As a home video distributor, Image Entertainment has been a reliable presence in the DVD market since the format's inception, offering a wide range of low budget, special interest, and cult products amongst its very large catalog. Recently, the company has been releasing vintage cartoon series in their entirety in comparatively low-priced complete series sets. These include Highlander: The Animated Series based upon the hit film franchise and this curiosity from nearly two decades ago, King Arthur and the Knights of Justice.
I had never heard of this series before receiving it to review, but a cursory look at the user comments posted on the Internet Movie Database suggests that there are fans of the series, primarily people who were very young when the cartoon initially aired who have fond nostalgic memories of it. Image Entertainment collects all 26 episodes of the series in a 3-DVD package, and this apparently marks many of these episodes' premiere on this media format.
The first episode, appropriately titled Opening Kick-Off, is quite busy in setting up the premise of the program. During the Middle Ages, magician Merlin is using all his powers to protect Camelot from an unrelenting assault by the evil Lord Viper (reminiscent in appearance to the G.I. Joe cartoon foe Serpentor) and his warlords. It seems that the fabled King Arthur and his knights have been imprisoned in an ice tomb before the events of the show by the also-evil Morgana. While Merlin does his best to ward off Lord Viper, one of his henchmen manages to kidnap Arthur's wife, Guinevere. Apparently, Viper feels that without royal leadership, the realm's power vacuum may be filled by him.
Merlin decides to turn to the far distant future to find replacement knights to defeat this growing evil. So, he turns to a present-day (well, 1992 or thereabouts anyway) New York City high school football team dubbed the Knights. Their altruistic quarterback is named Arthur King (ahem). So, Arthur King and about a dozen Knights are transported in their school bus after a game back to the Middle Ages. They transition to their new surroundings amazingly quickly. Merlin arms them with magical battle armor and horses - and off they go to fight Lord Viper and his henchmen.
This was all told in a brisk 22 minutes (which also includes the opening and closing credits), the average length of an episode without commercials. What follows is the serial adventure of the Knights, with episodes fairly self-contained though each builds upon the succeeding episode's narrative. The second episode, A Knight's Quest, for instance, follows the Knights' attempt to rescue the kidnapped Guinevere from the first episode. The third episode, The Unbeliever, begins their search for magical keys that will release the original King Arthur and his Knights. Et cetera. Et cetera. Though, as a word of warning, the overriding plot doesn't get a resolution in the final episode.
While the copyright notices during the end credits place this show's production between 1992 - 1994, King Arthur and the Knights of Justice (later episodes end the title with a II) feels very much like a 1980's cartoon show in line with G.I. Joe, Transformers, and its ilk. Indeed, some of the adventures even end with brief 30 second public service type messages about recycling, sharing, and the like as G.I. Joe did. There's a lot of action involving swordplay, armor, spirit animals, and even dragons, though the violence is of the nonlethal variety familiar to many shows of its era. The theme song is heavy on guitars and synths, sounding like it came from a hair band of the time.
I can't honestly say that I was taken with this series, but then again, this is not a show targeted to my age group. The animation isn't great but it is in line with the quality one would have expected from a weekly television series at this time. And, like a lot of cartoon series, this gets repetitious very quickly when you watch one episode after another. Like Voltron and its formation, for instance, the same animated sequence is repeated every time Arthur and his Knights don their armor.
However, I think this would still be entertaining for contemporary young pre-teens as it consistently provides the whiz-bang action and characters that would hold their imaginations. Plus, as I suggested above, there do seem to be fans out there with warm memories of watching this show when they were young. Image's set is budget-priced and offers the complete series. That's all enough for me to recommend it for anyone nostalgic enough to want to see it again, especially if they now have young ones of their own.
Image Entertainment gives all 26 episodes of King Arthur and the Knights of Justice a full screen presentation (1.33:1 aspect ratio) that, given the age of the cartoon, is assuredly representative of its original television presentation. Details aren't great, as the cartoons look to have the video quality of high grade VHS. However, colors looked bright, and the animation has that vintage, nostalgic feel to it.
The sole audio track is Dolby Digital Mono. There seemed to be some variation in volume between dialogue sequences and action / scored sequences, with the former coming across a bit too strong in the mix frequently. However, it's serviceable overall and the variances aren't too distracting. No subtitle options are available.
There are no extras on these 3 DVDs, not even trailers.
King Arthur and the Knights of Justice is an early 1990s weekly children's animated program that's reminiscent of cartoons from the 1980s like G.I. Joe and Transformers in its episodic adventures and nonlethal action fight sequences as well as its animation quality. There appears to be a cult following for this show, as evidenced from user comments on the Internet Movie Database, primarily composed of people who fondly remember it from their childhood. While Image Entertainment doesn't provide any extras in this package, this 3-DVD set does offer all 26 episodes for the first time on this format at a comparatively cheap price. That's enough for me to recommend it to long-time fans or those with young ones looking for something different to watch.