Today, we're going to the country of edible dismembered amphibians, towers built on dares and blue-green cheese: the one country in the world where you can order snails and wine from a Gummi Bear and get killed for being a poor soccer player: France! Come to think of it, that soccer incident might have been Portugal. Or Spain. Or maybe it was the Sicilian mob... What the hell, you get the drift.
To the point: I have finally gotten my greedy little hands on the very first episode of Les Mondes Engloutis, and let me tell you, folks - I'm going through some truly mixed feelings here. But more about that later, first let me bring you up to speed in case you missed the last LME (Les Mondes Engloutis) article.
LME is a mid-eighties animated series created in France and Korea, not the two countries in the world where I most excel in knowledge of the native language. I wouldn't last five minutes in France: the fear of accidentally ordering food that comes from an animal whose mucous glands primarily were external would keep me far away from any restaurant, and I'm pretty sure you get beat up by cops if you don't ride a bicycle while carrying a Vienna stick under your arm. As for Korea, all I know in their language is what I've picked up from John Wayne movies, and I'm pretty sure it all translates to "Die, American dogs!" or "Excuse me, could you show me the nearest bus stop!", all depending on the competence of the movie's language consultant.
So, what about those mixed feelings I mentioned? Well, suddenly I remembered that fairy-tale where a sheep falls in love with a cloud and climbs up the highest mountain in the world to find the object of his desire, only to discover she's a bunch of water molecules drifting in the wind. I didn't say it was a good fairy-tale. The point is, what if the show I've tried to get hold of for years turns out to be crap? What if this, the holiest of all grails, turns out to be a styrofoam cup from a Yugoslavian bus stop snack bar? On the other hand, they all speak French, so the show could be ten times worse than Congo, and I wouldn't know. Let's go for it.
Jesus, at this rate, I'll never get to the point. After browsing through every single zip disk in my apartment, I had to accept that the episode wasn't on any of them. I concluded that I never got around to storing it on my portable drive when I downloaded it at a friend's house, and decided to get a bite to eat instead and live to fight another day. Then, I discovered I ate my last dry slice of bread last night, and set out to get some food and pick up the episode on the way. Sure enough, the file was exactly where I thought it would be. Everything was running smoothly until I almost had reached the grocery store. Then, out of nowhere, I was attacked by a deranged tern! I was forced to take my jacket off and use it as a weapon in mortal combat, mano a palmípedo. Luckily, a blow to the head knocked some sense into the bird, which then flew away. Then, on the way back, I met a guy who looked exactly like the guy who played Dean Cain's father in Lois & Clark. After this exciting adventure, LME will have to be something out of the ordinary to be able to compete.
Crap. Five paragraphs, and all I've achieved is to shit on France. Well, I'm going in.
What the... The whole thing was upside down! Stupid French video pirates. I tried tilting my head all the way around, but then remembered the brain has the ability to rotate images back to normal angle using the inner ear. Neurobiological excellence can be a real bitch sometimes.
Regardless of picture quality and angle, seeing that good old European-Asian animation again was a nostalgic trip only comparable to the smell of a new action figure. The story starts with siblings Bob and Becca, who have found a mysterious cave. On their journey downwards, Becca is knocked into the river by a pirate riding a hovercraft. A mysterious guy who later is revealed to be Spartakus, mercenary and vigilante, is told that something is amiss by his magical moths, and saves the little unconscious girl. Alright, he might not be a mercenary. The truth be told, I don't know what the heck he is. I told you I didn't know French.
Ah, these guys I remember. These are Bic and Bac, aardvarkesqe creatures from the world beneath the world. I remember wanting these as pets. I mean, who wouldn't want an aardvark that looks like it's cut from a block of tofu and has the ability to roll up into a ball? Heck, you'd be the envy of every kid in the world, and if you played hoops with him and missed, you wouldn't have to go pick him up, he would just roll back and jump into your hands. A pet like that could actually make me interested in sports, and that says quite a deal, let me tell you.
Bic and Bac enter the scene laughing and jumping while talking gibberish and nonsense. That is, they seem to refer to people and ships that aren't introduced yet, which makes me rise an eyebrow and smile in recognition, but leaves poor eavesdropping Spartakus none the smarter. He will soon get some answers, though: the two creatures call for the ship Shag-Shag and its sole passenger: Arkana.
