When TV distribution syndicates upgraded from film to videotape, the colours and sound of anime made a big splash and Voltron led the way.
Following the Japananese sentai (battle team) tradition, the Voltron Force are a group wearing multi-coloured uniforms and are more archetypes than complete characters: the leader; the rebellious sidekick; the big guy; the child and a girl or two. They combine their futuristic vehicles to form the giant robot Voltron and do battle with massive, mechanical 'RoBeasts.'
Sentai serials comprise just one of many well-established genres in Japanese television. The joy of these shows is to a small extent the reliability of a perfected formula but mostly in the creative ways the programmes differ from each other. Voltron is an excellent opportunity to observe the latter.
Voltron combined two sentai anime programmes: Armoured Fleet Dairugger XV and GoLion, King of Beasts.
As was the American practice of the time, the shows were reworked as a 'cartoon' – teen-focussed content was written out in dialogue translation and snipped from the running time of each episode. A scene at the the end of the Dairugger episodes ties the two programmes together. It's a re-used clip of the youngest Dairugger pilot reading a letter, only this time it's an introductory message from his brother, who we are told is the youngest of the GoLion pilots.
Contrary to my own taste, the GoLion episodes were by far the more popular of the two chapters. The Dairugger robot toy was demoted to 'Voltron III' in toy stores and the mysterious 'Voltron II' toys were never seen in episodes of the programme.
A third anime series – Lightspeed Lightning God Albegas – was originally slated for dubbing but new episodes of GoLion-style Voltron were commissioned instead. Unfortunately, the style and skill of the original GoLion animations were both painfully absent.
The sci-fi designs and combat action of the initial 104 episodes gripped me as a teenager but I was already too old for Voltron's formulaic storylines. So why did every spare corner of my videotape collection end up full of this stuff?
Availability. As a cable television subscriber in Connecticut I had access to dozens of broadcast channels trailing from Boston, Massachusetts down to New York City. I also happened to have a pair of VCRs and was a past master at programming the things. Three stations ran Voltron, making a total of 41 episodes available per week.
The episode I have the most copies of happens to be my least favorite. It's devoted to the Space Mice: little creatures that got up to mischief and hijinks, occasionally helping the Voltron Force save the day. Naturally, the broadcasters kept scheduling that episode because the young'uns loved it.
Going back through my tapes, I find more value in interesting 80's commercials than in Voltron but to be fair, the giant robots themselves are still pretty cool to me. Voltron was very impressive for its time and was the first show of its kind to be made in stereo. The DVD has gone one better, expanding the soundtrack to 5.1 channels of audio. No point bothering about all those episodes I captured to monaural VHS, then. Ah well – easy come, easy go!