The Mysterious Cities of Gold

The Mysterious Cities of GoldOne of my favorite cartoon memories from my early teen years was The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It was a joint French-Japanese production, originally aired on NHK in Japan in 1982, then ported to France in 1983. It didn’t take long for it to be re-dubbed for the English and other markets though and it made it to the US in 1986 for a single run on ABC network. Now if you’ve read any of my previous blogs, it should be no surprise to you that this ran for only one season. 39 half hour episodes ran on Mondays from June 30th thru December 29th, and on Tuesdays from January 26th thru March 24th 1987. It also ran on Nickelodeon, but I don’t know when.

The story takes place in the early 16th century, and centers around a child named Esteban, who as a baby, had been rescued from a sinking ship somewhere off the coast of the new world (South America). He was taken to Spain, where he was raised by the priests in a cathedral in the city of Barcelona. The series starts with the townspeople of Barcelona on a rainy afternoon, attempting to capture the 10ish year old Esteban, to make him bring back the sun. You see it had been noticed as he grew, that sometimes it seemed he could coax the sun out on a stormy day. Well today was a festival day, and the town wanted nice weather. Now I don’t want to describe the whole first episode to you, so long story short, Esteban makes the sun come out (or so it seems), the Cardinal dies and tells Esteban that he must go back to the new world to find the “Cities of Gold”, just in time for a Spanish navigator of dubious morals named Mendoza to “help” Esteban stow away on a ship heading to the new world.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold CastThe animation quality is reminiscent of the 1985 Robotech series, and Robotech’s producer Tastunoko had a hand in some of the episodes, but the style is understandably different considering the setting. The English script and dubbing is also reminiscent of other Japanese made cartoons released in the US at the time, meaning it’s not the best. Diction and sentence structure is often odd, but I’m sure children would never  notice. The MUSIC however is fantastic. The music used in the Western market version was changed from the original Japanese score, and the result is fantastic. Not only the theme song, but also the incidental music.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold CityEsteban is joined by a young girl named Zia, who he finds crated and tied up in the hold of the ship. Zia is an Inca girl who had been captured by Spaniards and brought to Spain to serve as more or less a slave of the Queen of Spain’s daughter. Having been kidnapped from home and brought to Spain, she was kidnapped again (taken from the Queen) by Mendoza, to bring back to the new world, because she is apparently one of the few who can read the ancient “Quipu” (knotted strings) of the Incas. You’ll see throughout the series that pretty much ALL the Spaniards you meet are focused on only one thing. . . GOLD. So much so that it’s certainly a pathological obsession. In one early episode, Esteban and Zia meet another child friend name Tao, the last of the Hiva people living on one of the Galapagos islands. Together they and their Spanish chaperones find an ancient, yet technologically advanced solar powered ship that has a super powerful weapon and can withstand just about anything. So when our Spaniards of dubious morals are standing on this fantastic, super advanced ship, all they can think about is that they are one step closer to the GOLD!

The Mysterious Cities of Gold BirdThe cities of gold at the center of all this are based of course on the mythical cities of gold that the historical Western invaders of South America were CERTAIN existed, and spent a very long time looking for, while killing and oppressing as many natives they could. You might think to yourself, is this really the kind of story that should be told to kids? Well don’t worry, while there is plenty of fighting, ships sinking and forts being destroyed in ways that SHOULD kill everyone. . . no one ever seems to die in this show (except maybe some random soldiers they never give names to).

The show expands on the classic cities of gold myth quite a bit, mixing in the stories of the mythical sunken nations of “Mu” in the Pacific Ocean and “Atlantis” in the Atlantic Ocean, and the plot depends heavily on the discovery of ancient technology that is very advanced and fantastic in nature. Mixing these fantastic stories with history and anthropology makes for an exciting story, but that’s not all you get with The Mysterious Cities of Gold. You see at the end of each episode is an actual real world lesson of sorts. These lessons can cover geology, archeology, anthropology and other topics that often relate to the the episode it follows.

The Mysterious Cities of Gold was released on DVD in the past decade, but is currently kind of hard to find for a decent price. But that’s OK, because you can also watch it on Netflix – Watch it Now! If you have Netflix, I highly recommend you watch it, if not for nostalgia, just cause it’s LEGEN. . .wait for it!. . . DARY! Oh and you kids might like it too.


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