By Amira Boctor and Joshua Lipowsky
“Activate interlocks! Dynotherms connected! Infracells up! Megathrusters are go!”
“Let's go Voltron Force!”
Commander Keith's rallying cry and his team's unison chant are familiar to a whole generation of anime fans.Voltron hit American airwaves in 1984 -- and immediately became the highest rated show of the year, eclipsing its original Japanese counterpart, Hyakujuuou Goraion [百獣王ゴライオン] (Hundred Beast King Five Lions) in popularity.Voltron has been expanded from its original Japanese sources into a completely American-produced second season and a computer animated third season.
Of course, changes had to be made when translating the show over for American broadcast.In Golion there is no Galaxy Alliance or Drule Empire; all references to those are taken from another, unrelated series that comprises Vehicle Voltron: Kikou Kantai Dairugger XV (Great Airplane Helmet Fleet Rugger XV).References to death and mass destruction are edited out of "Voltron" in deference to young American viewers: in Golion slaves are graphically killed in the arena, the villians drink blood, and the Earth is completely destroyed in World War III.
Unlike other anime cartoons with giant mechs, Voltron's popularity is not upheld simply by the robot.The characters have worked their ways into the hearts of Voltron fans world over.Voltron fans aspire to be as heroic as Keith; as strong as Hunk; as spirited as Allura and so on.Each character represents a trait, which is as essential a component of the show as Voltron himself.
|Keith (voice by Neil Ross) is the leader of the group. Once the space explorers reach Planet Arus, he assumes the position of commander and pilot of the Black Lion. He is level-headed and cautious, always thinking things through. He cares deeply for his teammates and shows great compassion, but he's demanding of them also. Always thinking about responsibilities first, leisure second, he pushes his teammates through rigorous training and practice. He leads the Voltron Force with great enthusiasm and is always in control during critical situations. In Golion he is Kogane Akira [黄金旭 = “Golden Sun”] (voice by Kazuhiko Inoue [井上和彦]).|
|Lance (voice by Michael Bell), is sharp and witty. Although he tends to be harsh on people, his instincts are usually correct; he can spot a phony friend or see through an enemy ploy. He's very brash, acting on impulse but he knows enough not to take foolish risks. He counters Keith's seriousness with wisecracks galore for every situation (although on one occasion, his jibes lead to blows between the two of them). He likes to have his fun -- but he's well aware of his responsibilities and carries them out to the fullest. In Golion his name is Kurogane Isamu [黒鋼勇 = “Courageous Black Steel”] (voice by Hiromitzu Mizushima [水島裕允]).|
|Hunk (voice by Lennie Weinrib), like Lance, is brash and rushes headfirst into things, only more so. His emotions often get the better of him; when he's angry he'll charge into the situation heedless for his own safety. Like Keith, he shows much compassion; he especially loves children and is fiercely protective of those who are weak or vulnerable. He thinks more with his heart than with his head, which makes him appear deceptively simple-minded. However, his greatest contribution to the team is his physical strength, which he primarily relies on to get himself out of trouble. In Golion he is Seidou Tsuyoshi [青銅強 = “Bronze Strength”] (voice by Tessho Genta [玄田哲章]).|
Pidge (voice by Lennie Weinrib) is the youngest of the team, but he is as responsible as the rest of the Force. Being a child, he is, in many ways, as vulnerable as those he protects. This gives him sensitivity and insight that the older team members don't have. As is the case with Lance and Hunk, he too risks his own safety when he is highly emotionally charged. His intellect is obviously extraordinary for him to measure up with the rest of the team as well as he does, and his childlike spunk blends well with the personalities of the other team members.|
Whereas Pidge is from Planet Balto, Suzuishi Hiroshi, [青銅強 = “Tin Stone”] aka "Chibi" ("shorty" [voice by Masako Nosawa 野沢雅子]) is from Earth like the rest of his teammates. The writers of Voltron edited the episode of Golion where the Earth is destroyed by changing the name of the planet to Balto and making it Pidge's home planet. Chibi's reaction, he being quite young, is more obviously distressed than the rest of the team.
Allura (voice by B.J. Ward) has to struggle to prove herself. Though inexperienced, through courage and determination she pushes her way into the Voltron Force, eventually earning the boys' respect. When Sven is injured by Hagar's robeast, Allura appoints herself as the new pilot of the Blue Lion. Despite discouragement from Coran and Nanny, she keeps practicing until she becomes as good a pilot as her friends. In the beginning of the series she is so anxious to prove herself that she'll take unnecessary risks (which endanger both her and the rest of the Force), but as she matures she becomes a true team player towards the end. Sensitive and compassionate, she is often reduced to tears when she sees someone else hurting and will do what she can to make things better. Although she is bored with her royal duties, she takes her position on the Voltron Force seriously, and she is a key contributor to the team.
