History and fantasy combined in The Mysterious Cities of Gold, a 39-episode adventure chronicling the search for fortune in the New World. A French and Japanese co-production, the animated series was presented with all the care and extravagance of a big-screen epic, featuring dazzling animation, a continuous storyline and an unforgettable theme song.
The story began in Barcelona, Spain, in 1532 A.D. A young orphan boy named Esteban—who, legend had it, could harness the power of the sun—met a ship’s navigator named Mendoza, who claimed to have rescued him from a shipwreck as a baby. Both Esteban and Mendoza held portions of an ancient medallion, which Mendoza believed was a key to finding the legendary cities of gold. After a series of mishaps, the boy joined Mendoza and comic relief crewmates Sancho and Pedro for a voyage to the New World aboard the ship Esperanza.
En route, Esteban met Zia, an Incan girl who was kidnapped from her people because she may have known how to find the cities. The two became close along the trip, and their circle of friends was rounded out in the New World by Tao, a young boy who was the last remaining member of the Hiva, the race that built the cities of gold. Once Tao joined the group, the South American adventures began in earnest, unveiling hidden treasures like the solar-powered ship Solaris, the giant Golden Condor airship and other clues left behind by the Hiva. As the team got closer to the treasure, the dangers increased as well, putting the “Children of the Sun” in peril among soldiers, conquistadors and the fearsome Olmecs.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold wasn’t always good history (nor did it claim to be, although the original French version did include a brief documentary at each episode’s end), but if nothing else, it was always a good adventure. It was darker and often more menacing than most contemporary cartoons on network television, but that didn’t stop the show from a lengthy run on cable’s Nickelodeon. Produced in 1982, the series aired daily from 1986-90 on the kids’ network, becoming a fan favorite. The series’ open ending (there were still six more cities of gold to find) left fans hoping for an animated sequel, but to date, Esteban and company are still waiting to set off on their second quest.
“Children of the Sun, someday soon you’re gonna find
That your destiny holds the secret, holds the key…”