Il était une fois… or “Once Upon a Time…” is an ongoing animated series produced by the multi-talented French television-maker Albert Barillé and his Procidis studio in Paris. Since the late 1970s the franchise has devoted itself to charting the broad evolution of humankind for a children’s audience with each series devoted to one particular theme: “Once Upon a Time… Man” (1978), “… Space” (1982), “… Life (1987), “… The Americas (1991), “… The Discoverers” (1994), “… The Explorers” (1997) and finally “… Planet Earth” (2008). However for Irish men and women of a certain age it is probably the episodes of the 1982 “science-fiction” season that have the most resonance. Broadcast in an irregular early evening time-slot on RTÉ 2 “Once Upon a Time… Space” featured some fantastic-looking spacecraft, many designed by the legendary illustrator Philippe Bouchet (or Manchu) and very much reflecting French aesthetics – albeit through the filter of Eiken, the Japanese anime studio contracted to draw them.
Unlike the other more straightforwardly educational productions in the franchise this was very much a drama with a “space opera” feel, inspired somewhat by French comics like Valérian and Laureline. It featured some of the reoccurring characters from all seven seasons of the series including Professor Maestro, the white-bearded elder, Peter and Psi, the young officers, and their robotic companion Métro. Arrayed against them were the despotic General Pest and his loyal acolyte the Dwarf. Running to twenty-six episodes it was a slow-burn success in Europe though largely a failure in Japan. However it is fondly remembered in Ireland as a sort of early proto-anime for the teicógaigh, Irish fanboys and girls. I loved it as a child and it certainly converted me to both Japanese and European comics and graphic novels. Not sure I would purchase a DVD copy now but I’d definitely purchase an artbook if it included some of Philippe Bouchet’s fantastic designs.