In the 1980s, and still today, toy makers try to entice retailers to purchase current and possible future toy offerings at an annual trade show called New York Toy Fair. In the pre-Internet era of the 1980s, a toy maker would give printed catalogs to retailers, so that they would be aware of the toys that the company made, how to order them, and other information.
In the mid-1980s, Voltron: Defender of the Universe was a hot toy property, and Matchbox was Voltron’s first licensed toy maker. All of Matchbox’s Voltron toy offerings were modified re-releases of toys that had originally been produced by Popy, later Bandai, for the anime programs that were adapted to make Voltron.
Here are some photos of Matchbox’s 1985 and 1986 Toy Fair catalogs!
What’s that on the cover? Is that Voltron? Yes — it’s Voltron I! There’s not a lion to be found… yet. Given Matchbox’s history with small toy cars, this Voltron does seem to be the most appropriate robot to feature on the cover of the catalog.
It’s Voltron I! This mighty robot had five toy offerings:
700211 Voltron I Air Warrior Set
700212 Voltron I Space Warrior Set
700213 Voltron I Land Warrior Set
700002 Voltron I Miniature Space Warrior Robot
700210 Voltron I The Deluxe Warrior Set.
If I were a nitpicker, I would point out that the forearm vehicles are swapped in the photo of The Deluxe Warrior Set — and in the photo of the Land Warrior Set. I’d also point out that the Air Warrior Set, Space Warrior Set, and Land Warrior Set did not have die-cast parts. It’s good that I’m not a nitpicker.
Note the “NEW! TV” markings on each page. Having a television program as a promotional outlet for toys was and still is hugely important to a retailer.
It’s Voltron II! This mighty robot had four toy offerings:
700100 Voltron II Miniature Red Gladiator Robot
700110 Voltron II Miniature Blue Gladiator Robot
700120 Voltron II Miniature Black Gladiator Robot
700220 Voltron II The Deluxe Gladiator Set.
These toys are also “NEW! TV” — but Voltron II never appeared on TV, at least not in the Voltron: Defender of the Universe program. To my knowledge, Matchbox never even televised ads for this poor guy, who incidentally is horribly mis-transformed on page 51. As shown in the catalog, the Blue Gladiator Robot’s head seems to be stuck in the ro-butt of the Black Gladiator Robot, whose head seems to be stuck in the ro-butt of the Red Gladiator Robot. It’s a good thing that robots don’t feel pain.
It’s Voltron III — or what most people today simply call Voltron. This mighty robot had five toy offerings:
700201 Voltron III Giant Black Lion Robot
700202 Voltron III Yellow and Green Mighty Lion Robots Set
700203 Voltron III Blue and Red Mighty Lion Robots Set
700001 Voltron III Miniature Lion Space Robot
700200 Voltron III The Deluxe Lion Set
Again, it’s good that I’m not a nitpicker, because if I were, I’d point out that, in the photo of The Deluxe Lion Set:
The rear feet of Blue and Yellow Lions are pointed incorrectly.
The front legs of Blue and Yellow Lions are posed incorrectly.
Black Lion’s rear legs (Voltron’s thighs) are posed very strangely.
Black Lion’s shoulders (Voltron’s shoulders) are oriented incorrectly.
Black Lion has a yellow button on its left shoulder. This play feature was never present in the released Voltron toy.
Voltron III’s “NEW! TV” markings are the most apropos of the three robots, because after the first run of Voltron: Defender of the Universe, “Voltron I” all but disappeared from television, and as I already mentioned, “Voltron II” never made it to TV.
What the heck are those toys? They aren’t Voltron toys, and more strangely, they aren’t the tiny, die-cast toy cars for which Matchbox was best known. Read on, fearless reader!
Table of Contents
Voltron scored two fewer pages in 1986 than it enjoyed in 1985. Then… there’s this thing called Robotech, which spanned 36 pages — whereas Matchbox’s traditional die-cast cars had only 22 pages. What gives?
If you’re thinking that these toys look like 1985’s “Voltron I” toys, then you’re thinking correctly. At some point, Matchbox must have gotten a memo from World Events Productions that the Roman numerals became passe sometime between when the TV program’s pilot episodes were made and when the “real” episodes were made. The renamed offerings were:
700002 Miniature Vehicle Team Voltron
700210 Vehicle Team Voltron
Why was the “Aqua-Fighter” previously called the “Space Warrior?” I have no idea.
By 1986, poor “Voltron II” had disappeared even from Matchbox’s toy offerings. Fortunately “Voltron III” was still around, albeit renamed. The 1986 offerings for this Voltron robot were:
700201 Giant Black Lion
700202 Yellow and Green Lions
700203 Blue and Red Lions
700001 Miniature Lion Force Voltron
700200 Lion Force Voltron
700401 Blazing Sword Set
700402 Miniature Blazing Sword Set
The new-to-1986 items, 700401 and 700402, probably came along because someone at Matchbox realized that Voltron had become kind of well known for using a sword.
The Lion Force Voltron toy is once again mis-transformed:
The rear feet of Blue and Yellow Lions are pointed incorrectly.
The front legs of Blue Lion seem to be posed incorrectly.
Black Lion’s shoulders (Voltron’s shoulders) are oriented correctly; however, Black Lion’s lower front legs are sticking out as if whoever set up the toy didn’t know that the lower front legs could be folded inside the shoulders.
These pages have nothing to do with Voltron, but they have everything to do with the catalog’s cover, as well as the most prominently featured licensed property in the catalog: Robotech, another animated program made by adapting multiple anime programs. Matchbox put a huge investment into Robotech. The company launched an enormous product line targeted at boys and girls, and it was co-financing the production of a 65-episode sequel to Robotech, called Robotech II: The Sentinels. Unfortunately retailer interest at 1986 New York Toy Fair was well below expectations. This and other factors led to Matchbox abandoning Robotech II: The Sentinels mid-production. But that’s a story for a different website.
And there you have it — Voltron as it appeared in Matchbox’s 1985 and 1986 Toy Fair retailer catalogs.
Updated December 6, 2017, with information from a recent New York Times article about shipping.
Since Voltron: Defender of the Universe premiered in 1984, there has been Voltron fan art and fan fiction. Perhaps surprisingly to a casual Voltron fan, much of Voltron fan art and fan fiction concerns romantic relationships.
Fans of Voltron: Defender of the Universe have created relationship-based fan art and fan fiction for a small number of pairings, the most popular of which seems to be between Keith and Princess Allura. Such stories commonly were, and to a lesser extent still are, called “K/A” for “Keith/Allura.” In the TV program, a Keith/Allura romance was only subtly implied, most notably in the final episode, “Fleet of Doom.” In that story, Haggar releases Keith and Allura from an alternate dimension. She tells them to let their love guide them home. When they return to the real world, Keith holds Allura’s hands, and they smile at each other. Voltron: Defender of the Universe fan art and fan fiction also explore other romantic pairings, including but not limited to Sven and Romelle — the couple that was most overtly suggested in the TV program — as well as Lotor and Allura, and Lance and Allura.
Voltron: The Third Dimension does not seem to have inspired much in the way of fan art or fan fiction.
Voltron Force inspired relationship-based fan art and fan fiction, much of which explores a Keith/Allura relationship. Voltron Force was subtle but direct in suggesting a Keith/Allura romance. In “Gary,” Keith says, “if it’s what Allura wants, then it’s what I want.” Afterward, Allura smiles, eyebrows raised. In “Crossed Signals,” the pair hold hands, and in front of the other members and cadets of the Voltron Force, Allura puts her hands on Keith’s right shoulder and gives him a loving look. In “Deceive and Conquer,” the recently crowned Queen Allura suggests, in front of the rest of the Voltron Force, that Keith, who in this show is of Arusian heritage, become king. It’s clear to the rest of the Force that Keith and Allura are a couple. Later Keith smiles and has an arm around Allura. In the final episode, “Black,” when Allura first sees Keith, it’s clear from the look on her face that she is in love with him.
