The 1980’s. Home to the era of synth music, fascinations with a technologically-endowed future, complete with robots, space travel, vehicular morphing robots and a touch of magic and mysticism. We know how us 80’s kids must look to outsiders. Head in the (mushroom) clouds, all hopefully optimistic with visions of a fantastical future.
So epic and disturbing were the nemeses of 80’s cartoons, they needed someone to assess the psychological impact of the imagery on children. All balls, belts and brains. None of that soft, kiddy padded playground bullsh*t either. And we were better for it. We almost feel sad for these ‘noughties’ kids.
Secondly, the PC world that governs a lot of what gets made today was near none existent or at least took more time to kick in back in age of synth music
#TAP10 in typical style went on a nostalgic internet journey compelling us to comprise a list of the greatest animated series that the 1980’s ever birthed. So tune your ears to the 1980’s synth, the seizure-inducing flickering light shows and what most likely was an animator’s view of the near future through cocaine-glazed goggles, and get ready for some 80’s OD:
10.) Dungeons and Dragons (1983 – 1985)
MMOPRG was invented in the 70’s. And it was in the form of the Dungeons & Dragons board game. What followed the hype and hysteria was the animation based on the legendary dice shaking, card-slapping board game- Dungeons & Dragons.
In the animation, some unwitting teens enjoy a Dungeons and Dragons roller-coaster ride, that is until they get sucked into a surreal alter-verse where there are real dragons and a one-horned, winged antagonist called Venger. But the teens, Bobby (the Barbarian), Sheila (the Thief), Diana (the Acrobat), Presto (the Magician), Eric (the Cavalier) and Hank (The Ranger) are bestowed with what must be the crappiest weapons in the history of everything.
But I guess when your stuck in a surreal hell and all you want to do is find your way home, you’ll pretty much take what you can get. And that includes the Dungeon Master, the short toad-looking midget who likes to help you on your quest by giving you cryptic clues and dangerous crappy tasks with the promise of reaching home, but usually amounts to a whole lot of nothing.
But nonetheless, it still made for great Saturday morning viewings.
9.) Voltron: Defender Of The Universe (1984 – 1985)
Five team members literally become one and work in cohesion to save the universe. There must have been a whole lot of major trust-falling to get them to that position. I can’t trust my own left are to draw proper when I tell it. To think it started out as an improvised English dub of a Japanese animes GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV licensed by Peter Keefe and John Teichmann. So you could technically say Voltron really didn’t exist.
But there were so many combining robots and machines with engaging / disengaging parts in the 1980’s, honestly I am surprised we can keep track of the very ones on this list. I do however remember the robot had a bad-ass sword and a goddam lion heads for hands and feet. Lion heads! Thats how much 80’s animation said ‘I have no fvcks to give’. Let’s just say by the time all the lion robots interlock to form Voltron, any threat to Earth at least has a half-hour head start. But Voltron has lion hands and feet. Your argument is invalid.
8.) Transformers (1984 – 1987)
Vehicles. Cool. A truck, a car. Nice. Wait, you’re telling me they turn into robots!? Holy crap amaz-balls. Take my money and my blood. Anything you need. That was pretty much me hearing about Transformers for the first time.
Optimus Prime leads the team of Autobots, morphing robots that can turn into a unique vehicle, who lead the fight to protect human beings against the Decepticons, who are also morphing robots that can turn into unique vehicles. You can only tell who’s the good guy by the logos they bare on their chests.
The unique Transformation sound that is iconic to this day, which is similar to the sound of a robot enunciating its vowels. And who can forget Optimus Prime’s war-cry “Roll Out!”. Transformers has been revamped many times over and is still present in our world of entertainment today. Thanks to Michael Bay and the art of
C4 CG animation.
It puzzles me to this day how Star Scream, who so openly dissents against Megatron’s rule, was not kicked out of the Decepticons. That’s why they never win. They need to run a tighter ship.
7.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987 – 1996)
Michelangelo single-handed destroyed the power behind such English words like ‘radical’ and ‘awesome’, changing America’s lexicon forever. Pizza became the go-to party food. Kawabonga was what we screamed while giving our friends flying high-kicks. Turtle power was on the brain.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a bunch of turtles becoming transformed into humanoid-turtle creature thingies when they get exposed to a strange ooze (illegal radiation dump?) and the resultant mutants get trained by the cities biggest sewer rat sensei, Splinter, in the secret martial arts of the Ninja. With the help of the reporter April, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello try to thwart the nefarious plans of
Grater Shredder and Krang.
