Japan practically invented the mecha genre. Bad guys send a thing to fight good guys, thing grows 50 stories, good guys call robots to fight, form bigger robot, good guys win, usually with a sword. For many, nothing epitomizes this more than Voltron: Defender of the Universe.
A popular thing to do in the mid ’80s was to license, edit, and dub anime, creating new hybrid shows. World Events Productions licensed a few different shows from Toei Animation, much like Harmony Gold did with Robotech. Unable to translate any of the footage, they went about editing, cutting, and dubbing the material for new audiences. The plan was to create 3 seasons, each featuring a different version of Voltron for the different sections of the universe; far, near, and middle, relative to Earth.
The first Voltron was to be based off of Mirai Robo Darutaniasu (Future Robot Daltanious). Due to a mix-up in translation (they asked for “the ones with the lion”), they received footage for Beast King GoLion instead. The producers preferred GoLion to Daltanious, and thus the classic looking Voltron was born.
Keith (red suit – black lion), Lance (blue suit – red lion), Pidge (green suit – green lion), Sven (black suit – blue lion), and Hunk (orange suit – yellow lion) comprised the Voltron Force. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Power Rangers, you know the formula for the show, only more space. Same quality though. We were introduced to the team during the opening credits with an awesome voice over from Optimus himself, Peter Cullen. Speaking of which, the trumpet in the theme song is classic and still gets me amped.
In the 6th episode, Sven is
killed injured and is sent off to recover (because people don’t die, kids!). He’s replaced by Princess Allura (pink suit), ruler of the Kingdom of Arus. He has a twin brother who occasionally appeared, because why not? And thus Voltron of the Far Universe fought against the evil King Zarkon, his son Lotor, and their pet witch Haggar. Defender of the Universe aired 52 episodes in fall of 1984.
The following year saw a new Voltron, Vehicle Force Voltron, or Voltron of the Near Universe. Based off of the anime Armored Fleet Dairugger XV, this new Voltron consisted of 15 vehicles. Three teams of five (sea, land, and air) formed the new brigade, because everyone knows to bring a tank to a space battle. There was a helicopter, I think. I don’t know. Look at the picture. This aired for another 52 episodes. People didn’t care for this version of Voltron at all, wondering what happened to the lions.
The third Voltron was to be the final version, guarding the middle universe. The assets were to come from anime Lightspeed Electroid Albegas. After the poor fan response from Vehicle Voltron, this version was cancelled, though toys were marketed in the U.S. for this Gladiator Voltron. Instead, the producers worked with Toei to create 20 more episodes of GoLion (Lion Force Voltron), creating season three of the popular version. If it weren’t for this article (and to a lesser extent Robot Chicken, actually watching the show, and the Internet), people wouldn’t even know the Dairugger version existed.
Voltron has seen a few revivals since its original showing. Voltron: The Third Dimension aired from 1998 – 2000, spanning 26 episodes. Taking place 5 years after the previous version, it featured the same team of Keith, Lance, et al. I don’t know where or what this third dimension is, but it looks like a scary place that I do not want to visit.
Nickelodeon attempted to bring the show back in 2011. This was in continuity with the previous incarnations. Voltron has kept the galaxy safe, but now evil has resurrected and … something, something, something. I didn’t make it past the first episode. This was aimed at a young audience, spanning only a 26-episode season.
Voltron has existed in other mediums beyond animation. Talks of a movie have been floating around since 2005, with the latest word in July 2011 being a live-action version with a released date TBD. I have no doubt that before the Transformer well runs dry, we’ll see a Voltron movie. The property has seen a few comic book releases as well. Devil’s Due in the early ’00s published a five-issue mini, along with 11 issues of an ongoing before canceling due to poor sales. They tried again with another five-issue mini in 2008, which explained the origin of Voltron (spoiler alert – it was space magic). Dynamite now owns the rights, releasing 12 issues with the series currently on hiatus.
YouTube has been a haven for short fan films of beloved properties. Some have even spun out into larger projects (Mortal Kombat: Legacy), while others have helped to launch careers (Dan Trachtenburg). Voltron has had one such short film, though nothing’s come of it.
While Voltron has a special place in my heart, I think this is one of the few properties that should be left behind. While many shows hold up today and are still greatly enjoyable, Voltron is not one of them. Try watching just 3 episodes of any run, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I think this is one of those memories that should be firmly kept in the rear view. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have very important grown-up things to do like drive myself to the movies and watch Pacific Rim.
Do we all agree to forget about Vehicle Voltron? Would you like to see a live-action movie? Comment below (or to yourself).
Ready to form Voltron!
Tony has a lot more to say about books, movies, video games, comics, and board games at thecredhulk.com. Today’s his birthday (for reals. It’s one of those that ends in a 0). You can give him the gift of Facebook likes or Twitter followers. He collects both.