The 80s was a time for neon makeup, New Romantics, and, most importantly, Saturday morning cartoons. For hours every weekend children were glued to their televisions to watch the unfolding adventures of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Care Bears, and Thundercats. Toy companies boomed and parents despaired as theme tunes played on repeat and children picked their favorite turtle and played pretend.
There are so many iconic cartoons from the 80s that not all of them are remembered today. Many strange, funny, and exciting entries into the annuls of animation have dipped into obscurity over time, but some of the best cartoons of the 80s should be launched back into the spotlight for another well-deserved watch.
Running for 75 episodes between 1985 and 1986, MASK followed a special task force imbued with superpowers from the helmets they wore. MASK was an acronym for Mobile Armored Strike Kommand and the team clashed with the villainous VENOM (Vicious Evil Network Of Mayhem). There was no deep plot to MASK – characters with names like Matt Trakker and Miles Mayhem fought against each other in high-powered vehicles in an adventure of the week format.
VENOM were typical villains, money-hungry and determined to put an end to MASK, but the key to the success of the show was the action sequences and style and also in the use of boy genius Scott Trakker and his robotic companion T-Bob who often acted as comic relief.
With the strength of a bear, speed of a puma, eyesight of a hawk, and hearing of a wolf, Marshal BraveStarr patrols the planet of New Texas with the help of his deputy Thirty/Thirty a cybernetic talking horse. BraveStarr keeps the residents of New Texas safe from the villains that resides in the fortress known as Hexagon and that are led by Stampede who appears to be a partly decomposing Broncosaur. Stampede commands his villains, including the excellent Tex Hex, in an effort to get rid of BraveStarr and run the planet of New Texas.
With a catchy theme tune, truly great character design, and its delivery of a moral message at the end of every episode, BraveStarr was quintessential viewing for those that loved cowboys, dinosaurs, and aliens. With its mixture of futuristic and old west aesthetics, BraveStarr was a unique series.
With characters called D’Compose, Tendril, and Metlar, Inhumanoids was a frightening show for kids. These three kaiju were accidentally released to wreak havoc on the world, and it is up to the Earth Corps to recapture them and stop their path of destruction. The reason for the show being so frightening was Inhumanoid D’Compose, who could turn another living creature into a monstrous, decomposing slave with simply a touch.
Aided by villain Blackthorne Shore, the Inhumanoids get their hands on nuclear weapons while the Earth Corps teams up with other newly discovered species known as Mutores that have different offshoots such as sentient tree-folk the Redwoods. Battles rage under the surface of the Earth and hordes of the undead mutated soldiers of D’Compose are set in motion to detonate the Earth’s core. Frightening and drawing inspiration from early Godzilla movies, Inhumanoids was a unique but unfortunately short-lived series.
In Jayce and The Wheeled Warriors, teenager Jayce heads the Lightning League in a search for his missing botanist father Audric. Coming up against them at every turn is the Monster Minds headed by Saw-Bones. The Monster Minds are plant based mutations accidentally created by Audric who strives to take over the universe and plant their roots wherever they can. Audric managed to create a root that could destroy the Monster Minds but had to split it in two and disappear with half of it when the mutants besieged his lab.
Joining Jayce are his sister Flora, Herc Stormsailor, Gillian and Oon. Flora is also the product of Audrics’ experiments and has a unique link to plants, Herc is a typical tough guy type and Gillian is a space wizard. Oon rounds out the team by being a tiny knight carrying a huge lance. The Lightning League and Monster Minds battle in hybrid plant-machine vehicles across the galaxy. Unfortunately there was no resolution to the show as the planned movie was never filmed but the mix of fun characters and entertaining premise deserves to be revived.
With one of the greatest theme tunes in animation history, Ulysses 31 combined ancient Greek mythology and futuristic space travel in a way that created something fresh and new for Saturday morning cartoons. Ulysses and his crew have been cursed by Zeus to travel the universe until they find the Kingdom of Hades as punishment for Ulysses killing a cyclops to free enslaved children that included his son. Part of the punishment is that much of his crew remain frozen, and his mission is to find Hades to re-animate them and return to Earth.
With a fusion animation style that mixed Japanese and European styles, Ulysses 31 looked unlike almost anything at the time. The story was sad, poignant and filled with re-imaginings of many mythological figures. Unlike many short-lived shows of the time, Ulysses 31 actually received a resolution in its 26th and final episode, when they finally find the Kingdom of Hades.