Follow TV Tropes


Anime / Ulysses 31

Go To

"It is the 31st century. Ulysses killed the giant Cyclops when he rescued the children and his son Telemachus. But the ancient Gods of Olympus are angry and threaten a terrible revenge... "

Ulysses 31 (French: Ulysse 31; Japanese: 宇宙伝説ユリシーズ31, Space Legend Ulysses 31) is a 1981 French-Japanese anime series conceptualized and written by Jean Chalopin (who went on to create The Mysterious Cities of Gold and Inspector Gadget in the following years) and Nina Wolmark, and co-produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha studios and DiC Entertainmentnote  under the supervision of Bernard Deyriès. As the name implies, it is based on Homer's The Odyssey and heavily borrows plot elements from it as well as various plot elements and characters from other famous Greek myths.

In the 31st century (hence "31" in the title), spaceship commander Ulysses flies home from a galactic conflict he helped end peacefully on the planet Troy. On the way back to Earth, he rescues his son Telemachus and two young Zotrians, Yumi and Numinor, from a Human Sacrifice by destroying the Cyclops, but doing so angers Poseidon and the other gods who rule the universe of Olympus, from which it came. Zeus curses Ulysses by dragging Ulysses' ship, the Odysseus, through into Olympus, putting his crew and Numinor in suspended animation, and erasing the ship's memory files that contain Earth's location.


Ulysses will now have to wander throughout unknown worlds in the galaxy of Olympus and face various threats and dangerous traps set by the gods until he finds the Kingdom of Hades, at which point his crew will be revived and he will be allowed to travel back to Earth. He is accompanied in his journey by the only two persons who were not put in suspended animation, his pre-teen son Telemachus and Yumi, a blue-skinned alien little girl with telepathic powers. Nono, the small red toy robot Ulysses offered to Telemachus, also accompanies them.

The series is an unusual product of international collaboration, that is still right now rather unique in its quality (there was a two-week delay for episode production, instead of the standard one-week; the French team was almost entirely made of professional illustrators, which forced the Japanese animation team to actually simplify the graphics, but also gave them enough inspiration to go much farther than what they were used to). A second season was planned but ultimately cancelled.


The Odysseus was originally planned to be animated by computer, but the single wireframe model generated was still too complex to render for the machines of the times. So, the only computer animation left is the opening credits.

Ulysses 31 provides examples of:

  • All Myths Are True: And they're happening again, in space!
  • Ancient Grome:
    • Think of the trope but Recycled IN SPACE!, with Latin names such as Ulysses and the Parcae being used alongside Greek ones such as Odysseus (Ulysses and his ship thus have the same name).
    • Add to that soldiers from the actual Ancient Greece episode looking more like Roman soldiers than Greek hoplites.
  • Attack Reflector: In the first episode, Ulysses finds out that the parabolic antenna carried by Nono can reflect back the Cyclops' Eye Beam, and orders Nono to reflect the beam back into the Cyclops' eye, destroying it in the process.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Circe turns Ulysses' crew, Yumi/Themis and Telemachus into zombified humanoid pig slaves.
  • Brainwashed and Crazy: "Mutiny on Board". The gods control Ulysses' crew, reviving the companions as crazed zombies who take over the ship and try to crash it into space glaciers.
  • Clock Punk: The realm of Chronos has clocks everywhere.
  • Computer Voice: The Odyssey's main computer, Shirka.
  • Cool Ship: The Odyssey (based on the space station from 2001: A Space Odyssey), and Ulysses' various small ships.
  • Cool Sword: Ulysses' laser-saber (blatantly inspired by the lightsabers of Star Wars). The hilt can be used as a blaster gun.
  • Cosmic Entity: The gods of Olympus, of course. And some of Ulysses' enemies of the week are this, to variable degrees.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Ulysses is very literal example, being played with by the gods.
  • Crapsack World: Crapsack universe. The Olympus is full of hostile entities and dangers at every corner for Ulysses, the children accompanying him and the Odysseus itself.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: Naturally, as it's one of the oldest written works known to man set in space.
  • Cult: The Cyclop's monks are a cult worshipping it, offering it children in sacrifice.
  • Cyber Cyclops: For the obligatory blinding of the cyclops scene, he got revamped this way, in order to fit into the sci-fi setting. Also served by cultists who have put out their eyes and jammed a large crystal into the space between the sockets.
  • Death World: The Olympus is full of shipwrecks, empty giant cities and desolate worlds where the gods or other entities enjoy tempting and tormenting unlucky humans or aliens endlessly. Not to mention giant fire and ice storms in space, a gigantic magnetized ships cemetery and various asteroid fields the gods enjoy putting in the way of the Odysseus.
  • Deflector Shields:
    • The Odysseus is protected by a large, ovoid deflector shield that has saved it from destruction on many occasions, including against the mighty Cyclops. Any tridents attack is doomed to failure when the shield is up, but can be devastating if the undermanned ship is taken by surprise without time to erect it.
    • Ulysses carries a bracer that can generate a round energy shield that protects him against lots of attack. It comes especially in handy on an episode where he's confronted with a swarm of Doppelgänger monsters which can copy any of his equipment, down to his Ray Gun — but not the shield because it's transparent.
  • Derelict Graveyard: One that has both its own name ("The Graveyard of Wrecks and Hulks") and an infamous reputation.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: The Cyclops' planet explodes after its death.
  • Elemental Embodiment: The two perpetually colliding space storms, Charybd (fire) and Scylla (ice).
  • Everybody Lives: By the last episode, Ulysses' crew really do get to come back to life.
  • Expository Theme Tune: UlysSEEEeeeEEEeeeEEES, no-one else can do the things you dooooo!! To French ears, the dub heard at the beginning is hilariously hammy. Compare with the original version.
  • Eye Beam: The Cyclops' main weapon is a deadly beam, and it can grant the same power (on a smaller scale) to the one-eyed cultists worshiping it. Luckily, Ulysses has an energy shield to protect him.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Many episodes offer a map of Olympus or a shortcut back to Earth to Ulysses, only to have it snatched away by the end. Once they reach their episode allotment, though...
  • First-Run Syndication: Although created in 1981, it didn't air in the U.S. until 1986 when it aired as part of the syndicated Kideo TV block.note 
  • Funny Robot: Nono.
  • Genre Blindness:
    • Ulysses and everyone else haven't wised up to the fact that they are reliving Homer's epic in a SF context, despite meeting the original Ulysses at one point (near the very end of the series). 31st century Ulysses does remark the gods treating the both of them rather similarly, however since the future cast gets a reboot to the beginning of the episode, he can't remember it.
    • Most episodes are based on Ancient Greece myths, however only half of them do allude to The Odyssey — and those that do, due to Adaptation Distillation, only bear a vague resemblance to the original. This actually appears very well when the cast is sent to the past, as although similar-looking and a good warrior, 31st century Ulysses is far from being as eager for revenge as his ancestor. Let's not forget that Odysseus was more well-known for his trickery than his courage in battle (though the guy was hailed as one of the best warriors of his time, he was also known to avoid direct confrontation whenever he could help it and/or didn't feel like bathing in the blood of his enemies).
  • Godhood Seeker:
    • Circe wants to achieve godhood through omniscience.
    • She's not the only one, as Mercurius does too in "At the Heart of the Universe".
  • Head-Turning Beauty: Yumi, Athena, and other Zotrians in general.
  • Hellevator: There is a giant elevator in the kingdom of Hades, and it drives dead souls to his inner kingdom.
  • The Homeward Journey: The whole premise is about Ulysses going through many perils in the Olympus galaxy to get back home (Earth replaces Ithaca in this setting).
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game:
    • The episode "Guardian of the Cosmic Winds". Aeolus, King of the Cosmic Winds, kidnaps Ulysses to provide entertainment for his daughter's birthday party.
    • The episode "The Magician in Black", too. A powerful wizard breaks the gods' curse over Ulysses's crew... but as payment demands to hunt the three best among them.
  • Impossible Task: Finding Hades' kingdom, for starters. Ulysses is then pitted against several seemingly impossible tasks by the gods over the course of the series, but always triumphs.
