We like to think of our childhood as a simpler more pleasant time but if you grew up in the 1980′s the world was full of crises ranging from the threat of nuclear war to the ever deepening social-economic divide that separated the upper and lower classes. This high stress world was translated into the entertainment of the decade, resulting in films such as Mad Max, Robocop and Adventures in Baby Sitting. Well, maybe not all of those movies were so deeply influenced by the harsh existential reality of the 80′s.
The paranoia of impending doom can be seen in film, music and video games, but my favorite archive of the era is the cartoon Spiral Zone.
Set in the near future, the mad Dr. James Bent air drops devices from a stolen space shuttle that reduce the population to his mindless slaves. The infected area is referred to as the Spiral Zone because of the pattern of the bombings and the swirling mists of deadly dust enveloping the cities now populated by zombie-like beings. Holed up in the Chrysler Building, Dr. Bent is protected by nightmarish thugs called Black Widows and wisely renames himself ‘Overlord.’
Helpless to stop him, the nations of the world pool their resources resulting in the construction of exactly five suits of armor that will resist the effect of the Overlord’s mind-controlling spores. Against impossible odds, the ‘Zone Riders’ are tasked with attacking the zone generators and removing the Overlord from power.
This cartoon is a beautiful mixture of doomsday and adventure. The future that is depicted is practically hopeless. The major cities are destroyed, the streets are full of zombies and the super powers of the world have put their faith in five soldiers… it’s hopeless! As a kid I would often daydream about an apocalyptic future possibly to avoid doing my homework and also to escape the mind-numbing boredom of middle-class suburban life… but even for me Spiral Zone took the concept a bit far.
It may not surprise readers to learn that the Spiral Zone cartoon was spawned out of the need to use a line of Bandai toys designed by the same geniuses who worked on Gundam. The toys are brilliant and perfectly produced to a degree that is perhaps a bit too much for a cartoon that only lasted a scant 65 episodes. The series was moderately successful and saw a short-lived comic book series, an American-produced line of dolls, action figures and LPs and even a few video tapes.
A cheerful issue of Spiral Zone by DC Comics
A cult cartoon memory that many members of my generation would eagerly revisit on a long Friday evening after a hard day being a grown up, sadly that option is not available. The entire series was released on DVD by a fan site with the approval of Spiral Zone’s production staff (if not the legal allowances of the copyright holders) and were made available at Spiral-Zone.com until they sold out. There are currently no plans for an official release, but there are surely some bootlegs of the fan-produced set that can be found if you look hard enough.