When it was announced that Voltron would be released on DVD I have to admit that I did a little jump for joy. Well, ok, it was more of a hop but the point is I was pretty excited about this classic series finally being available. Scratch that, Voltron goes beyond classic. This was a staple of adolescent males growing up in the 80's no matter if you lived in Japan or America.
Originally known as GoLion in Japan, Voltron was the revision that kids here in the United States received. It doesn't really matter if the version we got in the States was edited because for better or worse the show was damn popular. A toy line, comic books, sequel series, and a rumored movie (upcoming) are all an example of the show's success.
The only problem with revisiting shows as nostalgic as Voltron comes from just that; a fond memory. Sometimes what we loved when we were children just doesn't seem to hold up later in life. Also in this particular case you have to take into consideration the fact that the concept has been used time and time again. Still, Voltron is iconic in the truest sense of the word. It remains a fun show twenty years later and despite the high level of repetitiveness and saturation I find myself enjoying it "almost" as much as I did back in the day.
Starting last year Media Blasters began releasing episode collections of the edited American version. Purists and diehards may be upset by that but the fact remains that this is the edit that most of us remember. It's what we fell in love with and though I would have preferred the original Japanese I personally appreciate simply having this show available.
As is the case with most things from the 80's you most likely have to be above a certain age in order to know what Voltron is all about. If you find yourself below that mark or simply unawares let me fill you in on the concept behind this fantastic piece of animation.
The story behind Voltron is quite simple and isn't anything that we haven't seen in other shows of this nature (mostly due to copycats). The Galaxy Alliance is locked in war with an evil organization ruled by King Zarkon. While fighting Zarkon's forces five pilots are captured and taken back to Planet Doom. Using their wits and talents they break out of the cell they are being held captive in and make their way to a shuttle. While fleeing Zarkon's men they crash land on Planet Arus, find Princess Allura, and discover the Castle of Lions. Each of the pilots gets a mechanical lion to call their own and when they join forces they become the unstoppable Voltron.
The leader of their group is stereotypical hero figure Keith. He's about as straight cut as you can get and in many ways reminded me of Ken the Eagle from Gatchaman. The rest of the Voltron team fills somewhat generic roles as well. Hunk is the fat strong guy, Lance is the Han Solo-like cocky guy, Pidge is the brainiac kid, and Allura is essentially the token female. Together they join forces to become Voltron and fight evil at every turn.
Most every episode, save a few, runs on a particular formula. The bad guys show up, Voltron comes to save the day, Voltron gets their butts kicked, Voltron comes back with their Blazing Sword to win, and everyone lives happily until the next Zarkon attack. Animated TV shows from this particular era and age group generally fell into this rinse-wash-repeat trap. This holds true even into the episodes of this third collection but in all honesty it hasn't gotten tired yet.
This particular release contains episodes 46 through 59. Once again the episodes are not featured in their broadcast order but that's not entirely necessary when it comes to understanding some of the fundamental plots. The Red Lion Collection begins with a couple of one-shot episodes with the first focusing its attention on those loveable mice. Pidge builds the space rodents a flying mouse to help in a battle against a cat but the critters become more useful when Voltron actually finds themselves in trouble. This was a cute episode and a nice way to get things started on this collection but was by no means the best that this set had to offer.
I personally found the multi-part storyline involving Coran's son to be one of the most interesting storylines from this batch. The first episode begins innocently enough with Voltron's pilots out doing some practices to keep in shape. Princess, piloting the Blue Lion of course, flies over a mysterious figure and immediately proceeds to crash in a desert. Once Voltron gets over to see if she's ok they meet the mystery man who actually helped Princess in her time of need. It turns out that the guy is actually Coran's lost son and it leads to some interesting events in the next episode. Things get better when we discover the true nature of the son's appearance and naturally you know who is behind it somehow. This particular plot just felt better than most of the one-shot episodes and it is an iconic example of Voltron in true form.
