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Encyclotron: Men in Black: Shiro, Sven, and the Shirogane Brothers

“Encyclotron” articles are nuggets of information about Voltron lore. This is the first of those articles.

If you’re a fan of Voltron: Defender of the Universe, then you almost certainly remember Sven, the original pilot of Blue Lion.

If you’re a fan of Voltron: Legendary Defender, which you can now watch on Netflix streaming in many countries, then you can’t help but know Shiro, leader of the Voltron paladins, and pilot of Black Lion.

What do Sven and Shiro have in common? Some of the more obvious similarities are:

  • Both characters fly Voltron Lions
  • Both characters are quiet, level-headed, and pensive
  • Both characters wear black uniforms. (Each person is the “man in black” on his respective team.)

Most of our heroes from Voltron: Defender of the Universe were translated more or less directly to Voltron: Legendary Defender. Both shows have a Keith, a Lance, a Hunk, an Allura, a Pidge, a Coran, an Alfor, and even the mice. In contrast, Shiro’s origins in Voltron lore are less obvious to the casual fan.

Both Shiro in Voltron: Legendary Defender, and Sven in Voltron: Defender of the Universe, are based in part on Takashi Shirogane in Beast King Golion, the anime program from which many episodes of Voltron: Defender of the Universe were adapted. Eagle-eyed fans of Voltron: Legendary Defender probably noticed, in “Tears of the Balmera,” that Shiro’s full name is Takashi Shirogane.

Let’s examine each “man in black” from Voltron lore.

Takashi Shirogane (Beast King Golion)

In Beast King Golion, Shirogane is one of five astronauts from Earth of the year 1999. (Golion first aired in 1981-1982, so 1999 was… the future!) Returning from a space mission, the team discovers that, during their absence, Earth has been devastated by nuclear missiles in a third world war. The team also discovers a Galra slave ship capturing any surviving humans, including the astronauts.

The team soon finds itself imprisoned in Slave Castle on Planet Galra. While his teammates banter as they try to devise an escape plan, Shirogane says little, justifying his nickname: Quiet.

After the team escapes Galra, they land on Planet Altea, where they meet Princess Fala (Think: Allura) and learn of Golion (Think: Voltron). Royal advisor Raible (Think: Coran) tells them that they’ll reactivate the Lions that combine into Golion, and he gives them combat uniforms. For reasons never made clear, Shirogane’s uniform is trimmed with black.

When the team reactivates the robot Lions, Shirogane operates the Blue Lion — again, for reasons never made clear. Kogane (Think: Keith) flies Black Lion and continues to the lead the team, as he had during the astronauts’ original space mission.

In Golion‘s sixth episode, Shirogane rescues Kurogane (Think: Lance) from Galra witch Honerva (Think: Haggar). Shirogane fights Honerva alone, a task made more difficult when Honerva creates several duplicate images of herself, and she and her duplicates circle around him, laughing. (This moment was recreated with Shiro and Haggar in the Voltron: Legendary Defender episode “The Black Paladin.”)

Then Honerva blinds Shirogane with light from her staff, but the blinded pilot uses his mind’s eye to locate the true Honerva. Shirogane tries to attack, but the witch blocks his sword, Honerva’s cat bites his left ear, and then a Deathblack Beastman (Think: Robeast) strikes him multiple times. Shirogane dies in the arms of his friend, Kogane (Think: Keith).

Although Princess Fala (Think: Allura) begins to pilot Blue Lion in the next episode, Takashi Shirogane is not forgotten.

Ryou Shirogane (Beast King Golion)

In Golion‘s 41st episode, Princess Amue (adapted as Romelle in Voltron: Defender of the Universe), a slave on Planet Galra, is saved from a Galra firing squad by a mysterious Earthling. The princess’ savior is Ryou Shirogane, the younger brother of Takashi Shirogane. Ryou is aware that Takashi had become the pilot of Blue Lion, but Amue informs Ryou that Honerva subsequently killed Takashi.

