Pure Asian Entertainment: Film, TV, Anime & Manga

A Finished Product Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

  • May 30, 2011

Like so many other kids of the early 1980s, my very introduction to anime took place (without me even realizing it) thanks to the nation’s obsession with robots.  You may remember that period in time when Transformers (the first time), GoBots, and Turbo Teen but it turns out many of the “other” robot shows of the era were actually Japanese anime series that were spliced up, dubbed into English and packaged under a whole new name.  Among these: Robotech, the Voltrons, Macron One and Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs.

I remember noting even at the time that there was something very different about the Japanese originated shows though it would be years before I would learn the true stories behind the shows and for that matter, come to appreciate these so much over the American trite I cherished at the time.

Anyway, these shows were actually hybrids, not simply anime dubbed into English as changes were made to the characters and material to “Americanize”/ remove all of the more adult-friendly aspects of the source material.  To purests, these hybrids are worthless- calling them American productions isn’t accurate but at the same time nor do they do the Japanese source material credit either.

Of course being a kid at the time, I was astonished at the increased character depth, the ongoing story thread idea, and the realism these shows contained when compared to our American Transformers & GoBots cartoons.  By the time Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs came on the scene in 1987 (based on Japan’s 1984 series Star Musketeer Bismarck) by World Event Productions (same guys who brought us the two Voltron shows a few years earlier), I had bailed out on robots altogether.  In fact I only learned of this show much later when it was released to DVD and decided to give it a go based on how much I enjoyed some of the other hybrids.

The story goes something like this: In the distant future, we lowly humans have finally colonized planets across the galaxy, in essence recreating the American pilgrimage westward on a much grander scale; a New Frontier of mankind.

In order to protect these intergalactic settlers and maintain law and order in this New Frontier, Earth's Cavalry Command was created; a police force bordering on a military operation with one very large jurisdiction!

With both an army and fleet of ships to protect the New Frontier at their disposal, the show follows a unit of special operatives known as the Star Sheriffs- enforcers/ field agents who get called in when traditional methods of upholding the peace fail.

The main obstruction to said peace happens to come in the form of a race of non-human creatures known as Vapor Beings (or Outriders) that jumped into our dimension with plans of conquest. As such they frequently attack the settlers, destroy settlements and kidnap hapless humans with a legion of gigantic robots called Renegade Units.

To attempt to level the playing field, Cavalry Command develops a prototype weapon known as the "Ramrod Equalizer Unit" (or simply Ramrod) that has the ability to transform from a massive spacecraft into a bipedal, heavily armed (and armored) robot.

Piloting Ramrod is a quartet of interesting specimens including dignified English/ Scottish title character Saber Rider, Japanese racecar driver Fireball, American cowboy Colt, and Ramrod’s designer, former pro tennis player April Eagle.

By the time Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs came on the scene in 87, World Event Productions (WEP) had the formula of editing/ splicing and dubbing down to a well-oiled machine and were actually able to develop entire episodes of Saber Rider that didn’t even exist in the original Japanese source material (6 of them to be exact). 

Marc Handler, who had worked on the Voltrons for WEP, brings his unique ADR/ writing style to Saber Rider and considering the fact that many of the same vocal cast returned (including Peter “Optimus Prime” Cullen), one really does get the feeling Saber Rider is merely a continuation of the Voltron legacy.

Since the western idea was all the rage in the States at the time (think BraveStarr and Galaxy Rangers), the slight western angle present in the original material was pushed into the forefront.  Characters like the American Colt are given full western accent/ slang and even Ramrod itself says things like “Head em up, move em out” during transformation sequences.

Of course present here is the typical “Americanization” process of muting the material down for the sake of conservative network standards and practices.  Here we are explained to and continually enforced that when shot, Vapor Beings are simply sent back to their own dimension to fight another day.  Massive spacecraft are brought down in an inferno/ explosion/ fireball of doom then one of the characters will be sure to add something to the effect of, “It’s a good thing all on board escaped to the Vapor Zone before the ship was destroyed.” Oy.

Also it’s quite clear there was a lot more going in the original concerning the Outriders and their creepy leader Nemesis.  The visuals, tones and themes seem to mimic what we’ve witnessed before with the Zentraedi in Macross and Hazaar and the Drule Empire of Vehicle Voltron.  However we get some dubs to explain that the reason for the Outrider invasions is that nobody knows how to have fun in the Vapor Dimension and that Nemesis’ officers are “boring”.  Why is it I suspect these threads have been dumbed down in transition?

