1532. Esteban, age 12 is a foundling from Barcelona, with a mysterious power of ordering the Sun to appear, for which he is called "Child of the Sun." Upon the death of his adoptive father, Esteban learns he was rescued as a baby from a sinking ship in the ocean. The mysterious medallion that Esteban wears since ever has a trace somewhere in the New World, probably coming from the Mysterious Cities of Gold. Esteban leaves Spain to find his parents and find out who he is. On the way he meets Zia, an Inca girl who was kidnapped from her people years back and has exactly the same medallion as him. Later on, they are joined by Tao, a young Galapagos robinson, the last descendant of the Empire of Heva, an Empire said to have built the Cities of Gold. Following Coyolite, the shining star represented on their medallions, the three children travel through the unexplored New World, searching for the Cities of Gold, believing that this way is leading them to their lost parents.
"Children of the sun,
See your time has just begun,
Searching for your way,
Through adventures every day"
For many of us older fans, especially those of us who were kids back in the early 80s, these opening lines represented half an hour of pure, almost magical, adventure, the likes of which we hadn't had access to on a regular basis. I was one of the many, many children who would run home from school, throw my bag on the floor, turn on the TV, and be transported to South America in 1532 for a while.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold was, to myself and many others, the show
that got us hooked on a type of cartoon that we would ultimately know as anime. No longer would I be satisfied with the violent antics of mouse, cat, canary, rabbit, or bald hunter et al. Nevermore would the yappings of an overgrown mutt and his hippy companions satisfy my need for mystery. Outcast were the incessant wranglings of families both past and future. This anime effectively reshaped my concept of what made a good cartoon, and it's effects on myself and others has been lasting.
Okay, intro over, lets get to the nitty gritty.
The MYsterious Cities of Gold (or MCoG as it seems to be known now), is one of those rare gems that only come around once every few years. The story was written byJean Chalopin and Bernard Deyriès, and is very loosely based on the novel "The King's Fifth" by Scott O'Dell. Some of you may recognise the name of Jean Chalopin as the creative genius who also brought us Ulysses 31, Inspector Gadget, Pole Position, Rainbow Brite, M.A.S.K., Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, and a number of other cartoons. MCoG is considered to be his greatest work, seconded only by Ulysses 31.
The series is about a young spanish boy named Esteban, an orphan boy who was rescued at sea, and is now considered to be the "Child of the Sun" by the people of Barcelona. He joins the Spanish exploration of the "New World" in an effort to find the Seven Cities of Gold and, hopefully, his father. On his travels he meets two other children, Zia and Tau, who accompany him on his journey.
I'm going to stop there as even though the series is 39 episodes long, this is an adventure that shouldn't really be spoiled in any way.
The plot and pacing in almost every episode is, quite simply, astounding. The depth of the story, and the skill with which Jean Chalopin and Bernard Deyriès have written each episode, has resulted in a series that has almost no filler, and that drives the story forward with almost every episode. Only a few series can make a similar claim and, sadly, only a very few of those are from the last few years.
Given that the series is as old as it is there are many out there who will be put off by the fact that the character designs appear dated, and that the animation isn't as smooth as todays standards. That said, the show is still very well done, and although it very clearly shows its age in many places, these are nowhere near enough to deter one from what is a captivating story.
One area where the series excels, even by todays standards, is in it's creative, and sometimes inspired, music. When watching this show one should keep an ear open for the differences in thematic music, especially with regards to each character. The music throughout the series reflects the South American (more Peruvian than Brazilian though), and Spanish themes upon which the story is based, and although much of it was done using synthesizers, the effect is still laudable for the little touches of authenticity the music brings to each character or scene. In addition to the thematic music, the OP is one of the catchiest in anime, and it may come as a surprise when you find yourself whistling or humming it for days after.
The dubs are both very good as well. There are critics of the English dub, however I feel that this is unjustified. The English dub was far more ambitious than most people realise as, rather than simply enacting a "literal" translation, the actors were encouraged to add their own depth and vitality to each role. This is why the English dub is sometimes very different to what appears in the Japanese dub, even though the characters are still, effectively, saying the same things.
