The second and final volume of the New Adventures of He-Man marks the end of Jetlag Productions' interesting take on the He-Man franchise. I talked a bit about the fact that this incarnation of the Mattel property is often considered the black sheep of the He-Man family in my review of the first volume and while the material remains consistent here in the second, my feelings on the show as a whole are still quite positive. To clarify, this is undeniably the most different (and often strangest) use of the He-Man characters in any of the various versions of the franchise in any medium (including comic books, animation, live action films etc.) Many fans of the original Filmation show immediately dismiss the New Adventures just because it is so different from what they're accustomed to. I attempted to enter into this review with no preconceived expectations and refrained from the inevitable comparisons with its counterparts. Unfortunately, I wasn't completely successful, especially after having viewed this, the second half of the only (65 episode) season of the program that aired from 1989-1990 in daily syndication.
I heaped on the praise in the first volume of the New Adventures of He-Man for the consistency that the show's writers displayed in keeping the story congruous and the attention to detail they possessed in having small plot developments carry along into later episodes. Truly no stone was left uncovered by the end of the 6-disc set, if even sometimes requiring a patient viewer to revisit a point of confusion several episodes (or even discs) further down the line. Don't get me wrong, while the second half of the season (episodes 34-65) carries on with this tradition, the plot developments taper off pretty early on and don't return until the final disc. It's only natural, I suppose, to run a little dry on ideas when talking about the business of developing 65 episodes for a single season, and this becomes quite apparent in the early-middle portion of this collection.
The concept of Skeletor plotting to destroy He-Man starts to wear a little thin as the backbone of literally every single episode. Especially considering that we are treated to glimpses of such a rich universe filled with interesting creatures and cultures. I'm sure the show's creative team began to feel this as well which would explain why beginning in episode 53 the show dramatically shifts gears to focus on the planet Necron and an ongoing battle between two odd races (the Mytes and Gleanons) which ultimately results in Critta going off to join the Gleanons and Mara becoming queen of the peaceful Mytes. Fair enough, except that in exchange for Mara's departure, the Galactic Guardians inherit a Myte ambassador named Bimo who's character never really develops into anything memorable. Both races, their world, and their struggle is eerily reminiscent of another popular animated series out around the time called Bucky O'Hare (those of you too young to remember the show, feel free to google away). It's right about as we're introduced to the Necron action that the four bumbling scientists fro, the first volume fade from the show's roster never to again return. I'm convinced that their charm and style of humor was more at home in the far east than it ever was here in the U.S. as they were never quite able to earn a following to the likes of Filmation's Orko or Cowl (in fact I struggled for weeks to even figure out all of their names).
Before episode 53, expect a pretty run of the mill mixed bag of episode themes and styles. The first few discs basically pick up where the last set leaves off. Slush-Head gets married in one, Sagitar gets his own back story in another. One focuses on a woman with an obsession for He-Man. About the strangest episode among the full 65 would have to be #51, Rock to the Future. In it, a late 1980s era rock star is somehow transported into the future where Skeletor decides to exploit his talent (and I use the term very loosely) in a plot to, what else, destroy He-Man. Not only does this whole scene fit nowhere else in the cannon of the series, it comes off every bit as odd in action as it sounds in writing. About the only memorable part of the whole affair comes in the name of the rock star himself, Hank Rappa, not to be confused with Frank Zappa of course.
As stated above, the meat of the middle of this set centers on the Necron wars with He-Man and Skeletor's shallow bickering added in for posterity. However, the show actually concludes with an ongoing plot that manages to mimic some of the finer moments in the first volume. Beginning in episode #60 and finally concluding in #65, the main cast is whisked away to a distant planet to participate in "the Games", a sporting event hosted by alien life forms to determine who will rule all. Side note: Said alien life forms fly around in vehicles so much like the Death Star from Star Wars that one might wonder how George Lucas doesn't collect royalties from this one. Anyway, while the games themselves are a bit of a let down (3 events to determine the fate of the universe) the plot building and ultimate resolve are pretty satisfying.
Also noteworthy is the fact that the show's creative staff must have known that #65 would not only mark the end of the first season but also the New Adventures of He-Man entirely, as they tailored the final show as a bit of farewell. Closure is very rare in the realm of cartoons! Many questions will remain unanswered (such as who are all of the new guys in the Galactic Guardians and where did they come from, what ever happened to Slush-Head's wife, does He-Man ever return to Eternia, what about those odd people forced to lie in eternal hibernation while focusing their mental energy on the shield around Primus, and finally what's the story behind the best Guardian of all time, Tuskador) but even still the show offers closure. Finally, Skeletor gets revamped again by the end (that's the third time in one season in case you lost count). This time his goofy helmet gets destroyed and we must endure a completely uncovered bone-head for half of the set, complete with hideous wisps of black hair flowing down his neck. Maybe this one was for all of the kids out there who were losing sleep wondering what Skeletor looked like under the hood all these years.
While the show slipped a bit in its second half, the presentation is still typical BCI which means more than any fan could ever ask for (in case you haven't been following along). This 6-disc set maintains the stellar artwork and attention to detail we spoiled fans have come to expect. As always included here are two collectors art cards (this time from Gene Ha and Matt Haley) and a 6th disc loaded with interesting bonus material unavailable elsewhere. While the bonus disc documentary features never actually touch upon the New Adventures of He-Man itself, they do conclude the ongoing interviewing of key Filmation writers, creators, friends, and fans.
All in all, the New Adventures may stray from the Filmation roots but thanks to an impeccable effort by our friends at BCI, this nearly forgotten series has been revived for future generations to enjoy. I must recommend this volume as a quintessential piece of the He-Man universe's release on DVD.