Even these tapes cost something

  TimeFighters in the Land of Fantasy
1987 | American Way Co./Kid Pix
timefighters in the land of fantasy my tv kid pix jim terry

A huge Bargain Bin thanks to Paul Jackson for kindly donating his Time Fighters tapes.

Without his selfless gesture, we might have never found out how this epic saga ended.

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From Tatsunoko Productions and produced by co-founder Ippei Kuri, Time Bokan (Time Machine) first appeared on Japanese TV screens on October 4th 1975. The story began with mad scientist Dr Kieda inventing Mechbuton, the Time Machine of the title, and then disappearing somewhere in the past during it's maiden test run. It then rests on the Doctor's Granddaughter Junko and lab assistant Tanpei to travel through time, folk tales and even fiction to secure his safe return.

The two kids are assisted by Robot chum Chorobot and talking Parrot Perasuke who was the only passenger of the Mechabuton on its return and he could hold the answer to the Doctor's whereabouts. Their quest is constantly interrupted by the evil, yet comically ineffective Skull Trio; Madame Marjo and her henchmen Grocky (the sort of smart one) and Walsa (the muscle), who are after the powerful crystal in the team's possession. Unlike similar setups in Western cartoon series like Dungeons & Dragons the on going search for Dr Keiba wasn't unending- Junko was actually re-united with her Grandfather by the end of the series.

The wacky action comedy was broadcast on Fuji TV at 6.30pm making it more for family viewing (like, for instance Ren & Stimpy) than specifically for kids. It was an instant hit and Tatsunoko wasted no time in wringing every Yen from it as they could creating as much merchandise as possible, even going as far as to introduce new Skull Trio Mecha in each episode to necessitate a new toy. Time Bokan became Tatsunoko's cash cow- their equivalent to Sunrise's Gundam and Takara's Brave Saga.

Time Bokan lasted 61 half hour episodes and, such was its popularity (not to mention profitability) that it was followed almost immediately by a sequel series: Time Bokan- Yatterman. This new show was actually the first in an amazing 7 shows, each commencing mere weeks after the predecessors conclusion, to appear under the Time Bokan banner. Each had its own cast of heroes and villains and followed the same simple formula as the genesis. In fact Time Bokan created such a successful formula that the basic setup; bungling bad guys follow the good guys, attempt to foil their plans yet end up being destroyed by their own stupidity- has used and re-used in anime constantly to this day, the most recent that springs to mind being Pokemon.

The franchise finally ran out of steam in 1983 with Itadakiman being the last new title. The characters were revived for two OAVs but a TV revival never transpired. Time Bokan became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon; while not to the extent of Yamato or Gundam but the characters regularly turn up as action figures and in video games.

The original 1975 series of Time Bokan was brought to the West in 1984 as two feature length videos by Jim Terry the man behind "Force Five" (see Sci-bots). Numerous episodes of the Japanese TV series were chopped together into two 95 minute tales, introducing the team and then getting though as many of their encounters with well known characters of history and fiction as possible.

Terry's version was retitled Time Fighters and Time Fighters In the Land of Fantasy, fully crediting not only the original animation studio but the Japanese creative team and even the original title (which makes my job easier) and was created by his Kid Pix company.

The task of creating the English vocal track went to Eastern Animation specialist and Bargain Bin regular Harmony Gold although none of their usual cast of voices makes an appearance.

Japanese Promo for the first series

So, that wasn't an idle threat at all, the TimeFighters really did come back.

After a lengthy catchup it is on with the show. Still on the seemingly never ending search for dear old Professor Von Spock, Jett and Starr remotely launch a new time traveling vessel - the Grasshopper Ship. Sending this one seater Tardis empty, they hope it will land in what ever time plain the missing Prof is lost in.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

And it does. Not only the same time, but only a few feet away! If only they had done that instead of visiting the Wright Bros. they could have made this a one tape series. It is never revealed what era the kids sent Grasshopper back to or how they chose it, I guess they just put a pin in a combined historical event/fictional writing map and got very very lucky. 'Buy a lottery ticket - on-a-roll' lucky.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Back in the present (well past actually, it is clearly the 70's after all) Bullets gets a song in early. Starr does a very unconvincing job of lip synching (she's no Milly Vanilli) to a weepy Disney-lite ballad about how she misses her missing Grandfather, while Jett looks awkwardly at the ground waiting for it to end. Once he's sure she's finished, they get on with the story(s).

