It is the thirty-first century. Ulysses killed the giant Cyclops when he rescued the children and his son, Telemachus.
But the ancient gods of Olympus are angry and threaten a terrible revenge: Ulysses is sentenced to travel through the universe of Olympus with a frozen crew on a quest to find the Kingdom of Hades. Only when he has found the Kingdom of Hades will his crew be free of their curse and he will be able to return to Earth and to his beloved Penelope.
Ulysse 31 illustrates perfectly the idea that combining different cultures expertise may lead to a wonderful result as this anime is a Japanese French production involving artists from both countries. It was made at a time Producers not only want to entertain children but also educate them (in this case about Greek Mythology) in the framework of an anime with a good artistic value. Other examples of such policies are Les mysterieuses cites d’or (The mysterious cities of Gold) and il etait une fois l’homme (once upon a time..man).
Ulysse 31, as you have understood,is a futuristic transposition of the Odyssey
epic poem and the scene takes place just after the war of Trojan. We follow the adventures and ordeals of Ulysses, young Telemachus and the mysterious Themis throughout their galactic voyage.
The story is based (faithfully or loosely depending on the episode) on the Odyssey and each episode unravels a new mystery that Ulysses have to discover, a new charismatic character that Ulysses have to confront with or a new barrier that the Gods have set for Ulysses. Will he finally reach the Kingdom of Hades and return to the warm heart of his Beloved Penelope?
The story is simply excellent and raises several concepts and ideas such as Love, tyranny, religion, Fate,drugs, the redundancy of Human life... an excellent mean to stimulate a child curiosity and mind as this anime was aim for children! Moreover, there is not always a Happy ending for each episodes : Life can be cruel sometime... Thanks to the work of Jean Chalopin and Nina Wolmark (Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea : les mondes engloutis).
Art and animation are surprinsigly good for an anime of that period even by Today's Standards. This is mainly due to the famous duo of Shingo Araki / Michi Himeno's Work (Goldorak/Grendizer, cat's eyes, Lady Oscar, Saint Seiya...) and the technical design of Manchu (AKA Philippe Bouchet).
Music score is nice to listen to and match the anime ambiance by its synthpop features.
Most Characters are well conceived and they have their own development. It is easy to identify with them and feel some empathy towards their ordeals.
The French dubbing had involved professional Dramatic Art Theater actors voices (especially Jean Topar) and are consequently very enjoyable. The English Dubbing seems well made as well.
Overall no matter how old you are, this is truly a must see masterpiece and a good introduction to Greek Mythology in general.
The tale of Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin) and his many struggles and trials by the Gods as he quests to get back to his beloved Penelope, is the purest definition of a classic. Indeed being one of the earliest existent works of Western literature yet still read and well known tells a far greater tale of its epicness that any words I can offer ever will. So it should come as no surprise then that it has had many retellings, adaptations and allusions over the years, one only has to read James Joyce's famous novel aptly named Ulysses for a perfect example of a modern
retelling. With that said it was rather inevitable that such a classic would get an animated adaption, and who better suited to undertake this Odyssey (eh! eh! Get it…) than Jean Chalopin, creator of such classics as Mysterious cities of Gold, another delightful pseudo historical adventure series.
Created in the wonderfully bizarre world that was the 80s, Ulysses 31 incorporates everything one would expect from such an endeavour, complete with a classic soundtrack, abstract visuals and a crazy future sci-fi setting, Ulysses 31 can really only be summed up in one sentence, "Only in the 80s…"
As previously mentioned the story is loosely based on The Odyssey by Homer, except set in space… please take as long as you need to allow the full weight of that sentence to sink in…
For those not familiar with this tale (please leave your caves and take your heads out of your …) the basic story is that of Odysseus/Ulysses journey home from the Trojan war to Greece. However he angers the Gods by killing their cyclops and so most partake in many challenges and trials in order to return home to his beloved wife Penelope. Ulysses 31 takes the basic premise of this but changes several things, such as having his son Telacmacus with him rather than at home, being set space, etc. It also incorporates many other classic greek and roman myths, with a futuristic twist of course. Such as the tale of Sisyphus cursed by the gods to roll a bolder up a hill only to have it roll back down every time, (almost as painfully futile as reading many a youtube comment), or crossing paths with such famous deities as the Sphinx or Chronos the God of time. All of this gives the series one of its greatest strengths, its educational value, imparting ancient tales and moral lessons all the while being exciting and and abstractly bizarre, the series really succeeds in what few series even bother to try anymore, to make enlightening entertainment.
