This is it
. It is the
cartoon, as far as I'm concerned. It's the only one I taped in its entirety when I was a child (using SP rather than the lower quality EP, no less) and I watched them all at least once a year until the tapes finally gave out a few years ago.
When a friend told me it was out on DVD, I floored it all the way to Best Buy and snatched up a copy. Volume 1 (there damn well BETTER be a Volume 2, Shout Factory) contains the "first" 33 episodes. But, as long as you watch "Escape From the Garden" first, it doesn't matter which order the rest are in. There was never a "last" episode, which traumatized me greatly as a child.
Watching these episodes again was like coming home after a long absence. They didn't disappoint. I still loved the characters and the music. And some of them were still kind of exciting, even though I know them all forward and backward.
The DVDs seem to have been dubbed directly from the best-quality, 80s-era commercial VHS tapes that Shout Factory could find. Some of the episodes have minor "tape distortion" and the sound cuts out briefly in one episode. This is probably as good as the show is ever going to look unless somebody does a full-out restoration (if I ever win the Powerball ...).
Why did I love this cartoon so much, even moreso than Dungeons and Dragons, TransFormers, and Voltron combined? I'll try to examine that by going through a few of the best episodes, but it's probably going to be like trying to explain why I like chocolate more than vanilla. I'm not going to do full reviews of each episode, I'm just going to point out those qualities which represent why I like the series as a whole.Escape From the Garden
This is the first episode. All of the characters are introduced and the plot is set in motion. A scientist named Audric had just created a plant that could grow and thrive in virtually any environment. It was intended to be used as a food source on planets which could otherwise not support agriculture. Unfortunately, a nearby star went nova, bathing the laboratory in intense UV rays. Audric was fine, but his miracle plant suddenly evolved into SAW BOSS, an evil creature. The other plants in Audric's laboratory underwent similar mutations and became the MONSTER MINDS.
It is rumored that there is a pilot episode where all of this happens in greater detail, and Saw Boss absorbs all of the knowledge in Audric's computer, which explains why he's so smart while the other Monster Minds aren't very bright. (Saw Boss often has to explain even the most rudimentary things to them.) Saw Boss and the original Monster Minds can turn into vehicles when they leave Audric's laboratory. Some explanation on that would have been nice but, hey, it's still cool.
The Monster Minds create vines which can almost instantly overwhelm a planet, growing so large as to literally break the planet into pieces and reach through space to other, nearby planets. The vines produce monster mind vehicles, which are clones of the original monster minds. Saw Boss can communicate with them telepathically in real time even when they are in another galaxy.
(The characters always talk about traveling from one "galaxy" to another the same way your or I would talk about zipping to the grocery store. I think
the writers didn't know the difference between "galaxy" and "solar system". If so, this would make the space ships in J&tWW roughly as fast as the ships in Star Wars, i.e. able to travel from one side of the galaxy to another in a day or two.)
The Monster Minds quickly take over almost the entire universe. So quickly, they've conquered it before the show even starts. All of the preceding information was delivered to us in a flashback by Oon, Audric's faithful servant. Audric sent Oon to find his son Jayce. Whether Jayce was on the same planet as Audric's lab or was halfway across the universe is unclear. As presented, it looks like Oon went by foot from Audric's lab to where Jayce is, but other events lead me to believe Jayce couldn't have been anywhere near that planet when the Monster Minds were created. Oh, well. At any rate, we get an awesome chase scene with the Monster Minds coming after Oon!
Oon is safely inside The Wall of Light, which won't let evil enter, we are introduced to
Gillian the Wizard, Flora the plant girl (who stole my little, six year old heart and didn't let it go practically until I started dating real girls), and Flora's pet
Brock, who communicates in
beeps and whistles
squeaks and chirps.
Oon gives Jayce half of a root. Audric has the other half. When combined, the resulting plant will somehow destroy all of the Monster Minds. We never find out how it will do so, or exactly why Audric split the root instead of growing it in the first place.
Gillian has created fighting vehicles to combat the Monster Minds. And if the Monster Minds weren't the coolest damn things ever when I was six, these vehicles were. I had all of the toys -- the vehicles were just about spot on, but the Monster Mind toys were AWFUL representations of the cartoon. Building an Armed Force of my own is another project if I win the Powerball. Gillian also gives Jayce a magic ring, the Ring of Light, and crowns him leader of the
Lightning League, who were once a band of heroes righting wrong in the galaxy until they disappeared.