Considering that the Ninjas are named by a homeless rat who has a penchant for Renaissance artists, the Turtles are pretty handy with their bestowed specialty weapons. Funny that the franchise all started in a comic that chose to parody well-known comic books of the 1980’s including Marvel’s Daredevil and Frank Miller‘s Ronin. Not bad for the radical dudes:
6.) Defenders Of The Earth (1986 – 1987)
King Features Syndicate did the smartest thing ever and chocked 3 of their best comic strip characters into one animation: Flash Gordon, Mandrake the Magician and Phantom. But of course, what’s missing is a bunch of bastard teenage kids of these legendary heroes running around. The Defenders of the Earth go up against Ming the Merciless. The green (Japanese) guy with the Chinese name. And given the source material dating back to the WWI era, you can still get a whiff of that 1940’s ignorant xenophobia seeping through. Not to mention Lothar, the black guy is Mandrake’s bodyguard and L.J. the ‘street-rise’ martial expert. That’s rich.
Nevertheless, Ming had a great presence on screen, with a rather opinionated supercomputer Dynak X that looked like a disco ball on mechanical spider legs. Not to mention the endless supply of ice Octon robots. Flash Gordon, sadly, was not that memorable, when compared to Mandrake’s great illusions and Phantom summoning the strength of 10 tigers, or one huge tiger when he couldn’t bother to count to 10.
Another fun fact, the battle for earth is in 2015, so expect blizzards and evil green Ming The Merciless and his Octon army parading down your street in the new year.
5.) The Real Ghostbusters (1986 – 1991)
I remembered freaking out over the concept of Slimer. Was he a ghost? A mix between jello, slime that gel toothpaste that tends to make more mess than it cleans? In any case, the supernatural events that would terrify us normal folk are just another day in the office for the Ghostbusters, a bunch of parapsychologist that deal with paranormal phenomenon, capturing all manor of ghouls and spirits and locking them away in some big chamber in their HQ’s basement. Well that’s safe. The fact they keep a paranormal entity known as Slimer in their HQ and employ is proof they don’t stand by their logo. But they did manage to channel the creepy fairly well. I remember feeling slightly uncomfortable watching an episode or two.
With New York being such a strange place, Dr. Peter Venkman, Dr. Egon Spenglerm Dr. Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore, with the help of their saucy secretary Janine Melnitz had no problems finding work ridding the world of the odd and supernatural. But everything else is fodder up to the point they threw out those little extension cord boxes and zapped evil spirits with those energy guns that always for some reason reminded me of car batteries. In any case, they kinda started to lose the plot a bit when the animation started focussing around Slimer, but holistically, its still a great watch.
4.) Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors (1985)
This was also one for the ages. Back home I mesmerised as usual by the bad guys, particularly Saw Boss. He would do this thing while on his throne and with a booming voice would teleport a whole damn building across space. “By the power of the dark light, take me to the planet of Jayce’s doom!” WHAT!? Do you know how powerful you would have to be to do some badass metaphysical feat like that!?
So, quick breakdown. Jayce and his team, the Lightning League, travels across the universe in a ship that looks like space ship that was designed by Blackbeard. They have a great enemy that spreads across the galaxies, infesting whole planets and systems. Plants. Yeah, literally they are fighting plants. Plants that grow vines like tentacles in the vacuum of space, spawn vehicle-transforming plant monsters called Monster Minds (yeah, I know, everyone was high back then). Oh, did we mention the Monster Minds were unwittingly invented by Jayce’s dad to begin with, as a means of dealing with a food shortage? Definitely not a promo video for GMO rice or any other GMO-plant produce.
But Jayce and the Wheeled Warrior animation was certainly not Greenpeace-friendly either, as technology is constantly seen triumphing over evil nature and their stupid photosynthesis. Who needs that? And with the fate of the world in the palm of a teenage, what could possibly go wrong?
3.) Silverhawks (1986)
All you had to do was wait for that shrill cry of Tallyhawk and everything that preoccupied your mind as a child dissappeared into nothingness. Possibly the best animated title sequence only second to Thundercats, the Rankin / Bass animation brought us into the world of galactic law keeping. A team of law men and women get placed into a Nazi-esque experimental program where they volunteer to have much of their bodies swapped for metal and mechanical bodies. We kid you not.
