The Mysterious Cities of Gold (太陽の子エステバン Taiyō no Ko Esuteban?, Les Mystérieuses Cités d'or) also called Esteban, a Boy from the Sun, abbreviated MCoG, is a Japanese-French animated series co-produced by DiC Entertainment and Studio Pierrot. The series premiered in Japan on NHK on May 1, 1982 and ran for 39 episodes until its conclusion on September 5, 1983. Set in 1532, the series follows the adventures of a young Spanish boy named Esteban who joins a voyage to the New World in search of the lost Cities of Gold and his father.
It was licensed for release in France by AK Video, which aired the series under the title Les Mystérieuses Cités d'Or in 1983. The French version, edited to have different characterization and music, was subsequently redubbed and distributed to many different countries throughout the world. In the United States, it aired under its English title of The Mysterious Cities of Gold. It is licensed for English language home video release in the United Kingdom, Australia, and North America by Fabulous Films.
A film version of the story is to be produced by the Movie Plus Group. On Chibi Japan Expo in Paris, Jean Chalopin announced that three new seasons of 26 episodes are planned with a release starting in 2011.[unreliable source?]
In 1532 a Spanish orphan named Esteban joins Mendoza, a navigator, and his associates Sancho and Pedro, in their search for one of The Seven Cities of Gold in the New World, hoping to find his father. They are joined on their quest by Zia, an Incan girl (who was kidnapped by Mendoza), and Tao, the last descendant of the sunken empire of Mu (Hiva in the English dub).
The series is a mix of ancient South American history, archaeology, and science fiction. The travellers encounter the Maya, Inca, and Olmecs during their journey. They discover many lost technological wonders of the Mu Empire, including a solar powered ship (the Solaris) and The Golden Condor, a huge solar-powered ornithopter (mechanical bird), capable of traveling considerable distances under the sun's power alone. They are constantly pursued by antagonists Gomez and Gaspard, who are also in search of the Cities of Gold.
The Seven Cities of Gold were built by the Emperor of Mu over fear of a global war which would destroy all civilization. Such a war did break out, destroying the Empires of Mu and Atlantis when they used the "Weapons of the Sun". The Seven Cities of Gold hold copies of books in their "Universal Libraries" as well as powerful artifacts, including the "Great Legacy", a portable fusion reactor. Other elements of this technology turn up in unexpected places, like the Solaris in Tao's home island, Esteban's and Zia's medallions as keys to the Cities, or Tao's jar as an important piece of the Great Legacy.
Reminiscences of this ancient story are present in Inca legends written on golden quipu, which only Zia can read. This triggers an obsessive quest for the Cities of Gold on the part of the Spaniards Mendoza, Gomez, Gaspard and Francisco Pizarro.
Esteban seeks his long-lost father and is tied to Mendoza, who rescued Esteban from a sinking ship when he was a baby. Esteban seems to have a magical ability to make the Sun appear, which proves to be an invaluable asset throughout the series. Zia also seeks her father, from whom she was taken when she was six and brought to Spain as a gift to the princess. She has a medallion just like the one Esteban carries. Tao seeks signs of his ancestors; he possesses an encyclopedia about their lost technology and a mysterious jar which, according to the legend, only the high Priest of the City of Gold can open and proves to be the Great Legacy's cooling or control rod system. Mendoza, Sancho and Pedro are motivated by their search for gold, though Mendoza appears to be genuinely fond of the three children.
The Olmecs are the descendants of survivors of the global war who hid under their mountain. Only their elite were able to survive, suspended in cryogenic hibernation. The Olmecs do not appear to be human (or if they were once Human, it is implied that they have horribly mutated from the fallout of the Nuclear war that destroyed their ancestors); they are short, thin and have pointed ears and enlarged frontal bones. They are highly intelligent but devious and selfish. Lead by their king, Menator, the Olmecs seek an artifact called the "Great Legacy" in order to power their cryogenic systems, as well as samples of healthy cells from the children to combat their mutations and sterility. Their technology is generally inferior to that of the modern age, and they use weapons such as spears and swords. They do however maintain some elements of their advanced technological heritage such as the stasis and medical technology used to keep the elite of the Olmecs in suspended animation until an opportunity arises when they can be revived, powered by what appears to be a geothermal power system. This power system is destroyed in an escape by the children and Mendoza, starting a frantic search by the Olmecs for the fusion reactor core (the Great Treasure) hidden in the City of Gold. They also have a single flying machine that appears to use very similar technology to that of the Golden Condor, however it is armed with some kind of particle beam or focused heat weapon of great power.
Eventually, the Olmecs succeed, at great cost, in taking control of the Great Legacy, but it begins to melt down without the moderation provided by Tao's jar. The resulting earthquakes and vulcanism destroy the City of Gold. A Chernobyl-like accident on a global scale is avoided by the personal sacrifice of Esteban's father who, acting as the High Priest of the Cities, dies replacing the jar. Mendoza, Sancho, and Pedro, having salvaged some gold before the City's destruction, return to Spain.
Esteban and his friends set out across the Pacific in search of the remaining Cities.
The main cast of the series includes:
- Esteban (voiced by Shiraz Adam) – An orphan who was rescued at sea as a baby twelve years ago by the Spanish navigator Mendoza. He wears one of the two sun medallions. He dreams of adventure and is very impulsive. Esteban has a fear of heights which is confounded by the people of Barcelona who believe him to be the "Child of the Sun" and hoist him up high at the port to call out the sun to aid the departing ships. He joins the Spaniards in their search for one of The Seven Cities of Gold in the New World, hoping to find his father.
