The initial run of the cartoon adaptation of The Legend of Zelda ended in 1989 after one season as the special Friday edition of The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Both Link and Zelda would show up occasionally in the second season of Captain N, which provides some closure to the plot of the original series, but that was the extent of their adventures. By 1991, it looked like Nintendo had lost interest in Saturday Morning Cartoons, but as the Super Mario World series began to wind down, a new Zelda game was on the horizon. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity to hock their new game to a young audience, they came together with DIC to make one last series.
The choice was made to resurrect the Legend of Zelda series and fit the characters into a new storyline based real loosely on A Link to the Past. What they wound up with is something that is a little darker, a little meatier, but still just as cheesy.
THE DARK WORLD
When the show picks up, it’s been three years since Zelda has last seen Link. Always eager to show what a self-centered douche he is, Link grew bored with a peaceful Hyrule and set out on his own to seek greater adventure. It’s no surprise that Zelda initially gives her old friend the cold shoulder when he finally returns to Hyrule and immediately expects a smooch.
Peace has reigned in the years that Link has been gone. Zelda has been caring for the King, who is dealing with senility that has resulted in the loss of a great deal of his memory and coherency, and protecting the Triforces of Wisdom and Power. Helping out around the castle is Agahnim from Link to the Past, who is such a thinly veiled attempt to disguise Ganon that they may as well have just named him Nonag. In a rare showing of patience, he has been biding his time while manipulating the princess into helping him find the third Triforce, the Triforce of Courage.
The first three episodes in the series involves Link and Zelda trying to patch up their relationship while Link is sent on dangerous tasks by Agahnim to try and find the Triforce of Courage. Everything hits the fan when Link finally accomplishes this in the opening of the fourth episode “Darkness Rains,” and hands it directly over to Agahnim. With the three pieces of the Triforce in his hand, Agahnim throws off his terrible costume and reveals himself as Ganon (gasp!). He then proceeds to destroy the castle, transforms the landscape, and makes off with Zelda.
The rest of the series involves Link dealing with the cost of his mistake, along with Zelda’s ailing father.
A CHANGE IN SCENERY
If you haven’t guessed by now, the tone of the second season is substantially darker than the first, to a point where it’s almost jarring. While the first season had a feeling of inconsequentiality to it, the weight of the second hits like an avalanche. It still maintains a pretty significant portion of cheese, but the catchphrases and running jokes have been dialed back significantly.
Nowhere is the gloomier tone more visible than the ninth episode, “A Sprytely Farewell,” which sees Link’s old fairy companion, Spryte, reintroduced, just to be killed off. The episode itself involves Spryte running into Link, then promptly becoming mortally wounded while attempting to save his life. Link takes her to her father, the King of the fairies, in hopes that she can be healed, but fairy magic apparently doesn’t work on other fairies, and she dies after a heart-to-heart with Link.
That’s the nadir, but the emotional themes run through a lot of episodes. Towards the end of the season, Link travels into the King’s mind to try and discover the source of his psychosis and winds up discovering how the King wound up raising the princess alone, following the death of her mother. It’s all presented with a side of ham and cheese, so maybe I’m overselling the emotional depth, but I wasn’t really expecting to see such depictions of loss after the first season.
The gloomy atmosphere is pretty well illustrated through the dark world’s twisted environment, heavy in deep greens, browns, and purples. Link and the King spend their time hiding out in a swamp for most of the season, with a running joke involving the King acting like it’s a castle in need of sprucing up. A lot of the episodes take place in some harsh locale, which is a nice change from the previous season, where it was mostly just in the forests outside the castle.
It’s a layer of gloom that helps the underlying emotional themes stand out. It also makes the action feel a bit more impactful and desperate, even if Link is still slinging lasers out of his sword and zapping away moblins while cracking awful one-liners.
While the fact that Zelda becomes a damsel in distress after the previous season depicted her as adventuresome as Link is somewhat disappointing, she still has a major role in the plot of the season. She spends parts of every episode trying to distract Ganon by causing havoc while communicating Ganon’s plans to Link through the Triforce of Wisdom, which remains loyal to her. It’s perhaps better than her role in Link to the Past, where she only succeeded in getting captured and screwing everything up for everybody.
A LINK TO THE PAST
The series then ends with a 2 part episode “Wish Upon a Triforce,” which reeks of the creators not knowing how to wrap up the narrative. It essentially goes down the checklist giving a complication to allow for a cliffhanger, a climactic battle with Ganon, and a solution that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the wider storyline.
At least there are stakes, though. The first season felt like a game of capture the flag, but the second season is widely one big attempt to restore the status quo. Throughout all the early-’90s ham, there are dips into true emotion. Everything gets wrapped up in one tremendously happy package at the end that almost makes the entire experience inconsequential, but by the end of the roller coaster, it’s almost a relief to see. All the characters return to their previous lives, and it leaves the suggestion that Link and Zelda will finally patch things up.
Unfortunately, we’ll never find out because there was no season 3. Nintendo largely left behind their Saturday morning block for a while, leaving a hole in the lives of their fans. At the very least, the second season of The Legend of Zelda cartoon is an excellent way to leave things, and I’m absolutely thrilled that it exists.