The result is Captain Quicksilver and his
butchered partly metal, partly real team help to police and bring order to the Galaxy of Limbo. They’ve got their work cut out for them in the form of criminals who all work for Monstar. And by far, Monstar is one of the most menacing badguys of the 80’s. He literally transforms into a spiky armoured diva whenever he bathes in what must have been Krypton’s biggest UV tanning lamp. Truly gruesome stuff. They don’t make bad guys like this anymore:
2.) G-Force: Guardians of Space (1986)
The animation was superb, following the adventures of 5 teenaged fighters called the Gatchaman / G-Force: Ace Goodheart, Dirk Daring, Agatha June (Aggie), Pee Wee, and Hoot Owl (Hooty). They’re on our side, protecting the world from he evil aliens Galactor and Computor, along with their armies of androids and giant monster machines. What do they want. Nothing less than world domination.
Gatchaman introduced me to so many things that I love about animation, transforming machines, the bad-ass, hot tempered number 2 who would give his left nut to be number 1 (I’m looking at you Dirk), and the bad guys are all about hierarchy. Not to mention the subordinates that get taken out for failure like throwing out the trash. And what about that Galactor… blessed with the height of a dude, but with the lips of a goddess. Thanks for the gender confusion. Awesome animation that had a great pace and energy.
1.) Thundercats (1985 – 1989)
With what has to be considered the greatest animated opening to a series ever, Thundercats was a show that anyone born in the 80 intrinsically knows about. If not, you are not human, and should be probed.
The royal Thundercats that escape their dying world amidst being attacked by Mutants of Plun-Darr. boom, You already have a Superman-esque story with a little biblical Moses. Most of the Thundercats escaping fleet is destroyed they escape to Third Earth and build a new home on the strange alien planet that’s home to the evil Mumm-ra. Egyptian mummy. Red eyes, bandages, definitely creepy.
The thing with this animation, in re-watching it in my older years is how funny and weird it gets at times. For one thing, the Eye of Thundera is mystical stone in the hilt of his mystical sword that can be used to give Lion-O “sight beyond sight”, a look through space, distance and time. Also, it’s a Batsignal. But for cats. Catsignal.
But in one of the first episodes Lion-O practically used Eye Of Thundera to sense danger that was literally right in front of him.
Then there is the whole phallic imagery of a young Lion-O not being able to handle his ‘sword’, not getting it to ‘extend’ when he wanted it to. On his traveling with the other Thundercats through lightyears of space in hyperbolic sleeping chambers, Lion-O’s chamber was the only one that got damaged, causing him to age from a young boy to a grown man when he wakes up from hyper-sleep. So essentially (sorry to spoil it for you), Lion-O is a twelve year old in a man’s body. Kinda makes that sexual tension between him and Cheetarah a little bit weird.
And who could forget Mumm-Ra, the mystical leather-faced incarnation of evil, who, with a super incantation could transform his decaying body into the musclebound “Mumm-Ra the Ever-living”. He was undoubtedly the scariest of all cartoon characters I have ever encountered. Key Mumm-Ra transformations. All of them:
Ah, the nostalgia. The 1980’s were the era of great things. Animation being one of them. Animators weren’t lazy and had all the time in the world to create awesome lithe-filled renders. And while there are many more that could have made our awesome super list, it truly comes down to what links you to fond childhood memories. That’s what makes 1980’s animations great. Mystical powers, computer machines, exploration and weapons. That all we need for an after-school special to keep us preoccupied.
Now we are not saying it was all good. Some were quite cheesy. Hell, some 80’s animations were quite bad and distasteful. Come on. Who would entrust the world to a bunch of teenagers? Nowadays, if I see more than 5 teenagers together, I get visions of Warriors looking to start trouble. And yes, that was another 80’s reference. And I remember when I was a teen. If you ever were hoping that someone like me in my teen years would save the world, well the million plus population would be up for muy disappointment.
But at least the creators were treading new ground. Trying new things, exploring new fantastical narratives. Not much can be said for many animated series nowadays, particularly in Western circles. But hey, when the supply is low for entertainment, the 80′ animated classics are a DVD away.
What can I say? I’m an 80’s kid.