It’s also interesting to note that in the translation, the title character (Saber Rider) was not the lead.  In fact his name is Richard Lancelot in the original show and he simply represents England as one of the massive robot’s pilots.  Colt, the wily American, is called Bill Wilcox in the original show and April (who is really never given national heritage in the American show) is French tennis star Marian Louvre.  Appropriately (for a show in Japan), Japanese representative Fireball (or Shinji Hikari) is the leader of the crew.

So who the heck is Bismarck you wonder? Ah that would be Ramrod believe it or not.  And in case you’re wondering, a ramrod is the device used with firearms of the era to push the projectile up against the gunpowder.

In all if you are a fan of the hybrid style of anime popular in the early 1980s, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs is a perfect fit.  Anime purists will rightfully scoff at the changes made to the material.  However, fans of domestic 1980s animation, as campy as was, will surely attest that even with its toned down treatment, those few shows that we got from Japan were light years beyond what American studios were churning out at the time.  This DVD set is worth the price of admission for that fact alone!

A Finished Product Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts A Finished Product Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts A Finished Product Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts A Finished Product Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

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June 01, 2011
Excellent review Jason, one of your best.
June 01, 2011
Hey thanks, FM_A! It took me a little while to get it done but the material in question made it a pleasure. Thanks again for the read and feedback my man.
May 30, 2011
nice one, Jay, I really liked the way you opened up your review as well since many folks do miss that detail. I am with Stephanie down here, this sounds familiar but I just can't a finger on if I've seen it or when I've seen it. I liked Voltron when I was a kid too, but I just will always remember the classics such Voltes V, Danguard Ace and Combatra V. I will see if I can get me a copy of this. Thanks!
May 31, 2011
Hey thanks Will.. I was nursing this one out- relishing every minute of youth revisited. It's a bit corny and campy compared to some of the anime goodness we've been treated to since but like the classics you mention, there is definitely something timeless to appreciate here. Thanks for the read/ feedback buddy.
May 30, 2011
This title seems familiar to me, although I don't recall ever seeing it. What you've said here reminds me of how mesmerized I was with Voltron when I was a kid. Of course I had no idea it was an anime series, but I know it was my favorite show for a long time. Not sure I ever go back to truly old skool though, except for the Lupin series maybe.
May 31, 2011
Oh man if you have even the slightest warm feeling in your belly left from either of the Voltrons or Robotech, this one needs to be on your shelf. It captures all of the cheese & charm that made the others so memorable. In researching for this review I also discovered that WEP & company pulled this technique a final time in 1996 with a series called Eagle Riders. Never caught any of that one- but it is nice to know some of these deep memories are available on DVD for our viewing pleasure.
More Saber Rider and the Star Sheri... reviews
review by . September 14, 2010
posted in ASIANatomy
The Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs Complete Collection is a six-disc DVD box set that contains all fifty-two episodes of the series. In addition to this, special features appear on discs one, two, and four of the set.    The first disc contains two special features. The first is labeled as "Commercials." This contains four commercials for a Saber Rider fan club and each commercial runs for about thirty seconds each. Also, the only two characters featured in these commercials …
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Jason Rider (AKA OneNeo on is the author of the successful children's fantasy novel series The Uncommon Adventures of Tucker O'Doyle from Bellissima Publishing.      … more
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The Original Outer Space Western Anime is back! From the creators of Voltron come Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs! Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs was a 1980's animated space western following a similar theme of The Galaxy Rangers and Bravestarr. Originally a 1984 Japanese anime series known as Star Musketeer Bismarck created by Studio Pierrot. The series is set in the future, where the Star Sheriffs are duly-deputized special operatives of Cavalry Command, Earth's space-going law enforcement arm and defense patrol organization out in space, and along the New Frontier. Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs main assignment is to protect the Galaxy from the growing threat of the Outriders. With the help of April Eagle and RAMROD (voiced by Peter Cullen who voiced Optimus Prime in the 80s cartoon series Transformers), a battleship that can transform into a giant robot. When RAMROD undergoes the "Challenge Phase" transformation it calls out its rallying cry in a heavy Western drawl, "Head 'em up, move 'em out. Power stride and ready to ride!" Other than their wits, their courage, and their standard issue equipment, such as their blaster pistols, and RAMROD's array of electronics, they have no superpowers, just each other. When they do battle with the Outriders, it's a futuristic version of the code of the Old West. Volume Two consist of episodes 18-33 from the hit TV series, as well as never before seen extras and production art. Don t miss the chance to add an ...
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Director: Franklin Cofod
DVD Release Date: October 20, 2009
Runtime: 1200 minutes
Studio: VCI Entertainment
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