Produced by DiC Entertainment, released 1981, available on YouTube
Classic Literature IN SPAAAAAAAAACE
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, classic literature was BIG in Japan, especially in anime. The World Masterpiece Theater was a big success in Japan and abroad. Likewise, In the Beginning: The Bible Stories was broadcast in most every country. As such, it was only natural that other studios would follow suit, trolling through classic literature, until somebody arrived at the story of Ulysses.
Now, Ulysses 31 is not the first time anime will look to Greek Myth for inspiration. But this version of the Odyssey is set in the 31st Century, with all the robots, laser swords, and other trappings you might expect from such a tale.
Ulysses is on his way back home in his magnificent space ship when his son gets abducted by the Cyclops, which is a giant robot because why wouldn’t it be. Ulysses destroys the cyclops, freeing his son and his new found friend Yumi, but doing so engenders the wrath of the gods (for some reason), who curse Ulysses’ crew to a lifeless (and strangely floating) sleep until Ulysses can find Hades and return home to earth.
The next 24 episodes are ‘planet of the week’ adventures, where each planet is a new problem, a new scenario, and some new way the Gods try to mess with Ulysses. He always comes out ahead, of course, until he finally arrives at Hades in the final episode and (spoiler alert) arrives safely home.
Story – 3 out of 5
Nothing worth writing home about. The tale of Ulysses is a fine story, don’t get me wrong, but this depiction of Ulysses is a little flat and uninspired. Some episodes are really good (the episode with Sisyphus is especially moving), while others are pretty trite. There are no truly outstanding episodes, but nothing that glaringly disrupts the feel of the show, either.
Art – 4 out of 5
The art is pretty good for the era. It clearly takes its cues from some more famous anime series (the lion helmets Ulysses and Telemachus wear are especially familiar-looking), but is overall quite good. Ulysses and his crew maintain a pretty consistent set of powers, ships, looks, and their villains can be quite unique-looking.
Animation – 3 out of 5
The animation is a little uninspired, but on the good side. Fights are a little disappointing with usually repeated movements again and again, but it’s a far cry better than many of its peers (I’m looking at you, He-Man).
Characters – 2 out of 5
The characters are almost nonexistent. Ulysses in this series is barely given any depth and what humanity he has comes from his voice actor. The same is true for Yumi and Telemachus. The characters they visit from planet to planet have more character, and even then, they’re often flat one-dimensional sorts. A few outstanding characters exist (again, Sisyphus), but they’re rare.
Acting – 2 out of 5
I listened to the American dub and it was pretty poor. The actors tried and did okay, but the technology and demands of the time just made it too stiff.
Overall – 3 out of 5
This one is pretty decent, but will really only appeal to animation buffs, classic literature buffs, or those really jonesing for some 1980s-era anime. It’s okay, but its niche appeal was small back when it first aired and that’s almost certainly dwindled since then. Still, if you’re in the market for a fun reimagining of a classic character, give it a try.