May 11, 2011

Hey, kids! It's our next Short-Lived Showcase! Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light!


Toys and cartoons. In the 80s, they went together like Laurel and Hardy. Peanut butter and jelly. The Price is Right and masturbation.

Don’t judge me.

After back-to-back grand slams with Transformers and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, animation studio Sunbow and toy maker Hasbro swung for the fences again with Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. Unfortunately, this time they popped up to shortstop. Visionaries would run a mere 13 episodes before being cancelled.

As is usually the case in such partnerships, the toy line shared the same fate as the animated series, lasting only one year. Without a cartoon to promote it, a planned second wave of figures never materialized.

Outside of seeing the occasional toy commercial, I have no memories of Visionaries. By 1987, I had moved on from toys to girls (the wisdom of which I sometimes question... I keed! I keed!), and so the entire property is really just pop-cultural ambient noise to me. I’m really looking forward to this one because everything is going to be new. Plus, it’s Sunbow and Hasbro, who haven’t let me down yet.

I liked Transformers, and I can still remember buying my first one, Sunstreaker, at K-Mart, but I was a G.I. Joe fanatic. The toys, the comic book, the cartoon. I was so into G.I. Joe that I would watch the 4 o’clock showing and then re-watch the same exact episode at 4:30 on a station out of Cincinnati. If you looked up "target demographic" in the Sunbow/Hasbro guide, you'd see a picture of me eating G.I. Joe cereal out of a G.I. Joe bowl while watching G.I. Joe.

Will Visionaries recapture the magic of previous Sunbow/Hasbro projects? There’s only one way to find out.

Put away your homework, grab a bowl of your favorite cereal, and get ready to watch Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light with us.


I love Flint Dille and Buzz Dixon. After working as assistant story editors under Steve Gerber on G.I. Joe, they jumped over to Transformers halfway through its second season where they became the main story editors. While the show had been fun up until that point, it was also very random and inconsistent, with little in the way of depth, rhyme, or reason. After they took over, it suddenly became a more sprawling interplanetary adventure series as an epic history and mythos was built for the denizens of Cybertron. And, more importantly, they put the focus on characters, building each machine - and the occasional human - into distinct personalities. This carried into the mind-blowing animated film and its immediate sequel, Season 3, which took advantage of the jump in time and major cast replacements to craft for itself a marvelous series about man and machine spreading throughout the stars, sometimes together, sometimes at odds. But then Dille and Dixon were taken off the show when they wouldn't bring Optimus Prime back, and it quickly sputtered to an embarrassing demise (Headmasters - 'nuff said).

But they stayed with Sunbow Productions and, with Dille taking the lead with Dixon as his wingman, were given two other Hasbro action figure properties they could develop from the ground up. The first, the gleefully twisted Inhumanoids, is something we'll likely cover on this site at a future point. The second was Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light. Both only lasted 13 episodes, likely due to mediocre toy tales, ratings concerns because of Dille's admittedly dark style, and Sunbow's contract with Hasbro dissolving after the aforementioned Headmasters season premiere of Transformers and the less than satisfactory dumping of G.I. Joe - The Movie into a direct-to-video release.

I remember the action figures for Visionaries; I never had one, but came across a few at my friends' houses. There wasn't anything about their design that I found particularly striking in a way that made them a necessary buy, but I did think their hologram chests were a nice touch. Lets you see right into the soul of each warrior. Though that only goes so far until you see the limited designs and uninspiring accessories, including a clumsy staff with another hologram at its head. But I shouldn't go any further into the toys because that's an article for Tony to write down the road.

I don't believe I've ever seen the show itself. The opening sequence certainly doesn't ring a bell, though I do like it. The song is catchy, yet ultimately half-hearted, much like the tune for Inhumanoids. The visuals are a rich treat, though. I still think the armor designs are a little bland, but the castles and vehicles are great, and I love the atmosphere of the ragged sky of purples and reds. This isn't going to be a light and colorful show, and the violently muted palette reflects it.

I've always liked the idea of a dark ages world where technology and magic co-exist, and this feels right at home among the likes of He-Man and ThunderCats. It'll be interesting to see how much Visionaries reflects or distinguishes itself from them. I've said the designs are a little bland, but there's also a subdued realism to them in a way. They don't feel garish or ridiculous. They aren't particularly exciting, but they have the feel of a believable reality.

I'm really looking forward to checking this show out. As I mentioned, I'm always game for a taste of Dixon & Dille, and I always appreciate it when an action toon doesn't hesitate to add a bit of darkness and danger to the mix. I can't wait to see if this is an early predecessor to the grimmer toons of the 90s I grew up on, or just the surface detail of an otherwise missed opportunity.

Additional articles in our Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light series:

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