Even these tapes cost something

  Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs
1987 | World Event Productions
Saber rider and the star sheriffs video gems

Sci-fi cowboys from the makers of Voltron. For fast-drawing, agile heroes they sure do look stiff on the cover.

Anyway join me for rootin' tootin' fun and ol' west action as the dashing Saber Rider fights to "establish peace and unity in a bold new way". At least according to the video sleeve.

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In the distant future mankind has colonised space and the Earth Federation Government keeps order across the planets. When a previously unknown enemy, the Descula, attacks the Earth Colonies it is clear that a new weapon is needed to battle against these technologically superior invaders. The head of the EFG, Charles Louvre develops Bismarck; a giant cowboy robot, armed with a six shooter and the ability to transform into a shuttle capable of intergalactic flight. To pilot his new fighting machine he assembles an international team of teenage heroes; from France: his daughter Maria - a computer genius, from America: Bill Wilcox - an expert marksman and pilot, from Britain: Richard Lancelot - a skilled fencer and from Japan, the leader of the team Shinji Hikari - a F1 champion. Together the Bismarck team, with their assortment of vehicles, travel to the galaxy defending the Colonies from Hyuza and his evil generals Perios and Zatola.

Seijushi Bismarck (Star Gunner Bismarck) was animated by Studio Pierrot, the studio behind Urusei Yatsura, and the first ever OAV Dallos, and was broadcast on the NTV network lasting for 51 twenty five minute episodes. It's sci-fi cowboy setting was a big hit with the kids, spawning the usual assortment of action figures and transforming toys.

It wasn't until 1987 that Seijushi Bismarck was shared with the rest of the world. Acquired by World Event Productions who enjoyed big success in 1984 with the cartoon series Voltron: Defender of the Universe, an edited version of the anime Hyakujuo GoLion. Many of the same team that worked on Voltron helped "version" Seijushi Bismarck into Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs. Key amongst the staff was Marc Handler, story editor on Voltron, who re-wrote many of Bismarck's episodes to make them more suitable for a Western pre-teen audience. He would later have the same duties on a large number of anime titles including Tenchi Muyo, Naruto and Cowboy Bebop.

The alterations to the anime original were extensive. Firstly the names were changed; the heroes becoming April (Maria), Colt (Bill), Fireball (Shinji) and finally Saber Rider aka Top Sword (Richard) who was, in one of the biggest changes of all, promoted ahead of Fireball to become the leader of the group and the main focus of the series. The cyborg leader of the Desculas was renamed Nemesis, with the Desculas themselves becoming the more Wild West themed Outriders. His generals became Jessie Blue and Gattler (Perios and Zatola). As for the former title character Bismarck, he became known by the odd moniker of Ramrod. The international origins of the leads were dropped, with the notable exception of Saber Rider, although the costumes still display their respective national flags.

In order to adhere to the strict censorship rules governing American children's TV at the time the back story was re-written to have the Outriders as inhabitants of a different dimension the "Vapour Zone". Whenever one of these expendable bad guys was shot he didn't die but was simply teleported back to his own dimension in a red flash. To support the new storyline and team line up the original episodes were extensively re-edited and 6 completely new episodes were produced. A new
soundtrack was composed for the series by Dale Schacker to replace the Japanese music with a more 'Old West' style score, later released on two CDs.

This US edit was screened all over the world including France, Italy, Germany, Chile, Portugal and Taiwan. In the UK a number of episodes were released on video by Video Gems but the entire series was never screened. In conjunction with the Saturday morning slot in America Saber Rider was also released on video by Fries Home Video.

Compared to the merchandising juggernaut of Voltron there was very little merchandise for Saber Rider despite its popularity. Ironically the year previous to the shows debut Tonka released Bandai's Japanese Chogokin toy of Bismarck in Europe as part of their Robo Machine range of transforming robot figures, all of which were culled from Japan and eventually became part of the Gobot family. The toy was an close re-cast of the Seijushi Bismarck spin-off and even kept his original name, and logos for the show's creators Studio Pierrot are displayed on the packaging.