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

In order to double their rescue efforts Squawky suggests searching through 'Fantasy Time' (the book kind, not the sexy kind) while the Grasshopper leaps through 'For-Reals Time'. Seems to me they're wasting time, since the Prof is unlikely to have magic-ed himself into a book. But, whatever, it beats waiting around for him to show up.

The reasoning behind the TimeFighters choices are rarely explained anymore and neither is how the Skullduggery crew keep track off them either. To be honest it is better this way since they don't keep stopping the wacky antics for some perfunctory exposition so it flows better.

So, first stop, Snow White time. Actually the fantasy lead here is referred to as Snow Flake, the only character on the tape to be renamed. Maybe a certain Mouse-led outfit is especially sensitive over this particular character though it seems odd. The good guys bust Snow Flake out of jail and make a run for it only to get caught by Lucina, Arrow and Mungo seconds later. The heroine is unflatteringly snorted onto the front of their Pig Ship where she sticks tight. Jett attempts to free her by pole vault-karate-kicking Lucina in the face but this just sees the fair maiden snot blasted into - that old favourite - a raging river. The TimeFighters team leap in to Mitch Buchanan her to safety while the bad guys scarper back to the evil queens castle.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Lucina and co dance around to a song describing how bad they are but the queen looks nonplussed. Skullduggery's deal was to 'eliminate' Snowflake in exchange for jewels (you remember - the powerful diamond from the first tape). Lucina considers the little girl eliminated but the enchanted mirror claims otherwise. It seems if you intend to eliminate someone or perhaps 'wiping them out', best practice suggests using a gun not dropping them in the river and then leaving during the rescue operation.

The bad guys are given a second chance. This time it goes better since they followed the book. Dressed as a crone, Lucida tricks Snowflake with a poisoned apple. Let that be a lesson to you kids; don't eat fruit. No one ever got tricked by a bag of poisoned cheetos. The evil Queen isn't the fairest for long though, since Jett and Starr counter by aiding the handsome prince on his journey. His kiss awakens Snowflake leaving the TimeFighters to battle the bad guys and their Pig Ship.

It's nearly curtains for our heroes when their opponents robot inexplicably breaks up into four disc blades which batter the Scorpion 2. To make matters even worse the blades seem to multiply constantly. This is one advanced machine! In fact if Lucina and co had stuck with this winning attack Jett, Starr and Tonk would almost certainly be dead but they unwisely change tactics and once more end up on the receiving end of their own bomb.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Returning to non-fiction time, the TimeFighters team cross paths with a familiar looking machine. Why it's none other than Professor Von Spock, returned from the past in the Grasshopper machine. Grandfather and Granddaughter are tearfully reunited and finally the saga can come to a close.

... Oh. Except that the Carbolite Crystals have still not been secured. And Squawky's wife Brumhilder is still where Prof Von Spock left her. We still have an hour and ten minutes left on the clock so I guess we can attempt to sort this out.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Next on our Fairy Tale Mystery Tour is Jack and the Beanstalk. Why? Lucina wants the Giant's Golden Harp reasoning "With that harp we'll be able to have all the Carbolite Crystals we need!" No, I don't get it either. The mixed up baddies roll in what they refer to as their Cat Ship, which is quite clearly a Mecha version of the mythical Tanuki, complete with Sake bottle and the legendary giant nads!

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

The TimeFighters meet up with Jack shortly after he returns home with the eponymous magic beans. They stay the night and awake to find the beanstalk fully grown into the clouds. Both good and bad teams head to the peak and bust into the Giant's castle. Lucida convinces the dumb monster that Jett and Starr are the ones after his treasure so he chases after them, leaving the real rogues to root through his stash. Needless to say their deceit is uncovered and they are forced to flee, leaving the good guys in possession of the coveted stolen harp.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Once more the Mecha time machines clash The Cat Ship makes use of its Tanuki-esque shape-shifting abilities to pose as the Prof's Grasshopper Ship. This disguise is so exact it confuses their homing missile which returns like an explosive boomerang leaving the evil trio vanquished yet again. Jack get's to keep the harp and all ends well.

