Voltron: An Essay On Critical Thought…
I’ve always been an odd sort of duck. You see, back when Voltron first aired in 1984, I was like any geeked out 12 year old and watched it. The first four days it aired I watched with full attention at the adventures of Keith, Lance, Hunk, Pidge and Sven. The initial story of them reviving Voltron pretty frickin’ badass. What made those initial episodes so special was that they did this great build-up to unveiling Big V. Voltron was only seen briefly in flashback of the first two episodes. The Friday of its first week on TV, I rushed home because episode 5 was supposed be THE day! We were finally going to get Voltron, all five lions making one super kickass robot. When I got home however, what I got was a random episode of a completely different Voltron.
Yes what I got was Vehicle Voltron. See World Events Productions had licensed 2 shows from Toei animation in Japan and made Voltron with it. This was not an uncommon thing, Carl Macek had done the same thing with 3 unrelated shows for Harmony Gold in 1985. By taking Super Dimensional Fortress Macross, Super Dimensional Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada and giving them one over-reaching narrative with a multi-generational story ROBOTECH was born. World Events beat ROBOTECH to air though by 5 months though. I as a 12 year old who still loved good cartoons was completely baffled by this other Voltron that interrupted my new favorite show.
By now it is well known that World Events had taken 2 shows, King of 100 Beasts Golion and Armored Combat Task Force Dairugger XV to make Voltron. Channel 11 WPIX in New York City had taken it upon itself to air the Golion Voltron Monday though Thursday and then show Dairugger Voltron on Fridays. This didn’t last long as the Golion Voltron grew a much larger fanbase. I enjoyed watching the Golion version, even if it eventually become a very formulaic “Monster of The Day” type of show. By April of 1985 all of the Golion episodes of Voltron had aired. WPIX had changed the running schedule of Golion Voltron about a month into its initial airing. Dairugger Voltron was yanked so Golion Voltron could be shown 5 days a week. After Golion Voltron wrapped up their story, with the defeat of King Zarkon and Lotor, WPIX began running Dairugger Voltron from beginning to end. Now I had been very much a huge Golion Voltron fan and viewed it as the most badass thing in the history of mankind. My opinion was about to seriously change.
Immediately you sensed a different tone to Dairugger Voltron. It was much more a sci-fi show than Golion Voltron was. The over-reaching plot was about how the galaxy was overpopulated and how the Space Explorers with their mothership Explorer- 1 and a fleet of ships were sent to find new worlds to put the ever expanding population of the universe. Wait a minute… Galactic overcrowding? Deep space exploration? Dairugger Voltron was most definitely a more hard edged sci-fi show than Golion Voltron, what with Golion’s overuse of Christian symbolism and all. Anyway, the Explorer-1 feet comes int oconstant conflict with the Drule Empire, who are expanding as well but are a bit more… shall we say… Machiavellian about it. The leader of he Drule fleet was Commander Hazar, who is always being undermined by incomptent subordinates. Finally Hazar suffers one too many defeats at the hands of Dairugger Voltron and thrown in jail. It is there that he realizes that Drules and the Galaxy Alliance can live in peace. He becomes the center of giant peace movement of Planet Drule… look I wasn’t a writer on the fucking show! I was 12! First of all I never would have called them the Drule Empire. Drule is way to close to Drool and you can’t take a group of badguys named after spit seriously… um… anyway… Hazar becomes the center of the peace movement on Planet Drule and leads a rebellion. I doesn’t help that Planet Drule’s core is unstable and the planet will blow up “Any day now”. Of course Hazar knows this and in true clichéd fashion, none of the Drule High Command will listen to him. In the end, Dairugger Voltron shows up, helps Hazar overthrow Drule Emperor Zeppo… wait… Zeppo?
OH FOR FUCK’S SAKE! Emperor Zeppo? They named the badguys after spit AND they named the Emperor after the forgotten Marx Brother? One just has to wonder in retrospect, were these writers even trying?
Anyway, Emperor Zeppo (CHRIST!) gets overthrown, Dairugger Voltron saves Hazar and the populace of planet Spit just before the frickin’ thing blows up. The Galaxy Alliance makes peace with the new Republic of Drule and everything gets wrapped up nice and neat… or at least we’d like to think that. The last episode actually has Emperor ZEPPO (AAARGH!) and his cronies conquer Hazar’s new world and re-establish their tyrannical grip over the spit people. Shit, that is one helluva downer of an ending. In terms of kids shows using Japanese anime as source material that makes Dairugger Voltron the Space Runaway IDEON of cartoons, or at least it did until ROBOTECH came along and shocked everyone by killing its coolest character during the Macross Saga.
Already those not initiated in the mysteries of anime nerdom are scratching their heads at my IDEON reference. See Space Runaway IDEON was a Japanese animated sci-fi show where a bunch of teenaged archaeologists discover an ancient robot, fight a bunch of ludicrously named aliens called the Buff Clan (who were ironically not that muscular) and end up destroying the entire Universe by the end of the series. Let me repeat that… THEY DESTROY THE FUCKING UNIVERSE! Oblivion, Armageddon… the end times all because some moron archaeologists can’t leave an ugly ass orange robot alone. I mock it now but truth be told Space Runaway IDEON is awesome because it is so fucking merciless. It is a show that pulls absolutely no punches and will kill any character you may grow an attachment to. Now that takes some serious fucking balls as a writer, to not just kill characters but to end a series on such a cosmic level “Fuck You!” that you have to respect IDEON creator/writer Yoshiyuki Tomino for doing it that way.
Now I’m not saying that ending Dairugger Voltron on a downer is the same thing as IDEON destroying the entire Universe, I’m saying for a TV show aimed at kids airing in the 1980s it was pretty fucking ballsy. Golion Voltron got the happy ending while Dairugger Voltron got the Pyhrric victory i.e. they won in the end but by the end nothing had really changed. So combine Dairugger Voltron’s themes of sci-fi exploration, political intrigue amongst its main antagonists and its really “So what the hell was the point of this war?” ending, is it any wonder why I ended up loving it way more than Golion Voltron. Now maybe this was a shift in my critical tastes shifting from my childlike mindset to enjoying more adult themed television I mean I’d like to think it was. I went from Dairugger Voltron to watching ROBOTECH and from there to attempting to read Foundation… OK that was a HUGE leap in my shifting tastes. I guess what I’m saying is, appreciating the more complex Dairugger Voltron story over the kid-friendly Golion Voltron just might have been might first step towards semi-adult thought. Not bad for a cartoon huh?
Dairugger Voltron opened the floodgates that led to me reading Asimov, Tolkien, Heinlein and others. Along with Battle Of The Planets and Star Blazers, 2 other Americanized Japanese cartoons, Voltron and ROBOTECH were gateway drugs to a more serious Anime fandom. Just don’t call me an Otaku, I know what that shit actually means and American anime fans taking pride in being called that is fucking appalling, they give us old-school fans a real bad name with behavior like that.
Anyway, you thought you were just reading about Voltron didn’t you? Instead what you end up with is a little lesson about critical thinking and examining those things that make us who we are. To go from child to teenager based on watching a simple kid-friendly cartoon is not so unfathomable if you think about it. It is just a matter of self-examination and reflection. I’m not being to profound, I mean for fuck’s sake, I’m not saying “Voltron Made Me A Man” or anything like that… though I’m sure there is a slash-fic out there on the Internet somewhere with that title… I think my point is, don’t take what you appreciated as a child for granted because it is those little things that influence who you are and how you think.
Oh one more thing… VOLTRON IS FUCKING AWESOME~!