The 80’s bought many things, Spandau Ballet, those giant mobile phones that had a suitcase-sized battery to go with them, and a host of wonderful cartoons that outdo most of today’s paltry fare.
The show Jem! was one of these cartoons and was aimed predominantly at young girls by the creators (the same team behind such classics as MASK, Transformers and G.I. Joe) and was animated by Japanese studio Toei Doga. The cartoon was created to advertise Hasbro’s line of dolls and playsets with a music and fashion theme. But the show was more than just an advert for the product line, it was a brightly coloured musical affair filled with action, drama, strong female role models and a moral message for viewers.
Little piece of trivia for you all that I was told long ago by another Jem! fan, lead character Jem wasn’t originally going to be called Jem. She was supposed to be called Misty but plans changed when they wanted to shorten Misty to M and couldn’t copyright it. Shocker there, you are not allowed to copyright a single letter. I think they made the right choice, that would have made them Misty and the Holograms or even worse M and the Holograms…getting far too close to Prince’s symbol for a name territory for my liking.
Now for anyone who has managed to import the entire 65 episodes of Jem on DVD (or at the very least the first 45 that are available in the US), stop reading this review. There is nothing new here. Jem: The Movie isn’t so much a new movie per se but actually the first 5 episodes put together (Much the way the Stewie Griffin movie was made from joining up three episodes of Family Guy). But for those who want a blast from the past cheaply without resorting to import this is a good first buy if you don’t already own the videos, or no longer have a VCR
So for those who haven’t seen the show, or just don’t remember it that well – which is very understandable as it ran from 1985 to 1988 – here’s the basic story:
Jerrica Benton has just lost her father, a wealthy and well-loved record producer. In his will she has been left half of her father’s company Starlight Music and some other items of her father’s estate, unfortunately the other half has been given to Eric Raymond who is as morally bankrupt as you would expect as the villain of the piece. Oh if only Jerrica’s father had known that Eric was going to cause a lot of trouble for his eldest daughter.
Meanwhile Jerrica, her younger sister Kimber and her dearest friends are trying to run Starlight House between them. Starlight House is a foster home for young girls and is a cause very close to all the girls hearts as friends Aja and Shana were foster children. The love children and try to give them a happy home at Starlight House for as long as they need it, but running a foster home is a costly cause and Eric cruelly will not lend Jerrica the money for the essential repairs, meaning that Starlight House would have to close down and Eric would get exactly what he wants.
But things take a mysterious turn when later on Jerrica receives a pair of earrings that were delivered to her home, and of course she presumes that her boyfriend Rio has sent them to her. This is shortly proven to not be the case as a beautiful woman who bears a strong resemblance to someone much loved from the girls past tells them to go to a location where all is revealed. It turns out that hidden away in an old building Jerrica and Kimber’s father owned he had built a machine with the ability to project holograms and a human like computer called Synergy who looks just like their late mother and has been designed to look out for them and help them as much as she can. Along with Synergy, there are instruments, racks and racks of amazingly bright and so clearly eighties clothing and a car. The earrings Jerrica had received earlier had been a gift from her father from beyond the grave, and these star shaped earrings are a way to communicate with Synergy and project holograms even when away from the main console. Clearly Mr. Benton had a plan for these girls, and now they have a plan to save Starlight House and fight Eric.
And so with the help of Synergy the girls form a band with the instruments and clothing left to them by Mr.Benton and hide Jerrica’s identity with a hologram over her named Jem. Her alter ego is different enough from her everyday persona that people don’t cotton on to the fact that they are one in the same, and the few times people do question it Synergy is on hand to quickly whip up a hologram of either Jem or Jerrica so that it looks like both are in the same place at the same time.
The newly formed band Jem and the Holograms go to the Battle of the Bands contest being run (and fixed) by villainous Eric Raymond, who desperately wants his latest signing The Misfits (Not the real ones, an angry girl band with a passion for sabotage) to win. The girls play and win hands down much to the annoyance of both Eric and The Misfits, prompting a life changing wager. Jem and the Holograms are given 6 months to practice and make their name in the music business, at which point there will be another Battle of the Band contest – but this time no trophy, no awards – whomever wins this battle will take full control of Starlight Music.
There is also a smaller storyline that runs through the show and is probably the reason this show never really did appeal to boys, the love triangle between Jerrica, Rio and Jem. Yes, Rio loves them both and doesn’t see that they are the same person – much in the same way Lois Lane didn’t with Clark Kent and Superman – though to be fair Synergy has done a much better job of disguising Jerrica than just sticking a pair of specs on and keeping the underwear inside the trousers. Rio is torn between the sensible, sweet and kind-hearted Jerrica and the outrageous and confident Jem, not ever seeing that these were just two sides of the same person’s personality. Jerrica herself feels torn too, between risking everything and telling Rio the secret of who Jem is or keeping quiet and knowing she is hiding something huge from him. I always did wonder why Jerrica didn’t think “Hold on he’s cheating on me” but that’s a discussion for another day and certainly not one they were probably thinking about when making this show for children!
This may all sound very heavy for a children’s cartoon but it is not at all, partly due to the music videos interspersed into the show at the appropriate moment – such as when Jerrica is worrying about lying to Rio about her other life they cut to a Jem and the Holograms music video for a song called Deception. These are full length animated videos that go along with the many songs made for the show (That would later only be released on cassette tapes that came with the dolls and play sets you could buy). Every song has a meaning behind it and are better written than some songs in the charts now (I believe the “musicians” I’m talking about know who they are). Every song is pure 80’s with a mixture of fast paced pop songs, romantic ballads, and of course being the 80’s – power ballads. But it’s not just Jem and the Holograms that get videos and songs, The Misfits do too – though theirs are decidedly rockier and with a much sharper edge to them which goes along with the punk looks of the band and the hard nature of the characters. Both bands songs are fun and have the ability to make you sing along, if you don’t believe me just type in Jem and the Holograms into YouTube and watch a couple (Music is Magic is a particularly uplifting favourite of mine).
For me this show is a symbol of my childhood as repeats were shown well into the 90’s and enthralled me with their brightly coloured hair, even brighter clothes and music that always made me smile. This DVD doesn’t seem to have been fixed up much from the VHS version in regards of quality but it’s still a worthy purchase for any old fan of the show or just as a good way to pry your little girls away from those creepy looking Bratz dolls or the annoyingly perfect Barbie.
The Jem! girls are much more real than either of those both in personality and looks (Perhaps not in brightly coloured hair but as I sat here in 2009 typing the original version of this review with bright blue hair it can’t be that unreal). Perfect for girly nights in or just to cheer you up when you’re feeling down, this is a must have for any girl who’s ever wanted to be in a band or live in the eighties. They even had a moral to their story, work hard and play fair and you will get what you deserve.
So rather than put yourself through the monstrosity that was the Jem and the Holograms film released in 2015, and very shortly after release taken off of cinema screen (I presume due to lack of interest in a destroyed version of an 80’s classic) watch this instead – and then perhaps treat yourself to the Jem! boxset which was finally released in the UK last year for a whole lot more music, magic and multi-coloured madness.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
Purely because it’s not a film, but the opening 5 episodes stitched together. Still a great start for a newbie, just not quite enough for a die hard fan. No extras included on the DVD sadly.