Animation Block: Conan the Adventurer

“Conan! The Adventurer!”
“Conan! Warrior without Fear!”

The 1990’s were a strange time for American animation, perhaps more so than the 1980’s. The stalwarts of the previous decade were changing with the times, or at least trying to; G.I. Joe had been taken over by DiC and retooled to focus on the new toys, Transformers first had Transformers: Generation 2 (mostly just old episodes with new CGI openers), then Beast Wars. Sunbow’s fortunes had declined, thanks in part to the disastrous flops of G.I. Joe: the Movie and Transformers: the Movie. The nineties saw an influx of anime and a new cable system primed to change how networks did their shows.

Conan the Adventurer was one of those new shows. Created in a joint effort by Sunbow and Graz Entertainment (for the first season), the series told the saga of Conan and his allies as they fought against the evil wizard Wrath-Amon and his followers of Set. Because when you watch Conan the Barbarian or read the Howard tales, you immediately think of a cartoon.

And that was an odd sticking point for many fans of the Howard character, Conan was not exactly a character that could be put in the confines of a children’s show (what with the wenching, drinking, fighting, etc.) so many of them took a great deal of umbrage at the character being softened.

Granted, Christy Marx and Jean Chalopin did reduce the character by removing the harder aspects of the character, but the overall core was still the same. Conan was very much a barbarian, he distrusted magic, etc. Surely the character is more than being an oversexed pirate?

The series, for those not in the know, told the story of Conan’s quest to free his parents from a spell placed on them by the wizard Wrath-Amon. Along the way he picked up a small group of allies to aide him in his quest. The addition of the new characters actually made some sense, since the show lacked monologues we the audience weren’t privy to Conan’s thoughts. Giving him a cast meant he could explain things to them, or have them explain things to us through him. Using their magic star-metal weapons, Conan and his allies waged a war against the Serpent Men, which actually brought up another complaint by the fans, i.e. the use of violence.

In keeping with the broadcast standards of the day, Conan’s weapons didn’t actually kill or maim the Serpent Men, but rather banish them to another dimension. I know, Conan without decapitations is hardly a Conan at all, especially when compared to other shows that featured death like Mighty Max or E.X.O. Squad, but this was Sunbow. I’m not going to justify it, and I lack the knowledge to explain why they did what they did. Holdover from the 80’s perhaps?

One thing of note about the series was the story. There actually were plot arches and callbacks to earlier episodes. The writing and voice acting was excellent, with even a few Howard stories being adapted. The animation was sometimes less then perfect, with characters moving far too stiffly or sometimes going off model.

By the standards of the era, Conan was trying to be a mature show, but still pulled its punches. The series has just released onto DVD by Shout! Factory. It’s worth a rental at least.

Now, Conan and the Young Warriors? Now that show sucked.