Season 2 of the second G.I. Joe series first broadcast in 1991 has just hit the stores a few weeks ago (ComicBookBin received its review copy late). This series is the last G.I. Joe cartoon to air on television until 2000 and was released as usual with some new toys made by vendor Hasbro. This series capped a successful of revival of the G.I. Joe brand begun in 1982 with smaller toys and a new storyline based around the original action figure for boys.
I will be honest and say that I did not enjoy this last season containing 20 episodes. It’s the first time that I had access to it but it is still an important collector’s item nonetheless. Let’s do some history. To reboot the G.I. Joe brand and other toy properties, Hasbro recruited an advertising agency called Griffin Bacal which partnered with Marvel Comics’ new animation department, Marvel Studios to work on a series of syndicated cartoons, toy commercials and comic books that would propel the brand to young boys in the 1980s. Back then, all major toy vendors supported and financed their animated cartoon series that would support their toys and make them top of mind in their dedicated markets. It worked of course. G.I. Joe and the Transformers, both from Hasbro, were some of the most popular toy properties converted to animation and comics. The reason we have G.I. Joe movies these days, is because of the success of the toy in the 1980s which built up quite a following in the 1980s.
Production was expensive and television rules about advertising for children would soon change, limiting the reach of the cartoon. Broadcasters also began demanding more educational contents in the toy cartoons they were broadcasting to children. Enter the second G.I. Joe produced by a new production team and new Asian animation studios from Korea, replacing the Japanese-based Toei Animation. Although many of the voice actors, such as Chris Latta who voiced Cobra Commander would remain with the series, the changes after the unsuccessful G.I. Joe movie broke the flow of the series. The North American producer was DIC, a European studio founded by famed French director Bernard Deyriès (a man I worked under on a few cartoon series when I started my career in animation over a decade ago) and producer Jean Chalopin. The company had produced Inspector Gadget for North American markets and had begun moving into the United States under Saban animation founders Haim Saban and Shuki Lévy. There is a lot of politics and history involved, but the European arm eventually split from the North American parent company. DIC offered cheaper animation productions than Sunbow, the company created by Griffin Bacal.
Meanwhile, since the 1989 toy G.I. Joe toyline the design of characters, vehicles and play sets took a more futuristic and science fiction look, removing G.I. Joe from its pure military background. The first series animated by DIC was a five part mini-series called Operation Dragonfly. By the time the second G.I. Joe started, the quality for the animation had been lowered and the budget lowered. So more colourful characters, still sharing the same continuity, coupled with bad animation, a loss of several competent voice actors, writers and directors and more emphasis on education storyline with less violence meant that G.I. Joe Series 2, Season 2 just could not keep up and be of any same level as previous series.
The animation is just bad with a minimum of about eight frames per seconds and more generic background designs. Characters are also coloured with single colours with no shadows which makes them look flatter on the screen.
The stories are very simple although there are a few two-parts ones. There is more emphasis on individual characters including Cobra officers and staff, but with more ridiculous settings. This series feels more like M.A.S.K. and similar action-based series than the straight military fiction developed in previous G.I. Joe series. There’s a definite loss of realism, and less of the military spirit and respect for rank and order seen previously. The Cobra rank and files soldiers are now mostly BAT robots which means they have less connections with viewers. The personality of major characters such as Scarlet also changed. In one episode, she goes shopping. Scarlet was not a tomboy, she wasn’t a shopper. Eve Cover Girl, the most feminine of the G.I. Joe women was as tough as the other guys.
It was very difficult for me to watch this series, but the problem doesn’t lie with DVD producer Shout Factory who tried to include as much extra materials such as commercials as well as a featurette on the toys with the Hasbro team. As explained above, all of the mechanics and events led this last G.I. Joe series to just suffer from the worst possible decisions and just be plain bad for older fans like me. Now, that doesn’t mean that today’s kids won’t get a kick from watching this cartoon which, I have to admit was not created for a 30-something year-old but for someone under 10. If you’re one of those fans from the 1980s who wants to relive this period of their childhood with your kids, then this is one way to connect. By the time this series was playing I had generally stopped watching the cartoons, which makes watching them today more painful because I don’t have any connection with them, which would temper with my critical assessment of them. Some could say earlier G.I. Joe cartoon series were equally bad, but I couldn’t tell because I was infatuated with them as a kid and still regard them as superior material today.