Posted by psgels on 25 October 2008 with categories: Anime Reviews



One thing I love about watching anime is that you never know when you’ll run into a masterpiece. Taiyou no Ko Esteban, or The Mysterious Cities of Gold tells the story about three 12-year-old kids who travel from Spain to South America, as they face off against the Spanish soldiers in order to find the titular mysterious cities of gold. While it sounds cliché, I was hooked after only two episodes. This is EVERYTHING an adventure-series should be!

There are many good points of this series; I think it could be best described as a strange crossing between Mahou Shoujotai and Mobile Suit Gundam: the series is the antithesis of episodic: every single episode pushes the story forward, every single episode is fast-paced without any sign of a break and every single episode delivers. (Okay, apart from the one with the submarine I guess, but that still means 38 episodes of epic adventures). While at first this may seem a simple historical series about the Incas and the Mayas, as the series goes on a whole multi-layered science-fiction setting starts to surface. The show is more than 25 years old, and its setting can still be considered as truly original.

The “adventure”-part of this series is also rock-solid. Again, it’s an old series, and yet it can outclass so many modern adventure series. The key is that this series makes optimal use of its environment, whether this concerns large-scale battles between small armies, or just one-on-one fights, strategies take an important role. Think of destroying suspended bridges in order to stop the enemy from advancing, or going against a small army by destroying an artificial dam. One thing I also loved about this series is how it keeps track of its characters: when some of the important characters leave the screen for a while (because Esteban and the others are focusing on something else, for example), you can bet your hat that said characters aren’t going to sit still until the camera focuses on them again, and they’ll be carrying out their own agendas again

The characters are also a lot of fun to watch in this series, and especially Mendoza is an awesome character: he’s continuously scheming and using his head, instead of his muscles; he’s an excellent combination between a father-figure and a greedy and cunning Spaniard. The rest of the characters all have their own identities, roles and purposes. Esteban himself may not be the most memorable of them, but nonetheless he can carry the weight of this series as its main character, and he grows into a brave young boy, who is forced to make huge decisions, despite his very young age.

Regarding the production-values, the only really negative thing I can say about it is that the encoding-quality of the videos I watched was pretty bad. I also encourage people to view the English dubs, instead of the Japanese ones. The English sound-director was a very ambitious one, who didn’t just literally translate the lines from Japanese to English, but instead tried to add as much expressivity as possible. The result is that people speak very fast, but at the same time lots of subtle details are added to the dialogue, giving the characters a very genuine touch. The animation-quality adds to that, with a lot of expressivity in the drawings.

And of course, no review of The Mysterious Cities of Gold can be complete without a mention of the downright astounding soundtrack. Let me say here that I’m going to be very surprised if I were to run into a different soundtrack from the seventies, eighties and even the early nineties that’s able to outclass the different background tunes of this series. You need to listen to it to understand, but the synthesizers and futuristic sounds give this series a unique atmosphere.

In terms of flaws: you do need to suspend your disbelief once in a while. This mostly involves a few coincidences that sit a bit weird, like a building randomly getting destroyed, with the worst being the introduction of Tau. It’s nothing major, though, if you’re not the most critical viewer. While some scenes are a bit dodgy, others are surprisingly clever for a series that’s meant to be for children.

Overall, this series is an excellent watch for every age. Children will love the huge amounts of adventures and wonderful places that this series visits, it also teaches them a bit about making important decisions, and at the same time it’s never too childish for adults to feel ashamed of watching it. This series set the standard of what an adventure-series should be, and unfortunately there were only very few series (if any at all) that followed its example.

Storytelling: 10/10
Characters: 9/10
Production-Values: 8/10
Setting: 10/10

11 Responses

  1. DiGiKerot says:

    You know why MCoG is so distinctive? Only half the staff were Japanese.

    It was conceptualized in Japan, but in order to get funding for the show they ended up producing this as a co-production with a French company (in a similar fashion to the awesome Ulysses 31C a year or so prior). The amazing soundtrack wasn’t actually used in Japan, were they went with their own (worse) music. A lot of the scripts were actually written by the French staff. Whilst the Japanese kept a firm reign on things like the character and mecha design, much of the rest of the art direction (like the background work) fell to the French members of the animation staff. It all really combines to make the show pretty unusual.

  2. thenullset says:

    I remember really liking this show when it was on tv in the early 80s on Nickelodeon. I’ve wondered how well it would hold up if I watched it today.