- Zia (voiced by Janice Chaikelson) – The daughter of an Inca high priest. She was kidnapped from Peru five years ago, when she was seven, by the Spanish invaders and given as a present to the Queen of Spain for her daughter, Princess Margarita. She met Esteban when she was kidnapped by Mendoza for Governor Pizarro who wanted her to read the golden quipu. Zia wears a sun medallion like Esteban's, with an interlocking sun and moon disc.
- Tao (voiced by Adrian Knight) – The last living descendant of the sunken empire of Mu (Hiva in the English dub). He lived alone on the Galapagos islands following the death of his father. Initially he is evasive to the others' company when they wash up on his island, but when the ship Solaris was revealed he joined them on their journey.
- Mendoza (voiced by Howard Ryshpan) – A Spaniard, navigator for the Spanish fleet. He rescued a young Esteban from a shipwreck during one of his voyages. An experienced sailor, a proficient navigator and a master swordsman, Mendoza places himself in the role of a leader. It is not always clear, however, where his loyalties lie and as such he is often at odds with the other characters. He is accompanied by two mercenaries, Sancho and Pedro. Mendoza has spent many years searching for information about the Mysterious Cities of Gold, which eventually led him to the sun medallions — one of which he took from Esteban when rescuing him for safe keeping.
The story was written by Jean Chalopin and Bernard Deyriès, and is very loosely based on the novel The King's Fifth by Scott O'Dell. The series was directed by Bernard Deyriès, Edouard David, Kenichi Murakami and Kenichi Maruyama. The producers were Max Saldinger, Kanae Mayuzumi and Atsumi Yajima. The musical score was composed by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy in the Western version (Nobuyoshi Koshibe in the Japanese version). Shingo Araki was involved with the series as an animator and some episodes were directed by Toyoo Ashida and Tatsunoko Production veteran Mizuho Nishikubo.
Originally Koshibe's score was to be used for the Western version as well. However Bernard Deyriès recalled his reaction to the proposed music he heard from Ulysses 31 in that he felt that the score was rather understated as he was expecting a more adventurous feel, something akin to films like Indiana Jones. At that point Haim Saban and Shuki Levy had met up with Bernard Deyriès, in which they became involved with the soundtracks of Ulysses 31 and MCOG.
The theme song was performed by Noam Kaniel, an associate of Shuki Levy.
The series originally aired in Japan on NHK (the national public broadcaster) and premiered on May 1, 1982, running for 39 episodes until its conclusion on February 5, 1983. The series also aired in English in the United States on the Nickelodeon cable network from June 30, 1986 to June 29, 1990; and in the United Kingdom, twice on Children's BBC in 1986/87 and 1989; and in Australia, on the public broadcaster ABC through the late 1980s to early 1990s. The series also aired in France on Antenne 2  and in Turkey on TRT. The German version premiered on DFF and was later shown on ORB, MDR and Your Family Entertainment.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold was released to both VHS and DVD in France, Belgium, Japan, Canada (in French) and Germany. On September 15, 2007 Fabulous Films announced that it had acquired the license to release the series in Region 2 (Europe), Region 1, and Region 4. All 39 unedited episodes of the series were released in the United Kingdom on June 23, 2008 as a six DVD set with the picture and sound restored. The DVD was released in Australia in August 2008. It was released in North America on April 7, 2009. The English dubbed episodes were also released for on-line viewing, for free, on Hulu.
Three new seasons of 26 episodes each are confirmed and in progress. The sequels will see the series moving to Asia. The design for the characters will be the same with some 3D graphic update. The production will begin late 2009 and the first season is due to air in 2011.
In March 2007 Movie Plus Group acquired the rights to the story from NHK and announced that they would be producing a full length feature film reprising the original story, with the intention of looking at a sequel if the film proved successful. The film entered production in 2008.
- "Esteban, a Boy from the Sun". Studio Pierrot. Retrieved February 10, 2009.
- "Le retour des Mystérieuses Cités d'Or !" (in French). Planete Jeunesse. November 6, 2008. Retrieved November 8, 2008.
- "Les Mystérieuses Cités d'Or !" (in French). Blue Spirit Animation. September 8, 2010. Retrieved September 10, 2010.
- The Mysterious Cities of Gold Episode List, TV.com. Retrieved on November 21, 2007.
- The Journal Nos. 43572 to 43820, September 1, 1986 to June 22, 1987.
- The Journal Nos. 44378 to 44528, April 5, 1989 to September 28, 1989.
- Le XVIème siècle, citesdor.com website (French). Retrieved on November 20, 2007.
- Première diffusion des Cités d'Or, Linternaute Histoire. Retrieved on November 20, 2007.
- Esteban www.realfiesta.com website (Turkish). Retrieved on June 16, 2009.
- Die geheimnisvollen Städte des Goldes, wunschliste.de website (German). Retrieved on June 16, 2009.
- "Les Mystérieuses cités d'or – 6 Pack (French Version)". Amazon.com. Retrieved 2007-11-20.
- Mysterious Cities of Gold - Fabulous Films Allies with Arts Alliance, Announces 2 "Mysterious" Sets, Plans "Monster Squad" and Others, TVShowsonDVD.com, January 13, 2009
- Interview of Hadrian Soulez-Lariviere, screenwriter
- Anime News Network Report
- Official website
- Official Studio Pierrot The Mysterious Cities of Gold website (Japanese)
- Taiyô No Ko Eseban at the Big Cartoon DataBase
- Unofficial French The Mysterious Cities of Gold website (French)
- The Mysterious Cities of Gold at the Internet Movie Database
- The Mysterious Cities of Gold at TV.com
- The Mysterious Cities of Gold on Hulu
- Animerica review