The kitschtastic cartoon series "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" was first born as a line of action figures in 1982, made by the toy giant, Mattel. The company originally wanted to build a line around the character Conan the Barbarian, but eventually somebody at Mattel noticed that there was a tad too much sex and violence associated with Conan to make an appropriate children's toy. So Mattel created their own barbarian -- a nice, blond, good-guy barbarian with magical powers named He-Man.
The animation company Filmation was hired to do animated ads for the toy line, and then to create 85 episodes for a Saturday morning cartoon show. All Mattel wanted was simple, cheap cartoons that would promote the toys, but with a number of talented writers penning scripts for "He-Man" -- including science fiction author Paul Dini and "Babylon 5" creator J. Michael Straczynski – the plots for the episodic series were remarkably rich and complex, especially when compared to other kids' shows on the air at the time.
The second season of "He-Man" was created with the understanding that there wouldn't be a Season Three, which meant that the writers really had nothing to lose by doing anything they pleased. With this in mind, the scripts they wrote featured complex, surprising storylines, more story time given over to secondary characters, and some progressive new elements -- like bringing back characters from Season One, addressing drug addiction, and focusing an episode on a blind boy (who saves He-Man after he's blinded, too).
Among the memorable stories in the latter half of the season were "The Eternia Flower," with a young boy becoming addicted to a black flower with narcotic properties; the very funny "Double Trouble," written by Straczynski, in which Skeletor creates a clone of himself and discover just how annoying he actually is; "The Greatest Show on Eternia," which features the odd sight of Skeletor being shot out of a cannon, and that episode with the blind kid, "Not So Blind," in which He-Man and Ram-Man must put their safety in the boy's hands after they lose their sight. The Season Two Volume 2 set closes out the series nicely, with some terrific episodes by a team of very talented writers.
The Video: There's some occasional dirt, but mostly these are very good transfers, bright and clean with nicely saturated colors. Care has been taken to bring these episodes to DVD, and it shows.
Audio: The Dolby 2.0 audio (English or Spanish) is acceptable, but unexceptional. It serves the purpose without any bells and whistles.
The Extras: As with each set in this series, it's the bonus features that really make this a 'He-Man" fan's dream come true. Three of the episodes ("The Greatest Show in Eternia," "Bargain with Evil" and "The Problem with Power") have the same sort of charming and informative commentary as the previous volumes, loaded with insider knowledge about the creation of the show.
The first of two featurettes, "The Stories of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, Part IV" (34 min.), offers funny, informative interviews with principals such as writer J. Michael Straczynski, who talks about visiting the WorldCon science fiction convention and then trying to get the execs overseeing the show to understand just how large a following "He-Man" had within the mainstream SF community. What's impressive about these interviews is how seriously the people making the cartoon took their jobs. Considering the show's origins as a gimmick to sell Mattel toys, it's both surprising and heart-warming to discover that the people behind the scenes genuinely cared about writing smart, fun adventure stories for kids. In describing one of his favorite episodes ("Battle of the Dragons"), Straczynski says, "I always wanted to do a dragon story, and these dragons were just cool ... it gave me a chance to come up with a non-human point of view and see how dragons viewed us. You know what humans think about dragons, what do they think about us? ... I wanted to tell a story that would give them a culture, and give them their own history and background and philosophy." The enthusiasm that the writers and artists still have for the project is delightful.
A second featurette, "Animating He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" (38 min.) offers a nice look at the specifics of animation from script to screen.
There are also character profiles for a number of characters in this collection of episodes, plus animated storyboards for two episodes and scripts for five episodes available via DVD-ROM.
Conclusion: if you've purchased the previous boxes on the series, you'll definitely want this one, too. The 'He-Man' DVD series has shown just how extensive a DVD collection can be for a much-loved TV show, setting the bar pretty high for all those that follow. Fans couldn't ask for more.