  3. AlexS says:

    I must agree with DiGiKerot, the series benefited from the pooling of Japanese and European talents. This was a great series, one of my favorites during my childhood, and currently a common feature in my friend’s DVD collection. I should watch it again, one of these days.

    And the soundtrack was amazing.

  4. pgal says:

    I first watched this show from when I was very young. Although I wasn’t able to re-watch it until recently, I always remembered many scenes from it such as the golden eagle and ship, Mendoza and who can forget the excellent and memorable soundtrack.

  5. Sapphire says:

    “Again, it’s an old series, and yet it can outclass so many modern adventure series.”

    That’s exactly what I think. I keep saying that people should watch more old-school anime (from the 80’s and early 90’s at least) because some of them are much much better than so many new anime series. It’s a shame, because like The Mysterious Cities of Gold, there are more wonderful series.

    If you liked the adventure in TMCG and if you’re in the mood of watching an old masterpiece, you should try watching “Anime Sanjushi”. It’s the most complete anime I’ve ever watched. And it has the most beautiful soundtrack ever.

  6. Anon says:

    I am always on the lookout for forgotten classic anime, I’ll try to find a way to watch this one :)

    One thing that stands out about a lot of old anime is that the creators actually care about telling a *story*. So many anime series these days are made out of fan pandering getting in the way of honest themes.

  7. Neil Pearson says:

    Glad you enjoyed it! I was only 5 when it aired in the UK but could still remember the golden condor, cities collapsing and the amazing opening song.

    I watched the whole thing again as a student with my flatmates and it totally stood up to rewatching as an adult. Mendoza is an excellent villain/anti-hero. they really don’t make them like this anymore.

    There’s a sweet DVD collection available in the UK that I have been strongly hinting towards for Christmas.

  8. Archaeon says:

    Waaaaaaah!!!

    I love this show so much. I used to run home from school whenever it was on, and I never missed an episode. I watched it again about a year ago, and it hasn’t lost any of it’s charm since the time I first watched it.

    All together now. Children of the sun….

  9. Sonalee says:

    more about it for ur deep information
    wait for ur nice comments
    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 (with different editing, characterization and music), 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. The English DVD was released in 2008.

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

  10. Gottis says:

    Oh, MCoG is just one of my MOST favorite shows EVER. I mean, it blew me away as a kid in the 80ties, and it still holds true to this very day. ♥

  11. Meep says:

    Well, I finally did it! I finally completed the Mysterious Cities of Gold. I didn’t see it during my childhood, but I felt nostalgic throughout its entirety as if I did. What a great atmosphere this anime has. The soundtrack definitely added to that.

    I most likely wouldn’t have known about this anime for a long time to come if you didn’t review it, so I thank you a lot. This is definitely one of my favorite anime now.

    Oh, and I watched it in english dub like you recommended (though I couldn’t find the Jap dub anywhere anyway). I loved the voices, especially Mendoza’s.

    Thankfully, it is not all over! I look forward to its new release in 2011.

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  • Bam
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:43 AM)
    @Friend: perfect, I on the other hand am not as fast lol
  • Friend
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:19 AM)
    I should have the rough draft ready by the next 24 hours, so I’ll show it to you then.
  • Friend
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:16 AM)
    @Bam :-) “Rome wasn’t built in a single day”
  • Bam
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:14 AM)
    @Friend: very pragmatic- I like your style ;)
  • Friend
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:09 AM)
    @Bam Heres what I’m planning to do: I’ll draw the city as it might have looked like pre-industrial revolution and post-columbian. So, maybe the late 17th century. Then, I’ll add in the changes brought in by industry. Afterall, every building isn’t built at the same time, so it’ll give that contrast of old/new, making the city much more authentic.
  • Bam
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:07 AM)
    @Friend: hard question … needs some serious thought if we’re trying to feel authentic.
  • Friend
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:04 AM)
    What would they use electricity for, if they’ll even accept it?
  • Friend
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:04 AM)
    @Bam I’ve been thinking about that as well. Their irrigation was already a masterpiece, so I think hydraulic piping would only perfect their skill at city planning. Now, energy is what I’ve been stuck on.
  • Bam
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 06:02 AM)
    @Friend: you’re on the right track with the modernization of the culture, but I need to ponder a little bit about what would’ve happened in that scenario. Metals, medicine, energy and irrigation would be the significant advances that they could use without serious industrialization, but I need time to think what these would’ve all meant to them and where they could’ve taken their society with it.
  • Friend
    (Friday, Oct 24. 2014 05:56 AM)
    @Bam Yes, it’s very bright and sentimental. It is a morning prayer/celebration. \.0/

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