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Even these tapes cost something

  TimeFighters
 
1987 | American Way Co./Kid Pix
timefighters my tv kid pix jim terry

A new occasional series of reviews begins, each one a recommendation of friend of the site 8 Man. For the first in the series I have selected a video I didn't even realise I had! So get ready for "Adventures beyond the fourth dimension"

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From Tatsunoko Productions and produced by co-founder Ippei Kuri, Time Bokan (Time Machine) first appeared on Japanese TV screens on October 4th 1975. The story began with mad scientist Dr Kieda inventing Mechbuton, the Time Machine of the title, and then disappearing somewhere in the past during it's maiden test run. It then rests on the Doctor's Granddaughter Junko and lab assistant Tanpei to travel through time, folk tales and even fiction to secure his safe return.

The two kids are assisted by Robot chum Chorobot and talking Parrot Perasuke who was the only passenger of the Mechabuton on its return and he could hold the answer to the Doctor's whereabouts. Their quest is constantly interrupted by the evil, yet comically ineffective Skull Trio; Madame Marjo and her henchmen Grocky (the sort of smart one) and Walsa (the muscle), who are after the powerful crystal in the team's possession. Unlike similar setups in Western cartoon series like Dungeons & Dragons the on going search for Dr Keiba wasn't unending- Junko was actually re-united with her Grandfather by the end of the series.

The wacky action comedy was broadcast on Fuji TV at 6.30pm making it more for family viewing (like, for instance Ren & Stimpy) than specifically for kids. It was an instant hit and Tatsunoko wasted no time in wringing every Yen from it as they could creating as much merchandise as possible, even going as far as to introduce new Skull Trio Mecha in each episode to necessitate a new toy. Time Bokan became Tatsunoko's cash cow- their equivalent to Sunrise's Gundam and Takara's Brave Saga.

Time Bokan lasted 61 half hour episodes and, such was its popularity (not to mention profitability) that it was followed almost immediately by a sequel series: Time Bokan- Yatterman. This new show was actually the first in an amazing 7 shows, each commencing mere weeks after the predecessors conclusion, to appear under the Time Bokan banner. Each had its own cast of heroes and villains and followed the same simple formula as the genesis. In fact Time Bokan created such a successful formula that the basic setup; bungling bad guys follow the good guys, attempt to foil their plans yet end up being destroyed by their own stupidity- has used and re-used in anime constantly to this day, the most recent that springs to mind being Pokemon.

The franchise finally ran out of steam in 1983 with Itadakiman being the last new title. The characters were revived for two OAVs but a TV revival never transpired. Time Bokan became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon; while not to the extent of Yamato or Gundam but the characters regularly turn up as action figures and in video games.

The original 1975 series of Time Bokan was brought to the West in 1984 as two feature length videos by Jim Terry the man behind "Force Five" (see Sci-bots). Numerous episodes of the Japanese TV series were chopped together into two 95 minute tales, introducing the team and then getting though as many of their encounters with well known characters of history and fiction as possible.

Terry's version was retitled Time Fighters and Time Fighters In the Land of Fantasy, fully crediting not only the original animation studio but the Japanese creative team and even the original title (which makes my job easier) and was created by his Kid Pix company.

The task of creating the English vocal track went to Eastern Animation specialist and Bargain Bin regular Harmony Gold although none of their usual cast of voices makes an appearance.

 
Japanese Promo for the first series
 
TimeFighters

Good old Bullets, just from their song "Somewhere in between" from Les Miserables I knew they were an unstoppable hit machine. That instant pop classic must have caught the attention of Jim Terry 'cause here they are singing the theme tune to Time Fighters. And it's not the last time we hear an original composition from them but more on that later.

Our story begins in the laboratory of Professor Von Spock as the final preparations are being made to his new time machine Scorpion 2 (the narrator states that there never was a Scorpion 1 since the inventor didn't want to waste the time, with more than a little derision in his voice).