Many viewers who become hooked on the show will remember the giant golden condor, the submarine, or even Kokapetl (the parrot), however all will tell you that the reason they kept watching was because of the characters. MCoG has several key characters, with the main ones being Esteban, Zia, Tau and Mendoza. Add to them Mendoza's bumbling mercenaries Sancho and Pedro, Pizarro, Gaspard, Gomez, and a whole host of other characters, many of whom appear only sporadically, and you have quite a large list to go through.
It would be very easy for a series to get lost in the wealth of it's characters, however MCoG not only avoids this, but pulls off some of the most amazing development of both on and off screen characters that can be seen in anime. Esteban, Zia and Tau are literally driven to develop as characters, with Esteban in particular being forced to make some tough choices. One would think this means the show waxes melodramatic, yet the series never really slips into this, and manages to test the characters in ways not seen in anime or cartoons at the time. Even now, there are very few shows that will force the characters to think and act, rather than react and/or use strength and willpower alone.
Possibly the real star of the show though, is Mendoza. The Spaniard is an expert sailor and navigator, and is more than skilled with a sword. He is also very much a strategist, and there are numerous occasions when he thinks his way out of situations. Not only that, when he is off screen the viewer has an absolute certainty that he is not resting on his laurels, but is planning or acting somewhere to achieve his sometimes ambiguous goals. Anime in the 80s had not seen a character like him before, and this type of characterisation is still a rarity. The most recent example of a character of Mendoza's type that I can think of is Satoshi Batista from Michiko to Hatchin (which, ironically enough, is also set in a quasi-South American world).
As far as adventures go, MCoG is one of the best, if not the best, out there. Given the fact that the series is over 25 years old it would be easy to think that I'm simply making this comment out of nostalgia or a sense of reminiscence. I'm not. I've just finished watching the DVD collection (a gift from someone who likes me a lot), and to say it puts almost every adventure based anime out there to shame would not be an understatement. MCoG set the standard for adventure anime, and it's a sad fact that these standards have not been maintained.
I have enjoyed this series as a child and as a man, and it is one of only a handful of shows that I would watch in my dotage. There was, and still is, a sense of realism from the characters that most anime would envy, and I consider this series to be one of the most underrated classics (and I do not use that term lightly), in anime to date. Fans of classic anime will not be disappointed, so if you're into Legend of Galactic Heros then this may be right up your street. Likewise those who want something adventurous, and that makes you want to get out there and explore the world, should definitely give this a try.
Don't be fooled by the dated look of the show. You're missing out otherwise.
Oh, and for those of you who, like me, are fans of the series - REJOICE! There is apparently a movie to be produced of the series, and three new seasons have also been announced. We shall have to wait and see if they can live up to the standards set by the original. I, for one, am looking forward to them.
Ok, a little bit of a disclaimer before I start my review. I'll admit it - this review is highly biased in the sense that I'm a highly nostalgic person, and I am giving this anime such a high score mostly because of the great memories it gave me as a kid.
Mysterious Cities of Gold (MCoG) is a personal favourite of mine - a classic anime from yesteryear. A literal gold nugget that popped up admist the overflowing sludge that was children's television programming in general. As Indiana Jones would say: "It belongs in a mueseum!"
The problem with this anime is that if you
are watching MCoG for the first time you may end up thinking that this DOES actually belong in a mueseum and I can see how watching it today may present some obstacles in its enjoyment. To cut to the chase - this anime was made over 25 years ago and it has not aged well. On comparison to today's animation production standards the quality of the soundtrack ranges from average to downright bad (depending on what copy you get your hands on), the animation is mediocre at best, and the voice acting? Lets just say, avoid the English language version like the plague.
Now if you're a nostalgic old coot like myself who is looking to recover a long lost treasure from childhood these shortcomings probably won't be much of a problem - you see nostalgia tends to blind you to such deficiencies. You'll sit back on your rocking chair and start thinking: "Now, back in my day..."
My guess is though that there is a fairly high chance that you may not be a cantankerous old git like myself. You may well be full of pluck, used to anime with high-octane thrills, visceral explosions with a pumping soundtrack in the background, ala Tengen Toppa Gurren Laggan. If you are, I have to tell you in advance: despite the high score I have given to this, you MAY not get into this. You have been warned.
Now that that little disclaimer is over and done with, lets get down to why this show remains one of my favourite television shows, and why it will probably remain with me for the rest of my life.