Tottoi by Gianni Padoan Tottoi Japanese Pony Canyon VHS Seijushi Bismark
Japanese Bismarck (Collectiondx)
European Robo Machine version
Publicity Still

Cavalry Command - Episode 2 (No Japanese Version, US Only)

An unmanned convoy is attacked by 'dimension jumping' Outriders. In the words of Saber Rider "the attack is as wild as a prairie stampede!". Saber Rider asks Colt to "back him up in the Bronco Buster" as he needs "maximum stallion power". Who doesn't? A big battle ensues in which a whole lot of Outriders get safely "teleported home". The convoy is saved and the moustached ring leader, actually Gatler minus his signature mask, teleports home in disgrace. He is met by the evil Nemesis who is less then pleased by the mission's outcome. "Don't you think that I don't know every move you make, every step you take I'm watching you!" he declares (wasn't that a song by Sting?).

The Star Sheriffs are summoned to head office, Cavalry Command, by the big cheese himself General White Hawk. It's kind of ironic that Space Cowboys are governed by a native indian chief, isn't it? This being an American made episode, the Cowboy clichés are laid on heavy; from the 'old west outpost' design of Cavalry Command to all the Guards dressed in frontier uniforms. It's good ol' timey rootin' tootin' stuff!

saber rider and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck

The gang meet with White Hawk and Saber introduces them all by their key characteristics (Fireball: young, Maverick. Colt: sharp shooter, maverick) and then they move on to teach some young recruits the key skills of a Star Sheriff. April teaches a Judo class where she throws a big dumb guy about with ease but comes unstuck when she faces the toughest guy in the class, a sly looking character by the name of Jesse Blue. On the firing range Colt teaches the trainees gun safety. It's about time there was a kids cartoon that taught its audience the proper, safe way to handle their guns. Colt randomly chooses a recruit and asks him to demonstrate. Unfortunately his choice is Private Dumbass who proceeds to unintentionally point his loaded weapon at the class. I'm starting to doubt the entry standards for the Star Sheriffs. "Don't ever, ever, point a vapour blaster at anybody!" admonishes Colt "Unless it's an evil Outrider who needs to be sent back to his own dimension. That's the Star Sheriff's creed!" Sounds like a slightly iffy motto to me.

saber rider and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck

Outside Saber Rider gives a demonstration of his horse riding skills. This doesn't seem to be teaching the kids anything but it no doubt makes Saber feel like a big man. In the middle of this, word comes in of a wagon train ambush so the Star Sheriffs break short their ego trips to assist. Their actions during the following battle are some what confusing. For instance, the enemies here are humans not Outriders yet the Sheriffs still shoot them with their Vapour Blasters and, worse still, one of the varmints is on the receiving end of Saber's blade. What effect do these weapons have on humans? Are they fatal? The way Colt lectured Private Dumbass it would seem to suggest they are, so is this ok considering Outriders are merely teleported home. Secondly Colt disarms a bad guy and then orders him to runaway. What ever happened to justice? Shouldn't he be arresting this raider? It all seems a little fishy to me.

The ringleader of the rustlers is a hairy wolfman who goes by the fitting name of Wolf and for some reason, he only speaks in rhyme. He gets the drop on April and it seems that no one can save her. Jesse Blue, who sneaked out to join the battle, rushes to her aid but is beaten to the punch by the chivalrous Saber Rider. Then, to make the humiliation worse, April warns Jesse to stay back and then beats up Wolf all by herself.

saber rider seijushi bismarck and the star sheriffs

Later that evening, Cavalry Command have a dinner party in honour of their guests and Jesse, can't keep his eyes off the female Star Sheriff. So great is his love for this woman that it spans across two episodes...

Jesse's Revenge (Episode 3). Picking up from the second the last episode ended, almost as if they made one long show and then cut it in two, Jesse ponders his feelings for April. He does so in a creepy, mock Christian Slater voice which makes his thoughts all the more sinister. "When she taught our self defence class, although she couldn't throw me I did fall for her!" What a smooth guy!

