Well, you fooled me, Mysterious Cities of Gold! From your pretentious and oddly-animated introduction I thought I was watching a really cheap documentary from the 1970s! Then the theme song kicked in and I said, “Oh, Ok... this is Anime, isn’t it?”
Our story starts off, apparently in 16th Century, waaaay out in the outer reaches of the Universe, moving through the Milky Way, towards Planet Earth, down through our atmosphere right towards an Aztec Pyramid, and then straight down its chimney (or some damn thing). All the while, the voice-over tells of the exciting adventures of the men (read: Spaniards and Portuguese soldiers) who sought adventure in the undiscovered New World (read: looking to take gold from the people who lived in the alleged “undiscovered lands”, which in general came as a surprise to the natives, given they, and their ancestors, had been living there for hundreds, maybe thousands of years). The Conquistadors even imagined a fabled city of gold El Dorado, and though many have sought it and thousands died over its mere rumor, has never been found, nor has even a single authenticated piece of evidence ever emerged.
But fortunately, this is Anime, where WWII battleships fly though space, and big-eyed, big-haired caucasians make up the larger amount of the cast, along with some racial stereotypes thrown in for good measure, comic relief or exotic flavor. So we don’t have to get into all that heavy, History stuff. We can just enjoy the series for what it is: confusing and weird. Did you know the Aztecs built a giant, solar-powered ornithopter (giant, mechanical bird that seats three in the cockpit) and fusion technology? Me either.
The series, which ran for some 39 episodes in the early 1980s, concerns the adventures of Esteban and his two friends Zia and Tao. They join with sailor, adventurer and Aragorn of Arathorn look-alike Mendoza, and his two mercenary pals, Sancho and Pedro, one of whom is short, pudgy and stutters, while the other one looks like he must have some chimpanzee in his family history. They are all looking for one of the Mysterious Cities of Gold, Esteban has a magic amulet and everyone seems to have ulterior motives, unrevealed alliances and loyalties. Later, they discover an ancient race of humans who, although they possess the knowledge necessary for cryogenics and other hyper-advanced technologies, still favor the spear as a weapon. Also, they come from an earlier time when there was a nuclear war, so they’re kind of mutated and horrible. All through these adventures, the companions are chased by the requisite villain/nemesis Commander Gomez and Captain Gaspar, who also, duh, want to find the Mysterious Cities of Gold, or even just one of them.
In this episode, Mendoza has stolen one of Commander Gomez’s cannons and four cannonballs, and is hiding out in a mountain fortress. Gomez, Gaspar and a squad of soldiers come to get it back. The Spanish soldiers look to be packing rifles of at least 1800s technology (certainly not the harquebus of annoying historical fact) while the oddly Roman-looking natives can’t throw a spear or shoot an arrow to save their lives, let alone to deprive the Spaniards of theirs. That’s OK, though, because Mendoza can’t fire a cannon either, and all four shots do nothing more than come close enough to cause Gaspar to faint. Twice. Fortunately Tao comes up with the idea to use the remaining gunpowder and make improvised grenades. These don't seem to kill any Spaniards either, but at least they all run away, until they stop and return to attack. The whole affair is rather useless, although we do learn that the Aztecs/Incas/whoever the natives really are use dried llama poop for fire fuel. If there are any questions about where llama poop comes from, there is a helpful short scene.
I told you this was weird and confusing.
The natives can’t hold the fort, so Esteban and his friends are told to escape to the “High Peak” in the mountains. There’s a cave, a lot of vampire bats, and an undercover river used for secret passage, complete with a whirlpool and a rainbow at the end to let us know everything is Ok... until next episode where they’ll be attacked by men wearing bear skins... so I guess we’ll learn of the Spectacled Bear, which would be South America’s only bear at the time.
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.