Cartoon Country: Bionic Six
Today I’ll be looking back at a largely forgotten but interesting cartoon from the late 1980s, Bionic Six.
Bionic Six is an American-Japanese animated television series that aired from 1987 to 1989. It was produced by TMS Entertainment (which had previously worked on Dokonjō Gaeru and Hasbro’s Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light) and distributed, through first-run syndication, by MCA TV, years before the latter company became NBCUniversal Television Distribution. Renowned Japanese animation director Osamu Dezaki was involved as chief supervising director, and his distinctive style (as seen in Golgo 13 and Cobra) is evident throughout all its episodes.
The title characters of the series are a family of machine-enhanced human beings possessing unique powers after being augmented with bionic technology. Each family member is given specific bionic powers, and thus they form a superhero team called the Bionic Six.
Here’s the show’s intro:
In the near future (some unspecified decades after 1999), Professor Dr. Amadeus Sharp Ph.D., head of the Special Projects Labs (SPL), creates a new form of technology to augment humans through bionics. His first subject was Jack Bennett, a test pilot who secretly acted as Sharp’s field agent, Bionic-1. On a family ski vacation in the Himalayas, an alien spacecraft triggers an avalanche that buries the entire family, exposing them to the unusual radiation of a mysterious buried object. Jack frees himself but discovers his family in a comatose state. Theorizing that Jack’s bionics protected him from the radiation, Professor Sharp implants bionic technology in the others, awakening them. Afterward, the family operates incognito as a publicly lauded team of adventuring superheroes, the Bionic Six.
The Bennett family includes patriarch Jack, matriarch Helen, Eric, Meg, J.D., and Bunji. They live in a secluded oceanfront home in the fictional city of Cypress Cove, in northern California. Each member wears a special ring and a “wristcomp” (a mini-computer hardwired into the wrist), which they use to activate their bionic powers. The Bionic Six can also combine their powers by joining hands, creating a “Bionic Link” to amplify their abilities
The Bennett Family/Bionic Six
Jack Bennett/Bionic-1 (voiced by John Stephenson): Expert test pilot. Bionic-1’s powers are mostly related to his bionic eyes (including “x-ray vision,” telescopic sight, energy blasts, and low-powered beams that temporarily cause electronic devices to malfunction or even turn against their users), and enhanced hearing (this last capability beyond even the powers of the other team members, who each possess superhuman levels of hearing in their own right).
Helen Bennett/Mother-1 (voiced by Carol Bilger): Jack’s wife, and oceanographer and marine biologist. Mother-1 possesses various ESP powers that allow her to occasionally see glimpses of the future, telepathically communicate with other sentient and non-sentient beings, determine the function and operation of mechanical devices by mentally “tracing” their internal workings, and can mentally project hologram-like optical illusions. She is also an accomplished fighter, having bested Dr. Scarab’s henchwoman Madame-O on the occasions when the two physically fought each other one-on-one.
Eric Bennett/Sport-1 (voiced by Hal Rayle): Jack and Helen’s athletic son. At local Albert Einstein High School, Eric is a shortstop on the baseball team, the Einstein Atoms. He routinely employs baseball vernacular in his dialogue. As Sport-1, he affects electromagnetic powers to attract or repel metallic objects with tremendous force, meld them together, or even rip them apart. This force is directional and – by varying the configuration of his hands, or by using one or both arms – Sport-1 can adjust the strength of attraction or repulsion. He can also use objects as he would a baseball bat, including steel beams, lampposts and other objects (including baseball bats) to redirect incoming objects and energy blasts; infused by the same field that comes from his arms, he can use those ordinarily fragile objects to hit and deflect things they normally could not. (In one instance, he used a steel beam to hit an incoming asteroid.)
Meg Bennett/Rock-1 (voiced by Bobbi Block): Jack and Helen’s daughter and Eric’s younger sister. Meg is an excitable and somewhat ditsy teen who loves music. She is prone to habitual use of the future-slang phrase “So-LAR!” (comparable to “awesome”), as well as the prefixes “Mega-!” (as befitting her first name) and “Ultra-!” . As Rock-1, she can emit sonic beams from blaster units mounted on her shoulders – the blaster units are only visible when she assumes “bionic mode.” She can also run at blinding speeds, faster than other members of the team. (These can all run at superhuman speeds in their own right, though nowhere near as fast as she can.) Meg and her brother Eric are Jack’s and Helen’s sole biological offspring.
J.D. Bennett/IQ (voiced by Norman Bernard): Jack’s and Helen’s remarkably intelligent, adopted African-American son. As IQ, he has both super-human strength (he is even stronger than the other members of the team with super-human strength, making him the strongest member of the team) and super-intelligence. So this kid’s not only the brains of the team, but also the muscle? No ego problems there.
Bunjiro “Bunji” Bennett/Karate-1 (voiced by Brian Tochi): Jack and Helen’s Japanese foster son. He was placed under their guardianship after his own father disappeared 10 years earlier somewhere in the East. Bunji is an avid karate enthusiast. As Karate-1, he has enhanced martial arts skills, made more formidable when applying his bionics. As such, his agility levels surpasses that of his teammates, and his reflexes are among the sharpest, and only Rock-1’s reflexes surpass his, due to her super-speed.
F.L.U.F.F.I. (voiced by Neil Ross): a gorilla-like robot who lives as a housekeeper with the Bennetts. He regularly demonstrates a comical craving for aluminum cans that extends to casually devouring the Bennetts’s cookware, vehicles, or other metal objects. Despite his bungling behavior, he nonetheless proves helpful around the Bennett home, or assisting the Bionic Six with physical tasks in the field.
That’s an eclectic group, to say the least.