Jesse's obsessive mind is interrupted by his two pals, the big dumb guy from Judo and a mouthy short guy - pure U.S. cartoon stock characters. Jesse is determined to prove his doubting chums wrong, that he is man enough for April. He decides the best way to announce his love to her is by cornering her in the unisex bathroom. That's right!

saber rider seijushi bismarck and the star sheriffs

Most women like nothing more than to grabbed in the toilet by an obsessive guy declaring his undying love but unfortunately April is one of the few that don't. "Hey hold it! No one could ever love you as much as I do!" he argues, angrily. "This isn't love, Jesse," the Star Sheriff responds, "you're very confused." Its clear the subtle approach isn't working so he ups the love ante by aggressively pinning the girl against the bathroom wall, while his two friends watch with glee. "Oh wow, I've never seen Jesse like this!" squeals shorty with noticeable adoration. Anyone else finding this scene a little strange? To avoid fainting keep repeating "It's only a kids cartoon".

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seijushi bismarck and the star sheriffs

Building on his previous success Jesse Blue finishes by taunting, pointing out that she was unable to throw him in Judo class so she'll be powerless to resist his charms now. That proves to be a misstep in his otherwise flawless technique as it gives April a chance to prove him wrong. As he goes flying across the room into a pile of conveniently placed comedy barrels his friends accidentally hit a button in shock. This button causes the bathroom wall to lift up exposing the whole event to all the party goers gathered in the main hall. What kind of establishment is this anyway? Why is there a button that opens the bathroom into the main hall? This is all very suspect. Commander Eagle and Jesse's Commanding Officer are "very disturbed" by what they see and have the randy recruit suspended. It's clear to all that he's lost the frontier spirit.

saber rider seijushi bismarck and the star sheriffs

Humiliated by April and the Star Sheriffs Jesse decides to defect. At nightfall Wolf is lecturing his bandits for there cowardly defeat earlier, even going as far as to suggest they are "rough, tough, cream puffs" and "Fools that dropped out of school". Mr Blue drops in and his offer of Cavalry Command on a plate goes over well with the bad guys. They don't even need proof that he's on the level. Why exactly it is that they need a 'man on the inside' to throw a rope ladder over the perimeter wall of Cavalry Command is anyone's guess but it works and soon they are inside stealing all the top secret Outrider weapons in the stores.

All the noise soon draws the good guys who are all disappointed to see one of their own turn against them. The stoic Saber Rider vows to bring Jesse to justice. He chases him across the plains, the two of them showing off their flying skills (although, in the cool stakes, a fighter jet is going to beat a flying horse every time). Having successfully lost the lawman Jesse spots Ramrod, the Star Sheriff's ship, parked amongst the ragged hills. Seeing his perfect chance for revenge the renegade cadet plants an Outrider bomb on its landing gear but instantly regrets his actions when April rides aboard.

Fearing his plan will backfire Jesse chases after Ramrod but the distrusting Saber Rider cuts him off before he can warn the crew. The hidden explosive detonates sending the high tech ship into a collision course with Cavalry Command. Don't worry though as Saber gets aboard and skillfully steers the stricken craft into a safe landing. Fireball is dragged to safety and, upon awaking claims he dreamed about a roller coaster which causes everyone to fall about laughing. Honestly, some people will laugh at anything. To conclude the story Jesse rides through an old west town and sees a man putting up wanted pictures with his face on them.

saber rider seijushi bismarck and the star sheriffs

Now to break the rules a little... Since the remaining two episodes on this video are also American I've driven down to the local supermarket and handed over 97p for this...

Saber Rider volume 2 anchor bay DVD

... after all this is supposed to be 'Anime' bargain bin. This has nothing at all to do with the other two episodes on the video being crap, of course. For those interested they were The Highlanders, a particularly by-the-numbers adventure in which Saber returns home to Scotland with April and finds his parents acting strangely. It takes the supposedly brilliant leader forever to work out they are impostors, even his dog worked it out before him. Following this is The Saber and the Tomahawk where a cowboy plants an arrow in his hat in an attempt to spark a war with a peace loving Indian tribe. He nearly succeeds but you'll never guess who has a long and deep friendship with the tribe's Chief.

