When I was a kid I needed a cartoon with swords, more importantly swords that shot lasers and The Legend Of Zelda animated series filled that quota for me.
Back in the 80’s someone had the bright idea to make cartoons out of video games. Nintendo was the hottest property around so why not start with them?
I’ll never forget one Friday in 1988, I got home from school and my older brother excitedly called me downstairs as soon as I walked in the door. He had been home sick all day from school and presumably sat around and watching tv all day. He told me he had found a Legend Of Zelda cartoon. I couldn’t believe it! Despite stumbling upon it half way into the show my brother grabbed the closest VHS tape lying around and recorded what was left. I was able to see it with my own eyes and I was thrilled. The whole fantasy/sword and sorcery genre always stood out to me, especially when I was younger. Now they had brought to life one of my favorite series of video games. What more could I ask for?
The show was on around 2pm on Fox right before we normally got home from school. So we had to set the timer on the VCR to capture it. We were confused as hell on Monday when we went back and watched the tape and Zelda and Link were nowhere to be found. Instead we were left with 2 plumbers, a princess and a toadstool. What we were watching ended up being the Super Mario Brothers Super Show, a cartoon based around the NES game Super Mario 2 but it showed the Zelda cartoon every friday.
Recently, I saw the DVD of all 13 episodes for $5 at Toys R Us and I couldn’t resist. I mean it said “collector’s edition” right across the top of the case anyway, how could I go wrong? Man, is it shitastic. Everything about the packaging was done on the cheap. Even the video quality looks like it was captured from a 3rd generation VHS tape, somehow though the shitty quality is fitting to help you get into the mind set of this retro cartoon. There’s no intro/title sequence on the actual episodes, instead your forced to hear it over and over again on the menu screen with no accompanying video.
If you haven’t seen it before, it’s every bit the part of an 80’s cartoon. Every episode is the same premise, just slightly tweaked and zero continuity between episodes. Zelda has hired Link to protect the Triforce(s) in her possession (both Courage and Wisdom) from the evil Gannon who has the Triforce of Power. If he obtains the other two there will be no stopping him. You can catch yourself up to speed via the handy dandy show intro here (the same one that was left out of the DVD). So yea, like I said this happens it pretty much every episode.
Zelda and Link both talk like they are from the valley in California in some reason. Hyrule must be closer to San Fernando than anyone of us would have guessed. They gave Link an annoying catch phrase too. He’s always saying “exccccccuuuussseee me, Princess” two or three times an episode like the annoying teen he is. He would have fit in perfect with the cast of Full House with a killer line like that. They also incorporated this gag into the series where Link is always trying to kiss Zelda, but somehow something always goes wrong. The land falls out from under him, Gannon attacks, etc. Poor guy must have been so sexually frustrated.
Sounds pretty lame right? Well, it was. But as a kid, I adored it. It’s pretty painful to watch now but I can coast through it based almost purely on nostalgia. There are a few things worth mentioning though. One thing you have to keep in mind is this game came out during a time period when their were only the two original Nintendo games. A Link To The Past was still years away from being released. So the writers didn’t have a very rich and detailed history of Hyrule to delve into. All things considered the NES Zelda game plots were a little advanced for the time, but pretty damn basic in the big scheme of things. What I always thought was interesting is that you had creatures, monsters and elements from both the first game and the second interacting together that were normally separated via the two games. This happened on the Mario cartoon as well, it’s a little surreal to see Mouser and Bowser working together.
What really impressed me for the time was that the cartoon used the actual sound effects for the game. Any time Link’s sword shot out that sweet sweet discharge (yikes) or and item was found, a bomb used, etc. it was all right there from the video game. We also got an explanation on how Link could carry that insane amount of items. At any given time in the games he might have a gauntlet, a raft, a boomerang, 12 bombs, a candle, a bow,etc. Well it’s simple really, the cartoon showed he had a magic pouch that allowed the items to shrink when placed inside. It’s as easy as that.
Zelda was also predominant character, which if you think about it is pretty astounding since she was little more than a non speaking damsel in distress plot point in the two Nintendo games. In the video games she wouldn’t become a main character really until the two CD I games were released…but we are better off not discussing those.
It did the same for Gannon who (while slightly one dimensional in the show) gave the wonderful villain more screen and face time compared to the games. (Bonus points: Gannon is voiced by the same guy who does Senator Kelly in the X-Men animated series from the 90’s) In a time where Hyrule was only 8 bit and kind of limited, this show helped to flesh out the kingdom and the surrounding area, making it a little more real. We also got a taste of that incredibly iconic theme song beyond its midi synthesizer beginnings.
I watched that old VHS tape with the episodes on it religiously when I was a kid. It was astounding when I found out that the show only had 13 episodes and furthermore that I had only seen about half of them. There is no doubt in mind that anyone discovering these cartoons for the first time now as a kid would only be significantly let down. But for people who grew up with it as well as the first two video games may share some fond memories. It’s dated and as the game series progressed the show looked worse and worse by comparison, but it was fun and exciting for the time. The show gave an adolescent me more Link in my life and that’s exactly what I needed at that age.
Until the next guilty pleasure….
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