Ryou Shirogane and the princess form an alliance to fight their common enemy: the Galra Empire, and over time they develop feelings for one another. In Golion‘s 52nd and final episode, Ryou Shirogane stabs the Galra Prince Imperial Sincline (Think: Lotor). Sincline slashes Ryou across the chest, and both fall to their deaths. Ryou Shirogane dies avenging his heroic older brother, and in so doing, he helps the Golion team to destroy the Galra Empire.

Technically, Ryou Shirogane isn’t a “man in black,” as it has been defined in this article, but Ryou’s role in Golion is directly tied to someone else who is.

Sven (Voltron: Defender of the Universe)

Long-time Voltron fans might recall the “Sven Lives” T-shirts that were first sold in the 2000s, as a reaction to Voltron fans’ recent discovery, through the just-released Beast King Golion DVD sets, that Sven’s Golion counterpart dies in that program. The “Sven Lives” shirts are fun, but there was never a need to assert that Sven lives, because in Voltron: Defender of the Universe, he does.

In Defender of the Universe, in an unspecified year of the distant future, Sven is one of five space explorers sent by the Galaxy Alliance to Planet Arus. As in Golion, the space explorers are captured and imprisoned, but in Voltron, they’re imprisoned in the Castle of Dungeons on Planet Doom.

The space explorers escape, meet Allura on Planet Arus, and become known as the Voltron Force. As in Golion, Sven dons a black-trimmed uniform and becomes the pilot of Blue Lion, for reasons that are never explained.

In Defender of the Universe‘s sixth Lion Force episode, Sven rescues Lance from Haggar. A battle unfolds between Sven and Haggar, Haggar’s cat bites his left ear, and a Robeast strikes Sven multiple times. Unlike in Golion, Sven survives the fight. Sven is seriously injured, to the point where he is taken, off-screen, to Planet Ebb for medical attention. Allura succeeds Sven as the pilot of Blue Lion.

Sven’s next significant appearance is in Defender of the Universe‘s 41st Lion Force episode. Sven, by now an escaped slave on Planet Doom, rescues Princess Romelle from Lotor’s firing squad. (The writers of Voltron: Defender of the Universe, noticing Ryou Shirogane’s strong resemblance to his older brother Takashi, cleverly chose to continue Sven’s story rather than introduce a new character.)

In the 52nd Lion Force episode, Sven and Lotor fight and fall from a great height, as Golion‘s Ryou and Sincline had, but in Voltron, both fall into water and survive. Sven’s bravery helps the Voltron Force defeat Zarkon’s forces — for the time being, anyway.

In Voltron: Defender of the Universe, the tales of the Lion Force would extend beyond the last episode of Beast King Golion, with 21 newly animated episodes. In these episodes, Sven has relocated to Princess Romelle’s kingdom on Planet Pollux, where he lives in a humble cabin from which he can watch over Romelle’s castle. Haggar soon destroys Sven’s cabin, but he remains on Pollux. Sven and Romelle admit their feelings for one another, but they don’t act on their feelings, since Sven is but a pilot. On the other hand, they do discuss pursuing a relationship once Zarkon is defeated.

In one of the later episodes, Sven temporarily returns to pilot Blue Lion in one desperate battle.

Since Voltron: Defender of the Universe never shows the Voltron Force definitively defeating Zarkon, it’s never revealed whether Sven and Romelle ever pursued a romantic relationship.

Sven (Voltron Force)

Voltron Force is a quasi-sequel to Voltron: Defender of the Universe. It takes place some years after the Voltron Force had defeated the forces of Planet Doom, but the story conflicts with several story points in the original Voltron show. One aspect of Defender of the Universe that does find its way to Voltron Force is the existence of Sven as the former pilot of Blue Lion.

In “Rogue Trip,” Voltron Force cadets Daniel and Vince meet Dudley, who describes himself as “Voltron’s biggest fan.” Because he “knows a guy who knows a guy,” Dudley has amassed a huge collection of Voltron artifacts. Daniel, himself a Voltron aficionado, identifies one of the artifacts as Sven’s uniform. Sven’s typical off-duty outfit is also shown to be in Dudley’s collection.