The children Jett and Starr dash around excitedly while robotic assistant Tonk makes the final checks. Also present on this monumentous occasion is Captain Arrow, another of the Prof's lab assistants who, with a bright red nose, buck teeth and handle-bar mustache, is clearly evil although no one else seems to have noticed. The whole crew bundle into the cockpit, anxious to be the first to try out this amazing machine but Von Spock has other ideas. Rather than send Jett and Starr out in this untested and potentially dangerous Time Machine he will be the one to take it on it's inaugural run. Dressed in a safari suit the professor takes to the controls and after much flashing and wavy, screensaver-esque effects the Scorpion 2 vanishes through time.

There is little time to consider this accomplishment before the time machine makes its return- minus the good Professor. In his place is a talking green bird who, when questioned by the concerned granddaughter, can't remember where in time he is from. Attached to his collar is a glowing diamond-like crystal which Captain Arrow quickly snatches away. The bird introduces himself as Squawky and retells his last memories or being with his overbearing bird-wife Bromhilder. Now, here's something you've never seen before (unless you're a Furry)- a bird with boobs! It's not a pleasant sight by any means. Anyway his short tale does nothing to reveal the lost scientist's location but does allow Captain Arrow to slip away unnoticed with the powerful crystal.

He hurries back to his real boss Lucinda Skullduggery to reveal what's happened. The barely dressed villianess hatches a plan to use the Scorpion 1 to locate more of the these rare gems so that they can be used to create powerful weapons. The dastardly team, including second henchman Mungo, head back to the Von Spock lab where Jett, Starr and Tonk are just leaving to locate the girl's missing grandfather. Captain Arrow bursts in on them and holds them at gun point but, after a little slapstick action, the good guys are away leaving Lucinda and co far behind.

But not for long as it is revealed that the bad guys have a time machine of their own (so why try to steal Von Spocks?). This is where Bullets make their return. Inexplicably the Skullduggery crew begin a goofy dance routine to one of their songs, one about how good the trio are good at being bad. It's really naff but what do you expect. Shortly they are hot on Jett and Co's trail in a robotic Mastodon.

Which is lucky since the Time Fighters have found themselves in prehistoric times. In there very first adventure the Time Fighters befriend a tribe of cave men led by an Elder named George. Lucina and her crew turn up and kidnap and brain wash George into helping them locate more crystals. Jett rescues the elder, who was no help at all to the bad guys any how and a slapstick, mecha battle breaks out accompanied by another Bullets hit. Best lyrics:

#All we've gotta do is help each other/Never turn our backs, never run for cover! #
#All we've gotta do is stick together! All we've gotta to is never!..... give up the fight. Lose our faith! When we know we're right!#

As it readily becomes is a constant theme; the bad guys lose the battle thanks to their own stupidity (in this case blown up by their own missile). George is returned to his tribe but there is no sign of the Professor so the team return to their own time.

The next episode- sorry scene- opens with Jett and Starr studying ancient suits of armour in the Professors lab. Using a wacky device called a Sniff-ometre (basically a vacuum cleaner with a snout) they check for traces of 'time disturbances' on the museum pieces. A 16th century spanish suit causes the metre to explode- a sure sign that this must be the era where Von Spock was lost. The gang dash to Scorpion 2 unaware that their foes have tethered their new time travel mecha to it, and hitch a ride to Spain.

In this time location our heroes meet the inept knight Don Quixote while the baddies join forces with the dreaded Black Knight. Inside their new Lion-shaped robot Lucina and the gang tear up a small village in search of the power crystals but all this destruction just brings them to the attention of the Time Fighters. Another zany fight ensues and even though at one point it looks like they may actually win the Skullduggery crew end up exploding as usual. Don Quixote confronts the Black Knight and even though he is just as inept as Lucina and co he is victorious. The Time Fighters bid him farewell and leave for a new time- the future.

Lucina, Mungo and Captain Arrow are able to follow them, this time by using a simple tracking device. The Time Fighters find themselves outside a futuristic city and witness a human boy being captured by what seems to be a robot Hitler and his cronies. Caught in a net the boy is taken away while Scorpion 2 comes under attack from yet more unfriendly androids and is also eventually captured. In a plot that must have been used many times in porno anime, the world has been taken over by humanoid robots once built to serve man (it seems Terminator was right). Now under the guidance of Robo Hitler- or Captain Rotter to give him his proper name- humans are captured and thrown into jail.