Trivia Time: In the German dub of Bionic Six, Bionic-1 and IQ were the only main characters to keep their original names. In Germany, Mother-1 is known as Bionic-2, Sport-1 is Baseball, Rock-1 is Rock and Roll and Karate-1 is Kamikaze.
Of course, with heroes comes the motley crew of villains (gotta sell those action figures, you know!)
Dr. Scarab: real name Dr. Wilmer Sharp Ph.D., who is Amadeus Sharp’s brother. Scarab is a hefty, egotistically brilliant and occasionally comical man who yearns for the secret to eternal life and world domination. His right eye has been modified with a monocle that has a low-powered scanner that can detect individuals with bionics, even when they are disguised, and a destructive, high-powered beam. In rare instances throughout the series, he seemingly demonstrates superhuman, bionic strength of his own (on at least one occasion, he picked up Mother-One effortlessly and threw her around; in another instance, he was seen carrying as much solid gold out of Fort Knox as his other bionic minions–several hundred pounds’ worth.)He was voiced by Jim MacGeorge, who imitated the voice of George C. Scott when providing that character voice.
Dr. Scarab has assembled a motley team of henchmen (described below), imbued with an apparently lesser form of the same bionic powers employed by the Bionic Six. (Another one of Scarab’s goals in the series is to try to figure out the secrets behind his brother’s superior bionics knowledge.)
Glove is a purple-skinned villain named for his left-handed blaster glove which is capable of firing both beams and projectiles. He serves as the field leader in Scarab’s evil plans (hence made a frequent target for punishment for failures) and constantly vies to replace Dr. Scarab as leader.
Although cunning and vicious, he tends to retreat at the first sign of defeat. His strength varies, as in some instances, he seems to be the equal of Bionic-1, while in one instance, he was able to physically overpower and dominate both Bionic-1 and Karate-1 at the same time. Glove was voiced by Frank Welker.
Madame-O is an enigmatic blue-skinned femme fatale who wears a full face mask and uses a harp-like weapon to fire sonic blasts. She has a verbal tic of ending many of her statements with the word “…darling.” While possessing super strength, she is not as strong as many of the other characters; Mother-1 was able to defeat her in physical struggles in various occasions. Before her transformation, she actually appeared to be an elderly woman. She was voiced by Jennifer Darling.
Mechanic is a dim-witted, childish brute who employs various mechanical tools as weapons – nail or rivet guns, throwing circular saw blades, using a large wrench as a bludgeon. Despite his short temper, he has a soft spot for animals and an engrossing fondness for (in-universe) children’s television cartoons. He was voiced by Frank Welker.
Chopper is a chain-wielding thug who articulates sounds mimicking a revving motorcycle. He is sometimes depicted riding a three-wheeled motorcycle vehicle. He, like both Mechanic and Glove, was voiced by Frank Welker. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Frank Welker previously voiced another character named Chopper with exactly the same voice and “vocal mannerisms,” in a 1970s-era cartoon titled Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch.
Klunk (voiced like Bionic-1 by John Stephenson) is a patchwork monstrosity who appears to be made of living glue, and who rarely speaks coherently. Immediately after his creation, Scarab noted to himself to “use a little less power next time.”While relatively unintelligent, he is considered one of the most dangerous opponents to engage in battle with, due to his unparalleled strength (his strength appears to surpass even that of I.Q, the strongest member of the Bionic Six), high resistance to physical attacks, and his gooey body’s ability to engulf his opponent – even Dr. Scarab fears him to some extent. Unlike the other minions of Dr. Scarab, he is (understandably) horrified by his own transformation and longs to be human again. Regarding Klunk’s appearance, I can’t put it any better than Red Dwarf‘s Cat:
Bionic Six‘s episode structure followed the rather predictable route: Bad guys cause trouble, good guys use their super powers to stop them. Bad guys vow that they’ll whup their butts next time. Wash, rinse, repeat. Furthermore, this was one of those shows where no one was ever able to make the connection that the Bennett family and the Bionic Six were one and the same, despite the fact that the Six’s super hero costumes didn’t cover their faces at all! “They were a nuclear family with two whites, a black and an Asian child, but that could have been anybody! You know how common those are!” In one episode, Eric (Sport-1) is on a date with a girl, Scarab causes some trouble where Eric and his date are, he excuses himself and returns as Sport-1 and his date asks “What happened to Eric?”
Oh, come on! How could she not know that was Eric? Same hair! Same face! Same voice! He didn’t even take off his baseball cap! The Power Rangers at least wore helmets, fer cryin’ out loud! The ordinary citizens of Cypress Cove must have all been either nearsighted or very stupid.
Another thing that I liked about Bionic Six is how, like the Fantastic Four before them, the Bennetts were an actual family. They weren’t put together like other teams. The were related, so they’d be living together and were dealing with one another even before they were given bionic super powers. Also, and this is something that I touched upon back in my CC post for Miles From Tomorrowland, I like how Mother-1 (Jack’s wife Helen) was a full fledged member of the team. She wasn’t just the secretary or something lame like that. Helen was a career woman and an equal member of the team. She didn’t just stay home and make dinner while her husband and kids were off saving the world, nor was she conspicuously absent for no reason (in your face, Transformers Rescue Bots!). The main thing about the show that I don’t particularly agree with (aside from the kids being 3 boys and only 1 girl) is that I don’t think that J.D. (IQ) needed to be the physically strongest member of the team. Having off-the-charts super genius intelligence is super power enough. If the writers wanted J.D. to have some visually stunning effect, just have him do the occasional brain blast or something like that.
Bionic Six only ran for one full season in syndication, but the series did spawn a line of action figures, so there’s that.