Like so many of our generation, I was drawn to Dungeons & Dragons from the first time I cracked open a book. I had the benefit of being a third generation gamer (my grandmother, mother, aunt, and uncles played when I was younger.) As I aged, while my mother and grandmother moved away from the game, my uncle helped my inner geekling fledge, starting with Dr. Who on PBS and later, with VHS tapes of the D&D cartoon. But, I digress. With news of another D&D film on the horizon, I wanted to take a trip back through D&D as it’s been portrayed in the media, beginning with today’s topic, the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon.
A quick run-down (it’s what I do!)
Dungeons & Dragons ran for 3 seasons, from September 1983 to December of 1985 for a total of 27 episodes aired (and one unaired). It was animated in Japan by Toei Animation (also responsible for the animation of Transformers and the Dragon Ball franchise.) Primary direction was given by Bob Richardson (for season one) and Karl Geurs (for two and three.) There’s a Who’s Who of voice actors in the cast including Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Frank Welker (Megatron), Don Most (Ralph from Happy Days), Bob Holt (Mogwai from Gremlins), and Katie Leigh (Alex on Totally Spies!) as well as many more. Produced by Marvel Productions, D&D Entertainment and Toei Animation, D&D led its timeslot for the majority of its run.
This show is full of the ridiculousness one expects of 80’s cartoons, thanks to He-Man, She-Ra, & G. I. Joe. There’s plenty of morality lessons to learn about anything and everything under the sun. The situations they find themselves in irritate me throughout most of the show because if Dungeon Master was as kind as they’d like you to believe, they’d never get into them in the first place. Like, I seriously have the same feelings about Dungeon Master as I do Dumbledore, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms that we’re not getting into today. Another problem I have comes directly from that first episode. Yeah, there may be 1500 of them (okay, there’s only 6 of them, plus a fairly useless unicorn, creatively named Uni), but how the hell are they able to outwit Tiamat? Even as a youngling, it was confusing that they could win in any way against a dragon. But I digress. We’re not here to debate the lore of D&D.
Despite the “Satanic Panic” building off of rock music in the 70s, Dungeons & Dragons didn’t quite suffer from the same public outrage that the game eventually did. However, there was quite a lot of a to-do about the level of violence in the show compared to other children’s programming in and around their time slot. Near the end of its run, the National Coalition on Television Violence started putting pressure on the FTC to run a warning during each broadcast stating that there had been real-world, violent deaths that were linked to the show in some way. Ultimately, the NCoTV failed, though the show was ultimately canceled later that year.
The good things I generally enjoy about the show come from being a fan of the game. Most parties, especially when you have 8-ish people around the table rather than just a few, are full of the same level of idiocy as this group of kids trapped in this realm. You get to see a number of what are now considered classic monsters depicted (not every critter had a picture in the old school Monster Manual.) And while some folks may be irritated with the morality lessons (me included), they do tackle some of the issues that it seemed most other cartoons left for the After School Specials. Impressively, they even manage to do so in a way that younger fans would understand as well as weave that lesson (or lessons) into the storytelling rather seamlessly. Unlike a lot of shows of the time, D&D told their stories in an over-arching arc, where the rest were episodical or would only have an arc last a few episodes.
I would say that, overall, the good outweighs the bad by a fair margin. If you have a critter or three that you’d like to introduce to fantasy, or just want them to watch something that isn’t Peppa Pig, I’d say give it a shot. You can currently find every episode that aired (plus a visual story with audio of the final, unmade episode) on YouTube. If you’re looking for quality and the radio play of the final episode, look for the 2006 BCI Eclipse edition release of the show. BCI Eclipse is out of business, but you can still find copies in the secondary market for a reasonable price. Beware the Mill Creek Entertainment edition – it’s only 3 discs with no special features and does NOT include the “Requiem” episode.
Stay tuned for Part Two: An Aside – Mazes & Monsters & the Satanic Panic!