90s Fantasy Adventure Cartoon That Aired Less Episodes Than You Think Is One Of The Greatest Of All Time

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

Some of the best shows in history were around for only a few episodes, from Star Trek: The Original Series to Firefly, but they left a lasting impression on everyone who watched them. Pirates of Dark Water is one of those shows, as it only aired 21 episodes, but to a certain generation, it’s a fondly remembered classic that still holds up over 30 years later. The Hanna-Barbara series may have come and gone, but it lived on in syndication for years and marked a turning point in American animation.

Pirates Of Dark Water Is An All-Time Classic

Pirates of Dark Water was created by David Kirschner, then the president of Hanna-Barbara, which explains why it was so good (Kirschner wrote Hocus Pocus and An American Tail, among many other hits) and why it became the most expensive cartoon in the legendary company’s history.

In 1991, the first five episodes cost half a million dollars each and featured more frames of animation than most Saturday morning cartoon series. All of the expense and effort behind the scenes shows up on screen as viewers become immersed in the weird and wonderful world of Mer.

The Imaginative World Of Mer

A strange planet unlike Earth, Mer is filled with oceans and appears to be in a state of constant turmoil, with islands rising out of nowhere, floating rocks shooting into the sky, and the existence of the strange and alien Dark Water.

Slowly consuming everything in its path, it’s up to the orphan Ren and his friends, Tula the necromancer, Ioz the pirate, and Niddler the monkey-bird, to find the thirteen Treasures of Rule and restore the planet. Ren is, of course, actually the Prince of the fallen kingdom Octopon, which is why the fate of the planet rests with him.

The Villains

Opposing the heroes are a host of villains, but none like the pirate captain Bloth, who wants to collect the Treasures of Rule to control Dark Water. Bloth and his crew might sound familiar, as Pirates of Dark Water rounded some major names for what would be otherwise throw-away parts. Bloth is voiced by Star Trek’s Brock Peters, while Mantus, his second-in-command, is played by Peter Cullen, famous for being Optimus Prime.

Of course, if Prime is involved, so too must be Megatron, and Frank Welker lends his evil voice to the Dark Dweller. Konk, not the sharpest knife, provides a bit of comic relief with his bluster and a lot of enjoyment for everyone who recognizes Tim Curry’s voice.

Never Found An Audience

With a fun setting, an overarching serialized story, a talented cast of voice actors, and gorgeous animation, Pirates of Dark Water was set up for success. The only problem is that, during its initial run, the audience wasn’t there. While the show had its fans, it still does, but it had them then, too; Hanna Barbara wanted a smash hit of a series, as they already had licensing deals and a multi-media plan of attack in place.

Unfortunately, while now it’s easy to recognize the animation work, character development, and dark storyline as things to be praised, back then, it simply couldn’t compete with the likes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Pirates of Dark Water ended suddenly, without finishing the story, with 21 episodes aired, and despite rumors of more episodes that were made, that was never the case and simply a playground rumor.

Why You Think It Was More Successful

Pirates of Dark Water leaves behind an amazing run, short as it is, and while Nibbler can get a little annoying, he’s still not as bad as the similar phoenix Needler from one of the show’s contemporaries, Conan the Adventurer. With action figures, two video games that, as was the custom of the time, were in two separate genres depending on if you played the SNES (a beat’em up) or Genesis (platformer) versions, and even a role-playing game, you’re forgiven if you think the show was bigger than it was.

Available Today Through Video On Demand


When I went back to watch Pirates of Dark Water, I was shocked at how quickly it went by, even if I sadly remembered that it lacked an ending. I can’t remember my parents’ phone numbers, but I can picture Dark Water eating people and Octopon’s appearance when the lighthouse keeper who raised Ren explains his parentage. Relive your childhood, or learn why this is a cult classic for a reason by checking out the series through Video on Demand on YouTube, Vudu, Google Play, and Amazon Prime.