Voltron Legendary Defender has inspired a new wave of fan art and fan fiction. The scale of this wave of fan creativity is unprecedented in Voltron fandom. A sizable amount of this program’s fan art and fan fiction concerns romantic and/or physical relationships — commonly abbreviated as ships. Fans who support ships are commonly called shippers. Many shippers name ships after the people are in the ship. Ships explored in Voltron Legendary Defender fan art and fan fiction include, but are by no means limited to, the ones listed below. More comprehensive ship lists are available online.
Shiro, Keith, Lance
As reported in December 4, 2017, article in the New York Times (Link), the most popular ship in all of Tumblr in 2017 was “Klance” (Keith/Lance). According to Tumblr (Link), “Sheith” was a still impressive #12.
Voltron Legendary Defender ships have been a source of strife among some shippers. A small subset of shippers have demanded that the creators of Voltron Legendary Defender make their favorite ships “canon” — that is, overtly depict the ship in the television program. A tiny number of shippers have even attacked or threatened other shippers who prefer different ships, or the show’s creators if their favorite ships are not made canon. As a very small but very vocal subset of shippers actively attack other people, as of this writing (December 2017, between the releases of the fourth and fifth seasons), the Voltron Legendary Defender TV program has not depicted a romance among any of the show’s prominent characters. In essence, a militant shipper lashes out at others for not imagining what he or she is imagining. Even if one or more ships were to become “canon” in the show, it wouldn’t make anyone’s imagination any less valid than anyone else’s imagination.
Relationship-based Voltron fan art and fan fiction have existed since the 1980s, and today they are more prominent than ever. As long as their creators and consumers treat others with kindness, fan art and fan fiction are fun ways to celebrate and share enthusiasm for Voltron.
This author supports fellow fans’ enthusiasm and creativity. It is the opinion of this author that all fan-imagined romantic and physical relationships are equally valid, as long as they are consensual and lawful.
When I first watched Voltron: Defender of the Universe in weekday syndication between 1984 and 1986, I had no idea that the show had been adapted from the anime programs Beast King Golion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. I first learned this in the late 1980s, in an issue of Starlog magazine, in an article about what was then called “Japanimation.”
When Media Blasters released the Voltron: Defender of the Universe DVD box sets, I noticed something as I thumbed through the episode synopses that had been packaged in the box sets: the episode numbers and the original air dates often seemed… off. For example, Lion Force episode eight, “The Stolen Lion,” originally aired eight days after episode seven, “The Lion Has New Claws.” This seemed odd, since the program ran in weekday syndication. Barring reruns, I would expect two consecutive episodes to air no more than three days apart — the earlier episode airing on a Friday, and the later episode airing on the following Monday.
But things got even weirder. Lion Force episode 14, “Yurak Gets His Pink Slip,” originally aired ten days before episode 13, “The Witch Gets a Facelift.”
As a Star Trek fan, I knew that many episodes of the 1960s television series had originally aired out of production sequence. The first episode to air, “The Man Trap,” was the eighth episode to have been produced. Still, with Voltron: Defender of the Universe having been adapted from two already produced programs, it seemed strange that its episodes would have been adapted out of sequence.
It turns out that the episode numbers in the Voltron DVD box sets correspond to the original air date sequences of the original anime programs. Episodes 1-52 correspond to episodes 1-52, respectively, of Beast King Golion. Episodes 73-124 correspond to episodes 1-52, respectively, of Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. (Episodes 53-72 are the 20 Lion Force episodes that had been animated specifically for Voltron. The “Fleet of Doom” feature episode was sold as a separate DVD.)
For this article, I decided to see just how out of order Voltron: Defender of the Universe is with respect to Beast King Golion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV.
Here is a comparison of the original air date sequence of all 52 Golion episodes with the original air date sequence of the first 52 Lion Force Voltron episodes.
As you can see…
The first eleven Lion Force Voltron episodes originally aired in the same order as the corresponding Golion episodes.
The last three Lion Force Voltron episodes originally aired in the same order as the corresponding Golion episodes.
The episodes between the first eleven and the last three are a jumbled mess!
Here is a comparison of the original air date sequence of all 52 Dairugger episodes with the original air date sequence of all 52 Vehicle Team Voltron episodes.
From this graph, we can see that…
Even the first several Vehicle Team Voltron episodes are out of sequence with respect to Dairugger.
The only long stretch of Dairugger-sequenced Vehicle Team Voltron episodes are episodes 42-51, which correspond to Dairugger episodes 43-52, respectively.
The final Vehicle Team Voltron episode was the 15th episode of Dairugger!
Even this isn’t the whole story of how out of order Voltron was compared to the original anime programs. Let’s put all of the data together, but first, let’s keep in mind that:
The first 52 Lion Force episodes of Voltron: Defender of the Universe are considered the program’s “first season.”
The 52 Vehicle Team episodes are considered the “second season.”
The “extra 20” Lion Force episodes — that is, the episodes that were animated specifically for Voltron — are considered the “third season.”
“Fleet of Doom,” the feature-length, animated-for-Voltron episode that often aired in two parts, is generally considered an “extra” episode. (It is not shown in the chart below.)
The first several Vehicle Team episodes originally aired scattered throughout the first 52 Lion Force episodes! It’s likely that these Vehicle Team episodes were repeated again at the beginning of the long stretch of Vehicle Team episodes. There’s a large enough time gap after the first 52 Lion Force episodes for this to have occurred. Still, this is kind of strange.
So what happened? Here is my guess:
The first several Voltron episodes to be produced were Vehicle Team episodes. This is only speculation, but the pilot episode screened at the NAB conference in February 1984 featured Vehicle Team Voltron (then called Voltron I), and much of the early Voltron marketing materials featured only Vehicle Team Voltron.
Sometime before Voltron debuted on television in September 1984, someone at World Events Productions decided that the Lion Force episodes adapted from Golion were better than the Vehicle Team episodes. A decision was made to air the Lion Force episodes first.
After several Vehicle Team episodes of Voltron had been produced, the show makers transitioned into producing all 52 Lion Force episodes adapted from Golion.
When Voltron premiered in September 1984, Lion Force episodes were broadcast.
Unable to produce Lion Force episodes quickly enough to keep up with weekday airings, occasional, already completed Vehicle Team episodes were broadcast from time to time.
After production of all 52 Lion Force episodes adapted from Golion had been completed, the remaining Vehicle Team episodes were produced.
The Vehicle Team “batch” of episodes aired first with reruns of the already aired Vehicle Team episodes, followed by the ones that had not yet aired.
After production of all 52 Vehicle Team episodes had been completed, 20 all-new Lion Force episodes, plus the “Fleet of Doom” special, were produced.
After all of the Vehicle Team episodes had aired, the all-new Lion Force episodes, plus “Fleet of Doom,” were broadcast.
As for why the Voltron episodes aired out of sequence relative to Golion and Dairugger, I suspect the writers did not recognize the serialized nature of the anime programs. This is understandable, given the frantic pace of production, coupled with the anime episodes being in Japanese and lacking English subtitles. In addition, the Voltron episodes might not have been aired in the order in which they had been written or completed. Since the show’s original head writer, Jameson Brewer, died in 2003, we will likely never know for certain.
What are the take-aways from all this? First, it takes a lot of time to produce an animated television series — even one for which the animation was pre-produced. Second, creative and logistical decisions are made at all points in the production process. Third, the popularity of Voltron in the 1980s, and even today, is a testament to the dedication and ability of everyone who worked on Voltron, Golion, and Dairugger. Finally, it took a bit of work to be a Voltron fan in the 1980s, but I already wrote about that, didn’t I?