The next day Tonk over hears the Professor and kids discussing the scrapping of an unnecessary robot. As you'd predict, he wrongly assumes it's him and heads off in the Grasshopper alone to prove he is as good as any human. The worthless machine in question was actually their book keeping machine that the tightfisted Prof used to put their human accountant, Miss Deb, out of work. Human jobs for human people! End this workplace discrimination!

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Jett and Starr follow after the delusional robot, tailed closely by their adversaries in an all new animal-based time machine. I think this one's and aardvark. Tonk meets Little Red Riding hood while the Skullduggery trio spy on their conversation. Excited by the mention of a 'Lake of Diamonds' Lucida hatches a dastardly plan that follows the plot of the classic tale. Dressed as wolves they tie up Grandma and hide in her cottage awaiting Riding hood's return. While the young girl is being traumatised by the unexpected, bed bound furries, Jett and Starr catch up to Tonk and explain the misunderstanding.

With that taken care of the team follow wolf tracks to Grandma's house and then on to the Lake of Diamonds when Little Red Riding hood reveals to them what happened. It is a showdown once more. The bad guys launch their new secret weapon: the LSD Ray! One blast sends the heroic humans into a freak-out of mondo proportions. The mountains appear to come to life and start attacking Scorpion 2 leaving the TimeFighters tied up in an un-winnable conflict with a rock face. The bad vibes only wear off once the distracted do-gooders race headlong into the bottom of a nearby lake. Tonk, who as a robot was completely unaffected by the ray, explains the events allowing the TimeFighters to turn the laser on its owners.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

On a far out psychedelic mind-crisis of their own, the goons mistake their own ticking time bomb for a huge Carbolite Crystal and descend to collect it just as it detonates. The good guys escape leaving their opponents tripping balls; Lucina convinced she is marrying Captain Arrow and departing on a crystal filled Honeymoon.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

"When the mind-ray wore off and everyone returned to the present, things were back to normal."

Except for those terrifying flashbacks! The walls are trying to steal my memories!!

The next excuse to travel into the amazing world of books comes from the Skullduggery team and has something to do with a strong Carbolite reading coming from Hamelin - blah, blah, blah, it doesn't really matter. Arrow unveils their new and soon to be wrecked time-travel-robo-mammal a mecha ape given the unfortunate name King Dong. With a name like that you'd expect it to rival the supposed 'Cat Ship' in the 'you-know' area, and if he does he's not letting on - King Dong was born with metal underpants. Or maybe that's the proof...

Bullets' musical celebration of this new edition is even more regrettable featuring the lyrics:

#King Dong! King Dong!
Bang, bang, crash, bang! King Dong is great!
Bang, bang, crash, bang! Hold it down!
Someone turn him off, I've had enough!#

Of course, they are referring to the robot's powerful giant cymbals and nothing else.

For this occasion the TimeFighters take a new third ship, fashioned after an ant. They've creatively named it the 'Ant Ship'. Very little of note actually happens in this segment; Hamelin is overrun with rats so the Pyde Piper leads them away. King Dong attacks, the TimeFighters fight back. Once more Lucida, Mungo and Arrow employ a convoluted attack which then back fires on them and Team Skullduggery are blasting off again. The Pyde Piper refuses the reward (which isn't Carbolite anyway) and Jett and co return home. The whole thing lasts little more than 11 minutes.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Next up, the two teams crash land in Cinderella world. Jett, Starr and the gang help clean the wicked stepmother's house so that Cinderella can go to the ball. They even provide a dress and distinctive, transparent footwear for the occasion. But in this version the beauty will be battling Lucida as well as her ugly sisters for the Prince's attention. Of course she succeeds but is whisked away on the TimeFighters chopper at the stroke of midnight. Don't know why, maybe the lease on her dress ran out and they wanted it back.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Guess what? Next day every girl in town is invited to try on the glass slipper that was found outside the palace. Well, it either belonged to Cinderella or some extremely rich hobo. It was found near a pair of torn and soiled glass boxer shorts and an empty bottle of 1775 Chateau Lafite hidden in a brown paper bag. You're probably wondering how airtight this test is, assuming that only Cinderella's foot would fit into the lost footwear. Well, Cinderella had huge feet, a detail "the man" tried to keep out of the book. Feet so massive no other woman in the kingdom could match up. So, if the slipper fits it's either Cinders or a transvestite. Check carefully Handsome Prince...

