6 Reasons I Love Me Some Voltron
Written by ‘Surly’ Jacob Murray
Growing up in the 80s and early 90s did some horrible things to children. Adults made us think mullets were cool. Just as we figured out how to use the tape on the answering machine everything went digital and we spent all of our money on cassettes and CDs, like losers. But we did get one thing right; we experienced the greatest epoch of cartoons the world will ever know.
We had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man and Masters of the Universe, Transformers, Dino Riders, the Smurfs, A Pup Named Scooby Doo, Rainbow Brite, Duck Tales, Flight of the Dragons, the best Disney movies, I can go on and on and on but I’ll stop with Voltron, Defender of the Universe! Oh and Inspector Gadget. Garfield. Looney Tunes. Whoops. Back to Voltron.
Although the original Voltron aired in 1984 while I was still gestating, I watched my VHS tapes of the show until the magnetic stripes were as loose as my masculinity after admitting to loving Rainbow Brite. Voltron came to us from Japan, where it was known as Beast King GoLion. Few things from the Far East are adapted as faithfully for the Western World. And a good thing too, I’ll take a super robot over respect for education and one’s elders any day.
However, while Voltron was once a household name, it has fizzled somewhat into the background of mainstream media. Besides a handful of toys and a short lived animated reboot, Voltron mostly remains a thing from the past. Well, I simply won’t stand for it. So here are a few reasons Voltron deserves to occupy a better place than your memory, which we all know you’ve long since drank away.
1. He is the Beast King
In the days before you could pay $55,000 to safely shoot a lion on safari, securing your place in the book of life as a coffee stain, lions were feared and respected. When I was young, nothing evoked a greater sense of raw power than a lion; they were the definition of the word formidable. Alternatively, outside the natural world, giant robots represent the totality of strength humans collectively possess, though individually lack. They are our greatest scientific imagination, and though we seem to be getting closer to making a giant piloted robot a reality, they maintain a wondrous sense of magic. Voltron is the epitome of human achievement and admiration for the primordial world.
2. Primary Colors
Voltron is immensely visually satisfying. The lines are clean, the design is not too complex and it strikes a perfect balance between humanoid and robotic. But for me, the true visual appeal of Voltron comes from the color scheme. Black, Red, Blue, Yellow and Green. Simple and predominantly primary. Change one color on Voltron and it all falls apart. Orange? All the worst things are orange; carrots, the Anaheim Ducks and everyone from New Jersey. And purple, what an evil color that is. Do you know why purple is associated with royalty? In ancient times you had to kill over 10,000 mollusks in Lebanon to get enough purple to color the trim of your robe. Look, I hate sea snails (well, all snails) as much as anyone, but only like, 300 of them deserve to die for any given garment. What does this have to do with Voltron? Voltron is the King of Beasts, but eschews any royal purple. He’s not that on the nose. He’s better than that. He doesn’t need to kill snails to be cool.
3. Peter Cullen
There is no better voice in the animated world than Peter Cullen, better known as Optimus Prime. Voltron sports a boast even Transformers can’t match, every episode opens with Peter Cullen’s voice. “From days of long ago, from uncharted regions of the universe, comes a legend. The legend of Voltron!” It gives me chills every time I hear it. The music is inspiring, not a retooled jingle like most cartoon theme songs. It was wholly unique, adult and sophisticated in a way most animations geared primarily towards selling children toys didn’t bother. It elevated something that normally only serves to get stuck in your head on repeat, obfuscating every cogent thought you may have had that day.
4. Piloted Robots
Look Transformers are great. I love Transformers. But I always gravitated towards the robots that were simply machines controlled by people. They have a majesty of ingenuity. The character of piloted robots are derived from their pilots’ personalities and abilities, which is way more relatable than stereotypes heaped on to anthropomorphize them into easily identifiable archetypes. This is why I loved Pacific Rim. Voltron isn’t a character in the conventional sense. He is a tool. But as his actions are all derived from humans’, this makes Voltron easier to root for, and his triumphs more enjoyable.
5. The Show is Ridiculous
Every year or so I watch an episode or two of Voltron online. Or… I try to watch them. It’s difficult because man, oh man are they bad. Poorly paced, repetitive and often whiny, I wonder why I loved this so much as a kid. But this is essentially true of all the things we grew up loving. This is the fun of childhood and the idolization of it. The mundane, when done right, becomes the grandiose. Cartoons were slower back then, they weren’t crammed with non-stop action. We’ve all become more impatient and less imaginative. These old cartoons remind me of simpler times, when one good fight scene in a 22 minute cartoon seemed perfect. Voltron never had particularly fascinating story lines, but they were based on character relationships, personalities that were developed and relevant. There was more to it than “bad guy is bad, good robot kill bad guy”. But there were mice. There were always mice in Voltron. Why? I don’t know. Like I said it was a ridiculous show.
6. The Toys
Voltron from Matchbox was, hands down, my favorite childhood toy. The hefty, chunky, toxic painted die cast metal, the firing head and missile gimmicks, playability of each individual lion and the fun of combining them into Voltron was nearly unparalleled in my toy box; certainly better than that jerk Teddy Ruxpin.
Several years ago, after a long hiatus from collecting, one of the first things I did was go on eBay and find that old Matchbox Voltron. I was then introduced to all the more recent versions, from Mattel and Toynami. But even with all the iterations throughout the years, there is still so much to explore in terms of articulation and design. And yes, this is the Sideshow Collectibles blog so I am gleeful to shamelessly plug the Voltron statue they revealed at this year’s San Diego Comic Con. Seeing a highly detailed, large scale statue of the Beast King has me bristling with anticipation. Sideshow’s Voltron is unprecedented in a landscape that has not had much diversity over the last 10 years. I look forward to ordering it, receiving it and lying to my girlfriend about how much it cost. Perhaps then, flanked on my shelf by every other version small and large, the collection of my favorite super robot may finally be complete.
Oh, there is one more reason I love me some Voltron. It’s actually the only relevant reason, the catalyst for all the rest. Even now at 30, I’m still essentially a 6 year old who owns VHS tapes.