As described on Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Page_layout), in the days before page layout software such as Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress, newspaper page layouts were created… by hand. In the 1980s, a page layout was created by physically pasting images and blocks of text onto a rigid sheet of paper. This “camera-ready” page was then shot on film, and through a process called offset lithography, the film would control ink placement on the printing press.
Newspaper ads often incorporated hand-drawn, black-on-white line art renditions of product photographs. Line art was often preferred over photographs because the images were often small on the black-and-white printed page, so high-contrast line art often represented products more effectively than grayscale photographs did.
Line art for newspaper ads was often created by specialized companies. One such company was Kwikee, then a division of Multi-Ad Services, Inc. Kwikee still exists today, and it still provides product images — although now mostly digital in nature.
What’s the Voltron connection? In the 1980s, there were Voltron toys — lots of Voltron toys. These toys were often advertised in newspapers, so line art was made of these toys, by companies such as Kwikee.
A few years ago, I purchased from a vintage toy seller a small collection of 1980s product image pages made by Kwikee. The pages in the collection included images of toys from several 1980s toy lines: MASK (by Kenner), Photon (by LJN), Thundercats (by LJN), Wrinkles (by LJN), Robotech (by Matchbox) — and Voltron, by Matchbox.
Below are the four Voltron Kwikee product image pages from my collection. No copyright infringement is intended in their display on this website. The pages are shared here to show to fellow Voltron fans these amazing newspaper advertising artifacts from days of long ago. Enjoy!
The first page, apparently page 118 of a 1985 Kwikee catalog of product images, depicts Matchbox’s Voltron I toys. As I mentioned in “It’s as “Easy” as I, II, III: Being a Voltron Fan in the 1980s,”Voltron I was the inital name of the super robot that would eventually become known as Vehicle Team Voltron. Note that each image is represented in three sizes, which offered newspaper layout artists more leeway in how they composed the ad, physically pasting an image of the desired size on what would become a camera-ready page layout sheet.
The second page, page 119 of the same catalog, depicts Matchbox’s Voltron II toys. This super robot was ultimately never featured in the Voltron: Defender of the Universe television program.
The third page, page 120, depicts Matchbox’s Voltron III toys. Voltron III would become known as Lion Force Voltron, the overwhelmingly most popular of the 1980s Voltron super robots.
The fourth and final Voltron page in my collection, page 100 of a 1986 Kwikee catalog of product images, depicts Matchbox’s Vehicle Team Voltron and Lion Force Voltron toys. The company’s Voltron I and Voltron III toys from 1985 were, for 1986, repackaged and renamed to Vehicle Team Voltron and Lion Force Voltron, respectively. Interestingly, each image on this page is rendered in a single size, rather than three sizes as in the 1985 catalog. Perhaps subsequent pages in the catalog, not in my collection, provide alternately sized images.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this blast from the newspaper advertising past!
This article is a primer for all things Voltron. If you’re a new fan who was introduced to Voltron through the all-new series, Voltron: Legendary Defender, and you’re curious about what came before, then this article is for you. If you’re a fan from days of long ago – 1984 – and you’re curious about what came after, then this article is for you. If you’re the friend or loved one of a Voltron fan, or if you can’t tell Voltron from Optimus Prime, then this article is for you.
This article focuses only on the various Voltron television programs. It skips details about the making of these shows, and it skips some of the more arcane facts about the shows. That’s because the goal is to welcome as many readers as possible to the entirety of the Voltron universe, without overwhelming you with too much information.
Voltron is about a group of young heroes who protect all that is good from all that is evil, with the help of their incredible machines that can easily hold their own in battle. In times of great danger, these heroes can combine their machines into a super robot called Voltron. Just as the super robot Voltron is more powerful than its individual components, Voltron’s pilots, when working together, comprise a whole that is far greater than the sum of its parts. In short, Voltron is fantastic sci-fi action that focuses on a very down-to-earth concept: overcoming incredible obstacles through the power of friendship and teamwork.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe (1984-1986)
On Monday, September 10, 1984, kids of all ages were captivated with amazing sights and sounds as a new animated television series first hit air waves. The series was called Voltron: Defender of the Universe.
The series’ earliest episodes focus on the Voltron Lion Force – a team of five, brave space explorers who operate five distinctly colored robot lions. Team leader Keith controls the Black Lion. The sarcastic Lance operates the Red Lion. The short, spectacled and smart Pidge flies the Green Lion. The brawny, tough, yet soft-hearted Hunk pilots the Yellow Lion, and the pensive, noble Sven controls the Blue Lion. The space explorers discover the Lions on a planet called Arus – a planet that had been devastated, and its population decimated, by prolonged conflict with the forces of the evil King Zarkon of Planet Doom. Among the casualties of this conflict was Planet Arus’ king, Alfor, leaving his daughter, Princess Allura, the only surviving member of the royal family. As the forces of Planet Doom – Zarkon, witch Haggar, and eventually Zarkon’s son, Prince Lotor – continue their attacks on Arus and other planets in the Far Universe, the Voltron Force defend the innocent using their mighty Lions. Often Zarkon would send a Robeast – an enormous, magic-enhanced, mechanical monster – and to defeat it, the Voltron Force would combine their Lions into Voltron.
Soon after the series begins, Blue Lion pilot Sven is seriously injured during a skirmish with Haggar. Sven is taken to the planet Ebb in order to heal, and Princess Allura succeeds him as pilot of the Blue Lion. As the Lion Force story progresses, Zarkon becomes an even more dangerous threat, Prince Lotor becomes increasingly obsessed with marrying the unwilling Princess Allura, and the Voltron Force continues to fight on behalf of the good people whom Zarkon seeks to conquer.
As the Voltron Lion Force defends the Far Universe, the Near Universe is protected by another group of space explorers – the Voltron Vehicle Team.
The Voltron Vehicle Team is assigned to the Stellar Ship Explorer, which explores the universe in search of knowledge, new allies, and habitable planets on which people of the overcrowded planets of the benevolent Galaxy Alliance can settle and establish new homes. The Voltron Vehicle Team’s 15 members are divided equally into three sub-teams – the Air Team, led by hot-headed Voltron Force captain Jeff; the Sea Team, led by the insightful alien Krik; and the Land Team, led by the level-headed geologist Cliff. Each team member operates an advanced, combat-ready exploration vehicle.
An additional function of this Voltron Force is defense against the attacks of the Drule Empire, a militaristic force that seeks to dominate the universe. Like Zarkon, the Drules often use their own Robeasts in their offensives against the Explorer and its allies. To protect the Explorer and the Galaxy Alliance, the Voltron Vehicle Team can combine the 15 vehicles into an entirely different Voltron.
As the Vehicle Team story progresses, the Drules discover that their obsession with war is destroying their own home planet. While Drule leaders stubbornly and relentlessly escalate their campaign against the Galaxy Alliance, Commander Hazar eventually goes rogue and pursues peace with the Galaxy Alliance, in order to save his people from the imminent destruction of his home world. Unfortunately, the peace-seeking efforts of Hazar and the Voltron Force are repeatedly thwarted by ongoing battles between the Drule military and the Galaxy Alliance.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe consists of 125 episodes. 72 episodes feature the Voltron Lion Force, 52 episodes feature the Voltron Vehicle Team, and the final adventure, “Fleet of Doom,” features the Lion Force and Vehicle Team fighting side by side against the combined forces of King Zarkon and the Drule Empire.
Among television viewers, the Lion Force characters and robot proved to be much more popular than their Vehicle Team counterparts, to the point that the Vehicle Team has not yet been featured in any subsequently produced Voltron television program.
