7 Awesome 1980s Cartoons You Should Have Watched

By Brendan McGinley

OTHERWORLDLY WARRIORS
You watched:

He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, America’s longest-running gay allegory. But on the surface, it was about He-Man weekly whomping Skeletor, who was only trying to overthrow a tightly gripped monarchy in a barren realm and replace it with a meritocracy. Granted, an evil meritocracy, but it’s still a step forward. Prince Adam always tried to hide his He-Man identity from his family even though this actually endangered their lives much more than if he’d come clean. Castle Grayskull was constantly under attack anyway, except then Adam had to hide long enough to plausibly not be He-Man before saving the day. And anyway, they looked exactly alike but for the tan. But that was because Mattel only had one mold for the toys’ bodies.

You should have watched:

Filmation’s finer work, Bravestarr, a show that is not, upon later viewing, completely insane. Whereas He-Man would get into pie fights with elves if that was what the animators felt like drawing, Bravestarr was a high-stakes space western where tough moral choices ruled the day. It’s not every cartoon that kills children. How many shows even today would feature a Native American protagonist, let alone a developed character rather than a supernatural tracker who talks to birds? Ten years before sitcoms even dared to do Very Special Episodes about why interracial dating might not be an abomination before the Lord, Bravestarr was taking his heroic due from a Scottish redhead’s lips.

Also, it had a cyborg, shotgun-toting horse, and that counts for something.

MORE THAN HUMAN HEROES
You watched:

Centurions, three guys who looked like someone’s dad wearing exoskeletons for “Power extreme!” And yeah, involved in production were none other than Jack Kirby and Gil Kane, but it wasn’t very dynamic. Also, its Native American character’s talent was stealth infiltration, so see above.

You should have watched:

Bionic Six, a day-after-tomorrow sci-fi cartoon about an entire family of cyborgs. This time the hero actually is someone’s dad, but old age doesn’t slow him down when he’s suiting up, since he’s mostly robot. Not only did this show feature the first cartoon MILF since Wilma Flintstone, she helmed a diverse family. Why? Because the Bennetts were good people cyborgs. They had a couple of kids, then said, “No, no, that’s not enough. We’ve been blessed. We need to welcome orphans into our home and then turn them into something unrecognizable as human.” And sure the Asian kid is a karate expert, but he’s also an entirely scrutable smart-ass. The whole show has a ripping sense of humor, thanks in large part to the evil, obese, cheese-skinned Dr. Scarab.

And again, a pet robot gorilla named F.L.U.F.F.I. should count for something.

WAR IN SPACE
You watched:

Robotech, a really great series about two cultures resolving their conflicts via giant robotic fighter jets. The entire universe has a crush on one woman, and her beauty and grace are such that she can literally stop two civilizations from thinking like an adult. This show was like what explodes in a sensitive teen’s head every fifteen seconds. Only love and music can save the universe. It was pretty great, and you were right to watch it.

You should have watched:

But if you’d watched Starcom instead, we’d have gotten some great toys that didn’t need batteries. Starcom was a forgettable TV show, but it launched the best toys ever: magnetic, wind-up and spring-loaded spaceships that still work fine twenty-five years later, not that I saved mine and gave it to my nephew or anything, but P.S. if I did, he loved it. Every single toy was a choking hazard that broke off into smaller, easier choking hazards, but man, it’s worth a few asphyxiated children to have toys with magnetic moon boots sticking to the outside of the ship.

WAR IN SPACE, pt. II
You watched:

Voltron, a building-sized robot made out of robotic lions that are actually spaceships piloted by the only five residents of an otherwise defenseless planet. These brave souls protect the princess until she ends up joining their ranks, so…uh…wouldn’t retreat be the most direct path to your stated goal of keeping her safe? Look, Voltron was weird. But on that silent, stoic brow rested the hopes and dreams of a generation. When Voltron cries, he cries for us all.

You should have watched:

Robotech. Seriously, it was awesome. And it made more sense. And it was just as broody, but in a more angsty way than that weird, dark existentialism pervading Voltron’s deep space battles. Maybe it was that serene face of his, but you kind of got the idea he’d stop mid-battle and just mutter, “Oh, what’s the point?” before practicing guitar in his room. Anyway, we already cited Robotech, so this one doesn’t count.

HERO’S QUEST
You watched:

ThunderCats, which was all about Lion-O taking over the leader’s mantle, trying to save his dying civilization and generally repel Mumm-Ra, who’s kind of a jerk, not to mention stupid. Mumm-Ra is frail, ancient, and weak except in short bursts of power, so he dedicates all his time to provoking the owner of the one weapon that can destroy him. Also, he hires idiots who must surely be his sister’s kids, because anyone else would be fired. It’s an epic quest to save what may already be lost.

You should have watched:

Tigersharks or Silverhawks. Ha! Fooled you. Mysterious Cities of Gold, in which a shockingly non-murderous conquistador kidnaps an orphan and drags him through 3400 miles of dangerous frontier to fulfill his destiny of finding lost cities made of gold (so you see where the name comes from). Despite the threat this presents to the global economy, not to mention the historic down-market trends of scrying fortunes via hostage child, this epic series entertained like none other. Three young friends face extreme peril, including being stalked by an army of Nosferatu-like freaks, all to discover the lost civilizations that were once advanced beacons in an ignorant world. Change is in the air, and these helpless kids frequently end up crawling along mountainsides as weapons plunge into the soil around them. It’s like a more wistful Airbender the Last Avatar.

A BOY AND HIS DOG
You watched:

Scooby Doo, which by the way, I don’t know if anyone’s told you this, was a terrible show. Hanna Barbera’s formula for producing animation involved eating a lot of oatmeal and prunes. Yes, even The Flintstones, and especially the isolated, sterile future of The Jetsons, miles above what is surely a ruined Earth. They squatted out three forgettable cat characters, six annoying dogs, and for some reason, Captain Caveman. Somewhere in there was Grape Ape, and Jabberjaw, a mystery-solving shark who talked like Curly from the Three Stooges and played drums with some beatnik teens. It’s like animation ran over Hanna and Barbera’s first love as children, and they swore revenge.

You should have watched:

Belle & Sebastian, because kids are people too, and they know crap when they see Hanna Barbera. But you show them an orphan teased by the other kids, and his only friend is an equally misunderstood dog? Brother, that’s love. They make a deal, because everyone thinks Belle is a bloodthirsty monster – they’ll go out on the lam to keep her safe and she’ll only ever get mean to protect him. There’s also a palm-sized pup named Poochie, and the three watch out for each other because that’s all they have in this world.
You don’t get many steps out of the crib before you learn who your friends really are. Kids know that.

TRANSFORMING ROBOTS
You watched:

Transformers, the stranded armies fighting over precious, life-sustaining Energon cubes while hiding in plain sight among humans and trying to return home to Cybertron.

You should have watched:

Challenge of the Gobots, the warring citizens of Gobotron who—who…yeah, you know what? You got this one right.

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