Highlander is one of those science fiction franchises with a devout following and enough various incarnations to keep fans entertained no matter their preferred outlet. Big budget motion pictures, a massive live-action television run, comics, animated series, basically if you can’t find Highlander in your favorite medium, you simply aren’t looking hard enough.
My own history with the property has been sketchy at best with only vague awareness of most of the feature films and an occasional encounter with the live-action television show back when it first came to DVD. I think the trouble with the whole mythos is that while set in a post-apocalyptic time frame and touted as science fiction, the actual structure of the show’s delivery much more closely resembles fantasy than it does sci-fi. No disrespect to fantasy intended; it’s just a bit of surprise when you go into something expecting Star Trek and end up getting Lord of the Rings.
That brings us to Highlander The Animated Series, which made its broadcast debut back in 1994 (nine years after the franchise officially began as a movie). Like you may have reasoned, I somehow managed to remain oblivious to the show’s existence for many years until recommended the 4-disc DVD release based on similar-era animated box set purchase made (think Batman & X-Men The Animated Series).
Long story short, I picked up the box set and was very pleasantly surprised. First let’s take a look at the hard facts, shall we?
Released across 4-discs housed in a standard-size DVD clamshell case, Highlander The Complete Animated Series comes in at a runtime of 15 hours (40 episodes). It’s presented in 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (stereo). Interestingly, the show wears no rating although the action, which is slightly violent in theme alone, would probably be comparable to the above-mentioned superhero-themed shows.
Extras are nonexistent but considering that Image Entertainment managed to squeeze ten episodes on each disc, perhaps it shouldn’t be too surprising that they had little room left for bonus content.
The story goes something like this: In our future, thanks to humanity’s violent-nature coupled to our dependency on technology, a catastrophic occurrence (The Great Catastrophe) basically wipes out civilization as we know it. Forced to start anew as a scattered race of clans and tribes, humanity is no longer the dominant life form on the planet.
The Great Catastrophe brings forth an allegiance of Immortals; beings that have lived among us for all time. In effort to restore the collective knowledge that humanity obtained in its prime, these Immortals take an oath whereby they lower their weapons and vow to preserve the wisdom of mankind. The plan would have been a total success except for the fact that one of the Immortals, a pale fellow by the name of Kortan, waits until the others vow never again to use their power before renouncing the plan. As such he is the only Immortal not bound by the oath. What this means to you and I is that Kortan is basically free to wield his corrupt power unchecked for 7 long centuries while the remaining Immortals (who take on the name Jettators) can do nothing but stand by in the hopes of the return of the chosen one (“The Highlander”), born free of the oath and hence the only Immortal able to dethrone Kortan and his minions.
Interestingly enough this plot is quite a deviation from the original film but is presented in such a way that prior knowledge is not a requisite to getting involved. Granted it would make a lot more sense if the viewer had a slight grasp on the films going in, it only takes about two or three episodes to get the gist of the situation at hand.
As the material hopefully demonstrates when written out as such, makes for a spectacular back-story for the animated medium. The show literally opens with the destruction of young Quentin’s peaceful clan and his cryptic discovery of the destiny laid out for him.
Forced to leave behind everything he’s ever known, he sets off on an epic journey under the tutelage of the Spanish Immortal, Ramirez (with his adoptive little sister Clyde, and their pet Gaul in tow). Their mission? To track down the remaining Jettators so that they can pass the knowledge they vowed to protect for mankind to young Quentin (a process called “Quickening” here). Interestingly enough, once the knowledge is passed down, the Immortal (Jettator) loses his immortality and is doomed to die like the rest of humankind.
Pacing is, for the most part; spot on, especially by the beginning of the second disc. The first few episodes display no glaring flaws but it’s clear that the creator’s struggled a bit initially to find their rhythm.
Rather than 40 self-contained episodes, Highlander the Complete Animated Series is one giant tale broken down into 40 smaller segments. Unlike the serials of Japanese anime, however, episodes do attempt to find some sort of closure and rarely end on a cliffhanger.
The voice acting is solid as well, perhaps even surprisingly so. While early 1990s non-Asian animation had its strengths, realistic, emotionally driven voice acting typically wasn’t one of them (DCAU excepted). Originally produced in Canada, there is a slight hint of a Canadian (and occasional French) accent present but this does little to detract from the honest delivery of the vocal talent.
Animation quality is on par with other domestic efforts of the era although there is the strange and persisting problem of the mouth flaps running a moment or two behind the corresponding vocal track. This is especially puzzling considering the English work wasn’t dubbed over a different original language (as is so often the case with dubbed Japanese anime) and the mouth flaps look perfectly accurate, just not entirely synchronized.
Otherwise the color pallet is nice and rich considering the hand painted backgrounds and cells. A few of the episodes make pretty nice use of lighting and particle effects while one in particular (“Playing with Fire”) is of slightly lower quality when compared to the others due to loss of the original film stock.
In all I’ve found Highlander the Complete Animated Series to be surprisingly enjoyable to the point where I’m giving serious consideration to the rest of the franchise. Solid writing, decent visuals, and a well-developed cast result in quite an entertaining experience for both Haighlander fans and complete neophytes alike.
What did you think of this review?