Although most fans of Voltron: Defender of the Universe didn’t know it at the time, Voltron was produced using animation from two unrelated anime programs. Voltron’s Vehicle Team episodes were based on Armored Fleet Dairugger XV, and the first 52 Lion Force episodes of Voltron were based on Beast King Golion. The remaining episodes were animated specifically for Voltron. The Golion and Dairugger programs included violent content that Voltron’s producers thought to be inappropriate for children’s animation, so the material had to be heavily edited for Voltron.
Perhaps the most notable plot difference between Voltron and the original anime programs is the fate of original Blue Lion pilot Sven. In Voltron, Sven survives his battle with Haggar and eventually falls in love. In Beast King Golion, Sven is called Takashi Shirogane, and he dies as the result of his wounds from his battle with the witch, called Honerva.
Some other differences between Voltron and the original anime are in names of planets. For example, in Voltron, Allura rules Planet Arus, and King Zarkon controls Planet Doom. In Beast King Golion, the princess, named Fala, rules Planet Altea, and the emperor, named Daibazaal, controls Planet Galra.
The final episode of Voltron: Defender of the Universe first aired in 1986, but in 1997, some of the episodes – the 20 Lion Force episodes not adapted from Beast King Golion – were re-packaged as an entirely different series called The New Adventures of Voltron. This series has a flashy, computer-animated opening that gave its viewers a glimpse at what the next Voltron television series would be like.
Voltron: The Third Dimension (1998-2000)
On Saturday, September 12, 1998, Voltron: The Third Dimension premiered. This series is a “quasi-sequel” to the original Voltron program. Many of the recurring characters from the Lion Force episodes of Voltron: Defender of the Universe are featured in this series, and four of the original show’s voice cast members reprise many of their key roles in this series. The story begins about five years after a pivotal battle between the Voltron Force and Prince Lotor. Lotor had been severely injured during that battle, and his scarred body had to be augmented with cybernetic components in order to survive. The Voltron Force had disbanded and moved on with their lives. Zarkon had reformed and become minister of peace of the Galaxy Alliance, Haggar had disappeared, and the Galaxy Alliance’s 900 member worlds had entrusted governing duties to a robot called Amalgamus.
Voltron: The Third Dimension looks much different than its predecessor. Instead of traditional cel-based animation, The Third Dimension incorporates 3D-based computer generated imagery, or CGI. The animation was cutting-edge for its time, but it looks dated today.
In the first episode, Lotor escapes from a high-security prison, reconnecting with Haggar and resuming his attacks against the Galaxy Alliance. The Voltron Force reunites in order to stop him. As the story progresses, the Voltron Force often finds its hands tied due to Amalgamus’ reluctance to use the Lions, thinking it will cause unrest within the Alliance. Princess Allura learns more about the origins of the Voltron Lions. Eventually the Voltron Force has to save the entire Galaxy Alliance from Lotor, Haggar… and an ally who turns out to be less than trustworthy.
Although Voltron: The Third Dimension seems to be the least popular Voltron program among fans, it is entertaining, and it deserves more consideration than it often receives.
The 26th and final episode of Voltron: The Third Dimension aired in February 2000. Eleven years later, Voltron was needed once more.
Voltron Force (2011-2012)
On Thursday, June 16, 2011, Voltron Force premiered. Like Voltron: The Third Dimension, but unrelated to that show, Voltron Force is another “quasi-sequel” to the original Voltron program. Many of the recurring characters from the Lion Force episodes of Voltron: Defender of the Universe are featured in this series, although they are performed by different voice actors. The story begins several years after a pivotal battle between the Voltron Force and Lotor, now King of Planet Doom. Lotor was killed during the battle, and Haggar had disappeared. During a victory celebration on Earth, the Voltron Lions, minus their pilots, had inexplicably attacked a city, forcing Sky Marshall Wade of the Galaxy Alliance to lock up the Lions. The Voltron Force then disbanded and moved on with their lives.
In the first, feature-length episode, Lotor is brought back to life by a mysterious occult scientist called Maahox. Now infused with a dark energy called Haggarium, Lotor poses an even greater threat to the Galaxy Alliance than before, forcing the Voltron Force to disobey Sky Marshall Wade and reactivate the Voltron Lions. The Voltron pilots also take on three cadets: the impulsive Daniel, who dreams of piloting Black Lion and leading the Voltron Force; Vince, an intellectual but reluctant hero; and Princess Larmina, niece of Allura, who is highly skilled in hand-to-hand combat. Each Voltron Force pilot and cadet has a Voltcom – a gauntlet that can generate weapons catered to its wearer, as well as unlock long-hidden capabilities of Voltron, such as the ability of any of the five Lions to form Voltron’s torso and head, giving Voltron powers that are specific to the center Lion.
As the Voltron Force story progresses, Lotor and Maahox escalate their attacks, Sky Marshall Wade is revealed to be obsessed with power, Maahox is found to have his own evil motives, and the three Voltron Force cadets learn what it takes to be Voltron pilots.
The final episode of Voltron Force aired in April 2012. The series ended with a cliffhanger that has not been fully resolved, although a brief continuation of the plot is depicted in comic book form as the epilogue of a book called Voltron: From Days of Long Ago: A Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration. Let’s Voltron podcast host Marc Morrell was a co-author of this book. Check it out!
(Depending on one’s perspective, Voltron Force‘s episode count is either 26 or 24. As released on DVD in Region 4, Voltron Force consists of 26 half-hour episodes; however, when the series first aired on NickToons, the first three episodes were presented as a single, feature-length episode. The series is usually described as having 26 episodes.)
With twelve years between the end of Voltron: Defender of the Universe and the start of Voltron: The Third Dimension, and eleven years between the end of Voltron: The Third Dimension and the start of Voltron Force, one might have surmised that another Voltron television series wouldn’t debut until the mid-2020s. Fortunately, this time, Voltron was needed much sooner.
Voltron: Legendary Defender (2016-Present)
On Friday, June 10, 2016, Voltron: Legendary Defender premiered, with the entire eleven-episode first season being made available exclusively on Netflix. This series is an overt reboot of the Lion Force Voltron concept from Voltron: Defender of the Universe. The series’ showrunners have strived to make this new series as fun and entertaining as what long-time fans remember having watched over 30 years before. The characters were redesigned, but they were made to look similar enough to the original designs that they’d pass a “squint test.”
At a glance, the story begins much as Voltron: Defender of the Universe does: a team of five, brave space explorers find themselves becoming pilots of five distinctly colored robot lions. Some of the Lion/pilot assignments different in this series: although as before, Pidge flies the Green Lion, and Hunk pilots the Yellow Lion, Keith now controls the Red Lion, and Lance operates the Blue Lion. The Black Lion is now piloted by Shiro, the team leader, who is named after Takashi Shirogane from Beast King Golion – called Sven in Voltron: Defender of the Universe. As in previous Voltron programs, the Lion pilots – called Paladins in this series – can combine the Lions to form Voltron. The paladins are assisted by Princess Allura and her advisor, Coran. Their opponents are Emperor Zarkon, witch Haggar, and the Galra Empire.
Beyond the obvious similarities between Voltron: Legendary Defender and Voltron: Defender of the Universe, the two series are quite different. Most of the characters in the new series have compelling back stories and/or specific motivations that add depth and interest. One year before the events of the first episode, Shiro, and Pidge’s father and brother, had been exploring a moon of Pluto when they were abducted by the Galra. In the first episode, Shiro mysteriously returns to Earth with no memory of how he escaped the Galra – but Pidge’s family remains missing. When the future Voltron paladins discover Princess Allura and Coran, the pair had been in suspended animation for 10,000 years, during which time Zarkon had destroyed Altea and expanded his empire. Keith and Lance have a standing rivalry, and Pidge has a secret identity of sorts. Zarkon seeks not to destroy Voltron, but instead to capture it.
