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Voltron - Defender of the Universe - Collection Three
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 31 to 45. The episodes are not featured in order of broadcast date which is probably a good thing because it keeps some storylines closer together. The volume starts out with a great pair of episodes depicting Lotor, Zarkon, and Witch Haggar kicking some mechanical lion butt. Thanks to Haggar's anti-Voltron robot the villains exploit a weakness that divulges the information that the Blue Lion is the source of power for their foe. Voltron gets owned and has to go in for repairs but in good form they turn the tide of battle with their Blazing Sword (see formula in previous paragraph).
Another multi-episode story arc appears later on in the set. Revolving around the Omega Comet the tale features Voltron's near destruction at the hands of Haggar's sinister plot. The Omega Comet is essentially a mini-black hole that is to be used in plans for the destruction of Planet Arus. Allura's cousin Romelle is fed lies by Lotor and it leads to Voltron becoming trapped on the Comet's surface. Victory seems out of grasp for much of this story but we all know the good guys will come out on top; they always do. Before that happens though a figure from the past with ties to the first episodes unexpectedly shows up.
Another of my favorite episodes from this collection was "Voltron Versus Voltron". In this particular story Zarkon creates a duplicate copy of Voltron thanks to some blueprints. He sends his menace to the Planet Yadil to terrorize the population and before long the real Voltron shows up. Our heroes are ambushed and naturally surprised to be looking at a mirror image of themselves (apart from a few differences). In good form they break out the Blazing Sword and rip their counterpart to shreds.
Aside from these examples the rest of this collection is mostly filler. There are many one-off episodes that prove to be decent adventures but they fall into the pitfall of being formulaic. Granted these are mostly good so there's plenty to be pleased about but watching too many of them at once can become a little tedious. Whatever the case this is still another great release for Voltron fans and there are plenty of classic adventures awaiting you.
Despite the ups and downs found in the edited American version, Media Blasters has done justice to the series by releasing these tin collections. It has brought the show back from fandom obscurity to become a viable retail giant once more. Hopefully interest will be enough that one day we'll get the unedited Japanese version of the series but until then this is the best that you're going to get. If you were a fan of the show then picking these collections up is a no-brainer. If you're into anime and you haven't seen Voltron you may want to hold out for the slightly more adult Japanese cut (if it comes out that is).
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 very 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 two prior volumes this third 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. Still the quality is crystal clear and I didn't encounter any technical problems while listening to the audio track.
Like the previous collections for Voltron the third installment offers a bevy of bonus material to click through. The first feature on the final disc in this collection is an interview with the composer for the show, John Petersen. I'm sure you can probably guess what the topic of conversation is in this feature. He mostly discusses the theme music and how he became involved with the program but goes into some more detail about working on the show. It's interesting enough, especially if you appreciate the music angle, and is a nice inclusion. Another feature along the same lines is an eight minute reel of animation set to the soundtrack of Voltron.
Hip Hop artist Murphy Lee chimes in to talk about Voltron and the influences it had on him early in life. I'll be honest; I have no idea who this guy is. Therefore hearing him talk about why Voltron was important to him just seemed really random. If you're a fan of his music you'll appreciate it much more than I. A brief compilation of fan videos is featured here and if you enjoy cheesy web-like videos you'll be in heaven. I personally liked the one where Voltron went to school and Haggar was the bus driver.
The rest of the disc is taken up with some promotional videos. There is a look at a late night release party for Voltron with a throng of fans gathering in some park to talk about and watch the show. One interesting feature out of these videos is a news reel with footage of people in Voltron costumes handling an event for children. The quality is really poor but it's amazing that something like this is still around. Other than those the only stuff left on the disc are some previews for other AnimeWorks releases.
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. This set features some more character development and a few multi-part storylines that showcase what was so great about this series. A few formulaic stand-alone episodes do rest in between but even they are a cut above the rest. Highly Recommended