After the little stint involving Coran's "offspring", we get yet another treat. The balance of power under the rule of King Zarkon has begun to waiver slightly. You see, due to successions of failure Zarkon has imprisoned Lotor and thusly set in motion a large scale battle. The good guys see it as an opportunity to strike but when they arrive and face a King Zarkon Robeast you know there's trouble. Meanwhile Lotor and Haggar have a little tiff that leads to some surprising results and the prince attempts to take over his father's kingdom. These episodes originally led up to the first season's finale and it's safe to say that back in the day it went out with a bang. As this collection continues, the shakeup from the previous battle continues to have a slight impact on the show's dynamic. Mind you, nothing drastic happens, but there is certainly enough fun adventures in between to keep Voltron fans happy.
Like the previous releases for this series, the Red Lion collection offers a nice glimpse into the Voltron universe. Granted it's presented "as seen by American audiences" since we're not lucky enough to have the original Japanese version yet. To be honest, that suits me just fine. This is the show I grew up on and it's nearly every bit as entertaining today as it was when I would watch it in my pajamas with a box of sugary cereal. Fans should definitely pick up this release and if you haven't already then you'll want to start with the first collection obviously.
With Voltron's source material being over twenty years old I didn't know what to expect from the video quality. Fortunately the show's transfer looks remarkable and arguably better than it ever looked here in the States. This is due to the fact that the DVD uses a recently digitally mastered source produced by Toei Animation. This means that Media Blasters had to re-edit the new Japanese material to be identical to the older, known English edits.
The fruits of their effort is a much cleaner presentation than I ever thought possible for Voltron. The picture quality is sharp with a great deal of clarity and noticeably less grain and dirt than you'd expect. It isn't flawless work by any stretch of the imagination and there are plenty of areas where softness or dust permeates the image but you'll never see this show looking better. When compared to the three prior volumes this fourth one offers near-identical quality.
Many of you may not know this but Voltron was one of the first animated shows dubbed in stereo. The original track has been restored and presented here in all its subdued glory. The real draw for this collection is the re-mastered 5.1 mix. Sound effects and music create a decent amount of immersion for a show of this age but the results could have been more profound. In many ways there's nothing better than watching Voltron clash with a Robeast and hearing the action from your rear channels, though the effects are a tad too subtle for their own good. Still, the quality is crystal clear and I didn't encounter any technical problems while listening to the audio track.
On the lighter side of supplemental material for Voltron's fourth release is a gallery of images from 1984. These are essentially some original screenshots and artwork as well as photographs related to Voltron from the time period. Clocking in at eight minutes is a rather amusing "on the street" video where some guy walks around asking people about Voltron. Some people know what they're talking about and others have absolutely no idea, but either way it's watching the geeks and the clueless ramble on about the show.
The featurette this time around is about the third season of Voltron which was basically comprised of American produced episodes. The show's originally Japanese run finished at a little over 100 episodes but when stations were knocking on the door asking for more, the Americans hired some of the original production crew and pieced some together. From my standpoint it's hard to discern what was original and what was not simply because we do not have the original Japanese material. With only the English voice in play there is a very fluidic feel to everything.
The best inclusion for this DVD set is the voice actor interview feature. With three voice actors the extra lasts for about 23 minutes and provides quite a lot of insight into what was happening behind the scenes of the show. Neil Ross, Michael Bell, and B.J. Ward talk a lot about themselves, what their time with the show meant to them, and how it impacted their lives. For the most part the discussions are very personal and there are many hilarious anecdotes. It sounds like there could have been several amusing outtakes and it's a shame that they aren't included here.
The DVD release of Voltron is truly a labor of love. The American version of the show has never looked or sounded so good. Twenty years later the program still proves to be entertaining and though it may have lost some of its punch (due to saturation of the market) it remains as one of the most prominent science fiction anime every produced. The episodes in the Red Lion collection may feel familiar thanks to the established Voltron formula but that's part of the charm. This show was so much better than the copycats and wannabes that followed and it's safe to say that if you were ever a fan you owe it to yourself to pick this series up. Highly Recommended