  • Kill Sat: Cerberus. A satellite that guards the entrance of Hades' kingdom and destroys the ships of the living who dare to approach with a trident-shaped beam.
  • Leitmotif: The haunting theme of the gods, among others.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: In, get this, "The Lotus Eaters". Although, with this being an adaptation of the original legend, it doesn't quite fit the usual definition.
  • Love Makes You Crazy: Nono when he sees Athena and Nanette.
  • The Mirror Shows Your True Self: The Sphinx is in possession of a mirror showing the true personality of people reflected in it. He is Genre Savvy enough to keep his daughter away from it.
  • Mook Mobile: The Tridents. They exist solely to harass the Odysseus and to be shot down by Ulysses.
  • Mother Ship:
    • The Odysseus.
    • The Tridents carriers.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Yumi's alien telepathic powers. She could (or couldn't) do whatever a particular script might call for.
  • No Ontological Inertia: In one episode Ulysses meets a wizard who frees his companions from the gods' curse. When the wizard is killed by a treacherous servant his spell is broken and the companions go back to sleep.
  • Old-School Dogfight: Ulysses against the Tridents emulates the dogfights from Star Wars, which were based on World War II dogfights.
  • Ominous Opera Cape: The personifications of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades during Ulysses' final trial in the last episode.
  • Panty Shot: In "Calypso", one of the subordinates of the episode's title character has her white undies exhibited from behind, as she runs off in a mini skirt.
  • Perplexing Pearl Production: "Temple of the Lestrigones" has the Odysseus shrunk by the baddie du jour. Ulysses sets out in a small spherical scout ship, which is caught in an oyster and covered in nacre within hours.
  • Powers That Be: The gods intervene overtly but also like to pull the strings unnoticed.
  • Prongs of Poseidon: In this universe, the trident symbolizes the Olympus gods' power, not only that of Poseidon.
    • The Tridents, naturally.
    • The Cerberus satellite's weapon has the shape of a trident and fires trident-like beams.
    • The Minotaur wields a trident.
  • Protagonist Title: Ulysses is the show's protagonist. "31" means "31st century".
  • Pulling Themselves Together: Sisyphus angrily tries to break the machine that recycles the metal spheres of his ordeal over and over. The broken parts magically reassemble themselves on the machine, as the gods won't let Sisyphus' ordeal stop.
  • Rapid Aging: Chronos' curse on Ulysses' crew, Yumi/Themis and Telemachus makes them age decades in a matter of minutes.
  • Rescued from the Underworld: In the last episode, Ulysses meets the 31st century Orpheus, who wants to find his wife in Hades' kingdom. Ulysses' entrance into Hades' kingdom can be considered as one too, as Hades wants to turn his crew into his own citizens.
  • Reset Button: The giant clock in "Chronos, Father of Time" can turn back time.
  • Secret Test of Character: Upon finally reaching the Kingdom of Hades, Hades allows Ulysses to return to Earth... provided he leaves all his companions behind. Ulysses refuses. Just as it seems that all is lost, it turns out this was the final trial of the gods and he is now free to return to Earth with all his revived crew.
  • Shout-Out: To a good bunch of Space Operas: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, Star Trek...
  • Shrink Ray: Antipathes' prism in "Temple of the Lestrigones" can shrink anything, from humans to spaceships. The effect can be reversed with the other faces of the prism.
  • Space Is Cold: There are asteroid-size icebergs in space, most notably at the entrance of Hades' Kingdom.
  • Stock Footage: Those shots where Ulysses and Telemachus are reunited after winning the day and fall into each other's arms? It appeared in the pilot, and it was shamelessly reused in several other episodes.
  • Stock Sound Effects: Many sounds (especially the activation of the Laser Blades and the Tridents' laser shots) were taken directly from Star Wars.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Considering how Ulysses' every attempt to find a way back to Earth ends in disastrous failure, you might be surprised to find out he actually does fulfill the prophecy in the last episode. He finds the Kingdom of Hades, the gods keep their promise to break the curse over his crew, and everyone gets to come back to life and return home.
  • Taken for Granite:
    • The witch turned all the adult Zotrians living on her moon into stone in the episode "The Lost Planet".
    • The treasure of the Sirens is guarded by a giant metal tentacle that turns all the beings it touches into metal statues.
  • Time Travel: At one point Ulysses travels back in time to ancient Greece and actually meets the original Ulysses.
  • To Hell and Back: The last episode involves Ulysses going to Hades' kingdom.
  • Tower of Babel: Circe never stops building a giant tower to house all the knowledge in the universe.
  • Traveling at the Speed of Plot: The speed of The Odyssey varies a lot, episode by episode; sometimes appearing to move at sublight speed only and taking a long time to navigate interstellar space, and at others she is leaping whole star systems in a single bound. The question of how big the realm of Olympus is is left open too; from a collection of star systems and small galaxy, all the way to a multi galactic universe. How far and how fast they travel really depends on the episode being watched.
  • The Underworld: Hades' kingdom is this for the whole Olympus galaxy.
  • Unicorn: With Pegasus-like wings and a freezing ray, in the episode "The Lost Planet".
  • Variant Chess / Human Chess: Ulysses must fight giant chess pieces in "Guardian of the Cosmic Winds".
  • Wheel of Pain: A bunch of these are shown powering the loom of fate.
  • Wicked Witch: In the episode "The Lost Planet". She is actually a nice person, especially towards children. It turns out she just became crazy when the Zotrians evacuated their children from the moon once it started to move away from the orbit of Zotra, and turned them to stone because she thought they hated her.
  • Wingding Eyes:
    • In "The Black Sphere", Nono's eyes turn into hearts upon gazing at Athena's beauty.
    • This happens with Nono again in "City of Cortex", when he falls for Nanette.

Alternative Title(s): Ulysse 31