkness (could this be a pun? Five and five?) and the double episode finale of the super obvious The Return of Optimus Prime both give this season a proper start and finish and flush out more of the mythology of The Transformers and Cybertron. Plus fans were pleased to see Optimus Prime return at the end. I see that now as a nice gesture, but really? Why not bring back Tracks, or Sunstreaker too! While season three may not be the most popular, or even consistent, it is sometimes my favorite. Pull a good dozen episodes as the pillar of what this season could have been collectively and I am quite satisfied as that selection is watched often.

Season 1
Season 2
Season 3
Season 4