The second and final volume of Prince Valiant The Complete Series picks up literally where the first volume ends and continues in the tradition of excellence both in terms of character development and engaging plots. BCI takes no shorts as always in their packaging, artwork, and overall quality of the presentation as well. Included here are the final 32 episodes of the series (1993) across 5 discs. Like last time, 4 of these discs are dual sided and contain four episodes per side. The fifth disc contains all of the bonus material, which in this case consists of interviews with the some of the show's writers and voice actress Noelle North. Also included in this set are full commentary tracks over two key episodes, galleries of background artwork, photos of the cast, animated story board, and a selection of episode scripts. Unique here, however, is the inclusion of a complete episode of Defenders of the Earth (#26 Terror in Time) which actually featured Prince Valiant. So while technically this set includes the final 32 episodes of the series, collectors will be delighted to note that one of Prince Valiant's rarest animated appearances hasn't gone unnoticed by the watchful eye of BCI.
The series itself sticks very close to the foundation established in the first volume with a slight twist on the story arcs. While a majority of the first season of the show allowed viewers to follow along with Valiant's quest to discover Camelot, then later to attain knighthood, the second volume focuses more heavily on the trials and tribulations that come with the title. On a personal note, I was surprised at how early on the show's writers concluded the story arc building up to Valiant's reclaiming Tuley and returning his father to power. Since this plot development is essentially the driving force behind Valiant's quest in the first place, it was interesting that the show's producers satisfied it in the first volume never to again revisit Valiant's home land.
Here in the second volume, the primary enemy takes on many faces (traitors, assassins, tyrants, and spies) who wish to see Camelot and its ideas of freedom topple. The struggles this time around seem to be a bit more sublime and involve an element of mystery solving rather than simple sword clashing. The show's creative staff did an excellent job of subtly aging and maturing the lead characters especially. With the luxury of DVD, it is effortless to slip in an earlier disc just to compare the attitude shifts that accompany our heroes over time. The brilliance in the show's writing is especially realized when one takes a moment to consider the awareness shown by the writers in developing characters who age in real-time. Never does an episode fade to black only to resume with an older, wiser cast. Rather, we follow right along as what began as friendship among three young friends develops into a love-triangle only further complicated by Valiant's affection for the Princess Aleta.
And while a majority of the second volume deals with the threat of Camelot's many enemies, there are two major story arcs, nearly back to back, that conclude the series. The first of which is a whopping five-parter written by the duo of Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens and the second is a four part story split up between Chris Hubbell, Sam Graham and the ever-brilliant Brooks Wachtel. While I do not wish to ruin the experience for potential viewers by giving anything away here in my review, I will say prepare for many exciting plot twists and surprises along the way. Truly the show builds into a nearly-unbearable tension that is finally released in a crescendo of resolve. It is interesting to note that the show's developers were indeed aware of the fact that #65 would be the final episode and were able to include a great deal of closure accordingly. While I'm still left wondering what became of Sir Gawain and Sir Bryant in the end (it is never fully revealed), the show does end with a feeling of few loose ends.
All in all The Legend of Prince Valiant represents family entertainment at its finest. There are few if any animated series in existence that have managed to capture so accurately the themes of adolescence and the struggles of humanity as a whole. Even more admirable is that the show manages to do so without being forced to rely upon adult content (gore, sexual situations, or foul language). The show's writers often admit that they approached development of the series as if they were writing drama rather than animation and in truth, it shows. The bottom line is that this is good television, animated or otherwise. My only regret in concluding my tour of the series is the simple fact that the show seems always to have been lost in the proverbial cracks while similar (and certainly lesser) shows enjoy gobs of publicity. The fact that BCI turned its attention to this Hearst Entertainment masterpiece is very encouraging in that hopefully a whole new generation of fans will have access to these DVD box sets and the magic contained within them.
I for one missed out on this show entirely when it aired on the Family Channel back in the early 1990s and only recently discovered it through BCI's catalog. With an MSRP of only $14.99 for each of these beautiful five disc compilations, there is little excuse to overlook these benchmarks in animation. I strongly recommend these sets to viewers of all ages.