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“Ulysses, Ulysses, soaring through all the galaxies”. These were the words that greeted many an adolescent boy and girl as they rushed home from school in time to watch the cult sci-fi epic Ulysses 31 on Children’s BBC (back in the days of Gordon the Gopher and the Broom Cupboard). In a similar vein to The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Dogtanian and the Three Muskerhounds, this French-Japanese co-production was based on Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ and ran on week after week, seemly without end.

Ulysses 31: Volume One
The plot of the show is fairly simple: Ulysses and his son, Telemachus, are returning home to Earth aboard their spaceship, the Odyssey, when Telemachus is kidnapped by a mysterious ball of energy and transported to a nearby planet. The inhabitants of the planet worship the giant Cyclops, a mighty creature created by the god Poseidon, which grants them the power of sight. Ulysses rescues his son, but in doing so he kills the Cyclops and incurs the wrath of Zeus himself. As punishment Zeus places the entire crew of the Odyssey into suspended animation and erases Earth’s co-ordinates from the ship’s databanks.

Now, lost and alone in the realm of Olympus, Ulysses must face many challenges as he searches for a way to return to Earth. He is joined on his quest by his son, a young alien girl named Yumi, the ship’s computer, Sherka, and Telemachus’ robot, Nono. Together they wander the realm of Olympus, encountering many strange creatures and cultures as they attempt to find the Kingdom of Hades… and the way home. Now, thanks to the Contender Entertainment Group, big kids of all ages have the opportunity to revisit the iconic cartoon courtesy of Volume One of Ulysses 31.

Episodes
The first volume of the series, one of three to be released, contains nine episodes from the animated series. As with other reviews I’ve done for animated shows, I’m not going to delve into lengthy explorations of the plot, but I’ve summarised the nine episodes found on this disc below for those unfamiliar with the show.

Vengeance of the Gods
The first episode finds Ulysses heading back to Earth when his son, Telemachus, is kidnapped by the Disciples of the Cyclops. In rescuing Telemachus, Ulysses destroys the Cyclops and incurs the wrath of the gods, who banish him to the universe of Olympus.
 
Ulysses 31: Volume One
The Lost Planet
The adventurers stumble across the last outpost of the planet Zotra, resulting in Numinor’s awakening from the curse of the gods. The group, accompanied by the newly revived Numinor, make a shocking discovery on the planet’s surface: all of the inhabitants have been turned to stone…

The Black Sphere
The Gods force a blind archaeologist named Heratos to betray Ulysses. In return for Ulysses’ help, Heratos gives him a disc which is said to contain the route to the Galactic Glaciers, and the way home. In reality, the disc will lead the Odyssey towards the Graveyard of Wrecks and Hulks…

Guardian of the Cosmic Winds
Aeolus, the Guardian of the Cosmic Winds, lures Ulysses to his space-station in order provide entertainment for its inhabitants. In order to leave, Ulysses must complete a series of dangerous challenges.

The Eternal Punishment
Sisyphus, a man condemned by the gods to repeat an endless task on a barren desert planet, is told that he can obtain release from his eternal torment by finding someone to take his place. When the crew of the Odyssey arrives, it is Ulysses who becomes Sisyphus’ target...

Flowers of Fear
The group encounters a deserted medical planet, which is home to a possible cure for the curse placed on the crew of the Odyssey. However, the knowledge possessed by the stations inhabitants was so advanced that it was feared by the gods themselves, who created bio-mechanical flowers to seek out and destroy all life. While Ulysses and Telemachus realise the danger and leave, Yumi, desperate to cure her brother, remains behind…

Ulysses 31: Volume One
Mutiny Onboard
The crew are revived from the lifeless state, but under the influence of the gods. They are commanded to seize control of the Odyssey and to alter course, guiding it towards certain destruction on the Intergalactic Reefs.

Secret of the Sphinx
While journeying through Olympus, the Odyssey encounters the The Sphinx and Ulysses must answer his riddle before being allowed to proceed. Although successful, the Sphinx’s daughter desires Ulysses as a slave, and does everything in her power to stop him.

Cronos, Father of Time
Cronos, the Father of Time, attempts to regain his place in Olympus by capturing Ulysses for Zeus. Using his powers he attempts to imprison Ulysses and consign his crew to premature death by old age.

Video
Ulysses 31 arrives on DVD in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, but it suffers from a number of visual problems. While bright and bold, the colour palette is prone to bleeding, and the image is terribly dirty, with a large number of scratches and flecks serving to annoy to the point of distraction. The picture is also far too soft, particularly the background objects, resulting in a blurry image that is sometimes difficult to watch. I guess this is to be expected, as I can’t see that it would have been in Contender’s interest to attempt any kind of restoration work given the relatively limited appeal of the title. On the plus side the animation itself still holds up pretty well, and the character designs are extremely imaginative, particularly the many weird and wonderful creatures that Ulysses faces.

Ulysses 31: Volume One
Audio
Nothing particularly fancy here I’m afraid. The bog-standard Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio is functional at best, providing the listener with an accurate recreation of the original broadcast experience. The standard of the voice acting is pretty good throughout, with Ulysses himself coming across nicely, but I found some of the other voices a little grating after a while. Probably the best-loved aspect of the show, at least aurally, was the music, particularly the fantastic theme tune. Unfortunately the theme included on this DVD is the truncated version, which will come as a real disappointment to those fans who remember the show from its run on Children’s BBC. Sound effects are generally good, although there are an alarming number of sound effects lifted directly from the Star Wars movies. In fact, Ulysses’ gun, which also doubles as a lightsaber-type weapon, actually uses that exact sound effect!

Extras
Nothing. Nadda. Zip. Unfortunately Contender hasn’t given us anything in the way of bonus material, which will come as a disappointment to all the die-hard Ulysses fans out there. Admittedly, finding material for the show could have proved problematic, but at the very least I was expecting fan commentaries similar to those found on the Dungeons & Dragons and He-Man releases, or a couple of measly photo galleries. Another thing that would really have gone down a treat—with me at least—would have been the inclusion of the full-length theme tune, possibly in the form of a “music video”. Come on Contender, there’s still time for improvements to be made before the release of further volumes (or at least the boxed set).

Ulysses 31: Volume One
Overall
To this day, Ulysses 31 remains an enjoyable, not to mention educational series. As a child the show sparked my interest in ancient Greek mythology, but it did so in such a way that I didn’t realise it (a crucial factor for any rebellious seven year old). However, watching now I’m surprised I loved the program so much as a kid, as it definitely has a more adult tone than many of the animated shows of the era. While programs such as He-Man rely more on slapstick comedy when dealing with the bad guys, Ulysses isn’t afraid to strap on his jetpack and fire up the laser-sword to get the job done. Parents shouldn’t despair however, because Ulysses always remains moral, even risking his own life in order to save those of his enemies.

It’s a testament to the quality of the writing that there is still interest in the show after all these years, although it’s easy to see why it has endured when compared to some of the drivel that is foisted upon kids today—it really is light years ahead of the mindless shows I’ve seen preceding it on the Fox Kids channel. In spite of the obvious audio-visual shortcomings, not to mention the complete lack of any supplemental features, I’m happy enough to recommend this disc based solely on the strength of the show. However, potential buyers might like to consider their options before parting with any money, especially since all three volumes of Ulysses 31 will arrive in a boxed set later in the year.


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