I don’t know what it is about cartoons set in outer space that just sent me into a tizzy of energy between the ages of 8 and, oh, I don’t know, now. I’m sure it stems from my lifelong love of Star Wars, but anything Space Opera-related is going to get at least a few watches out of me. Here, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite action cartoons set in space. I’m leaving off The Clone Wars because obviously that’s awesome, and I’m also leaving off Futurama because it changes genre so much. Everything else is up for grabs, so here we go!
10. Mobile Suit Gundam
There’s a whole spate of anime programs that have to do with mech suits and fighting in outer space. This pick is sort of a catch-all (or a cop-out, you decide), but it stands up to time, which is especially impressive seeing as it was sort of the first of its kind. It’s also important given that it was not particularly popular upon its release. It’s like people didn’t know that they wanted to see people piloting giant robot suits until it was gone.
9. The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers
This is a show that taught us that there’s nothing we can dream that two visiting aliens can’t give us. What do we do once we reach outer space? Set up a frontier society with space cowboys riding robotic horses, of course. It’s like we can’t do anything that isn’t super Earthy. At any rate, I loved this cartoon and would walk around my house with my fake cowboy cap guns pretending I was in outer space. I also, now as an adult, really find show openings like this funny; describe the entire plot and premise before the crappy ’80s synth rock theme starts. So funny.
8. Space Ghost
Before he went Coast to Coast, Space Ghost was a serious action star in one of the coolest, and frankly weirdest, cartoons of the mid-’60s. He was a superhero who could fly on his own in space, yet he had a ship also so that his sidekicks, Jan, Jace, and Blip the monkey (?) could come with. Was he actually a ghost? Why would a ghost need power bands? At any rate, name me one kid out there who didn’t yell “Spaaaaaaaaace Ghoooooooost!” in Gary Owens’ voice whilst running around the house with a towel around their neck. I grew up poor; what do you want from me?!?
7. Battle of the Planets (aka Science Ninja Team Gatchaman
Do you suppose Sandy Frank had seen Star Wars before adapting this Japanese anime? I love that Earth would trust the complete safety of it and all its people from alien invasion to five young people who dress like birds. “Oh, they have super powers? Okay. I, guess we can look past the get-ups.” This show had the same basic set-up as Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds, wherein each member of the team had their own, distinct vehicle with its own special ability, which was maybe the coolest thing for a little, toy-obsessed kid like me.
Remember Thundercats? Well, SilverHawks was the exact same show, except in space. It featured a team of people who were “partly metal, partly real,” insinuating the metal was imaginary, who could fly around space and protect Earth from MonStarr and his minions. MonStarr could change shape to become even more monstrous (sorta like Mumm-Ra, huh?). The best character by far was Bluegrass, the guitar-playing, southern-accented member of the group. Like Thundercats, this show existed in a universe where there was never anybody except the heroes and villains. Who exactly are we protecting?
5. Ulysses 31
Mixing Greek Mythology with space adventure can be dangerous in some instances (like the ill-advised Lou Ferrigno Hercules movie), but it worked incredibly well here. Like all good anime (this one was a French-Japanese co-production), it knew the story it wanted to tell and did only that, lasting just 26 episodes. In essence, the show followed the plot of Homer’s The Odyssey. His ship was even called Odyssey. Having the Gods of Olympus as the antagonists is a pretty awesome idea. That theme song is the pits, though.
4. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars
Early ’90s for the win! There’s nobody better suited to battling imperialistic toads and evil lizards than a green rabbit and his crew of a magic cat lady, a four-armed duck with one eye, a robot, and a Betelgeusian Berserker Baboon. This series, based on a comic book, packed in humor at the expense of the baddies, especially Toad Air Marshal, but never skimped on the drama. An early episode has Bucky’s entire planet enslaved. That’s pretty harsh. And as far as theme songs go, this one will not leave your head for about 22 years.
3. Star Blazers (AKA Space Battleship Yamato)
In a well-trod theme of space opera, Star Blazers depicts Earth being nearly wiped out by an alien menace only to be saved by another, friendly alien race who also gives them lots of cool tech and the ability to travel through space in a big, giant battleship named Yamato that gets turned into a spaceship called Argo. I would have named it “Clamato,” but that’s just me. This is about as close as anime space opera got to Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica.
This show made no attempt to hide its attempt to be an American anime; in fact, it promoted itself that way. A rich and dense tapestry of characters and situations that made for smashing toys. The story concerns the epic battle between Earth forces, the Pirate Empire, and the Neosapiens, synthetic lifeforms created by humans. The serialized story was surprisingly deep for weekday morning cartoons and dealt with things from prejudice to sexism. And it was all about people flying around in personal mech suits, so, you know, it’s pretty great.
1. Cowboy Bebop
Bebop! Y’all forgot about Bebop! This show was part Film Noir, part Western, but all spacey. One of the best anime series of all time, each of the characters are memorable, likable, and heartbreaking in their own way. The Bebop is one of the coolest spaceships in all of sci-fi, and Spike and Faye each have their own very awesome individual ships. Yeah, a lot of the series takes place on the ground, but that’s true of all of the shows. Plus, it has maybe the best soundtrack of any show ever.
So that’s my top ten space cartoons. What are yours? Surely I left off your favorite, because the law of averages is the way it is. Thanks to everybody who helped me remember some of these great shows. Until next time, look to the stars!