Wheeled Warriors explode into battle! Lightning Strikes! / by Mark Egan

Drivn' down on the highway, and my wheeeeeels are spinnin' fast! I've been driving now for a long long time and soon I will be there!

Keep on rollin'!!

If you are a person 'of a certain age' like myself, you are probably finishing the rest of that song in your head right now, as just one 'Keep on rollin' will not cut it at all. For those who do not know, I am of course talking about the closing theme to Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.

After my last review of the 80s French-Anime Ulysses 31, 'Wheeled Warriors' suddenly came to mind. I don't know why, but I've always put those two shows in the same box. But in my nostalgia driven memory I never really considered it Anime, and thus it did not qualify for review at first. However, one quick Wikipedia search later informs me that Wheeled Warriors was in fact animated by 'Sunrise' in Japan, meaning that show does fall into what I would consider 'French-Anime'.

And so without further pointless delay, I would like to bring you down memory lane with yet another 80's French-Anime space-opera for children, that is 'Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors'.

I loved this show, I really did, and as I have gotten older I have started to appreciate it on several new levels. For example, at the moment I love Wheeled Warriors because it outlived the toy-range it was designed to sell in the first place. Many children's animation projects over the past 40 odd years have been born out of the desire to directly market a toy or something along those lines to the audience. Transformers, My Little Pony, and He-Man are good examples of shows that were approved mostly because they would generate toy sales. Plot, characters and animation were very often secondary concerns in projects like this.

He-Man actually shares something in common with Wheeled Warriors in being a series based on a Mattel toy range that was then adapted into a cartoon. What sets Wheeled Warriors apart however is the amount of effort put in to make the show as compelling as possible.

The main plot of Wheeled Warriors followed a teenager named 'Jayce' who together with a random crew of characters named 'The Lightning League' fought an inter-stellar war with race of demonic plant creatures known as 'The Monster Minds'. Episodes would often involve a challenge to defeat a Monster Mind plot or invasion, as the Monsters themselves would relentlessly march forward to conquer whole worlds and enslave their populations. Most episodes would also center on the use of futuristic road-vehicles, to justify the 'Wheeled' aspect of the shows title.

The production staff of Wheeled Warriors surprisingly managed to come up with a lot of this on their own. The Mattel toy range had no distinctive characters beyond the Monster Minds, and the good guys were just a load of generic human action figures that fitted into the vehicles of the Lightning League. The good guys were essentially a generic human army of the future, facing monstrous plant vehicles with very little plot or reason given.

However, the Wheeled Warriors cartoon created a compelling plot for itself and thus outlived the toy range it was designed to sell, which came out of production just as the first season was airing!

Lately I love Wheeled Warriors for this reason, as it goes to show that a well-produced children's animation project doesn't necessary need a toy-line to justify its existence. I feel that is important to point out, as in the past few years there have been far too many children's anime floating about that were essentially plot-less adverts designed only to showcase a toy-line. (Beyblade, I'm looking at you)

Anyway, back to the show at hand, I love Wheeled Warriors for a couple of other reasons too.

The characters were pretty well done here. Jayce, although a bit jarring at times worked as the primary protagonist, displaying believable leadership and a realistic amount of fear in the face of the Monster Minds. Flora, a plant-based flower-girl, nicely fills in the Obligatory Token Child role required by 80's Sci-fi without being too annoying.

Gillian, a wizard, brings a delightful contradiction to show in being both a magician and chief engineer of the Lightning League. There's something about the idea of a mechanic using his skills and 'a little magic' to fix stuff, that really works well in my mind. In addition, we also have a living suit or armor named Oon (15 years before Full Metal Alchemist folks!) I kinda wished death upon Oon regularly, as he was annoying as hell and rarely helped the plot.

Finally, my favorite character of the show was a mercenary named Han Solo…..oh sorry, I meant to write 'Herc'.

Herc was the captain of a transporter named the Millennium Falcon 'Pride of the Skies', and as a mercenary he agreed to transport the Lightning League for a price. (Avoiding Imperial entanglements would cost extra.)

He was a blatant Han Solo rip-off, and I think I loved his character for that reason alone. He was a greedy jerk who was mostly out for himself, but at the end of the day he was a good guy who would join the ranks of the Lightning League and help fight the Monster Minds. Although I think that was mostly so he could collect the massive transport fee that the League was building on their tab with him.

Oh Han Herc, you loveable rouge!

However as much as a loved that mercenary, I reserve my applause for the enemies of this show. The Monster Minds, much like the Gods of Olympus from Ulysses 31, remain in my Top 10 Villains list to this very day. Accidentally created by Jayce's father during an experiment, the Monster Minds are a race of plant based humanoids that can morph into various armed vehicles. In addition to that, they can replicate themselves via flower-pods and can spread out across space on gigantic living vines that can ensnare people, buildings, starships and even whole planets.

The Monster Minds were pure evil. They had no remorse, no pity and despite their size could suddenly 'flower' an army nearby without anyone noticing. Their goal was to conquer the galaxy, enslave whole worlds and leave nothing in their wake. They also have an excellent 'Evil Emperor' character in the form of 'Saw-Boss' who is omnipresent wherever there is at least one Monster Mind.

I put the Monster Minds in the same box as the Daleks, mostly because they both work for the same reason. They are both extremely power compared to the show's hero, on the whole are very intelligent, and have absolutely no pity. They will kill you, or use you up until it's time to kill you. For me, these are bad guys who deserving of the title 'Evil'.

Lately, there is another reason I love the Monster Minds as a villain. They were a very rare example of nature 'being evil' in a children's television show. It was even rarer to see humanity using technology to fight off this force of evil nature.

Thus, Wheeled Warriors taught us that nature was bad and that technology was good.

That just blows my mind away! You would never get away with that today in a kids show! They were kind of pushing their luck back then as well. Wheeled Warriors was released in 1985, and towards the end of the 80s and into the 90s there was an increasing 'Environmentalist' drive into children's entertainment. The likes of 'Captain Planet' (shudder) were a result of this drive, and anything that skewed the basic 'be cool to then environment' message that children's programming was instructed to go for, probably would not have been approved.

I think things calmed down in the later 90s and into the 2000s, but even then the fact that the show's villain was plants, probably would have produced headaches for the network censors. I think of myself as an eco-friendly guy, but that said I am still delighted that Wheeled Warriors turns the default eco-message on its head.

Wheeled Warriors ended its original run in 1985, unfortunately without a resolution to its plot. A movie was planned to conclude the series (in the same vein as Transformers: The Movie), but that was cancelled when the toy-range ceased production due to a lack of sales.

Although it didn't have a proper conclusion, the show still managed to be an enjoyable space adventure that stood the test of time as well as repeated viewings. Like Ulysses 31, Wheeled Warriors reminds me of my childhood. If you have not seen this show, I fully recommend seeking it out.

Until next time Retro-Warriors, Keep on roll'n!

/Mark