Movies / Animé and Toons

Jem and the Holograms


By Hervé St-Louis
March 7, 2021 - 19:29

Jem is Jerrica Benton, a recent orphan whose father left her with incredible technology allowing her to project holograms from earrings. Along with her sister, Kimber and two other foster sisters, Ana and Shana, Jem takes on her father’s evil former business partner Eric Raymond who has taken over the girls’ inheritance, the Starlight recording company. Jerrica creates Jem as an imaginary stage name that allows her to transform into Jem, the lead signer of the Holograms. They compete against Raymond’s Misfits, a rival girl band. Can Jem beat the Misfits and Raymond on the music charts?

Jem and the Holograms is a classic 1980s toy/cartoon (and to a limited extent comics) property developed by Hasbro, Marvel Production, and Sunbow. Much like G.I. Joe a Real American Hero and The Transformers, Jem and the Holograms dominated the 1980s cultural market for kids and teens. Jem went through many iterations starting as a superhero super team that was also a boy band in their alter ego identity.  This aspect of Jem is an important one to explain why it was so popular with boys, while its toys were meant for girls and competing in the same space as Barbie dolls.

Hasbro mandated long-time television writer Christie Marx to develop Jem and the Holograms to as a new series part of a four-series feature introducing new Hasbro-led cartoon properties. Out of Big Foot and the Muscle Machines, Inhumaoids, Robotix, Jem was the most popular and awarded its own series a year later. Jem was special because it applied the golden rule of 1980s cartoons, strictly. The remote control belonged to the boys so for them to watch Jem and the Hologram, the series had to be appealing. That was the only way that girls, the alleged target of the cartoon and the toys, could watch the show.

While Jem had comics in the 1980s, they were mostly in the United Kingdom. Instead of comics which added to the classic cartoon-toy-comics trifecta, Jem had music and many of them. Many episodes often featured three original songs by Jem and the Holograms, the Misfits, and the Stingers. The dolls came with the songs on cassette tapes that unfortunately did not fit inside of Soundwave’s chest. As all Sunbow/Hasbro productions, the sound design and original score was incredible. But Jem took this further, emulating the MTV craze of the 1980s with the music video culture that was taking over the world.

Now, even boys were into music and the cartoon’s creators took solid steps to integrate Jem in that world with the music videos with credits, the outlandish sets in these clips while building on the strong ersatz superhero tropes in the series. The love triangle between Jerrica, Jem, and boyfriend Rio copied the traditional formula established several decades earlier with the Superman, Clark Kent, and Lois Lane.  The same person is competing against another version of itself for the love of another. Jem did this, transforming herself into a fashion superhero better than Dazzler could have hoped for.

The adventures in Jem and the Holograms used all the popular tropes known in cartoons and television. They were shipwreck on an island, participated in the Indy 500, had to deal with a twin princess, and of course, even had a western-themed episode.  At the same time, several episodes did have a flair of an afterschool special with messages targeted towards young girls growing up.

The difference with Jem and the Holograms then, and the latest comic series by IDW is that the cartoon and its creators understood that they had to entertain boys as well as girls for the series to be a success. Jem was popular and at one time, one of the most watched television series. The comic series by IDW Publishing holds no interest for me and dare I say many guys who know about the cartoon. It is part of what I call nouveau comics or what others would call woke comics. It features gender-bending characters, and characters whose body size is not the usual figure seen in popular culture. It is more body positive, which means many of the girls, are very short, very tall, very skinny, or very round. The soap opera has taken over and abandoned much of the action and perilous situations that attracted boys.

As for the 2015 film adaptation, let’s forget about it. It had none of the science fiction elements such as synergy and double-identity superhero drama. There was no conflict with the rival Misfits. All of the good stuff had been taken out to make way for reality-TV-like film about an upcoming girl band. Thus, talks of revivals of Jem and the Holograms is stilted with recent failures that failed to attract the wide audience that used to watch the cartoon as kids.

And that’s too bad. Series like G.I. Joe and the Transformers have managed to reinvent themselves several times and attract new audience. The sister series Jem and the Holograms continues to struggle. While Transformers has sustained its popularity with almost no interruptions, G.I. Joe has had a few successful runs since its mythical 1980s A Real American hero appearance. In fact, 2020 saw the revival of the brand under the G.I. Joe Classified action figure series, just in time for the eventual release of the first Snakeeye movie. G.I. Joe Classified’s success has surprised Hasbro and fans alike.

Yet, the 2012 dolls released by licensor Integrity Toys surprised Hasbro and fans yet again. Popularity in Jem is growing and much material on the series is available online. I am very happy with the DVD collection of the series, even though the version I found does not have all of the extras.

The main complaint I have about the DVD collection is the bad colour correction. The colours appear too bright for television without proper television-safe correction. The bright pinks and reds will bleed on your screen even if it is a contemporary television set. The jukebox feature is great though. When viewing the animation after so many years, I realize that Toei, the studio that did most of the animation for the series did not put its best team on the first episodes that introduced the series to viewers. The animation was poor but did improve in latter episodes. If the writing in the series had been poor, I doubt that kids of the 80s would have wanted more.

I recommend the DVD collections, if you can find them. There are many different sets at various price points. The series has aged less than Transformers or G.I. Joe and even as an adult man, I had fun watching the antics of Jerrica, Jem, Kimber, Aja, Shana, the Mistfits and all of the Starlight girls. If Hasbro is to revive this property, let us hope that they’ll understand that capturing guys’ attention is important for the success of the series.

Last Updated: August 31, 2023 - 08:12

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