Fools' Gold?

For readers of a certain age, the news that The Mysterious Cities of Gold is returning stirs up memories of hazy autumn days in 1986, rushing home to see the latest instalment of a cartoon series with a difference. MCoG had adventure and action, a complex storyline and believable characters… it was also an anime. MCoG was one of the last of the “hidden imports”, Japanese animation shows released in the UK with no discussion of their origins. Four years later, Akira changed everything.

MCoG gets a mention here because the animation was done by the famous Studio Pierrot, including early directorial work from Mizuho Nishikubo, the director of Musashi: Dream of the Last Samurai. But considering that the original was a French co-production (run by Ulysses 31’s Jean Chalopin), and there is currently no mention of Japanese participation in the sequel, I may not have cause to mention it again.

MCoG is thirty years old. As is the way with such multinational productions, the ownership of the original was a nightmare. For years, it seemed that the sticking point was the Japanese end of production, with the network NHK refusing to give up its share or sell it on so that others could do something with it. The deadlock was broken in 2007, with Chalopin’s new company Movie Plus buying NHK’s interest in the franchise, in turn freeing it up to be released on DVD, and indeed, for discussions to begin about a remake.

Initial discussions seemed to centre around a film production, although all mention of that was soon taken down from Movie Plus’s website. Instead, these speculations were replaced with an announcement that Mysterious Cities of Gold would be brought back as three 26-episode TV serials, moving the action from South America to Asia – 1532, the setting of the original series, is conveniently close to the samurai warring states period and the peak of China’s Ming dynasty.

But even if the setting is Asia, the animation companies listed so far are resolutely French, a fact liable to classify MCoG as a “mere” cartoon. That doesn’t mean it won’t be great; just that it’s likely appeal to fans of Japanese animation will surely be diminished.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Schoolgirl Milky Crisis: Adventures in the Anime and Manga Trade. This article first appeared in NEO 87, 2011.

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