The baddies arrive in a robot Chameleon and perform yet another dodgy dance routine before following our heroes into the Robot City. The Time Fighters are sprung from captivity by a human sympathizing Robot Doctor while Skullduggery allies herself with Captain Rotter, promising to share the power if he helps them find more crystals. There are more odd boobs in this section, although ones that many of you have probably seen before- robot boobs.

The escape attempt doesn't go unnoticed by Rotter who sends an army of flying robots after Jett, Starr, Tonk and Scorpion 2. Lucina joins in the fight but once again is a victim of her own poor strategising and once again explodes (and in an only mildly censored scene we see odd boobs #3 Lucina's!). The Robot government arrests Captain Rotter and the good Doctor Bot heads a new human friendly civilization. The Time Fighters return to their own time to visit Professor Von Spock's old friend Doctor Smithle.

Using one of his new inventions he searches for clues as to where his friend might be. The fruit machine suggest locating "The Magic Mallet" belonging to Boy Thumb who lives in Kyoto Japan. Within seconds the team are on their way accidentally leaving Squawky behind. In Japan Tonk finds Boy Thumb floating down a river towards Kyoto. The tiny Swordsman is a little shocked; "I've never seen a robot before but you sure look friendly enough" he says. He's never seen a robot in 16th century Japan but he knows what one is! Tonk delivers Boy Thumb to the Time Fighters and they help him on his journey.

Back in modern times Captain Arrow finds Squawky alone and with just a little persuasion finds out where the good guys were heading. Meanwhile in ancient Kyoto Jett convinces the Shogun to allow the miniature fairy tale character to be trained as a Samurai assuring him that in the future he will become a mighty warrior. Later that day, while out walking in the cherry blossoms, the Princess is confronted by a giant demon. Boy Thumb vows to protect her and, with a little help from Scorpion 2, manages to scare it off, and it leaves behind the fabled magic mallet. But celebrations are short lived as the Skullduggery crew shows up, in giant mecha demon and steals the legendary weapon. To make matters worse they also have Squawky captive. Once again good and evil do battle. And once again evil loses thanks to their own poor planning (although they do manage to waste one of the mallet's wishes). With Lucina and the gang blown up once more the mallet is returned to the Princess who wishes Boy Thumb to grow to normal size. The magic works but unfortunately there are no more wishes left so the Time Fighters are unable to use it to help them locate the Professor.

Next Jett and Starr visit a museum for inspiration on where in time to check next. While on the tour the group are shown a Parrot skeleton which Squawky recognises as his wife's bones! The artifact dates from ancient Peru so that's where the Time Fighters head to next. But, as usual, Captain Arrow is spying on them so they're gonna have company. In Peru the two sides ally themselves with two opposing Warrior tribes. Lucina helps the bad tribe kidnap the Emperor of the good tribe. Skullduggery wants his half of a treasure locating pendant; the bad guys simply want him out of the way. The second half of the Pendant belongs to the good tribe's prince who is in the company of the Time Fighters. It seems that Jim Terry must have edited out the bit explaining where the Prince came from; he just appears during a scene looking for his father the Emperor. In fact it all gets a little confusing during this story with the action leaping all over the place. It all ends before it really begins. Jett and Starr get both halves of the Pendant, the Prince and Emperor are reunited and the treasure turns out to be a bunch of crappy scrolls and not the Professor (or whatever they were hoping it would be). Oh and it also turns out that the skeleton wasn't Bromhilder's either.

God... isn't this thing over yet? They didn't use all 61 episodes to make this video did they? Boy, it's starting to feel that way. Anyhow, the team visit Dr Gabby who uses one of his inventions to read Squawky's mind. The screen shows a monster which the Doctor interprets as Dracula. Does Squawky come from "Old Transylvania"? What do you think! Shortly after landing they meet a old man who tells them about Dracula, telling them that an old man was recently seen entering his castle. The Time Fighters head to the castle and meet the legendary monster but he turns out to be a friendly, misunderstood man (who likes tomato juice). The count hasn't seen the professor but he does have a secret treasure which the evil Lucina and co are more than interested in. They burst into the castle in a robotic bat and steal it but find it useless. The Time Fighters chase them down and attack with garlic bombs. The mechanical bat fires back with a 'Super Laser' which Jett quickly reflects back at them with a giant crucifix and the bad guys are defeated once more. Dracula gets his chest of treasure back.