Voltron: Legendary Defender is a return to the original Voltron concept, with modern storytelling sensibilities, rich characterizations, high action, and top-notch writing and production values.
As of this writing, in April 2017, two seasons of Voltron: Legendary Defender have been released on Netflix, and a third season was officially announced at WonderCon 2017.
How to Watch
Here’s how can you watch Voltron.
Voltron: Defender of the Universe
Select episodes can be watched on the official Voltron YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/WEP).
All episodes are viewable on Amazon Video and iTunes.
In March 2017, twelve episodes were released on Netflix as part of a “series” called Voltron 84. Each episode is introduced by a cast or crew member from Voltron: Legendary Defender.
Voltron: The Third Dimension
Select episodes can be watched on the official Voltron YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/WEP).
All episodes are viewable on Amazon Video and iTunes.
Select episodes can be watched on the official Voltron YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/WEP).
Voltron Force is occasionally available on Netflix, although it’s not available as of this writing.
All episodes were also released on now out-of-print DVDs.
Voltron: Legendary Defender
All episodes of Voltron: Legendary Defender are available exclusively on Netflix.
Beast King Golion
Select episodes can be watched on the official Voltron YouTube channel (youtube.com/user/WEP).
Armored Fleet Dairugger XV
As of this writing, the only way to watch Armored Fleet Dairugger XV is through now out-of-print DVDs.
In the second episode of Voltron: Legendary Defender, “Some Assembly Required,” the paladins of Voltron struggle to figure out how to combine the Lions and form Voltron. At one point, Keith suggests, “I mean, let’s try literally building Voltron, like, stacking on top of each other.”
That episode was released on Netflix in June 2016. Two months prior, Lendy Tayag was already way ahead of Keith and the other paladins, because he had assembled his own Voltron… from LEGO!
On April 11, 2016, Lendy’s model, called “Voltron – Defender of the Universe,” was posted to the website of LEGO Ideas. LEGO Ideas allows anyone to submit an original LEGO creation, and if within a certain period of time, that creation gains 10,000 supporters — that is, people who register with the site, vote for the project, and answer a short questionnaire about the project — than a LEGO review board will consider making an actual LEGO building set from that creation. Exciting, huh?
Later in April, Lendy’s Voltron model caught the attention of Gizmodo and then Nerdist. Even better, in just 22 short days, Lendy Tayag’s Voltron model reached the 10,000 supporters that it needed for LEGO to consider producing that model as a licensed building set!
To celebrate this achievement, and to introduce Lendy to fellow Voltron fans, Marc Morrell and I welcomed Lendy as a guest on Let’s Voltron: The Official Voltron Podcast. Marc and I enjoyed chatting with Lendy, learning more about him as a person, how he became interested in Voltron and other giant robots, when and how he began designing them in LEGO, and what the experience was like of submitting his Voltron model to LEGO Ideas, seeing it gain so much support so quickly, and ultimately seeing it reach 10,000 supporters in such a short time.
Lendy Tayag’s Voltron – Defender of the Universe project is still under consideration. An update will be given during the announcement of the Third 2016 Review Results.
Would we all like to have heard that LEGO had decided to produce a Voltron building set? Absolutely! On the other hand, working with a licensed property — especially one that is new to LEGO — is not always a simple, straightforward activity, so the fact that LEGO announced that it is still reviewing Lendy’s Voltron model shows that they are very much interested in the possibility of producing a Voltron set. Congratulations again to Lendy Tayag for this astounding achievement!
Lendy has since submitted more Voltron-themed projects to LEGO Ideas. None of these has yet achieved 10,000 supporters, but perhaps they will. And even if they don’t, if LEGO ultimately obtains a license to produce Voltron models, then perhaps LEGO will still consider these other Voltron projects.
Lendy’s models are incredibly cool. As an enthusiast of all incarnations of Voltron, I like all of his Voltron robot designs. As a supporter of the underdog that is Vehicle Team Voltron, I give special kudos to Lendy for representing that robot in LEGO form. Lendy’s Vehicle Team Voltron robot even separates into all 15 vehicles!
Lendy’s Castle of Lions model, with a full interior, is effectively a play environment that rivals the amazing Panosh Place Voltron Castle of Lions playset from 1985. It certainly rivals any LEGO Star Wars play environment.
Lendy has also submitted some non-Voltron giant robots as LEGO Ideas: Voltes V and Grendizer.
Congratulations again, Lendy! Voltron fans across the universe salute your enthusiasm and your LEGO model designing and building skills.
In the pre-Internet era, fan clubs were fun ways for kids to feel more connected to their favorite TV programs, radio programs, and even toy lines.
Little Orphan Annie, a children’s radio program that aired between 1931 and 1942, had a fan club known as the Little Orphan Annie Secret Society.
Star Wars, which premiered in movie theaters in 1977, was accompanied by The Official Star Wars Fan Club.
G.I. Joe, which premiered on television in 1983, had a fan club that became known as the G.I. Joe Fan Club.
When Voltron: Defender of the Universe was originally in syndication, from 1984 to 1986, its viewers could join an official Voltron fan club called Voltron TeamForce.
Yes, TeamForce. The term is sort of like “possegang” or “Sahara Desert.” In defense of the club’s name, “TeamForce” is probably an awkward portmanteau of “Team” from “Vehicle Team” and “Force” from “Lion Force.” Whatever the case, who cares? The Voltron TeamForce was a club for fans of Voltron!
In the interest of full disclosure, as a kid I was never a member of the Voltron TeamForce — or any other fan club. It cost money to join fan clubs, and I chose to spend my allowance money on toys. Still, as a kid I was fascinated by fan clubs, and I remember reading ads for them and wishing I were a member.
When the 2011 debut of Voltron Force re-ignited my enthusiasm for Voltron, I began to collect all sorts of Voltron memorabilia — including two Voltron TeamForce membership kits. Let’s take a look at these kits and see what a member of the Voltron TeamForce received in the mail.
Each Voltron TeamForce membership kit arrived in a large, colorful envelope.
I’ve blurred the text of the first envelope’s mailing label. The second envelope’s mailing label is long gone.
Here are the contents of both envelopes. The first envelope contained everything shown in this photo except for the large, bagged, gray sheet in the lower center of the photo.
I purchased both envelopes in a single lot. Collectively the two envelopes appear to contain one complete membership kit, plus most of a second membership kit, although most of the contents had been stored inside just one of the envelopes. I suspect the kits’ original owners were siblings.
Here is the welcome letter. It was shipped folded in half. The front panel reads “WELCOME VOLTRON TEAMFORCE MEMBERS,” and the illustration includes the five Lions, a spacey background, and a stylized “V.”
The back panel features the 1980s Voltron: Defender of the Universe logo, plus a copyright notice.
Here is the unfolded welcome letter. Most welcome letters would be printed on simple, rectangular sheets of paper, but simple rectangles aren’t good enough for the Voltron TeamForce!
The welcome letter reads:
We send you greetings from Galaxy Garrison, headquarters for all of us in the Galaxy Alliance! We are so glad that you have joined us. Being a TeamForce member is a very important job. We all have a TeamForce Mission. Your mission is to keep your home, family, friends and neighborhood happy and safe. This kit will tell you many secrets on how you can become a good defender of your universe. And…there are fun things to do, too!