In Voltron Allura seems too emotional; she often cries for no reason. That is because the violence and death that makes Faara Hime [ファーラ姫] (voice by Rumiko Ukai [鵜飼るみ子]) cry in Golion is edited out of Voltron. When the five boys first meet her, it is her sixteenth birthday, and she is living in a ruined castle with her people hiding out in caves, their homes destroyed.
Coran (voice by Peter Cullen) is the castle diplomat. A staid, mature war survivor, he remains level-headed to a fault, seldom acknowledging natural emotional responses and dedicated to his duties on Arus. Rarely does he show vulnerability. Early in the show he is intolerant of Allura's aspirations to be a fighter and a pilot, tying her to a chair to prevent her from flying the Blue Lion or bodily dragging her from Karate practice. It is obvious that Coran feels protective of Allura; he treats her as if she were his own daughter. Eventually he comes to accept her new position, realizing that she is in greater danger if she remains in the castle doing nothing than if she is in her Blue Lion countering the enemy.
In Golion, Gunshi Raibul [軍師ライブル = Army Teacher Raiburu] (Yuji Fujishiro [藤城裕士]) is a military trainer. We see that Altea [アルテア] is ravaged by the forces of Galura [ガルラ] when Faara is just a baby; Raibul carries her to safety, and the two are the only survivors of the attack on the castle. Raibul's wife and son are killed in this attack, which may explain his strictness and seriousness.
|Nanny (voice by B.J. Ward) is the Princess' governess. She behaves as a substitute mother to the team. She is overprotective and old-fashioned, with strict ideas about how women and especially royalty should behave. To the end she is adamantly opposed to the Princess piloting the Blue Lion. Although Nanny is a sympathetic character with good intentions, her love for Allura is smothering, and the Princess must fight her every step of the way for her right to independence. In Golion, Hisu (voice by Kazuyo Aoki [青木和代]) is killed in enemy crossfire in the 49th episode. This is edited out of Voltron.|
Sven (voice by Michael Bell) is the original pilot of the Blue Lion, until he is injured so badly in episode six that he must be sent away for treatment; Allura then replaces him from episode seven on. He is quiet and aloof, yet he betrays the same compassion the rest of the Force has when he rescues Lance from Hagar in episode six. His courageousness is deliberate, not hot-headed, and he is truly honor-bound. His seriousness makes Keith seem lighthearted in comparison.
Sven disappears for awhile; then he resurfaces later, when we discover that the planet he was sent to for hospitalization has been captured by the enemy, and he has been thrown into the "Pit of Skulls" (a pit with skeletons in it - apparently POWs are thrown there and left to die, presumably of starvation). He is rescued and continues to help the Voltron Force thwart the enemy. His personality, in the meanwhile, has undergone a change. Having been driven to the brink of madness and then brought back, he takes more foolish risks and his fuse is shorter.
Though Sven is Scandinavian, Shirogane Takashi [銀貴 = “Silver Noble”] (voice by Masako Nosawa) is Chinese (his pals are Japanese). In Golion, he dies in the process of rescuing Kurogane.
|The Sven we see later in the series is Shirogane's little brother, Cho. Impulsive and hot-headed, he saves his friends in Golion -- but kills himself, along with his foe, in a climatic struggle at the top of the enemy castle. Cho's appearance in Golion is typical of Japanese series; when they find that they've killed a character they shouldn't have, they always bring him back in the form of a twin brother or a little brother. Cho's appearance in Voltron serves as a vehicle for keeping Sven alive, not having wanted to show death in a cartoon. The two brothers are woven into the same character almost seamlessly. Sven's extreme reactions later in the series are explained by his overcompensation for not being able to continue with the Voltron Force, nor from being able to stop the forces of Doom from taking over the planet he was hospitalized in.|
Alfor, the omnipotent and ever-present deceased father of Allura (voice by Peter Cullen) is credited with designing Voltron, and is also responsible for the transformation of the ruined old castle to the stylish Castle of Lions. He appears to Allura and Coran when they or Voltron need assistance. Alfor dies when Zarkon nearly destroys Arus. In the second episode, Allura states that she's glad her father is not alive to see what Zarkon had done to Arus. It is obvious that Alfor loves his planet very much and has planned for every contingency that might happen. When all seemed hopeless in the episode "Castle of Lions," the castle having been destroyed by enemy fire, Coran and Allura retreat to Alfor's tomb to pray to his spirit. He tells Allura to touch the cross on his coffin and when she does so, a magnificent transformation occurs: the old stone castle that is collapsing under Zarkon's attack sinks into the ground and is replaced by a new, modern castle made of metal and full of weapons. In the second to last episode, that same castle undergoes yet another transformation; it turns into a flying space fortress. It is the castle that allows Voltron to defeat the enemy in that final battle and make the galaxy safe once more.
