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The Mysterious Cities of Gold

, also known as Esteban and the Seven Cities of Gold or abbreviated to MCoG by the fans, is an animated television series co-produced by DiC Entertainment and Studio Pierrot first shown in 1982. The series comprises 39 episodes told in a single continuous narrative.

The story is set in 1532. A young Spanish boy named Esteban joins a voyage to the New World in search of the lost Cities of Gold. He hopes to find his father, from whom he was separated on being rescued from a sinking ship by Magellan's expedition. On arrival in South America Esteban and his companions begin uncovering evidence relating to the Cities of Gold and various ancient technologies, and also become deeply embroiled in a conflict between the Spanish, the various native populations and later, a strange race called the Olmecs.

The programme was originally shown in two different versions, under different titles. Its first airing was as Taiyō no Ko Esuteban in Japan in 1982, and was then followed by its first French showing as Les Mystérieuses Cités d'Or in 1983. The French version was subsequently redubbed and distributed to many different countries throughout the world. The series was later released to VHS and DVD in French and Japanese. A long-running confusion over the rights to produce and distribute the series in English — including rumours that the English master tapes were lost in a fire — ended in 2007, and the English DVD was released in 2008.

A film version of the story is to be produced by the Movie Plus Group in 2008.

Plot

In the year 1532, a Spanish orphan named Esteban joins Mendoza, a navigator, and his associates Sancho and Pedro, in their search for one of The Seven Cities of Gold in the New World, hoping to find his father. They are joined on their quest by Zia, an Incan girl, and Tao, the last descendant of the sunken empire of Mu (Hiva in the English dub).

The series is a mix of ancient South American history, archaeology, and science fiction. The travellers encounter the Mayans, Inca, and Olmecs during their journey. They discover many lost technological wonders of the Mu Empire, including a solar powered ship (the Solaris) and The Golden Condor, a huge solar-powered would-be ornithopter (mechanical bird), capable of traveling considerable distances under the sun's power alone. They are constantly pursued by antagonists Gomez and Gaspard, who are also in search of the Cities of Gold.

The Seven Cities of Gold were built by the Emperor of Mu over fear of a global war which would destroy all civilization. Such a war did break out, destroying the Empires of Mu and Atlantis when they used the "Weapons of the Sun" (implied to be thermonuclear weapons). The Seven Cities of Gold hold copies of books in their "Universal Libraries" as well as powerful artifacts, including the "Great Legacy", a portable fusion reactor. Other elements of this technology turn up in unexpected places, like the Solaris in Tao's home island, Esteban's and Zia's medallions as keys to the Cities, or Tao's jar as an important piece of the Great Legacy.

  • Reminiscences of this ancient story are present in Inca legends written on golden quipu, which only Zia can read. This triggers an obsessive quest for the Cities of Gold on the part of the Spaniards Mendoza, Gomez, Perez and Francisco Pizarro.
  • Esteban seeks his long-lost father and is tied to Mendoza, who rescued Esteban from a sinking ship when he was a baby. Esteban seems to have a magical ability to make the Sun appear, which proves to be an invaluable asset throughout the series.
  • Zia also seeks her father, from whom she was taken as a very young girl. She has a medallion similar to the one Esteban carries.
  • Tao seeks signs of his ancestors; he possesses an encyclopedia about their lost technology and a "mysterious jar which no one can open" (the Great Legacy's cooling or control rod system).
  • Mendoza, Sancho and Pedro are motivated by their search for gold, though Mendoza appears to be genuinely fond of the three children. Mendoza might know the whereabouts of Esteban's father and holds half of Esteban's medallion.
  • The Olmecs are the descendants of survivors of the global war who hid under their mountain. Only their elite were able to survive, suspended in cryogenic hibernation. The Olmecs do not appear to be human (or if they were once Human, it is implied that they have horribly mutated from the fallout of the Nuclear war that destroyed their ancestors); they are short, thin and have pointed ears and enlarged frontal bones. Much of their facial characteristics resemble those of chimpanzees and they are shown to shriek and scurry like these animals. They are highly intelligent but devious and selfish. Lead by their king, Menator, the Olmecs seek an artifact called the "Great Legacy" in order to power their cryogenic systems, as well as samples of healthy cells from the children to combat their mutations and sterility. Their technology is generally inferior to that of the modern age, and they use weapons such as spears and swords. They do however maintain some elements of their advanced technological heritage such as the stasis and medical technology used to keep the elite of the Olmecs in suspended animation until an opportunity arises when they can be revived, powered by what appears to be a geothermal power system. This power system is destroyed in an escape by the children and Mendoza, starting a frantic search by the Olmecs for the fusion reactor core (the Great Treasure) hidden in the City of Gold.

