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The ’80s were an awesome time for cartoons, full of pioneering shows which made the childhoods of those who grow up during the decade the best time to be alive. Shows like Transformers, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are prime examples of shows to emerge from that era which enjoy popularity to this day, and we suspect they will for years to come.
However, another show that was pinnacle during the early wave of defining cartoons was Voltron: Defender of the Universe. Debuting in 1984, the series followed five lion robots and their pilots as they fought the evil forces of King Zarkon and Prince Lotor. Since it first aired over 30 years ago, the franchise has expanded into various mediums and enjoys popularity in 2017 thanks to the critically acclaimed Netflix series, Voltron: Legendary Defender
With the new series of Voltron: Legendary Defender upon us, we decided to look back at the original series and its enduring, influential legacy. So, without further ado, here are 11 fun facts you might not know.
11. THE FIRST TWO SEASONS WERE ADAPTED FROM ANIME SHOWS
Japanese cars weren’t the only preferred imports among Americans in the 1980s, because the first two seasons of Voltron: Defender of the Universe were actually edited from Eastern cartoons featuring robots. You see, Voltron was originally produced as a joint venture between the American-based studio World Events Productions and Japanese counterparts, Toei Animation.
The source material for the first season of Voltron, known among its fan base as “Lion Force’’, is based on the 1981 anime, Beast King GoLion. The less-popular second season, known as “Vehicle Team’’, is based on the unrelated 1982 show, Armored Fleet Dairugger XV.
To repurpose the aforementioned shows for young Western audiences, World Events Productions hired a new writer to supply fresh dialogue, which was then dubbed by English-speaking actors. Additionally, some scenes were cut completely as the original shows were deemed too violent for kids at the time.
Let’s all take a moment to thank Japan for yet another amazing gift.
10. A THIRD SEASON WAS PLANNED BASED ON YET ANOTHER JAPANESE SHOW
The proposed third season was to have been based on Lightspeed Electroid Albegas, another Japanese show about robots forming to create one mighty, super duper defender of the universe. However, due to the lack of popularity among fans for the “Vehicle Team’’ series, plans were scrapped in favour of a brand new set of episodes based on the fan favourite “Lion’’ incarnation.
Despite the Albegas adaptation not coming into fruition, Matchbox still released an action figure based on it known as “Gladiator Voltron’’ as part of their toyline dedicated to the show. And just so fans weren’t robbed of the Albegas version completely, the cast-aside robot did eventually find his way into the Voltron universe when he appeared in Devil’s Due Publishing’s comic book series in 2004.
But if this series did go ahead as planned, we bet it would have been awesome.
9. LION FORCE AND VEHICLE TEAM VOLTRON ONLY APPEARED ON SCREEN TOGETHER ONCE
Adapting separate Japanese shows with the intention of creating an American series with a storyline that made sense was never going to be easy, so back in the ’80s when this happened, some fans wondered what the hell was going on. While “Vehicle Team” makes sense in hindsight now that time has passed and we understand what the creators were trying to accomplish, when it originally aired, people wanted to know how it all connected to “Lion Force.” Therefore, the 1986 television special Voltron: Fleet of Doom was created to fill in the blanks.
The story revolves around a dastardly plot by King Zarkon and Viceroy Throk of the Drule Supreme Council, who unite and create a mighty armada in a bid to destroy the Galaxy Alliance. To stop the threat, the heroes from both Voltron universes join up to do what they do best.
After this, the Voltron mythology moved away from vehicular incarnations of the heroic robot. That said, Fleet of Doom gave us a tag team to be reckoned with, and it’s a shame we didn’t see both versions pair up more often to save the day.
8. A LIVE ACTION MOVIE HAS BEEN IN THE WORKS SINCE 2005
In the summer of 2005, producer Mark Gordon announced his plans to give the cult ‘80s cartoon the big Hollywood live-action treatment. Pharrell Williams was even going to compose the score, which could have been interesting. Following the box office of Transformers in 2007, several studios showed interest in working with Gordon to adapt the project, which would have been a post-apocalyptic tale set in New York.
However, after years of legal battles and bidding wars, the project remained in limbo. At least until last year, when Deadline reported that Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Animation had inherited the project. At the time of writing, that’s still the latest news pertaining to the project.
Let’s hope it happens in the near future, but keep Michael Bay away from it. We want this to be better than Transformers.
7. A LIVE ACTION TELEVISION SERIES WAS ALSO PLANNED
Before Dreamworks Animation acquired the rights to Voltron and unleashed Legendary Defender, Alex Albrecht and Greg Aronowitz – the team behind the awesome fan film Voltron: The End – were developing a live action TV series. And even though we don’t fully know what it would have entailed, the vibe they were going for makes the idea of the show even more enticing.
In an interview with Den of Geek, Aronowitz stated that the show would have been a “remimagining” of Voltron that would evoke the science fiction 1980s. “I grew up with Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica, and V. These shows that, I was a little kid, but I’d watch with my dad. It was just fun for everybody, that’s what we really wanted to try. Not childish but no decapitations or things that would freak people out but not pandering. It would have been sophisticated but full on sci-fi.”