Because you are now a member of the Voltron TeamForce, we will send you a very special letter just for TeamForce members. It’s called TeamForce Tales. It iwll tell you about the exciting things we and kids like you are doing to defend the universe. Maybe we’ll even write about you! Just let Voltron know how you are working to help him with the TeamForce mission at home. Write to:
Now that you are a member of the Voltron TeamForce, be sure to join our adventures every day on your local TV station. We’ll be looking for all of our members!
LET’S GO VOLTRON TEAMFORCE!
WELCOME VOLTRON TEAMFORCE MEMBERS
Here is the most essential item in any fan club membership kit: the ID card! Here is the front of the card:
The card front reads:
Voltron: Defender of the Universe
I, COMMANDER KEITH,
DO HEREBY DECLARE
AS A MEMBER OF
THE VOLTRON TEAMFORCE
Presumably the name was left blank so that kids could invent a cool code name for themselves, like… uh… Pidge.
Here is the back of the card. Who doesn’t love this? It’s a full-color illustration of a Lion key! I wonder which Lion this key activates. The keys looked identical on TV, and yet each pilot seemed to know which Lion a given key would activate. Oh well.
The card back reads:
OFFICIAL MEMBER OF THE VOLTRON TEAMFORCE
The membership kit also contained this single-sided flyer, which announced the forthcoming new batch of Voltron: Defender of the Universe episodes that would feature the Lion Force.
The flyer reads:
Brand new Lion Force Voltron episodes are coming to your local TV station this fall…lots of new, exciting adventures that will begin the week of October 20.
* Don’t miss the return of Sven!…
* Haggar’s new Robeast…
* The magic of King Alfor…
* And Lotor’s revenge!
Watch us battle 4 Robeasts that assemble to form an evil Super-Robeast!
Meet Lotor’s new evil assistant Cossack! And from the darkest regions of the Doom Empire, Lotor’s cousin Merla!
This September watch your local TV station for details on how you could win big Voltron prizes.
Commander Keith and Princess Allura and Pidge are coming to meet you at toy stores in your city this fall. Stay tuned for all the details.
The text in the flyer dates the Voltron TeamForce membership kit to sometime in early to mid-1985. By this point, all 52 Lion Force episodes of Voltron: Defender of the Universe that had been adapted from Beast King Golion would have aired, as well as all 52 Vehicle Team episodes, which were adapted from Armored Fleet Dairugger XV. (At that time, we kids knew nothing about Golion or Dairugger.)
The final 21 episodes of Voltron: Defender of the Universe would begin to air on October 21, 1985. Twenty episodes featured only Lion Force Voltron, and the final, double-length episode, “Fleet of Doom,” would feature both Lion Force Voltron and Vehicle Team Voltron. The twenty, Lion Force-only episodes featured everything described on the flyer — everything, that is, except the “4 Robeasts that assemble to form an evil Super-Robeast.” These Robeasts were featured in “Fleet of Doom.”
It’s interesting that Vehicle Team Voltron is featured on the flyer, when it’s clear that the flyer is reasssuring kids that Lion Force Voltron will return in the fall. By this point World Events Productions almost certainly knew that Lion Force Voltron was more popular than Vehicle Team Voltron, because this is the only reference to Vehicle Team Voltron in the entire membership kit.
This flyer was also printed in many Voltron coloring and activity books of the time. The coloring and activity books were published by Modern Publishing, a division of Unisystems, Inc., so it’s likely that Modern Publishing also published the Voltron TeamForce kits. (Modern also published the three-issue comic book mini-series.)
The kit also included a fold-out poster of Lion Force Voltron. The art on the poster is really cool!
Another item in the kit is this… thing. It was packed flat in a plain, white envelope.
In any case, the… thing is best described by what’s printed on the top face:
Voltron: Defender of the Universe
Rules for Good Defenders
Here’s the bottom face.
The bottom face reads:
Let Voltron know you are a good Defender. Write to:
The… thing pops up into a twelve-sided, three-dimensional shape. I don’t know what a shape of this kind might be called. Because it contains rules for Good Defenders, I’ll call it a gooddefenderhedron.
Let’s examine each of the gooddefenderhedron’s six illustrations and associated captions.
The first of the six images features Keith presenting flowers to Princess Allura. The caption reads: “A Good Defender Shares With Family And Friends”
Keith and Allura, with a caption about family and friends. Were Keith and Allura married in this photo? Were they just friends? Let the fan fiction commence!
The second of the six images features Pidge sitting near a recently planted tree. The caption reads: “A Good Defender Loves His/Her Planet”
It makes sense that the pilot of Green Lion would have a green thumb. As an aside, I love that this caption is inclusive of boys and girls. Then again, the writers of the caption might just be confused about Pidge’s gender.
The third of the images features Hunk helping a girl across the street at an intersection. The caption reads: “A Good Defender Looks After Others”
Where are Hunk and the girl? On Arus? Outside the Castle of Lions and the Lion Dens, is there even electricity to power traffic lights? In the TV series, much of Arus is shown to resemble ancient Greece.
The fourth image shows Pidge putting a garbage bag into a trash can outside of what appears to be a house. The caption reads: “A Good Defender Helps Around the House”
In all of these images, Pidge is missing his headband. In this image he’s breaking a sweat from carrying the garbage bag. What’s in that bag? Lead? Robot Lion litter box… stuff? Maybe it’s better that we don’t know.
The fifth image shows a girl — or a boy with a mullet — holding a flower while standing in front of Coran, who is sitting in a chair. The caption reads: “A Good Defender Makes People Smile”
What would make Coran smile? The flower? The mullet? The chair? Or simply having a few seconds away from Nanny?
The sixth image shows Pidge once again, this time throwing a paper cup into a waste basket. The caption reads: “A Good Defender Keeps Neighborhoods Clean”
I’m just glad that throwing a paper cup doesn’t make Pidge sweat.
I’ve been picking on Pidge an awful lot, but in all honesty, I’ve always liked him. Having said that, in his honor I’d like to propose a seventh image for the gooddefenderhedron — a picture of Pidge with a guilty look on his face. The caption would be: “A Good Defender Avoids Inhaling Helium”
The final item in the Voltron TeamForce membership kit is a game and a glossary! These elements are printed on a single, glossy sheet of paper with perforations around each piece.
The game consists of a game card, 25 tokens, and instructions. The game card resembles a 5×5 Bingo card.
The text in the game card reads:
Red Lion | Bendor | Lotor | Castle Doom | Yellow Lion
Zarkon | Lance | Castle of Lions | Sven | Coran
Allura | Blue Lion | Voltron | Keith | Black Lion
Alfor | Mice | Green Lion | Haggar | Romelle
Nanny | Yurak | Pidge | Blue Cat | Hunk
Each token is a circle that contains a small illustration of one of the items described on the game card.
Here are the instructions:
1. Punch out all of the circles on this card to use as your game tokens.
2. As you watch an episode of Voltron, Defender of the Universe, listen for the words shown on your game card.
3. When you hear one of the words shown on the game card, place a game token over it.
4. You win when you have five game tokens placed in a straight line across the game board, straight up and down on the game card, or diagonally on the game card.
5. If you like, you can match the pictures on your game tokens to the words shown on the game cards, too!
So the game is basically Bingo — or a drinking game, minus the drinks.
Finally, let’s look at the Glossary. As a Voltron encyclopedist (Let’s do lunch, anyone in charge of Voltron licensing!), I like this sort of thing.
Let’s learn all that there is to learn from this glossary!
Alfor: The ghost of the good king and former ruler of Planet Arus.
Allura: The daughter of Alfor and pilot of the Blue Lion.
Bandor: Cousin to Allura and brother to Princess Romelle.
Black Lion: Piloted by Commander Keith and forms the head of Voltron.
Blue Cat: Haggar’s evil pet.
Blue Lion: Piloted by Allura. Forms Voltron’s right leg.