In “Ghost in the Lion,” Blue Lion is stolen and taken to the ice-cold planet Crydor. The Voltron Force discovers that Sven is the thief! Sven had made a deal with Lotor and Maahox, to give them Blue Lion in exchange for Lotor and Maahox curing Sven and his infant son of a haggarium infection, which Sven had contracted years ago from having been bitten by witch Haggar’s cat. Maahox alters the deal, planning to raise Sven’s son and train him to operate Blue Lion in the service of Lotor. Double-crossed, Sven briefly pilots Blue Lion as the team forms Voltron in order to rescue Allura and Sven’s son from Lotor. The Voltron Force offers to treat Sven’s haggarium infection back on Arus, but Sven declines the offer, saying his infection has progressed too far for it to be treatable. The Voltron Force has no choice but to leave Sven on Crydor, but they save Sven’s son, leaving him in the care of Allura’s childhood nanny.

The mother of Sven’s son is never identified.

Shiro (Voltron: Legendary Defender)

Shiro, full name Takashi Shirogane, is an experienced space explorer of the Galaxy Alliance. While on the first manned mission to Pluto’s moon, Kerberos, Shiro and his crewmates, Professor Holt and his son Matt, are abducted by aliens. The government of Earth covers up the Kerberos incident, claiming that the ship was lost due to pilot error.

One year later, Shiro returns, crashing on Earth in a small, alien spacecraft. He remembers very little about his time in captivity, and his escape, but he does remember that the Galra are a threat to Earth, and that the Galra are searching for a super weapon called Voltron.

Shiro has three visual reminders of his experience with the Galra — white hair in his bangs, a scar across his nose, and a cybernetic right arm.

Soon after crashing to Earth, Shiro is surrounded by Galaxy Garrison scientists and soldiers who want to quarantine him and render him unconscious before he can warn them about the Galra. Fortunately, three cadets from the space academy — Lance, Pidge and Hunk — and academy dropout Keith rescue Shiro. They discover a robot Blue Lion, which takes them to Planet Arus, where Shiro and the others discover Princess Allura. Allura tells them of the Galra threat, and she tasks them with reactivating all five Lions, combining them into Voltron, and stopping Galra emperor Zarkon.

Recognizing that Shiro is a natural leader, Allura tells him that he will lead this new team of Voltron paladins, and that he will fly Black Lion. And the adventure begins!

Over time Shiro learns more about what had happened to him when he was a Galra prisoner. His body had been altered by the Galra, and he became a champion gladiator for Zarkon’s amusement.

At the end of Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s first season, Shiro learns that Zarkon himself had been the previous paladin of Black Lion. During a battle against Zarkon’s witch Haggar — a battle reminiscent of Takashi Shirogane’s final fight in Beast King Golion — Shiro is injured.

In Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s second season, Shiro survives his wound, and he strengthens his bond with Black Lion. He learns that his escape from the Galra had been aided by Oolas, a rebel Galra, who noticed Shiro’s potential to one day help overthrow Zarkon.

Shiro also tells Keith that, should anything ever happen to Shiro, Keith should succeed him as the leader of the Voltron paladins.

In the final episode of the second season, during a climactic battle between Voltron and a heavily armored Zarkon, Shiro unlocks a new ability in Voltron, as Shiro flies Voltron through Zarkon as if Voltron were immaterial, and Shiro recovers the Black Bayard. The paladins use their bayards to unlock a new super weapon of Voltron: a blazing sword that impales and possibly kills the Galra emperor.

Although Voltron defeats Zarkon, the price is high. The paladins discover that Shiro has vanished from the cockpit of Black Lion. Only the Black Bayard remains.

As of this writing, Voltron: Legendary Defender‘s third season has not yet been announced. Many questions remain with respect to Shiro. Where is he? What happened to him? Will he ever return? Hopefully time will tell.

Men in Black

Voltron’s men in black — Takashi Shirogane from Beast King Golion, Sven from Voltron: Defender of the Universe, Sven from Voltron Force, and Takashi “Shiro” Shirogane from Voltron: Legendary Defender — are exciting and inspirational heroes who courageously defend their corners of the Voltron “multiverse.”

Addendum: Keith wore a black uniform in Voltron: The Third Dimension and Voltron Force, but Keith is better known for wearing red. A future article will cover the Voltron pilots who wear red.