The first (and most popular) Animated Show in the G.I. Joe franchise.G.I. Joe was formed with the expressed purpose of stopping the terrorist group Cobra and the weapon distributors, mercenaries and scientists they hire. The Joes consists of military personnel from the army, navy, airforce, marines and coast guard with a variety of skills and military specialities.G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the first G.I. Joe cartoon, part of the franchise of the same name. It premiered with a Five-Episode Pilot in 1983. The writing and distribution of the series was handled by both Marvel Productions and Sunbow Productions. Animation was done by Toei Animationnote with feeder studios Sei Young and Dai Won and occasionally AKOM (both uncredited, as was normal for Marvel/Sunbow shows of that time). The show ran for two whole seasons along with three other five episode mini-series until it was cancelled in 1986 after 95 episodes.Following the G.I. Joe: The Movie in 1987, DIC Entertainment took over production, writing duties. Animation was done by Sei Young. Starting with the Five-Episode Pilot, Operation Dragonfire, the DIC series ran for two seasons until it was cancelled in 1992 after 44 episodes.
BFG: Since some Joes are heavy weapons specialists, this trope is pretty much mandatory. Still, the most noteworthy example is Roadblock, who uses a belt fed 50cal M2 Browning as his portable, standard firearm.
Big Bad: Cobra Commander, even though he screws up constantly.
Bittersweet Ending: Not every episode had a happy conclusion. "Computer Complications" was essentially a tie between G.I. Joe and Cobra (both sides lost a carrier); "Sink the Montana", despite concluding with the Joes foiling Cobra's plot, still had a somewhat depressing ending. And then there's "There's No Place Like Springfield"...
The Blank: Cobra Commander's mask is either a featureless reflective plate or a blue hood with eyeholes cut out.
Body Horror: "Glamour Girls" had Low-Light stop the "Transferance Machine" from stealing the youth and beauty of his younger sister, Una by destroying the linkage to her. The backwash, though, caused the machine to leave Madam Vale, the intended recipient of the stolen beauty, without a face. The reactions of Lady Jaye (horror) and Low-Light (hiding Una from the sight) show how bad it was—and only that we hear Madame Vail bemoaning her loss prevents it from being And I Must Scream.
Brainwashed and Crazy - Most characters underwent this trope at some point in the cartoon but special mention must go to Flint who suffered this at least three times in the series.
Camera Abuse: A Cobra paratrooper smashes the lens of a news camera in the opening sequence of The Movie.
Canon Immigrant: Certain characters were originally created for the comics and cartoons before they were introduced to the toyline such as the Baroness, General Flagg, the Oktober Guard, and Kamakura.
Cast as a Mask: Whenever Zartan had to put on a disguise, he was then voiced by who previously played the person he was disguised as until he was revealed. Michael Bell played him and the French Scientist he impersonated in "Countdown for Zartan," while Neil Ross played both Shipwreck and Zartan-as-Shipwreck for "Once Upon A Joe".
The same goes for Baroness, who sometimes would even disguise herself as a male. In "Twenty Questions" she's revealed to have been in disguise as a cameraman for most of the episode... a cameraman who until The Reveal previously had a male voice actor.
Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: Gunfire from the Joes' weapons was red, and gunfire from Cobra's weapons was blue. (Although in the first miniseries, both sides' shots were simple white streaks.)
A parody of this show on Homestar Runner called "Cheat Commandos" even called the villains Blue Laser.
Conservation of Ninjutsu: When the only ninjas were Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow, the series was a hit. When more were added, the series got canceled.
Continuity Nod: Although most episodes were usually self-contained, occasionally, they did reference events or things that happened earlier. Some examples:
In "Computer Complications" Zarana infiltrates the Joe base to help Cobra's plot and falls in love with Mainframe in the process, but obviously, them being on opposite sides means nothing can come of it. Late in "Grey Hairs and Growing Pains" it's revealed Zarana still has some lingering feelings for him, which the Joes are able to use to get her to help them stop Cobra's plan.
In "Memories of Mara" Shipwreck falls for the titular character, but they can't be together cause she can't live long outside of water. Cobra was apparently aware of this because when they trap him in a fake city in "There's No Place Like Springfield" his wife is a now restored Mara.
