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Preparing for a routine journey back to his home on 31st-century Earth, starship captain Ulysses runs into trouble on planet Troy when his son, Telemachus, is captured by the disciples of the Cyclops. Killing the Cyclops to save Telemachus, Ulysses brings down the wrath of the god Zeus, who puts his crew into suspended animation and wipes the navigation systems of his ship, the Odyssey. Accompanied only by Telemachus, Numinor, and Yumi, the alien siblings from planet Zotra, and the intensely annoying robot No-no, Ulysses must wander the stars in search of the Kingdom of Hades to awaken his crew and find the way back home.
A ridiculously contrived sci-fi reworking of Homer's Odyssey, accomplished in such an endearing and exciting fashion as to become one of the best-loved anime in Europe, Ulysses 31 was the first French-Japanese coproduction. It was also the last for Rose of Versailles' Tadao Nagahama, who died during production. Producer Jean Chalopin would return with the equally memorable Mysterious Cities of Gold, before his output sank into the financially lucrative but creatively impoverished doldrums of the toy tie-ins Rainbow Brite (also made with Japanese staff) and Care Bears. He next surfaced in the anime world when his Studio DIC provided the English dub of Sailor Moon.
The basis of the story (the gods, their human servants, and the obstacles they place in Ulysses' way) has hardly changed, except that Telemachus accompanies our hero rather than staying at home to fight off his mother Penelope's suitors as he did in the original. The addition of new characters doesn't jar; there are so many fantastic beings in the story already that a sweet alien telepath and an annoying robot with an appetite for metal fit right in. The design team makes the best of what it has, with classy machines from Manchu (aka French designer Phillippe Bouchet), reworked by Studio Nue and Saint Seiya-designer Araki. His version of Ulysses had to be toned down by Deyries at final approval stage; the director wanted a pacifist hero, so most of the Japanese-originated futuristic sidearm designs were discarded. The show remains deservedly popular, despite the annoying little robot-most notable among its many achievements, a Homeric episode in which the SF Ulysses travels back in time to meet the Greek original and the faithful Penelope. For this episode alone, Ulysses 31 is an anime classic.