Voltron: Defender of Nostalgia

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Voltron is bound to spark nostalgia in many but for some around the world it’s a little different.

Get ready to form Voltron

Like its robotic counterpart Transformers, Voltron is making a huge return hitting comics, TV and games with a blazing sword of vengeance. However, was it ever popular in the UK? This is a question I asked my UK self after I received a Voltron box set from my old university flat mate after she found she couldn’t trade it in for any money.

After watching it I thought it was her loss. As I entered the world of super robots and spaceships, it’s easy to see how Voltron was the foundation of great Saturday morning cartoons. The fight scenes were everything Transformers wouldn’t be and what the Power Rangers tried to be. Voltron’s design was a gentle reminder of the first Power Ranger megazord who captured my attention so many years ago. But when I asked around, many couldn’t tell me who/what Voltron was and a few described him as “obscure.”

Voltron in the United Kingdom

So when a university project came up involving a radio feature, I thought it would give me a great excuse to investigate why this show is about as well known in the UK as any other un-translated, late-70’s anime. I went to the source, that being Jeremy Corray of World Event Productions (the production company involved in the shows translation). He explained why Voltron wasn’t your standard origin story to how a cartoon came on air.

“We were looking for Japanese programming that was localized in the American market and basically the show was one big tape mix up. We rang up Toei, a Japanese production company, and asked for the one with ‘the lion’ and were mistakenly sent a copy of Beast King Go Lion. My bosses watched and loved it, and became entranced in the world of fantasy and machinery it had.”

Jeremy also explained the plot to us in a nutshell.

“Five space explorers are sent to the Planet Arus to bring back a mythological defence and on the way are captured by the planet Doom led by the evil King Zarkon. So the explorers Keith, Lance, Hunk, Pidge and Sven unlock the power of 5 mystic robotic lions through magical keys which all together formed Voltron, a giant super robot.”

Though the team found the show easy to understand in another language there was a lot of content which was not suitable for a children’s cartoon series.

“You had to see what they had to go up against,” said Jeremy. “From violent beheadings and blood spurts, and the death of a main character. In the Japanese version, Shirogane (Sven) dies and in the that version you see a full on death scene whilst in [the edited]Voltron he went to the hospital and was never heard of again.”

Though Sven did return in the Beast King Go-Lion version, Shiroganes’ twin brother takes over piloting duties. In Voltron it was edited as if Sven had returned from hospital.

Even though Voltron was popular in the US, it’s considered obscure in the UK. Jerome Mazandarani, Head of Marketing & Acquisitions at Manga Entertainment, tells us the popularity was limited because of censorship.

“The UK has always been quite close marketed until now since the BBC was commissioning a lot of content and the UK has been xenophobic when it comes to picking up TV shows from other territories as there is a misconception they’re too violent and unsuitable, though it doesn’t stop something like Ben 10 from being hugely successful and that’s just about as violent as Voltron.”

So censorship seems to have stifled the shows popularity. Though it was clear to the adult eye some of the dark things had been cut out, your average child may have just glazed over it, like how the Yellow Mighty Morphing Power Ranger looked male then female.

Voltron joins a long list of 80s shows that stay unappreciated as they struggle for attention against staples such as Tranformers (despite beating it air a week before them) and G.I. Joe. While Voltron is tough to get a hold of in the UK, I’d encourage giving it a try and at least examine how far translation has come from the original anime.

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