In "Ghost of a Chance" Hector Ramirez (a No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Geraldo Rivera) has several Cobra big wigs on his show and proceeds to call them out on several of their past schemes over the course of the series, including the one they pulled in "Twenty Questions", in which he first appeared.
Cool Boat: The ridiculously gigantic USS Flagg built into a seven-and-a-half-foot long, three foot tall aircraft carrier, making it the largest playset in the line (though not the most expensive) and one of the biggest toy playsets ever released. Many futile notes to Santa were written requesting it.
Cool Plane: Both the Joes and Cobras have some pretty impressive aircraft in their respective fleets.
Creator Provincialism: An unusually high number of the Joes are from the very small state Rhode Island, according to their file cards. Where Hasbro just happens to be headquartered at..
Cultural Translation: In the UK, the good guys were called Action Force, and the theme tune called them International Heroes instead of Real American Heroes. Over time this slowly changed to "GI Joe, The Action Force" (it was as awkward as it sounds) before eventually just using the GI Joe name.
This dates back from the 60's, when Palitoy licensed the original G.I. Joe figure as Action Man. Two decades later, Action Force was launched as an independent extension of the Action Man line. This changed with Hasbro's acquisition of the Palitoy assets, after which the Joes were introduced with European birthplaces.
Determinator: Sgt Slaughter, as seen in the "Arise Serpentor, Arise" miniseries wherein after being subjected to medical experiments that should have left the Sgt unconscious for weeks, he woke up after just a few minutes and proceeded to break into the door controlsusing his bare hands!
Cobra Commander: "That man has the constitution of a vending machine!"
Early Installment Weirdness: The pilot mini-series is noticeably more violent than the show would famously turn out to be. Several Cobra Troopers are explicitly suggested to be killed on-screen. Also several characters had different designs (most notable with Snake Eyes, due to being based on the first figure, while the rest of the Sunbow episodes shows him as his second figure, and the DIC episodes as the fourth figure).
Enemy Mine: The Gamesmaster in his one appearance ("The Gamesmaster"). He'd kidnapped Flint, Lady Jaye, the Baroness and Cobra Commander. When Destro realizes that a third party, not GI Joe, had kidnapped the Commander and the Baroness, he quickly calls Duke. Duke ends up begrudgingly agreeing.
Also, COBRA themselves, in the episode where they tried to start a war between the US and Russia, and the Joes and their Russian counterparts got wise.
Even Evil Has Standards: In the original MASS Device pilot miniseries, Snake Eyes is thought to be fatally irradiated. Major Bludd keeps the Cobra troopers from firing on him for this, and has a brief twinge of sympathy as he said he wouldn't wish what happened to Snake Eyes on his worst enemy, adding "Poor blighter."
Five-Episode Pilot: The original Sunbow series had four: "The MASS Device" and "The Revenge of Cobra," which aired before the start of the series proper, and "Pyramid of Darkness" and "Arise, Serpentor, Arise," which were used as premieres for the show's two seasons. The DIC series premiered with one called "Operation Dragonfire." Sigma 6 also had one of these.
Gatling Good: Naturally shows up here and there, but by far the most delightfully ridiculous example is Rock n' Roll Dual Wieldingtwin gatlings◊. How the recoil doesn't knock him over is anyone's guess.
General Failure: Cobra Commander and Serpentor, so, so hard. In the 1987 movie Cobra Commander finally gets called out for it by Serpentor and his lieutenants.
Hawaiian-Shirted Tourist: Chuckles is usually wearing one (a shirt that is, not a tourist). He is also the Joes' best undercover operative. A frequently mentioned point is that most people would never imagine an undercover operative to stick out like a sore thumb as he does.
Heel-Face Turn: Storm Shadow at some point between the Sunbow and DIC series.
The Baroness helped the Commander's attempt to replace Cobra troops with the "Phantom Brigade".
"Worlds Without End" showed an alternate-universe Baroness as one of La Résistance.
Zartan aided the Joes when Zarana was nearly turned into one of Madame Vale's potential targets.
Destro didn't appreciate the Commander trying to make a Synthoid of him, and helped the Joes stop his conspiracy.
Xamot needed the Joes to rescue Tomax when the Baroness gained the power in "Spell of the Siren" to control the males of both GI Joe AND Cobra.