Although Aronowitz hasn’t given up hope of bringing the project to life some day, we might be waiting awhile before we see it. Hopefully, with the popularity of the current Netflix series and a future live action movie in the works, the demand for more Voltron in future will make it happen.
6. IT WAS ORIGINALLY SUPPOSED TO HAVE BEEN BASED ON A DIFFERENT SHOW
In what must be one of the happiest accidents in the history of pop culture, the tape for Beast King GoLion landed in the lap of World Events Productions by mistake. At first, they wanted to adapt Mirai Robo Daltanias, another Toei Animation show featuring a robot lion. Unaware that Beast King GoLion even existed, World Events Productions requested the tape for the show “the ones with the lion,” so naturally, the wrong one was sent.
As it turned out, the Voltron creators liked Beast King GoLion better and happily ran with it instead, resulting in Defender of the Universe as we know it today. Given that “Lion Force” is the ultimate and most popular incarnation of the Voltron legacy, it’s safe to say they made the right decision.
5. THERE’S A VIDEO GAME
Voltron is a mega popular franchise which extends to mediums beyond its cartoon origins. In addition to the comics we mentioned earlier, there is also a video game based on the Defender of the Universe released in 2011, published by THQ for the PlayStation 3 and XBOX 360.
The game is based on amalgamations of episodes from the cartoon series, primarily focusing on plot points from “The Missing Key,” Voltron vs. Voltron,” and “Zarkon Becomes a Robobeast.” During most levels, players control one of the five pilots to overcome threats posed by King Zarkon and his Drule Army. During the boss battles, the lions form to create Voltron, culminating in the legendary sword being drawn to defeat enemies when their health is depleted.
The response to the game upon its release was divided, but the favourable reviews praised it for its fan service more than anything. The game really isn’t bad by any means, but the turn-based combat and quick time make for a muddled gaming experience. Still, there is some nostalgic fun to be had all the same.
4. 20 EPISODES WERE ORIGINAL ANIMATION
Voltron showed that repurposing foreign shows could be done to create something original and awesome, but not every episode was borrowed from Beast King GoLion and Armored Fleet Dairugger XV.
After the poor reception of season two and their decision not to go ahead with plans to adapt Lightspeed Electroid Albegas, World Events Productions decided to bring back “Lion Force’’ for the third season. However, as they had used up all the footage from Beast GoLion to create the first series, they hired Toei Animation to create the final 20 episodes exclusively for an American audience.
Still, I wish we also got to see a Lightspeed Electroid Albegas version as well…
3. IT INFLUENCED PACIFIC RIM
Pacific Rim is one of the best things to happen to cinema in the 21st century, and Voltron is partly to thank for its creation. Directed by Guillermo del Toro in 2013, the movie sees giant robots pitted against kaiju beasts and it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.
Pacific Rim is littered with influences ranging from anime and manga, to giant monster movies and blockbuster science fiction. The movie is essentially a delicious, intoxicating cocktail of all of these wonderful things, and we should all be happy to have it in our lives.
In an interview with IGN, the film’s screenwriter Travis Beacham discussed his various inspirations while he was creating the story, and our favourite robot was mentioned. “[A]s a kid Godzilla was the first movie that I ever really remember seeing. I was way into Voltron, Ray Harryhausen, anything with giant monsters I was really into.’’
There you have it. Although one of many influences, Voltron still played a small part in bringing the Pacific Rim franchise to life. There’s even a scene in Pacific Rim where one of the Jaegar robots lays waste to a monstrous enemy with a sword attack reminiscent of a certain robot we’ve discussed in this list a few times…
2. THE THIRD DIMENSION WAS THE FIRST CGI SERIES HANDLED BY A U.S. STUDIO
The Third Dimension, which aired between 1998 and 2000, is a sequel to the “Lion Force” series, taking place five years later in the story’s timeline. It also marked the first full-CGI TV series done by an American studio, courtesy of Nether Digital. The show won plaudits for its effects work, which integrated motion-capture with LightWave software, and as a result, The Third Dimension was the most profitable 3-D animation series ever made at the time. However, the show was cancelled by World Events Productions, despite enjoying success as the top syndicated show for teenage boys.
Adding to the bad news, Netter Digital closed shop in 2001 after management could not settle internal differences between focusing on animation production or launching more live-action shows. Overall, The Third Dimension can be chocked up as one big pile of wasted potential.
1. IT WAS THE HIGHEST RATED KIDS CARTOON FOR TWO YEARS
The 1980s were the glory years for Saturday morning cartoons, so it was a competitive time where only the best stood tall. Well that’s not completely true – if anything, the history of cartoons has proven that sometimes even the best get overlooked (I’m talking about you Mummies Alive!). But still, being the top syndicated kid’s cartoon during a booming time is still an accomplishment that deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated, and for two years during its original run, Voltron stood above its peers as the king of Saturday mornings.
Since then, the show has spawned multiple sequels, comic books, video games and a lucrative toyline. And with the recent Netflix series drawing all the plaudits, our favourite robot doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon either.