Mike Young Productions/Dong Woo Animation – Korea (2003), BCI (May 27, 2008), 3 discs, 286 mins plus supplements, 1.78:1 ratio, Dolby Digital Stereo, Rated TV-Y7, Retail: $26.98
A teenage boy transforms into the most powerful man in the universe in order to fight the forces of evil.
The Sweatbox Review:
I missed the first He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe cartoon craze, when Filmation put out their landmark cartoon in 1983 to tie in with the Mattel toy line that had launched in 1981. Actually, I do recall reading the Masters Of The Universe story that appeared as an insert in DC Comics just before the cartoon came out, but other than that, I have no real recollection of ever having known too much about the characters. It has been somewhat fascinating, however, to do research on He-Man for this review, seeing as how there have been a few incarnations now. Even disregarding the comics and mini-comics, the live action movie, and the various toy waves, we can look at the three different cartoon series. Filmation’s series was a huge success for them, and led to their teaming with Mattel to develop the She-Ra toy line and cartoon show in 1985. Of course, success in the toy and cartoon businesses is often fleeting, as kids move on to the next hot thing, and Filmation never again enjoyed the success they had with the Mattel properties. Their subsequent show Ghostbusters never really caught fire, and Bravestarr proved to be something of a financial disaster.
Mattel found a new partner in 1990, as they teamed with DiC to bring out The New Adventures Of He-Man, a concept that owed more to science fiction than sword-and-sorcery-type fantasy, and left most of the previous characters behind. That cartoon lasted for its initial 65-episode order, which was enough to help sustain a few waves of toys, though nothing to compare to what had happened in the 1980s.
And this brings us to the last (to date) cartoon incarnation, 2002’s He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe, a production of Mike Young Productions. Using designs from toy designers The Four Horsemen (formerly of McFarlane Toys), the new series was much more faithful to the old show. It was essentially a reboot, made with a 21st century sensibility, and using animation more impressive than what Filmation could muster. I was amused when I find out that the toys had been designed by former McFarlane employees, as my initial reaction from watching the show was, “this is how Image Comics would have done it back in the Nineties.” The highly detailed characters very nearly suffer from over-design, the action is intense, and the stories are unfortunately simple even if they remain somewhat enjoyable. At no time does one forget that this is a cartoon based on a toy line, though the spirit of Filmation is still present, in the form of how the stories attempt to portray positive virtues, with lessons to learn for younger viewers.
Unlike the 1990 He-Man show, this one sticks pretty close to the premise of the original. Prince Adam of Eternia has been granted powers by The Sorceress (via a magic sword), to transform into He-Man, a powerful champion against the forces of evil. His greatest foe is Skeletor, who wishes to seize the power contained within Castle Grayskull, which is where Adam’s father King Randor rules. Skeletor has several minions of varying degrees of reliability. Among the most useful are the witch Evil-Lyn and the inventor Tri-Klops, while such underlings as Beast Man, Mer-Man, Whiplash, and Clawful leave much to be desired. Some of the details from here on are a bit newer, as He-Man’s long-time allies here are actually known as The Masters Of The Universe, including Man-At-Arms, his daughter Teela, bird-like Stratos, Man-E-Faces, and others. Adam himself is no longer cowardly, but instead is presented as a bit of a slacker teen, no doubt to make him more relatable to viewers.
This set has two discs containing the final 13 episodes of the show’s first season, plus a third disc of extras. Selecting an episode from the main menu brings you to an episode menu that offers scene selections (two episodes also have options for audio commentaries).
Underworld – The king wants his son Adam to take affairs of state more seriously, so he brings him on a diplomatic mission to Subternia. At the same time, by a wild coincidence, Skeletor plans an assault on Castle Grayskull from below, which brings his forces into direct conflict with He-Man. Adam learns a strong lesson on leadership, and his admiration for his father grows.
The Monster Within – Skeletor tires of his evil minion’s wasted efforts against He-Man, and he hires two bounty hunters to do him in. The Evil Warriors, however, plan to turn the tables against the bounty hunters, while the bounty hunters’ own squabbling makes them just as inept as the Evil Warriors. By the end of the episode, a new Evil Warrior named Two-Bad is born.
The Mystery Of Anwat Gar – He-Man and Man-At-Arms fail in their mission to keep the legendary legacy stones away from Skeletor. Both He-Man and Skeletor gain truly ridiculous battle outfits and have a big fight, and Sy-Klone— who has the coolest design of all the characters— joins the Masters team.
Roboto’s Gambit – Tri-Klops tries to prove the worth of his miniature Bone Monsters to Skeletor by attacking the Royal Palace. Though Teela disregards the attempts of a chess-playing robot to help during the siege, Roboto rebuilds himself larger to gain her attention and puts his strategy to defeat the advancing army into effect.
Trust – Following a prison break at the castle, the Masters decide to seek a stronger metal, called Eternium. Stratos goes to the Ice Mountains, where Trap Jaw confronts him. When they both get into trouble, they have to work together in order to survive.
Orko’s Garden – The impish, magical Master Orko tries his best to tend to the Castle gardens, but loses patience and seeks the help of Mossman. Instead, Orko takes seeds from Evil Seed, and those seeds threaten to consume Castle Grayskull.
