Things get weird in the ancient land of Hyboria. Also: friendship. Which is my “clever” way of saying that those of you going in expecting the animated blood-spattered adventures of Robert E. Howard’s greatest creation will be a little disappointed. However, if you’re looking for a fun, brisk moving Saturday morning cartoon which happens to feature a character named Conan–well, keep reading.
The early 90’s show takes some of the basics of Conan stories (he’s a tough guy prone to go questing) and puts it through a kind of wandering Masters of the Universe filter, featuring visually strange enemies, loyal sidekicks, a goofy, cowardly animal companion, and a magic sword that everyone is after. It’s bright, colorful, and at times a little silly, but it’s nowhere the bad/weirdness of the live-action series that followed (running neck and neck with the live-action Mortal Kombat show for neutered, bland, budget challenged syndicated entertainment in the mid-90’s).
Conan the Adventurer actually gets its start with the arrival of a mysterious element, the “Star Metal,” which Conan’s dad promptly forges into a sword and seals in a crypt until Conan (voiced by director and voice actor Michael Donovan) is man enough to wield the weapon. But apparently this magic metal gets the attention of the Serpent Men, led by the downright Serpentor-looking Wrath-Amon (Scott McNeill) who wants the metal to free the god of the Abyss. Wrath-Amon and his followers are able to disguise themselves as humans unless in the presence of the Star Metal–plus, one little bop on the head by the metal, and they are banished from this dimension (ultimately kind of making Conan his world’s version of Rom the Spaceknight). Anyway, on the prowl for this metal, Wrath-Amon encounters Conan’s parents and yadda yadda, they’re turned to stone and their baby boy has to quest to find a cure and kill himself a bunch of snake men.
Well, banish a bunch of snake men since this was a Saturday morning cartoon during an era where you did not kill off characters on your show.
For the most part, the animated version of Conan is about 180 degrees from his prose and comic counterparts, collecting a band of kind-hearted allies and questing, learning lessons about loyalty and friendship. You won’t find a lot of thieving, looting, and sorcerer murder here, although you do get a call-out to the Rogues in the House story with Conan having to tussle with a gorilla disguised as a sorcerer in the “Star of Shadizar” episode. Beyond that, though, you’ll just have to enjoy the visually interesting characters Conan gets partied up with (A magical African Prince! A lady carnie! That obnoxious phoenix!) and the pretty energetic stories the character wanders into.
It’s not hardcore, but I think the kids will like it.
On the animation front, again, MoTU seems to be the best point of reference: the dudes are brawny and the ladies are skinny. Shout! Factory reproduces the show in its original 4:3 ratio and the visual quality is about as sharp as you’re going to get for a 20-year-old cartoon whose original materials probably didn’t get a lot of attention in the subsequent years. The opening sequence in particular is a victim of visual noise and and blurriness, but nothing that’s VHS level or anything.
You get the 13 episodes over two discs that comprise the first season and no special features. Most places are offering the set at a pretty cheap price below its 19.99 MSRP, so you’re essentially getting your money’s worth with this set if you’re looking for an off-beat companion to your collection of Conan memorabilia.
Conan the Adventurer Season One is on shelves now. Season Two will be released this November from Shout! Factory.