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Saturday Morning Cartoon Club: Ulysses 31

Grab your bowl of cereal and put on your PJs and join us for Saturday Morning Cartoon Club, AFA's feature that celebrates the cartoons we grew up with (and the modern shows that keep their spirit alive).

The relationship between Japanese animation studios and European broadcasters has been a fruitful one. Much of mainland Europe took to Japanese made animation long before the English speakers discovered it. This creative partnership was at its height in the 1980s, when it led to fondly remembered shows such as Dogtanian And The Muskehounds, Willie FoggMysterious Cities Of Gold and Sherlock Hound. Several of these shows made the hop across the English Channel to the UK, where they would become the first encounter that many Brits would have with anime (even if they would not know it until years later).

These co-pros were often inspired by or based on European literature. Ulysses 31 was (as the name suggests) based on Homer's Odyssey and other aspects of ancient Greek mythology. While some of the previously mentioned adaptations have made the stories more child-friendly by recasting them with talking animals, Ulysses took a different approach. The series was a sci-fi retelling and the 31 of the title refers to the setting of the 31st century.

Ulysses 31 was a co-production by Japan's TMS and French company DiC Audiovisuel that originally aired for 26 episodes in 1981. An English dub was produced of the series in Canada in 1982, but it was actually the Aussies who got to see it first with an airing on ABC in 1983. Later airings in Canada and the United States (Kideo TV) would follow.

But no nation seems to have taken Ulysses to their collective bosom than the UK. The series got its premiere showing on the BBC in 1985-86, but then returned to air for a run on Channel 4 the best part of a decade later in 1993. After its initial screening on broadcast networks, it also appeared on multiple satellite and cable channels. Starting with The Children's Channel in 1994, it also aired on, Fox Kids, Toon Disney and The Disney Channel with the most recent run ending on Jetix in 2009.

The sci-fi retelling cast Ulysees as the captain of the spaceship The Odysee. He draws the wrath of the Gods Of Olympus when he slays a robot Cyclops in order to save a group of enslaved children, which includes his son Telemachus and blue-skinned aliens Yumi and Numinor.

In punishment, Zeus freezes his crew in suspended animation and condemns Ulysees to journey the universe in search of the kingdom of Hades to be able to return home. With his crew on ice, Ulysees has only Telemachus, Yumi and an incredibly annoying robot called Nono to keep him company,

Throughout the series, Ulysees and his companions encounter new friends and foes and visit numerous different worlds. A significant amount of the stories are based on Greek myths. They're given a sci-fi spin (and in some cases toned down to be suitable for a young audience) but are still recognisable as the original myths.

Myths featured include the Minotaur and The Labyrinth, The Riddle of The Sphinx, The Lotus Easters and Sisyphus.

The series also shows influence from iconic sci-fi films and franchises. It was made in the shadow of the release of Star Wars so any similarities were not accidental. Ulysees wields a blade that is clearly a light sabre and the producers even got into legal trouble with LucasFilm over similarities in the show's soundtrack.

It's a fondly remembered show as it is a legitimate piece of animated sci-fi. There are elements that remind you the series is aimed at kids (and they can be annoying *cough Nono *cough) but for the most part, it works for fans of sci-fi and people interested in mythology.  Sure, the animation is dated but it doesn't detract too much from some really inspired design work and great world-building. And as with so many of our favourite childhood shows, the opening song is an absolute banger. A 40th-anniversary special edition of the soundtrack has even been released in France this year.

The series has been released in boxsets in the UK and Australia during the noughties but are now long out of print- you may be able to pick up a second-hand copy if you're lucky. There's no legitimate streaming option either (somebody should get on that), but some dedicated fan has produced a restoration and uploaded the whole series on a certain well know video streaming site for those who might know where to look.

A beautifully restored Blu-Ray would be nice, but we'd settle for a kosher streaming option, and we hope with the series celebrating its anniversary it might be just the time for it to happen. The series would also be a strong candidate for a reboot with modern animation, a more serious tone... and no Nono. We can dream, can't we?