Wednesday, August 2, 2006

HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE SEASON TWO, VOL. 1

By the time the heroic He-Man made his debut in afternoon syndication, I was too old for cartoons (or so I thought), so I missed out on the whole phenomenon (I kinda liked the Dolph Lundgren movie though). But for those who grew up with the blond-tressed muscleman and his animated adventures, BCI/Eclipse has been steadily unleashing the action figure heroes and villains of Eternia upon the marketplace in pretty nifty, collectible box sets. In fact, I've got HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE SEASON TWO, VOL. 1 (1983) right here on my desk.

Set on the planet Eternia, THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE focuses on mild-mannered Prince Adam and his cowardly green tiger, Cringer. And a bigger pair of losers the galaxy has never seen. Yet, whenever the evil Skeletor and his henchmen threaten the peace of their kingdom, Adam and his pet call upon the magical power of Castle Grayskull and become the heroic, sword-wielding He-Man and armored Battle Cat.

Produced by the notorious Filmation Studios to sell a line of Mattel action figures and accessories, the syndicated weekday afternoon toon was astoundingly popular in the Eighties, spawning a spin-off series for girls (SHE-RA, THE PRINCESS OF POWER), an animated feature film (THE SECRET OF THE SWORD), and even a live-action feature from Cannon Films. Its following included not only young children and toy collectors, but college students as well. Like all Filmation shows, the animation was limited, although colorful and well designed, constantly recycling shots and sequences. As the series was really nothing but a toy commercial, FCC regulations required a certain amount of socially redeeming or educational content, so each episode also had a ham-fisted moral. Yet, there's something appealing about the simplicity of its good vs. evil formula and the endless parade of bizarre characters. I'm not a fan, but I can see how people of a certain generation could still have a nostalgic affection for it, and my best friends' five-year-old loved it when I showed it to him.

BCI/Eclipse has pulled out all the stops with these sets. Each volume includes 30 half-hour episodes spread across six discs, tucked into lavishly illustrated packaging. The episodes – presented in their original 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio – look very good overall, with bright colors and sharp details. There's a fair amount of dust and debris – much of it inherent in the animation processes of the time – but I saw no digital artifacts or major print damage. There's also two new behind-the-scenes documentaries featuring interviews with many of the staff and writers that created the series, three full-length episode commentaries, fifty detailed character profiles, two beautiful comic art cards, and on-screen trivia games.

Like I said, I'm not a HE-MAN sorta guy myself, but I know a lot of people my age or a little younger that have a strong nostalgia for the show. BCI has put together a set that should satisfy any hardcore fan.

BUY: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe - Season Two, Vol. 1