Apparently Saber Rider has been elevated to the status of an 'Animated Classic', at least that's what the DVD sleeve would have us believe. So, what's on this new DVD video cassette? Two fantastic kids episodes starting with the "amazing" (according to the narrator anyway)...

The Greatest Show on the New Frontier - Episode 06 in the US, 21 in Japan. Originally titled Kyofu No Robot Show.

The Greatest Show on the New Frontier

The gang happen to be visiting a traveling circus, with the strange name of "Yozef Show". Outside the big top April appears to get angry with Colt because he wants to see the Lion Tamer not the trapeze although her reaction seems a little extreme. Nearby Saber and Fireball have just finished inspecting a new EFG base giving it the official rank of "Awesome". Just as they are leaving an alarm sounds and a guy who appears to have been dressed by Grace Jones rushes out to announce an unidentified incoming object. The two Star Sheriffs decide to hang around and find out what the two mating triangles on the radar turn out to be. Something unusual looms in the distance, the chief security guard gives it a warning, then, when no answer comes, prepares to order an attack. Fortunately for him Fireball prevents the order and in doing so stops him from napalming a traveling circus! That wouldn't have looked good on his permanent record. "It could be a trick!" he insists, not knowing when to give up.

saber rider and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck
star saber and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck seijushi bismarck

Mr Big top (I doubt that he was born with that name) introduces his troupe of gargantuan gorillas, musical clowns, and also "a bevy of intergalactic beauties" which get to work on the Chief of Security. I'd like to point out there is nothing suspicious at all about an unadvertised traveling circus arriving at the location of a newly opened military facility. After all "everyone loves a surprise... especially when the surprise is the circus!" The four local kids can't believe their luck!

saber rider and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck
saber rider saber rider saber rider

To be fair to the Star Sheriffs they do find this situation a little odd too. While out hovering around on this robot horse Saber spots a girl in the woods. "A young woman, out here? All alone?" he wonders with a sleazy grin on his face. Fortunately for her a giant scorpion attacks first so Top Sword is forced to act the hero. With a quick swish of his sword, and a little editing, the beast is vanquished. The girl's father and brother rush over to see what all the fuss is about. "Are you people with the circus?" remarks Saber, insensitively. "I used to do the act with Layla when she was younger" her father proudly admits (the high wire act). Now she does it with Damon. "I'm sure they're quite good." replies Saber. What's with all the attitude? Maybe it was the scorpion ruining his chances. Just before he leaves Layla reveals some important plot points; Mr Bigtop is closing the Circus after tomorrows performance and insisted on bringing the troupe all the way out to a practically deserted military outpost to perform their final show. Something definitely ain't right!
Meeting with the rest of the gang they decide to check the circus out just to make sure it's kosher.

saber rider and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck

That night Mr Bigtop is caught snooping around the new army installation by two of the couture guards. He easily avoids difficult questions by supplying the two rent-a-cops with free passes for the final show. Elsewhere Damon is searching for the Ringmaster with hopes of talking him into keeping the show running a little longer. Unluckily for him he stumbles into the performers loading missiles into the circus vehicles in the open and is confronted by an unfriendly looking clown. The face-painted heavy gives him the regulation phrases "... you've seen too much already" and "You shouldn't have stuck your nose where it doesn't belong!" followed by a slug in the gut - following the goon code to the letter.

saber rider and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck

The following morning Damon is no where to be found and Lila needs a partner for the trapeze, Saber Rider spots his chance. Meanwhile her bound and slightly beaten partner is being held captive by Bigtop who reveals that the circus is just a front to enable him to destroy the new Military base for the Outriders. Inside Ramrod the remaining team members are summoned by their boss to meet up at the main ring urgently. Fireball and Colt dutifully respond only to find that they are being forced to perform in the ring as a favour to Saber Rider's latest obsession. The pair have to dress as a clown and a monkey just so the leader can score some points with a carnie! Some dream job this is turning out to be!

