FROM THE VAULT: Conan The Adventurer, Season One

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Hasbro dropped off a package at Major Spoilers the other day. Stephen was hoping for Clone Wars toys, and I was hoping for Magic cards. We were not expecting the actual contents of the mysterious box…

Except for the fact that it was roughly DVD-case shaped and we knew it was coming.

Anydangway, when I looked at the cover of Conan The Adventurer, Season One I prepared myself for what was clearly poorly animated, cliche-laden, villain-of-the-week schlock.

as it turns out I was wrong on all but one count.

Not Villain-of-The-Week Schlock

Now, as the opening song explains Conan, the mightiest warrior ever, has a quest: To undo the spell of living stone cast upon his family by driving the evil serpent men back to another dimension and vanquishing their leader, the cruel wizard Wrath-Amon. What the intro doesn’t convey is that Wrath-Amon and Conan become enemies because Conan’s father, a blacksmith, harvested some awesome star metal from a meteor shower and forged it into awesome weapons. Wrath-Amon needs the starmetal to summon his dark lord of darkness and gets somewhat peeved when Conan sr. tells him that all the starmetal has been sold. So Wrath-Amon turns Conan Sr., Mrs. Conan, and Granpa Conan into stone. Just then, Conan returns with the last remaining starmetal weapon (an awesome sword) and goes all Hyborian on Wrath-Amon. We discover that the starmetal has the ability to bridge the gap between dimensions and that a Serpent man who gets close to it will lose his human guise and if struck will be sucked back to snakedimension.

And then the story takes off. Over the course of ten-or-so episodes Conan gathers companions, makes enemies and learns valuable lessons about friendship. Allies join Conan and then leave when they have other obligations, allowing Conan (and us) to visit them later so as to investigate cloak-and-dagger plots in their home turfs. It’s all surprisingly complex.

Not (Entirely) Cliche-Laden

I expected cliches, both in the speech of the characters and in the protagonists’ characterization. Fortunately there was very little of one, and the show gets away with the other by being set in the Hyborian age. You don’t hear characters shout out groan-worthy puns, in fact one of the strong points is the speech of each character as they each invoke their own gods and have their own sayings. You do see a party of strong guy, acrobat chick, priest and wizard (and then another strong guy eventually) but since all characters are very rarely together it feels more organic. The one issue is the talking animal sidekick, a baby phoenix named Needle, who subscribes to the Gurgi school of speech patterns.

Yes, Poorly Animated

I don’t want to just haul off and criticize the animation because the action is well done, but the characters are consistently inconsistent. In one scene Conan towers over team cleric Zula, in another they are the same size. The character’s faces (especially for female characters) will often look drastically different from previous depictions and there are some solidly awkward freeze-frames thrown in. So I guess I do want to haul off and criticize the animation.

Verdict: Surprisingly Watchable

The weird thing about this show is how watchable it is. Whenever it goes over-the-top it’s charmingly campy, whenever it breaks from tradition it’s surprisingly intelligent. Conan The Adventurer gets 3 and a half stars from me, could have been more, but the animation is often off-putting.

Rating: ★★★½☆