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I’m sure many of you will remember the phenomenally successful Masters of the Universe toys from the early eighties, not to mention the equally successful cartoon based on the line. Kids all over the country would rush home to catch the latest adventures of He-Man (the most powerful man in the universe), Man-At-Arms, Teela, and comic sidekick Orko as they battled the evil forces of Skeletor. Now, thanks to the folks at Contender Entertainment, nostalgia freaks such as myself have the opportunity to revisit this childhood favourite courtesy of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Volume One.

By the power of Grayskull!!!
Episodes
Contender apparently plan to release all of the episodes of the cartoon series over the coming months, with each disc packing six episodes into their one hundred and thirty minute running times. Volume one—as logic dictates—starts at the beginning, with the first six episodes created by Filmation serving to introduce the principal characters on both sides. Let’s have a brief look at what’s on offer.

Episode One: The Cosmic Comet
An attack on Castle Grayskull leaves Skeletor bested by He-Man once again. Combining his powers with Beast-Man and the beautiful Evil-Lyn, Skeletor hopes to seize control of the Cosmic Comet and bring Castle Grayskull to its knees (I never knew castles had them)!

Episode Two: The Shaping Staff
He-Man learns the dangerous sorceress Evil-Lyn has the powerful Shaping Staff, capable of changing the shape of anything—deadly in the wrong hands. As He-Man battles the Shaping Staff Skeletor is planning to overthrow Castle Grayskull by creating the ultimate warrior: an evil double of He-Man himself!

Episode Three: Disappearing Act
Skeletor mounts an assault on the royal palace and captures Prince Adam, He-Man’s alter ego. To add to the trouble, Orko has made the Sword of Power vanish into Eternia’s past—and the race is on to retrieve the sword before Skeletor can discover Prince Adam’s secret.

I just wish I knew why they call him Skeletor.
Episode Four: Diamond Ray of Disappearance
Skeletor calls all his comrades together to announce his latest plan—he will attack Castle Grayskull with the legendary Diamond Ray of Disappearance! The King and Queen, Man-At-Arms, and the Sorceress try to resist, but are sent tumbling into another reality. It’s up to He-Man to stop Skeletor and his band from doing the same to the whole of Eternia!

Episode Five: She-Demon of Phantos
A quest to find supplies of the powerful metal Photanium leads He-Man and friends to the planet Phantos, where they discover all is not right. Skeletor has taken control of the planet by possessing Queen Elmora, and is now one of the most powerful beings in the universe!

Episode Six: Teela’s Quest
Wishing to find the truth about her mother, Teela treads a dangerous path to the Oracle of the Crystal Sea to uncover the secret of her identity. Unbeknownst to her, Skeletor and Mer-Man are watching her progress, with Mer-Man poised for revenge for an act that occurred two decades ago…

Can you feel the sexual tension?
While it’s true that the series seems trite by today’s standards, it’s also true that Masters of the Universe features better stories and characterisation than the majority of the crap that is force fed down kid’s throats nowadays. True, like other cartoons based on toys such as Transformers and G.I. Joe/Action Force, He-Man’s adventures were ultimately aimed at shifting little plastic replicas of the on-screen heroes. However, unlike most of the disposable ‘kids’ shows I’ve seen recently, MOTU managed to do it in a less gratuitous manner.

It’s also clear when watching the show that it hails from a time when children were a little less worldly than today, as evidenced by He-Man’s use of comedy rather than all-out violence to defeat the villains. Each episode also ended with a ‘moral’ or cautionary tale, such as don’t go off with strangers or don’t tell lies. The episodes on this disc introduce the main protagonists, as well as a few of the incidental characters such as the King and Queen and a few of Skeletor’s more reclusive henchmen such as Trap Jaw and Tri-Klops.

Video
While the animation looks decidedly ropey by today’s standards, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe has a certain rough charm to it. The wild locations and varied cast of characters allow for some very colourful scenes, all of which look as good as they ever did on TV. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the video on display here—colour rendition is good, there are few artefacts, and while it’s true that it pales in comparison to even the lowliest transfer of a modern-day film, I still found it very watchable considering it’s a twenty year old cartoon.

This is Lyn. Lyn is evil.
Audio
Nothing fancy here, just a plain old Dolby Digital 2.0 mono mix that does a perfectly respectable job of recreating what you would have heard back in the eighties. Obviously this is never going to tax your system, but dialogue is perfectly audible throughout and the various signature tunes are catchy today as they ever were (particularly the fantastic title tune). The quality of the voice acting is generally good—with Skeletor’s maniacal laughter being particularly memorable—although it’s fairly obvious that the entire cast of characters was voiced by around half a dozen people! The only real complaint I have to make is that volume of the track is a little too low, but that’s nothing a quick fiddle with the remote can’t solve.

Extras
Before we begin it’s worth sparing a moment to mention the menus, which really help to set the mood with music and scenes from the cartoon series—a nice touch.

The most interesting extras have to be Audio Commentaries for Diamond Ray of Disappearance and Teela’s Quest, courtesy of two individuals who clearly have way too much time on their hands! That said, the guys really do know their stuff, and provide many an interesting titbit of information. The tracks are informal, good-humoured affairs, but this style lends itself well to the material and it’s nice to hear people discussing something for which they have a genuine passion.

A Gallery follows, and contains both production photos and fan art. While the production photos are neat enough, it’s the fan art that really impresses. Some of the contributions are simply brilliant, most notably those from Jeffrey Strayker and Frank Oftring. A text-based He-Man Profile follows, and gives valuable information on the abilities of Eternia’s greatest hero. Last but not least the disc contains some DVD-Rom material in the shape of a Series Bible When reading this it was interesting to see how some of the character’s names changed before the series went into production—Orko was once Gorpo and Mekaneck was once Spy Man!

They don't make Lasertrons like they used to.
Overall
So, do I recommend this disc or not? Well I’m not sure I can see myself investing in too many of the other volumes (especially as the show ran for over one hundred episodes), but the relatively low cost per episode might be enough to convince those of you who remember the series to take that trip down memory lane. Sure it’s cheesy as hell—it was the eighties after all—but it’s also good old fashioned storytelling from a more innocent time. Those of you too young to remember the series might like to check it out simply to laugh at what used to pass for kids entertainment twenty years ago! On a technical note, I found the audio and video aspects of this disc surprisingly impressive, and the fan commentaries were also enjoyable enough. In fact, I can see this kind of track translating well to other ‘cult’ TV shows and movies in a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 fashion. Oh go on, I’ve convinced myself! It’s only six pounds, so do yourself a favour and check out the adventures of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.


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