Daimon, Faara's father, does not build Golion. Golion is a sentient robot who is punished for his boastful attitude by a goddess. When the goddess warns him to change his ways, he attacks her, and she splits him into five pieces and sends him hurtling through space. The five lions crash on Altea, and Daimon is in the process of building tunnels to the lions to utilize them for battle when he is killed. He dies before Faarla gets to know him, as she is a baby at the time of the attack. However, he does often appear to her in visions to advise her. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the Buddhist ritual of praying to one's ancestors.
At the core of every show there must be a villain, and "Voltron" has three. King Zarkon (voice by Jack Angel), leader of the trio, is a tyrant intent on enslaving the universe. He thrives on conquering planets and turning the inhabitants into slaves. Voltron stands in his way and that is Zarkon's sole motivation for wanting Voltron destroyed. He is accustomed to having power over every person in his presence, and he often treats people like robots designed to do his bidding. He is truly an imposing and dominating figure.|
Dai Basaarl Daitaiou's [ダイ·バザール大帝王] (Great Basaaru Emperor [voice by Kousei Tomita]) entertainment is watching slaves get ripped apart in his arena, or watching giant monsters kill each other. The victors are often taken to Altea to fight Golion. He will quite casually punish or kill anyone who may displease him in some way.
Zarkon's son, Prince Lotor (voice by Lennie Weinrib) shows depth in his reasons for wanting Voltron destroyed. He not only wants to enslave Arus, but also make Princess Allura his bride anyway he can. He sees Voltron as the only obstacle to obtaining Allura. He has often times claimed he will spare Arus if Allura consents to be his bride, but he always has a robeast waiting for after Allura surrenders.
Syncline Kotaishi [シンクライン] (voice by Akira Kamiya) is nastier than his American counterpart. He whips out his sword and kills a slave girl because she accidentally spills a drink on his leg. Many scenes where Syncline kills a subordinate are edited out of Voltron.
In one episode we see a flashback of Syncline with his mother, who bares quite a resemblance to Faara. Later we learn that Dai Basaarl murdered Syncline's mother with his bare hands--something Sincline does not find out about. It is most likely because of the similarities in appearance that Syncline is smitten with Faara.
At Zarkon's side is his witch Hagar (voice by B.J. Ward). It is apparent that Lotor does not trust Hagar and with good reason. She often confides in him that she would see Zarkon overthrown and Lotor on the throne of Doom. Yet she always shows loyalty to Zarkon and even acts to thwart Lotor's schemes. It is Hagar who creates the fierce robeasts that battle Voltron and nearly destroy Arus. It was also Hagar who splits Voltron into the five robot lions by disguising herself as a space goddess. She is pure evil and clearly follows her own agenda. She would destroy Voltron just for the pleasure of destruction and no other reason. Her Golion name, Honerva [ホネルバ] (voice by Masako Nosawa), is a blend between the name "Minerva"(the Roman goddess of wisdom) and "hone," which means "bone" in Japanese.
At the end of almost every episode a member of the Force says how peace has been maintained in the galaxy thanks to Voltron. Not once does the Voltron Force take credit for stopping Planet Doom, instead always accrediting it to Voltron. There are different interpretations as to why this is so. One is that in the original Golion series, Voltron was an actual sentient being who was punished for his vanity and arrogance by a goddess by splitting him into five separate lions. The Force could be making reference to this by always giving Voltron the credit. Another more popular interpretation is that Voltron is a symbol for galactic peace. By giving him the credit, they are simply acknowledging that peace has won out over evil. The force also realizes how inconsequential they really are compared to Voltron. Anybody with the right training can pilot the lions, but Voltron would remain as the defender. For Voltron to survive is to bring hope to the galaxy that peace will reign supreme. Even if the force is incapacitated, as it is in one of the later episodes ("The Omega Comet"), the robot Voltron still remains to fight tyranny and evil in the universe. This is refuted though by the fact that in order to operate Voltron five separate keys are needed. This shows that even though Voltron could operate with any pilots, only those of pure spirit can wield the keys.