All of this is great, except the vehicles aren't complete, the Wall of Light is about to collapse because the vines are blocking the sunlight that powers it, and the group has no way off the planet. Sounds like they're screwed. Fortunately, Gillian is able to hijack a ship that appears to be about to crash onto the planet. The ship is The Pride of the Skies 2, captained by intergalactic smuggler and lovable rogue,
Herc Stormsailor. I wanted to be Herc so badly when I grew up. Hey, aside from being shorter, having no muscle tone, close-cropped hair, and working as a baker instead of an intergalactic smuggler, I guess I did
grow up into him!
Gillian bribes Herc into taking them on board with a huge stack of gold made from lead. The monster minds try to stop them, and do a pretty good job of it, too. Jayce and the vehicles (they can pilot themselves) fight valiantly but there are just so many Monster Minds. The Monster Mind clones are pretty easy to beat individually -- they are plants and probably made of something like really hard wood, after all -- but they can breed and spread so rapidly it's hard to truly finish them all off.
Eventually, the gang gets away when Jayce uses
the Ring of Light. That ring is what the writers fall back on when they write Jayce into a situation he can't possibly get out of. Saw Boss teleports his headquarters, formerly Audric's lab, to wherever Jayce is in a last-ditch effort to get the root, but the League is already gone. Saw Boss pledges to kill Jayce and destroy the root. Jayce and the others pledge to find Audric, unite the root, and destroy the monster minds.
I've already touched on a lot of the great things about this show. The villains have already won before the show even starts. The heroes are fighting to beat them back a little at a time. The battles are really exciting. The space ships can travel across the galaxy (or maybe between galaxies) in a matter of hours. There are vines growing through space and plant vehicles conquering planets, for crying out loud! On the technical side, the music is great, the best of any 80s cartoon, if you ask me. The voice cast is also the best of any 80s cartoon, even edging out the cast of The Real Ghostbusters. The animation quality varies hugely between episodes. About half the episodes have stunning animation, the other half look like they were animated with twigs dipped in charcoal dust by a bunch of baboons fed a strict diet of crack and PCP.Flora, Fauna, and the Monster Minds
In this episode, Saw Boss sends drill vines to infiltrate The Pride itself! Drill vines are vines encased in a small rocket which has a drill at the tip. The drill vines get aboard the Pride, but they are dumped into space along with the Pride's water before they can do much damage. The League lands on a nearby planet to take on water and find a new Cobalt-49 crystal for their navigation system. Flora goes off by herself to explore, only to find -- MONSTER MINDS! Flora screams her poor head off in terror.
This brings me to another reason I love this show. Flora is just a kid, and she acts like one. If she gets in trouble without an adult around to help, she'll either cower in fear or run blindly. This is not to say she's completely useless and prone to emotional breakdowns, but there's only so much a kid can do. Even if she's driving one of the vehicles, her lack of maturity can get her in trouble. She can't survive a dangerous situation on her own, and she needs an adult's help.
This is a startlingly honest portrayal of a child, especially in a kid's cartoon, where the kids are usually the ones showing the adults how it's done.
So, Flora is pretty much just standing around being doomed when Brock shows up and takes her to Gillian. Flora and Gillian run for it while Brock goes to get the others. Note how Flora is now braver with Gillian around, and how Gillian does his best to protect her. The characters are always supportive of one another, which is a nice touch. I can't stand cartoons, or any form of entertainment for that matter, in which the supposed protagonists are always picking at one another. I know some people eat up that kind of thing, but I hate that.Bloodstone
In this episode, Saw Boss tricks the League into going to a planet where everything that touches the ground becomes encased in crystal (or turns into crystal, depending on who's describing the process). The only place safe from this is a giant pyramid, and I'm talking miles tall, which is protected from the crystal by the magic of the Bloodstone.
But, oh no, Saw Boss has sent a giant spider to drink up the magic of the Bloodstone. As it does so, crystal begins invading the pyramid from the bottom up. The League has to fight their way to the top so someone can touch the Bloodstone and empower it with his life energy. One by one, the League members become crystallized, leaving only Jayce to reach the top, combat the spider, and restore the Bloodstone. But the crystal is right on his heels, literally ...
I can't even describe how exciting this was to a six-year-old. Mom tells me I was kneeling on the floor in front of the TV, my fists clenched and eyes wide, begging Jayce to make it to the Bloodstone. It was still kind of exciting to a 29 year old. When Jayce reaches the tower with the Bloodstone on it, and has to fight the spider, the "something really important is happening" music is playing, but an even darker, more urgent version of it than was used in any other episode.
