Ulysses 31 35th Anniversary Review
It’s entirely possible that you’ve never heard of “Ulysses 31”, the French-Japanese anime series celebrating the 35th Anniversary of its UK TV premiere this week, but for this then 11-year-old “Star Wars” fan, still pining the loss of “Battle Of The Planets” and high on the fumes of the classic Ray Harryhausen tales of Greek Myths such as “Jason And The Argonauts” and “Clash Of The Titans”, this sci-fi space opera reinterpretation of Homer’s “The Odyssey” was the nectar of the Gods.
Drawing on French and Japanese animation styles, which strongly embrace ancient Greek design, “Ulysses 31” was a single season 26-episode loose adaptation of the epic poem chronicling Odysseus’ long journey home following the end of the Trojan War.
This time, it is the 31st century. When Ulysses kills the giant cyclops while rescuing the captured children and his son Telemachus, the ancient Gods of Olympus grow angry. Sentencing Ulysses to travel among unknown stars they further punish him by turning the rest of his crew, apart from his son and Yumi, an alien from the planet Zotra into lifeless statues until he can find the kingdom of Hades.
The cast of characters is rounded out by Shirka, the Odyssey’s main computer and Nono, a small robot (you know), a gift from Ulysses to Telemachus on his birthday. Our intrepid band search for a way back to Earth, encountering all of the major plot points of the 2800-year-old source material, albeit in reimagined mecha-sci-fi form. The drugged-up Lotus Eaters, Circe, Calypso, the Sirens, Scylla and Charybdis all get a look in and there’s even time enough for ‘cameos’ from other Greek myths, such as the Minotaur and even the riddle of the Sphinx. The whackiest episode of all, though, is one where our 31st century heroes find themselves hurled back in time to meet the ancient Greek counterparts.
Where “Ulysses 31” really scores, though, is in the non-Greek Myths sources it turns to for ‘inspiration’. “Star Wars” is a huge influence, of course, with Ulysses’ weapon of choice a combination laser sword and blaster which predates Ezra Bridger’s by decades. The Odyssey herself has more than a few echoes of the Liberator from TV’s “Blake’s 7” while the combat shuttlecraft with their combining and separating functionality evoke fond memories of G-Force’s Phoenix.
The animation is very much of its age and may look archaic and hokey to modern eyes but back then, this was a dazzling series of 22-minute classical sci-fi epics with the most astonishing soundtrack you’ve ever heard in a kids’ cartoon series. A heady cocktail of prog-rock and classical pieces – again sailing a little too close to “Star Wars” saw the series sued by Lucasfilm, nothing defines the series as well as its sensational opening titles and theme song, once heard, never forgotten – even if Zeus himself wanted to wipe it from your memory banks.
It’s hard to find nowadays, although you can rent the series on DVD through Cinema Paradiso here in the UK, this underrated and near-forgotten classic of Eurasian early eighties animation is still great fun and – refreshingly for its era – was designed to tell a story, not sell a pre-existing toy range. Still not convinced? Check out this title sequence and tell you can’t wait to watch this epic!