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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  • k-off
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 09:29 PM)
    @Kaiser Someone who actually still likes Nicholas Cage outside of his internet memes? To me he’s one of those actors who at this point, I can’t visualize playing a role outside of himself. Similar to how I can’t see any of Steve Carrell’s movies without seeing Michael Scott.
  • k-off
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 09:19 PM)
    @Bam Yup, asking for money online is flawed in almost every way from the donor’s point of view, a lot of my former art history degree friends have taken to Patreon in a last ditch effort to float their poor career choice.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 07:46 PM)
    With synecdoche it has the benefit of Hoffman’s performance and to get it you just have to “Feel it”.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 07:45 PM)
    Adaptation is one of those films with Nicholas Cage where you really wish he’d do more of, I wasn’t expecting that to go so off the rails near the end.
    Being John Malkovich, I dug the crazily creative premise.
    Anomalisa felt so human that the characters are puppets you can easily forget that.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 07:42 PM)
    @Bam: I really want to use Urotsukidouji as my reasoning for why more messed up stuff should be adapted, namely kara no shoujo but the industry will just never be that hardcore anymore.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 10:44 AM)
    In a world where Urotsukidoji gets 3 series of OVAs there is nothing you want to make that is too risqué or edgy that nobody would want to pick up. I get a small startup trying to push their fist film out, but most big Kickstarters are ran by bigname talents that already have a string of hits on their resume. C’mon, just have some faith in your work, it’s just crazy to ask for money upfront.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 10:37 AM)
    SuperMario: I assume you mean Charlie Kaufman’s new film, in which case he already did pretty much whatever he wanted. Have you seen Synecdoche, New York and Adaptation? Now I’m a big ran of the man, but this creative control card gets a bit overplayed. The Under the Dog producers claim the same thing, but looking at their trailer it doesn’t look like anything that Japanese studios don’t already greenlight.
  • SuperMario
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 09:01 AM)
    for me though, I only pay for projects that I’m certain to watch (and have to pay for it eventually), so I don’t see the point not to “helping” them out. It’s all the same for me.
  • SuperMario
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 08:58 AM)
    @Bam I think the core concept is 1) with Kickstarter, many projects that otherwise never could have made is get supported here and 2) creators have more artistic control over their project. Take Amonalisa for example, big studios was very hesitate to fund the film, because of the commercial failure of his first film, but he insisted to get crowdfund and we have one of the more creative animation output last year.
  • Bam
    (Saturday, Apr 30. 2016 08:53 AM)
    A lot of the tech stuff is things you will never use twice; like a smartphone microscope attachment. they’re usually pretty shifty with it too. Yeah I’m sure it takes the price of a house to make a video series about sexism in videogames- right? And it takes almost a million dollars to make a 4 level indie game with three guys- seems legit. Must be pretty nice to basically do business with zero chance of failure.

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