In Japan, TV series are made with a set number of episodes in mind, while the duration of American programming depends upon its popularity. Due to Voltron's high ratings, World Events Productions expanded on the original fifty-two Golion episodes by producing twenty more. They bought the rights to Golion from Toei, wrote twenty scripts and had a Korean company animate them. The episodes (called the "Second Season" of Voltron) were aired from 1986 - 1987.
Among the changes to the season were two characters: Cossack, a clownish character who fills the role of the bumbling subordinate played earlier in Season One by a short-lived character (Yurak, Lotor's predecessor) and Queen Merla, a powerful and suave warrior who comes to Planet Doom with an entourage of nobles and soldiers she calls "dwarflings." A classy, cool-headed woman, she attempts to gain the throne of Doom in a short-lived marriage to Lotor, but the prince can never abandon his obsession with Allura. Due to the hurried effect of the season, the writing and animation suffered, and Merla's character was not used to full advantage.
Seventeen years after its introduction, Voltron still has not left the center stage of American pop culture. In 1998, World Events Productions introduced "Voltron: The Third Dimension," a completely computer animated series by World Events Productions that lasted two seasons. The company renewed its interest in the show once the reruns of "Voltron: Defender of the Universe" scored high ratings on the Cartoon Network. The new show picked up where the second season left off, with Voltron and Lotor locked in combat. Voltron crippled his ship which subsequentially crashes on Doom. Then, with the help of Hagar Lotor sent Castle Doom with all of its secrets into the Dream Dimension.
The new series takes place five years later. Lotor has been in prison for four years and, due to his injuries from the crash landing, has now become a partial cyborg, with metal body parts replacing the ones he lost. Zarkon is the Minister of Peace for the new Galaxy Alliance led by the robot Amalgamus. The characters have all changed slightly - Pidge is older, Allura stronger, Lance more of a loose cannon, and Keith's machismo leadership traits much softened. Many of the voice actors were retained, but Lennie Weinrub and Peter Cullen have been replaced. Now Pidge is voiced by Billy West, Hunk and Zarkon by Kevin Michael Richardson, and Coran by Michael Bell. Tim Curry, the ultimate villian, voices Lotor.
Front and back of a Golion trading card
The new cartoon spawned dozens of toys and other merchandise aimed at revitalizing Voltron as a pop icon. The original diecast metal Voltron lion toys, arguably the most popular Voltron toy to emerge from the 80's, was remade by Trendmasters in 1997 as a precursor to the new show. A wide range of new Voltron: 3D toys followed, most noticable was Stealth Voltron, which spawned a character in the new show.
However Stealth Voltron met with harsh reactions from the Voltron Internet Community - fans of the show who frequented World Events' web-based message board at www.voltronforce.com.
Fans complained that the new series - and especially Stealth Voltron - had been "dumbed down" to reach a younger audience. After two seasons the show looked to be heading for a third but after the bankruptcy of Netter Digital, the animation company that did the 3D graphics for the show, Voltron: 3D disappeared from the airwaves.
But the story does not end there.
Although Voltron has vanished from television and the toy aisle once again, it is not dead. Lions Gate Video, formally Trimark, has slowly been releasing episodes of Voltron: Defender of the Universe and Voltron: 3D onto video, available at most video stores. The toys can be found on any auction website, usually at high prices though.
The infusion of new blood continues in the form of Voltron: New Beginnings, a comic book produced by Broken Glass Studios. The book, which is expected to hit stands in the second half of 2001, is a new twist on the Voltron saga. Starting with five space explorers discovering the mighty robot, the comic book is aimed mainly at teenagers and young adults - those who remember Voltron from its original run.
"The concept of these huge mechs defending a planet is very unique," said Jamie Snell, one of the artists behind the new book. "For those reasons, the Voltron concept itself has a lot of staying power. The recent boom of 80's nostalgia can't hurt either."
Voltron Episode Guide
Voltron Robot Statistics
Bibliography and Credits:
Information about voice actors found on the Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com
Information on Golion found on the Teraji Television Webpage. http://member.nifty.ne.jp/teraji/tv/tv_d0283.htm
Episode names for Golion found on: http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Bridge/2508/tva/Hjogr.htm
Image from Golion artbook courtesy of David Mark Din. His upcoming website: http://www.GiantRobot.50megs.com
Names translated into Romanji by Nobuko Mori and Toshinori Nikuma.
Episode titles translated by Paul Haberman.
Additional ideas and information provided by Derek Birosak.