Originally broadcast between 1981 and 1982 (1985/86 in the UK), Ulysses 31 was a Japanese-French cartoon, which mixed Greek mythology with science fiction. Based on Homer’s The Odyssey, but set in the 31st Century, the series focused on Ulysses and the crew of the Odyssey, as they travelled through space.
Across the course of 26 episodes, Ulysses and his companions encountered gods and monsters, all while in search of the Kingdom of Hades. Foes were fearsome, the voyage was treacherous, but the journey was hugely entertaining.
In fact, as 1980s cartoons go, Ulysses 31 was a damn good one, becoming somewhat of a fan-favourite (especially in the UK). The show took inspiration from some of the greatest Greek myths and combined them with a few futuristic ideas (one lifted from Star Wars) to craft a fun, yet creepy show.
If you have never watched Ulysses 31, I implore you to track it down (try YouTube) as it is such a good show. It’s a little dated in places, but the story still stands up.
And of course, if you don’t have time for all 26 episodes, then at the very least seek out the eight episodes I am about to highlight below. These are the eight best episodes of Ulysses 31, and will provide you with plenty of entertainment.
The best episodes of Ulysses 31
Ok, time to run through eight of the best…
Vengeance of the Gods (Episode One)
In the opening episode, Ulysses’ son, Telemachus is kidnapped by the followers of the Cyclops. Ulysses mounts a rescue and defeats both the Cyclops and it’s followers, but his actions anger the ancient gods.
The gods punish Ulysses by placing almost all of his crew in suspended animation, where they must remain until Ulysses can find a way to free them. This situation sets up the backbone of the entire series, ensuring Ulysses’ adventures are powered by his desire to save his friends!
Oh, only does Vengeance of the Gods set up a great premise for the series, it is also a fine episode in its own right. The Followers of the Cyclops are incredibly unsettling, and it is clear there is a dark, and cruel underbelly at play in this show.
Flowers of Fear (Episode Two)
And speaking of a cruel underbelly, that’s exactly what’s on display in the show’s second episode, Flowers of Fear– another corker of an episode!
In this story, Ulysses travels to a planet that might offer a way to revive his crew. But he soon discovers the planet is overrun by deadly plants that are not keen on sharing their home with strangers!
Two episodes in and Flowers of Fear continues to maintain consistency and quality, while also serving up another gruesome foe. Although this is a children’s cartoon, the flowers are pure nightmare-fuel and the idea that they attack anyone who comes to the planet is pretty terrifying.
The Eternal Punishment (Episode Seven)
Ulysses meets Sisyphus – a man who is tasked with placing a boulder in a crater…
…for the rest of time.
Although Sisyphus has been punished by the gods, he believes he will eventually win their favour and be free. However, Sisyphus soon learns there is a little more going on with his punishment than he first thought.
Put simply: No matter how hard he works, he will spend eternity in this living hell.
Sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it?
This episode (like those that came before it) demonstrate that Ulysses 31 is not afraid to put characters through pain and torture, all for the audience’s entertainment. Speaking of which…
Mutiny on Board (Episode Eight)
In Mutiny on Board, the crew of the Odyssey are temporarily revived, after the ship passes through an electrical storm. But the revived crew are awake in body alone, and the zombie-like crew turn on their captain.
From here, the episode sees friends turned into lifeless automatons. It’s freaky, but also SO GOOD.
Trapped Between Fire and Ice (Episode Eleven)
Responding to a distress call from a seemingly abandoned ship, Ulysses boards a craft to discover only one passenger – the ship’s captain. The captain begs Ulysses to save his crew, but there’s something not quite right about the man.
As Ulysses soon discovers, the distress call was all part of an elaborate trap. The gods are continuing to toy with Ulysses, to make his journey through space as uncomfortable as possible and this means tricking him at every turn.
Songs of Danger (Episode Thirteen)
Ulysses goes in search of the Map of Olympus, but has to brave the Sirens – deadly creatures that lure unsuspecting visitors to their death. The Sirens absorb a person’s life force, before turning them to metal, and Ulysses looks set to be their next victim.
Now by this point I know you’re expecting me to highlight a funny episode, or a happy episode, but no, here I am again with a story filled with danger. Well, you should expect that to continue – Ulysses is wall-to-wall peril!
The Magician in Black (Episode Twenty)
The Odyssey is saved from an attack by the Magician in Black – the self-professed “greatest magician in the universe.” Upon being told of the magician’s great power, Ulysses asks if could use his abilities to revive the crew of the Odyssey.
The Magician in Black fulfils Ulysses’ request, and frees the entire crew from suspended animation. But the Magician’s assistance comes at a price – in lieu of payment, he wants the opportunity to hunt three of Ulysses’ friends for sport!
You didn’t think this cartoon could get any darker, did you? But BOOM, it does!
Genuinely unsettling and completely scary, this is an ‘80s cartoon at its darkest. Especially when Ulysses’ son (a child!!!) agrees to be one of the three ‘prey’.
The Kingdom of Hades (Episode Twenty-Six)
And finally, the last spot on this list is reserved for the very last episode of the series – Kingdom of Hades.
In this story, Ulysses is given a choice, leave his crew with Hades and go free, or remain loyal to his crew and give up his own life. Ulysses chooses to stick with his crew, proving himself a true hero – and gaining freedom AND a revived crew as his reward.
After being put through multiple, treacherous tasks, Ulysses and the crew of the Odyssey are free to go home.
I hope this post has proved useful. My advice is to watch the whole series, but if you only have time for a handful of episodes then go straight for the ones above.
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