Castle Doom: The Black castle where the evil Zarkon lives.
Castle of Lions: Home of King Alfor and Princess Allura on Planet Arus.
Coran: The good counselor to King Alfor and protector of Princess Allura.
Green Lion: Piloted by Pidge and forms Voltron’s left arm.
Haggar: The witch who helps the evil Zarkon make robeasts.
Hunk: One of the Voltron Force and pilot of the Yellow Lion.
Keith: Commander of the Voltron Force and pilot of the Black Lion.
Lance: Member of the Voltron Force and pilot of the Red Lion.
Lotor: The evil Prince.
Mice: Allura’s furry friends.
Nanny: Allura’s nursemaid.
Pidge: Member of the Voltron Force and pilot of the Green Lion.
Red Lion: Piloted by Lance and forms Voltron’s right arm.
Romelle: Cousin of Princess Allura.
Sven: An original member of the Voltron Force before the defeat of Planet Arus.
Voltron: A might robot who defends the universe against the forces of evil.
Yellow Lion: The evil general on Planet Doom.
Zarkon: The evil monarch of the fearful Planet Doom.
I couldn’t help but notice some inaccuracies in the glossary. Maybe I should write to Voltron in Clinton, Iowa, and let him know. Maybe my corrections will be published in TeamForce Tales. I bet they would be if I took my letter to the post office in a garbage bag, while I broke a sweat and was dressed like Pidge.
On a serious note, this membership kit looks like a lot of fun. I imagine that, as a kid, I would have been thrilled to have received something like this as a gift. I don’t know what it cost to join Voltron TeamForce, but the full-color poster alone is really nice, the ID card is a must-have, and the rest of the goodies are fun, too!
In 1984 Voltron: Defender of the Universe became a favorite TV program of countless children of that time. These days, between the Internet, Google, online discussion forums, and social networking, it’s often easy to forget that it was a bit challenging to be a Voltron fan in the mid-1980s’ days of long ago. But it’s not because kids didn’t have what we today call modern technology. It’s because, in many ways, Voltron was confusing.
Why? Hop into my imaginary time machine, and I’ll take you back in time to my childhood. Our destination: Monday, September 10, 1984.
I’m a third-grader. Another day of school has come to an end, and I’m riding Bus 23 home. The bus is noisy, and the barely padded, seemingly ancient vinyl seats are uncomfortable. Although the ride seems eternal, the bus eventually stops in front of my house.
I step off of the bus and then race into the house. I run through the front door, I run into the living room, where the only color TV in the house is, I walk up to the TV, and I pull the power/volume knob until it clicks loudly. I turn the VHF dial, from detente to plodding detente, to U, and then I turn the less resistant UHF dial through ten or twenty clicks until it reaches 45 — the UHF station that airs all of my favorite afternoon cartoons. Finally I plop myself onto the garish sofa across the room.
What comes on, for the very first time, blows my mind. It’s Voltron: Defender of the Universe.
From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend — the legend of Voltron: Defender of the Universe, a mighty robot, loved by good, feared by evil. As Voltron’s legend grew…
A voice that I would soon associate with Optimus Prime narrates the intro to a show about a giant robot with mechanical lion heads for feet, hands, and helmet. The robot has twin red wings, and it wields the strangest-looking, non-glowing sword that I remember ever seeing. The robot’s limbs are asymmetrically colored, the robot is operated by heroic human beings, and the villains are scary-looking aliens, including a cackling witch with yellow, pupil-less eyes and charcoal skin. To top it all off, the show has the best opening theme music that I’ve ever heard.
The show is amazing — amazing enough that I overlook that the opening narration seems to treat universe, galaxy, and solar system as synonyms.
Over the course of that school week, each journey home is rewarded by the unfolding, epic tale of five brave, strangely dressed space explorers — Keith, Lance, Pidge, Sven, and Hunk — who in Monday’s episode are captured by minions of King Zarkon of Planet Doom. The space explorers escape, only to be shot down over Arus, a planet devastated by war against Zarkon.
In Tuesday’s episode, Keith and his team enter a mysterious castle, and once inside they meet Princess Allura and royal advisor Coran. The team learns that the legendary super robot Voltron still exists, albeit in five, independently operable components that resemble lions — lions that could still be activated and reassembled into the mighty robot.
In Wednesday’s episode, Coran reveals that the lions can’t be activated without special keys that were entombed with Princess Allura’s deceased father. The space explorers enter the king’s tomb, where the ghost of the king appears and tells them to take the lion keys from his coffin. They open the coffin, but find only four of the five keys. The team activates four of the lions and engages Zarkon’s attacking forces — but then an enormous coffin falls from the sky, smashes into the ground, and opens to reveal an enormous monster — a Robeast — that quickly incapacitates the lions and knocks our heroes unconscious.
In Thursday’s episode, the space explorers return to the castle, find the key to the fifth lion, combine the five lions into Voltron, and destroy the monster that had so easily defeated the four lions in the previous attack.
In Friday’s episode, Zarkon sends another attack fleet, and another Robeast, to Planet Arus. Zarkon’s ships destroy the castle, but a new, high-tech, heavily armed fortress emerges from the ruins of the old castle. Voltron and the new castle defeat Zarkon’s forces and win the day.
What a week! I almost look forward to going back to school on Monday, so that I can see what happens next with my favorite new heroes.
Week 2 Begins
It’s Monday. I’d had fun on the playground, and maybe even in class, but my mind is on what will reappear on my rabbit-eared TV after school: more Voltron! When I finally get home and the show comes on, Zarkon’s witch Haggar severely injures Voltron Force pilot Sven, forcing the team to take him (off-screen) to another planet in order to heal. In Tuesday’s episode, Princess Allura replaces Sven as the pilot of the blue lion. Allura brings new hope to the team — and to me. I can’t wait to find out what will happen tomorrow.
A Weird Wednesday
On Wednesday, after school, after I park my posterior once more in front of that tinny-speakered, faux wood-decoed box that magically projects slightly snowy, animated awesomeness, Voltron comes on. Or does it? What I begin to hear seems right, for the most part — the same music and Optimus Prime-voiced narration, albeit in a more subdued voice — but what I see is something altogether different.
Gone is the lion-handed, lion-footed, lion-helmeted super robot. Gone are the robot’s pilots and their friends, gone are the villains, and gone is the castle.
Instead there’s a completely different robot, with a pointy head, a red jet stuck on its chest, and mismatched car feet that give the robot the appearance of wearing roller skates. And this robot is called… Voltron.
Nowhere in this episode do I see or hear of the lion-based robot that I had grown to know and love over the course of the last week and half. This robot also has pilots — 15 of them, and this episode starts with all 15 sitting around, bored out of their minds, in a lounge on a spaceship.
The ship’s captain orders the 15 pilots to board a bunch of crazy-looking vehicles. Just before the pilots launch, the captain orders them to abort their mission. They return to the ship’s lounge, bored yet again, until they’re once again ordered to launch, for real this time. The pilots begin to explore a planet, but a fleet of non-Zarkon-like villains attacks. The lead pilot almost brushes off the invaders, as enemies that the pilots have battled and defeated many times before. Still, once the attackers dispatch a Robeast, the 15 pilots combine their 15 vehicles into the pointy-headed Voltron — a robot that can fight for only five minutes before it runs out of power. During its last minute of power, Voltron destroys the Robeast.
By the time this episode ends, I have no idea what I’ll see tomorrow. Will this 15-piece robot and its 15 hopefully-not-always-bored pilots be back, or will Keith, Lance, Pidge, Princess Allura, and Hunk return with the lion-based Voltron that had previously caught my attention and made me want to run to the local Kmart or Harts or Murphy’s Mart or G.C. Murphy & Co., and try to find toys?