To prevent the rightful beauty from passing the test and winning the Prince Lucida and the gang kidnap Cinderella but then don't even turn up to the test fitting. Seems a bit pointless. The TimeFighters race to her rescue provoking the baddies to fight back in their weirdest robot so far: a huge bear carrying a fish over its shoulder. What makes it most weird is that one arm is completely immobile, reserved for holding onto the fish which is attached by a rope. A bold design choice that compromises functionality.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

These odd design decisions aren't its undoing however, in fact it's one of their better fighting machines. Jett defeats them using an almost equally odd machine of his own - a robotic maggot. The maggot-bot excretes a stretchy, sticky fluid between the base of the enemy's escape pod and the top of their hidden bomb and the two meet just in time for the big bang. Maybe it's time to give up on the explosive finishing move, it's not an easy one to pull off and they're not getting any better at it.

Gulliver's Travels is the next 'time-zone' ripe for exploration. Jett, Starr and the others come to land on a beach and make the unusual choice to just lay down where they are and have a nice, casual nap. Needless to say they awake captured by little people.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

Meanwhile Lucida, Mungo and Captain Arrow discover a giant who has befallen a similar fate. Enticed by the Carbolite-like jewel around his neck, they set the big guy free then bully him into showing them where he found the gem. The heroes are freed by their tiny captors when it is realised that they pose no threat. Lucky too, since their enemies soon cross their path. The usual battle breaks out with the good guys coming close to defeat before escaping their opponents unnecessarily over-complicated finishing move. Why do they always use such complex and easy to backfire attacks when those blades from Snow Flake worked really well. And that mind-ray. Why do they never try these things twice? Don't they want to win? Are they masochists?

With yet another pointless episode out of the way, and that magic 1 hour thirty mark rapidly approaching, uncle Jim throws one last plot into the mixer.

Jett, Starr and Tonk leave on an unspecified adventure leaving Prof Von Spock all alone and it's not long before he is kidnapped by the enemy. Threatened with "Something very nasty" happening to his granddaughter, the Prof gives up the location of the Carbolite Crystals to Lucida. If he knew that all along why did the team head straight there? No sooner do they baddies vanish than the goodies re-appear only to disappear once more on a chase after Von Spock.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

In Volcano World they find the Professor under going a strange form of torture and it's difficult to tell if it's having any effect. Spotting Jett and the others Lucida swipes their hostage and makes a dash through several time zones. Hot on their tail the heroes prepare for their final confrontation. After little fighting the side of justice is once more incapacitated. To decide who gets to finally kill the junior time explorers, the bad guys play "Odds or Evens" though it is obviously Rock, Paper, Scissors which is hardly so impenetrably Japanese that it can't be translated. Lucida wins by making a two (scissors) vs both stooges' fives (paper). The easily escapable final attack is launched which rapidly backfires on them and the resulting mega explosion puts their latest robot out of action.

timefighters in the land of fantasy time bokan

A clip recycled from their earlier reuniting wraps up the plot. The epic journey draws to a close over a still of Professor Von Spock relaxing with his granddaughter...

  in the land of fantasy  

"Our heroes were united again. We know they'll find Brumhilder. Now that Lucina and her gang realise they can't beat the Scorpion II team, they are out of the way, once and for all. Or are they????"

Who knows, this is the last tape. Or is it???

God, I hope the answer is "yes".


Time Fighters in the Sky with Diamonds
Jett and Starr end up on a far-out ride to doomsville man!

Bullets: Music Appreciation
More from the Kidpix wonder band. Check out King Dong!

Good Dubbing
Well animated
  Fun, for a while
  The music of Bullets!
Dated character designs
Still quite long...

Kidpix can't have been planning a third release surely, there can't have been much Time Bokan footage left after those two hefty adventures.

Just as enjoyable as the first and, at least for me, the boredom of repetition didn't kick in until much later most probably helped by the more varied episodes and, not to mention, the increasingly weird robots the Skullduggery crew rolled in.

On the downside; maybe a few too many contributions from Bullets: one for every new mecha unveiling and battle plus any events of interest (you can have too much of a good thing).

Shame about the ending, there must have been the footage for that, a less rushed and more conclusive closing would have been nice.

Thanks again Paul, your help is much appreciated!