saber rider and the star sheriffs seijushi bismarck

Fireball horses around on a large blue ball and Colt juggles bowling pins for a packed crowd of nearly eleven people! It's a cartoon circus and they still couldn't sell any tickets. With the crowd whipped into a roaring state of apathy Saber Rider and Layla take to the air on the trapeze. The impossibly leggy duo perform feats so incredible and death defying that Fireball's eyes turn into tiny dots and Colt has to fan himself with his hat! "Lila, you really are extra special!" mutters Saber. Maybe his is referring to her freakishly tall head. Just look at that bowl-cut... where does her head end and her hair start?

and the star sheriffs saber rider seijushi bismarck

While all the eleven people of the audience are distracted by the show Mr Bigtop (who incidentally has the same voice as Wimpy from Pop Eye) finally makes his move, mobilising his fleet of robotic tanks against the newly finished Frontier Outpost. April is the first to respond sending a distress call to the others. Elsewhere on the grounds, a couple of deserting performers stumble on the captive Damon and free him. The rescue is interrupted by the brutish clown but Saber Rider intervenes a saves the day once more. Damon spills the beans on Mr Bigtop's plans but it's all old news. Top Sword still pretends like it's news to him and sets off to confront the Circus Psycho.

and the star sheriffs saber rider seijushi bismarck

One star swipe later and we find the Ringmaster closing in on the Good Guy's base. His friendly looking robot transforms into a giant mecha insect and takes on the troops between him and his goal. Ramrod appears on the scene and too transforms into Challenge Phase 1. "Power-stride and ready to ride!", whatever that means... The crew take on Bigtop's Robo-bug in a spot of mecha fisticuffs and soon blast it into a smoldering mushroom cloud. A battered Mr Bigtop 'teleports' to the 'Vapour Zone' aka dies from his massive internal injuries, while the Star Sheriffs all share a slap on the back. Remember: self praise is no praise at all!

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The next day Damon and 'dome head' thank Saber Rider and his team for killing their evil boss and allowing them to take over his circus. Saber Rider can't bear to leave Lila behind and they all agree that she is 'special'. That's not fair, it might just be that her hair cut makes her seem that way.

Finally, Little Pardner - Episode 07 in the US, 03 in Japan. Originally titled Chisana Nohoankan.

Little Pardner

Four meteorites fall from space and onto the planet Dakota. From an observation tower two watchmen, Shakes and Chubbs, spot the incoming shower but disregard it as nothing unusual. Way to miss the hidden threat, there jerks! We see very little of either Shakes or Chubbs, just a couple of far off shots. The reason for this is in the original Chubbs is seen with a cigarette in his mouth. Not a good example to be setting for all those kiddies who aspire to become lazy night watchmen.

and the star sheriffs saber rider seijushi bismarck

The next day, aboard Ramrod Saber Rider and the team receive a distress call from Planet Dakota. After a lot of talk about nothing inparticular, something the writers of these cartoons seem very good at, they decide to check it out. Having landed in the supposedly deserted hills it's not long before they come under attack from Robot Wranglers. Some skillful shooting sends all but one of them 'back to the Vapour Zone' leaving Colt to chase down the remainder. The Outrider is easy enough for him to catch but it seems he has a captive... a little kid with a gun! Sorry that's, "Little kid with a TOY gun!" Colt takes him back to Ramrod to meet the others. Wait a minute, what about the dangerous Outrider? He was standing right there a second ago, what happened to him? Did Colt just let him wander off? Let's just assume he teleported off to safety and lived out the rest of his days happily and peacefully with his Outrider wife and kids in the Vapour Zone. Or did the kid just shoot him? No of course he didn't. How could he? It's a toy gun remember?

and the star sheriffs saber rider seijushi bismarck

Back with the Star Sheriffs the kid isn't keen to talk. With a little encouragement from April he reveals his name is Hoyt. With a little more prodding Hoyt recounts his sorry circumstances... the Outriders came to his town and enslaved all the people to work at a silver mine. During the lynching Hoyt was captured and his parents were clearly gunned down outside their home, Papa's cowboy hat symbolically torn apart by raygun blasts. Somehow the boy got free but the rest of the townsfolk are still down that mine. Good news is he knows where these mines are and can lead our heroes there. The bad news is he's not sure he'll be able to find his Mum and Dad. I'm not either, since they were clearly shot to pieces in his hometown, while he watched. Maybe the trauma has caused him to block out the event.

