In the grand scheme of things, The New Adventures of He-Man is perhaps the most underrated, most misunderstood, least popular, and heavily criticized of all of the incarnations of our favorite blonde haired swordsman. BCI, in attempt to release a DVD compilation of He-Man of simply unprecedented thoroughness has not allowed the lack of hype surrounding The New Adventures to stand in the way of bringing the entire season (65 episodes) to the home market. I must confess that I somehow managed to completely overlook this show in it's original syndication broadcast (1989-1990) and didn't even realize it had existed until the DVD sets were released. Volume One consists of the first 33 episodes of the massive 65 episode season spread out across 6 discs. My mission was to delve into the series, a newcomer with no premeditated expectations to hold me back, and to determine where the New Adventures of He-Man stacks up in the animated Masters of the Universe universe.
The first five episodes of the show were its unofficial pilot and bear some physical differences from the remaining episodes that followed. Most noteworthy of these changes include a completely revamped Skeletor (which was definitely a wise move considering he looked doughy and rather silly initially) and the addition of a pony tail to He-Man's new much shorter hair do. Aside from such nuances, the core of the program and all of its characters transition smoothly from the pilot into the actual series.
That said, is the program worthy of the abuse it often receives from die-hard fans of the Filmation original? Absolutely not. In fact, The New Adventures actually contains some of the richest plot developments and most intelligent scripting of any of the three incarnations of He-Man (not counting the live-actor feature film of course). The trouble, I suspect, arises when fans of the original stumble upon the New Adventures and immediately notice that aside from the name, there is nearly no connection to the fantasy-driven roots of the original to be found. Having come into this set directly after viewing (and reviewing) the entire Filmation He-Man & She-Ra shows, indeed this transition takes some getting used to. The program looks completely different and that goes well beyond simply environments but includes characters mutual to both versions as well (He-Man, Skeletor, Sorceress, etc. are all nearly unrecognizable from their Filmation counterparts). The bright colors of the Filmation series are replaced with a more washed out pallet and the animation itself is much more action oriented (and used far less stock footage than the original relied upon). Yes folks, even He-Mans transformation routine is entirely new and much shorter. For reasons unknown, by the power of Grayskull becomes by the power of Eternia this time around as well. However once the viewer becomes accustomed to these differences, the show begins to shine in its own brilliance. In other words, it is foolhardy to attempt to compare this series to the Filmation version as it never intended to replace the universe created there. Instead this is an entirely separate concept that intended to bring the concept of He-Man to an entirely different demographic. Did Jetlag productions succeed? Without a doubt.
He-Man, in all of its incarnations, has always been great about sneaking popular culture into its plots. New Adventures keeps this tradition alive by having Skeletor lead a band of mutants in the struggle against good. In case you have been living in a cave or are too young to remember the late eighties, mutants were all the rage thanks in no small part to a quartet of ninjitsu trained shelled reptilians. Additionally Skeletor's make over moved away from the mindless heckling and turned into a very welcome impression of Jack Nicholson's rendition of the Joker from the 1988 blockbuster film, Batman. I cannot stress how much of an improvement this change alone brings to the richness of the show. While the show's creators wisely kept his sidekicks in the lower reaches of the IQ scale, the writing for the Skeletor character had been improved upon tenfold.
Also unique to the series was the anime style its Asian artists incorporated. The look, texture, and feel of the show bears more of a resemblance to earlier 1980s programs such as Voltron and Robotech than it does Filmation's take on the Mattel franchise. Then there were the plots. Long gone were the rudimentary good versus evil backbones that a majority of the Filmation episodes revolved around and in their place are much richer plot developments and more fleshed out character relationships. This is immediately apparent through the program's use of continuous (multi part) episodes that setup the framework for the entire show. Continuity is spot-on and little, out of the way details in earlier episodes are most always revisited and further explained in later ones.
The supporting cast of characters takes a little getting used to as well. Gone are the cliche staples such as Orko and Man at Arms and in their place are a host of very Japanese feeling supporters. Among these is the wise sage Master Sebrian (a cross between Yoda and Dungeon Master), the quartet of comic relief scientists whose names are all but impossible to remember (except for Gepple), two young shepard siblings, and a few robots. Fortunately the hero (Galactic Guardians) roster quickly expands and within the first few discs we find He-Man fighting along side an impressive team of superheroes that are equal parts classic fantasy meets GI Joe.
By the time I had completed my tour of this 6-disc set, I had concluded that the show's lackluster position in the He-Man hierarchy has less to do with quality animation and solid writing and much more to do with fans of the original incarnation becoming upset with just how different New Adventures was. However, BCI in their untiring attention to detail has arranged so that He-Fans no longer have to consider The New Adventures a threat to anyone's pristine memories of the Filmation version. After all, they have released both shows in their entirety for fans to enjoy. Which reminds me, the actual box set itself is typical BCI magic which, in case this is the first of my many reviews you've stumbled upon, means beautiful cover and interior art, a full color booklet, a sixth disc filled with bonus material, and a pair of collectors art cards (this time by Ed McGuinness and Bryan Hitch).