Buzz-Off’s Pride – Buzz-Off is embarrassed by being beaten in battle by three giants. When the other Masters later have to fight the giants over control of a powerful crystal, Buzz-Off’s desire for revenge against the giants threatens to take away his judgement and endangers the other Masters.
Snake Pit – Things get much more interesting here as we learn more of the history of Eternia. This is my single favorite episode on the set, as it gives way more depth to the story at hand, finally making the world of the characters feel “lived in.” Kobra Khan escapes custody from the Masters, and travels to Snake Mountain, a sort of ancestral home that is now the residence of Skeletor. Skeletor thinks Khan shall work with him, but Khan is only interested in releasing more Snake Men and King Hiss from a void in the mountain. The episode single-handedly redeems the whole set, while setting up the main storyline for Season Two.
The Island – Clawful’s cousin leaks word of Man-At-Arms’ visit to his old teacher at a remote location, and Skeletor plans an ambush.
The Sweet Smell Of Victory – A lab accident with minor criminal Odiphus in Tri-Klops’ lab leads to his transformation into the very smelly Stinkor. Never one to pass up an opportunity, Skeletor hopes to use the foul stink emitted from the new Evil Warrior to wage a new invasion attempt on Castle Grayskull. Meanwhile, Roboto must overcome a crisis of confidence in order to aid in the battle.
Separation – Two-Bad tries to separate his warring halves, but his/their poor understanding of the potential magical remedy endangers the entire planet. The creation of the Dark Hemisphere is revealed in another interesting history lesson.
The Council Of Evil – Part 1 – The Evil Warriors are ambushed by the Masters in an apparently sloppy move by their boss Skeletor. Of course, Skeletor planned their capture all along, and delights in the fact that the Masters go on vacation, leaving the kingdom relatively unprotected. Skeletor prepares to send his new Evil Warriors, made up of other bad guys seen on the show, to conquer Castle Grayskull.
The Council Of Evil – Part 2 – In the season-ending cliff-hanger, He-Man is captured by Skeletor, the other Masters are also prisoner, the original Evil Warriors gain a surprising ally, and all heck is about to break loose as the siege on Castle Grayskull begins…
Between Snake Pit and the final two-parter, the series was just starting to get interesting. Too bad it ends with a “To Be Continued,” but I’m certainly game to find out what happens next. Overall, though, the series does function as an extended toy commercial, and as much as I can appreciate the strong efforts of the writers and artists, they are still saddled with some pretty silly characters with little more than one-dimensional characterization. At least the animation is fairly impressive, for a show of this type. Younger males probably still like this sort of thing, but otherwise this is for the nostalgia crowd.
Is This Thing Loaded?
The only extras on the first two discs are Audio Commentaries. The one for Orko’s Garden discusses how the writers choose story directions, and how they develop both individual stories and the longer story arcs. The commentary for Snake Pit talks about building a backstory for the characters’ world, and incorporating old characters into the new show. The third disc also offers the same commentaries with a video mode that shows the participants as well as animatics and the final show in three separate windows. These Animatics may also be seen in their entirety separately, as well as the full-length animatic for The Island.
Behind The Scenes (8:14) offers up footage of the voice actors outside and during recording sessions. The most interesting part is seeing Cam Clarke go between Prince Adam’s and He-Man’s voices while he records the show’s opening. Galleries includes bios for all the show’s villains, production art featuring the villains, and backgrounds.
All scripts for these episodes are available by placing the third disc into your computer’s DVD drive.
If there is a place where this set truly shines, it is in the packaging department. While major studios dump their cartoon DVDs into the marketplace with nothing to wear but a standard keepcase, BCI makes their He-Man sets look like a million bucks. A nicely illustrated digipack comes with a clear slipcover to give that “cel” look that I always love with animation DVDs. The artwork on the cover, digipack, and DVDs all follow a “villains” theme, nicely in keeping with how BCI have managed other second volumes in multi-volume sets. Even to someone who is not a He-Man devotee, seeing this package made me excited to break inside and watch the discs.
Even before getting to the discs, however, I marvelled at the spiffy, factoid-filled episode guide (although it does list one page incorrectly as having Disc Two contents instead of Disc One), art cards by Joshua Middleton and Sean Galloway, and an ad insert for a King Grayskull action figure.
Ink And Paint:
The video transfers are nearly flawless, offering a minimum of shimmering and perfect prints. Best of all, the series’ episodes are presented in full, anamorphic widescreen transfers. The colors “pop” nicely, showing off the dynamic animation and elaborate backgrounds to good effect.
The stereo sound is fairly standard for a modern-day TV cartoon, giving the listener plenty to enjoy, without being nearly as impressive as a theatrical feature.
There is no denying that this is a fun, well-done show, but it is typically shallow in keeping with its toy tie-in lineage. The conflicts are simple, the characterizations are likewise simplistic, and the moral lessons are obvious. It is a perfect action show for teens and (mostly, I’m assuming) boys, but adult cartoon buffs may find the show lacking enough depth to make it all worthwhile. A couple of episodes make things interesting, but just as things improve, it ends with a cliffhanger. I wouldn’t mind seeing the resolution on the next DVD set, as well as its promise of a more interesting story arc concerning the Snake Men, so it was nice to get an introduction on this set. BCI makes this an easier set to love, too, with nice supplements and terrific packaging. This is a good set for collectors and those who are already fans.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?