Now I said earlier that MCoG has rather bad production values compared with a lot of material that is getting released today. You have to remember though, that at the time of its release this anime literally blew the competition away and reshaped the concept of what makes for a good animation both for myself personally as a kid growing up, but also for the animation industry as a whole. It's kind of funny to say this, but as a kid I never really 'got into' cartoon shows aimed at kids. I never really liked Disney or Warner Brothers cartoons - even as a kid they seemed pretty lame, and I hated it how the animators of these shows just assumed that kids wouldn't get into a cartoon with a deeper undertone. It was like they were making cartoons just to get you to shut the fuck up while Mum cooked the tea.
Then along came the Mysterious Cities of Gold - my first introduction the world of anime, and a cartoon with a riveting, exciting and at times highly emotional story.
Picture this. A wide eyed child of about 5 years old sits down with a bowl of ice cream and turns on the TV. The kid hopes like hell that he wouldn't get the fucking Roger Ramjet theme blare at him again. Silence... This could just be his lucky day...
A shot then starts to progressively cut in to South America and its temples from the far reaches of the galaxy while a man's voice booms:
"It is the 16th century, from all over Europe great ships sail west to conquer the New World, the Americas"
"The men eager to seek their fortune, to find new adventures in new lands"
"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 El Dorado,"
"And the MYSTERIOUS CITIES OF GOLD..."
20 minutes pass and the show ends. The kid's ice cream, long since forgotten about, lies melted beside him untouched...
Now that's what I'm talking about! Finally there was a children's show that treated kids to something worth watching. The premise of it all - An adventure story with an intriguing, emotive plot and characters whose intentions were not always clear - finally a show that made you want to rush home from school and turn on the telly - it's all in the story. Yes MCoG is a children's show, but the story, setting and characters are so well done that I believe it can be enjoyed equally by adults - or, 'big kids at heart', much in the same way an adult may enjoy a Miyazaki film.
No, MCoG doesn't feature the pumping soundtrack, or the flashy visuals on offer as in the majority of anime today. But it does offer something extra, that little something that is so hard to define. The X-factor that separates a true classic from a passing fad. MCoG was and is so important for me personally because it was my very first encounter with 'classic' entertaiment - something deep and meaningful that sticks with you for years, decades later. I've seen a lot of other shows since then and I actually tend to like most of them, but I would have inevitably forgotten about them within a year or two. There is something about shows like MCoG and a handful of other 'classic' shows that makes them unforgettable entertainment. I can't guarantee that you'll get the same buzz that I got as a kid when I watched it all those years ago, but I can guarantee that you'll be watching a pioneering anime of the 80's, an eternal classic whose influence can be seen in a number of highly regarded anime of today's generation.
I just want to open this one by saying I am completely biased. I was ADDICTED to MCoG when I was a kid and as soon as it came out on DVD I bought the boxset and watched every episode back to back. (Severely annoying several of my friends in the process.)
If you didn't catch this one back in the 80's then it might not hold the same magical charm for you that it holds for a lot of 80's kids, however with a remake on the horizon I think its long over due for a comeback. I will admit here and
now that I have never watched the Japanese language version, so I can't speak for that one but I think MCoG still has it's place in the world.
The series has one long running story arc so it's not really possible to watch it out of order if you are completely unfamiliar with it. However, for a kids show the story arc is well developed and much more than you would expect.
The show was an early experiment in 'edutainment' each episode ended with the voice over guy giving you some interesting facts about south america or whatever the theme of the episode was. I almost enjoyed those bits as much as the main show itself.
The voice acting wasn't brilliant on the part of the kids, but since they were actually voiced by children I think we can forgive it of them.
I would recommend this show to anyone who wants to watch some good old fashioned adventure, anyone who likes long story arcs or anyone who just fancies watching it. It's a great piece of nostalgia & with a remake right around the corner its always good to see where things started.
I'll end this review here before I start signing the theme tune...
One of the best animated I've seen ... It's my childhood bitch to him I became interested in the pre-Columbian civilizations and history in general ! The senario is really great, one path he looked really top (presence of the Nazca lines, ...). I really committed to this series throughout my childhood. Too bad the incompetant have soiled the image of the series trying to make a Season 2 (especially not if !)