G.I.Joe A Real American Hero (1983)

In honor of its landmark 35th Anniversary, here's a callback based on one of the very first animated toy tie ins for television. I give you G.I.JOE A Real American Hero: The Mass Device Miniseries!

Following the success of the G.I.Joe Marvel comicbooks, which often featured a promotional 30 second animated spot, (Y'know, the ones with the cheesy dialog and fun jingles like: "Major Blood is a dangerous foe, trained by Destro the enemy of G.I.Joe...G.IJoooooee a real american hero.."! *ahem* so..the top brass at  Hasbro, Sunbow and Marvel Productions went all in to take the marketing of an iconic toyline to new heights via developing  a Five-part animated series based on America's highly trained Special Missions force.
So, what started as a "30 minute commercial", became an instant phenomenon!


Cobra Commander with the aid of Destro, the "ruthless terrorist organization's" weapon designer and field commander, creates a teleportation cannon called The MASS Device. The first  McGuffin and what established this template for the following miniseries within the  Joe  animated continuity  i.e. Weather Dominator and The Pyramid of Darkness.

In order to save the day, its up to the Joes to embark on dangerous missions across the globe, in search of rare elements to counter the threat of Cobra and Destro's weapon. Be it facing robots in the Antarctic, giant tube worms undersea, landing an assault on Cobra's flying fortress to scaling a castle atop Himalayan mountains, "G.I.Joe is there"!

This miniseries had officially premiered via syndicated networks during the month of September 1983, and right away, I was impressed just by the intro alone that began with a trio of Sky Strikers soaring in the clouds followed by Duke, the leader of the Joes, yelling the infamous battlecry-"Yo, Joe"! Personally, I wanted Hawk, the original leader of the team, but alas it wasn't meant to be.

Then came the updated jingle from the toy and comic TV spots; "He'll fight for freedom wherever there's trouble, G.I.Joe is there, A real American Hero, G.I.Joe is there.."

The intro contained plenty of highlights from Stalker grabbing a bomb set to destroy the joes' headquarters, Jackson Beck's awesome narration to Cobra Commander evading dragonfly choppers ending with the team standing atop their familiar logo!

Yeah it's a bit jingoistic however, the Joe narrative is basically good vs evil.

The animation was handled by Toei Animation and in case you're unfamiliar with the studio from Japan,  well, their resume is the stuff of legends! Hoto No Ken, (Fist of the Northstar) and Dragon Ball Z. 

The series was written by acclaimed TV writer Ron Friedman of The Odd Couple and other classic TV shows.Friedman used what is known as a  bible, a book that contains all the background information from the G.I.Joe comic and toyline, in order to make the characters come to life and in my opinion, he did an excellent job and despite being used as a  ploy to market action figures for kids,  there was enough material to broaden the audience without too much sensitization.

I mean who can forget the scene where Duke takes out a few Cobra soldiers during an ambush, or in the second episode, a Cobra glider pilot falls to his death while pursuing Duke. Sure, Marvel Productions had to abide by the FCC's regulations of practice and standards, but offscreen deaths shouldn't cause too much controversy, amirite?

Censors be damned! Joe is not your average "kiddie" show!

Aside from the narrative and animation, the voice talents of Michael Bell, (Duke) BJ Ward, (Scarlett) Arthur Burghardt, (Stalker and Destro) and especially the late Chris Latta as the notorious Cobra Commander pushed this miniseries over the edge.

The Commander wasn't some lame James Bond knockoff villain, in fact he was perhaps the one of the most memorable  characters as far as i'm concerned.  His persona closely mimicked that of some egotistical   man child Commander-in-Chief (Sounds familiar?) who often had temper tantrums, outbursts and such. Originally, CC had this hissing voice but it was changed later in the following miniseries and series.

Surprisingly enough, the dialogue is more along the lines of a ages 13 to up  demographic than widdle kiddies. I mean how often do you hear about a madman threatening to obliterate New York City? Yes, before 911, Cobra targeted the Empire State building!

I felt a bit  heartbroken when Snake Eyes sacrificed himself in order to save his teammates but only to rejoin the team with a new friend!Y'know, the lil wolf packaged alongside the legendary 1985 action figure, but I digress.

It would've been a bigger mistake to kill off Snake than Duke!

But Hasbro ain't stupid. Behold, the best selling Joe figure of all time!

I won't delve any further out of revealing any spoilers for those very few who haven't watched the miniseries, but overall G.I.Joe ARAH is one of the best American produced animated programs that came from that magnificent decade of pop culture, the eighties!

Who knew that flatscreen TVs existed back then!! X)

Its rich with nuance, unabashedly imaginative, whether its the quality voice acting, set pieces or soundtrack! Joe had set the standards of how to promote toys without blatant product placement.
"Collect them all"!
If there's any minor gripes I had with GIJoe ARAH, it would be a few mistakes regarding characters being either swapped or duplicated and there's the sudden dip of animation quality after the 3rd episode. That could be contributed to the animators working  fast to meet deadlines.It's still a great miniseries with enough depth and execution to win over the viewing audience. The cast of heroes are diverse and there are shining examples of female empowerment, minority representation, and other progressive details without pandering, proving that G.I.Joe was way ahead of its time.
ARAH's legacy is no doubt codified as successfully  marketing a commercial product with less restricted violence thanks to  syndicated networks which eventually led to the death knell of Saturday morning toons has transitioned to something...something brilliant!

Now you know:

G.I.Joe was the very first animated series to have a terrorist organization as the  primary antagonist.

After the tremendous positive reception of both Joe and Masters of the Universe, other toy companies  and animation studios have followed the syndication route i.e. Kenner's M.A.S.K. Jayce and the Wheel Warriors, Galaxy Rangers, Thundercats, Robotech, Voltron,etc.

To further compete against the also popular toyline, He Man and the Masters of the Universe, Hasbro and Marvel Productions expanded from Miniseries to a daily syndicated series which ran from 1985 to 1987.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!



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