The Mysterious Cities of Gold – Season 2
Remember the Mysterious Cities of Gold? Of course you do, at least anyone born between 1970 and 1984 will. It was a truly epic cartoon series, a joint Franco-Japanese production that was intended to be part action series, part historical lecture. Come on, you remember the intro:
“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.”
Well now, 30 years after the original aired in France, there’s a new series.
I was, am, and always will be, a massive fan of the original. I’d almost forgotten about it until an incident six years ago when I got into a forum battle with a guy over what was the best kids’ TV show ever. This degenerated into us posting title sequences from YouTube, with me resorting to the Mysterious Cities of Gold and basically paralysing myself with nostalgia when I heard the theme tune for the first time in two decades. So when it was released in its entirety on DVD the following year I simply HAD to have it! And the show was easily as good as I remember: a dramatic, overarching storyline about lost civilizations that would have kept my childhood self on the edge of my seat for all 39 weeks; beautiful animation that included rotoscoped backgrounds and skies (Hayao Miyazaki was rumoured to have worked on the show); and of course hugely impressive action sequences.
So, the question is: is this new series any good? Does it maintain the spirit of adventure of the original or just crap all over its memory? Well…
The first two episodes certainly leaned in the direction of the former. Straight away we get a new, hooded villain called Zares who locks his Mayan guide in a temple tomb to starve to death, just because. We find Mendoza and compatriots Sancho and Pedro locked up after returning to Barcelona on Zares’ orders, facing execution until busted out by Esteban, Tao and Ziya who need Mendoza’s help interpreting a map they found in the tomb Zares had been trying to rob. With help from a local tavern owner the six make their way out of the city and head for the Far East, apparently with Zares’ blessing…
The problem is that this dramatic pace isn’t maintained. We get bogged down in tedious mooching around China, Mongolia and Tibet; a big reset button gets pushed at the end of most episodes; and most telling of all, apart from the guide in the first episode, nobody dies. This is clearly the series betraying its lack of Japanese input. In the original (as in a lot of anime) people dropped like flies: Spanish Conquistadors plummeted to their deaths from a bridge; Mayans were vaporised wholesale; you get the picture. In this series every archer seems to have studied at the Imperial Stormtrooper School of Marksmanship and Mendoza is capable of out-fencing anyone on the planet but elects to show mercy every time. There are a few nice twists and turns in the plot but the entire lack of any identifiable form of peril just makes them seem pointless. No matter what happens, you just know that since nobody dies in this series there will be no lasting harm. Even a huge argument between two of the main characters blows over within a couple of episodes and normal service is resumed.
On the plus side the animation is wonderful, if not recapturing the epic quality of the original (I blame cell shading); the characterisation light-years ahead of virtually any other kids’ TV show; at least one of the plot twists is truly jaw-dropping; and the stereotypically 80s comedy sidekicks are much, much less annoying than feared. While not as good as the original, there is still a lot to love here and I am looking forward to the anticipated Series 3.
3.5 out o 5 Nerds