Rich (Webmaster)

Based on: Most of the series

UK Distributor:  Fox Kids (DVD)

I can imagine the pitch.  ‘We want to do the story of The Odyssey, y’know, that old Greek story where Odysseus (or Ulysses if you prefer the Roman name) tries to get home from the Trojan Wars.  It’s a classic, it would make a great series, we’d do it is a cartoon and we’d work with the Japanese cos they're good at animation.’
‘Sounds interesting, what would be the attraction for modern kids though?’
‘Well, firstly we’d do it in space and Ulysses – who we kind of think would look a bit like a cross between Jesus and Barry Gibb – would have a blue girl and a small red robot with him!’

It makes you wonder what the executives at DIC were on when they agreed to an idea like that, however we should be glad they did agree as the result was one of the most memorable series from the 1980’s.  The story is simple: Spaceship Captain Ulysses defies the Gods and kills the giant robot Cyclops to rescue his son.  As punishment the furious Zeus casts his ship into deep space and wipes navigation data from its computer, on top of this he puts the crew into a deep sleep which will only be broken if Ulysses can bring them to the Kingdom of Hades.

Combining a classic story with the gung-ho space adventures popular at the time (aspects of Japanese series like Space Battleship Yamato and American series like Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica are very apparent), Ulysses 31 proved popular with children and adults alike.

Nowadays the animation looks a little ropey and unfortunately the storylines were sometimes predictable (usually ending up with Ulysses having to save his impetuous son, Telemechus), but as a whole the series is by no means bad.

Design-wise Ulysses 31 is awesome, the ships and costumes have an excellent futuristic feel as well as a sense of practicality and, despite some obvious liberties being taken, Greek mythology is also handled well.  The supernatural aspects of the legend transmit very well to a sci-fi setting, with the Gods represented as omnipotent intergalactic creatures and the story is cleverly adapted to be more accessible.

To be perfectly honest this won’t be to everybody’s taste.  As with many Japanese/European co-productions you get the impression that the story has had to be kiddyfied for a Western audience (in Ulysses this takes the form of an annoying comic relief robot and a demure alien girl), which may put some people off.  Others may find the combination of Sci-Fi and mythology a bit contrived, and be put off by a cheesy hero that looks like he escaped from the Bee Gees.  If you look beyond that you will find an intelligent and interesting Science Fiction with some great swashbuckling action that unlike many cartoons has a beginning and an end.

Although not the greatest series ever created, Ulysses 31 is clever and enjoyable with a more depth than you would expect.  Admittedly it is a bit cheesy and there are a lot of aspects designed to appeal to kids but as long as you don’t find that too distracting you have a series that is well worth a look.

Best Bit:  The opening theme, all together now ‘Ulysseeee-eeee-eees no one else can do the things you do…’.

Worst Bit:  When Ulysses says ‘No Telemechus, it’s far too dangerous!’ as this means it will be a rescue episode.

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