They also have a single flying machine that appears to use very similar technology to that of the Golden Condor, however it is armed with some kind of particle beam or focused heat weapon of great power. The more senior Olmecs are also very familiar with the technology inside the mysterious City of Gold, manipulating it easily to liberate their Great Treasure...but in the process they set off automated defense systems which engage and cripple the Olmec flying machine, forcing them to beat a hasty retreat.

Eventually, the Olmecs succeed, at great cost, in taking control of the Great Legacy, but it begins to melt down without the moderation provided by Tao's jar. The resulting earthquakes and vulcanism destroy the City of Gold. A Chernobyl-like accident on a global scale is avoided by the personal sacrifice of Esteban's father who, acting as the High Priest of the Cities, dies replacing the jar. Mendoza, Sancho, and Pedro, having salvaged some gold before the City's destruction, return to Spain. Esteban and his friends set out across the Pacific in search of the remaining Cities.

Characters

The following is a list of the main characters that appear during the story:

Protagonists

  • Esteban (voiced by Shiraz Adam) – An orphan who was rescued at sea as a young child by the Spanish navigator Mendoza. He wears one of the two sun medallions. He dreams of adventure and is very impulsive. Esteban has a fear of heights which is confounded by the people of Barcelona who believe him to be the "Child of the Sun and hoist him up high at the port to call out the sun to aid the departing ships. He joins the Spaniards in their search for one of The Seven Cities of Gold in the New World, hoping to find his father.
  • Zia (voiced by Janice Chaikelson) – The daughter of an Incan high priest. She was kidnapped from Peru by the Spanish invaders and given as a present to the Queen of Spain. She met Esteban when she was taken by Governor Pizarro who wanted her to read the golden quipu. Zia wears a sun medallion like Esteban's, with an interlocking sun and moon disc.
  • Tao (voiced by Adrian Knight) – The last living descendant of the sunken empire of Mu (Hiva in the English dub). He lived alone on the Galapagos islands following the death of his father. Initially he is evasive to the others' company when they wash up on his island, but when the ship Solaris was revealed he joined them on their journey.
  • Kokapetl (voiced by Vlasta Vrana) – Tao's pet parrot who interjects conversations every so often and warns the group of danger. Kokapetl was named Pichu in the French version.
  • Mendoza (voiced by Howard Ryshpan) – A Spaniard, navigator for the Spanish fleet. He rescued a young Esteban from a shipwreck during one of his voyages. An experiened sailor, a proficient navigator and a master swordsman, Mendoza places himself in the role of a leader. It is not always clear, however, where his loyalties lie and as such he is often at odds with the other characters. He is accompanied by two mercenaries, Sancho and Pedro. Mendoza has spent many years searching for information about the Mysterious Cities of Gold, which eventually led him to the sun medallions- one of which he took from Esteban when rescuing him for safe keeping.
  • Sancho (voiced by Terrence Labrosse) – Portly associate of Mendoza. Sancho is a bit slow and stutters a lot. He and Pedro frequently tend to get into trouble together, usually when their greed gets the better of them. As such, they act as a comedy relief for the majority of the series. Although both he and Pedro complain frequently, they are loyal to Mendoza and follow him despite their constant misgivings.
  • Pedro (voiced by Howard Ryshpan) – Skinny and loud-mouthed associate of Mendoza. Pedro is very cautious and easily scared, but can often be swayed into action by the promise of gold. Despite his cowardice Pedro engages often in battles, usually teamed with Sancho.
  • Papacamayo – Zia's father and the chief of the Mayan Village of the New Sun.
  • High priest – Esteban's father and the High Priest, guardian of the City of Gold and keeper of the Great Library.

Antagonists

  • Commander Gomez (voiced by Matt Berman) – Greedy and vicious commander of the Spanish armed forces who is ruthless in his task of serving Governor Pizarro and the pursuit of Esteban and Zia.
  • Captain Gaspard (voiced by A.J. Henderson) – Sycophantically loyal subordinate of Señor Gomez. He is the Captain of the Guard, commanding a large number of Spanish soldiers. He is uncouth and rather unintelligent but has a firm command of his troops and is physically very strong. In the long term, gold and loyalty to Gomez are the only things that interest him.
  • Governor Pizarro (voiced by Maurice Podbrey) – Pizarro is the appointed governor of the entire invaded region of South America. He commands the Spanish invasion forces, including Señor Gomez and Captain Gaspard. He is a ruthless and avaricious despotic commander who holds little value for others' lives unless they serve to aid his purpose.
  • Menator (voiced by Richard Dumont) – Aging leader of the Olmec race. He plans to use the technology of the Cities of Gold to harness the power of the Sun and save the Olmec race from extinction.
  • Kalmec (voiced by Dean Hagopian) – Second-in-command of the Olmecs. He is in charge of the Olmec army and the defense of the Mountain of the Burning Shield. He is treacherous and merciless, believing in the total supremacy of the Olmecs.
  • The Doctor (voiced by Walter Massey) – A Spanish doctor whose real name is Fernando LaGuerra. He seems to specialise in poisons. He is searching for the Cities of Gold together with Marinche and Tetiola.
  • Marinche – Guide and advisor to The Doctor. She is rarely seen without the huge Tetiola, her loyal and protective slave of whom she is very fond, more so than she is of The Doctor. She appears to be a great influence on The Doctor, often manipulating him into doing things he otherwise would not do in pursuit of the Cities of Gold.

