Voltron: Defender of the Universe

The giant robot that won his way into the hearts of a new generation of kids.
January 04, 2006

"From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe comes a legend. The legend of Voltron: Defender of the Universe!"

The year was 1984. Gizmo the Mogwai was selling plush toys like hotcakes. The Ghostbusters were asking the world who it was gonna call. The Neverending Story's G'mork was giving young children nightmares for years to come. And The Karate Kid was inspiring kids everywhere to roundhouse kick their friends and younger siblings.

It was at this time that a cartoon appeared on the airwaves to young viewers everywhere. A cartoon that was unlike any other before it, and one that set young imaginations ablaze. A narrator in a deep voice (Peter Cullen, aka Optimus Prime) opened up the show and set the tone. Voltron: Defender of the Universe was born, and the world would never be the same.

"Let's form Voltron!"
"Why didn't we do that before we arrived at the battle?"
"Quiet, you!"

Voltron is a story about a gigantic robot that fights evil when it threatens the galaxy. Eventually, Haggar the Witch split up this mighty robot into five lions and scattered them across a planet called Arus, burying them and attempting to hide them forever. King Zarkon, the evil tyrant of Planet Doom took this opportunity to run amok and wreak havoc, especially against the planet which he hates the most: Voltron's home planet of Arus.

The Galaxy Alliance decides that Voltron is the only way to keep Zarkon in check. They send out five of their best pilots to find out what happened of the enormous robot and bring him back to stop Zarkon and his Drule empire. The five pilots, Keith, Hunk, Lance, Pidge, and Sven, come to find that Arus is a planet recoverng from the siege of Zarkon. King Alfor, king of the entire planet, was even killed in this onslaught. But there is hope, for the lions have been found and are now awaiting to be reactivated and piloted by five people brave enough for the job. These lions can join together once again to create Voltron.

The five robotic lions coming together to form Voltron

The show was very formulaic. Haggar the witch would create a robeast (a giant monster with organic and mechanical parts), send it to planet Arus where it would go nuts, the pilots would hop in their lions, fight it, get beaten up, form Voltron, get beaten up, and then pull out the "Blazing Sword" which Voltron would then proceed to ruin the robeast's day permanently.

"We're getting badly beaten! Form Blazing Sword!"
"Again, don't you think we should have pulled this out before the fight began?"
"Don't make me come down there!!"
While the show did get a bit repetitive, and while it did re-use stock footage again and again, it was still one of the most entertaining of kids' shows around. Voltron's premise and fame has been copied and exploited to the extreme by Power Rangers, but make no mistake: Voltron is the original granddaddy! This show was also many young children's first experience into anime and "mecha" (giant robots).

An interesting, yet mostly unknown, fact about Voltron is that it originally aired in Japan in 1981. It was called "Hundred Beast GoLion." The show was picked up, re-dubbed, and edited for American youth. The Japanese version differed quite a bit. It was more violent, for one. Voltron himself was actually semi-sentient (the only hint Americans can see this is when Voltron makes facial expressions) and was split into five lions due to his arrogance. Sven the pilot was permanently killed, where he was only "wounded" and found at a later date in the U.S. version. And, the finale of the show was when Zarkon turns himself into a robeast and is killed by Voltron. The U.S., wanting to milk more money from the franchise, just made Zarkon revert back to his regular self and even tacked on more episodes after the "finale."

There was also another Voltron cartoon created due to the Lion-version's popularity. This Voltron was stationed closer to Earth and instead of lions forming the giant robot, about 18 or so vehicles did the job. The vehicle-based Voltron was not nearly as popular with audiences as the lion version.

I, like many readers here, am a child of '80s. Growing up, I loved all the classic cartoon staples; Transformers, Scooby-Doo, Thundercats, Smurfs, M.A.S.K., He-Man, and the like. Of all those cartoons, only Voltron stands out above the rest when it comes to fond memories. The appeal of Voltron is that it is a combination of all the things that are so fascinating to young children. Giant robots, laser guns, spaceships, monsters, fantasy-like worlds, and teamwork. I would have sold my soul to pilot one of those lions!

If a little kid could pilot a lion, then maybe my 7 year-old self could too!
Such is the appeal of the show.

Voltron is a show that will be remembered by fans for the rest of their lives. It touched the lives of many youths and allowed their imaginations to stretch further than they thought possible. Voltron attempted a come-back in 1998 with a computer generated 3D show, but unfortunately it did not stick to the original story as closely as it should have and ultimately failed. Though it seems like Voltron may have faded away into nostalgic history, all is not lost. Many retro shows are making a come-back, and with the news of a live-action Transformers film hitting theaters in 2007, a Voltron movie is in pre-production as I write this. In 2008, Voltron will once again be reborn and inspire a whole new generation of kids and rekindle the fandom in adults. If there is a lesson that Voltron can teach, it's that no matter what you throw at him, he will never fade away. For nothing can ever truly stop Voltron: Defender of the Universe!

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