#221 : Starcom: The U.S. Space Force

“All Starmax and Star Wolves… Scramble!” It must be Saturday morning in 1987 and excitement is in the air from that opening statement. Do you remember Starcom: The U.S. Space Force? Oh yes, now this is what I call science fiction of the upcoming future, that may perhaps be the now(?)… how can this present day be the future promised? Part of me really wants to be a space cowboy still and yet the best I can ever get to that reality of riding in a spaceship are relegated to shows like Starcom. Yippee-ki-yay buckaroos and strap on your helmets because I’m off to the stars for this one!

Starcom_1Starcom represented one of the best toy ideas from the 1980s, regardless of gender stereotyping. While it did not have the big budget punch of say The Transformers, Cabbage Patch Kids, or LEGO, Starcom did have a certain niche that makes it still today a cult favorite. Space exploration, day to day general working equipment and also military combat all wrapped up in an almost Star Trek like future, or maybe more like Legend of the Galactic Heroes? Such a great toy line, one that I often held to what the future could become, and one that I did not have… which is ok. Motorized in strategic places and including magnets in others (including the figures’ feet!), Starcom had a lot of play value… plus no need for batteries!?!. Amazing. The only time I remember playing with these toys was at a house that belonged to a related cousin of my dad. I got along well with the two sons and on the floor was a ton of Starcom. The image is a little fuzzy, but that memory I vaguely remember was a good one.

Starcom_2Now then this is not a site about toys, what about the cartoon? As a show Starcom: The US Space Force is an interesting bird. 13 episodes in total it was a great installment for the Saturday morning lineup of the time and stood out in many ways. A large cast of characters, a broad outlook for space travel and exploration and an exciting atmosphere for what could be our future (I am still waiting!), Starcom has so much to offer. That and this is one of the best looking shows of the era and to no surprise it was animated in Japan. By TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha) no less, can you see the great line work, color, lighting and events fluid movement in various camera angles? A gorgeous show… that in some ways is kind of limiting as well.

Starcom_3Now this is a personal opinion, but I think Starcom didn’t live up to it’s full potential as a cartoon. True there were only 13 episodes made, and we can take that into account, but I feel so much more could have been flushed out. The two factions of Starcom and the Shadow Force of Emperor Dark (nice hair man) never get into any real political struggles. True this was a toy show and the point was to show off all those awesome spacecrafts flying around, but really no stories depicting the a large scale drama of the two sides. The majority of the show highlights the ‘Big 3’ of Colonel’s Derringer, Griffin and Corbin (Dash, Slim and Crowbar), the three commanders of the three branches of Starcom, with only minor appearances from other Starcom members. Hey guys, share the spotlight a little… please? And then there’s the background music, which is awesome, but some of it sounds familiar to another DiC produced show. Is it me, or did DiC borrow some of the soundtrack from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors? It was good once, so why not recycle it? I mean who would know? … besides hard corps Jayce nerds (LIKE ME!)

Starcom_4Please don’t think I am trashing Starcom as a show. Despite these flaws that are more personal than anything, this show is really top notch. Visually, as I said before, it’s one of the best looking shows of the era. The writing is clever, with comedic puns that never grow old (I have a bad feeling about this!) and on the other end of the spectrum a touch of sophisticated nuance. This is classic hard sci-fi, more in line with original Gundam, with plot lines that seemed a little more mature than the usual stop the bad guys narrative. Nantucket Sleighride, Caverns of Mars and Hot Enough For You? are three great episodes that really showed the bigger potential of the Starcom universe. I still wonder when we will have the chance to live and work in space just like in Starcom? As an idealist I still believe it can happen in my lifetime!

… now I have heard that the Shadow Force logo is reminiscent of Legend of Zelda’s Triforce, but I think it looks just like LEGO’s logo for the first iteration of Blacktron, except swapping yellow for red?

#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

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