Dic Geeks: Ulysses 31 (1981)

DiC Geeks is our weekly-ish podcast in which we journey through the many realms of DiC Entertainment, a company that (for most of the 80s and 90s) was synonymous with both early morning cartoon blocks and generally mediocre animated tripe. This week we venture back to the 80s, when it was perfectly acceptable to place a professional wrestler onto a poorly designed set and call it entertainment.

Ulysses 31 is a greek odyssey-turned-scifi epic produced in 1981, back when the company was called Dic Audiovisuel and Andy Heyward wasn’t in the mix, completely messing everything up. This one takes us back to 1978, wherein the founder of Dic, Jean Chalopin, had contacted a number of Japanese studios in regards to producing a French-Japanese animated series. At the time, Japanese animation was quickly turning into quite the competitor due to their high production values and also in part to the ongoing Star Wars boom at the time, with sci-fi shows such as Space Battleship Yamato being re-edited and released for international viewing. The French, however, were rather unimpressed by it all, reducing it all to “Japanese Silliness”. But Chalopin had an idea. He felt that, by combining forces with the Japanese and working with them to create a cartoon, he could bypass the xenophobia surrounding it all and make something that would sell in both countries.

He decided upon basing the series around Homer’s Odyssey, an epic poem that was penned around the end of the 8th Century BC. The story of the poem takes place a decade after the Trojan War (which was ten years long in itself), where Odysseus has still not returned home after fighting in said war. As it turns out, our pal Ody had been a bit of a silly bugger and had not only blinded Poseidon’s cyclops son Polyphemus, but also told him his name. As a result of that, Poseidon cursed Odysseus to wander the seas for ten years, losing all of his crew in the process. Well, that’s the basic gist that you need to know for this backstory at least. It’s quite long. But I digress. Chalopin transposed elements of this tale in such a way that it became less of a version of the poem and more inspired by it.

Here’s Nono, cheeky fuckhead that he is.

The show stars Ulysses as the main character, whom uses the Latin translation of Odysseus’ name, alongside his son Telemachus. Also included in the main crew are the little robot Nono and Zotrian girl Yumi, who are just kind of there. The story here is roughly the same-ish as the Greek poem – though this time, Ulysses had a reason to blind the cyclops as it had taken away Telemachus for some reason or another. After the ship flies away, Ulysses goes deep into the ships internals to fix the core, as Zeus appears and curses the entire thing to travel space aimlessly whilst almost all the crew are left as lively as stones. Conveniently, they float gently into the cargo hold where they sit happily until they’re needed for plot purposes. Ulysses comes back, panics over the whole no crew thing, finds Telemachus still on the ship, Nono is there because why not aaaand Yumi appears a bit later on in episode one.  Basically, they’re stuck like this forever lest they find the Kingdom of Hades which, as impressive as it sounds, is a bit of a naff looking place.

The show itself was a big hit in France, leading the way to further co-productions between Dic and various other Japanese animation studios, as well as a better cultural appreciation of anime and manga in France. According to Mark’s notes here, it didn’t do especially well in Japan due to it being broadcast on a then-obscure satellite system, TV Asahi. Interestingly, Asahi only broadcast the first 16 episodes. Afterward, it appeared to be broadcast by NHK BS-2, who decided to completely redub the show with different voice actors. Sadly, this show appears to have mostly faded into obscurity, but due to its cult classic status, it got a nice full series DVD publishing by Madman Entertainment.

And for those keeping track at home, here’s the current (not counting this episode) Dic Geeks ranking board!

  1. Where’s Wally?
  2. Inspector Gadget
  3. Dinosaucers
  4. The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!