Mostly told through episodic stories, Ulysses 31 largely involves Ulysses searching for the route back to earth while trying to escape the many traps set for him by the Gods or help others who are also under the omnipotently oppressive thumb of Zeus. An episodic style like this can often present frustration to the viewer by potentially becoming repetitive or lacking in consequence, however Ulysses 31 manages to find a good balance, incorporating all the individual stories fluently into the main quest of returning home without it becoming cyclical. However some may feel that the story would have been better severed with one or two story arch's, particularly with regard to the end, however this is a small nitpick. For the most part it all works like a swiss clock, granted some episodes are better than others, the adaptation of the story of Calypso being a good example of one of the better episodes, but even the less memorable ones are more than made up for with their visuals and music.
On the topic of the visuals and music, their probably the most endearing aspect of the show, despite being over 30 years old, enough time for any series to lose its lustier, it still looks topnotch. Any fan of hand drawn animation will be pleasantly rewarded for viewing this series. Add to that the fanatically unique and ostentatiously 80s depiction of future space, complete with huge starships, monsters, aliens, weird planets, laser swords (and shields), robots, cyborgs and everything that one has come to expect from sci-fi space adventures and you get a memorable experience to say the least. They say the mark of a good show is whether or not it stays with you, and thanks to some imagination, stark visuals and creative artistry, Ulysses 31 won't soon fall into the void of nothingness where so many bland shows ultimately gather.
The soundtrack to Ulysses 31's is again topnotch and like so much of this show, very much a product of its time. From its kickass opening "Galactic Legend Odyssey" to the awesomely 80s style action music to the quieter more sombre pieces the series really is worth watching for the soundtrack alone, in fact its worth it just to hear that opening 26 times…
Jean Chalopin really is a master of using music to elevate the emotions of his series', something he outdid himself with in Mysterious Cities of Gold but even here we can see the master at work, knowing exactly what to play where and when to bring out the full potential of his creation. They say sound is 60% of any movie or series and thats very much true with regards to Ulysses 31. However listening to some parts of the music one feels that the show was vey much inspired by (blatantly ripped off) the original star wars soundtracks, in fact one can even see this with regard to the visuals (laser swords/lightsaber etc) and some of the nosies the robots make sound very similar (are exactly the same) to R2-D2's famous beep noises. I believe this even led to the series being sued by Lucas Film at one point... C'est la vie.
With all that said however, probably the weakest aspect of the series is its characters, this is an inevitable consequence of the episodic nature of Ulysses 31 but there are also more substantial reasons for it. Ulysses 31 is at its core an adventure series, its not really driven by its characters so much as it is driven by the action and the feeling of a grand quest. In this way the characters are sort of set pieces that never really change or evolve, Ulysses is calm, knowledgeable and badass, he will never lose hope or abandon his friends, he was like that at the beginning and remains so at the end. Interestingly Ulysses greatest weakness from the original Odyssey, his arrogance, is missing from this adaption, 'tis a shame…
The other characters are also pretty much just one trick ponies, Telamacus simply wants to returns to return home and doesn't shut up about it, Yumi simply wants her brother back and doesn't shut up about it, while Nono their robot companion is your standard mildly annoying comic relief that all shows back then were required by international law to have for some unknown reason. Ulysses himself is interesting and awesome enough to enjoy despite the lack of any real growth or interesting faults that would make him relatable but like i said the focus of the series is really on the individual adventures rather than on the characters and in that regard the show works quite well.
To culminate, Ulysses 31 is an fascinating travel through time, ironically not forwards but backwards, to an age when shows were not aimed at any particular age or audience and everyone could come away having enjoyed something from it, to a period when you could make a series that was not only awesome but be a retelling of a 3000 year old Ancient greek poem. Despite its age, or rather thanks to it, the series manages to take its place among some of the best animated classics of the 80s, up there with Mysterious cities of gold, TMNT etc. It has its faults to be sure, but with its creative visuals, funky music and timeless story its one voyage thats earned its tittle as a true odyssey.