The pointy-headed, jet-chested, roller skate-equipped Voltron would hang around for another week or so, and pop in again a time or two after that, but otherwise the robot lions and their pilots, friends, and foes would be back to stay…
…until November. Then demolition derby aftermath Voltron would return, and he would stay on TV for a loooooooong time. During the rerun period that wouldn’t end until the next fall, episodes with both Voltrons would air. In fall of 1985, new episodes featuring only the lion-based Voltron would appear on the magic box in my family’s living room.
Throughout all of this, at almost no point would a story featuring one Voltron acknowledge the existence of the other Voltron. The shows would have the same visual feel, the same sound effects, the same music, the same name for the giant robot, and seemingly also the same voices, but the setting, the heroes, the villains, and the Voltron robot would differ, making the TV series as a whole seem to have multiple personalities.
But I love it all the same.
Late in 1984, during a trip to the local Murphy’s Mart, I finally find them: Voltron toys! Unfortunately, like the TV show, the toys are also confusing.
The toys are made by Matchbox, the company that makes small toy cars. The Voltron toys look great in the photos on the boxes. The lions’ legs are shiny chrome, and the toys have metal parts.
But why do the lions come in boxes labeled Voltron III: Defender of the Universe? In the cartoon, the lion-based robot is just called Voltron. The vehicle-based robot is also just called Voltron, but its toy boxes are labeled Voltron I: Defender of the Universe. I eventually rationalize that it makes sense to try to give each of the three robots some kind of distinct name.
Three? Who said anything about three?
In addition to six larger-boxed toy sets associated with Voltron III and Voltron I, there are five separately sold, six-inch tall robots:
Miniature Voltron III – The lion-based Voltron, but one that doesn’t seem to be able to separate into the five lions
Miniature Voltron I – The vehicle-based Voltron, but again, one that might not be able to separate
A red-colored Voltron II “miniature gladiator space robot” that I’ve never seen on TV, despite the fact that the box states that this robot is “FROM THE TV SERIES”
A black-colored Voltron II “miniature gladiator space robot” that, again, I’ve never seen in the cartoon
A blue-colored Voltron II “miniature gladiator space robot” that… you know the routine
What is Voltron II all about, and why are there three robots called Voltron II? The toy boxes are my only sources of information.
A flap sticking out of the sides of the mini-robots’ boxes describes each robot:
FROM THE TV SERIES
The VOLTRON Trilogy…Interstellar heroes…from the far reaches of space…three super robots who protect a group of daring young space pioneers.
Voltron I — the magnificent mechanical warrior who is guardian of the near universe.
Voltron II — the intrepid protector of justice in the middle universe.
Voltron III — the spectacular super robot who battles the forces of evil in the far universe.
The cartoon is a trilogy? Since when? What is the near universe near to — the local Speedway gas station? What is the far universe far from? What’s the middle universe? Didn’t the Charlie Brown ‘Cyclopedia state that the universe is… everything? How do you divide everything by three?
Most importantly, what the heck is going on in that Voltron II image, and… why haven’t I seen Voltron II on the TV show?!!
A large toy photograph on the back of the miniature robots’ boxes does little to explain the situation. It features:
Voltron I Deluxe Warrior Set
Voltron II Deluxe Gladiator Set — a six-armed monstrosity that looks like it’s an awkward combination of the small red, black, and blue mini-robots
Voltron III Deluxe Lion Set
Miniature Voltron I
Miniature Voltron II — Again, three of them, distinctly colored
Miniature Voltron III
As a kid I would never own any of the miniature robots, so I didn’t have much opportunity to study that photograph and try to figure it all out, or to read and commit to memory the illustrated descriptions of Voltron I, Voltron II, and Voltron III.
What I would own — eventually — were the lions that could be assembled into the Voltron III robot. I would love these toys lions a lot, even though Red and Green Lions look kind of like short-snouted Dachshunds, and Black Lion is built more like a black bear. I would reeeeeally love Yellow and Blue Lions, and I would love what the five lions combine into, even though I wouldn’t be able to do much with the robot but put it together, shoot its fists, take it apart, chip the paint, and wear off much of the silvery chrome.
The backs of the three Voltron III boxes, and the backs of same-sized boxes of the strangely named Voltron I Air Warrior, Land Warrior, and Space Warrior toys, all feature the same photo. I would stare at this photo for hours. The photo shows:
Miniature Voltron I
Miniature Voltron II (Black), Miniature Voltron II (Red), Miniature Voltron II (Blue) – At least in this photo the robots are given unique descriptions
Red and Blue Mighty Lion Robots Set Voltron III
Giant Black Lion Robot Voltron III
Yellow and Green Mighty Lion Robots Set Voltron III
Land Warrior Voltron I
Air Warrior Voltron I
Space Warrior Voltron I
It’s neat to see the three Voltron I warriors in this photo, although I’m far from certain that a large, weird-looking vehicle made up of five smaller weird-looking vehicles constitutes a warrior, and I still didn’t know what’s up with Voltron II. Why hadn’t I seen the Voltron II robots on TV yet?
Matchbox also sells all five lions in a single Voltron III Deluxe Lion Set, all three five-vehicle “warrriors” in a single Voltron I Deluxe Warrior Set, and all three “miniature” Voltron II gladiator robots in a single Voltron II Deluxe Gladiator Set. As a child, I would never own any of these sets, and I would very rarely have the opportunity even to glimpse at their boxes. The local Harts store would be the only store in town that would sell them, and these toy sets would be so expensive — $70 or so — that they would be stored under lock and key in the sporting goods section — with the handguns!
My confusion over the toys doesn’t stop here. About a year after the Matchbox toys appeared in stores, their packaging changes. No longer is the lion-based robot called Voltron III — now it’s “Lion Force Voltron.” The vehicle-based robot is no longer Voltron I — now it’s “Vehicle Team Voltron.” The gladiator-based Voltron II is no longer… anywhere in stores, except on the backs of the toy boxes, where it’s still called Voltron II. The Voltron logos on the toy boxes have also changed from all-yellow characters to characters with a rainbow-gradient fill. The change in logos is jarring, as the toys’ logo now bears even less resemblance to the TV show’s logo than it did before.
At about this time, Voltron toys from other companies begin to appear on store shelves. Fortunately these toys followed Matchbox’s lead in using the “Lion Force” and “Vehicle Team” descriptors. Voltron II isn’t part of any of the new toy releases.
Curiously the other toy companies seem to be making more merchandise for Lion Force Voltron than for Vehicle Team Voltron. One company in particular, Panosh Place, offers an impressive set of Voltron action figures, combining lions, enemy vehicles, and even a playset of the heroes’ castle — all mysteriously based on only the Lion Force episodes of the TV show, and the robot is simply called Voltron, not Lion Force Voltron or Voltron III.
Over the course of about a year, the Voltron toys have shifted from being an all-inclusive assortment based on three robots — one of which might not even be in the cartoon — to a larger assortment that spans only the two robots that I remember seeing on the show, with one of the robots getting more of the new toys than the other. Meanwhile, any given episode of the awesome TV series continues to highlight just one of the two robots, ignoring the other robot, and calling the robot of that episode Voltron, as if it’s the only robot named Voltron.
It’s confusing, but it’s cool. And I love it all the same.
Back to the Present
As I look back on my childhood in the mid-1980s, considering the schizophrenic television program and the incoherently and inconsistently named toys, it was sort of a mind bender to be a Voltron fan at that time. Eventually most of my childhood questions about the Voltron TV show and toys would be answered, but those answers would be years or even decades in coming.
Still, as it stands now, over 30 years after the broadcast television and retail store premieres of Voltron: Defender of the Universe, I love it all the same… and more.