A messy fade unconvincingly segues into the next episo- scene. Squawky goes for a fly to help jog his memory and, while thinking back to his last memories of his wife, forces us to watch that same scene over again. On his travels he finds a bird who looks exactly like his wife, but isn't. She mentions the Wright Brothers and that's all the excuse the Time Fighters need. In turn-of-the-century North Carolina they meet the inventors of modern flight. Wilbert and Orville have just suffered a major set back having lost their investor but are pleased to meet the children as they are already good friends of Professor Von Spock. Unfortunately he is nowhere to been found but the Time Fighters agree to stay a while and help them get their project back on track. Now, if you think about it, they shouldn't need Jett and Co's help since they managed to invent the airplane all by themselves already. In fact the children's interference could disrupt the flow of history but then I'm taking this too seriously after all it's not Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure we're talking about.

Anyway... the team stay up all night and sort out the problems the brothers have been having causing the financier to reconsider. This sequence is so pointless Lucina, Arrow and Mungo don't even show up. Back to modern times: Squawky spies on the bad guys who have created another Super Laser and this one is powered by the crystal. They install it in their time traveling Hippo robot and head off to "The green forests of the past" to test it out. These forests turn out to be Sherwood Forest in the time of Robin Hood. The evil Duncan sides with Lucina offering great riches in exchange for her Super Laser. So what do you think happens next? That's right, the Time Fighters meet Robin Hood and help him fight back. There's yet another battle between Lucina and Scorpion 2 with the good guys actually taking some fairly serious damage but they still win in the end. Duncan is vanquished and Robin Hood has restored peace to the kingdom.

FInally we've reached the end. Jett vows to keep looking for Starr's Grandfather (who is sitting by a river somewhere with Bromhilder). The crew sit aboard the Scorpion 2, Jett looks into the camera and warns the audience that they will return (a threat I don't believe he carried out).

   

Now you know what happens in this video, here's what the back of the case promised...

"Professor Van Spock is still missing, lost in the labyrinths of time and space. Jeff and Starr set out once more to find him. Their Scorpion II Time Machine materialises in the shadow of the Evil Queen's castle from Snow White, and so starts an adventure that will take our heroes to the rescue of Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and many other famous fairy tale characters."

I don't recall any of that stuff. Maybe there's another tape out there or is this just the most inaccurate blurb so far? Be sure to leave a message if you know more.

[Editor's note from the future: Thanks to visitor Ben Guilfoyle who pointed out there were two TimeFighters tapes released and Blockbuster gave me the case from one and the video from the other!]

 
Missing videos

Time Fighters Intro
Because we love them, 2 videos of the music of Bullets. First the classic theme

Bullets: Music Appreciation
A special highlights reel of Bullets' musical numbers. Hope you dig the transistions!

 
Good Dubbing
 
Well animated
  Fun, for a while
  The music of Bullets!
 
Dated character designs
 
So very, very long...

Yet another three. But consider it a low three. Time Fighters starts out enjoyable enough, with Inspector Gadget style humour and fairly good vocalisations, but due to its nature the flow of the action soon becomes very episodic making it seem a lot longer than it is. That's not to say that it isn't actually long, at nearly 1 hour 40 this is one hefty kids tape and, since it was already twenty minutes through when I took the tape out of the case, a little too long for some!

What comes through most is that the original Time Bokan series seems like a lot of fun and worth a look on the unlikely chance a translated DVD ever becomes available. And I can't finish without mentioning the mighty Bullets and their musical contributions. The dance routines are a little jarring and very goofy but worth it for the musical accompaniments. If anyone knows where I can get a further fix of their talents please leave a post.

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