I had no idea my childhood was incomplete. Years ago I kept running into this show that a lot of people said was one of the best 80s cartoons. How can that be, I have seen the really big ones… or so I thought. And to my gleeful astonishment, it counts as an anime as well. A co-production of DiC (many favorite memories from this company) and Studio Pierrot, this 1982 show aired in France and Japan, on the NHK no less. Later it would be dubbed in English and shown in England and North America, but alas I did not have Nickelodeon (no cable TV at my house). I may have missed my chance back then, but thanks to the internet and DVD I would get to travel back to the 16th century to discover the awesomeness of The Mysterious Cities of Gold.
Que that classic soundtrack by Shuki Levy (the Mozart of 80s cartoon themes) because we are about to embark on a great adventure. Young Esteban, an orphan boy in the care of a Spanish priesthood, who has this mysterious power to bring about the sun, stows away on a ship bound for the ‘new world’ of South America. Envious of the sailor’s travels, Esteban learns his family lineage is from this area of the world. Aided by Mendoza, a man who saved Esteban from drowning years ago while in the Atlantic Ocean, Esteban begins his quest for adventure. While on board he would meet an Incan girl named Zia, who is held prisoner as she is said to know how to find the illustrious cities of gold. Eventually the ship is wrecked and Esteban, Mendoza, Zia with Mendoza’s lackies Sancho and Pedro wash up on shore to eventually meet a native boy of the Hiva (or Mu) people, Tao. Together they search the vast expanse of South and Central America searching for these ‘mysterious’ cities of gold, evading the Spanish, meet natives, try to locate the missing family members of Esteban and Zia and find two great treasures: an awesome sailing ship and a golden condor. I want to sign up for this trip!
How did I miss out on this? I loved many of DiC’s productions (and for many I still do). A majority of them were tied to toy lines, but not this one. Based loosely on Scott O’Dells’ The King’s Fifth, the only thing this show had to sell was the story. Getting back to DiC, I see many similarities between The Mysterious Cities of Gold and other shows. Esteban looks like a miniature Jayce from Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (one of my all time favorites). His hair is similar (missing the white streak), he wears a medallion and his costume is very close. And Mendoza looks very similar to Herc from Jayce as well. Also the group dynamic is similar to again Jayce and another early collaboration with Japan, Ulysses 31, but each show has their own chemistry. So we have a new take on a familiar formula. I like it.
My only gripe is that as the show progresses, it goes from a period piece to a more sci-fi affair, particularly with the appearance of the Olmecs. Since when are the Olmecs bad guys, I mean we don’t know much about this ancient group. Why turn them in alien like trolls? Besides this minor issue (and trust me it is only minor), it is a solid paced serial adventure that grows each episode as you continue on. Will our cast find all the cities of gold? Can Mendoza be trusted? Is the abundance of gold the real treasure? And how come this ‘new world’ is more ancient than the ‘old world’ of Europe and such? Atlantis perhaps? That remains to be seen. Also don’t forget to catch the the mini documentaries that aired at the end of each episode. WAIT, we have an educational element as well? How many more boxes can this show check off on the list of being ‘most awesome’?
Shows come and go, but legends never die. And shows that depict historical setting are more interesting than the real thing… occasionally. For The Mysterious Cities of Gold this rule can apply…“Goodbye, till next time”
Like Future Boy Conan? Need a recommendation? How about…
Ulysses 31 (1981)
A production between DiC and TMS adapting Homer’s The Odyssey and other ancient Greek myths into a space sci-fi adventure.
Future Boy Conan (1982)
Hayao Miyazaki’s beloved TV series about a post apocalyptic world and a boy who heres the call to his own adventure.
Castle in the Sky (1986)
A Studio Ghibli film about a great adventure between a boy, a girl, a pendant and a mysterious floating island.