Hi! I want to talk of my favourite cartoon while growing up, the Bionic six. I was always allowed to watch cartoons only after I had finished my homework. So, I learnt to finish my homework in the shortest time possible. And then, I had a date with the TV! Bionic Six was an American-Japanese animated television series that aired from 1987 to 1989. The show was about a family of superheroes in the future called the Bennett family. It consisted of parents, two biological children and two adopted ones. Each character has their own personalities and distinct identity. Each character shared certain powers like strength and speed but had their individual powers too.
Bionic one was the father and leader. His real name was Jack Bennett. In his civilian identity, he was a chef. He had some eye powers too. Mother one was his wife. She was an oceanographer and marine biologist. Her name was Helen Bennett. She had ESP powers.
Sport one or Eric Bennet was the jock of this bunch. He was always about baseball. He had magnetic powers from his hands. He also carried a baseball bat at all times which he used as a weapon.
Rock one was the ditsy rock music obsessed one. Her real name is Meg. She had super speed and sonic blasts weapons on her shoulders.
IQ as the name suggests is the brains of the family. He was called by his initials J.D. He also seemed to possess more physical strength than the rest of the team. He is African American. His being more intellectually advanced than his team members was referenced so many times. Many a time, they couldn’t keep up with his scientific knowledge.
Karate one is the wisecracking one. He is Asian American and a karate expert. He was a smart, cool guy but on some occasions talked more than he should. They had a robotic pet called FLUFFI. Actually, this is F.L.U.F.F.I but I forget what they stood for. Hint – some technology related stuff. He had the appearance of a giant gorilla. Their chief and mentor was professor Amadeus Sharp. He is the one who gave them their bionic powers the first place.
And what’s a superhero show without a super villain? The show had a great villain. His name was Scarab. He is dressed in a doctor’s white uniform and even wears some doctor's accessories. He is also called Dr. Scarab by his underlings, but I doubt he was a real doctor. He had a gravelly voice. This guy is a diabolical master, always trying to create mayhem and always thwarted by the Bionic six. One of his pet projects is to gather enough quantities of the fictitious ore bertonium to use for nefarious purposes, what else? At times, this guy entertained me more than the titular heroes themselves. I always loved it when he made his appearance. Though he was diabolical and megalomaniacal, he did possess a snarky sense of humour. Even his menacing laugh had an entertaining twang to it. He had plans like taking over the world and all, but he didn’t always assume a serious persona. He made jokes, witty quips and other stuff. Honestly, it was hard to hate this guy even though he was technically the villain of the piece. I really hated to see this guy lose to the Bionic six even though I knew he got what he deserved. He had such a fun personality and had fun when he did his schemes. And did I mention he also happens to be the brother of professor Sharp, the scientist who powered the Bionic six?
He had his own set of super powered beings to assist him. They are Glove, Mechanic, Madam O, Chopper and Klunk. These five flunkies had their own distinct personalities as well. Glove has a glove attached to his hand which had rockets and other weapons built in. And he is always trying to usurp his leader’s place and become the leader himself, though he doesn’t succeed for very long.
Mechanic is the dumb one. He is huge and muscular but has a childish personality. He reminded me of Moose in Archie comics, though he wasn’t as aggressive as Moose was.
Madame O, the only female member of Scarab’s team always had shifting loyalties. She sided with whoever was top dog at the moment. We can’t see her face as she always wears a mask. She tried to use allure and seduction and also had a raspy voice. Her weapon was a harp. Klunk was a monster who looks like he is made of slush. His power is strength and he also doesn’t talk all that well. Anyway, it seemed as though he was the strongest of the entire bunch, including the Bionic six themselves. Chopper is a motorcycle themed villain who has a chain as a weapon.
This cartoon had the perfect blend of entertaining elements. It never felt too childish but it also never felt too grown up. There were also other complex elements thrown in with slightly darker material to make this even more exciting. For example, the way Scarab made his team was kind of weird. He took ordinary people he picked from somewhere and used a machine to alter their appearance and personalities, and give them their powers. He then gave them new names.
There are also some enigmatic aliens appearing in some episodes and they don’t seem to interact the main characters at all. They just come and go as they please while mumbling some mysterious alien language. These guys affect the plot in their own mysterious way. Another weird episode was when Scarab used electronic technology to convince Sport one that he passed years in an unconscious state and that when he woke up, his team now known as the Bionic five had become evil. Sport one got confused for a while but eventually he learnt he was tricked.