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cut scene saber rider seijushi bismarck  

The good guys go on a hike to the mines while the bad guys welcome Gattler who has come to over see his operation. The trucks needed to ferry the silver out are hidden in the meteorites we saw earlier, clever huh? Inside the mine we get to see the poor enslaved towns folk toiling to harvest the silver for the evil Outriders. We see tired men welding, we see a weary man carrying a heavy slab of silver. What we don't see is the punishment the man receives for accidentally dropping his cargo... it seems a little harsh to repeatedly beat him with a whip and then through him to his death over the edge of the runway. If that's the penalty for stumbling no wonder they get through so many workers.

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Colt sneaks into the mine while his Star Sheriff chums fight off the Outrider guards. He locates the slaves easier than you'd expect and, with only three baddies guarding them, helps them escape their post with just as much ease. Nemesis makes a brief, stock animation, appearance to fill up the running time made shorter by the cropped ending (more on that when we come to it). Fireball and Saber burst in to join in the rescue mission and not a moment too soon as a giant tank blocks the escapee's path. In what seems more like positive propaganda than censorship in the Japanese episode one of the civilians is killed by the tank before Colt spots it but all that is missing from the U.S. cut. Looks like World Event Productions are filtering the truth! Charlie Sheen would be outraged! Anyway, the tank is small work for the three heroes.

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Now, what mine escape would be complete without a mine cart chase? The Star Sheriffs make their getaway on the rails but Gattler blocks them, closing the tunnel's shutters. To finish them off he floods the chamber but forgets to shut them in the one without the hole in the roof. But outside the struggle isn't over, Gattler unveils a giant Renegade Unit. Fortunately April is standing by in Ramrod (did you wonder where she was?) and soon the team is reunited inside their own giant mecha. A short battle between the two machines ensues and you can guess who is the winner. In a scene added to the Star Sheriffs edit, Gattler is brought up in front of Nemesis to receive a dressing down for his handling of the mining operation.

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To wrap up the adventure our heroes say their sad farewells to Hoyt but he has some good news. He found his parents (off camera), they escaped with the others and now they will be reunited. "I love happy endings!" declares April.

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It seems the writer liked happy endings too because here's how it really concluded...

cut scene saber rider

... Hoyt visits his parent's grave to pay his final respects. I told you they didn't survive that fatal shooting.

Missing videos Missing videos

"No" means no!
The whole bizarre event in the Cavalry Command ladies room.

Ramrod Vs. Mr Bigtop
A billing that sounds like WWE running low on ideas.

Good dubbing
  Good script
  Well presented
  Fitting music
  Good animation
By-the-numbers U.S. episodes

I know a lot of you probably are very familiar with Saber Rider but I wasn't and to be honest, from the four American episodes on the first video, I wasn't a big fan. The first two episodes were ok and mimicked the style of the original's animation well but the third and fourth adventures were really run-of-the-mill stuff and the character models had really begun to slide. The plots were pure eighties cartoon filler and could have easily been episodes from pretty much any series, The Highlanders particularly wouldn't have been out of place on The Real Ghostbusters.

But fortunately I put on the cheapo Supermarket DVD and was pleasantly surprised by the 'true' episodes. The newly placed U.S. transitions are unintrusive and fit with the style of the show unlike the MTV overload of Macron 1. The two stories were enjoyable and reasonably true to the Japanese originals. All in all fine kiddies sci-fi fare even if some of the names are a little suspect. I mean, Ramrod? Come on! What names did they turn down?

Even though I'd still choose Voltron, Saber Rider isn't a bad alternative.