The "deaths" of the League members are also pretty moving. Gillian goes first, getting caught by the crystal while he tries to save Herc. Herc and Flora are caught together, becoming crystallized as they hold on to each other for comfort. Oon says goodbye and salutes Jayce as he is crystallized, the loyal squire to the end.The Slaves of Adelbaron
This episode starts out as a real downer. The planet Adelbaron has been conquered, like so many others. The people are forced to mine fertilizer for the Monster Minds, and almost everyone we see is ready to collapse or injured in some way. It's obviously been this way for quite some time. A few rebels, including a young woman named Kumari, try to use a mining drill to break through the forcefield that keeps them from getting to their weapons.
They fail. The rebels are herded off to who knows what fate, except for Kumari. Saw Boss uses her younger brother and sister (one assumes their parents are dead and Kumari has been filling that role) as leverage to force her to do his bidding.
Yeah, talk about a downer. That makes it so much more satisfying when the League shows up and saves Adelbaron later. Significantly, the people rise up and fight for their own freedom. If they hadn't, it's likely that Jayce wouldn't have succeeded. I heartily approve.
But, consider this: there must be hundreds, thousands, of planets just like Adelbaron still under the control of the Monster Minds, with millions if not billions of people suffering, being worked to their deaths. And, really, what guarantee do we have that the Monster Minds don't just come back and reconquer Adelbaron once the League leaves?
I liked the Kumari character. She was going to betray the League to Saw Boss until she found out about the root and its importance, then she did the right thing even though it could have cost her dearly. I don't know if I'd have been as brave.Quest Into Shadow
In this episode, the League lands on a planet because it is free of Monster Minds even though its neighboring planets are all conquered. Once there, they find that the planet makes everything die. A race of mysterious people led by the Dark Queen survives there, and she tells the League that Jayce, Gillian, and Herc may be strong enough to survive, but Flora, Oon, and Brock are not. The only way out is to accept the touch of the Dark Queen. Brock does and appears to be disintegrated. The others try to find another way off the planet but it really is impossible, and Flora and Oon are getting weaker. They may have to accept the touch of the Dark Queen, after all ...
This episode had more to offer than what was on the surface. Think about it just a little. The League finds themselves in a bleak, barren wasteland, totally stripped of hope. They are told they must accept someone's touch to be saved. They resist, trying to use their own wits and technology to escape this awful fate. But, finally, they put their trust -- or faith -- into this person's healing touch and awaken to find themselves in what can only be described as paradise, where nothing bad can ever happen to them again, if they choose to stay.Bounty Hunters
Saw Boss gathers hundreds of the galaxy's best bounty hunters together and offers them an enormous reward for Jayce, and double that for the root. The hunters set out in search of the Lightning League immediately.
One of them manages to find the League but doesn't try to take them since the Pride is more powerful than his own ship. Instead, he pretends to be an admirer and just wants to shake Herc's hand ...
Herc becomes evil. He punches Flora in the chest when she tries to speak to him, sabotages the Pride, and even tries to shoot Jayce, Flora, and Gillian. All the while, the bounty hunter is following close behind, waiting for Herc to disable the Pride so he can board it and get Jayce and the root. And not much farther behind is a Monster Mind ship.
The scenes of Herc being evil are great. When Herc hits Flora, that's shocking enough, and she again reacts like a kid would: she runs off and tries to tell someone, but that's when Herc sabotages the ship and Gillian and Jayce see to that instead of listening to her. When Herc pulls the gun, nobody tries to reason with him, they're just scared s**tless! Even Jayce! All he can manage to do is to back up with his hands in front of him, stuttering, "Hey ... hey ... wait". Flora and Oon, meanwhile, hide behind Gillian, who is quite clearly prepared to shield them with his body. And they don't talk Herc out of it, Jayce has to fight him, and he doesn't appear to be winning the fight until Oon grows a pair and kicks Herc's gun away.
There's a nice little touch after Gillian and Jayce get Herc locked in the brig. Flora, so distraught she can't even stand up, just cries while Oon hugs her, trying to comfort her. It's especially poignant because Herc has developed an avuncular, protective relationship with her. You can only imagine how she must feel after he hit her and tried to gun down everyone she cares about.
I'd love to do all 33 episodes, but it's taken me an awfully long time just for these. And I haven't even done the screencaps yet!