Another thrilling episode is where one of the team loses a video which if seen by others would reveal their secret identity to the world and to Scarab.
There was an enigmatic episode where Karate one/Bunji’s dead father appears. Karate one being an oriental is shown using esoteric techniques like meditation at times.
Another had Karate one going into a dream world where Glove too enters for no other reason than to find a way to beat his master Scarab. This episode had a surreal quality to it.
There was an episode where Scarab actually loses his memory and regresses to how he was before he went bad. He became Professor Sharp’s brother again and affectionately called him Maddy. Professor Sharp actually liked this brotherly affection that was coming to him after a long time. Anyway, Scarab regains his memory and becomes what he was before. The episode kind of ended sad as Sharp is seen telling the bionic kids how lucky they are to have each other.
All sorts of science fiction tropes appear in the show as well. Each was more thrilling than the rest. We had episodes of microscopic universes, giant dimensional portals to the past and even one episode where both the Bionic Six as well as Scarab’s gang go to the moon.
Anyway, I was not alone in liking the Bionic six. All my friends in school liked them as much as I did. We often discussed them during recess and in free periods. One day, I sat in front of the TV as usual to see the Bionic six as always when to my shock I saw they replaced it with a cartoon called Sport Billy. I was so pissed off. I went to school and everyone else was angry as well. We even resolved not to watch Sport Billy. My pre teen self as well as that of my classmates couldn’t understand at the time that only a certain amount of episodes were actually made. We watched it so enthralled that we expected it to go on and on. The concept of seasons and runs were not familiar to us then.
In the origin story, only Bionic one was a superhero. He hid the whole thing from his family as a secret identity. In a trip to an icy mountain, his family become immobile due to certain circumstances. Professor Sharp tells Bionic one the only way to save his family was to give them bionic augmentations as well. And thus, the Bionic six were born!
The family dynamic in this show differs from the family dynamic I’ve seen in other family superhero teams. The Fantastic four of Marvel comics fought with another to show their love. That was their shtick. But this team were a very well adjusted bunch, only arguing in rare cases. They seemed so comfortable as a family. And always used team work and helped each other.
There were also cool catch phrases used when the team’s power themselves. It was ‘‘Bionic’s on!’’ for the Bionic six, and “hail Scarab!” for Scarab’s gang. Yeah, I know these were gimmicks, but they served their purpose. I kept imitating them in my school playground, with my school mates joining in on the fun.
Whenever Scarab and his team escape, they always use a smoke bomb. Once the smoke clears, their weird beetle shaped vehicle is seen zooming away in the distance. This thrilled me so much. I didn’t care that the villains were escaping, as I liked them almost as much as I liked the Bionic six.
Since the whole thing is supposed to take place somewhere in the future, there were always certain touches that the creators inserted here and there to remind us of the fact. Aside from the futuristic technology shown, Rock one always uses slang like “Solar!” And “Mega” and “ultra” followed by a word or phrase.
I also learnt a less than savoury thing about my favourite super team, though much later in my adult hood. I read somewhere that it was made primarily to sell action figures and toys. To know that my favourite show only existed to plug toys seemed to ruin my memories of it, though only for a short time, as later, I accepted the whole thing. I would have even bought all these toys if I only knew where they were sold. In this manner, the cartoon is similar to the GI Joe cartoons, another show which aired to popularise toys. Or like how some Batman movies were also made primarily to sell toys.
I read much later that one particular episode where some members of the Bionic six as well as Scarab’s team enter a cartoon dimension and become cartoons themselves, as the last episode of the series. Now looking back, it kind of made sense. This cartoon creator was getting a lifetime achievement award on stage with so many fans including the Bionic kids watching, when he angrily says on the microphone that he didn’t retire but his show was cancelled. And in the end, when the members of the Bionic six return from the cartoon dimension, IQ, in his intellectual way comments that they could be cartoons themselves and not know it. The rest dismiss this as silly but near the end credits, some cartoon stuff appears. Maybe, the show creators were announcing the end in their own subtle way. This is just my theory. Anyway, even if it ended, I still have my VHS tapes of the Bionic six to this day. The sound effects were great as well, they kind of had more impact to me than other shows. Other cartoons never seemed as sophisticated to me as the Bionic six was.
Hence, the Bionic six will always be fondly be remembered by me.