Arkana is a mysterious woman with a hat containing strange orange orbs that are able to put a force field around Becca and carry her over to Shag-Shag. This ship must be the ultimate example of French attitude towards the English language: ever since the French-English-Scandinavian war of 1066, the French have insisted that their language is the dominant world tongue, and refused to learn English. Had they taken two lousy minutes to look the word 'shag' up in an English dictionary, I'm pretty sure the ship on which the fate of a civilization rests would be more aptly named. But I'm digressing.
Arkana, Becca and the aardvarks travel through the cave to find Bob, who's paddling aimlessly around. Once they pick him up, Arkana tells the kids the story of her homeworld Arkadia by emitting images from her hat.
The Arkadian people are legless humanoids who get their energy from the sun Shagma. If I remember correctly, Shagma is about to burn out, and the citizens of Arkadia need a new energy source. They all decide the best place to look for it is above ground, and an expedition is initiated. Did I remember to tell you Arkadia is underground? Well, now you know if you didn't already. Shag-Shag the sentient ship is pulled out from his hangar, and all the kids are ecstatic to see him, running up to his hull ready to burst in a fit of joy. How can a vehicle achieve such popularity, you ask? I'll tell you how:
He gives them lots and lots of small robots that hover just above ground and sweep the floor! Apparently these are all the rage among kids in Arkadia, and for some reason, I always wanted one of these when I was a kid myself. I had completely forgotten about the little gizmos until I saw them again, and must admit I felt the same old need to somehow obtain one.
Apparently, my introduction to the great plan to save Arkadia was a little premature. Sorry. The kids, Bic, Bac and Shag-Shag team up to find a way to keep Shagma from exploding. In the process, Bic and Bac put their noses together, which results in a shower of sparks. This could be some kind of mind-melt brainstorming, or it could be mutant aardvark porn. Remember, this is the country that brought you cartoons about a cat pestered by three shroom-tripping cockroaches. Viva la France!
The kids present their idea to some kind of council. They bring with them an entity created to resemble humans: Arkana. Unfortunately, the council members wear ominous black hats, which is Arkadian for "Idea schmidea, go play on the railroad tracks," so the children are on their own. As luck would have it, Shagma erupts violently just before the kids are sent to their rooms, and the dry sticks agree to send Shag-Shag up to the surface. There. I think I got it right this time.
Arkana is taught some basic Earth geography and ecology. Among the animals she learns about is a mammoth, so it's safe to say that these guys have been living underground for at least 10,000 years. Arkana messes up the animal names, and everyone laughs at her until Shag-Shag says something like "I'd like to see you do better, space monkeys! Care to join me in a game of backgammon, if you're so smart?" When a ship tells you off, you know you've been out of line. Sure enough, Arkana gets it right on her next try, and off they go to save the world.
...Which brings us up to date. Now that Bob and Becca know what's going on, they join Arkana and the gang on their travel through the cave. You might remember I mentioned a pirate earlier? Now the scoundrels are back and try to steal Shag-Shag. I don't know exactly why, but when you're a pirate and you come across a talking ship that can travel to the middle of the earth as well as in water, space and solid matter, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to see the potential.
Spartakus reappears, and shoots his grappling hook down to the Shag-Shag, helping the siblings and the aardvarks to escape. Shaggy himself is sucked into the pirate submarine along with Arkana. After a proper introduction, Spartacus and the rest of the group set off to get Arkana back. Running down the riverside, they of course wonder what kind of evil the pirates are inflicting on our heroine.
They're singing and dancing! And let me tell you, hearing that crazy pirate song again is more soothing to the ear than French synth-pop ought to be. Nostalgia makes fools of us all.
What the pirates didn't know when they kidnapped her, is that Arkana's hat isn't only able to transport people and holographically project flashback sequences, it also bends solid steel. She escapes her prison, jumps back into Shag-Shag, picks up Spartakus and the others, and flies through a solid crystal wall to hide from the pirates. Thus ends the first episode of LME.
I hope the sarcasm didn't become predominant in this article. Truth be told, this show seems to have endured the test of time better than most series from the period, and I was immensely pleased to experience it again. I'd love to include an episode download for you to enjoy, but I simply don't have the necessary storage space, and I'm sure some idiot would injure his neck trying to watch it.
Off to bed. Before I hit the sheets, let me show you one more picture from the pirate dance:
Singing pirates squashed by a giant cigarette stub materializing from nowhere. You couldn't possibly ask for more.