"The Greatest Evil" had one Cobra fighter have his sister addicted to the Headman's drugs around the same time Falcon become an addict as well—and both he and Duke find an Enemy Mine situation.
Karma Houdini: Given that he later shows up in an episode of The Transformers that's set many years in the future, it can be inferred that Cobra Commander is ultimately this, even if he didn't take over the world.
Legend Fades to Myth: In one episode, the Joes end up in Ancient Greece, and their actions contribute to various Greek legends (e.g., Sgt. Slaughter performs one of Hercules' labors).
Lighter and Softer: Than Larry Hama's comic book, which despite some comedy elements, depicted more of the consequences of war. Besides, later animated series, comic books and live action films depict the Joes as trained and merciless killers - with some characters only heroes because of the side they're on - whereas except for some Early Installment Weirdness the term "kill count" is all but alien in the original series. Ironically, that didn't stop the show from being lambasted by moral guardians of the day; they didn't know that someday Scarlett would start aiming for the eyes.
At a basic level, the cartoon's tagline ("A Real American Hero") was changed to "The International Hero" outside America.
In the UK, the original 12" figures were renamed Action Man, and eventually gained their own, separate canon.
Later, the 3 3/4" figures were sold in the UK and elsewhere as Action Force. This incarnation reimagined Action Force as a European anti-terrorist organisation based in Europe, which sometimes cooperated with GI Joe.
The odd mention of B.A.A.T.s isn't a case of Spell My Name with an "S", but a case of two similar sets of Fun with Acronyms; B.A.T stands for "Battle Android Trooper", while B.A.A.T stands for "Battle Armored Android Trooper".
Mind-Control Music: Cobra's plot in "Cold Slither" is to use the Dreadnoks as a metal band (with appropriate dress) to send subliminal messages to America's youth, and then subject them to direct brainwashing at a live concert.
Mind Screw: Done to Cobra in "Once Upon A Joe" when Shipwreck activates the "Macguffin Device": it causes the imagination of the holder to become reality—and constructs from Shipwreck's story to come alive and attack the Cobra forces.
Nobody Can Die: The only character to undoubtedly die in the main series (as opposed to its Early Installment Weirdness pilot) was the drug lord Headman, who overdosed on the drugs he was selling at the end of the "Greatest Evil" two-parter written to cash-in on the "War on Drug" hysteria.
Pie in the Face: Macguffin Device-created Super-Deformed versions of Leatherneck and Shipwreck splat Dr. Mindbender with a cream pie in "Once Upon A Joe." After the second pie, Mindbender, snarls, "I hate that sailor..."
Preacher's Kid: Lifeline was a type 1 (angelic); his dad was a minister.
Predatory Business: In the 80's show, the Red Rocket franchise pops up all over in one episode, even planning to buy out Roadblock's family restaurant (the owners won't sell, of course). Then it turns out that Cobra is involved, and the rockets adorning the buildings are carrying their latest WMDs, the warhead shaped Photon Disintegrators. The Joes stop the plot, and Roadblock's family restaurant becomes "The Joes' Place".
Punny Name: Cutter's real name is Skip A. Stone. You might think he's a Navy man, but actually he's from the Coast Guard.
Put on a Bus: Clutch, Grunt and Steeler ended up staying behind in a parallel universe run by Cobra (in the cartoon). The three were part of the much plainer 1982 lineup, and thus were being written out in favour of the "cooler" new characters. At least they got a send-off in a two-parter episode and not just ignored (poor Zap).
Rule of Three: In each of the original three Five-Episode Pilots (The MASS Device, Revenge of Cobra, and Pyramid of Darkness) Duke gets taken hostage in the first episode. In the original he escapes by the second episode, but he remains held captive for the majority of the other two.
Took a Level in Badass: At the beginning of the DIC run, which picks up where the movie left off, Cobra Commander is still a snake, but is restored to human(oid) form by the Baroness and Gnawgahyde. He wrests control of Cobra back from Serpentor, gets revenge by turning Serpentor into an iguana, and then when he goes after the Joes they actually have a hard time defeating him!
Trashcan Bonfire: One appears in a bad part of town in the episode "Cold Slither".
Truth in Television: No, really, knowing is half the battle. Knowledge and intel are vital for any successful military operation.