Episodes

There are a total of 39 episodes, each approximately 25 minutes in length. The number of episodes was dictated by the length of the Japanese school year.

Each episode begins with a spoken word introduction, setting the historical scene of the story. The main title sequence then follows, accompanied by the main theme music (see below for differences in music between the French and Japanese versions). The titles show the main characters against background images of Latin American landmarks. There is then a recap of the events of the previous episode before the story continues. At the end of the instalment there is a brief preview of the next episode, accompanied by the To Follow musical theme. Following this the end credits are run.

The series also includes much more music which was composed as part of the score, including the pieces Off to Adventure, The Condor Takes Flight and themes for each of the main characters.

Production

The story was written by Jean Chalopin and Bernard Deyriès, and is very loosely based on the children's novel The King's Fifth by Scott O'Dell. The series was directed by Bernard Deyriès, Edouard David, Kenichi Murakami and Kenichi Maruyama. The producers were Max Saldinger, Kanae Mayuzumi and Atsumi Yajima. The musical score was composed by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy.

Documentaries

Each episode ends with a documentary. These short films, averaging three minutes in length, are featurettes presenting concise, accurate and appealing information for children about the themes of the episode to which they are attached. For instance, at the end of an episode featuring Pizarro a documentary about him is shown. Other subjects include the Strait of Magellan, the Galápagos Islands, Inca worship, sacrifice, Machu Picchu, the Amazon rainforest, the various Archaeological sites in Peru, and the Jade Mask. The documentaries were included to satisfy NHK's requirements for the series to have an educational aspect.

The documentaries were not animated but filmed on location, and feature many aerial shots including ships, Inca terraced farms, the Amazon and the Strait of Magellan. They were funded by the NHK. In the English version the narration is provided by Howard Ryshpan.

The documentaries were not shown on every occasion that the series was broadcast. They were included in the airings in France, Australia and other countries, but omitted in the United Kingdom and United States. An exception however were broadcasts on The Children's Channel, a UK cable network, during which they were shown. Where the series has been released to the public in retail format the documentaries have generally been included.

Audio dubbing

The wide dissemination of the series in its international distribution made it necessary to redub the audio track from French into many different languages, including English, Spanish, Swedish, Breton, Polish, Arabic, Korean and Bulgarian. Redubbing also produced several different versions of the French theme music. The closing credits of the English version were not translated from French.

The English dub was directed by Howard Ryshpan in Montreal, Canada. The voice actors were not credited in the programme, however some have since identified themselves.

Distribution

TV

The series was originally aired in Japan, on NHK (the national public broadcaster), between 1 May 1982 and 5 February 1983. This was followed by its debut in France, on Antenne 2 on 28 September 1983. Subsequently it was also shown:

as well as in several other countries.

UK airings

The show was originally aired in the UK by the BBC as part of Children's BBC in the early afternoon, and ran twice on that network. The first run began on 1 September 1986, with episodes shown weekly on Monday, originally in the 4:20 pm slot and at 4:30 from Episode 21 onwards. A rate of one episode per week, when combined with the large number of instalments and the suspension of showings for holidays on four occasions, meant that the final episode was not broadcast until 22 June 1987, almost 10 months after the first.

The second run began on 5 April 1989, with episodes this time being shown twice weekly, on Wednesday and Friday in the 4:05 pm slot. The schedule was changed with effect from Episode 23, with episodes broadcast weekly on Thursday at 4:35 for the remainder of the run. The BBC aired only 37 episodes during the second run, over a period of 26 weeks, with two episodes (Nos. 37 and 38) not broadcast.

Later, the show was broadcast several times on The Children's Channel, with the final repeat run ending in April 1995; it has not aired on British television since.

DVD release

The Mysterious Cities of Gold was released to both VHS and DVD in France, Belgium, Japan, Canada (in French) and Germany.

On September 15, 2007 Fabulous Films announced that it had acquired the license to release the series in Region 2 (Europe), Region 1, and Region 4. All 39 unedited episodes of the series were released in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2008 as a six DVD set, and with the picture and sound restored. The release dates for Australia has been announced as August 2008. - (has now been released in Australia - 4th August).

Feature film

In March 2007 Movie Plus Group acquired the rights to the story from NHK and announced that they would be producing a full length feature film reprising the original story, with the intention of looking at a sequel if the film proved successful. The film is slated to enter production in 2008.

References

External links

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